I think we’ve all read the correspondence piece in Nature yesterday on how we don’t need to worry about gender bias, because it really all comes down to women having babies and therefore publishing less papers. Lukas Koube, the author, already wrote this as a comment last year, but apparently Nature still thought this piece was worthy of being put in the journal. I don’t think I need to add anything to what Melissa WilsonSayres wrote about it yesterday. She already says that it really is possible to be a scientist AND a parent, and that babies are often made by more than one person, and that the other parent (often, but not always a man) can also pitch in. And as we established last week, science is about generating ideas (or not?) and I might as well generate a scientific idea while nursing, or while changing a diaper.
Okay maybe I do want to add something: Really, Nature? Did you think someone who has published zero scientific papers knows whether you can publish papers while pregnant or taking care of a baby? And Lukas Koube, do you really think that that is the only thing holding women in science back?!
But it is something that is on my mind often: how many papers would I have had during this post-doc if I wouldn’t have had children? Would I have worked harder and/or longer? I can say that I’ve become a lot more efficient since having BlueEyes. Perhaps I’m not in the lab as long, but I am very productive while I’m there (and so is my husband I have to add). But let’s be scientific and calculate this: When I leave here in two months I will have been a post-doc for four years, in which I have had 2 children. I have taken 3 and 4 months of leave*, so that adds up to 7 months of not doing experiments (although currently a tech is doing some of my experiments). Also, during my pregnancies I was less productive than during non-pregnant periods because of being nauseous and tired and foggy (although working also helped to keep my mind off of feeling crappy)**. And the 1+ year of sleep deprivation also didn’t add to productivity (but that was divided mostly equal between my husband and me). So say that I missed somewhere between 6 months to a year in productivity out of four years. That’s 12.5-25% of my post-doc. I think that’s an overestimation, but that would mean that instead of 4 papers I would have 3. Or instead of one or more high impact factor papers I would have medium impact factor papers.
BUT there are so many more factors to this: could better mentoring have led to more productivity (YES!), are publications in high impact factor journals dependent on which field you work in (yes), whether your data are negative (yes), whether stuff works like it’s supposed to (yes), etc etc.
So to conclude: assuming I make it through the “post-doc to faculty bottle neck”, in the bigger scheme of my scientific career this is going to be peanuts. If I am a scientist for the next 35 years (until I’m 65), then that 6 months to a year is only 1-2% of the time. And not every woman has children. So any disproportion of female to male authors more than 1% is due to something else than having babies. There, Lukas Koube. I just used some science to calculate this WHILE AT HOME WITH A BABY!
The biggest problem right now: using my precious nap time to blog about this instead of work on a paper…
* I know that some people (are able to) take more leave, and I also realize that many female scientists (at least me) won’t be able to sit at home for 3 months without thinking or doing any science.
** Here I should add that my pregnancies were pretty smooth sailing, and I know that for some it can be 9 months of total agony. And for some people the process of becoming pregnant takes a lot of mental, emotional and physical energy.