Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Fashion of Conferences

Attending a conference for the first time? Wondering what to wear? This is a common issue for women, especially young women, because women have a lot of options. Men have very few options, and thus, their world is clearer and easier to navigate. Women have many many options. Dress, skirt, suit with skirt, pants suit, jeans, boots, heels, flats, sneakers, sweater, button-up shirt, blazer, make-up, no make-up? And don’t even get me started on hair!

So, I am going to do what other women’s blogs have done and do a conference fashion show. Of course, different conferences have different styles, so I will be specific that these shots were taken from the world’s largest PHYSICS conference. I have poorly concealed the identities of our terrific models. I will add more in future from other disciplines in future posts. Until then, enjoy!

Our first selection is the suit look.

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Several women, especially on the day of giving their invited talks, will wear pants suits. Many are black, but gray was also spotted, although I don’t have pictures of those. You can also use separates – different color blazer and pants.   The shirt under the blazer is typically a nice color, but not low-cut. Physicists don’t really show cleavage, as you will see. I think when there are so few women, you don’t want to flaunt your boobs. The shoes are quite sensible. Typically physics-types favor flats. Also, though you cannot see it due to the censor bars, the make-up is very light or non-existent.


Our second selection is a very nice look that I really like – a nice dress.

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The dresses are well-fitting and again – no cleavage. Opaque tights under knee-high boots can be dark, or just a flash of color if the dress and boots are too dark. A nice jacket or blazer over the top can finish the look to give a flare of color or make it look a little more professional. You can also add a nice scarf.



Finally, the most casual look is jeans and a sweater.

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Physicists can be wonderfully casual, but you still want to look decent. Again – no cleavage. You want your jeans to fit fairly well. Both these models are wearing dark jeans, although I have seen colored jeans, and medium wash. Acid wash and other more flamboyant washes were not observed. When someone says that a conference is “casual” this is what they mean. They do not mean you can wear shorts or ratty clothes.

So, I hope this fashion show was helpful. I think the biggest thing I noticed, as I mentioned several times above, is that the clothing are not at all revealing. This should be considered since some “professional” shirts can be quite low-cut or skirts can be a bit too short. Scientists are basically conservative when it comes to sexualization due to clothing, so that should be kept in mind. In a field, like physics, where women are really under-represented, over-sexualizing yourself with your clothes is a risky idea, since men and more often other women will think you are a ditzy bimbo and think you are not competent due to your clothing. Is that fair?? No! But, it is life. You often have to the look the part you are trying to play.

Thanks again to all my models!

Equal Pay Day

Y12_Calutron_OperatorsToday, as you might have noticed, is “Equal Pay Day” where we women point out that women are still not being paid equal to men. If you haven’t seen some of these articles and statistics, I thought this one was nice. I was surprised by the wage gap as a function of race. Since we are all aware that these wage gaps are based on perceived “competence,” it is interesting to realize that your race convolved with being a woman can lead to you make HALF what a white dude makes!

The wage-gap definitely exists in academia – even at StateSchools where the wages are often public knowledge. For instance,  I was the lowest paid person in my department several semesters, and I brought it to the attention of my department chair who gave me a raise to raise me to the level of the next person. Interestingly, this correction to my salary still left me as the lowest paid person in the department. The only difference was that I was tied for last place with several other people after the correction.

Previously, I negotiated a small retention package at UState after going to an interview at another school. I made three requests for retention given in the order of (what I thought would be) least to most difficult to implement: 1. Teaching release for 1 course per year for 2 years. 2. A $5000 raise. 3. $25,000 per year for two years for research expenses. Surprisingly, I was given items 1. and 3., but not the raise! I was pretty shocked that the salary increase was off the table.

In addition to this, I have gone 2 summers with NO summer salary at all because I wanted to pay my students. I have a friend who basically just laid herself off so that she could pay for a postdoc for an extra year. Do men ever do this? I have male colleagues who say that they “don’t take summer salary,” but when I probed further, it turned out that they meant that they didn’t take the full summer salary – they only took 1 month instead of 2. This is not exactly the same thing. I suppose you could say that we do it to ourselves, but really, it is just that we are committed and used to not getting much for it. We are so used to being undervalued for our work by society, we even ourselves. We undervalue ourselves. Think about that. By not paying yourself, we are not even valuing ourselves or our work at the absurdly low level that society tells us.

