The high cost of academic reimbursement

Spring, 2004. I was in the second year of my post-doc, with kids ages 4 and 2. Because I was no longer a student, the full brunt of my student loan payments had hit me, which were collectively almost double the cost of my mortgage. To put it generously, money was tight. Truthfully, we were broke as fuck and struggling each month to stay above water.

I’m from a blue-collar background. My dad was a factory worker for 40 years. My mom had a teaching degree, but “paused” her career to have me (followed by my sister and brother), and was then diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after my brother’s birth. Hers was rapidly progressive and she was unable to return to teaching–leaving the family with one income and a lot of unexpected medical bills.

So when it came to navigating academia, it goes without saying that I was out of my element. But I knew I had 2 years of funding for my fellowship, and that time was quickly coming to an end. I needed to figure out a next step.

My PI suggested applying for both additional fellowships as well as professorships–though we figured I wouldn’t land the latter, at least the application process and (maybe) interviews would be good practice. At the time I started looking, there was only one assistant professor position in my niche that was advertising (I had missed much of the big interviewing season–also something I didn’t understand at the time). I applied, and somehow, a few weeks later I was invited to the University of Iowa for an interview.

The departmental secretary emailed me to set up travel. She explained that they had booked a hotel for a 2-night stay, and they’d reimburse me for my airfare–just send her the receipts after the interview.

Um.

We were barely keeping up on bills as it was, with 2 kids in full-time daycare and my student loans. We had no credit card availability. We had no family we could borrow from–they were all as broke as we were or worse. We couldn’t afford date nights out. Hell, we couldn’t afford frozen pizza in. Where was I supposed to find $300+ for a flight in two weeks?

I almost canceled. “Thanks anyway, but I’m too poor to come out.”

Luckily, what I did have was my 1996 Dodge Neon, purchased early in my post-doc for $2000 from an elderly woman who was no longer able to drive. It got about 40 miles per gallon on the highway, Iowa City was only about an 8.5-hour drive away, and gas was still under $2/gallon. I told the secretary I’d just drive it instead of fly in. I’m sure she thought I was phobic of flying or something (why drive otherwise??), but she said that was fine and arranged my meetings. When I left for my interview, I packed a sandwich, snacks, and drinks for the drive because stopping places for food added up.

All of this to say–I completely agree with Holly Bik’s thread on academic reimbursement.

I was able to drive, but what about those who need to travel cross-country or internationally? How to pay for meetings to network and find opportunities when you’re barely scraping by between paychecks? To travel for field work necessary for a degree or project?

As a professor, I’ve tried as much as possible to put student travel on my grants, or help them search for university  or other funding sources to attend conferences. Sometimes it’s only partial coverage, which is better than zero but still is a financial burden on my trainees. We always apply for the travel grants (and have gotten a few). But even when it’s paid, it’s typically not comped up-front–and can take months to come back. As Bik notes, it’s just one more way the system is rigged against those who don’t have access to some kind of familial assistance–and that includes a lot of people we’re trying to recruit into the field, or retain once they’re here.

I don’t know how to fix it. I know some places are better than others. At least at my current institution, reimbursement tends to be relatively quick (~3-4 weeks or so) and will do direct deposit (some places still, inexplicably, insist on paper checks, which drags out the process even further). I know budgets are tight everywhere. I know that not every professor can afford to pay for all their students up-front either. I sent 5 trainees to the American Society for Microbiology meeting in 2016 in addition to myself, and even after 13 years as a professor, I still can’t afford to just pay all of that in advance. Our financial people have often been sympathetic, but tell us their hands are tied due to all sorts of regulations.

As with so many areas of academia, we need to do better. From Bik’s thread, some places seem to be able to front costs–why can’t that be universal? It seems like a small thing when you have money, but for many struggling academics it’s the difference between “making it” and leaving the field. If administrators are truly committed to diversity, they’d find some way to make this work more smoothly.

Unpacking a bit more

Yesterday’s post was frustrating. However, if anything good came out of it, it was some sharing of stories and mutual affirmations on the Twitters that yes, this happens to women all too frequently; yes, it’s obnoxious; and that hopefully some people viewing it thought about their own internalized biases, and how those may reflect in behavior toward women. I’m reminded at times like these how important social media networks have been to me, both in introducing me to new people (I’ve already found many new scientists to follow because of this) and in having an outlet to discuss and commiserate. So, some thoughts.

