Barbara J.W. Cole, University of Maine: Listening to the comments of the last few days, it struck me that I have been in academia for 14 years—my whole career, right out of graduate school—and why on earth am I here? There has been a lot of very negative talk about the academic life, particularly for a woman faculty member.
So I guess I wanted to say that I really like my job. There are quite a few untenured faculty members in this audience. There are good places, there are good jobs. I think men go through times when their jobs stink and so do women; there are cycles that we all go through. But all in all, an academic life, in my own personal experience, has been great.
I am currently the chair of the chemistry department at Maine. We have three women on the faculty. Two of us have children; one is in her first year and is pregnant and due in August. I had cribs set up in my office and nursed my children in my office for the first 4 or 5 months, until they could get into day care. I had a lot of support from male colleagues, and those that didn't think too highly of it didn't have the courage to say so. So I think we don't always have to look just to women for that support.
But I also found that if I didn't ask for permission, I also got away with a lot more. I didn't ask the chair of the department what he thought about me setting up a crib in my office and taking my son to faculty meetings. I never once asked, What do you think? Or, Would that be okay? And fortunately he didn't have a problem with it, or he never said anything.
So I think part of it is, we shouldn't ask so much. We should just do it. I would encourage particularly the young faculty members to do that. The powers that be are going to have a lot more trouble saying something after the fact. You put the burden on them to make an issue of it instead of making it an issue yourself first.
Nancy Hopkins: This reminds me of one great story at MIT where the same approach was taken. A man wanted some space and they didn't give it to him, so he just took a sledgehammer and took the wall down. They thought it was great. They loved it.
Barbara Cole: I like that. Also, I am in a very lucky situation, in that the women are more highly paid than the men at my institution, although it is quite dependent on the specific department. But in our department we do quite well.
I think the biggest problem we—all women—have is because we're trying to balance everything. We probably have slightly lower publication rates. The agencies like NSF, NIH, EPA, and DOE come back and say, “You're at Maine, you have to teach.” I teach general chemistry to hundreds of students every year, as well as graduate courses, and I have a big research program. I think there is a perception at the agencies that people in those institutions aren't very serious about their science.
I find it to be quite the contrary; we are serious. We don't spend 20 hours a day exclusively doing research. We do a lot of things. I think that some of the bigger, more prestigious institutions would actually have much healthier people—and probably more creative science occurring—if they would allow some of that.
Cecily C. Selby, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University: I think I'm being allowed a postscript to remind the audience that the science community does have a history of turning against even the most frustrated scientists who communicate well to the public. We must not let this happen to Nancy Hopkins. I know her work is absolutely top of the line. I think we should continue to monitor her science as exquisitely as it deserves, while recognizing also what she is doing for her colleagues.