So, on Equal Pay Day, let’s pledge to value ourselves. I am going to endeavor to value myself more from now on. I am going to endeavor to pull a white male and OVER-Value myself. I will not ask for the $5k raise next time. I am going to ask for $20k. How will that fly? I got zero when I asked for $5k, but I can’t get less than that, right? There is no such thing as a negative raise, right? So, since I now have tenure, and I am kicking *ss at my job, I am taking my one month of summer salary – damn it!

What do you think? Post or comment. Push +Follow to get an email every time there is a new post.

Woman_standing_next_to_a_wide_range_of_tire_sizes_required_by_military_aircraft._-_NARA_-_196199A wonderful post from a WomanOfScience friend on women’s leadership. In particular, women in academic administration. Choosing to go the administrator route may be an exit from the research track.


I’ve always recognized the advantages of being a female faculty member in a male dominated field and try not to dwell on the instances of overt or subtle discrimination. For example, when I entered grad school (15-20 years ago), there were few women in my field that my gender alone made me memorable. Certainly I did good work, but also it was likely that a member of a faculty search committee was likely to remember me which no doubt helped my job search in a subtle way. When I was an assistant professor and gave birth to our first child, there were obviously some disapproving glares from some colleagues, but still I brought the 7 day old child into my office (in a cradle) and proved to my colleagues that this wasn’t disturbing to them and allowed me to maintain my productivity. Then the slippery slope began…

Some time ago, university administrators decided that one way to relatively painlessly reduce implicit bias was to have female faculty present on key committees (most importantly search committees, graduate admissions, and many policy setting committees). The result was that every female faculty member I knew was doing far more service than her male peers. The optimistic view, however, was that we made contacts and networks both within our home institutions and nationally that were far more expansive. Down the road a decade, we had far more administrative exposure and experience and were therefore ideal targets for administrative/leadership roles (at a time when many institutions would like to showcase their strong female leaders)… except that we were/are too young (many of us in our late 30s and early 40s). It is flattering to be asked to take over a high profile chair or deanship at a young age. And I wasn’t unique in this respect. Looking nationally, female chairs and deans are trendy.

This is where the glass is half full perspective ends… Our male peers are hitting their strides as full professors and racking up the high profile awards and kudos that will allow them to build their scientific reputations. While I was able to maintain this level of creativity and productivity through the births of my three children, there is no way to do the same in the face of the unrelenting distraction of running a large organization well. The inevitable result is to take the research hit in favor of building an administrative career. I am fully aware that I am complaining about an opportunity that women just 5-10 years older than me were denied simply for their genders. On the other hand, I worry that we’re complicit in self-imposing a glass ceiling. In my experience, great scientists look down on administrators that do not have scientific stature (I would contend that young female full professors have credibility, but not yet stature). Worst yet, one of my most creative, deeply thinking graduate students informed me she was leaving my group to join that of a male colleague. She said she joined my group because she loved the atmosphere of teamwork and close mentorship that I had a reputation for, but in the last couple of years (since she joined the group) she’s watched that decay exponentially as my administrative duties increased. I am deeply ashamed that I allowed the day to day fires of running this organization get in my way of educating my students! Worst yet, she cited my case as a reason to _not_ go into academia. That talented women get duties loaded on them until they drop the ball (she described it almost as a form of titration). I’ve sadly become the anti-role model.

This summer, my family and group will be uprooting to move to a new university. Everyone (my extended family included) keeps asking what job I will have there and I have been glorying in telling them that I will be “just” a professor again!

Thanks for that post! What do you think? Post or comment here. To follow this blog, push the +Follow button to get an email every time a new post appears.

Getting It All Done

TimeManagementv2In science, there is a lot to be done. When you are an undergraduate, you had problem sets, lab reports, maybe even a capstone to complete. You were maintaining your grades while having some fun and doing some extracurricular activities. As a graduates student, you passed classes, TAed, performed novel research, became the world’s expert in your exact experiments, perhaps organized some science-related on-campus activities, attended conferences, made posters and talks, wrote papers and a thesis, and got a postdoc. As a postdoc, you juggled multiple projects, learned new techniques, wrote proposals for fellowships, mentored graduate students and undergraduates, perhaps juggled multiple mentors, wrote papers, edited papers, edited theses, attended conferences, networked, gave talks, wrote papers, applied to jobs, interviewed, got a job, and wrote papers.

Now, as a faculty member, your job tripled because in addition to doing all the stuff above, you are now having to manage other people (posts), get enough funds to support other people (write grants, see post), teach courses (perhaps some that you never took yourself, see post), work on service for the department and college (post), and take on larger and larger service roles for your scientific community. Each of these has a huge number responsibilities and components to it, and could be a job unto itself. So, how do you do everything?

