Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for the ‘WomenRock’ Category

Bravery is…

Being a WomanOfScience often involves being brave. Last week, we had a seminar from a big fancy, OWM, Nobel Laureate. The OMayerWM-NL was to be giving an inspirational talk about basic science and all the wonderful things that can come from the basic science. During the talk, his slides looked like a cut and pasted wikipedia page of other Nobel winners. Oddly, he didn’t mention a single woman. Not even Marie Curie. He was obsessed with only his subfield. The OWM from this field were geniuses. He barely talked about other fields of science, and when he did, other fields were all about luck – not genius.

He did actually mention (briefly in passing) two women. One was the girlfriend of another NL who he hooked up with at a conference while the other NL was organizing the conference. The other was a joke about serendipity, “sometimes when you are looking for a needle in a haystack, you find the farmer’s wife.” So, basically, the only two women mentioned in the entire talk were sluts.

Many of the women of the department walked out the talk. It was in an auditorium that sat 350, so we felt pretty self-conscience about telling him off at the talk. Walking out was a silent protest. After the talk and the next day, the women discussed and decided to feel out the department. Did the men sense the same thing we women felt? HusbandOfScience did. He was texting me during the talk about all the BS that was streaming at us. Did others?

At lunch with our normal crew the next day, the dudes were totally backing up old OWM-NL. They pulled out the old chestnut, “It’s just a joke,” and “You are being too sensitive.” That was annoying, but the decision to take action was made by my colleague when her grad students and undergrads said that they felt the sexist comments and jokes were very hurtful. One of the undergrads was actually asked by the OWM-NL to pour him coffee. (No, sir, it is not 1950.)

For me, I talked to some senior WomenOfScience, and they all said it was par for the course – they barely noticed because it was tame by the standards of their generation. Not-uh. Not on my watch.

We decided to write a letter to the chair and send it to the faculty. This takes bravery. We had no idea what the aggregate reaction of our colleagues would be. Would they call us crazy? Would they all say they were “just jokes”?

I paste the letter in here (redacted/edited), to serve as an example for you to use:

Dear DepartmentChair,

After the lecture on Day, and conversations with students and colleagues, we (names), consider it is a responsibility to communicate to you and the whole faculty that we were very disturbed by OWM-NL’s lecture.
We will not dwell on the content or quality of the talk, but there are two aspects that we must comment on:

1. The sexist jokes were beyond inappropriate.

We counted at least three, and those were three too many, especially since the jokes were the only references to women in a lecture entitled “Basic Science is Awesome” (not real title). Women were only referred to as literal sexual objects throughout the talk – prizes of fights or findings – while seemingly actively written out of the history of the sciences (see point 2).

We were appalled to learn the speaker asked a female undergraduate to pour coffee for him.
The next day one of us witnessed male undergraduates repeating one of the jokes; clearly, it made an impression.
What example is this setting for our students?

When we mentioned this to some of our colleagues, we had responses along the lines of “those were just jokes”. If you wonder what poisons the climate for women in STEM, this is an answer. It is important you are all aware the female constituency of the department, faculty and students, did not find those to be “just jokes”. None of us was amused, and the chuckling by the audience was not comforting.

2. This was an egregious example of old-boy-network talk, potentially damaging to the retention of underrepresented groups in our department.

One of our graduate students defined it “oppressively exclusive: he went out of his way to avoid mentioning any woman and we got the message that science is done only by privileged white men who went to the same high school”.
No Marie Curie, no Maria Goeppert Mayer, no Rosalind Franklin.
We agree with the student. OWM-NL mentioned the most impactful discoveries were made by white European men; he also said that now people of all ethnicity and genders can do science too, “well, sort of”.
We found this parenthetic remark dismissive and offensive.

We are worried that this lecture has sent a bad message to our graduate students, our undergraduate students, and our colleagues in other departments.

While we recognize it is hard to predict these aspects about a speaker in advance, we should all make an effort to be aware of such pitfalls.

