E. and I were walking beside the St. Jacob's Railway tracks after attending our duties as long term Teaching Assistants for an Organizational Behaviour course. We were both PhD students in the Faculty of Engineering, Department of Management Sciences at the University of Waterloo. I was walking towards my car to go home and he was walking towards the married students residences that were a very short distance from the campus. The very same residences that I had lived in as a newlywed, earlier in my career as a graduate student.
My husband and I had moved out of these married student quarters just before finishing my master's degree. I had applied for funding to do a doctorate and we were uncertain as to whether we would be able to stay in the residence and besides which we were ready for a non-student dwelling after many years of living the student life.
As it turns out, I did get funding for that doctoral research. I also started teaching sessionally at Wilfred Laurier University. So, a mere year after moving into our first 'real' apartment, my husband and I were able to purchase our first home in Waterloo knowing that we would be having a baby and I would be finishing up graduate work and this would take a few years.
But as the saying goes, the best laid plans....
By the time E. and I were walking alongside those tracks I had had my baby and my husband had left. I was basically an emotional and intellectual trainwreck yet I clung desperately to the original plan. This particular afternoon walk took place within a year of my husband leaving and I was suffering also from great shame.
E. and I had worked together for a number of school terms by this point. He was a mature married student from Thailand and our department had many social gatherings embracing the myriad of international students so we were on good casual terms with each other. In fact, we may have both served on our student council team. We were both outgoing and involved.
I think this walk was the first time I was alone with him subsequent to my baby and then marriage fiasco. I have noted the casual and friendly nature of our relationship yet he felt it necessary to ask me this: "Do you think that the fact that you chose to have a baby during your doctoral research might have been the reason your husband left you?"
You know what? 16 years later and I'm still gobsmacked by the question and the emotional rollercoaster it sets off in me. Researchers look for tidy answers to explain the lack of female representation in STEM. This story is one of my contributions (yes, there are more) to the not so tidy answers I suspect litter the STEM landscape for women.