Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for the ‘Negotiating’ Category


NegotiationsA former student of a colleague was coming back to visit and brought some great news. He had landed a big fancy-named fellowship and a job offer. He started asking me questions that one has when put into a new situation – a rare situation – negotiations. He was at the negotiations stage. This is something that you don’t get to do very often, and thus, none of us are all that practiced at it. I have had a couple older posts about negotiating (Everything and Practice and StartUp).

One of the interesting things I noticed was that this student had not received much help from his advisors about how to go about the job search nor about negotiations. As I kept giving him advice on this and that, much of which was covered in the previous posts, he was very enthusiastically eating it up. It felt good to mentor this student to whom I thought I could have offered nothing.

As I was recently traveling, I had many conversations with other WomenOfScience that I do not usually get to interact with. One was a woman who did a particularly spectacular job at negotiating her first position, so we discussed some tactics and of negotiation. Although she negotiated everything from salary to office furniture, she warned against looking greedy and being too picky. She suggested that one strategy is to prioritize your request list. For instance, equipment for your experiments is likely to be crucial. Money for people is probably essential.

As I think back on my own original negotiations, I know I did things wrong the first time. I was very bad at negotiating my salary. I knew it was important, but I felt like I was negotiating my husband’s salary and his whole job, and I shouldn’t look too greedy (see previous post on solving the Two-Body Problem). I think not negotiating my salary at all was a mistake. Even starting a few $1000 ahead would have been better. I think this is very typical for women. Further, society tells us that women who ask for more money (even equal pay) are greedy and that is somehow less tolerable in women than in men. Men who ask for more money are not as likely to be thought of as greedy. There is some advice I have heard recently that I think is good to help overcome this: When you need to negotiate for more money – don’t think you are negotiating it for yourself, but rather for your family. You need more money so that your family has a better life. I think that would have helped me. Your salary is for your family to make sure they can live comfortably while you are busting your hump getting tenure – make sure you frame it that way in your mind.

I didn’t have any trouble negotiating for what I needed for my lab, because it was, in effect, not just for me, but also for the department and the lab, which is bigger than just me. If I could have framed some of the other aspects – salary and other personal needs – in a bigger context, I think I would have been more successful negotiating for those things.

What do you think? Any advice or suggestions to help others negotiate better? Post or comment. To get emails whenever I post, push the +Follow button.

Industrial Story – Part 2

GoodSenseCorsetWaists1886page153And now the thrilling conclusion to the previous story…

A female Ph.D. friend in the company told me that if I wanted to escape from the anger (which was getting to be a regular experience) and the permanently low pay, I needed to switch managers.  She also explained that Dr. Jekyll had been removed from management roles in multiple companies because of his poor performance.  The fact that his only report (me) was trying to leave would be particularly upsetting to him.

It took me more than six months to act on my friend’s advice.  Leaving Dr. Jekyll’s team meant leaving research and development.  Opportunities for first-authoring a paper with exciting new results would pretty much disappear.  Returning to academia would be much harder.

On the other hand, the economy wasn’t in great shape at the time.  I didn’t know of any opportunities outside the company.  Plus, my field is quite small.  I wanted to “clear” my good name.

Note: I’ve since switched subfields.  I use the my science and knowledge from my “Dr. Jekyll” period but no longer interact with any of the people from this period in my career.  It would probably have been wiser to start fresh with a new team rather than sticking around to prove myself.

One day, Dr. Jekyll flat-out accused me of having a male colleague generate for me all of my results from the prior two weeks. I had worked long hours and weekends to get these results for an external deadline.

I finally relented to my friend’s recommendation that I go to Dr. Jekyll’s boss and request a transfer.   She also recommended I ask that Dr. Jekyll not be told of the transfer until right before.

Dr. Jekyll’s boss was understanding, but said that Dr. Jekyll should know about my request to leave his team.  “We’re all adults,” I thought, “Why not tell him I’ve asked for a transfer?”

I will never forget the next meeting with Dr. Jekyll. He said:

  1. I don’t think you belong at this company, but I can help you find another job elsewhere as your friend.
  2. You don’t belong in science and engineering as a career choice
  3. Have you just stuck with this engineering thing because your father is an engineer?

