Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for March, 2014

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.

Public Science: Importance of COSMOS

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!

Ways to Get Women Speakers: A Solution

WomenPrisonRiot-1950sThere has been a flurry of conversations recently about women speakers at conferences. This was all spurred by a recent article in Salon.com about the fact that a “theoretical chemistry” conference had ZERO women speakers. Here is the article. The subsequent, real, and valid outrage by women in the field resulted in a boycott of the conference by women of the field. It seems odd that we have to keep having the same conversations about how it is important to have diversity, yadda yadda. And women have to keep fighting to get invited to talk at conferences in their field.

When this situation occurs, the OrganizingGuys always claim that they invited A woman, but she turned them down. What are they to do?

As usual, they should ASK A WOMAN for the solution to this problem. No one asked me, but I am going to give my opinion anyway, because I have an advice blog! Here is a solution to the OrganizingGuys:

Let’s say, you want a program with a person you does fields/subfields/specialities we will call A, B, C, and D. Because there are so few women – especially at a certain level – there may only be 1-2 women in each of those fields/subfields/specialities. What is the first inclination for most organizers? Typically, you might invite 3 men who specialize in A, B, and C. Then you ask the one woman who does D. And, guess what, that woman cannot come because she is doing 100 other things. Now, there are “no more women who do D,” so you “have to ask a man.” (This statement may be debatable, but let’s assume that is true for some fields like “theoretical chemistry.”)

Here is how you can get more women: ASK THE WOMEN FIRST. Then backfill with men. If you ask your favorite woman in fields A, B, C, and D first, and some say no, you are likely to still get a woman. Whichever women say no, replace with a guy. The worst case scenario? A session of ALL WOMEN? Which doesn’t sound bad at all, actually. If all 4 women say “no” you could have a back-up list of women, but I feel the likelihood is pretty low that they would ALL say no unless you are competing your event against another event in your field (bad idea for conference/event planning in general).

This solution is very easy and results in a high representation of women, assuming that is actually what you want.

In an interesting side note to this story, I was recently asked to participate in a proposed session for a major national conference in a field related to my own. The organizers, two women, specifically put together an entire program with all women. Their goal was not only great science, but also a nod to the women in the field. Their session was rejected and told it was “not diverse” enough. I do not see one field in science where women are the at majority or even at parity with men at the faculty level. Please correct me if I am wrong. Thus, I feel like any session that is trying to bring the inequality of women in the field to light by having a session with mostly women should be applauded – not rejected – for their efforts. Alas, although we are ready to accept that “there were no available or acceptable women” resulting in a session with 100% men, we cannot accept a session with 100% women?

I also want to point out that the plight of minorities is EVEN WORSE. Many scientific societies cannot even publish statistics on minority graduation rates at the PHD level, because there are too few, and the results can be directly linked to the 1-2 minorities graduating each year. It’s not exactly anonymous aggregate data when there are 0-3 of you.

What do you think? Post or comment! You can follow this blog by pushing the +Follow button and putting in your email address.

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