Lynne Butler is a Math professor at Haverford College and a long-time friend. Here is what she has to say about the academic life.
Claire: How would your career have been different if you had been a man instead of a woman?
Lynne: My field would have been algebraic topology. As a graduate student at MIT, that's what I wanted to do. My advisor was skeptical of the role of women in Mathematics, and thought advising them was a wasted investment because they would not be truly committed to their career. I agreed with him that marriage for a female mathematician was not a good idea, and promised to prove my commitment to Mathematics, and he finally agreed to give it a try. However after some time the situation deteriorated. Once at a meeting I saw a stack of identical papers on his desk, asked if they were copies of his latest work and if I could borrow one to read it; as a result, he complained to the chair that I was intruding on his private space. Things got gradually worse, until one day he told me that my lack of command of a paper he had given me to read confirmed his bad opinion of female mathematicians. The department chair then advised me to find an advisor in a different field, and that's how I ended up getting a PhD in combinatorics with Richard Stanley and - sweet revenge - got a job in Princeton (whereas algebraic topologists had and still have the greatest trouble finding jobs in top places), which later led to my going to Haverford, in a job that I love.
Claire: You were associate provost for a year. Is there anything interesting about that job?
Lynne: yes, although there were tasks that I hated and did very poorly, there were also some things that I really liked and was able to do really well. In particular, negotiating hiring of visiting professors: from the time when a department recommends recruiting a new faculty, to the time when they start, there are many questions that need to be resolved to decide whether the candidate is a good match with Haverford and how to make it work. For example, for faculty with interests that span across several departments, arrangements have to be made, and I loved doing that.
Claire: Do you do a lot of mentoring students?
Lynne: Yes, it's a big part of my job. Not just when they major, but when they start, when they choose their major, when they graduate, and after they graduate. I have continued advising former students through their time in graduate school, when they apply for jobs, and even advised them about the tenure process.
Claire: I remember applying for jobs from France. I was clueless, you took a look at my failed applications and explained to me how I was going about it the wrong way, I followed your advice, and it worked.