Unfortunately, this meeting was also my annual merit review.  I was told that because so many of our projects had been cancelled, I didn’t really “get anything done” that year.  What’s really crazy is that after this nasty meeting, he fought to keep me from transferring out of his team for months.  Yet he also continued to repeat to me that I didn’t belong in science and engineering as a career choice.  I was wise enough not to respond to most of his remarks.  I did, however, ask him point-blank to stop saying such unprofessional things to me.  He said no, that I needed to hear “the truth.”  I had to go above his head again and tell his peers and boss about his abusive words to get out of his team.

The worst part about all this was that I was so alone.  When I talked with other engineers about my work, Dr. Jekyll accused me of wasting their time “getting help.”  When I actually asked them for help, he said they were “doing my work for me.”  As a result of this and the lack of female peers, I had cultivated little in the way of a social network within my department.

Note: Gender is a stronger determinant of friendships in the corporate world than age, race, or ethnicity.  Having guy friends wasn’t as effortless as it was in grad school.  I’ve since taken initiative to develop friendships with my mostly older, married male colleagues, but I usually have to work harder at them.

It didn’t help that Dr. Jekyll was strikingly kind, witty, and personable in public.

I once stopped to chat with the head of HR moments after leaving a particularly unpleasant one-on-one with Dr. Jekyll.  “You work for the nicest man in the company!” she said to me as I blinked back tears.

I’ll never know how much my gender had to do with this experience.  Dr. Jekyll occasionally made sexist remarks.  He told me I was “no good with mechanical things” despite the fact that I had successes in projects involving complicated “mechanical things.”  One of the only times Dr. Jekyll praised me was with “women are such great communicators!”  He also tried to give me social event planning tasks I associated more with administrative assistant than engineering responsibilities.  But the sexism was never more overt than this.

Note: My next manager told me that my communication style was my greatest weakness, which seemed like a fair assessment.  To date, I’ve heard Dr. Jekyll utter more sexist remarks than all the other people I’ve met in corporate settings combined.

After my transfer, I suffered for a couple more years. My new team was very pleasantly surprised at how productive I was given what Dr. Jekyll had said about me.  However, because of the way the ranking and raise system worked, I continued to be paid and ranked less than what my new managers thought was fair.  I eventually had to get an external offer to get to salary parity.

Dr. Jekyll never got another direct report after I left his team.  Two years after I left, I finally got the top ranking in a department-wide performance review.  I started hearing Dr. Jekyll say to other managers around this time what a great engineer I’d always been.  I was stunned the first time I heard it – this was most certainly not what he had been saying about me when I reported to him.  It sounded to me like his mis-representing of my work may have become uncomfortably transparent to the rest of the department.

I later met another person who had worked for Dr. Jekyll before me.  I found out that this person, too, had been isolated from colleagues and then “sold up the river” by Dr. Jekyll to make himself look less bad.  Apparently Dr. Jekyll had told outright lies about this individual that could have lead to a termination.  I was relieved to  hear that I wasn’t alone, and it all really wasn’t my fault.

I’m now at a new company making over three times what I made as a new hire into industry.  I’m being paid well more than the average male Ph.D. with my level of experience.  I got the job mostly through studying material from grad school and rehearsing for months, and in small part through recommendations by college friends.


    • Build your network:
      • I got my first industry job offer through a connection.
      • I thought I was trapped working for a bad boss because I didn’t know of other opportunities outside my company.
      • I got out of the bad boss situation through advice from a colleague.
      • I got a new job with a kick-ass salary mostly though hard work but partly through friends.
    • If you find out your boss is blaming you for big things that aren’t your fault, start looking for a new job ASAP.
    • If you encounter anger when asking for a raise, think about whether there isn’t some lower-hanging fruit elsewhere.
    • Don’t directly criticize your boss’ pet project, even if it’s doomed.
    • Be very cautious about publicizing plans to leave before the move is final.
    • Fantastic career advice on handling bad bosses and navigating the professional world in general can be found at

Thanks so much for the story! I think I speak for everyone when I say, I am happy the ending was positive, because the last post was very sad and scary. So glad that this WomanOfScience got out of that horrible situation and was able to get the credit and pay she deserved! Post or comment! You can get an email every time there is a new post by pushing the +Follow button.

