Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for August, 2013

Women’s Issues: What Not To Wear

The following guest post addresses a particular woman’s issue that most men probably spend little time thinking about: what to wear. I know I have a couple of close WomenOfScience friends who I discuss my wardrobe choices with for teaching, going to conferences, or going on an interview. More on this in future posts.

As a woman and a scientist, finding the right balance between my masculine side and feminine side is no different from anyone else. However, the balance I choose to display can significantly influence others’ perceptions of both me and my work. As a student, postdoc, and assistant professor, I felt that I had to work hard to fit in with the boys. My uniform was jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. Make-up was anathema. More importantly, when I had children I took the minimum time off and did not take advantage of extensions of my tenure clock. I was certain that any childbearing-related exemptions I asked for would be viewed as a weakness.

As a professor with tenure, I now feel that I am freer to be myself. Some days that means high heels and makeup. Some days it means announcing that I am leaving early for child-care duties. My perception of freedom does not come from a change I see in society, but rather because I now have power. I do wonder, though, whether societal expectations of what a scientist should look like and act like have broadened. A recent conflict that played out on LinkedIn suggests that women who display stereotypically female outsides get judged as delegitimize scientists.

This article from The Daily Dot summarizes the events well, and I won’t try and repeat them. It is disheartening to see people conclude that an attractive, well-groomed woman is not a “real” engineer. I believe we should take this opportunity to discuss diversity with our trainees and explore our own openness to talent that doesn’t come in the expected package. I think each person needs to make up their own mind about how to respond to prejudice; I’m not sure I would know how to advise a female trainee about how to present herself. It is essential that trainees have the information they need to make self-presentation decisions, however, and if we don’t tell them, who will?

Do you feel that you could not wear or look how you wanted because you are a WomanOfScience? Does it matter what field of science you are in? What subfield? Theory vs. experiment? Comment or guest post.

Guest Post: Changing 20%

A couple weeks ago, I had a post that was related to teaching about how to better your teaching slowly, but making 20% Changes. From that post, I received this inspiring guest post on the topic of changing 20% from a PreTenure WomanOfScience, which I am posting here. She correctly realized that the 20% ChangeModel does not need to be limited to teaching or even to your career. I hope you enjoy it and remind you again that you can follow this blog by pressing the Follow Button, but you can also lead this blog, by guest posting or commenting. Consider doing both as we expand this blog over the next few years and hopefully open up a real dialogue to help women’s success in academic science. Here is the post:

The recent post on changing 20% in teaching inspired a sort of new year’s resolution list for me. The theme of the list is to change 20% in tasks in my work and life. Different from the usual new year’s resolutions that always seem to require drastic, or 100% changes, I am only aiming for small changes.

I am posting this because I feel that this is an entirely novel approach to self-improvement. It’s novel, because small changes are more doable. In some ways I suspect that we add extra pressure to ourselves to be perfect. The process of getting there can be overwhelming and stifling. I am convinced that this 20% change approach is not that different from laying out specific aims for the over-arching goal in a proposal.

Changing 20% in teaching:

  1. Use the half hour before each lecture as office hour.
  2. Use the last five minutes of each lecture as an open floor Q&A.

I teach a small class this semester, the students who take it are extremely motivated, because the class (new but super awesome) is not yet part of their graduation requirement. Even so, the first time I taught it, no one came to my office hour. Rather, I find them hanging out in the classroom for the half hour before class. So this year I will split my office hour into two half hour sections, held in the same classroom as the lecture. There is minimal effort required for either the students or me. We all have to go to class, and I have to hold office hours. I also find that not all students have the guts to ask questions after class. I speculate that designating 5 minutes of lecture time for open floor Q&A will force the students to verbalize questions that they might have. Both of my 20% changes probably only works for a small class, but that is okay.
Changing 20% in networking:

  1. Talk to 20% more people at a conference.
  2. Practice listening skills when talking to colleagues on campus.

This is a change that I have started to implement. Taking is incredibly difficult to me. It’s worse than squeezing that last dollop of toothpaste. (Awkward pause.) But, like most scientists, I’m obsessed about my project. So my change will focus on the science aspect. Instead of waiting passively for people to come to my poster at this conference, I identified and specifically invited those who will have important feedback to my work (not yet published). Everyone I reached out to came and I got a lot out of it. There was only one person who did not come by, but the invitation may have been better registered had it been a few beers earlier. The invitation process was pretty rocky for the most part: it’s odd to demand people’s time without giving a good reason. What seemed to work well, in particular for those who don’t know me, is to identify strange observations that they might care about in a quick sentence. Tying into project interest, my next goal is to practice listening skills when talking to colleagues on campus. Scientists are very specific and meticulous, if there is something they want to tell me, I want to stop being anxious and actually hear it.

