Challenges to the Choice Discourse: Women’s Views of Their Family and Academic-Science Career Options and Constraints

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Women are underrepresented as tenure-stream faculty in U.S. academia, particularly in science fields, despite the growth of women among doctorate holders. The decision to pursue an academic career matures during the graduate-school years. What are female science graduate students’ views of an academic career, and what values and priorities influence their career intentions and choices? Twenty-five women in a U.S. science graduate program were interviewed about these matters. A dominant theme in these interviews was that an academic career would best fulfill their science interests and aspirations. However, an academic career was viewed as requiring, of them as women, giving up family life—mainly due to the belief that household and family work are women’s responsibilities as well as the expectation that science requires relentless focus. Frustration about the lack of options, for women, to pursue their dream of being a scientist while having a family was another recurrent theme. These findings, together with those of other studies, suggest that it is not by choice, but because of gender ideologies and practices about work and family at the disadvantage of women, that women give up on academic-science careers.

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