On Mentorship and Ownership

A postdoc’s funding typically lasts 2-4 years: just enough time to start and finish a project and push it through to get published. In an ideal world, the postdoc who wants to become independent would then write a grant on what they have become an expert on. This, presumably, would be based on their most recent publication. However, it is rare that supervisors let postdocs take their projects with them, an issue which is most often not openly discussed before the start of the project. Here, a comment by Professor Ben A. Barres on what PIs, funding agencies, and young scientists should do to support a culture of good mentorship that enables young scientists to choose the right lab and to flourish in their chosen field.

Join the Sisterhood

In the UK, men hold 90% of senior positions in STEM. This means in a committee meeting of ten professors, at any given university in the UK, it is likely that only one female professor will be present in the room. Professor Arnold, who holds the Crum Brown chair of Chemistry at Edinburgh University, knows this tale too well. As recently highlighted by the BBC, to strike a balance, she has formed the Sci Sisters . Being part of this network, or ‘Scientific sisterhood’ means you can easily find nearby peers who are in similar positions and ready to talk about the issues you experience – even if it is just over coffee.

Gender bias in STEM

Reaching high academic ranks is difficult in science, given the scarcity of research funding and competitive pressure for high-impact publications. Some scientists however are born with a privilege that will make it relatively easier for them to reach those highest ranks.

Being a man in STEM means you are more likely to get an answer from your prospective PhD supervisor, to get this fellowship you applied for, and to be chosen based on a resume that is equally as good as that of your female peer. For women in STEM, as in many other fields, breaking the glass ceiling also means breaking into a male-dominated culture, in which the objectivity of even a scientist is blinded by gender.

This article describes how gender bias in STEM has manifested itself and is still rife in institutes and companies, as shown by two recent examples making the headlines.