Boston Blog

Women in science: Two bodies, two kids — and too aggressive?

Living apart from a partner for year — or longer. Giving up everything but work and family. And, after all these years, making your voice heard above the din of male colleagues.

Such is the life of the female scientist as described by students, faculty and recent grads who gathered at MIT yesterday for a session on issues facing women in science

The panel included: Hazel Sive, a biology professor and also a member of the

Whitehead Institute; Christine Wang, a material scientist from the Lincoln Labs and Fallon Lin, a fairly recent grad who works in the oncology program at Novartis.

The veteran scientists started by talking about the challenge of combining work and children. Later, the younger women started the conversation about how to be assertive without getting tagged as pushy— or worse.

On kids, Sive said it is possible to combine work and children if you focus solely on those parts of your life.

“That’s a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. You deal” she said. “One of the ways I dealt with a career and a family is the get rid of everything else.”

That means no hobbies and no social life beyond family. It also means picking the right partner. Sive’s first husband said he wasn’t interested in helping out at home. Now she’s married to a man with a big job, but who shares the work of running the household. That’s a big job and they have outside help as well. Sive, who has four kids including a set of twins, suggested a smaller family — two children, maybe —might be easier to manage.

Lin said she hasn’t faced those issues yet. But she sees that women have to walk a fine when they are, say having a heated discussion at a meeting. Often, the women can be seen as overly emotional “where if the men say the same thing, they come off at assertive and powerful.”

Both Lin and Wang urged the women to network and look for mentors, even after they graduate.

MIT is a very nurturing place,” Wang said “Once you get out in the real world, it is very competitive. What’s really important is for you to manage your own career. Think about what it is you want to do and go talk to you manager about what your interests are because they do not have the time to ask you.”

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