Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for June, 2014

Bad Mommy?

Travel-smallI did a lot of traveling last semester. Ironically, I had decided that I was going to take break on traveling and only do the really important and exciting stuff, but somehow I couldn’t say no. Part of it was flattery of my ego. Some of it was emotional blackmail. Over the semester, my HusbandOfScience, didn’t do as much travel and stayed home with the kids. It was a brutal winter full of snow storms and illnesses that resulted in many missed days from school. It was quite hard on HusbandOfScience.

As the old adage goes, “Payback is a Bitch,” and I am getting my just desserts this summer with his back-to-back travels. The kids’ illnesses haven’t yet subsided, despite being well into summer, although it is easier to cancel meetings than classes (thanks, summer!).

Sometimes I feel like I am a bad mommy. Let me give you some examples of my mommy-fails:

1. The baby: My youngest can’t sleep when HusbandOfScience is out of town. He wakes up every 2-4 hours even though, when HOS is in town, he can sleep through the night. I also have a hard time falling asleep without HOS next to me, so I go to bed late and get woken up a lot. I am a freaking zombie when HOS is out of town.

2. Groceries: I don’t know how to go grocery shopping. HOS does that chore and goes every week. He has a routine. He makes a list. When I go, I look like an idiot. I don’t know where things are in the store. I am juggling the scanner thing and the kids. I can’t find my superspecialsavershopper card for grocery discounts. I forget things.

3. Dinner: Another of HOS’s chores is dinner. We have a set menu every week to simplify things. You know, “Macaroni Monday,” Taco Tuesday,” “Whatever Wednesday” (that’s a bad one – can’t really ever figure out what to do there) “Pizza Thursday,” “Finger Food Friday.” I have no ability to organize dinner. I can’t get food to all come out at the same time or when anyone is actually hungry. This means the side dishes sit around while the meat parts take forever and I am chopping veggies for the salad. I always make way too much or way to little. And I burn things. I burn a lot of things. I often set off the fire alarm.

Sometimes, especially the public displays of missing mom parts (like the shopping), I feel like I am not a good mom because I don’t do ALL these things well. But, then I think that this must be how all families are – not just mine. Doesn’t every family have a division of labor where one person specializes in some chores or the other. Unfortunately, the split is especially pronounced and annoying when the other person travels. The traveling in academia can be crazy.

Thinking back, I realize that when I was a kid, the same thing happened. Both my parents worked, but my dad’s job was the only one that had travel associated with it. When my dad would go out of town, my mom made the craziest lunches. See, this was one of my dad’s jobs in the house – he made the lunches for school. When my dad was out of town, I would get crackers with peanut butter instead of a sandwich, no drink, and 3 moon pies in my lunch. It must have been difficult for my mom to get us out of the house. I wonder what other things happened that I never even noticed.

So, in the end, even though I feel like the house is falling down around me, my kids are sick, and I am getting no work done while my husband travels, I think it really isn’t so bad in the long run. Further, just because I don’t normally get groceries, cook dinner, or am the go-to parent for my child, doesn’t mean that I am not a good mom. It just means that when HOS travels I am a single parent, and these things are more difficult because I have to do them all. How do single moms do it?

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New Faculty Needs

WomenTrainingI was chatting with some new and not-so-new faculty recently. We all agreed that the first year of being a faculty is really tough. The toughest part about it is trying to figure out how to do, well, EVERYTHING. We go from being postdocs where we are trained how to conduct science research, write science papers, maybe mentor and give talks to having to… manage physical space, manage people, manage money, teach students, write grant proposals, and more. Many schools have an orientation to help new faculty “adjust” to the new role, but we found many topics to be sorely lacking. Below, I list and discuss several topics that could go in a new faculty handbook, if any such thing existed.

