Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for July, 2014

Daily Choices

GoodSenseCorsetWaists1886page153I read an interesting article from another science blogger, Rigoberto Hernandez, on his blog EveryWhereChemistry. He had a recent interesting blog entry about what to spend your time on daily, where he compared the choices to Horcruxes and Hallows. Please go to read it. But, it got me to thinking about the different types of tasks we have presented to us daily, and the choices we make. The specific tasks depend on what level you are at, but the fact that you have to make the choices never changes.

Graduate School: In graduate school the choices should be easier, but they still exist. Should you attend that friend’s defense, or work on your paper? Should you take more data today, or analyze the data you already got, but aren’t sure if it worked? Should you spend a few months learning how to program to make your data analysis automated, or should you analyze it by hand to get it out faster, and will it really be faster?

Postdoc: As a postdoc, you are still focusing mostly on research, and you might have similar daily decisions similar to graduate school. Presumably, you figured out which are the right choices to keep advancing. As a postdoc, especially if you are fairly good, you are probably offered the ability to work on multiple projects. This can be very good for your career and your training. Good for your career because you could possibly get more papers out faster, which you need to get grants and get a job. Good for your training because as a faculty member, you will have to manage multiple projects that your students will work on. On a daily basis, you will have to decide which project to work on. Maybe you already tackled this issue as a senior graduate student, but postdocs are usually given more responsibility and more projects than graduate students. With multiple projects comes all the same decisions as on individual graduate projects, except multiplied.

Pre-tenure: Starting this job is like jumping into cold water. Now you have to teach, manage, write/obtain grants, initiate new research, train students, and on and on. That makes your daily choices so much harder. Should you spend your time working on your new class, writing a review article, writing a grant, working on research, meeting with students? The myriad of choices are endless. I would often divide the days into halves or 2-hour chunks and work on one thing for a set time before moving on to the next thing.

Post-tenure: If you made it past tenure, presumably you spent your time doing the right thing to achieve tenure – congratulations. With tenure comes a relaxation of the pressure to do what you have to do in favor of being able to do what you want to do.  So, what will you do? What will you choose to do each day? Somedays I find myself just putting out fires – doing a lot of things that are urgent but not important. Other days, I opt to work in the lab with students when I probably should be writing that next grant. The daily choices are a bit harder when you don’t have the pressure or the excuse of looming tenure. It is harder to say no or to prioritize the way you did before. You often get piled upon with more service and larger teaching loads. Unlike at the other stages, when you are still trying to make it, there is less advise for this stage, so you try to do the best you can, but are you making the right choice? Should I work on that paper to resubmit it to a new journal, or write that new grant, or work with that new student in the group?

I don’t know if I have advise here, since we all navigate these waters alone. What do you think? Any good ways to keep your priorities straight after tenure? Post or comment here. Follow this blog but hitting the +Follow button.

Leadership, but not Administration

808px-Queen_Elizabeth_I_by_George_GowerAs I have lamented before, with the coming of tenure seems to be the loss of mentoring. There are a number of new pursuits one can attempt to achieve after attaining tenure, but before Full Professor. For instance, you can begin to take on leadership roles within larger, multi-PI grants or center grants. You will likely be assigned to lead some committees within the department or within the college. You might need to organize a conference. You might get elected to a national or international organization or committee. You can become an editor of a journal or edit a compilation book. You can write a book of your own. Indeed, fulfilling some of these activities may be required to become a Full Professor at your college or university. All of these endeavors require the ability to organize and lead other professors, researchers, or investigators.

In order to achieve this next level, and to enable better leadership and management within your research groups, we should learn some management and leadership skills. Presumably, we all manage our research groups, so we have some kind of management experience. We may or may not be good at it, though. I had a couple of good advisors from whom I picked up some better management techniques (through osmosis and not through any guided instruction). Likewise, I learned how not to manage a lab from a couple of bad advisors. But managing a group of younger, less-experienced researchers (despite the fact that they might not be physically younger than you, as my first postdocs were actually all older than me) is not the same as leading a group of peers or even senior colleagues.

I am looking for guidance on leadership, but very few leadership workshops or courses for academics are geared toward “normal” leadership, such as those I describe above. Most are pointed toward new or up-and-coming administrators. They are meant for aspiring Deans, Provosts, Presidents, Chancellors. Of course, we need leadership skills far before we approach that level. In fact, we should not be attempting to go for Head/Chair of the department, Dean, or other administrative position until after you are already a Full Professor. Being a Full Professor is often a requirement for many administrative positions, although there are a number of lower-level administrative positions that do not require you to be a Full Professor, but you will be limited.

