The topic of the women in materials science engineering breakfast was certainly intriguing. Mary Ann Mason presented data on the career choices men and women with PhDs make and how those choices correspond to family choices like being married and having children. First of all, kudos to all the men in the audience. This shouldn't be a one-sided discussion, and we, men and women, were all babies at some point, after all.
I can't possibly recount all the stats and conclusions from the multiple studies and talks, but the results are located on the UC Faculty Family Friendly Edge site. The good news is that more women are getting PhDs in all fields, including science and engineering. While engineering is still the lowest at 22% of PhDs going to women, it's a huge increase from just a decade ago. The bad news is the that these women aren't making it down the academic pipeline. There is a significant difference between the number of women, particularly women with children, who get tenure-track positions and who go on to get tenure.
Prof. Mason focused on policy initiatives that are trying to address this issue, but she also hinted at what I think is the bigger issue. The mindset in academia needs to change. The studies found that both men and women don't feel that professorship is a desirable career choice based on what they experience during graduate school. Maybe the majority of people in academia are ok with that, but I think it is sad and disappointing. Academicians, do you really undervalue family so much that you are willing to turn away the talented PhDs you produce at these universities? Because that's exactly what the current academic culture is doing.
I am an engineer and a PhD candidate largely because of my mom's nurturing. She managed to balance a career as an architect and raise a family at the same time. (I'm convinced she has some kind of superhuman power.) I'd like to have the same balance as a professor, but the indicators of success aren't great. Kudos to all the people working hard to adapt the system. In particular, thanks to all the men who have the insight and initiative to partake in the effort. I'm sure your mommas and poppas are proud. Also, congratulations to the UC system and especially Princeton (providing family leave for grad students!) for taking measurable steps to accommodate family and career.