Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for October, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again


Saddle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of us, for some reason or another, have to take a hiatus from traveling, networking, or some of the other parts of our jobs. Coming back can be a challenge. I think many women, especially if they have tenure, take a big reduction in traveling once they have kids. Sometimes it can be difficult to get back in the saddle of long-distance traveling after a long time away. Plus, being away from kids can be sad if it you haven’t been away from them much.

Here is one woman’s story of getting back in the saddle. Enjoy!

I was really divided over whether or not to come to an international meeting, because I didn’t know that many people on the schedule, and honestly I was a little scared. I think everyone thinks I am good at schmoozing, but I had cut down travel so much the last few years that I am out of practice. I haven’t been out of the US/Canada since 2005 — I forgot to bring a European power adapter, felt very stupid and had to buy one at the airport. I was tired and jet-lagged the whole time I was there. I was also feeling really shy — I feel that I look so much rounder in all my business clothes after having kids. I didn’t know that many people at the meeting, and it was mostly really old guard white guys. Many of the participants were from Europe and were used to a more hierarchical academic system, and I forgot that many of those kinds of guys treat me like an infant.

Even worse, I was missing the kids so much that I didn’t feel like talking about science much. I ended up talking about the kids a lot whenever I tried to schmooze.  One of the few people I knew at the conference was a guy of whom I think as a mid-career mover and shaker. I just assumed that he was very well-connected — he’s done well in his career, he’s very friendly and gregarious, he’s gotten some awards, and he’s already on some editorial boards. We ended up eating many meals together, and surprisingly, he told me that he does not like travel much. He usually just goes to society meetings, and has never been to a Gordon Conference. He also told me that he is not good with strangers, and that he was missing his family a lot, also.

So it got me thinking. Maybe not everyone is traveling and schmoozing as much as we imagine they are, while we stay at home turning down invitations and cleaning up baby vomit. And maybe things have changed enough that, once we are done cleaning up baby vomit and are ready to get back in the saddle again, we’ll find that people are more accepting than we think.

Another good thing came from this meeting. I got an invitation to be on an editorial board from the trip, and I think we will have an invited article out of it, also. So it’s been a real positive, even beyond the “international invited talk” on the CV.

My impression is that this WomanOfScience is very brave and good things resulted, so congratulations to her! Any stories of getting back out there? Fears, concerns, or stories of bravery and success? Comment or post.

Organizing Your Group: Lab Rules

The presence of some species, like this crusta...

The presence of some species, like this crustacean, may be used as an environmental health indicator. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does your research group or lab have rules? Codes of conduct? Specific ways you need students to do things, so that science happen faster and things do not get broken? How do these rules or codes get relayed to your students?

When I first started my lab, the codes of conduct for the lab were haphazardly passed from me to student A to student B. But, much like the telephone game, I started noticing things sounding funny out the other end. People didn’t seem to know how to wash dishes or run the autoclave. I started training people with a BootCamp (more on that in another post), and that was helpful to get everyone on the same starting page. But there were still other things that would come up, occur, or happen that made me realize that not all was covered.

I talked to other young faculty about the issue, and one ManOfScience told me that he just made a list of rules and requires everyone to read it. I was intrigued, but not convinced because this seemed very formal for a lab. I wasn’t against increased formality, but the idea of having explicit rules seemed counter to the rebellious and outsider nature of experimental lab work. Does that make sense? You may have felt that way when you read the title. I am sure most people don’t have “rules” for their labs, but I hope this post convinces you that it might be worthwhile.

Here is what convinced me: During our conversation, this ManOfScience told me what sold him on having explicit rules. At some point someone carelessly, accidentally started a fire in the lab. The fire was in the back of the lab, and other people were working in the front of the lab. The person in the back, knew there was a fire, ran out, and called 911 from afar. But, they never told the other people working in the front of the lab! This seems appalling, but panic can do crazy things. You think that you should not have to tell someone to tell the entire lab to evacuate when their is a fire, yet this story says that even the most obvious-seeming things may not be obvious to all people. To this ManOfScience, and to me, it is not worth losing your lab over something you could have easily told to your students. It isn’t worth losing a piece of equipment or a person. All labs have specialized equipment and facilities. You need to clearly tell students how to you these facilities and how to treat the equipment, the strains, cell lines, animals, human subjects. Some of these issues are covered in Environmental Health and Safety courses, but it is still worth reminding.