So, how do you gain the skills you need to take on the next level of leadership? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Find and attend a leadership conference. These can be expensive and are often specific for those aspiring to become an administrator. Some are specific for women in administration, such as HERS, or the COACh program. General academic leadership workshops conducted by the American Council on Education (ACE) also exist. Many of these are EXPENSIVE, and you are not going to fund yourself to go. You need the university to support you to go.

2. Use a leadership workshop or conference on campus. More and more universities and schools are seeing that leadership skills are important for their faculty members. A number of schools have been having on campus workshops or short courses. From what I hear, you need to be invited and somehow picked at your school. This is where making sure that your on campus network is in tact and strong is very important.

3. Check your local business school. Many of the schools where you work have business or management schools. Business schools almost always have a leadership course. If you get to attend or sit in on a course for free, take advantage. Contact the professor and ask if you can audit the course. Unlike a short course or workshop, which might only be a week at most, a semester/quarter-long course will give you more time to learn management over a longer time. There will be assigned reading which you might not get to in a timely manner, but will be a good reading list for what you will need to know.

These are my thoughts, but what about yours? Do you have more management workshops that you know about that I missed? It might be good to have a better list. How about other ways those of us without access to special and costly workshops my attain some leadership skills? Any good books we should know about?

Women’s Stats: The Facts

Christabel_PankhurstAwesome WomanOfScience and Editor of the Journal of General Physiology, Prof. Sharona Gordon, just wrote a very interesting and thought-provoking editorial about gender equality in Physiology. Although it is pointed at that field, her words can be generally expanded to all fields of science. See the full article here (

My favorite part of the article is the extrapolation of time to reach parity at the faculty level. Despite that 50% or more of the graduate students in physiology (and many other life sciences) are female, the percentage of faculty are strikingly low (only about 30%). Interestingly, the rate of female faculty is increasingly linearly, and extrapolating that line means that parity will be achieved in 40 years! I hope that is true, but I can’t help thinking that the level will asymptote to 50%, so it might well take longer than the initial linear dependence implies.

One of the main points of the article is that academics often choose to train their male students more/better than female students. Indeed mentoring is essential to getting more women and minorities through the pipeline. Yet, what is holding us back is that we select students who look like us or act like us to help propel them ahead.  I think we all treat trainees differently from one another. Sometimes it is because they are very different people, and they each need specialized treatment and mentoring, but sometimes there is something else. And you must think about it and analyze it. I sometimes worry that I inadvertently act sexist or racist, although I don’t think I have been after assessing my actions. Part of my worry is because I have had several African American undergraduates in the lab, but none have gone to grad school for a Ph.D. On the other hand, I have inadvertently convinced a number of women to go to graduate school without really trying. Often, I just tell them they *could* go, and ask if they are applying. Sometimes that nudge of support is all students really need.

As for my grad students, they (all women) look at me and what I do, and want to jump ship. I think they see that it is such a struggle. A struggle for money, a struggle for respect, a struggle to get published, a struggle to manage and mentor. They have their eyes open, and they have said, “If it is this hard for her, I don’t want it.” I feel badly that I have pushed them away from academia on accident. But, I am not one to sugar coat it or lie.

Another point I particularly like is the idea that the women who are becoming faculty this year are just as much pioneers as those who entered 15 years ago or 30 years ago. Perhaps the problems faced by this year’s faculty are slightly different from those faced by a woman entering 15 or 30 years ago, but this blog and many others prove that they are actually, perhaps surprisingly or not, the same. I certainly feel like a pioneer, and my attempt to help other women – the next generation – is written all over these blog pages. Some senior women have lamented to me that I still have to fight and write blog entries and feel the pull to take a stand and fight. They were hoping that my generation would be the one to have it easy. But, if the calculations found in this publication are correct, it will take at least another half century for parity – and that’s in disciplines with 50% females in grad school. Physics and engineering are still <30% women in grad school.

So, what do you think? What are your opinions about this recent article? Post or comment here. To get an email every time I post, click the +Follow button.

