Friday, December 01, 2006

Does being a young woman matter in science?

I am at a "promotion" conference for a big international research initiative. It is interdisciplinary and has attracted researchers from the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. Everyone here are involved in projects which are part of this particular international research initiative and the participant list includes most of the people worth knowing from my field in my geographical area. So why am I here? The answer is weirder than one might think - because I am young! See, all projects were asked to bring a young scientist to this conference. So I have been picked as the young person from our project. Most of the other "young scientists" here are also women. For the humanities this might not be so strange, as they often have a high percentage of women in general. For my field it is rather peculiar as we are next to no women in general.

It is fine and interesting to be here and it is obviously an opportunity to promote one self among the important guys on hiring committees, evaluation committees, promotion committees, review panels etc. I hope I am also here because of my skills and talent for science, and not only because of my age/gender, but with this sort of setup it is hard to tell. The organizor came to me tonight and said that I should remember that young women like me in my field are not only scientists but also role models for a new generation. This is probably true, but I am not sure I want to be invited to a scientific conference as a role model.

The Scandinavian countries have put significant emphasis on gender equality and in general I am all for these initiatives, but sometimes this policy just feels odd. I don't know what the solution is. I am happy to get chances, but I wish I didn't have to fight the feeling that maybe I didn't fully deserve it.

When that is said. I think I have done pretty well today and convinced some people that what I am doing is good and important. I think I have a talent for mingling and letting people see the best side of the story. What they don't know is that I never have time to do any serious research and haven't submitted a single paper this year. That makes me feel like a fraud.

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