Recently, I was giving a small informal talk in a local college. The audience comprised of engineers and my talk was based on current research in engineering. One of the girls asked about the position of women in academia. I answered that stating that academia was like just another field for women but now that I think of it, it might not be entirely true.

I thought that perhaps I could refer interested female student to resources explaining any gender specific aspects of academic life. I've read 2 books "Surviving your Stupid Stupid Decision" and "What you came for." Both were books to read before PhD to discuss common problems and their solutions presented as a preparatory handbook or survival guide. I am looking for something similar, but specifically addressing the aspect of gender in academia. I don't have a specific question in mind. A cursory Amazon search failed to yield any fruitful results.

I'd like to find resources applicable to female students:

  1. Engineering in North America but maybe even Europe. These students showed some statistics of bias within academia.
  2. Interested in joining faculty positions or industrial labs.

Are there books, biographies, or survival guides for women in academia?

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    Something about this question doesn't seem right. It's at once too broad (What field are you trying to enter? What country do you live in?) and not answerable (What's your goal as an academic? Why would you think that gender should affect it?). You stated question of just asking for books doesn't address a problem, it's you asking us to provide the answer you already thought of (namely, read a book). I suggest reformulating the question so it explicitly asks the questions you hope to find answers to in a book.
    – eykanal
    May 2, 2012 at 12:34
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    I disagree with @eykanal; the question is both focused and answerable. And the mere fact that this site has so few (publicly) female users is evidence that academic gender issues are very real.
    – JeffE
    May 2, 2012 at 13:09
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    FWIW, as much as I'm a fan of it, "Surviving your Stupid Stupid Decision to go to Grad School" is really for entertainment value more than anything else - though unofficially, it does of course contain many nuggets of truth.
    – David Z
    May 8, 2012 at 16:08
  • @JeffE There are few publicly females users in many in fact most places on the internet. For example youtube comments almost never feature females users. This is more a problem of the internet in general not only in academy. Dec 15, 2017 at 18:27

3 Answers 3


About a month ago, MIT published their most recent Report on the Status of Women Faculty in Science and Engineering, following up on previous reports from 1999 and 2002. It's not exactly a "survival guide"—it's written for existing faculty and administrators more than for prospective academics—but it does clearly describe several barriers to gender inequality, both past and present. The National Academies published a similar report in 2006.

Even more recently, Nancy Hopkins (one of the authors of the MIT reports) gave a fascinating talk about MIT's efforts to attract and retain female faculty.

(Hopefully someone else will suggest something more useful for prospective academics.)

Update: One of my female colleagues sent me the following reply, which I'm posting with her permission. (I'll delete this update if she decides to post an answer herself.)

My more recent reading has focused more on survival with children in academia, which is not quite the same thing. However, some of the issues might be the same. Two good books are Mama, PhD and Motherhood: the Elephant in the Library, both of which are essay-based, with women sharing their stories. Both are available on Amazon, and are quite good.

Some of the best survival guides these days are the blogs - there are a bunch of good ones which provided sanity and good advice along the way. My two favorite aren't active anymore, but their archives are nice, and there are plenty of good ones still active:

There are tons of research papers on the issue, but to be honest, at least for me, those tend to be more depressing than helpful. For example, an interesting (but outdated) one: http://people.mills.edu/spertus/Gender/EKNU.html There was a recent article that retention is going better among faculty (except in math, which surprised me): http://www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6070/864.abstract

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    That MIT report is very interesting. One point of note... the report lists (page 5, bottom) that "...mentorship by women faculty members is tied to the stereotype that women will be sympathetic mentors because of their gender." Personally, the harshest—and simultaneously most useful—member of my committee was a female psychology professor. Definitely no sympathy from her at any point, merely professionally-given recognition (and reproach) when and where appropriate.
    – eykanal
    May 2, 2012 at 16:48

Here are two blogs that academics might enjoy:

  • Female Computer Scientist - Especially, read the archives, starting from the beginning and moving forward, for a perspective from a graduate student who later went on to a professor position. Lots of great advice for men and women alike.

  • Female Science Professor - Worth reading, and with a sense of humor. Written from the perspective of a mid-career science professor. Probably more likely to be of interest to faculty than grad students, but for faculty, you may find some of her writing spot-on.

I certainly found some of the stuff there helpful. I don't know if it will help women in the position you mentioned, except perhaps to feel a sense that others have gone through this and that it is possible to remain a sane, productive person despite the hurdles.


What advice would you give men wanting to do the same things?

That advice that you would give them, you give to women.

It'd be quite foolish to give women different advice and expect them to have realistic expectations and not set them up to fail, unless you feel that women aren't as competent and need to have their hands held, which would be wildly sexist.

Chances are high that if you direct them to a source that's "for women," it will more than likely ensure a negative outlook about their future coworkers and employment.

Engineering is engineering. Gender need not apply.

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    I would give the same advice to anyone asking about the position of women in academia, regardless of the gender of the asker. That advice would be "Educate yourself about the reality of women in academia by reading the research and/or blogs describing personal experiences (both positive and negative)", as JeffE and DW suggest.
    – ff524
    May 20, 2014 at 18:17
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    @Jackson: The experience of women in academia is (currently) fundamentally not the same as that of men. For example, men don't have to choose between work and maternity leave. Assuming that all advice for men apply to women—or that women don't have special challenges that men don't face—is overly simplistic.
    – aeismail
    May 20, 2014 at 19:53
  • @aeismail You example is actually country-specific, but the general point is of course good. May 20, 2014 at 20:07
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    Maternity leave? Isn't that common sense and way too situational? Let alone that completely depends on the country, the company, what your profession is, how many hours you work, whether or not you want children, whether or not you have a man/partner, etc., you might as well give advice about menstrual cycles and how to bathe. It's weird watching people claim women are equal with men, but then claiming that they need all of this common sense knowledge because they need to read feminist blogs about maternity leave. Non sequitur to say the least.
    – Jackson
    May 21, 2014 at 11:26

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