Traveling for Work… With Kids

national-lampoons-vacationI have done a lot of traveling in the past 6 months. Most of it has been work travel on my own away from the family. But, we recently took a trip with the entire family for a work thing for a week. Both my husband and I went, so we decided to take the kids. These summer week-long conferences and even longer workshops are essential for your career development. My colleagues who do not go to these things miss out on the networking opportunities and their careers languish as a result. This type of travel is essential. Luckily, many of the conferences and workshops in the summer have an idea that you might bring your kids, and some will even provide resources. HusbandOfScience and I seem to be going to such conferences and workshops every summer since becoming faculty. We typically go for 1-2 weeks at a time. Of course, there are other types of travel you can do with your kids including conferences and even sabbatical! I hope some of my WomenOfScience friends with kids will write posts about going on sabbatical with kids soon!

So, what are some solutions for the troubles and joys of traveling with kids? We have done a number of things – depending on the ages of our kids at the time – when taking our kids to these summer workshops.

Lucky Break: At one of the first summers, HusbandOfScience was participating in the workshop, and my oldest (only 20 months at the time) and I joined him for the last week. We were new at this, so I didn’t set up care in advance. I soon found that I needed more time to work on a grant. We lucked out by having some colleagues who were also at the workshop who had an older daughter who was able to take care of our daughter for a couple hours. It was enough time for me to finish this specific task of finishing the grant.

Family Dependence: Other times both in the summer and winter, we have arranged for a grandma to come with us to the workshop. This involves a lot of extra costs. The plane ticket, the extra costs of meals for an extra adult. We have been lucky to get suites in the past that allowed grandma to have a bed or even a room for herself.

Camps: Now that our kids are older, I have realized that there are a number of summer day camps in many of the areas we go. If you workshop or conference is at a resort or near a resort town, look online for camps. Almost all have camps for kids from 5-12 years of age. Many also have daycare for toddlers and pre-schoolers. This is especially true if you are near a ski resort. In the winter, the camps teach skiing. In the summer, they go hiking, crafts, and other stuff. There are also special art camps, science camps, or rocket camps. I should note that these camps are not really cheap. They can be $50 – 80 per day. But they are full-day and allow you to get work done. They also allow your kids to have new, fun experiences while on vacation.

Online services: Although we have never personally used these for travel, there are a number of online sites to help you find a sitter – even from afar. My friend, SingleWomanOfScience, has a child that travels with her on extended trips. She uses to find a sitter in the towns she is visiting. The sitter comes to the hotel and watches her child all day while she is at workshops and conferences. She will often take her daughter to dinner – even with colleagues. This is a big production, because it involves interviewing candidate sitters from afar. She interviews 4-5 and picks one. Sometimes, she has to get more than one if she is going to different places, or if the sitter is not available all days.

Renting a Car: Whenever we travel with the whole family, we always rent a car. It also means transporting car seats, which is a huge extra burden to your luggage (see below). The convenience of renting a car is huge. It means we can drive the kids to camps that might be far away. We can also take day trips to sites on days we decide to go sightseeing. It is annoying to have to return it before your flight back, so leave extra time (~30 min) for that.

Luggage Carts: Pay for the luggage cart.  Make your life easier and pay the $5 for the luggage cart. If you are traveling with a family of 4 for a week, you will likely have two large roller bags, two car seats, and maybe a pack-n-play, and stroller. Even though you have wheels on everything, how are you going to hook it all together to drag around? Getting a luggage cart to get you to/from the counter/baggage claim and car is essential.

Extra Kid Stuff: For the airplane, the car ride, the restaurants, it is always good to have a bag of kid stuff for them to play with. I have coloring supplies and paper, toy cars, and an iPad in the arsenal. This instrument will change depending on the age or your children, their interests, and what will sustain their interest for longest. I basically make this pack my purse, and carry it with all my other belongings everywhere we go.

All together, traveling like this is a huge pain in the butt. But, it is so rewarding. You get to expose your kids to new places and experiences. Also, when I travel with my kids, I actually go do and see things that I don’t see or do when I travel alone. I don’t sightsee on my own. I don’t take time away from the conference for fun. My kids allow me the excuse to have fun, and really take advantage of the travel that science makes/allows us. So, we will probably keep going to summer and winter workshops and conference with our kids. Despite the cost and burden, it is the experience and fun of it we can’t resist.

So, what else is there? What am I missing? I am sure many of my readers have traveled with kids for work. What else should be discussed? Post or comment. If you want to follow this blog, push the +Follow button to receive an email every time I post an entry!

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