This week, we speak with Dr. Susan Watts, an associate professor at Texas Tech University, who served as AWAEM President from 2014-15. She offers her unique perspective on being a woman PhD “in an MD world” and the challenges that continue to face women in academia.
Tell me a little bit about where you are in your career right now and how it was that you got there.
S Watts: Right now, I am kind of semi-retired. I officially retired a year ago. I retired at the end of November last year and then I was retired for a whole month and then I started back in January, half-time.
I am a PhD not an MD, so I am research faculty in our department and I am focusing primarily on research and education right now, not having to do any of the committee work.
Tell me a little bit about how you got involved with AWAEM.
S Watts: I started out as a member of the task force which was kind of a precursor to AWAEM. My chair had suggestion that I get involved with SAEM and he knew about the task force and recommended that I look into it.
So, I volunteered. It was an effort that Kathy Clem was heading up. I volunteered and they took me on and I worked with them, the couple of three years that led up to the official formation of AWAEM.
Then, stayed with AWAEM and I was secretary and I wasn’t treasurer. With AWAEM it rolled over and held a number of board positions up until president and past president.
You were really there from the inception. How has the organization changed and grown since then?
S Watts: Oh, I think it’s just amazing that we started of fairly small. I was just looking back here at the membership list that we had from the early days. 20 or 30 people and just a small cohort that were real active in the organization.
Now, when I look at the number of committees and the number of women holding leadership positions, it’s just amazing, the opportunities that have arisen out of this.
Also, I felt like early on, a lot of us were more senior, a little bit older and it’s just really exciting to see the younger women, the junior faculty really stepping up and taking over the organization and just growing it just tremendously.
It’s just fantastic.
Tell me a little bit more about how AWAEM has affected your career.
S Watts: For me, especially being a Ph.D, it gave me a way to kind of link into SAEM. I always enjoyed the meetings a lot but not having gone through a residency, I didn’t know a lot of people.
AWAEM gave me a way to meet women and some men as well and find some purpose and some leadership experience, also opportunities to collaborate on publications and research projects and things like that.
It provided me a lot of academic opportunities as well as kind of social opportunities as well. Then, through the work I was doing there, it gave me some leadership experience on a national level which helped with my tenure promotion application.
Again, gave me some opportunities for publications and then also people who had leadership positions at other academic centers who I could ask for reference letters for my tenure promotion packet.
It really benefitted me that way.
That’s terrific. Tell me a little bit more about collaborations that have grown out of your involvement in AWAEM.
S Watts: I worked- Let’s see, with several women on the gender equity project. I had also worked on a earlier version of the salary survey but I think that was for another committee, SAEM committee that I was officially part of for that one.
But, for that, I also collaborated with, I’ll have to look up the name, I’ll have to re-edit this one. I collaborated with SAEM members on a salary survey paper and then I collaborated with Esther Choo and others on the gender equity paper as well, the survey that they had done.
Those are two of the major things I think that I got through SAEM membership and collaboration with members.
You mentioned how the leadership role contributed to your promotion process. Can you comment on how leadership in women focused professional organizations specifically is considered for the purposes of promotion?
S Watts: In our university, the leadership in a women’s organization doesn’t figure in particular, but having a leadership position in a committee on a national level no matter what the context is something that they look at.
As far as my tenure promotion process, that I don’t think being part of the women’s’ leadership really had much impact but as far as for myself, it really helped. It gave me some experience that also provided me with opportunities in my institution for some committee leadership that I think also positively affected my professional trajectory.
Describe a little bit more about your motivation for pursuing leadership role within AWAEM.
S Watts: Since starting out with the task force, I was trying to find my place. Being a Ph.D in an MD world, I was having a hard time finding my place in emergency medicine, so I find kind of a home so to speak in AWAEM and then starting off with the task force, I got more comfortable.
I was not ready for a leadership position for many years and then it was finally my turn to be the president, then I was ready at that time.
I don’t know if that answered the question.
Tell me about how gender has affected your career development.
S Watts: It’s been a challenge. When I first started in my academic career at Texas Tech, I was the only woman in our department for many years, the only Ph.D in our department, and one of only two or three Ph.Ds on the campus, so I was really kind of odd man out trying to figure out how I’m supposed to function without collaborators and such.
I think being a woman has kind of slowed me down because there weren’t other women that I could relate to or have relationships with and there wasn’t any mentoring, there wasn’t any role model on our campus for me to kind of try and follow in the footsteps.
It was a big challenge for me at my home institution. Again, coming back to AWAEM, finding women who could serve as role models and mentors was really a big help to me.
How has involvement in AWAEM potentially translated into greater gender equity in your own work environment?
S Watts: I find that I am, we have more women in our department now and more women clinicians, so encouraging them and our women residents as well to make sure that for the physician, the attendings, you’re making sure that the salaries are on an equal scale to the male salaries and the maternity polices, we’ve had a couple of female residents who have had babies during residency.
So, making sure that the maternity policies are in place and fair. Opened my eyes and given me a little more resolve to make those things happen in our program.
What career accomplishment would you say you’re most proud of?
S Watts: I think getting my promotion because I was denied promotion the first time around and second time, I got it. Then, also trying to- I was the first faculty member in our department to get academic promotion in many years.
That was quite an accomplishment and then, I’ve been trying to help other faculty get theirs as well. We’re working our way up to having more associate professors now. The full professors that we’ve had, a couple of them came in as full professors from the outside.
We haven’t had somebody go up through the ranks locally, we still don’t have a full professor yet. That’s the next goal.
What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself or an AWAEM member at an earlier stage of her career?
S Watts: Get involved. I think getting involved with your national professional organization, whether ACEP or AWAEM or- Not even necessarily women’s group. Find something, some committee, some task force in your national professional organization to get involved with.
Find some interest that you wanna spend your time on and then work your way up from member to leadership of that committee or even leadership in the organization itself. That’s time well spent. There’s a lot to gain from that, that time investment.
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