The following are specific sections that can go in your rules:

  • Personnel issues, work hours, vacation policy, and expectations
  • Group organization
  • Group meetings, seminars, journal clubs, and semester reports
  • Reagent preparation, sterilization, storage, and disposal
  • Freezer and refrigerator storage
  • Ordering and receiveing
  • Data collection and archiving
  • Lab safety and environmental health
  • Computers
  • BIg Equipment
  • Other equipment

At the end of the rules, I have a signature page. They have to sign and return the last page to me to verify that they read the rules. If they break the rules, this signature holds them accountable. I have them read and sign 3 times a year. I update the rules when I need to, and periodically review it myself. The rules are great for new people to get up to speed on how the lab works quickly. Most students appreciate being told directly what to expect and what the rules are. Students that don’t like it also don’t last long in the lab.

How about you? Any other rules or categories I missed? How do you tell people what’s up in the lab?

All the Small Things

Post from another WomanOfScience about some of the little things that drive us nuts as WomenOfScience. Enjoy!


Silverback (Photo credit: bergeycm)

I have a Departmental Dirty Little Secret (DLS). An ongoing source of discontent, a small sliver that festers and lies always just beneath the skin. It is not fatal but the “Silverbacks” (my term for the Male Sage Older Faculty) of the Department do not lean over and pull it out.

The Silverbacks agree “‘Tis a shame, how annoying,” they murmur as they pull their beards and stroke their pearls, but still. It is just a sliver (man up!).
“It will work its way out, in time, we have seen worse,” they say, “In our day they proclaim there was….”
But, it is infecting me, bit by bit.

Does each of us have a Department DLS? That small, shameful slight that we may read too much into due to convergence of where we are in time and space that is simply drawing our focus off research, or is an indication of something much worse that must be focused on and would be negligent not to?

Here is mine:
I have never had a graduate student from my program talk to me that I had not had in my courses as an undergraduate. They have never talked me about research, about serving on their committees or just about life. So, our undergrads have been socialized to see us, but why do we find this acceptable in a student coming into our graduate program from the outside?
I think it is a human resource issue as well, all these students are provided stipends. Not being seen is a direct loss of resources.
Worse, even our young DepartmentalGraduateStudents (DGS) is a Silverback in the making and already murmurs, “How unfortunate but what can be done?” Ahh, students, they will learn in time.

What is yours?

Here is my DLS: There is an older male faculty who runs much of the department including class assignments and committee assignments who constantly passes me over for leadership roles. My department gave me pretty much no committee assignments this year – the first year after I have tenure. This is supposed to be the year when they stop “protecting me” from service and really let you have it.  But, nope!

He even had to make  special effort not to give me a chairmanship of a committee. A crap committee that he doesn’t even care about! The department publicity committee! He gave the chair position to an Assistant Professor over me. I specifically asked to be given the chairmanship after the assignments were made, and he said “No.” I pointed out that other committees have chairmanships given to the senior person on the committee, which would be me. He said, “That’s not true.” I gave him several specific examples of when this was the case. He said, “No.” I then wrote him an email that said directly, “When you don’t give me leadership roles, it makes me feel like you don’t trust me, because I am a woman.” He still said “No.”

This Silverback – in the literal sense – is about to retire after Spring semester, so I am looking forward to a future without his presence in the department, but I can’t be lucky all the time.

So, what about you? Comment or post…

Organizing Your Group – State of the Lab Address

I was just visiting with my former postdoc at her new tenure-track job to give a couple talks. I had the opportunity to talk withchemistry-glassware a few other relatively new female faculty members, and I was giving them a laundry lists of things that I figured out to do with my lab to make training students, setting expectations, and overall communication a bit smoother. Mostly, these are things that I didn’t start doing right away, but eventually figured out and they work pretty well. As always, if you have any suggestions of organizing tactics for your lab, please post or comment. To get updates from this blog, push the +Follow button. Today, I will describe an orientation I do twice a year in the lab, called the “State of the Lab Address.”

Frequency:  I give this talk twice a year to reinforce and to orient new people, mainly undergraduates, who start in the lab.

Social Orientation: I first go through a sort of social orientation for new lab members. I name and describe all the types of people in the lab: professors, postdocs, grad students, undergrads, high school students, high school teachers, technicians, or whomever. It depends on who is in the lab at the time.  For each type of person, I list the expected behaviors and tasks that they are supposed to do. I even do this for me, the professor. There is a chapter in the book “At the Bench” that goes through some of this. Remember that many young students have no idea the trajectory of an academic professor. By educating them, you can help people get along with each other and show each other the proper respect they deserve for achieving the level of education they worked hard to achieve. I set social expectations for respect to each other in the lab.

