Leaks in the Pipeline & General Ranting

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// April 3rd, 2007 // Blog

Why do women remain curiously absent from the ranks of academia?

We conducted focus groups of active, employed geoscientists, including students, and found that nearly half of the women participants seriously considered leaving the geosciences at some point in their career, as opposed to only one-third of the men. The reasons for considering leaving are strikingly different between the two genders: the top two reasons for women were family issues (caring for children or elderly relatives) and problems with advisers (mostly a failure to communicate). By far and away, the main reason males considered leaving was an uncertain job market — a distant second was a tie between difficult classes and choosing the wrong sub-discipline.

Ever since i began my PhD, it became obvious that the life of a research scientist is not family-friendly. Frankly, i believe it is only really suited to crazy, old, single guys, who have no interest in marriage, children, or maintaining any kind of long-term relationship/ social life. Some Christian priests wear wedding rings to signify their life-long commitment to the Church, in God's service. Well, replace the words, “Christian priest” with “balding scientist”, “Church” with “laboratory”, and “God” with… hmm… not sure, actually, and you'll get the idea of the amount of dedication required to get anywhere in this field. I am certainly not prepared to sacrifice my ovaries to the unyielding demi-god of 'secured tenure'.

I love Science. I love Biology. I love learning about the complex mechanisms that make us beings of life; processes that are wholly independent of any kind of human intervention.

O men! Here is a parable set forth! Listen to it! Those on whom, besides Allāh, ye call, cannot create (even) a fly, if they all met together for the purpose! And if the fly should snatch away anything from them, they would have no power to release it from the fly. Feeble are those who petition and those whom they petition!

[The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 22, Verse 73]


We have no ability to create life, even if we think we have the right to destroy it. Scientists can manipulate the building blocks, but they cannot create something from nothing; for one, the idea goes against a fundamental principle of thermodynamics, or something. Hey, i'm a Biologist, not a nerdy Physicist, OK?

To some degree, i even love research. I complain about it a lot, i know, but it's not all bad. It's true that 99.9% of the time, you just want to run away and join the circus, because a life cleaning out elephant enclosures and juggling custard pies, sounds so much more fulfilling than the repeated exercise of grimly staring at the data from your latest experiment, silently screaming, “SO, WHY DIDN'T YOU WORK THIS TIME? AAAARGHHH!”. Ahem.

But then there's that golden 0.1% where Allāh grants you a miracle… yes, a freaking MIRACLE! Because you have discovered something that might mean something, which might link with something else, which would be so cool, cos it would support your hypothesis (that you alone believe in). And then come the dreams… the dreams of papers, and awards, and grants being thrown at you from all corners, and lunch with Nobel laureates, and… and… and… and then, you realize you were holding the graph the wrong way round. *Sounds of dreams smashing into little pieces , like glass shattering on a concrete surface* Or even better, those great results, which would surely bag you the coveted star prize at this year's Graduate Student's Poster Session, turn out to be an irreplicable fluke. *sigh* Life becomes quiet and non-eventful, once more.

Hang on, i was meant to explain why i love research… hmm… give me a minute here…. ah yes, now i remember: because, sometimes, let's say, 0.01% of the time, you do discover something real. And even though that something is quite boring and irrelevant, and no-one cares about it – even your own colleagues, who blankly stare, with dry eyes, at the 30 minute PowerPoint presentation you enthusiastically prepared, to explain this blip of data – it was you who was given the great privilege of knowing this teeny, little something about God's creation, before anyone else on the planet, in the universe, even…

Or that is what you secretly hope for. Cos dammit if that smarmy postdoc you met at last year's Keystone conference thinks that he can beat you to publishing in the Journal of Who Gives a Flying Fig About This Tiny Field Of Molecular Biology, Anyway?!

By the way, i keep getting asked by various different folks to give talks to 'young people' about how much fun it is to be a real-life scientist… oooOOOooh!

I would, but i really hate to lie, especially to children. It's not a good example to set on young, impressionable minds.

Y'know, when i complain this much about my work, i begin to feel guilty, because i feel like i'm being totally ungrateful for the opportunities that God has granted to me so freely. This position basically fell into my lap; i've never had to fight to obtain a decent education, or a job, or worry about where the next pay cheque is coming from, etc. Alhamdulillah, i am so blessed, in every sense! I really, really, REALLY want to make the most of all that i have learnt, in order to give back to humanity in some way; I just don't know how yet…

What a shame it would be to throw all this knowledge & experience away. I really pray that i don't mess this PhD up…

Please Allāh, forgive this ungrateful servant, and help her to put to use whatever little skill that You have kindly bestowed upon her, in Your Service, alone, in order that she may display the gratitude that You rightly deserve. Āmīn.