Other: There are other tasks that no one will care about other than myself, such as folding 20% of my socks.

This post is obviously different, it’s more of a planned test run, rather than learned wisdom. The message that I want to send is not only that this blog impacts the reader (at least me), but also to verbalize that the pressure of being perfect or else is very annoying. Changing 20% at a time is much better!

Thanks so much for this post. I found it super inspirational. Hopefully, you will write again in a couple months to update your progress on this change model.

Do you have a story or anecdote you would like to share to help others? If so, please do guest post or comment.

Message from the Nicest WomanOfScience

The following guest post is from the Nicest WomanOfScience I know.  I am not kidding. She is actually sweet. She sympathizes with friends while explaining the other side to help you understand. She is a fantastic mentor and friend. When I asked her about the Likeability ≈ 1/Success, here is what she had to say:

After my experiences over the past few years, I feel like there is not much you can do to counteract this effect. You can be as sweet as pie and act completely non-aggressively, and there are still those who will begrudge you your success and dislike you for it. (I have to say, some senior women tried to tell me this when I was younger, and I did not believe them – I thought maybe that was just their experience, and I did not believe it until it happened to me). I think I am a relatively nice and mild-mannered person, and I really tried very hard over the last few years to preserve relationships with people I worked with and not get bitchy in meetings and interactions with others. But there are just some people that do not like me for no good reason, other than the fact that I refuse to crawl into a hole and die. Why do these people dislike me? I do not scream and yell in meetings, and I’m pretty nice to them when I pass them in the hallways. I just come in every day and do my work, and I am pretty good at it, and that seems to infuriate them. And I’m not going to stop doing that. I love my work, and why should I let these people take that away from me? And why should I let them change the kind of person that I am?

So it IS difficult to be “liked” if you are successful. Until the culture changes (and I believe it is changing, but slowly), I think the most we can hope for is that those around us and working for us respect our work and respect the way we conduct ourselves. I have found this kind of respect engenders a sort of loyalty, even when someone does not “like” you. Maybe they don’t like you, but what can they really say against you? What substantive criticisms can they really put forward?

This sounds depressing, but in a way, if you accept this, it makes things much easier. Why do we want to be “liked” anyway? We have our friends and family who like us, and that may make work a little lonely, but not unbearable. If some subset of your colleagues or students are never going to like you anyway, then you do not have to put effort into be likeable. All you can do is (1) keep on doing work that you are proud of, and (2) conduct yourself in a manner that you can be proud of, whatever that is. If it comes naturally to you to be nice, be nice. If it comes naturally to you to be more aggressive, be more aggressive. Just keep on doing your thing.

See? Isn’t she nice? I told you so. Do you have a comment or guest post on this topic? If so, hope to hear from you!

Likeability = 1/Success

One of the topics that I think affects women and many men are oblivious to it is the idea that your likeability decreases as your success increases.

Likeability (woman) ≈ 1 / Success      Eq (1)

This is not a made up. Multiple studies have shown that successful women are less liked as they gain success. Successful men, on the other hand gain in likeability, so their likeability equation is:

Likeability (men) ≈ Success    Eq (2)

It also starts fairly early. I have only just got tenure, and I already feel less liked among senior male colleagues in and out of my department. Maybe we have made progress because now you have to get tenure before it sets in, and maybe it used to set in after getting your Ph.D.? Whatever the case, the phenomena has been described numerous times online (Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review Blog), in studies (“by psychologists like Madeline Heilman at NYU, Susan Fiske at Princeton, Laurie Rudman at Rutgers, Peter Glick at Lawrence University, and Amy Cuddy at Harvard” – by Marianne Cooper), and in books, such as Lean In.

Here is the worst part about it: I don’t think there is anything you can do about it except for not care what other people think. If you are reading this and are a young woman, you may think that it does not apply to you because you are not aggressive, bitchy, rude, pushy, bossy, or whatever negative label you want to give the WomenInCharge. Here is the thing. It has nothing to do with being nice or bitchy. It only has to do with your success. (Notice that bitchy does not enter the equation above.)

So, if you want to be successful, and you achieve that goal, you will probably be disliked. The next post will be a nice commentary from the nicest WomanOfScience I know. She is not bitchy, but she is successful. I will let her tell her story, and it might change your mind.

Have something to add? Please comment or guest post! I would love to have your opinions and anecdotes about this plague on successful women.


Woman Stuff

Most of the posts so far are not specifically women’s issues, and I hope they are helping all people who aren’t the chosen few to navigate the world of academia. But, a couple of women-specific (although they may relate to minority issues, too) have been coming to my mind lately, and I would like the community to read, think, and respond. I would like to spend a few posts discussing some of these issues, and I hope others read and comment. I would love to get the opinions of more people on these topics.

Tag Cloud