We are grateful to KnownDonors for endowing this lecture series, it is an important medium to increase the visibility of TheDepartment and Science on our campus and in our town, and acknowledge the significant effort that went in organizing this event.
But we also do hope and expect the Department will make all efforts to identify an outstanding woman and minority to invite for future lectures in this series. We will be happy to assist with suggestions.

Best wishes,
WomenOfScience, HusbandOfScience

What was the outcome? The outcome of this was actually really good. The chair who said he had no idea and was truly just in awe of OWM-NL, said that he believed that the lecturer was offensive after reading our letter. We asked him to offer a statement to the entire physics community, and he did this week. Other male colleagues who were not there said that they would have also walked out, but better yet they claimed that they would have spoken out at the lecture. This was a happy surprise.

I think the problem with these situations is that they can catch you off guard and you may not even realize what is happening or how bad it is at the time.  One of the problems with not addressing it, as outlined in our letter, is that the students will either (1) be angry and feel like the department doesn’t support them, especially if they felt the talk was sexist, (2) feel uncomfortable about the talk, but not really know why it bothered them, (3) think that type of talk and behavior are OK. The last one is the worst outcome because it propagates to the next generation the idea that only white, European-decent males can do science, and that women and minorities are outcasts. We didn’t mention that he also said a few racist things in the talk, but our colleague, who is a person of color, noticed. At a time when women are getting a backlash of negative sentiment after many years of progress: Yes, this still happens. Yes, we need to point it out. And yes, the fight is still going strong.

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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!

They’re Just Not That Into You

2475011402_bf70c92575_oOver the past year, I have had to have a similar conversation with two different MenOfScience. These MenOfScience are relatively young. Both of these men are in tenure-track jobs at decent places. Both of these men are in male dominated fields of science. Further, both of these men are not overtly sexist, but both men had the same very strange notion which I tried to disabuse them of.

See, it turned out that when these guys were up for tenure track jobs, in the same year there was a super-star candidate. This super-star candidate got many, many interviews and several offers. In fact, this super-star person got almost all the offers in the field. And guess, what? This superstar person just happened to be a woman.

So what conclusion did these guys draw? Just guess…

Did they conclude that this woman had worked her ass off? Did they conclude that this woman was clearly the smartest, best, cleverest scientist of the field on the market that year? Did they conclude that because the bar was so much higher for the women of their field that this woman was truly the most excellent? Did they conclude that not only was this woman so amazing as to surpass all other candidates that year (men and women), but probably also ended up as the only woman on the market in that field in the entire year?

No, of course, they concluded that, this woman (each was a different woman in each of their different fields in different years) only got all those offers because she was a woman. And, of course, they felt slighted. They felt that this woman did not deserve the accolades and offers that she received. If not her, than who? Should they have been given all those offers? Would they have been so resentful if there was a man receiving many interviews and offers? Surely that must happen often in these male-dominated fields. Yet, somehow I doubt that anyone would say, “He only got those offers because he was a man.”

During these conversations, I strove to set their attitudes correct. I made it clear that the outstanding woman must have been truly outstanding because the bar is much higher for women than men. I do not think they bought that. I let them know that there is still a lot of bias against women, notice how few their are in their own departments and in their own fields, so that if this woman was getting so many offers, she must have been truly amazing. I do not think they bought that. They were still very focused on the fact that a woman had somehow beaten them. Like it was a personal offense.

And here is the kicker – these dudes have jobs! Because at the end of the day – no matter how many offers that one outstanding woman got, she is still only one person who will only be able to take one offer. So, it doesn’t really matter how many offers she got, because it did not inhibit them from getting jobs. So, why are they so resentful? It must be that they really feel that they are as good as this woman. Maybe they are, maybe they are not, either way, they still got jobs! They are still around, doing science, getting tenure.

So, what is the best way to convince them? I do not think my method of trying to offer facts and statistics about women in science worked. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, they will never be convinced because the true answer was that this woman was probably better than them. And no one likes to hear that someone else is better than they are. They do not want to hear the truth: “they’re just not that into you.” Nobody wants to hear that.