Lab as the Small Business: I relate the environment and structure of the lab to something they hear more about in the media – the small business. I state that we are shareholders of a small business called, “WomanOfScience Lab,” and we create knew knowledge and smart people who go off to do other great things. I say that I am the Principle Investigator (PI) of the lab, but my role is that of CEO. I have to make sure there is money to pay you, but it is also my job to promote the lab and make us all look good. So, I write lots of proposals for grants to pay people, and I go to give lots of talks to promote our work, so it is easier to get grants. They are the shareholders, and they need to work hard, so I can have something good to say to the grant agencies. Here, I set up expectations for professional behavior. Call in when you are sick, so we know not to expect you. Turn in assignments on time. Do you work in a timely manner. Make time for lab work (undergraduates need help with this).

Job Expectations: I specifically outline the expectations for each level of person in the lab. I make it very specific about how I spend my time (writing proposals, writing papers, traveling and giving talks, teaching to education people and recruit good, new shareholders). I find that, as a woman, people see you sitting in your office, and they automatically think you are goofing off, and not working. So, I make it really clear that, if I am here, I am working. It helps them understand all that goes into the job of being a professor, in case they are thinking of going the academic route.  I also describe all their jobs and expectations. For instance, I say that it is the job of undergraduates to try to learn, try to do experiments, and make sure that the work is fun, and you want to stay with science. Our goal is a paper, conference abstract and presentation either off-campus or on campus, and likely a capstone/thesis report. I also make it clear that their classes come first, and there are always times when you have 3 midterms, and can’t make it to lab. I remind them that missing the lab for other things is fine, but they need to report in via email or phone, so no one is worried they got in a car accident. When you give this talk, you can make your own definitions for each position, as they should work in your lab. Just make sure you are clear on these expectations.

Science of the Lab: I do an overview of the science work in the lab. I try to tie it together with a broad introduction, as I might do in a talk to undergraduates. I specify each experiment, the progress made by people in the lab (SoAndSo is writing a paper on this now). This is the easy part, because it is the stuff you think about often. I try to update it, but don’t have to update the front matter. I also explicitly discuss the money situation of the lab. In this, I am showing my personal belief that students need to understand “how the sausage is made.” It does no good to protect them. I tell them straight out, “We have a grant for this from FederalFundingAgency for this amount, and this covers one graduate student’s salary for 3 years.” Or, “We ran out of funds for this line of research, and I am working really hard to get a grant to cover X’s thesis project.”  Again, I want them to respect the fact that getting funds is difficult, and I am working hard to fund our science.

Rules of the Group: At the end, I go through any rules of the lab. For instance, I have weekly group meetings. If people can attend (if they don’t have a class), I require everyone to present weekly and each person must have 1 slide with a picture/movie/figure that illustrates what they did over the past week and describes what they will do over the next week. I make it clear that participation is not optional, presentation is not optional. If they are present, but don’t have a slide, they must do an interpretive dance of their work. I also try to establish that they need to be respectful of the equipment, materials, and physical property of the lab. Again, I am not afraid to bring up money. I tell them how much stuff costs, and how much we spend on materials and supplies. I also tell them that I often go without pay in the summer. This opens their eyes. In following posts, I will discuss the Rules of the Group in detail, so stay tuned for more.

So, why do this? I find that this 1-hour presentation helps to avert problems in the future and helps everyone understand each other. This is a time-saving mechanism. Further, it helps to head off questions and misconceptions about expectations. This presentation does not cover research training on what we actually do in the group. I train students on research skills as a group in a “Bootcamp” setting, which I will describe in future talks.

My question for you, is what am I missing? I have developed this de novo, but what else should I include? Comment or post to discuss.

Harassment: What to do?


Frontispiece (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although as women in science, we often deal with subtle bias, non-specific and irrational pre-judgement of our qualifications, and an overall lack of encouragement. Less often, yet still persistent occurrences of actual overt harassment still occur and are known. A recent post at another awesome Women in Science Blog, TenureSheWrote, brought up a very interesting question about what to do when you know there is a harass-er of women around, in your field.  Please go to see that post and comment there.

Here, I want to tell a story about what I have done about harassment, when I saw it. As always, I ask you about what you have done and to share your personal stories about how you have dealt with this when you see it. If you would have changed your reaction in hindsight. What were the consequences of your actions?