Laboratory Safety. When you get to your new position, you must take laboratory safety along with the students of various ages. If you are hoping that the lab safety officers are going to help you out and tell you the extra you need to know to manage the safety of a lab of other people, guess again. You are just going to get the same schpeel you got as a grad students and as a postdoc. But, you really need more. Like, how do you fill out all the extra paperwork the university will require for you to even do what you need to do? Need lasers? Extra paperwork. Need to use recombinant DNA? Lots of extra paperwork. Need to use cells? Mammalian cells? Even more paperwork for Biosafety Level 2+. If I was to design an orientation for new faculty, it would have an option to have a faculty-specific lab safety course where they emphasized the managerial aspects of lab safety and gave you examples of the paperwork you will be required to write out.

Grants and Contracts. Although there is some orientation about writing grants, it would be good to get some pointers on some of the drudgery of grant-writing. For instance, no one informed me at first about the 5 business-day rule.. you know… that you have to get your grant into the university grant office 5 business days in advance? Does the university require a full budget? Even if the granting agency doesn’t? How do you use the online submission software to submit your budget and proposal to the university for approval? Some of these items probably have training sessions of their own, so keep your eyes open, but a handbook of the basics would have helped a lot.

College Administrators and Their Duties. At the college level, there are likely various associate deans. Some may be assigned to new faculty development, some are designated for research, others are for teaching. Knowing which is which will help you when your lab needs new electrical or something comes up with the course you are teaching. Also, does your college have grant-writing support staff? Or is that housed at the departmental level? Where is the person who is supposed to help you write up budgets? It seems like a small thing that you should be able to do, but the rates of pay for you, your postdocs, and grad students change fairly often at my school, and I never seem to know who gets how much. Having someone to help with that is huge.

Departmental Administrator Duties. This was a big issue for me. Our department has several administrative assistants, but I had no idea who did what. I learned the hard way by asking the wrong person repeatedly and being rerouted. I really needed an ides of which admins did which jobs because our understaffed department had them all wearing multiple hats. Another issues was that sometimes they actually didn’t know how to do what I was asking. Sometimes it was because it really wasn’t their job. Even though my postdoc department had someone who’s job was to do XYZ thing, that responsibility was now mine here. Or, sometimes it was something they should do, but no one ever asked before. Since most faculty come into a department one at a time, having a department-level orientation is probably fairly uncommon. If you are a new faculty and you have a senior-faculty mentor – ask them and take notes on what they say. I wish I had done that. I wasted a lot of time running after administrative assistants asking them for stuff they didn’t do or know how to do.

If you made it through that, and your still want advice from me, check out these older posts with advice on starting your new job:

LabOf OneWhatDoIDo?YouBelongHiringWoesManagementSolutionsGettingCopiesOfGrants

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“Subtle” Harassment

DoorPinsMost harassment is not very subtle to women, but I realize that not everyone is as clued in and keyed up about it as I am. I was recently harassed, probably not on purposed or even pointed directly at me, but I inadvertently stumbled into some harassment, and I wanted to have a little talk about it. What to do, how to report, and make it clear to my male friends and advocates that this stuff is not just annoying, it affects us pretty much daily. So, I am going to post about “subtle” harassment – the pervasive kind that wears you down.

Chalk Board Harassment. In my career, I can clearly recall two instances of chalkboard harassment. In both cases, I literally walked into the harassment without warning. I reported the harassment to authorities, and nothing was done about it.

The first time, was in graduate school. I was TAing, and I had to use a photocopier to make copies for my class. The photocopier was in what I call a “party office” where many grad students have desks and work. It wasn’t really a party office in the sense that I never once saw a party or celebration occurring, but it was a “party” more like a “party line” for phone service in the olden days. You might also call it a “grad student ghetto,” which probably better captured the mood of the room. Anyway, this day, like many others, I went in to make my copies. The copier was directly in front of a 6 foot chalk board. This day, I looked up from the copier to see a 3-foot tall, very detailed drawing of a penis. I stopped my copying and went to the department office directly to the chairman, and actually got him to come to see the masterpiece. He actually took me seriously and came to see it for himself, but erased it immediately upon seeing it. He was quite harassed, as well as me. I informed him that it was this type of, well, not subtle, but pervasive harassment that scared women away from male-dominated fields.