It is especially important to get these young men who will we need as our advocates and cooperative partners in change to understand women’s issues and help to support us. Do you have any idea how to help these guys to see that just because a woman was successful does not detract from them and ultimately did not do them any harm? We need them on our side, and if they continue to hold a grudge about one amazing woman that got lots of offers 4 years ago, we could lose them to the dark side of sexism.

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Women’s Leadership Backlash

Woman_standing_next_to_a_wide_range_of_tire_sizes_required_by_military_aircraft._-_NARA_-_196199A wonderful post from a WomanOfScience friend on women’s leadership. In particular, women in academic administration. Choosing to go the administrator route may be an exit from the research track.


I’ve always recognized the advantages of being a female faculty member in a male dominated field and try not to dwell on the instances of overt or subtle discrimination. For example, when I entered grad school (15-20 years ago), there were few women in my field that my gender alone made me memorable. Certainly I did good work, but also it was likely that a member of a faculty search committee was likely to remember me which no doubt helped my job search in a subtle way. When I was an assistant professor and gave birth to our first child, there were obviously some disapproving glares from some colleagues, but still I brought the 7 day old child into my office (in a cradle) and proved to my colleagues that this wasn’t disturbing to them and allowed me to maintain my productivity. Then the slippery slope began…

Some time ago, university administrators decided that one way to relatively painlessly reduce implicit bias was to have female faculty present on key committees (most importantly search committees, graduate admissions, and many policy setting committees). The result was that every female faculty member I knew was doing far more service than her male peers. The optimistic view, however, was that we made contacts and networks both within our home institutions and nationally that were far more expansive. Down the road a decade, we had far more administrative exposure and experience and were therefore ideal targets for administrative/leadership roles (at a time when many institutions would like to showcase their strong female leaders)… except that we were/are too young (many of us in our late 30s and early 40s). It is flattering to be asked to take over a high profile chair or deanship at a young age. And I wasn’t unique in this respect. Looking nationally, female chairs and deans are trendy.

This is where the glass is half full perspective ends… Our male peers are hitting their strides as full professors and racking up the high profile awards and kudos that will allow them to build their scientific reputations. While I was able to maintain this level of creativity and productivity through the births of my three children, there is no way to do the same in the face of the unrelenting distraction of running a large organization well. The inevitable result is to take the research hit in favor of building an administrative career. I am fully aware that I am complaining about an opportunity that women just 5-10 years older than me were denied simply for their genders. On the other hand, I worry that we’re complicit in self-imposing a glass ceiling. In my experience, great scientists look down on administrators that do not have scientific stature (I would contend that young female full professors have credibility, but not yet stature). Worst yet, one of my most creative, deeply thinking graduate students informed me she was leaving my group to join that of a male colleague. She said she joined my group because she loved the atmosphere of teamwork and close mentorship that I had a reputation for, but in the last couple of years (since she joined the group) she’s watched that decay exponentially as my administrative duties increased. I am deeply ashamed that I allowed the day to day fires of running this organization get in my way of educating my students! Worst yet, she cited my case as a reason to _not_ go into academia. That talented women get duties loaded on them until they drop the ball (she described it almost as a form of titration). I’ve sadly become the anti-role model.

This summer, my family and group will be uprooting to move to a new university. Everyone (my extended family included) keeps asking what job I will have there and I have been glorying in telling them that I will be “just” a professor again!

Thanks for that post! What do you think? Post or comment here. To follow this blog, push the +Follow button to get an email every time a new post appears.

Ways to Get Women Speakers: A Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicks Be Crazy

CrazyLadyI wanted to call this post, “Bitches Be Crazy” but Robin told me that I shouldn’t swear so much.  I do try to limit my swearing here, and those of you who know me know that I have quite a potty mouth in person. But, to engender the positive, problem-solving atmosphere I try to create in this blog, I will try not to throw it in your face so much.

So, I called it “Chicks Be Crazy” and I will take time to explain what I mean by this. First, I wanted to use “Bitches” because in academic science, being a tough, but liked women is often hard. You get stereotyped as either a Mommy-type, a Whiner, a Push-Over, or a Bitch.  Of these, being a bitch is probably the most powerful, and is often the side to which successful women often error.

