Until last week, even her agent was unaware of her name. But now Magnanti, a respected specialist in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology in a hospital research group in Bristol, has spoken of the time six years ago she worked as a £300 an hour prostitute working through a London escort agency. Magnanti turned to the agency in the final stages of her PhD thesis when she ran out of money. She was already an experienced science blogger and began writing about her experiences in a web diary later adapted into books and a television drama starring Billie Piper.
Magnanti said she was working on a doctoral study for the department of forensic pathology of Sheffield University in 2003 when she began her secret life. "I was getting ready to submit my thesis. I saved up a bit of money. I thought, I'll just move to London, because that's where the jobs are, and I'll see what happens.
"I couldn't find a professional job in my chosen field because I didn't have my PhD yet. I didn't have a lot of spare time on my hands because I was still making corrections and preparing for the viva and I got through my savings a lot faster than I thought I would."
This fascinates me for a number of reasons. My initial reaction was how sadly underpaid PhD students can be, which I'm sure I'll be experiencing first hand fairly soon. Not only is it hard to find a job during and after getting your doctorate, but the only decent paying job you can get is prostitution.
But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. It's not a job I'd want, but I'm not going to judge those who choose that path. Magnanti stressed that she greatly enjoyed her job, though she was lucky in that she was a high class escort with a generally safer pool of customers. I'm personally in the camp that thinks prostitution should be legalized and regulated (background checks, STD testing, etc). We shouldn't punish people for being naturally sexual beings (and really, is prostitution that much different than buying someone dinner or jewelry with the hopes of sex?), but we should try to protect sex workers from potentially dangerous situations.
While that's my opinion, I know many disagree with me. I'm afraid what sort of bad press this may get for female scientists. I don't think it deserves bad press - more power to her for enjoying what she did - but I know the slut-shamers are going to come out of the woodwork. Women in science already have to deal with being in the minority and dealing with all sorts of biases and stereotypes. I'm just waiting for someone to go, "See, brains don't matter because she still had to resort to being a whore."
What do you guys think?