Here is my story:

When I first started as an UntenuredAssistantProfessor (within the first couple of months), there was a WhiteMaleEmeritusProfessor who was really nasty to everyone – men and women. He would bad mouth my new colleagues behind their backs to me and try to embarrass them in public. I attended a lunch with a MaleSeminarSpeaker a few weeks later, and the WMEmeritusProfessor tried to make my science look stupid in front of the visitor. I fought back with humor and made him look ignorant of the current jargon and the current knowledge of my field. He was not happy with me.

A few weeks later, when a YoungFemaleScientist came to give our departmental colloquium, I went to lunch and so did he. I sat across the table from him, and he sat next to the speaker, and he was hitting on this poor woman the entire time. At some point, I couldn’t take it, and I told him to stop – in front of everyone. I made a scene. I pointed out that he was being offensive and inappropriate. I used humor, but I didn’t let him off the hook. He tried to attack me saying that I was being politically correct (as if that was a bad thing). One of my senior colleagues was there at the lunch, and I had to talk about it with him later. I didn’t get the impression that he was on my side, but more that he was uncomfortable and wanted it to go away.

A month of so later, I was at a dinner with several AmazingWomenOfScience in my field. I was ecstatic to be invited because these were wonderful, powerful women in my field. When they realized my new university, one told a story about how, when she went to give a talk at my university, she was verbally attacked about her science by WMEmeritusProfessor. He interrupted her several times – far more than the norm for the field. He tried to get invited to dinner. Worse of all, afterwards, WMEmeritusProfessor started sending her love letters in the mail. I went from ecstatic to embarrassed. I was ashamed that people my university saw this happening and did nothing.

I went to a SeniorMaleColleague and asked what power WMEmeritusProfessor would have over my tenure case. The answer was absolutely none. So, I went to the chair and demanded that he be removed from all seminar lists. I had found out that other departments had stopped sending seminar announcements to my department for fear that WMEmeritusProfessor would show up. I also told the Chair about WMEmeritusProfessor’s behavior, and how it was embarrassing and affecting people in my field. I think WMEmertusProfessor must have been talked to, because he was not seen as frequently in seminars for many years after that.

I didn’t have to deal with him anymore, and things felt better. I certainly felt more comfortable in my department.

Several years later, I had my Nth (important milestone) birthday party and got catering for the event. The woman doing the cooking told me she had been an undergraduate in my department many years before I got there. When she had been there, WMEmeritusProfessor was a FullProfessor, and he taught her laboratory course. She said that he had harassed her directly. He asked for dates and said that she would do better if she did this of that thing with him. She said it happened to a number of female students. I was shocked! How could no one in the department have known about this? I realize there was only 1-2 women professors at any one time until a couple more of us came on board, but these women never went to them to tell about what was happening. I had no idea what to do, and I have never reported it – staying the supportive listener, but I am still shocked to this day.

Typing this post has been cathartic, and has helped me realize that I did stand up when I could, and have been on alert for this monster as he infrequently rears his head in the department. The woman who reported it to me, now many years later is confident and would not care if I brought it up, but what purpose does it serve? Should I say something now?

So, has this happened to you? In front of you? Did you say anything? Make a stand? Or try to ignore it? What should we do? Comment or post here. Remember to

Why So Negative?

So, I have a had a number of posts, and by now, you maybe could have realized

Thought Bubbles

Thought Bubbles (Photo credit: Michael Taggart Photography)

that I am a naturally positive person. Not only is the glass half full, but I can give you 2 reasons why you should be happy about it. I am also naturally energetic. These attributes make me very able to organize and lead not only my lab but other committees at both the department, college, and even national level. Yet, I am often faced with immediate negative opinions from my colleagues when I put out new ideas, discuss changes, or organize on the departmental level.

Sometimes, they have non-specific comments including, “We tried that 10 years ago, and it didn’t work.” Although this is non-specific and doesn’t give any hard evidence of the “not-working” nature, at least they claim to have tried something new. Other times, they just say, “That’s not how we do that,” without discussion of if it might make sense for us to even try. These attitudes seem unnecessarily negative.

