On November 17 and 18, 2017, the Office of Graduate Education held the twelfth annual Path of Professorship workshop. 47 graduate and 26 post-doctoral women attended the event, learning from 27 prominent female academics and discussing the myriad challenges faced by women on the path to an academic career. Attendees heard a variety of perspectives over two days via panels and workshops; topics ranged from the deeply practical (“What Type of Institution is Right for You?,” “Speeches, Presentations, and Performing”) to the more philosophical (“Finding the Time to Do it All”).
In her opening remarks, Dean Blanche E. Staton described the goals of the long-running event as to inform, arm, and empower attendees to stay on their path “knowing that you can do it and you are critical to making a better world.” Such soaring goals require meticulous plans; the workshop requires over six months of organization, put together largely by a few women Graduate Community Fellows (GCFs).
In a recent blog post, GCF Bianca describes how attending the event familiarizes academia for PhDs. While sometimes equally competitive jobs at Google or IDEO have always seemed accessible, academia still shines at a distance for many women – an illusion that Path of Professorship deliberately breaks down. At every event, successful women academics speak relatably and with empathy. Another Fellow, Megan, says the workshop helps women at an inflection point in their careers, and notes that many current professors who attended the event while at MIT have written to the organizers about its value.
Simply acknowledging the struggles that women share in academia is empowering. For example, Megan recalls hearing a famous professor describe her experience with imposter syndrome, a pervasive cultural burden for many in academia: “Hearing someone at the top of her field share that was like being vaccinated against imposter syndrome. If this extremely successful person also has these feelings, then they are normal, and therefore I can accept they will always be there and focus on my work.”
Applications for the Path of Professorship are accepted through the Office of Graduate Education’s website each October, and all graduate women considering academic careers are encouraged to apply. The event is carefully designed to benefit women across all STEM departments at MIT. The organizers ensure that their roster of speakers and workshops is interdisciplinary, and also consider many other elements of diversity, including junior versus senior faculty, different types of institutions, and lifestyle choices and personality types: “It’s important because one of the major takeaways from the event is that there’s not just one straight path in academia, no checklist to success.”
Attendees also take away an impressive binder full of advice, articles, and resources by and for women in academia.