I have had some posts about starting a new job here and here, but at the beginning, the job isn’t as much. It definitely ramps up over time. I have one post that is good for helping to organize yourself over a yearly time frame, but there is also something to be said for a monthly or weekly schedule that is conducive to getting everything done. One extra issue with academia, is that your schedule changes throughout the year depending on when you are teaching, what you are teaching, who is in your lab, and other what naught. I will give some examples of weekly schedules that worked well for me over the years, in a hopes that they will help you to organize your schedule, too.

Example 1 – 10am class for 1 hour. Several semesters, I taught at around 10am for about an hour three days per week. This time slot was pretty close to ideal, which is probably why they are so popular in the schedule. The students were awake, I had time for last minute prep before class, and I took the entire morning for “teaching.” Here is how I actually arranged my schedule. On the days I was teaching, I got in around 9am and did some last minute psyching up for class, making sure I had demos, and my computer was set up. I would print off and make copies of anything needed for class. I would go 15 minutes early to the classroom to set up projectors and demos and also talk to students as they came into the lecture hall. After teaching, I would go to the gym for an hour to get exercise and decompress after teaching. After the gym, I would shower and go to lunch. I would spend the afternoon working on leftover class stuff, like scanning and posting my notes or homework solution sets, office hours, and meeting with students. On the other days, I would try to take the entire day for writing grants and papers. In the evening the day before I would teach, I would spend a couple hours in the evening re-writing my lectures.

Example 2 – afternoon lab course. Other semesters, I taught afternoon lab courses two times per week for several hours in the afternoon. Lab classes take less preparation because there are not lectures to make up. I usually try to keep all the teaching stuff on the same day, so any preparation, photocopying, or equipment set-up that I might need to do would be done in the morning. Again, the other days are reserved for research. I would also try to go to the gym first thing in the morning on research days before going into work but after getting the kids to school. Sometimes working out was a great way to kick my brain into gear and get it working for the rest of the days on research days.

The key to all of these ideas is to give myself the time I need to do what I need to do. I block out full days for research and I do not allow committee meetings to be made on those days. The days I teach classes, I put other meetings and office hours, so that it is all on the same day. Although I have been failing recently, I also try to get to the gym 3 days per week. Also, I eat lunch with friends almost every single day, and I try to sleep 7-8 hours per night.

Also, none of this includes any family stuff, which happens outside of 9-5. But, here is the key, by giving myself time for stuff like rest and the gym, I have some slack that I can take up with family stuff happens. The week when the baby has a fever and he has to stay home, I cut out gym and some other stuff so that I can still get the important stuff done take the time I need to be with the baby at home. (My spouse and I split days off with sick baby, and negotiate which days/times we can be home. We often don’t schedule important, non-rearrageable meetings at the same time not he same days, so we can do this. We have a joint-shared set of calendars.) If my time is already stretched to the breaking point, a sick kid or other family emergency will wipe me out. If I am giving up going to the gym for a week, so I can get more research done, it isn’t as bad.

So, what do you think? Do you have a way to arrange your time that enables you to get it all done? Post or comment. You can receive an email every time I post by pushing the +Follow button.

Bullying Backfire

bullyFor the past several years, the topic of bullying has been hot in the media. Most people, especially nerds, realize that bullies have always been there. Although academia is supposedly some liberal bastion of cushy touchy-feely softies who “can’t do,” so they teach, it is actually full of bullies. Those nerds who were bullied most as young people are the most likely to bully others in the future. It is a cycle of abuse that is disturbing. It doesn’t help that many of the people in academia are not good communicators and can often be stubborn and unyielding in their emotional ideas. All of these circumstances lead to a high amount of workplace bullying. In addition to sexual harassment that is still pervasive, the more subtle workplace bullying by chairmen, peers, or even students can make women and minorities feel bad about their job and abilities.

Currently, UState is requiring a workshop on Workplace Bullying. Based on what I discussed above, this would seem like a great idea, right? Ironically, these workshops appear to have a backfire effect. What I mean by this is that known bullies are coming out of the workshop convinced that they are being bullied themselves. Mostly, they are claiming to be bullied by the very people they are bullying! Why is this happening? Because the bullies and the bullied are in fact having a disagreement. Unfortunately, the inept abilities of most scientists to communicate mean that the more aggressive person comes across as a bully. The less aggressive person seeks relief, help, or just a chance to gripe, and they are branded as talking behind someone’s back, forging alliances against the other person, or just a troublemaker. In the new definitions of bullying, these defense mechanisms are also a form of bullying.