Another place where I find people are negative is about trying to get awards. I recently asked to be put up for a BigAward. Is it a reach? Yes. Am I a shoo-in to win? No. But, again, being the positive sort of person I am, my thought is that your chances of winning are zero if you don’t even try. It’s not that I think I am so great that I will definitely win, it’s just that I see the benefits of trying. When you submit a strong nomination packet, even if you don’t make it to round two, some BigWig, smart people will have to read it. They might be impressed with you. They might remember your application. It might help you out in the long run – you never know. So, my thoughts are that it is worth the time to help your junior colleague get their name out there and support them.

Again, being positive, my take on these people is that they have taken the idea of “critical thinking” to an extreme. We are all taught to be critical thinkers in science. And criticism turns us to the right direction and is helpful. I am not against criticism. It has definitely helped me write better papers and write better grants. But, sometimes, I think that people are so fixated on the “critical” part that they forget about the “thinker” part. They become negative just to be negative for no good reason. Why? Do they do it with everyone? Or am I special because I am so positive? Sometimes these things get me down, and I start feeling bad and suffering from impostor syndrome due to all the negativity. Luckily, I am positive, and one good science interaction or pat on the back from a visitor makes me happy again, but it is disturbing how often the criticism becomes overpowering. If I was a less positive person, it could be crippling or debilitating.

So, what about you? Have you suffered from overpowering criticism? What is justified? Or unnecessarily over the top? How did it affect you, your science, and your attitude? Tell your story in a post or a comment.

Not Just in Academia

Us Highway System in 1926, Dept. Of Agriculture, US Government

Us Highway System in 1926, Dept. Of Agriculture, US Government

While recently at the wedding of my BestFriend, and fellow WomanOfScience turned OfficialWomanOfGovernment/Science, I ran into a number of women and men who I overlapped with in graduate school. It was great to reconnect, and surprising, since my BestFriend is  from my undergraduate years at SmallLiberalArtsSchool4Women. The FriendsFromGradSchool turned out to have been good friends with my BestFriend’s new HusbandOfGovernment/Science. It is interesting when networks reconnect and make a circle. And it reminds you how small the science community really is.

I took this opportunity to reconnect with these NiceGuysOfScience and these AmazingWomenOfScience, and rebuild some of my dilapidated career network. I see my career network as a lateral expanse, much like the road system of the United States. Sometimes, the roads can become a bit run-down, and when you get the opportunity, it is good to reconnect and make repairs.

I was very impressed with these WomenOfScience. They spanned all types of careers and many points along the career trajectory including some WomenPostdocsOfScience, ScienceWomenOfGovernment (some of whom were on a forced vacation), BigShots at PrivateUniversities, and WomanOfIndustrialScience. I have asked them, as I ask you every post, to help other WomenOfScience by posting to this blog. They all seemed very positive, so I hope to bring you some of their stories shortly.

I was most intrigued by WomanOfIndustrialScience. I am always looking for ways to branch my network into industry because you never know when it can help your work or help your student. I feel I am particularly bad at mentoring students who want to go into industrial jobs because I never pursued that path, and I do not have many friends/colleagues who went that route, either.

I was asking my reconnected friend about how it was to be a WomanOfIndustrialScience to get more information for me and students on that path. Maybe because I don’t have direct experience with industrial science, I had it in my mind that it could be better there for women(?).  In chatting, I realized that industrial science is fraught with just as much peril for women’s careers as academic science. On the bad side, it seems like science is difficult for women in either area – academia or industry. This is likely due to the fact that society as a whole does not think of science as women’s work.

On the good side: There does seem to be some advantages to industrial science jobs over academia. Most importantly, it seems that in industry you have the ability to remove yourself from bad situations more easily. Bad bosses could be reported to HR, be moved, be fired, or be sued. It seems like if they are bad bosses to women, they are often bad bosses to dude’s too, and they don’t last too long. From the outside, the option of litigation appears to be more prevalent and perhaps more effective, in industry than academia. Suing in academia certainly means losing your job and career because it is unlikely you will be hired by another school. While suing in industry may not preclude you from getting another job in industry.

But, most women in science are not so litigious. Another option: you can move. You could move laterally within a company or move to a new company. It seems much faster and more fluid in industry than in academia.  In academia, job applications take 12 months instead of 2, as they are in industry. So, even if you are trying to get away from a bad situation in academia, you often have to live with it for many months or even years while you are trying to move. If the bad guys know you are trying to move on, they can even sabotage you, and make your move impossible. Add on top the fact that, in academia, you will likely need to move to a new state and uproot your family, and you might need to resolve a TwoBodyProblem, and the thought of the endeavor could be paralyzing. So, it seems to me that industrial science jobs might be less stressful on these fronts.

