Can women ever really "have it all?"

A friend of mine shared a link to this article by Ann-Marie Slaughter on facebook, and I immediately thought to pass it along to members of the Women Entomologist network.

A large focus of ESA in the past couple years has been on raising awareness of the difference of men and women in entomology departments across the country in an effort to close the gender gap. I applaud this effort and was an active participant during last year's annual meeting symposium. But I feel that talking about it will inevitably lead to the question, "now what?" This article really gets at the societal and social bases on why the gender gap exists in high ranking offices in government, business, and in our case, academia, and on the generational differences between women who are 50, and young professionals who are 30, and wondering if "having it all" is a feasible possibility.

I am currently a fourth year PhD student, and planning on finishing up next spring. I've already got the thought of "where do I go from here" looming in the back of my mind. I have often turned to visiting women entomologist seminar speakers for advice on where to go career wise, whether to pursue a career in academia, government, or some "other" that I'm as yet unaware. But even at this early point in my career, I'm feeling pressure from the personal life vs. career choice. My boyfriend and I have done the long distance thing for a year now, and he's finally moving back to California to start a four year dental program at USC, just as I'm finishing my PhD. Recently, a fellow female entomologist told me that moving forward, I'll need to "prioritize, and make a decision of whether he's really worth it," when I expressed some anxiety about the possibility of being able to find a career track job in the LA area.

With the current state of the economy, I think it's more common for young professionals to uproot and move away from their families to pursue job opportunities, as opposed to being able to find those jobs in an area they already live. I also think that young women like myself struggle with this to a greater extent than our male counterparts. I just wanted to share this article and open up discussion on advice for young women getting ready to join the workforce, but who are also trying to balance relationships. The women in entomology discussion often revolves around women wanting to have kids, or women who already do. But let's not forget about the women who may be making tough decisions about careers in entomology before they even get married :-)

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  • As one of my friends said, "having it all" depends on your definition of "all". I would encourage you to pursue what you are passionate about and realize that you can have a successful career and relationships/family/marriage. Be open to lots of opportunities. If moving to LA to be with your boyfriend while he goes to dental school will make you happy on a personal level then do it. With a little imagination and possibly a commute, you will be able to find a career-track position, which could be teaching, a research post-doc, industry. Don't overlook the post-doc grants by NSF, NIH, and USDA that fund salary and a small amount of research that you could use to find a mentor in LA outside of entomology in a related field. But if you are having doubts about moving to LA, then listen to your gut.

    I didn't have to specifically make that decision but a lot of decisions I made along the way allowed me to be where I am now. I met my now husband during the first few month of graduate school (he was not in school) and he has followed me and my career from the East coast to the West coast and back again. We have had two kids along the way and he stays at home with the kids. I am a new assistant professor at an extension station and really have been fortunate enough to find what is currently my dream job. Not to say that this has been done without sacrifice on either end. We lived on a single post-doc salary for four years while growing our family and the switch in gender roles has its own difficulties.

    For me, my family is the most important thing. But being passionate about my career and working really hard at it is what fuels my mind. It's a balance, or a juggling act, or whatever you want to call it. Some weeks I spend a lot more of my time and energy on research. Other weeks I'm more "mom". It depends on who and what has greater needs. Some times it's really hard - most of the time it's really fun (although chaotic)!!

    Good luck in your decisions!

  • I hope you think of careers beyond academia. There are many jobs in industry, small Biopesticide companies and big agrichem companies, plus EPA, other regulators, growers, NGOs and many more
  • Thanks to everyone for discussing! Just to clarify, I didn't mean for it to turn into a post about relationship advice for me, personally. Rather, I wanted to raise awareness about the fact that the struggles of women in entomology aren't just those that revolve around equal pay and childcare/family planning (although they are very important issues), but can be extended much more broadly to include women who are just trying to find their footing with balancing a career and personal life.

    I can't speak for all women, but in my experience the late 20s/early 30s is a "nesting period" where most of my friends are getting married and starting to settle down. But in a society where it is more and more common to have two bread winners in a family, and when dealing with professions where jobs aren't evenly distributed throughout the country, one of those parties needs to choose between their career and personal life. For young women just starting out, they see their friends getting married, and may be forced to choose between the personal life they want and a career. And sometimes they try to have both - I know a post doc whose husband is a post doc in Canada, while she works at UCR - and that can create a very difficult situation. I was just curious about the experiences of other women struggling with a similar problem, or who have worked through the start of their career successfully and had advice for those of us just starting out. We often hear about the paucity of women in faculty positions in entomology, but maybe this is because women aren't choosing to make career decisions that would put them on that track early on.

