An entry at Female Science Professor today reminded me of an incident from early in my graduate career. I had chosen to attend a "women in physics" luncheon. At the luncheon, the three or four female faculty in the department offered their words of wisdom to us young female scientists. "The key to success," one of them stated, "is a supportive husband." I immediately bristled at this suggestion. Although I had always anticipated getting married someday, I couldn't believe I was being told that I needed a man to succeed. Without considering an alternative interpretation, I indignantly thought to myself, "I don't need anyone but myself."
Fast forward a few years. I am now married and have transferred to a different school to complete my studies -- ahh, the two-body problem. My husband's college (he's a physics prof) and my grad school are two hours apart. We decided the best option was to buy a house near his school and get me an apartment near mine, where I stay three nights a week. It's hard, really, really hard maintaining this dual life. And a couple years ago I began to falter, and considered leaving grad school. All the women in my mother's family, whom I live near and visit often, as well as my middle sister, were excited that I might leave school and encouraged me to do so. Why should I sacrifice so much to get a PhD and become a professor when I could make a fine living as a high school teacher with the education I had? And then I could start a family, since I would be living full time with my husband, as I should be anyway. (These were their opinions, not necessarily mine.) Even my oldest sister and father offered only cautious support. Be careful you don't let your aspirations threaten your marriage, they warned. (Not altogether terrible advice.) Still, did no one think that maybe what I needed was encouragement to stay the course? Did no one think that maybe this was just a bump in the road, and what I was looking for was support to make it through? Or validation of my choices? One person. My husband. The one who had the most to gain by my leaving school and moving home. He alone -- well, and to be fair, my best friend, an MD -- assured me that we would make it, that I would make it. He alone of my family validated my aspirations, and inspired me to keep going. I'm now within a year of graduating, and as hard it's been, and continues to be, I'm happy with my choice.
And now I understand what those women at that luncheon meant. It wasn't that I needed to get married, and to have that man support me. It was that if I did get married, I better marry a man who supports me. And he does. May you also be so fortunate.