Hopefully, we will get more posts from WomanOfIndustrialScience on these topics and more. Do you have something to add? Post or comment. As always, you can follow this blog by clicking the +Follow button. Hope to hear from you!

Yes You Can, But Sometimes You Should Not

I have mentored a lot of undergraduates in my few years as a professor. I counted them up. Just students in my lab, who actually did work in the lab – it’s over 50. If you include students I mentored outside of class in any way, the number soars to well-over 100. This is one of the really great parts of my job as a professor. I love interacting with students and mentoring them.

I teach at UniversityofSmallState, and my students are very different than how I was as a student at SmallLiberalArtsSchoolforWomen. USmallState is near two two SLAS4Women, and I sometimes get women students coming to try to do research with me. I am open to students coming, but taking a bus 1 hour 1 way is very trying, and it has not worked out well in most attempts to do research with these students during the semester (summer research has been fantastic). The women who I know from my SLAC4Women and from my local SLAC4Women are very hard working, driven, and talented. But,I notice, that they already, at 19 or 20 years old, are falling into the Trap of the SuperWoman. Just last week, I had to mentor a student on the fact that we all sometimes should say “no” even if we have to say no to ourselves.

This can be hard, because we know intellectually we can do this thing. It is true, you could, and you would be kiss-ass at it, if you had the time to devote to it. But, even as undergraduates, we cannot say yes to everything. We must prioritize. In the case of the female undergraduate science student I was mentoring, this created a great sense of turmoil. She felt as thought she failed. I want to point out that this student is in no way a failure, and frankly has way more going for her in the science, class, and research department than most students I interact with at USmallState. In particular, this student had more research under her belt than most graduate students by year 3 in their programs. So, she really didn’t need me to do research. My research was more of a burden for her. Despite me telling her this over and over, she still left convinced that she could add something more to her schedule (no!) and that it could be work at my lab over 1 hour away (double no!).

The Trap of the SuperWoman affects us all. Even at the professorial level. We have to make choices, but we are often not satisfied with those choices – even if we are doing what is best for us. We need to learn to make the decision and let go the alternative that we had to let go. There can be no what if. Sometimes this can lead to other bad feelings about yourself. Here is another example from an ExtremelySucessfulJustTenuredWoman at AmazingPrivateUniversity:

When you are an Assistant Professor, there are endless demands on your time.  Moreover, you are expected to do many things (e.g. mentor students in research, write grants, lecture) that you have little to no experience in. This combination means that you are bound to do a bad job on some of these things at least some of the time.  The Professors (that get tenure) are not crappy (all the time) at writing grants, conducting research and writing papers.  However, they are often notoriously bad at mentoring and/or lecturing.

I have chosen to be a crappy lecturer and underprepare for the classes I teach.  I thought this habit might change with tenure, but it hasn’t.  My heart is in the right place – i’d like to be able to be a good lecturer, I’ve had great lecturers and they have been the best teachers I’ve had.  But, I’m not naturally good at it and it would take a lot of practice to get better and I just have too many other things going on.  And, in the back of my head, I figure I have *decades* to get better so why rush it?

I usually prepare *just enough* – which means that I can scrape by and am not disorganized. But, if the students are inquisitive and ask questions, they scratch the veneer of my understanding and the whole thing falls apart.   Again, I have a lot of guilt because I should know everything, right?  I sometimes wonder if my male colleagues have anxiety over not being prepared.  I sometimes wonder if they know everything and don’t run into these kind of issues or, at least, not as often as I do.  This then falls down the rabbit hole of me feeling like an Imposter and having a lot of anxiety.

I see this issue as having exactly the same root as that of my student. When thinking about this, I wonder if men feel this way? My WonderfulHusbandOfScience is currently teaching a big service class (>250 students) that is notoriously difficult. He is not doing a good job connecting with the students and barely keeping up with the class. But, does he care? Not much. Teaching is low priority for him, and he is not ashamed and does not feel personally bad about it. It is a decision he made, he lives with it, and he is happy that it no longer affects his tenure case, which is all decided and done. He knows it won’t affect his case for full in several years. So, why are we women so hard on ourselves about our decisions on priority?

