The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick, who graduated from MIT with a B.Sc. in Biology in 1904. Among others, she was the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist. We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column.
MIT is an amazing place -- so full of opportunities and so encouragement that I can't imagine having picked any other university to go to grad school. Over the last couple of weeks I've received a number of emails from my department admin (and others around MIT) advertising an abundance of fellowship/scholarship opportunities, but I have I begun to struggle with some deeper philosophical questions regarding the appropriateness of gender-specific awards. Of the last 10 in my inbox that went out to wider mailing lists, 8 were only available for women... now I understand the importance of helping elevate and empower women in academia but it felt to me that these types of gender-exclusive scholarships really should have less and less of a place in higher education. The US already boasts more women in higher education than men and the real challenge lies in the drop-off between grad school and postdoc/faculty. In that sense, wouldn't it be better to channel these opportunities at bridging that gap rather than enriching the intelligent women who already attend? Have we gone too far? How will we know when we've done enough and need to focus on a different location in the pipeline?
Dear Equality Emily,
I’m glad your experience as a graduate student has been so positive- I must agree MIT is an amazing place. It is true that overall the number of PhD earned by women has come to equal men in the last 10 years, but that is definitely not the case in all STEM fields. As you pointed out, the gender gap widens drastically immediately after women receive their PhDs. Why this is the case is not simple to answer although two factors stand out: the need to balance career and family and a lack of professional networks. A graduate fellowship is not just check to help your advisor offset the cost of your existence- submitting the application alone is a valuable professional development exercise, if awarded it is significant addition to your CV, it is an extra opportunity to improve skills necessary to be competitive, and it is a professional network. Should more be done to address policies and issues facing women as they leave their PhDs? YES, but we should not remove effective opportunities while trying to improve support at other points in the pipeline. There are many ongoing efforts to bridge gaps in academic post-PhD careers, such as the NSF’s ADVANCE program, the Career-Life Balance Initiative and grants to cover costs for childcare but there must be a shift in the academic culture along with policy changes for these efforts to be successful. I believe we will have done enough when the demographics of our academic leadership reflect our communities and support the diverse needs of the people those institutions impact.
Kate M. obtained her Ph.D. in Biology and is currently a program manager at MIT.
On behalf of the GWAMIT mentoring committee, thank you to this month's Dear Kate student contributor and to Kate M.!
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