Industrial Story – Part 1

3514668147_061a386342_zThis story comes from a fellow WomanOfScience who is in Industry. This is a two-part story, and should be read as an anecdote to help those of you interested in going into industrial science, and what you should watch out for in that route. Some of these characters and situations are quite similar to the academic track, which is sad. I hope you enjoy the story and learn from it, as I have. Part 2 will come online shortly.

Part 1:

I graduated from one of the nation’s most exclusive tech universities with what was considered a very “hard” major and nearly straight A’s at age 19.  I got my Ph.D. at 24, again with near-perfect grades.  I thought my math and science abilities would always allow me to overcome the occasional unprofessional encounter.

Then I entered the corporate world.

I had wanted to be a professor.  I found out a week before my planned start date of my second post-doc that there were some serious problems with the position.  Fortunately, a grad school connection asked me to interview at the only company in the world with commercial success at what I had studied in grad school.  I decided to accept a job at this company.  I thought I’d be able to prioritize my work and benefits to eventually re-enter academia.  Many departments in my FieldOfEngineering value a couple years of industry experience.  Some even require it.  Things looked bright.  My new manager “Dr. Jekyll” was world-famous in my scientific niche.  The two of us would be the only ones in the department doing research.

At the time of the job offer, I knew I should try to negotiate something more.  My father, who has a background in Science and Engineering Management, warned me that it’s much easier to negotiate options or stock, followed by salary.  Conference attendance would be very hard to negotiate.  As the company was still a start-up, I was willing to accept the low pay.  Low salary with the expectation of a big reward from stock options is the norm at many startups.  It had been drilled into me that women often wind up with lower salaries and benefits because they don’t ask for as much.  Because I still hoped to return to academia someday, I naively asked for more conference attendance (3 conferences/yr , thinking that would keep in touch with academia).   Indeed, I was told that I could go to the conferences  already in the pipeline (those at which I already had papers/abstracts accepted), but after that no more than one conference per year.

Note: In reality the only way that I was able to manage even the one conference per year that I did was because I was a member of the technical committees at those conferences.  Most other industrial scientists/engineers didn’t go to conferences every year. The lesson: be skeptical of all promises that aren’t in writing.


So now I was yet another female engineer with low pay.  Six months later, when I checked on Glassdoor to see how my salary stacked up against my peers, I was shocked that I was being paid 30% less than my peers.  I had thought the low pay applied to everybody, not just me.

Earlier, I had read “Women Don’t Ask”, about women, salaries, and negotiation.  Based on this, I put together some slides on why I should be paid more. Now, to be clear, the book had emphasized that women sometimes get penalized for asking for raises.  In spite of this, I thought that the fact that I was being paid so much less than my peers meant that I couldn’t possibly be penalized much for asking.  Here I was, working nearly every weekend while the other engineers were not.  Meanwhile, it was just a coincidence that Dr. Jekyll’s projects kept getting canceled, right?  I was still doing good work and deserved commensurate compensation, didn’t I?

The first time I made my case for a raise, Dr. Jekyll seemed taken aback.  He said he didn’t think there was much he could do.  He said our company didn’t value the research-y work he and I were doing, and that both our jobs were at risk.  Indeed, the answer he claimed to have received from above was “no.”

At this point, I was spending about a third of my time on Dr. Jekyll’s pet project, “Frankenstein.”  It became clear to me that Frankenstein would never succeed.   In private I started to mention to Dr. Jekyll the reasons we should drop this project.  He kept saying things like “It has to succeed.”  Near the bitter end, he even yelled at me for my “negativity.”

