MY FRIENDS CAN READ IT FOR FREE (Excerpt 39 from THE HARVEST of REASON) After Lisa’s Master’s defense they threw her the usual party in the grad office. Lisa, Savannah and Jean were the last ones left when three other guys drifted out into the hallway. READ MORE

(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-38 in earlier Blogs )

After Lisa’s Master’s defense they threw her the usual party in the grad office. Lisa, Savannah and Jean were the last ones left when three other guys drifted out into the hallway.

“Hey who were those guys anyways?”  Lisa joked.

“I don’t know. I thought they were your friends,” Maddie said.

Lisa scoffed, “They probably came thinking there was real champagne.”

“One was cute,” Savannah said.

“Oh yeah. Did you get his number?” Jean asked her.

Savanah pulled a slip of paper out of her neckline.

Lisa leaned over, grabbed one of the half filled bottles, re-filled everybody’s glass and then took a swig right out of the bottle. She then lifted it in a toast to her companions.

“If it wasn’t for you guys I couldn’t have made it through this gauntlet.”

“That goes for all of us. Here’s to the women who stick together!” Maddie lifted her cup.

“Here, here!” the others agreed.

“You drunk yet?” Lisa asked.

They all looked at each other and shook their heads.

“Well, let’s drink some more then.” She refilled hers and Jean’s glasses.

Savannah proposed a toast, “Here’s hoping we all get out of here some day.”

Lisa snorted, Jean snorted. They chinked the glasses against the bottle and all the Champagne in the glasses sloshed onto the floor. They all laughed as if they were drunk.

And then a funny thing happened.

Dr. Marcia Dobson was passing by and decided to stop and offer her congratulations. Maddie sprung up immediately to pour her a drink.

“So you got past all your hurdles, then.” The woman had a sort of dry, authoritarian voice. It was, nevertheless, friendly.

“Yes, ma’am…” Lisa answered.

“Congratulations, then.”

“Thank you,” Lisa replied.

Maddie was at a loss for words. She’d spoken to Dr. Dobson so few times. But she had always wanted to know more about this woman, to connect with her somehow. “Dr. Dobson, do you have any words of advice for us?” she asked.

“Me?” she asked loudly. “Oh, I don’t know,” she seemed to be holding back. “What are your plans?”

“Oh, the usual I guess. Carreer, life, everything.” Maddie shrugged.

“So you’re planning to have a family?”

Maddie didn’t mind answering but thought it was a rather personal question. She wasn’t sure what Dr. Dobson was getting at, but her nod seemed to provoke an opening of the floodgates.

“Well! You’re going to have a hell of a ride then!” she barked.

Startled, Maddie stood up straighter. “W-why do you say it like that?”

Dr. Dobson looked at the four female graduates students in the room and then leaned back on the countertop and began to tell the story of her own rise to the rank of tenured professor. She seemed to acquire flesh and bone as she spoke.

She had a child with a severe disability when she’d taken the position. She had felt herself treading difficult ground at that point, wondering how to balance motherhood and the highly stressful demands of her position. The five-year deadline for achieving tenure was ticking. She felt her colleagues’ eyes on her, daily expecting her to drop out of the running.

Maddie’s mind resisted what she was hearing. Was this woman just a little bit paranoid?

Marcia Dobson swallowed, remembering. Only her husband’s supportive efforts to assist with the child had enabled her to keep going. In her third year she had suffered a painful miscarriage. She had also felt the unspoken stigma, from a department that wondered whether she was all that committed to her career, since she had “slipped up” and gotten pregnant. With her own biological clock continuing to tick, Marcia and her husband (who was older) were unwilling to give up their hopes of a family. However, when, five months prior to her tenure hearing, Dr. Dobson found out she was pregnant again, she felt that she could not share her good news with the department. For five more months, she had hid her pregnancy, wearing tight and uncomfortable clothing, convinced that despite her solid work record, the sight of another pregnancy would count against her during the highly subjective tenure evaluation by her peers. She lived in constant fear of discovery.

“I’ll never forget,” she laughed a mirthless laugh, “the relief, oh wonderful relief, the day after my tenure hearing, when I could get up in the morning and wear my maternity clothes!!” she finished.

Maddie’s eyes met Lisa’s across the room. Marcia Dobson’s story had cast a pall over all of them.

Later, Lisa said. “Gee, I resent that woman.”

“Why?” Maddie asked, surprised.

“I feel like she rained on my parade.” Lisa answered.

“Oh Lisa, I’m sure she didn’t mean to,” Maddie said.

But try as she might, she could no longer look at her professional future as an same adventure through uncharted territory. Her thesis felt less like a definitive victory and more like a minor skirmish in a very long war. The reality of women’s struggle to make it in the world of science had just come a little bit closer.

Although she had not yet lived through it, she could see the potential conflict. In the male-dominated system of academia, motherhood was not viewed as an inalienable right. Not by a long shot. If women were to be good scientists, then they were supposed to leave motherhood behind, because it didn’t fit. Maddie was not sure that she ever wanted to do this.

Was what she had to contribute to science important enough for her to make such a personal sacrifice? And could she then trust the mothering of her children to surrogates, someone other than herself?

On the other hand, was her contribution to science so unimportant that it didn’t matter if she gave it up to raise her kids?

Or if she opted for both family and science, could she do it all?

“Uhhh!” She wanted her brain to switch off. There were no answers, no answers.



Hey! I’m really interested in your comments.* Please join this global bookclub discussion by leaving a comment below (in the comments box)

DISCUSSION QUESTION 39: Do you know any stories like Dr. Dobson’s?

*(feel free to post your own question for group discussion)

*(you can also post your comment on facebook and start your own discussion with friends) ____________________________________


About rheaharmsen

Rhea Harmsen is a scientist, novelist and author of Language of the Spirit, a volume of selected poems. She has also released three novels, The Harvest of Reason, Intermarry, and God Created Women. Harmsen was born in a family with a black father and a white mother at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. Her parents gave her a vision of world citizenship that informs her writing and her lifestyle and has caused her to reject traditional views of race and gender. Harmsen's article "Science in the Hands of Women: Present Barriers, Future Promise" appeared in World Order in 1998 and provides the foundation for the story line for her novel The Harvest of Reason. She co-published the Monroeville Race Unity Forum Bulletin and authored many poems on racial topics, crystallizing the "conversation on race" in the novel Intermarry. Her work with domestic violence survivors in Puerto Rico inspired the novel God Created Women. Harmsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently resides in Puerto Rico. Upcomming projects are described in her web page at
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