1) I hadn’t considered this in the beginning (because it’s my life and all), but from the write-up alone, I probably sound like “just a mom,” especially with my baby’s picture within the post. I mention at one point my colleague and link to a fellow scientist, but let’s be honest–people don’t always read these posts carefully or all the way through. So I was an easy target. Many studies have shown that people still describe scientists as old, white men–the Einstein stereotype. Just google “scientist” and check out the images: a bunch of nerdy, older white guys for the most part, and a handful of women (some scantily dressed, cause that’s exactly how we science, amirite ladies?). I got this type of attitude just the other day, as the driver who picked me up at the Philadelphia airport (a driver who routinely transports scientists!) was still surprised that I was a young woman and doing the work that I do. I’ve gotten that response previously at conferences as well. Women just aren’t accepted as scientists, even at times by other people working in the field.

2) I think many people (especially men) may underestimate or not understand just how frustrating this type of behavior/attitude is to women. Or worse, minimize it or not accept that this happens. I’ve been gaslighted previously by male (and female!) colleagues, telling me that surely my perception of a situation or event was incorrect. I accepted that they were right at the time (this was long before #ripplesofdoubt or other such support and story-sharing). No way would I stand for that now.

3) Blowback. The current situation involved a pseudonymous man on the internet, but all too often in these types of situations where women are dismissed and their expertise minimized people are involved who are more difficult to ignore. They may be senior colleagues in one’s own department or college. People in the field who could be reviewers of your papers or grant applications. Even collaborators who, in theory, should respect your training and value your expertise can try to appropriate your work because they see themselves as more important. (Thankfully this has not happened to me, but it has to several of my female colleagues, with mixed results in the end as far as credit, authorship, etc.)

In the end, much of this type of sexism is not conscious on the part of the one initiating it. I’m sure that people who told me I don’t look like a scientist meant it as a compliment and truly believed it was–because after all, scientists aren’t supposed to be young, or female, or particularly attractive. I’m sure that those that may have assumed I’m “just a mom” and didn’t bother to pay any attention to my professional accomplishments before explaining my field to me don’t think they’re particularly biased against women. Outright, blatant bias against women is much tougher to get away with today (in theory, anyhow), but the more subtle, “everyday” sexist behaviors are still very much amongst us. If it hurts people’s feelings that they get called out on these, well, tough. The only way things change is by shedding light on them. I have a bright spotlight and I’m not afraid to use it.

Economic barriers in the elite University (and in science)

This week at #scio14, Danielle Lee is leading a discussion on privilege in science. I’d started this post and abandoned it a few weeks back, but I think it speaks to a similar phenomenon as she describes in her post. Low-income students are being lost not only to science, but often to the college experience in general. This is amplified at elite institutions, but even at the public institutions I’ve worked at, lower income students are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to preparing for any kind of graduate or professional post-bac training. 

My first introduction to one of my college roommates was via snail mail, back in the day. She had 4 names; her two middle names were both honoring sides of her highly-distinguished family. She was fourth generation Yale and had attended the best private schools her entire life. My other roommate was the daughter of a very successful South Korean businessman, and had spent her high school years at an elite private all-girls’ institution.

Then there was me. I was only the second person in the history of my school to attend an Ivy league university. (The first, a generation prior, had gone to Dartmouth on a football scholarship). I grew up in the country, lower middle-class but not precisely poor, playing on my Grandma’s farm and spending way too much time and gas money driving around our enormous  rural school district to pick up friends. I had graduated at the top of my class of 67 at my small high school, which was situated, literally, in the middle of cornfields. Though we had many excellent teachers and I feel I received a good education, we didn’t even have a single Advanced Placement course.

My arrival at Yale was quite the culture shock. When classmates found out about my background, the questions frequently turned to cow-tipping (which apparently all the urban kids knew about, but I’d never heard of. No one who actually grew up around cows would try to do something so stupid) and pointing out my lack of cultural experiences (wow, you’ve never been to Europe? You don’t know that when one refers to The City, that means New York? What do you mean, you’d never seen the ocean before coming to Connecticut?) During my entire 4 years, I only met a few others from rural areas. Even the other public school kids were often vastly wealthier than I was, and had gone to public schools which were well-funded and top-rated in their state, rather than a struggling rural school like mine, always one levy failure away from disaster. One of my classmates had a sports arena on campus named for his family. Receiving expensive cars “on a whim” or other pricey gifts during family visits was not uncommon. Meanwhile, I worked several jobs at a time–at the Yale Telefund, the dining hall,  and waitressing at a local restaurant–just to pay the bills. I was in class with these kids, but make no mistake–I was not *of* their class.