  • I find who ever has the more important job is less involved with the kids and the other person picks up all the slack---whether that's the husband or the wife.  In most cases, it's the wife though.  Someone needs to be there to take the kids to doctor appointments, lessons, stay home with them when they are sick, etc.  Still many workplaces are not very sympathetic/understanding of a woman's dual role as a professional and a mother.  That's one of the reasons why the number of woman-owned businesses are on the increase.  Many woman are finding they have to create their own opportunity, as I did.

  • Hi Christina,

    First, thank you for posting and for your candid remarks.  I think open discussion is the first step to figuring this all out!  It sounds like you probably already read all the papers from the Women in Entomology symposium last year, but they were printed in the Winter 2011 American Entomologist, Vol. 57.  Those essays might spark some additional ideas about this topic (all articles from the symposium are open access...easy to get the free .pdfs on the ESA Publications site!).  

    The more I think about all this, the more I think it is partly a matter of defining your own success.  Take the advice of others into consideration, but do what is right for you.  If you do stay in California, the UC schools are taking some of the most progressive steps to have realistic workplaces that take into account the needs of dual-career families (  

    As you look for your next position, don't rule anything out because of location.  You can always say no to something, but for now as you figure it out, keep all your options open.  My husband and I lived apart for almost 2 years while I finished my Ph.D. and he started his first job.  So, I understand how the long-distance thing gets old.  

    My career is definitely taking the stair step, not ladder, path.  But, I'm enjoying my stair steps.  I'm often amazed at how happy I am, even though I'm not where I thought I would be when I was finishing my Ph.D. (I won't go into details...they are all on page 207 as part of the Am. Ent. Women in Ent. symposium articles). 

    Keep talking, keep asking questions...someone might have the right words of wisdom that work for you,




  • Fortunately for me my husband can easily find a job as a clinical social worker and moved for me every time. Studies show men are less willing to move for the wife's career than the wife for the husband even if the husband can find job more easily upon relocation for the wife or the husband makes less money than the wife. It's about ego. Often women "settle: because they don't want to lose or disrupt the relationship. This then means that the wife often remains underemployed. I see this over and again with employees I have hired. I also see some of my male employees that do heavy lifting on the home front for their wives careers because we provide a very flexible work environment (flex hours, personal time off for Dr. appts etc).  It does happen to be about priorities like Erin says below. If you want a successful career of your own then marry a person like I did who is flexible, will move or sacrifice sometimes for his wife. 

  • I will tell you the following based on what I've learned from 25 -35, even though I know not everyone will agree:

    Women can have it all but their families often do not.  Meaning that you can't give 100% to both your career and your children.  Giving 200% usually leads to burnout.  Since your family can't fire you, they usually get the short end of the stick.  The reality is that many women don't consider staying home with their children during their formative years a viable option, usually until a few days after giving birth.  Even if you swear to yourself that you'll never be a stay-at-home mom, always set yourself up financially to be able to do it for a few years.

    Don't structure your life around a boyfriend and don't get married until you've founded your own career and know you can support yourself.  Once you can take care of yourself, you'll know what you truly want for your future and in a husband.  If you want to keep the stay-at-home option open and won't be able to save up the money yourself, you need a man that is willing and able to do that for you.  This makes you responsible, not a gold-digger.

    I have BS and MS degrees in urban entomology and have worked in pest control for 8 years.  I supervise men many years my senior.  I am aware of gender differences but I don't contemplate them very much.  If you focus your attention on being a woman, then so will everyone else.  At some point, you realize your self-worth comes from within.  Do your research on what a position you're applying for should be paid, ask for more and don't care if they're going to think you're ridiculous.  If the job is yours, they'll tell you what they're bottom line is.  Get along with people, be able to make decisions together and you'll move up.  The more easy going you are, the better.  As the title of a book states, "If You Have to Cry, Go Outside."  Never be a source of drama.  Not all women, and even men, are able to figure this out for themselves. 

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