Note: the project was eventually handed off to another team.  The new team quickly realized the project was hopeless and cancelled it.  The new team couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been killed years earlier, around the time I started vocalizing my concerns…

I asked for a raise about 6 months after my first request.  Dr. Jekyll got visibly angry and said no.  I didn’t understand how he could possibly be angry at me.  I was getting more done than most engineers in my department and being paid much less.  I assumed his anger wasn’t directed at me personally.  Big mistake.
I heard about an opportunity to join another team in need.  I thought, if my current team’s work isn’t being valued and I’m at risk of losing my job, why not join another team?  The hiring manager of the other team was optimistic about my potential contribution.  However, when I next met with Dr. Jekyll, his demeanor was that of an adult who had just caught a kid with her hand in the cookie jar.  “Didn’t you know I’d find out you’ve been looking at other teams?”, he said in fury, before I could say a word.  I didn’t understand what he was so angry about.  If we were at risk of losing our jobs, wouldn’t it be better for all of us if I left for a more stable team?  A few months later, another inquiry into another internal opening yielded a similar result.

So, what do you think? Comment or post! Follow the blog by pushing the +Follow button! Part 2 will be online soon.

Equal Pay Day

Y12_Calutron_OperatorsToday, as you might have noticed, is “Equal Pay Day” where we women point out that women are still not being paid equal to men. If you haven’t seen some of these articles and statistics, I thought this one was nice. I was surprised by the wage gap as a function of race. Since we are all aware that these wage gaps are based on perceived “competence,” it is interesting to realize that your race convolved with being a woman can lead to you make HALF what a white dude makes!

The wage-gap definitely exists in academia – even at StateSchools where the wages are often public knowledge. For instance,  I was the lowest paid person in my department several semesters, and I brought it to the attention of my department chair who gave me a raise to raise me to the level of the next person. Interestingly, this correction to my salary still left me as the lowest paid person in the department. The only difference was that I was tied for last place with several other people after the correction.

Previously, I negotiated a small retention package at UState after going to an interview at another school. I made three requests for retention given in the order of (what I thought would be) least to most difficult to implement: 1. Teaching release for 1 course per year for 2 years. 2. A $5000 raise. 3. $25,000 per year for two years for research expenses. Surprisingly, I was given items 1. and 3., but not the raise! I was pretty shocked that the salary increase was off the table.

In addition to this, I have gone 2 summers with NO summer salary at all because I wanted to pay my students. I have a friend who basically just laid herself off so that she could pay for a postdoc for an extra year. Do men ever do this? I have male colleagues who say that they “don’t take summer salary,” but when I probed further, it turned out that they meant that they didn’t take the full summer salary – they only took 1 month instead of 2. This is not exactly the same thing. I suppose you could say that we do it to ourselves, but really, it is just that we are committed and used to not getting much for it. We are so used to being undervalued for our work by society, we even ourselves. We undervalue ourselves. Think about that. By not paying yourself, we are not even valuing ourselves or our work at the absurdly low level that society tells us.

So, on Equal Pay Day, let’s pledge to value ourselves. I am going to endeavor to value myself more from now on. I am going to endeavor to pull a white male and OVER-Value myself. I will not ask for the $5k raise next time. I am going to ask for $20k. How will that fly? I got zero when I asked for $5k, but I can’t get less than that, right? There is no such thing as a negative raise, right? So, since I now have tenure, and I am kicking *ss at my job, I am taking my one month of summer salary – damn it!

What do you think? Post or comment. Push +Follow to get an email every time there is a new post.

Two Kids: One Pre-Tenure, One Post-Tenure

A story from another WomanOfScience. They are all different and illuminating. Why not share yours?

For me it worked well to have my children as a professor, one before tenure and one after tenure.

My HusbandOfScience and I lived together while I was in graduate school and he was a postdoc. Then he accepted a tenure-track position in a location where it was not possible for me to find a competitive postdoc, so I accepted a postdoc in another city and we lived separately for two years. If we had already had a child at that point (which we had considered doing), this would have reduced my postdoc options and limited my career (we would not have chosen to live separately after having a child). After two years of living apart, I started a tenure-track position in the same department as my husband.

