From Anonymous:

When I was an undergraduate math student in the beginning of my senior year I scheduled a meeting with my department chair to talk about what I should be looking for when deciding. what PhD programs to apply to. His immediate response was that the most important thing for me to focus on over next few years was “finding a life partner” and that I should consider schools based on their proximity to a city with a lot of potential “life partners”.

I was uncomfortable with this line of conversation and brought it back to math. After disclosing my subject gre scores (poor) he said that given my scores and his estimations of my ability, I should consider a particular tiny unheard of program, adding “did you know you can get a PhD from there? I think there are two or three capable advisors.” Then he looked concerned for a moment and said actually I had better not apply to that program because it was rural and small and there would be “three Asian men to choose from.” (For he record I am white and so is he).

He eventually concluded that maybe “with a bit of luck” I could get in to a different larger, poorly ranked program. I happen to know that this is the same school he decided three other female undergrads who graduated around when I did should consider as their reach school. He went on to say that he felt undergrads in his program were not placing well in graduate school and lamented that a male student he advised the year prior did not get into any top five programs.

For the record, I’m at a top ten program in my field now (higher ranked than the program his male student is at) and all of the female students whom he advised similarly are also at much better programs than the “reach” he suggested. Also I know that at least one of these female students also got the “life partner” talk.


  1. I won’t disagree with you that this conversation was totally inappropriate and that he would not have said the same things to a male student. However, as a woman much older than you who is a STEM professor and eternally single, I would encourage you not to completely ignore his advice. The reality is that once you get out into the real world, men do not want to date women with fancier degrees than they have. It’s not right, but it is a fact. The last time men will not be totally intimidated by you is when you are still a graduate student. Hopefully you will be lucky in love whether you meet someone during grad school or afterward, but I’m not lying that the probabilities are not the same.


    1. Oh, and before someone else points it out, yes I totally know that this issue is a reflection of sexism in our culture (the idea that the man has to be smarter, more successful, etc.) However unfortunate it may be, we still have to live in the world we have. Nobody told me I would be single forever in exchange for this “fabulous career,” and it is a harsh tradeoff.


      1. 30 years ago at the height of the womens´ movement I SAID that I was not heterosexual, that I never wanted children, that I came from an abusive background…
        often enough to run statistics on it.
        But whatever the wording, IT DID NOT STOP.
        Such sexists have succeeded to never get a career – my PTSD has worsened even after womens´ groups like mine invented the treatment techniques.
        Just to see it abused to force us (my generation) into the same life forms we came from.
        NO CHANCE to do what I wanted to do.
        I am on a disability pension now.

        I am so furious that young women today still have to face the same S***T!!!!!


  2. Lady Prof – sadly you are correct. I finally found a man who wasn’t intimidated by my achievements including my degrees, but it was incredibly difficult and took me a very long time — it was far too late for me to bear any children. It is a sad but true fact about our culture.

    Liked by 1 person

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