Recently, now that I am a professor, a similar situation has occurred. On the chalkboard outside my lab and near my office, the word “penis” was written. This is certainly not as bad as the graphic drawn in gory detail when in grad school, but it is perhaps more troubling because it was drawn immediately next to some drawings my daughter (elementary-school age) had made on the same board. In fact, she wrote the word, “LOVE” and immediately next to it, was the offending word. Nice. As before, I informed the department chair and this time, I also took a picture and emailed it to the UniversityDiversityOffice who is responsible for following up such offenses.

A couple of things occurred to me about these two situations:

1. Why are dudes so obsessed with penises? Why not be obsessed with vagina? It is weird to me. Statistically speaking, some of the dudes in my department are likely to be homosexual. They don’t seem to be out. We do have an openly gay faculty-member, and there doesn’t seem to be overt homophobia in the department.  I could be wrong, but no student has come to discuss it with me.

2. I was surprised about how much more offended I was by the word in the second instance compared to the drawing in the first instance from grad school. I think it was because of the proximity in space and time to my daughter. It pissed me off that they defiled some nice drawings and lovely writings that were clearly done by a child. My child.

3. Finally, in the same note as number 2, I couldn’t help thinking that they had targeted my space in the department. In the first instance in grad school, the picture was in a closed office and was more likely not targeted at me. Yes, there were other women in that office, and they were the likely targets of the harassment, but it wasn’t targeted at me. But, this second version felt targeted because the board is right between my office and lab. That made me feel badly, too.

Everyday Stuff. Last week, there was a particularly horrific situation on the campus at UCSB, and I am sure most blogs dealing with women’s issues are mentioning something about it. The misogynistic rantings of the shooter are worrying to any woman who works in science, particularly some fields that are male dominated. Scary.

One of the topics that was described in the commentary of the “Yes, All Women” trend was women trying to explain that we often feel uncomfortable in situations, even everyday situations, because of the very real threat of men. One of my favorite comedians has a particularly clear view of this idea (See a video here).

After the women comments, there was a backlash with the tagline “Not All Men,” where dudes were trying to say, “Hey we aren’t all like that!” but as many women pointed out, WE CAN’T TELL WHO IS OR WHO ISN’T LIKE THAT. You all look the same to us.

Here’s a hypothetical: Let’s say 1% of men are like that. Now, you are a woman running a class of 400 students where only 20% are women. So, you are in a classroom with 320 men, and 1% are women-haters – that is 3-4 woman-haters are in the room with you.  Not that many, but enough to harass and demean you, if they sought to do so. I have talked to women who have been physically intimidated by male students in classes with these types of numbers. The students physically get into their personal space and demand differential treatment. I, personally, don’t let students get near me. I have a very large personal space bubble. But even so, there are other ways to cause trouble.

Outside of classroom situations, I have tried to notice my reactions to other, regular, situations in the past week. I have noticed that I make certain decisions about myself because of a fear of men. Let me give you two examples.

1. I was at the gym with HusbandOfScience. I wanted to stretch in the area near the mirrors. There were two men in the area – basically taking up all the room in the area in front of the mirror. There was just enough space between them for me to fit, but I didn’t do it at first. Why? I was afraid of them. Not deathly afraid, but wary enough to avoid. I decided that the likelihood that these two guys were both bad guys was low, statistically speaking. I was right. They were fine – just taking up more than their fair share of space, as men often do unconsciously (Not All Men).

2. I was taking my child into daycare. Normally, I park right at the front door, but there wasn’t room, so I had to park half way down. At the far end of the parking lot was a group of men. They laughed when I got my kid out of my car, and it made me sort of flinch. I noticed that I was wary of them. I went to drop my kid. After coming back to the car, I took a closer look, and I realized that they were latino, and that made me feel safer. Statistically speaking, dudes who hate women are white. (Sorry to my white men friends – I realize it isn’t all white men, but stats are stats.)

So, here is my say. The WomanOfScience addition to the #YesAllWomen movement. What do *you* think? Comment or post. Push the +Follow button to receive an email every time WomanOfScience posts.

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