Daniel W. Drezner

Following up on dames getting Ph.D.s in international relations

Following up on dames getting Ph.D.s in international relations

So my post earlier this week on the comparative advantages and disadvantages for women getting Ph.D.s to advance a career in foreign policy generated a lot of traffic, and some few very useful addendums.  It also generated some accusations that my discourse is sexist, heteronormative, etc.  I’m going to marginalize ignore the latter, because the people who took offense at, say, the title of my post are the people who will take offense at sneezing wrong. 

Instead, here are three follow-on thoughts from Official Friend of the Blog Amy B. Zegart, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution: 

I call the PhD for women "the don’t mess with me degree." Particularly in national security, when you’re dealing with military officers (most of them men) who literally wear their accomplishments on their clothing, walking in the room with "Dr." in your title goes a long way to confer immediate legitimacy. The PhD says, "this woman is smart AND masochistic enough to survive a grueling doctoral program."

This is an excellent observation, and one I heard from several other women who went the doctoral route.  Zegart’s second observation:

Because women in national security are relatively few and far between, we tend to get asked to do more things to show that women in national security can do more things. This is where good intentions can have perverse effects: "wouldn’t it be great to have a woman to speak that conference/committee/donor event/parents’ weekend panel?" can lead to overload, particularly for female junior faculty. The antidote (saying no) is not hard in theory but it is in practice.

I strongly suspect that this is a problem for both women and minorities.  Being underrepresented means being asked to perform a greater number of  "service" functions in the name of diversity.  The result is a genuine tax on junior people in policy and scholarly career tracks.  Learning to say "no" without fear is an incredibly valuable and hard-to-master skill. 

Zegart’s last point: 

I don’t think… the beginning and end of the PhD [are] the only two tough times. The middle may be worse in terms of women losing ground relative to male peers. One reason is parental leave policies. Here, too, the reasons are counter-intuitive. Many dads are very involved parents, but let’s face it, they don’t have the same body parts as women. Biology means that most women have a much greater physical toll associated with childbirth and the raising of small kids than men do. So treating dads and mom the same (tenure clock extensions, course reductions for all faculty, regardless of gender) really isn’t treating them the same at all — because there’s a higher chance that dads can physically use the extra time for research while moms are still brain dead from round-the-clock nursing and infant childcare. By my third kid, I finally figured out that the best strategy was NOT to use maternity leave right after childbirth; instead, I taught, and negotiated to bank the maternity leave time for the following year, when I was rested enough to make the most of that time to write my next book.

So here you go.