Here is a positive story, for once. We are two female post-docs, both working in research groups in which we are the only women and in which not all of our colleagues seem to understand what it means to be a woman in academia. When one of us came to be a short term visiting scholar at the other’s institute, we shared an office. It was a real motivation booster. It made us feel less lonely. It helped us to understand some of the problems at our own institutions better by seeing how these things work in other institution. We could both expand our networks and also offer support to female PhD students. We did a peer coaching session in which we discussed one another’s work and publication strategies, which was really useful, despite the fact that we work in very different areas. There also seems to have been a positive impact on the institution at which this took place, because suddenly it was much more normal that there are women around, and because it showed everyone that people who are otherwise very different can share a feminist perspective (so it might, after all, have a point, right?).
So if you have the opportunity, visiting fellowships can be a really valuable experience and help to create female networks, in addition to having many other benefits. For department chairs who might read this: if you have few women in your department, consider inviting female visiting scholars. Of course this is more difficult if women are mothers, but you might consider either bringing your family or splitting the visiting period into several short visits, going back and forth. With a bit of creativity and flexibility on both sides, a lot is possible – and it can really make a difference!