Friday, October 16, 2009

Thoughts on the Job Market and a Book Recommendation

I have been incredibly busy these last few days, especially with the Women in Astronomy and Space Sciences coming up real soon. As the youngest member of the organizing committee, I find myself being turned to quite frequently regarding issues for early career scientists. So here's one issue that I've been mulling over a lot lately.

My own personal issue of the moment is job hunting. This year is particularly rough, especially if you're looking for faculty positions. (To all my fellow job hunters out there: let's all give a big cathartic scream right now: AAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!! There, doesn't that feel better?) What with the economic downturn, there are fewer jobs available than in years past, but just as many people on the market. And yes, this strikes real close to home for me. But what also bugs me is that if you look at the demographics, the diversity is all at the bottom. As you look higher and higher in seniority, astronomers get whiter and maler. Now, who stands to lose their jobs right now? Who are the ones who will leave astronomy because no one has a job for them? Not those senior white males with tenure. It's us folks at the bottom of the career ladder, where a lot of effort has gone into making a diverse population. While the numbers are still quite small for minorities, there are quite a few women in astronomy now. If us young 'uns get squeezed out of the job market now, it means that the percentage of women in astronomy as a whole will go down. Now, add to that the fact that women tend to leave at a higher rate than men overall, well, it's bad news for the status of women in astronomy.

Now, I'd like to end on a positive note since this big Women in Astronomy conference is coming up, and there is much to celebrate in spite of hard times, so I'd like to recommend a book I read recently. It's She's Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff. It's a collection of essays by women who are self-identified geeks of various stripes. You'll find computer science geeks, video game geeks, and yes, science geeks. The stories are about what it's like being a minority within a minority group (i.e. women in science). You'll find that we women geeks are a heterogeneous group, and some stories will resonate more with you than others. But the stories all celebrate being a geek and being a woman and demonstrating that those two identities are not incompatible. So I guess the moral of the story is that no matter how this job season goes for me, I will always be a woman geek, and that's something to take pride in.