A blog post by Miriam Goldstein on Deep Sea News got me thinking today.
I’ve wanted to blog for a while, but not sure what thoughts I should share, or what is even interesting. But the idea of privilege in academics hit something in my core.
One of the reasons Miriam’s post got me so riled up is that I recently found out I am special. To be completely honest, I hadn’t realized I was special, I thought I was totally normal.
A few months ago, I sat in a NSF site review, where people touted attracting “first generation college” students. I then found out that our university has a fellowship for “first generation graduate students”. I think, to follow up on Miriam’s post, these are examples of the inherent privilege most academics have had, as I never expected either group to be special – because I was in them.
My parents did not go to college. They had no idea why I wanted a PhD. Now, as faculty, I realize some of my colleagues were born with spoons from an ivory tower place setting in their mouths. Sometimes I’m jealous: there’s much of the process of college, graduate school and post-graduate planning that is overwhelming for those of us who have no background to deal with it. Thankfully there are plenty of backgrounds in science, and examples and mentors are out there. I often wonder how I would have progressed through science without some of them, including my first boss who told me I could only be her technician for three years, and then I had to consider grad school because I was “too good” for her. And my PhD adviser, who grew up on a farm and later became department head, even after being told in grad school that she didn’t belong in a lab since she should be making someone dinner. (FWIW Miriam, that sexism happened at Scripps a LONG time ago!)
I sometimes feel like academics are a bit like the stock market. It’s easier to make money once you have money in stocks. It’s easier to be in academics when you come from that environment. But that doesn’t mean you can’t apply work ethic (and develop creative strategies to deal with the lack of conference reimbursements, I’ve totally been there…), seek out resources – and invest in yourself. Make a few investments, develop both short term and long term investment strategies – and you can get good returns on your investments. In stocks and academics, it takes an initial investment, a good strategy and work ethic, and a bit of luck.
If I can brag: My department allows students to put conference expenses on their institutional credit cards, so as long as they have travel funding, they can never see a bill. We are also LBGTQ friendly, facilitated by our local community (We deal with topics like this. We are very accepting but sometimes want to double check on the laws…). Maternity leave is an issue, but the faculty are supportive to make sure things work out and pumping rooms are available. I came to work here because I felt people were “normal”. Even if they were faculty brats! Nearly everyone is married, nearly everyone has kids. After a few years, I’ve seen more abnormalities, but folks are pretty pragmatic and normal on a daily basis. I’m proud to watch us support a lot of students who deserve to be given a chance, no matter what place setting they got at birth.