Prioritizing your jobs is essential, and we all do it. You know when you are doing it well, because you are productive on the parts of your job that help you advance. These tasks are different at different stages of your career. Sometimes you truly cannot do all the important things you need to do, such as if you have many research projects going on. This is elegantly discussed in a blog post from Tenure She Wrote, another blog I highly recommend! So, what do you think? How do you prioritize and most importantly, how can we stop being disappointed in ourselves if we need to prioritize in a way that is less than ideal for our own high self-standards? Comment or post! Also, don’t forget to +Follow this blog to get email updates when there are new posts.

Advice for Grad School from AboutToBeDr


This post is from an awesome amazing graduate student woman of color. She is successfully navigating graduate school, and is almost done with her thesis.  I asked her to share her wisdom for future, new, and current graduate students. Remember, you can follow this blog by clicking the +Follow button. You can also lead this blog by posting comments and your own posts, like this one. Enjoy!

Entering my first year of graduate school I knew that it was going to be different from my undergraduate experience, but I really had no idea what I was getting into.  There isn’t a “Graduate School 101” course to take to learn the ins and outs of this academic journey.  Here are 10 tips and wisdom that I have acquired going through my Ph.D. program.

  1. Forget about imposter syndrome.  This is better known as the “I am stupid and I do not deserve to be here” feeling. Many underrepresented minorities and women especially experience this feeling throughout their graduate school career.  Your admittance into the program was not by mistake.  You have earned where you are and though there are times where you will feel like you do not belong, just know that you do.
  2. Pick a supportive advisor. Picking an advisor is one of the most important decisions you will ever make in graduate school.  It really is a “match-making” experience.  They have expectations of you and you have expectation of them.  This person should care about your overall career goals and help you along the way to achieve them.  For example, my advisor understands my need for structured independence.  He empowers me to take control of my project and teaches the other graduate students  and me to be confident in our work.  I honestly believe I hit the jackpot in finding my advisor because we work well and understand each other. The relationship between advisor and advisee evolves along the way in graduate school.  So choose with your gut and if you feel like something is off with a particular person trust it.
  3. Surround yourself with mentor(s) from different fields of study. Your advisor can be your mentor, but should not be your only mentor.  I personally have about three mentors who help me with various situations.  For science and career advice I usually contact my undergraduate advisor.  For navigating life as a female of color, I have a former sociology professor I have known since I was 18.  You get the idea.  Each mentor knows different part of my life and they help me navigate my present dilemma or triumphs.
  4. Do well in your classes. Just because you have your Bachelors in whatever field you are going to graduate school for does not mean you are an expert.  Study!  Graduate school teaches you to think more in-depth about a subject.  It is an overall training to become a critical thinker.  College was about scratching the surface of your desired subject and graduate school will be a full immersion process.
  5. Be humble and open to new experiences. You will learn how to think and approach situations differently.  Learning is a collaborative process and with this collaboration, respect for others is essential.  In summary, do not be a “know-it-all” and shut people out.
  6. Take care of yourself. Take a break everyday to do something you love other than your studies.  Sometimes stepping away from something for even an hour can give you a new set of eyes the next time around.
  7. Every opportunity is a networking opportunity.  Talk to a faculty member or a student you do not know at a seminar or a department gathering.  Go to conferences and make it a goal to introduce yourself to someone prominent in your field.  You never know if that conversation would turn into an opportunity for future employment or collaboration.
  8. Be involved on your campus and/or in your department. Taking a leadership role in your department or on campus can be beneficial in your own social life personally and for your career.  Personally, if you are organizing gatherings for graduate students you will interact with people who are going through the same process as you.  This can be rather comforting and supportive during rough times.  Career-wise if you are organizing something like a departmental seminar series with other students you will interact with people in various fields and this could lead to future opportunities.
  9. Swallow your pride and ask for help.  I say this because I use to be the person that would try to learn at other people’s pace.  When I did not understand the material right away, I would be too embarrassed to ask questions and I would not learn it.  This was detrimental to my learning process and resulted in failing my first class in graduate school.  Ask as many questions as you can and do not be afraid to have meetings with professors outside of class to go over material.  Study groups with other students in your class are also very helpful.  Make a habit of swallowing your pride and admitting when you do not understand something.
  10. You are not alone. Graduate school is an emotional rollercoaster and more of an endurance race than anything.  The people before you and certainly after you will experience the same ups and downs.  Have a positive outlet or someone who will share in your achievements and your failures.

What do you think? Have other advise? Post or comment.

Response to Why Still So Few Women in Science

physicalscienceimageThis was not my planned post, which is some fantastic advise from an awesome minority woman graduate student. I will post that tomorrow. Instead I am going to do something I don’t usually do on this blog. I am going to rant a little. Usually I try to stay super positive, but today’s news on Women In Science needs a little response.

