Why WIN@WakeIn her introduction to the series Dr. Milligan describes the numerous obstacles she faced as a woman rising through the ranks of the neuroscientific field, many of which are still encountered by junior female colleagues today. These include not only unfair headwinds, but unique challenges faced by women scientists who are also parents. WIN@Wake is an effort to help shed light on and eventually clear these obstacles for the next generation of women in neuroscience.
Why WIN@Wake, Why Now?
In mid-late 1990s, four assistant professors were hired in our department. I was one of them, and I was the only woman. As a new Assistant Professor, I was offered some unsolicited comments and advice from senior colleagues who saw themselves as mentors. For example, two male colleagues who were in leadership positions told me that they just did not think it fair that I was going to have to work at least twice as hard and accomplish twice as much as my colleagues hired at the same time- just so I would be considered equal. Another senior faculty member advised me to decide if I wanted to be a good scientist or a good mother- that I was not going to be able to do both.
I was struck by these comments- and I was pretty sure my male colleagues were not offered similar, wise words. But, I earned my PhD in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Medical College of Pennsylvania where 50% of the tenured professors were women. As a PhD student, I didn’t think anything of this, and no one voiced concerns over my abilities, especially based on being female. So I moved on- I did my job- I rose through the ranks.
Recently, I was speaking with a junior colleague who was distraught and questioning her path as events were occurring and advice was offered that just did not seem right- it made me think of when I was starting here. I also met with a former, truly outstanding Neuroscience student who at SfN was telling me that her postdoctoral advisor would no longer speak to her after she had her child because she simply could not continue the 12-14 hour days, seven days a week in his lab. She has to decide, "what is most important." And, I said enough.
I have served as Chair of our P&T committee, serve on numerous study sections and committees, and have the honor of serving as Director of our Neuroscience Program. We have done a great job where our training programs have over 50% female students. But, it is alarming when we see how few tenured professors and women serve in leadership positions. And, we all- male and female colleagues have to ask ourselves why? I propose that it is the individual conversations, the unsolicited, subtle, undermining comments, and yes, perhaps unintentional- but still- intimidation that consistently questions if women are equal, if we are good enough, how can we possible manage all we do? And I stand here today, to say “ENOUGH.”
So today, we start a Special Seminar Series featuring Basic and Clinical Neuroscientists as part of our WIN@Wake Initiative. Our goal is to foster collegiality, develop new collaborations, and highlight the work of our colleagues. Please mark your calendars and plan to attend these exciting seminars.