Though racial diversity at Yale was fairly decent while I was there (that is to say, it was in line with other “elite” institutions, even though it certainly was not representative of the U.S. as a whole), economic diversity was not. Since my time here, Yale has instituted some policies to attract more high-achieving low-income students to the university. (The cover of the Yale Alumni Magazine reporting this story even calls such students “low-hanging fruit,” noting that “they’re out there–but hard to find”–an admission that few of us were “in there” at Yale). The article points out that now, Yale waives the parental contribution to a student’s education for families making under $65,000/year. When I attended, Yale had assumed that parents would finance the education–something many of us from lower incomes know was impossible. As such, I and others like me ended up taking out loans for both the “student contribution” and for our expected parents’ part of the bill, even as most of us worked long hours while attending to pay for our living expenses.

This alone set many of us apart from our classmates. Unlike many of our peers, we were not free to focus on our studies. Extracurricular activities? Not a chance. Most semesters I worked at least 20 hours/week, sometimes up to 40, on nights and weekends. This not only further divided me from my wealthier contemporaries who I was serving in the dining halls or begging their alumni parent donors to contribute to Yale,but also meant that I wasn’t able to socialize as much or attend many University events. I couldn’t go on spring break trips to tropical beaches, or even weekend road trips as I typically fit in 4-5 work shifts from Friday through Sunday.

Even with these programs in place, for the class of 2017, the article notes that 69% of Yalies come from families that make $120,000 or more per year. This means that over 2/3 of the student body comes from families in the top 10% of income earners in the US. Even when lower-income students have been actively recruited:

“…the odds were overwhelming that you came from one of just 15 urban areas: San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Portland, Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore. The gears of meritocracy turn most reliably in our cities. Of the poor, smart kids who applied to elite schools in the Hoxby-Avery dataset, a mere 21 percent lived outside an urban area.”

Recently at Slate, Matthew Yglesias discussed a similar issue, suggesting that one shouldn’t donate to elite schools, because even if the goal would be to earmark for financial aid for impoverished students, that’s such a small piece of the pie:

“You’ll often hear that such-and-such a donation to an already-wealthy institution is a great idea because it’s going to financial aid. But when only about 5 percent of your class is coming from the bottom quarter of the income distribution (and we can assume that very little of that 5% is coming from the really truly poor) then even this financial aid is extremely poorly targeted. Meanwhile, the demographics of highly selective institutions reveal that highly selective institutions remain what they always have been—mechanisms for the perpetuation of inequality and hierarchy.”

One thing the YAM article didn’t discuss–perhaps because it was written by an alum whose route to Yale included “load[ing] up our Mercedes station wagon in our affluent neighborhood in Washington, DC” rather than by the swine showman classmate he mentions, is what happens to kids like me when we’re back home. Though not written specifically about Yale, this post discusses the divide that such an education can cause between one’s “new” life as a student at an elite college and at the same time, remembering who you are and what you came from: “Class mobility is not just a process of struggling to fit in amongst your new peers, but also feeling like you’re betraying your roots. It’s really, really difficult to successfully walk on both sides of an invisible line.” Like many who attend Harvard and Yale, when I was at home and was asked about college and where I attended, I’d just mumble “Connecticut,” rather than get into an awkward conversation about Yale that made people from home look at me as if I’d suddenly sprouted an extra head. This wasn’t something my peers from more privileged backgrounds had to deal with; it was more frequently assumed that they’d be attending universities like Yale, after graduating from similarly elite private schools.

There’s also the worry that we’re disappointing people back home if we don’t succeed. The New York Times recently profiled two young men from low-income backgrounds who ended up attending Harvard and Yale. Both talk about pressure they feel and though they don’t name it, imposter syndrome shines through in their essays. The Harvard undergrad, Justin Porter, illuminates some reasons why initiatives like these to lure “atypical” Ivy students alone are not enough:

I do not believe that increasing financial aid packages and creating glossy brochures alone will reverse this trend. The true forces that are keeping us away from elite colleges are cultural: the fear of entering an alien environment, the guilt of leaving loved ones alone to deal with increasing economic pressure, the impulse to work to support oneself and one’s family. I found myself distracted even while doing problem sets, questioning my role at this weird place. I began to think, “Who am I, anyway, to think I belong at Harvard, the alma mater of the Bushes, the Kennedys and the Romneys? Maybe I should have stayed in Mississippi where I belonged.”

