Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Guest Post from another WomanOfScience – Thank you!!

When I got to grad school I was lucky to already be a part of a research group (I had arranged with a professor to work in her lab the summer before my first year). I was even luckier that another student, one year ahead of me in school, had also recently joined the group. She quickly became a good friend and I honestly don’t know if I’d have a PhD today if she hadn’t. She helped me navigate the large state university 3,000 miles from my home. She helped me find an apartment. She introduced me to her friends (some of whom would be my TAs once school started). Just having her in the lab made it easier for me to show up to work. She was my friend, and she was my role model, guide, and mentor.

She also helped me in the lab, and I helped her too. We enjoyed working together. Our research projects were completely separate but we used similar (large) equipment and often needed a second set of hands. So she and I would help each other out occasionally, but our experiments took place in different rooms (on different floors) and soon we’d need to go our separate ways and return to work. Alone. A senior graduate student once commented to our advisor that he thought my friend and I would be unstoppable if we could do research together, but obviously science needs to be done alone. *Obviously*

So, most of my memories of graduate research are of being alone in a large, grey, chilly lab. It was not all bad. I am an introvert. I like having my own space and my own tools and equipment, organized in my own way. And when you’re getting good data everything is good! But it was common for me to spend days by myself, and I was lonely a lot of the time. I was also the only student in my group working on my project, so I didn’t have colleagues to run ideas off of or troubleshoot or be creative with. I was envious when my advisor hired a postdoc to work with a labmate on part of his project. They always seemed to be having fun!

I realize now, years later, that science does not need to be done alone and it is fun and rewarding to work with others. Ideas evolve when you work with others. You can be an independent scholar and have collaborators. You can be a scientist and be a person. Science should be done with others! I liked my PhD advisor in many ways, but I wish she had recognized how isolating our work conditions were. People are important.

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