Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for the ‘GradSchool’ Category

Writing, writing, writing

write-on-november-is-national-novel-writing-month-a5349cc216There is a lot of reading and writing in science. This is ironic for me, personally, because I went into science because I am a slow reader and I hated humanities classes where I had to read all day. I liked my math and science classes where I solved problems with pencil and paper. My professors delivered content, so I never read textbooks. It is true, despite the fact that I endorse active learning now where students have to read for themselves.

So, here I am, a tenured professor and all I do it read and write all day long. I rarely solve problems with pencil and paper, and I joy in the chance to do so for courses I teach or just snag some back-of-the-envelope time while reading a paper or writing up my own work. I also cannot get most of the content I need delivered, although I go to journal clubs and talks because I am a great auditory learner and I learn best that way. I even have to read papers to myself out loud. This is embarrassing, and I have to close my office door when I review manuscripts or proposals.

After writing that past post about how best to give presentations, I realize there a lot of aspects of this job that we can write how-to posts about. Writing has an seemingly unlimited supply, since we do so many types of writing. I think we will have a few posts (a theme, if you will) on writing. I am happy to entertain guest posts to describe your best practices for writing different things. I am going to list a few that come to mine, comment if you have more types of writing you can think of in addition to these.

  • Manuscripts
  • Proposals
  • Abstracts for posters/platform talks
  • Chapters
  • Books of research
  • Thesis
  • Textbooks
  • Lecture notes
  • Reviews of manuscripts for peer review
  • Reviews of proposals for peer review
  • Grant reports
  • Committee reports
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Letters of Support
  • Job Application Materials for various stages and types of jobs
  • Published proceedings
  • Biosketches
  • Biographical Information
  • Webpages
  • Blog entries on science
  • Book reviews for publication
  • Articles for general audiences
  • Highlights of research articles
  • Annual personnel reports/highlights
  • Memoranda of understanding
  • Requests for waivers

OK, that is all I can think of. I have written almost all of these types of writing assignments over my career. I haven’t written a textbook, yet, but I really want to. I think I have worked out schemes for writing each of these types of things, and I will write a couple entries about some of the most prevalent ones (or you will). Do you have any advise to offer? Post or comment!

More than Resistance

A woman combatant in the French Resistance, ne...

A woman combatant in the French Resistance, near Chartres, in August 1944. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post, I described a resistive load that women and minorities face in academia. I had two very interesting and insightful comments. Thanks for that. I would love for people to comment and keep the discussion going. Both commenters brought up something far worse than resistance to forward progress. They both mentioned sexual harassment and even abusive behavior.

Robin said:

The hardest thing for me to deal with in my faculty career, to be painfully honest, is not the occasional rejection of papers or proposals, not incompetent administrators or demands of unreasonable department chairs, not getting the cold shoulder from colleagues. It is facing the ugly reality that sexual harassment occurs on my campus. Even in the 21st century, older men too often attempt to use their power and authority to gain sexual access to younger women. I have seen with my own eyes the emotional and career damage that results and –even worse– the reluctance of the victims to report.

Women are not fragile flowers who need 24/7 body guards to keep us safe as we work alongside and under the supervision of men. But we do need a better means to stop the misbehavior of university faculty who misuse their power and authority in a way that threatens the well being of female students, postdocs and staff.

Perhaps this is not the kind of “resistance” you were thinking about, but I suspect that sexual harassment in the STEM workplace has affected more women than you might think.

Social Scientist said:

Needless to say, the system is deeply gendered and raced, and not unrelated to the sexual harassment that women continue to endure (see Robin’s comment). One of the eminent (male) faculty members in the BILU grad program I attended in the 70s actually invited a female classmate to join him and a group of male grad students in a gang bang (yes, his own words). Things are subtler now, but the attitudes of entitlement (and chauvinism, racism, misogyny, etc.) inherent in the system remain–in part because they’re shared by some of the non-white males who made it, because they’d rather try to feel like members of the club (even if they really aren’t, quite) than wannabes.

I would like to discuss strategies to deal with this type of thing. What do people recommend? I have recently written a post about harassment. And there was a good post of TenureSheWrote, too. Should female grad students and undergraduates to go to female faculty? That puts a lot of stress on the female faculty. What if the female faculty member is still pre-tenure and feels that she cannot speak freely without risking her career?  What is the faculty member is an older woman, but she is unwilling to listen? Are their organizations on campus that can assist? It would be helpful for readers to chime in with their ideas.

Oddly, just days after posting my original post about the SexualHarassingEmeritusFaculty, he died. Some senior members of the department decided to use faculty meeting time to have a reflection time for him. My HusbandOfScience emailed the entire faculty to ask how long the reflection time would take, because he would like to actively BOYCOTT the memorial service. I told several of my senior male colleagues that I would also be boycotting because of the Sexual Harassment this man imparted. So, I outed this harasser after death. It feels a bit unsatisfying, though. I should have done more.