This is one thing that no amount of academic preparation can really prepare you for. It was incredibly foreign to me to suddenly be in a place where parents thought nothing of sending their kids a thousand dollars to throw a party for their dorm floor; one where my roomates took me out not to the local Ponderosa or Pizza Hut, but to $50-an-entree places with lines of forks and spoons I’d only seen in movies, or to members-only dining experiences. Alien environment, indeed. And with all of this, I am still very aware that I still have privileges that others who may share my economic situation (or indeed, like many at Yale, far surpass it) do not.

Finally, as I noted at the start, privilege is one of the topics at the upcoming ScienceOnline conference. I can’t attend this year because of the new baby, but the issue of economic privilege experienced by those at elite colleges is very similar to that which hinder those looking to become professional scientists, as previously discussed by Danielle (and also in an older post here which addressed lack of resources) and by Miriam Goldstein. Entering the science field from an economically disadvantaged background carries with it many of the same issues as does entering an elite college. The culture is foreign, the price of membership is costly, and even if you succeed, you can feel alienated from your home community. Those of us who are in positions of privilege–and especially who know all too well some of the difficulties current students face–must work to reduce these barriers when we can, and to at least make them more visible to colleagues who come from backgrounds where they may not even recognize their own privilege or the challenges their students are facing on so many levels. If we want science to be a more diverse occupation, and to have the best and brightest students continue in the field, we must do what we can to be sensitive to the barriers that have been erected, and actively work to tear them down.

[Edited to add this excellent piece in the Atlantic].

New beginnings

Almost 9 years ago,  I arrived in Iowa City as a fresh-faced new assistant professor, just off my post-doc and simultaneously amazingly excited and horrifically terrified at what I’d gotten myself into. After several false starts and a rough few years both personally and professionally, I found my footing and my niche, and the last 5 years have been intellectually fulfilling. I went through the tenure/promotion process largely unscathed and have amazing students and colleagues. There really isn’t much more I could ask for…

…except. As many of you know all too well, the academic life tends to be a nomadic one, and all too often this leaves us in new places without family close by. This is tough on many levels. Child care concerns are exacerbated without a grandparent or other relative to assist (especially when conference travel is involved and the traveler is a single parent); elder care is a difficult thing to do long-distance, and guilt can be massive when family members are ailing and you’re hundreds of miles away. Given the hours most academics work, juggling the conflicting factors–family and professional work–are often enormously difficult. Adding in a partner who’s also an academic adds yet another dimension of messiness, particularly in an area where there are limited options for college/university employment. Though we’ve been together for 7 years, the past two have been spent working at different universities in adjoining states and only seeing each other on the weekends–not exactly optimal.

As such, a bit over a year ago my partner and I started looking for employment options beyond Iowa. We were both offered positions at Kent State University in Ohio, which is my native state. Over the past year, I’ve worked to get my lab ready for a move, graduate as many students as I can, help my paid employees transition to new positions, and wrap up my teaching duties. As of this week, I am officially an Associate Professor in the College of Public Health, Department of Biostatistics, Environmental Health Sciences & Epidemiology, while my partner is now in the Biology department. Those who follow me on Twitter also know that I am expecting my third child this winter, so things are going to be a bit crazy for awhile. Change is good, right? If only Kent State had a better team name than the Flashes…

“Fool Me Twice” by Shawn Lawrence Otto

Science denial, I fear, is here to stay. Almost half of Americans believe in creationism. Anti-vaccination sentiment is going strong, despite record pertussis outbreaks. Academics are even leaving their jobs, in part, because of the terrible anti-intellectual attitude in this country. It’s depressing and demoralizing–so what does one do about it? Shawn Lawrence Otto’s “Fool Me Twice” offers an analysis.

Otto’s book is good stuff. He devotes the first quarter or so of the book to understanding how we got to where we are regarding science denial and anti-science attitudes. It’s a nice introduction, moving from Galileo up to modern day, and covering the intersections of science and religion, as well as the “two cultures” thinking. He uses these chapters to argue that science is inherently political, and that scientists need to engage in the public like in the good ol’ days past. Otto argues that today, partisan politics and shock jocks have pushed us further away from valuing science, and scientists are left wondering what they can do to compete against the money and influence that industry wields.

