Just a little tenure humor

I found this comic on phdcomics.com while procrastinating studying for finals.


I thought this might make the fodder for a blog post.  We have discussed the many problems with tenure (achieving it as well as learning from it) in class and I thought I would use this comic as a brief reminder of some of the things we have discussed in class.  This cartoon reflects a general lackadaisical attitude toward attending a meeting on time, however one can extend this context to include other aspects of being a professor such as teaching responsibilities or potentially research accomplishments or publicatios.  This is certainly not true in all cases, however, the accountability for tenured professors is often questionable.  Tenured professors, at least historically, are looked at as untouchable.  But this is not entirely true.  According to the NEA (National Education Association), about 2% of tenured professors are dismissed each year.  They discuss the fact that it is difficult to fire a tenured professor (though it does happen), but it is arguably just as difficult to become one.  They also address the fact that most tenured professors apparently came teaching as one of their favorite responsibilities.  For more on the NEA’s brochure on “The Truth About Tenure in Higher Education”, please see the included link.


Hunger and homelessness in community college students

While looking through the Motherblog (I love that name), I spotted an article in the Chronicle that caught my eye.  This article discusses a study looking at the incredibly shocking rates of community college students that experience, what they term, ‘food insecurity’ (aka either decreased access to food, hunger, etc.) as well as homelessness.

Link to article

This headline caught me completely off guard.  Though I more often have my head stuck in an Immunology textbook or manual discussing rodent techniques to prepare for my next experiment, I do not consider myself completely oblivious to world problems.  But I was, in fact, completely oblivious to hunger and homelessness being issues experienced by community college students.  This study looked at 4,000 students representing 10 different institutions.  Almost half (HALF!) of all respondents reported having marginal food insecurity in the past 30 days.  Marginal food insecurity was defined as having anxiety over shortness of food.  HALF!  I know we as students all struggle with money but to see a statistic where people are actually concerned about where their next meal might come from is heart breaking.  Similar numbers had experienced home insecurity represented by difficulty paying for rent and utilities.  How can one properly obtain an education and focus on studying when their bellies are growling and they are not sure if they will make rent this month??

Additionally the article points out that many students facing these issues do not take advantage of programs currently available to help them.  I wonder though, if this is more likely due to a lack of knowledge about these programs as opposed to any other reason.

Finally, the article posits many ways in which these statistics can be addressed and changed.  They discuss public policy changes, increasing public awareness of programs to assist in acquiring food and shelter, and expanding support programs (including mental health programs) on community college campuses.  I found this article interesting as well as important in highlighting a problem to which I have unfortunately been blissfully ignorant.

If I could have one wish . . . what would it be . . .

One thing I would like to change about higher education . . . I would like to see an improvement in the work-life balance.  This is one topic that I address in my scholarly essay.  Unfortunately, from here on, I can only mostly comment on the female experience with respect to work-life balance, as my essay focuses mostly on the role of women in academic medicine.


One really interesting article I read was written by Tessie W. October and found in Frontiers in pediatrics this year.  I won’t go into too much detail as I discuss this further in my essay but basically this is an article discussing a woman’s various thoughts during maternity leave for each of her three children.  It chronicles some of the really important bias and stereotypes that women in academic medicine, who also have families, face.  It discusses the bias she has of herself when she tries to be the perfect mother as well as the perfect academic physician.  Also it discusses the biases of society when they chastise her for utilizing her maternity leave in a way they feel is unmotherly.  I really enjoyed the article (and will include a link at the end of this blog) as a way to capture many of the reasons, in my opinion, women feel that they are constantly failing at work-life balance . . . especially in academic medicine.


I feel like an improvement in this aspect is important to not only maintaining women in academic medicine (and likely higher education), but too also simply improving the institution as a workplace.  Again, I am biased towards the female aspect as that what what my paper focused on, but many of the studies I looked at evaluated both men and women.  In general, women generally were more dissatisfied with work-life balance then men.  So, if we as an institution can make it easier to achieve such a balance through the use of emergency daycare options, flexible maternity leave, work-at-home options, lactation rooms, etc., I think we can improve the working capabilities of women in academic medicine (and higher education).


Can women have babies and do science too?

I wanted to share a quick article that popped up on my Facebook feed and, interestingly, was very relevant to the essay I am finishing up. My essay pertains to women in academia and the gender disparities they experience. The full length version of the article can be found here: http://www.nature.com/news/scientist-disinvited-from-speaking-at-conference-because-of-her-pregnancy-1.18946?WT.mc_id=FBK_NatureNews. The purpose of the article was to describe a recent situation experienced by a female scientist who was rescinded an invitation to speak at a conference due to her being 7-months pregnant. According to the article, the woman accepted an invitation to speak at the European Commission (EC) conference in Brussels. When making her travel arrangements, she told the agent that she preferred to travel by train as opposed to airplane because, at the time, she would be 7 months along. After that, she was contacted by someone from the conference rescinding her invitation. They claimed they did not want to compromise her safety that late in pregnancy. When she pursued the matter further, a variety of other excuses were made and, though they apologized and said they would look into the matter further, there was no change in their decision for her to not speak.

This is an interesting article because it brings up an important gender difference that we cannot ignore. Women can have babies and men cannot. There is nothing in science (yet) that can change this. However, how society treats and makes assumptions about pregnant women can. For examples, in this situation, they claimed that the EC was concerned about this woman’s health. Her health and the health of her unborn child is no business of theirs. How and where she can travel are between her and her doctor. So what is the underlying reason for the cancellation. Is it really her health? Or is it the perception that a pregnant woman is a fragile being who couldn’t stand the stress of travel and/or speaking in front of colleagues?