The New York Times recently ran an article in which they interviewed four female scientists at the top of their fields. These women are role models for women everywhere, in every field, regardless of aspirations.
I was eager to listen to the full interview that is available with the article. I have always benefited from learning the milieu of ways that other women have progressed in science. Taking time off to have kids, hiring some help at home, and choosing (not settling) to teach are just some of the ways that women strike a harmonious balance between Science and Life. And so it was with great disappointment that I heard three of the four women interviewed say that they would not recommend a scientific career to their daughters.
They say it has been hard, perhaps too hard, and that they have become hardened. They have made too many sacrifices for too little pay-off. I really am in no position to judge, but it seems to me that so much unhappiness should amount to a career change.
Everyone has struggles. Right now my struggles happen to be fighting cancer and being a fantastic mom while trying to build my scientific career. It's hard, and I could do without the cancer, but I love it. Yea, it's a lot of work, but the best things in life often result from Work. No other field would allow me to be as creative, innovative, and challenged as I am in science. In no other field could I isolate DNA, take photographs, and read (scientific) stories all in one day. I am a microbial explorer, and it's awesome.
I don't profess to be at the top of my field, or even in the middle of it. Also, I recognize that I am fortunate in ways that are particularly essential to building a scientific career: supportive spouse, family, boss, mentors, and work environment. Perhaps these top-of-the-field women struggled with some of the individuals in their would-be support network, thus souring their perspective. Maybe getting to the top is harder than simply chugging along in the pile. I wouldn't know. Their experience is theirs, and I suppose that painting a falsely rosy picture never helped anyone. I guess I just would have preferred to hear a more positive perspective from the top, because I guarantee there are some happy-at-the-top women out there.
Azalea and Eleanor, you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up. I'll love and support you no matter what. But for the record, science rocks.