To do this, Otto creates something of a roadmap. It’s probably suggestions many of us in the field have heard before in publications such as Unscientific America and elsewhere, but it never hurts to hear it again. Engage. Talk to churches and other community organizations. Run for office. Be inclusive and avoid identity politics. Don’t be alarmist. Frame your message. Talk about *how* one does science rather than just the findings and the facts. While this is great stuff, he spends less time discussing the difficulties of actually, y’know, *doing* this as a scientist (though he does talk a bit about the Sagan effect early in the book, and so doesn’t completely ignore the problems that scientists can have when they do more communication and outreach).

Not surprisingly, he also brings up the importance of Science Debate, of which Otto is the CEO. Otto notes that candidates are questioned much more on religious issues than on scientific ones, and Science Debate can serve as a non-partisan platform to get important science questions answered by candidates. In 2008, both candidates did respond to a list of 14 questions. How much did it matter in the long run? Probably not a lot, but at least it did get candidates to think about important scientific issues and put ideas down in writing for the public.

In the end, I found “Fool Me Twice” a thought-provoking but dense book. I also wonder who Otto’s intended audience was. One back-of-the-book blurb reads “Before you vote in the next election, read Shawn Lawrence Otto’s “Fool Me Twice.” Bill Nye’s blurb also enthuses, “Here’s hoping some voters and Congress members take [Otto] seriously–soon.” Nice thought, but I can’t see the average voter picking up this book. There are portions within where even I found difficult to get through–his discussion of post-modernism, for example, probably would be fine for those with more grounding in philosophy and familiarity with its terminology, but again it got me thinking about target audience and how many would be able to connect the dots without giving up on the book at that point (and thereby missing out on a lot of the good stuff to come in later chapters). Maybe I’m too cynical. I do hope, however, that at least a number of scientists–especially those just wading into the waters of communication and science politics–do pick up the book, and dog-ear some of the important pages and suggestions as I have done. Otto has hope for a more scientific American future. I hope he is right.

ASM 2012!

ASM 2012 is almost upon us! Who’s going? Who’s presenting? Who wants to meet up and what are good days for it? Leave suggestions and pimp your own presentations below in the comments.

I will be convening a session on Sunday, June 17th on science communication, “Sound Bites to Superbugs”.

Sound Bites to Superbugs: How to Communicate Risk to the Public and Physicians
3:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Convener:
TARA C. SMITH; University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA

Invited Speakers:
ROBYN WILSON; The Ohio State University; Columbus, OH
JOSH ROSENAU; National Center for Science Education, Oakland CA
JAMES HUGHES; Emory University, Atlanta, GA
TARA C. SMITH; University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA

Description:
Science denial is prominent in many areas of expertise. When individuals deny health and medical information, consequences can be serious. Anti-vaccination sentiment has increased and led to outbreaks of preventable disease. In this session, attendees will learn how to communicate risk effectively to the general public; to understand why individuals do not accept scientific evidence; and to work with physicians to facilitate increased understanding.

Tenured and promoted!

Received the official letter from the Provost–the Board of Regents approved my application for tenure and promotion to Associate Professor.

The process here started last summer. My dossier (with my course syllabi, statements on teaching/research/service, student and peer evaluations of my teaching, copies of academic papers and funded grant applications, my CV, and a few other random bits and pieces) was submitted last August. Letters quickly went out to external reviewers. Departmental review was held in November. Collegiate review finished in January. From there, my Dean had to approve, then the Provost, and finally the Board of Regents gave it the final stamp of approval.

To celebrate, I’ve been spending the last few days in the lab with a student, working on a project involving banked diarrheal samples that is every bit as gross as it sounds. Who knew feces could be such a fluorescent orange…

Another advantage of blogging

As you may have noticed from the extended radio silence, it’s been a busy few months between classes (both taking them and giving them), tenure packaging, and research. To add another responsibility to the mix, I gave a talk a few weeks back at the National Institute for Animal Agriculture’s annual symposium. This year, the featured topic was antibiotics and agriculture, so I was invited to give an overview of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and livestock.

While I’m always happy to give talks to new audiences, discussing my work and the state of the field in general, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous. Given that my work hasn’t really yielded the results that many in the ag industry want to hear (who wants to hear about yet another ag-related pathogen to deal with? I get that), I knew the audience might not be exactly the most welcoming, as it was composed largely of industry representatives. However, as I was prepping both my talk and reading up on potential issues that might come up during the planned question/answer period, I realized that blogging has provided me with yet another advantage–a really thick skin.