Hope to hear from you. Post or comment! Click +Follow to get updates on this blog.

Should Personal Statements be “Personal”?

typewriter This topic came up recently on the Physics Forums site. A number of people responding said essentially what I have said here in the recent past in this post. You should make it about your research, but it should not be too personal about yourself. Online resources such as this one in The Guardian don’t make sense to me. I have a feeling that this is specifically for applying to undergraduate level in Europe and the UK. They have a very different situation – you must apply in your field, but you are also applying to undergraduate level, so they do want to know more about you. An undergraduate application essay is more personal because undergraduate admissions want to make interesting and well-rounded classes. Graduate schools in the US do not care to do that – except maybe trying to diversify with more women and minority students (hopefully).

As I said before, your application to graduate school is a professional application. Graduate school is a professional school.  It doesn’t matter so much to me when you got excited enough about science to want to do it for a living and go to graduate school. As one person writes on the Physics Forum, your interest in Prof. Proton as a child really has no baring on your success as a graduate student. Your success as a graduate student, and beyond grad school, are our only concern.

Here are some really good reasons why I don’t care about your personal reasons:

1. I should not care because it enters a bias. If one student says they have had a passion for science since they were 4 when they looked to the stars and wondered how many there were and how big the universe was, is that any meritorious than the person who didn’t realize it until high school? Or better yet, the person who entered college wanting to do history, fell in love with a science gen-ed course, changed tracks, took an  extra year to finish with a science major and now really wants to go to graduate school? The when you decided to devote your career and life to science does not matter. And it should not matter because I have no way to evaluate it objectively, so it isn’t even fair to put in. I usually just ignore it all together, trying to skip past until you get to the real information I need.

2. It wastes time and space you could be saying something real. By making your first 1 – 3 paragraphs about personal drivel that I cannot, by good standards of judgement, use to evaluate you for graduate school, you are wasting my time and your personal real estate in the statement. I have to spend time getting past it to the real information I need. You are wasting words from your word count to tell me things I don’t care about and cannot use.

3. Another indicator that it is not what you should do. In all my years serving on graduate admissions, no one has EVER said, “Well, this person has wanted to do science since they were in junior high, so we should accept him.” No one uses the information. In fact, it is often a source of negativity within the discussion. I have heard people say, “Not another one of these quotes! Did they at least quote a scientist this time?” or derisive comments about what the applicant writes. Again, this is not the best thing for YOU, the applicant, so why give them this information.

I hope this information is helpful to some of you preparing your applications to graduate school. I am serving on admissions again this year, so maybe I will read some of them myself. If I can even get one student to remove this useless personal information and give me what I really need, it will be worth it. Feel free to forward this post to your friends and colleagues. Make comments or post here or at the Physics Forum to continue the conversation.

All the Small Things

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

Silverback

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…

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

chemistry

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.

Beginning Grad School

Graduate School Blues

Graduate School Blues (Photo credit: ChiILLeica)

Fall is the time of new beginnings. For many that means starting at a new position such as grad school. This is a big transition. The following post is from a women who just started grad school. Enjoy!

My first week at the university where I was going to spend the next 4-6 years I went through what I would call “academic shock”. Now we all go through it whenever we change our level of education: elementary school to middle school to high school to college. Every time we are scared to death of change or the unknown and walk around with our eyes bugged out bigger than a Panic Pete Squeeze Doll. For some reason though I was sort of annoyed that I was being squeezed again at age 22 (and getting lost on campus countless times despite a map…). I remember telling my boyfriend (who is in graduate school already) that, “I’ve been through this, I’ve done the drill, why does it all feel new again and I feel so unprepared?” He smiled and said, “It’s different. You have no safety net like as an undergraduate. You typically don’t know anyone [like high school friends going to the same college] and this time there’s less people in your boat so you really do feel alone.” My first reaction was to make fun of how “good” at consoling he is but he really did have a valid point where it made me stop and think. When it came to the other “academic shocks” you did it with an entire class. My classes of 2009 and 2013 were all Panic Pete Dolls right along with me. This time there were only two other Ph.D. students in different rotating labs on different floors or in different buildings. Everyone I had met so far had been incredibly nice and open but they had their lives set where I was feebly trying to construct mine.

So you are probably wondering where the positive advice comes into all this right? It’s week three for me so I don’t have all the answers yet but I have found some basic things that I think anyone would say are good pointers.

