Wednesday, April 4, 2018

a question to consider when switching fields

As I (try to) decide my career trajectory post-phd, I'm considering something many people in STEM never do: how poorly will I be treated in the field I choose to enter?

I'm female. The fields I have experience in are electrical engineering, robotics, math research, and math teaching. Ordered by how well I was treated, worst to best, that list is: robotics, electrical engineering, math research, math teaching.

I moved more or less directly from robotics to math. At first I thought the math community was a wonderful oasis of respect and welcome. It's not true, of course, but it felt so good to move from explicit, aggressive misogyny to explicit statements about commitment to gender equity (thanks, Bill Pardon, for making me feel like I belonged and was valued).

I'm exploring the idea of adjusting my research towards computer science. Machine learning and AI in general are well-funded and interesting to me, but I worry about the overlap between those areas and robotics and what that overlap suggests about AI research culture. Encouragingly, I think I had the most trouble with mechanical engineers or other researchers interested in designing and constructing the physical robots, so perhaps the problem was concentrated in a niche I wont frequently interact with.

I wish I didn't have to worry about this. I'm honestly not even giving much thought to it because my timing for deciding on this transition is suboptimal and somewhat overwhelming as it is, without cultural considerations. I'll just see how it goes and consider whether I can stand to return to that kind of world. Or I'll see if I have any other interesting options that don't involve subjecting myself to quite so much sexism.



Update: Went to Triangle Machine Learning Day at Duke. Pro: lots of women. Con: got mansplained to, as well as looked up and down. Boo.

Update II: Recalled some of my less happy experiences. After hearing about some of those experiences, advisor says he doesn't want me to go into robotics. Just point blank, "I don't want you to go into robotics," not "you should do as you feel best," not even "it's up to you but it doesn't sound like a good environment." And postdoc I spoke to last week did not have good things to say about treatment of women in ML community. I don't think I can go back to that. I don't want to even imagine trying to enter a new academic field, a new political network, a new community, if that's what I'll find.

Biology. Biology has way more women and that is correlated with better treatment of women, isn't it?

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