14 Responses to “Leaks in the Pipeline & General Ranting”

  1. I’m so impressed masha’Allah, a muslimah phd student! I’m so proud of you sister! Can’t wait to call you DR iMuslim! I thought you were ** or something, but if you’re doing a phd…it suddenly makes you sound older….ehhehe, may Allah grant you the best tawfeeq in your studies sis, I’m rooting for you :)

  2. Faraz says:

    I’ve heard this rant so many times, it seems.

    I used to live with a brother through his Masters and PhD, and so often he’d complain about all the struggles he went through and how unrewarding it was.. until one day, when he stumbled upon that breakthrough, and everything changed. His whole thesis was all about the motion of sediment in riverbeds, so it seemed so trivial to a measly computer engineer like me, but it meant the world to him. And even though I know how much he hated every day of his research, he’s still trucking on, hoping to stumble upon more of this little gems of information that seem irrelevant to the rest of us, but can still be something he calls his own.

  3. AnonyMouse says:

    Ameeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen to your du’aa, and may I please ditto it for myself? Heehee =)

    Haha, your post made me grin… reminds me rather of my dad, who’ll grumble about his own work (director of an Islamic society; Madrasah teacher; solver of the personal problems of apparently the whole Muslim community, etc.), but he’ll never give it up either… and I get why – after all, I *am* hoping to do the same thing with my own future, insha’Allah! :)

  4. Sumera says:

    Its good to rant every so often. Doesnt necessarily mean you’re ungrateful. But if ranting makes you feel unappreciative, then have a good chinwag instead :D

    I also love research!

  5. iMuslim says:

    Salaams all

    Unique: Ahemi-hemi-HEM… let’s not get carried away with sharing my age with the world, old chum! hehe. Jazakallah for the dua and the support!

    Faraz: yes, all PhD students are highly predictable when it comes to general moaning about our lot… you’d think we had been forced into it at gun point, or something!

    Mouse: Feel free to ditto away! Your dad probably has a right to complain, looking after the community as he does… i’m just a Moaning Lisa!

    Sumera: I know i’m meant to be British, but how does a good chinwag help over ranting??? Is it not the same thing, my dear?! Or perhaps the former is less aggressive and less annoying to listen to, than the latter? hehe

  6. Manas says:

    Nerdy Physicists? NO, you don’t know Feynman.

  7. Manas says:

    But about the serious issue: yeah, the researcher’s life is pretty boring and frustrating.

    Problem is I don’t know where is peace. I don’t see many happy people. Except those who choose to be happy. And like you, I too almost never had to worry about money. I don’t know what to make of it.

  8. iMuslim says:

    Nerdy Physicists? NO, you don’t know Feynman.

    I was waiting for you to pick up on that, Manas! hehe

  9. iMuslim says:

    Problem is I don’t know where is peace. I don’t see many happy people. Except those who choose to be happy.

    Aww, Manas… you have the Postgraduate blues!

    I prescribe a healthy dose of dua, istighfaar, and a little elbow grease (it’s a special ointment that helps you to work)… inshallah, that will cure you [us].

  10. Uniquemuslim says:

    I thought of honouring this post of yours by featuring this on THE ijtema but then I somehow got to your blogroll. I am in awe that you got the address wrong of a site which has offered you an opportunity to speak to the world. A site which can give you 2232.323 hits per day. Ah, imagine committing the same mistake in your PhD thesis!

  11. Sumera says:

    A good chinwag is a more politer and less aggressive version of a rant :D

  12. Manas says:

    I am not postgraduate yet! (if you mean the same thing what I mean by this term) I am final year MS (we have a three year MS here. The structure for me is 10+2+3+3. Commonly in India it is 10+2+3+2.)

  13. iMuslim says:

    Unique: Woah! Jazakallah for pointing that out! That is reeeeeally embarassing, considering that i am on the team! ARGH! I blame everything and everyone else, but myself… hehe

    Sumera: Jazakallah for the clarification. I’ll add it to my glossary page!

    Manas: What is an MS? I assumed that when you said MS, you meant “Masters”… which is then postgraduate… ??

  14. Manas says:

    Hmm. It seems I have mixed up. Okay. I have a BSc. I am doing MS which is probably called Masters’ or MSc in UK.

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