  1. Over the summer try to get in contact with your professor you’d like to rotate with at least once. Ask to meet people who you will work with in the lab and if you can go over project ideas or if they recommend any papers relating to overall lab goals. Take a genuine interest in what you’re doing early and you tend to have a little bit of a sanctuary in your lab before you get there. I knew a few people before I actually started my semester so when I got a lab bench next to one of them I didn’t feel awkward talking to them or asking questions. Also if you hadn’t during your visit the first time to the school, be sure to try to ask people what classes they recommend and what helped them in their research.
  2. Read, read, read! I don’t mean once you get to your first week of school. I mean if you have a general idea of what you’ll be doing for research the first semester, read over the summer. Don’t go in blind, you are continuing your education for a reason and to be honest it’s not undergrad life anymore, it’s a job. I read two review papers and two research-related papers three weeks before school to get an idea of what the lab was like.
  3. Obviously be yourself. You are here for 4-6 years, they will find out eventually and there’s no point in trying to deal with the stress of a charade on top of all your other responsibilities. You are allowed to not know everything in your field and you are most definitely allowed to be as silly, serious, funny, awkward, charming or whatever quality you have to the uttermost you.
  4. If you have an interest, ask about it. I don’t mean about your field, you’ll have plenty of time to ask those questions too. I immediately began asking students and faculty about my three favorite topics: food, music, and hockey. Not only am I genuinely interested in these things, but then I can also get a feel for what other people have interests in. I have found so far no one in my department likes hockey, but hey, now I know not to invite certain people to those functions! Food and music are the best topics because not only are you finding out where to go but what kind of food people like and what music style. I like to think of it as “First Date” topics with your department. As soon as you find a mutual like you can do the awkward first date thing and ask for a second date… as in ask them to go with you to their favorite restaurant or get a group to check out some music that everyone seems to like. Don’t be Pepe Le Pew where you are throwing yourself at people without taking any social cues but what I’m basically getting at is welcome back to your freshmen year of college where you have to put an effort to make friends. If you are yourself and just casually ask people here and there to things you want to explore in the area I guarantee you will adjust very quickly.
  5. Other than it being mandatory (for most departments anyway), seminar is a great way to get to know your department and other research going on in your field or other fields. I know of at least three schools that have a lunch afterwards with the guest speaker and the other seminar attendees. Pay attention, take notes during the talk, and especially don’t be afraid to ask questions afterwards. I found so far that I am beginning to recognize faces and talking to more people in and out of my department after only three seminars.
  6. This is my last piece of advice but I find it most important above everything: Keep your sanity.

I see so many people not do this, and it’s very discouraging. Yes, graduate school is demanding and requires a lot of time, but balance is everything. Let me try to explain from an undergraduate perspective first. Before I went to graduate school, I was very lucky and had a boyfriend and a lot of friends already in graduate school. I was given plenty of advice from Masters and Ph.D. students and the most repeated thing I heard was, “Make time for you, because I didn’t and I wasn’t happy for most of my time here.” There was one girl I talked to at a friend’s party who is a very successful Ph.D. student but she literally looked like the soul was sucked out of her and wasn’t even happy that she was finishing up that year after 5 years. Balance is key to everything in life but especially when you are in graduate school. It is easy to get wrapped up in your research, take work home, pull late nights, and go into the lab on the weekend etc. Obviously there will be times when you have to do that and there is nothing wrong with that either; however, also be sure not to burn out. So my graduate student perspective is this. What I have been doing is that on Sundays I go grocery shopping and do my errands so that on Monday after my courses and lab work I go home and have a cooking session. It’s a destressor for the beginning of the week: put on some fun music and cook out a menu for the week. This is great too because lunch and dinner are all set so I know I’m eating healthy and keeping up my energy for the next 7 days. Also I am trying to have one thing to look forward to every week, whether it’s a 2-hour show at some dive bar on a Thursday or a farmer’s market/festival on a Saturday or even a corny/fun department gathering. I still allow time to go into the lab if needed late at night or on the weekend but I also have something of my own too. I know people who will do a bike ride or go fishing at least once a week. Having something that is not work related is as important as doing well in work. I remember a professor once said to me, “Work as hard during the week as you play during the weekend”. If you can do that, you shouldn’t fall behind in graduate school or lose yourself either.

Truth be told, we can prepare all we want but to be human is, well, human. You submerse yourself into a new environment, new people who already have routines, new learning experiences as you acquaint yourself with your research, etc. You put yourself in a completely new life and if you’re not scared, you are doing it wrong. The good news is that if you look at graduate school as a fluid, fun, learning experience where you work as hard as you play, you will enjoy all the ups and downs it brings.

Hope you liked that story and thanks to the WomanOfScience contributor for writing. Would you like to post some advise?

Tag Cloud