THE NEWS: If you are a woman in science, you were probably inundated with emails, Facebook posts, and tweets about today’s NYTs Magazine article “Why are There Still So Few Women in Science?”. I echo the sentiments I heard from other women that I am happy to see this is being tackled by the NYTs Magazine instead of only being discussed in women’s groups or women’s blogs. Don’t get me wrong, the blogs and groups are so important. As a blogger of one, I hope that the 12 people following are getting something from my posts, if not all of them (BTW, you can Follow this blog by clicking the +FOLLOW button). Another good one I found recently is TenureSheWrote which covers a lot of what we do here, and has better publicity. I have to figure out how to get this blog out to more people 🙂

Anyway, I had some comments about today’s article, and I would be interested to see what you say, too.

First, this whole thing just goes over the same old stuff in science. Was there anything new? Those of us who live this everyday don’t need to read this story, yet I was sent it many many times. Please stop sending it to me. Please find the most sexist jerk in your department and send it to them. Send it to your male chair, your dean, your colleague who thinks women have it easy because they get to organize more conferences when they are pre-tenure than post-tenure men. That was sarcastic.

Second, the story starts off with anecdotal story about a woman who left physics after being super awesome. (Women Rock!) She decides to go back to her undergraduate institution to see how things have gotten better. She assumes no women will show up for a women’s group, but the room is packed. They all sit around and share stories of sexism and negative attitudes towards women in science. The author and the chair of physics, also a woman, are stunned that things have not improved! What? Seriously? Did they really think everything was honky-dorey just because they have a female chair and a women’s conference each year? I was shocked that they would be shocked. Just a quick poll, comment to this post: Post if you have or have not experienced blatant discrimination about their desire to do science? (I have multiple times.)

Third, they reference the Big Bang Theory and discuss the women on the show. Yes, they are caricatures. Yes, they are funny. Yes, one woman is very stereotypically nerdy. Another one is cute, blonde, and wears dresses. Another character they seem to have forgotten is Leslie Winkle played by Sarah Gilbert. She was strong, smart, and could stand up to Sheldon or any of the other men of the show. I really loved her character. She kicked butt and totally rocked! Yet, they didn’t mention that she existed. They do say that women would rather be Penny, theactress, than the science women, but I don’t know if that is true. The blonde Bernadette is pulling in 6 figures out of her Ph.D. as an industrial scientist. I would want to be her or Leslie Winkle, myself. What do you think about BBT? Does it disuade women from going into science? Does it affect men at all? A little? Comment to this post.

On page 4 of 10 there was a discussion of the effects of Stereotype Threat without ever discussing the term “Stereotype Threat.” That is a disservice to people trying to find information about it. Also no mention of Imposture Syndrome. Interestingly, one of my best science women friends just mentioned today that even after getting tenure in HighPowerDepartment, she still suffers from this. She posted about it just today on Facebook.

There were some things I liked. I really liked this sentiment, buried on page 9 of 10:

The key to reform is persuading educators, researchers and administrators that broadening the pool of female scientists and making the culture more livable for them doesn’t lower standards. If society needs a certain number of scientists, Urry said, and you can look for those scientists only among the males of the population, you are going to have to go much farther toward the bottom of the barrel than if you also can search among the females in the population, especially the females who are at the top of their barrel.

Finally, the very end of the very last page 10/10 is the best. She talks to 4 current graduate students, and they have great advise for women young and old. You rock, women. (Plus, another good example that mentoring goes both ways.)

Four young women — one black, two white, one Asian by way of Australia — explained to me how they had made it so far when so many other women had given up.

“Oh, that’s easy,” one of them said. “We’re the women who don’t give a crap.”
Don’t give a crap about — ?

“What people expect us to do.”

“Or not do.”

“Or about men not taking you seriously because you dress like a girl. I figure if you’re not going to take my science seriously because of how I look, that’s your problem.”

“Face it,” one of the women said, “grad school is a hazing for anyone, male or female. But if there are enough women in your class, you can help each other get through.”

“As my mother always taught me,” she said, “success is the best revenge.”

These were just a few of the thoughts I had as I read the very long article. I hope it wasn’t so long that people couldn’t get through it. That’s another issue. It has sparked some nice, interesting conversations, and I hope this blog is no different. Hope to read this and post comments. What do you have to say??

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