It was difficult to decide when to have a child. I was already concerned about being viewed as a trailing spouse (I was the first woman hired into a tenure-track position by my department in 15 years). I waited a couple of years until I had a few students on track in my lab and I had been very successful at getting some grants and awards. I remember worrying about whether I would have morning sickness, since I was teaching an 8 am class, but luckily I had a very smooth pregnancy. At the time there was no maternity leave policy. My department head did not offer any help if the baby came before the end of the semester, and I was not confident enough to ask. I juggled childcare with my husband for the first few months, which reduced my research productivity for the summer. It would have been better for my career (and therefore for my department) to instead take this time from teaching, by giving me a teaching release in the following semester. My baby started fulltime in a great daycare center at 4 months, which was a huge relief from juggling too many responsibilities. An unexpected additional benefit was how much we enjoyed and learned from connecting with a community of young families.

I did not wait until after tenure to start trying to have a second child, but that’s how it turned out because it took a very long time to get pregnant. Since I almost did not succeed in having a second child, I think it’s important to tell people not to wait too long. Unfortunately, as far as I know, it’s impossible to predict how quickly your fertility will decline with age. There was still no maternity policy when my second child was born, but I had more confidence and a more understanding department head, so I negotiated a teaching release.  I’m pleased to report that my institution now has a generous maternity/paternity leave policy.

The disadvantage of having babies after being a professor was that the initial months before fulltime daycare were stressful, since I had professional responsibilities that could not stop (graduate students to mentor, etc). But there were great advantages – being able to afford high quality daycare that our babies/toddlers enjoyed, having a private office for breastfeeding and pumping, and having many job duties (writing grants or papers, preparing lectures) that could be scheduled at a time and place convenient for me.

Having children has certainly reduced the total time that I could spend on my career, but it has also been surprisingly compatible with being a professor. Perhaps I could have been more successful without this loss of time – or perhaps not, since I would not have been nearly as happy. I have no regrets about choosing to have children as a WomanOfScience.

Have a story to share?? Post or comment!

A case for kids during your postdoc

From another WomanOfScience:

For me, it worked best to give birth partway into a three-year postdoc because:

– Postdoc salaries are high enough to support child care expenses. My husband and I couldn’t afford childcare on our meager graduate stipends.

– Postdocs can often arrange flexible work hours. Plus, if you can only work 40 hours/week as a postdoc, they are all research hours and you can maintain excellent scholarly productivity if you manage your time well. As an assistant professor I had so many other duties–teaching, faculty meetings, grant proposals–that if could only work 40 hours/week, my research productivity would have been much smaller.

– That third year gave both of us time to adjust to life as working parents before entering the job market again. And for the first few months after I came back to work postpartum, I was allowed to bring the baby to the office Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving him in the care of a neighbor on MWF. It was a great arrangement to help me through the transition, roughly from age 3 months to 8 months.

Job interviews during pregnancy and breastfeeding were a real challenge for me. I found morning sickness and job interview stress to be a bad combination, and in the early stages of pregnancy it made me nervous not knowing whether I was “showing” yet. As for job-interviews during breastfeeding, leaving the baby at home for more than a day or so becomes a challenge; plus, I didn’t have the maturity to ask for a pumping break during a full-day interview, so was uncomfortable and risked leaking through my nursing pads.

I am a firm believer that postdocs who are new parents should be able to convert a 2 year full-time postdoc into a 3-year, 66% time postdoc. Has anyone tried that?

How about your story?? Comment or post!

Why Don’t Women Ask?

Although this is a little off topic for how and what to negotiate, I think it is worth some time to ask ourselves, “Why don’t we ask for more?” Seeing how well my daughter innately negotiates, I think the reason is that society trains women that it is improper to negotiate or even to ask for what you really want and need. We are trained to be quiet, good, and to make do with what we are given. Sometimes, this is definitely called for. Sometimes, you need to make do. But, doing this too often makes us complacent and gets us out of practice for negotiating when we need to.

This reminds me also of self-promotion. It is also improper to self-promote. It is trained out of us. But, like negotiating, it is essential to success in academic science. Perhaps also it seems a bit mean to self-promote, but propping yourself up is not synonymous with putting others down. In fact, self-promotion and good negotiating can have positive impacts on your department (more money to go around, more prestige, higher impact, better students).

When we are feeling weird about these things, try to remember the positive impacts they have not only for you, but for the people in your lab and department. By putting these actions into positive context with others, we can break through the self-imposed barrier on these crucial skills.

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