By Sydney Tooth |

While each of us face our own challenges in the world of academia, there are a lot of things that my male colleagues never have to think about in their day-to-day lives that are still real concerns for women thinking about academic careers. It is helpful for all of us as colleagues to understand the particular challenges or barriers of other people with whom we work. With that in mind, I want to present just a few questions that, as a woman in academia, I have to think about regularly.

  1. Do they think I just got this job/scholarship/article because I’m a woman? 

This one is not only relevant to women, as I know the “affirmative action” fears can affect all minorities in academia. One quite hurtful thing I was recently told was, “Oh, you’ll probably get it because you’re a woman” – as if I didn’t put in as much effort as any other candidate. It’s also tiring being the “token woman” who’s asked to be on a panel “because we need diversity” (gee, thanks…). These same questions have also kept me from pursuing certain research topics I’ve been interested in for fears of coming off as too focused on “women’s interests.”

2. Will there be any women at this event/conference?

While I have no problem with my male colleagues and really cherish those friendships, sometimes it’s just nice to have other women around. I am the only woman in my cohort, and am often one of the only women at conference sessions or other events. Recently there were 14 women at an event with 80 people – that’s less than 20% – and that’s actually quite a high turnout for my field. It is a reality of academia, and particularly my subject area, but it can get lonely. Also, men just sometimes socialize differently from women. I don’t particularly enjoy the loud and aggressive nature of a lot of these interactions, but I just put up with it to keep in the game.


3. Is there ever a good time to have a baby?

This is the question I think about on an almost-daily basis. No. That’s really it. There is never a good time for a woman in academia to have a baby. Publish or perish is brutal, and many institutions are unwilling to recognise maternity leave as a valid reason for a smaller publication record (this is much more so in the US than the UK, but there is still pressure anywhere). This is the harshest difference between men and women in academia. I am constantly having to think through when would be best to start a family and still have a shot at an academic job. People often say that the PhD is a great time to have children since you have such a flexible schedule – but they usually only mean it’s the best time for a man to become a parent. As a woman, I have to worry about all the physical consequences of a pregnancy. Sure, men also deal with lack of sleep with a newborn, but they never have to worry about how their body (and brain) might drastically be affected by a pregnancy. What if I have really bad pregnancy complications and can’t work for a while? You also usually don’t get paid maternity leave as a PhD student, which makes it difficult to decide whether you can give up that stipend money for your “interruption of study”. But, if you wait until after the PhD, you then have to worry about the effect having children and taking maternity leave might have on the progression of your career. While this is obviously not a concern for every woman in the profession, it is the one that shows there is still real inequality between men and women in academia.

The good news is that things are improving on all of these fronts, and the more aware men in the profession become of these obstacles, hopefully, the more welcoming academia can become for women.

Sydney Tooth is a second year PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She researches eschatology in the New Testament letters of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, examining ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish sources. You can find her on Twitter or at