In talking to my female peer-mentors, it seems like most women coming out of the workshop think to themselves, “Oh no, I have been inadvertently bullying someone. I need to try to adjust my way of acting.” On the other hand, many men have come out saying, “OMG, I am being bullied by everyone.” I think it would be interesting to perform a follow up survey to see if it the reaction to the workshop aligns with gender. There are always exceptions, I am sure, but my hypothesis would be that women are more likely to be introspective about the workshop. This is what I mean by a “Bullying Backfire.” The bigger a bully someone is the less likely they are going to see themselves as the bully, and the more likely they are to see how everyone else is bullying them. In my opinion, this is part of the mentality of a bully – to blame others for your problems.

So, how do we respond to bullying? Once we identify it occurring, we can only change our own actions toward others. Is it possible to change the actions of others who are bullying us? It is worse when you are a graduate student being bullied by your advisor, or an assistant professor being bullied by a senior faculty member? Do you act like the “bigger man,” and just pretend it doesn’t affect you? That can backfire, too. Especially if your bully is trying to tear you down and make you feel bad on purpose.

Popular culture tells me to stand up to bullies, and I have been accused of being brave. I am not sure if I am brave or just really stupid, but surviving can be a sort of standing up for yourself. I certainly did stand up to bullies in high school, and I fought back. I was protected by my honor-student status against being sent to detention or being suspended. I was able to fight back immediately at the time, and move past my bullies.

Now, revenge may need to be placed on the back burner and served cold. Much like my honor-student status, one can always overcome and get back at your science bullies through your science-cred. See, in science, she who has the best publication track-record laughs last. At the end of the day, if you have better, more publications, you will get more respect than your bully. I have done this with several of my science bullies. It takes having a long-view, because it is not a quick solution. So, sometimes I just keep my head down and move my science forward and try to ignore my bullies. Obviously, this only works if your bully isn’t seeking you out to suck up your time.

All this being said, it is absolutely essential that you have a support network to help you handle these situations. You need a good partner to listen and offer sympathy. You need a peer network, or group, to offer advice, consolation, and cheer-leading about how great you are. Most people will not admit this, but you probably also need a therapist. In all the times when I had to deal with a bully, I sought out a therapist to talk to on a weekly, or every-other weekly basis. These people are not in science, necessarily, but they can give you can outlet to gripe, a confidential confidant, and someone to help with people-solutions.  I am not ashamed to say I have been in therapy numerous years over my life, and I am a more well-adjusted, and better person for having done it. Younger generations of people do not see it as a stigma, but as a means to help to deal with difficult people. Older generations often see it as a signal that you are “crazy,” but the only crazy thing is to not use every option in your reach to deal with these problems.

So, what do yo think? Are you being bullied? Is it persistent? Or sporadic? Comment or post. You can follow the blog by pushing the +Follow button.

1114_universe-crop-500x416So, are you watching COSMOS? We are. In fact, we are watching it twice each week – once live and once with our kids because they didn’t get to see it (their bedtime is too early). It was fortuitous because our daughter was just asking about where babies come from (she is in elementary school). Since we don’t like to lie to her we were giving her the scienciest explanation we could must with very little information on the dynamics of S-E-X. So, we were talking about DNA with a lot of hand-waving. We were super excited to watch COSMOS after both kids went to bed, and see the DNA illustrated. We were recording it, and are watching it tonight to show the kids. Both kids are super excited about it! I couldn’t be prouder. (We also watched Gravity this weekend, and my daughter thought it was scary but exciting and cool.)

I was also ecstatic because some of the science I work on was mentioned in COSMOS in episode 2! It was awesome to see it illustrated in beautiful graphic arts and brought to life. When it came on while my kids were watching, I ran to the TV, pointed at the stuff I study, and said, “That is the science I work on!”

I am super excited about COSMOS because I think science outreach to the public is so important. It is important to educate our representatives in government to ultimately improve science funding. It is important to educate people who deny evolution and global climate change. It is really important to educate future scientists to get them excited about discovery so we have enough hard working people to make new breakthroughs in science.

Also, I find that people are really jazzed and excited about science in general. I do a lot of random science outreach. Mostly, I do a lot of talking about it on airplanes, in airports, in taxis… I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, lately, have I mentioned it? When people sit next to me and ask what I do, they are often excited to learn I am a scientist. I have taken the opportunity to explain some of my science, why it is important to them, and what we could learn. They are often really excited and impressed.