Now sure, simply being a scientist helps with this as well. You have to get used to rejection and a lot of criticism or you won’t make it–grants rejected, papers rejected, ideas torn apart in various grad school defenses, etc. You need to possess, or learn, humility. However, blogging on the topics that I do also leads to a lot of less restrained, and more personal, attacks. If you can get used to those, and gain the skill of either ignoring them or responding in a fitting manner, what can your other critics possibly do to you that are any worse? At least in a conference setting, I’m probably not going to get criticized (openly, at least) on my appearance, age, etc.–hopefully, critics will stick to my science and keep their remarks in that realm. And I’m definitely much more comfortable responding to limitations in my study design or analyses and where they fit into the big picture of the field than defending what I’m wearing.

So, was the Q&A a bloodbath? I felt like I was prepared to handle about anything that could be thrown at me, but alas, it ended up to being a disappointment. I was one of the last talks of the day, and we were running behind schedule due to earlier talks, so the moderator cut off our planned discussion portion to give the final speaker almost his full allotted time. When the meeting ended, I was hoping a few people might come to discuss and challenge my results and conclusions, but that didn’t happen either. A bit of a bummer, but I suppose it’s better to be over-prepared for questions that don’t happen than not ready for those that do, and blogging also prepares you for curveballs. Many of my readers are laymen and sometimes have very basic questions over knowledge that I take for granted, just the same as many in the audience at this meeting (a good number were farmers rather than scientists). So, it prepares one to be able to step back a bit as well, in addition to being ready for the hard science questions.

Is this training limited to blogging? Nope. But I think regular blogging helps you to hone these skills–rather than only needing to answer tough questions during talks or presentations, it’s a more regular occurrence (and under less stressful circumstances, I might add). Score one more for science blogging.

In the lab–the year in review

Ah, classes are finally over. The last two summers I’ve taught a short, intense course in Applied Infectious Disease Epidemiology, condensing a semester’s worth of work into a week. It’s a fun course to teach, but exhausting–after teaching, I head back home or to the office to finish last-minute preparation for the next day’s talks and assignments, and by the time that’s done, the nightly student homework is rolling into my email inbox for me to grade and comment on for the next morning. By Friday, I feel like a zombie who hasn’t seen my family in a week.

But, it’s now wrapped up for another year, which gives me a small block of time to navel-gaze and reflect on the past year before diving back into more research (and starting prep for fall’s course, Introduction to Molecular Epidemiology).

First, this has been a Really Good Year. For those interested, we just put out a newsletter detailing all the events in the lab in 2010–3 federal grants received (the most recent one from USDA described here, and others from NIOSH and AHRQ), 3 PhD students graduated, 3 MS students graduated, 13 papers published and 15 conference presentations given. You can probably see why my blogging took a dip. However, all 3 PhD students have jobs, as does one MS student (the other 2 are continuing on to a PhD), so the graduates have also been successful–now just to wrap up all their papers…

This year marks the beginning of the new studies, meaning we’ll be enrolling and testing roughly 3,000 people this year around the state of Iowa, as well as carrying out molecular analysis of another couple thousand S. aureus isolates from the state’s diagnostic labs, and still carrying out some additional sampling on farms. It’s already an exciting (and busy) summer, with more to come in fall. We’re embarking on these studies with some new collaborators, and have some pilot projects coming to an end with a ton of manuscripts currently under review or in draft, so 2011 should hopefully be equally productive. Everything isn’t quite a well-oiled machine yet, but it’s definitely much closer this year than it was a year or two ago.

Women and Veterinary Medicine

The Dog Zombie has an interesting post discussing women in vet med–and why there are so many. She notes that her school is only 12% male, versus more of an even distribution in med schools, and the recent discussion of gender imbalance in science blogging. This is interesting to me, as my personal vet is male, as are almost all of the vets we collaborate with for our research. Of course, the gender distribution of veterinarians in academia may well be more gender-balanced (or even male-skewed) than those currently in vet school or recently graduated.

DZ posits some possible reasons for this divide:

-Vet med is often seen as a caretaking profession, something that may appeal strongly to more women than men.

-Why vet med and not human med? One difference is that vet med pays a lot less. Are women more tolerant of low pay than men?

I found a few articles on the gender differences; both suggest those factors as well as others. The 2003 Canadian article muses that veterinary medicine may become more like nursing–female-dominated and potentially lower-paying in the future. Both cite some statistics, but nothing that appears as thorough as some of the AAAS women-in-science type of studies. Does the AVMA have a committee on women’s issues, or pay much attention to these reasons?