Also, it is a great way for me to learn better ways of communicating my science not just for the public, but also to my classes. Teaching big service courses to hundreds of students is an essential way to make a science-literate public. For some, especially those taking ScienceForPoetsCourses, this may be one of the last times they come into contact with science in a class in college. The experience should be a positive one, and it should make them literate of what science can do for them.

Another place I have been doing a lot of outreach is to my Representative in the U.S. Congress. I have been going for the last several years to a Capital Hill visit day with one of the ScienceSocieties I am a member of. The first year I visited my Rep, I was happy to see that his office had pennants from the universities and colleges in his district. He was taking over our region due to an “ungerrymandering,” so I made sure to bring him a pennant from UState when I went to visit the second year. Mostly, I spent a lot of time talking to his staffer responsible for science, and informing her about how science works. I told her about how federal funding works, which she didn’t realize. I told her how the university only gives a research professor money to start a lab, but after that, we have to sustain it ourselves with outside funding. I told her how we don’t get paid to do research in the summer unless we bring in enough money. I told her that after we figure out how much we need to budget, we multiply it by 60% to determine how much overhead we give to the university. I told her how funding agencies typically still don’t give you what you ask for in your budget, and you get cut and have to make tough choices. Most importantly, I have kept in touch. When I get a grant funded, I email the staffer and let her know. I offer to show the representative around, if he should want a tour of some labs on campus. I offer to help with any science policy issues that might come up. The staffer knows my name and work enough to email me when she sees an announcement that my research got funding.

The next step, in addition to this helpful blog, is to try my hand at OpEds. I tried one, but it didn’t go anywhere. I was told by an expert that it wasn’t personal enough. I actually hate personal OpEds. Who knew I was supposed to like them?

I am not advocating that everyone, especially those pre-tenure write OpEds of even blogs (unless you want to write an entry here…), but emailing or visiting congress and talking science to random strangers is relatively easy and important. I do advocate that we all try to advocate a little more in our daily lives. COSMOS should help. It is easy to strike up a conversation about, “Did you watch COSMOS this week?” Then, you can talk about the stuff that was on there, if and how it pertains to your research, and the significance of the work for human-kind. What do you think? Post or comment. Push the +Follow button to get an email every time I post.

Conference Thoughts

2475011402_bf70c92575_oAs I am sitting in a session at the world’s largest conference in MyFieldOfScience, I am thinking about conferences. I am thinking about how important they are for your career in a lot of ways. For those of you who recently joined the blog (thanks for following!), you may have missed some previous posts about networking. I had one about general networking and another on networking on campus, which are both super important for getting tenure, getting jobs and just good for your career. Conferences are key for networking, being seen, and building your mentoring and scientific connections vertically and horizontally. I have come to the realization that networking is basically “professional flirting.” You can chat about science, but most convos are about family, travel, weather, grants, clothes, students, jobs, or whatever. Academic life has other aspects that we can talk about too. I had a great conversation about teaching and how to teach 400+ effectively with a colleague from another university.

Another thing conferences are great for is energizing your science. When I was young, and I think this is the case for my students, I loved going to conferences because it gave me confidence that people were actually *interested* in my science. I was able to talk about my work, have some people listen, and get validation that what I was doing was of worth. Further, seeing the work of other people that was similar to my own made me feel like I had a community of scientists who were interested in the science. Conferences re-energized me and made me look forward to working on more science and getting my work published.

Now, my science gets energized, but in a different way. Now, I look around and say, “Oh crap, we are more behind than I thought! Everyone is doing the cool experiments I thought of but haven’t gotten off the ground yet!” This is both bad and good. First the bad. It is scary to compete with your science against other groups that are better funded, have more students, and might be ahead on the same ideas you have. Also, I am so so crappy at hiding my science. I cannot keep secrets about the cool stuff we are doing. In some fields, telling people what you are doing helps to mark your territory. In others, it can be giving them the keys to all your best ideas. I have to be careful, but I can’t help but be communicative, open, and excited about our newest stuff. It might hurt me sometimes, but in the long run, I would rather collaborate than compete.

Now the good. Much like when I was young, seeing all the great stuff my colleagues are doing that is similar to my own work can be energizing and maybe even light a fire under your ass to get going. Further, it helps you to focus. If you had an idea to do X experiment and you see it done (probably slightly differently) at a conference, you can refocus your idea to probe the still open questions. Another good thing about people working on similar stuff – it shows your work is hot, important, and in fashion. As in other realms (like fashion) styles change, but if you are hitting hot you have a better chance of getting high profile publications and getting noticed.

So, those were my thoughts about conferences. What do you think? Post or comment here!

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