But, actually, it isn’t the word bitch that upsets me so much, perhaps because I am over feeling bad about it. Instead, I am more concerned with the word, “Crazy.” I call crazy “the c-word” (yes, I am aware of what the real c-word is). The problem with the word crazy is that it shuts down all argument in science because, whatever science is, it cannot be crazy. Crazy means illogical and wrong. Science is based on facts and cannot ever, ever be crazy. Yet, the c-word is something we often call women to describe their actions.

So, my first plea is that we stop using the c-word for other women. As I have said before, WOMEN ARE AWESOME! But, sometimes women are not awesome. We are all guilty of woman-on-woman crime of calling another women crazy when they are acting out about whatever issue is concerning them. So, let’s come up with something more specific and concrete to describe their actions instead of jumping to the c-word. If another woman is panicking and running around like a chicken with her head cut off about something, let’s call it stress or panic, which is what it actually is. If someone is disorganized and scattered, that is different. If someone is yelling or crying, then they are angry or sad. See, it is easy to avoid the c-word.

Also, I feel fewer people call men “crazy” even when they act out. If a man is mad and yelling, he is angry or pissed off. If a man is running around, trying to get things done quickly, he is stressed out. If a man is disorganized and a bad manager, what do we call him? Not crazy, just crappy, I guess.

As I look around my department or other departments, I find that the women who are more likely to be c-word are older women in male-dominated fields. I realize that these women have been driven c-word by their male colleagues. To put this in context, we have to do a little role-playing. Imagine if you will, you are a smart, driven, dedicated person. At some point in your career, you come into contact repeatedly with some person/people who do not listen to you, cut you off, undermine you, or otherwise put you down. These people are likely your colleagues in your department and avoidance is not an option when you must serve on committees with them, have meetings, and just run into them in the hall. Although this is a low level of being put down, and this person/these people may not do it all the time, you never know when you ideas and suggestions will be ignored or disparaged. Now, you are in that situation for 15-20 years. To make matters worse, when you go outside of your organization to give talks or attend conferences, you are successful, people listen and respect you, and you are often honored for your work and how smart you are. These praises from the outside are in stark contrast to the disrespectful treatment you get on the inside. And over time, you just get nuttier and nuttier, especially when dealing with the buttheads in your organization.

As one of my good friends and WomanOfScience put it:

I think this is all related to the phenomenon that I have seen which I call (for lack of a better phrase), “there’s another one, but she’s nuts.”  You meet a young female faculty member in a STEM department, and you say, “Oh great!  They finally hired a woman in (Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, etc.).” Then you catch yourself and say, “Oh no wait, there is that older female faculty member in (Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, etc.) but she’s not very active/bat**** crazy.”   It seems like many STEM departments have a young, energetic, fabulous woman and then an older woman who has made it through but is isolated, not very active, nuts, or all three.  It’s like there is this crazy old auntie staying in the guest bedroom.  She’s become so isolated that you forget she is there most of the time.

I know you are asking, as I am: What is the cure? I don’t want to be a crazy, bitter old lady in my department. Luckily, there is a treatment, and it is free. Your colleagues have to treat you professionally and with respect. This treatment may not be available in all areas, unfortunately. The solution is to move to an area where the treatment is available.The other solution is to not care at all, but most women in science aren’t so socially out of it that this is a true possibility. It seems that these are the only hopes of not becoming the department nutter.

What do you think? Post or comment. Push the +Follow button to receive an email every time I post.

Maternity Leave Considerations

Yawning-1I was recently having an email conversation with another WomanOfScience. She was describing her concerns about getting a tenure-track faculty position. She has a HusbandOfScience, and a one-year-old BabyOfScience, and they will all be on the job market very soon. She relayed a story about how, two weeks after giving birth, she was on the phone with a program officer at a FederalFundingAgency. The baby cried, and she was embarrassed and had her HusbandOfScience move the screaming baby to another room. She felt that the PO might think she wasn’t serious because she had a baby. This made me think of several things:

Would a man with a kid crying in the background have been as anxious about the sound?

People have all kinds of noises in the background of phone conversations. What if a dog had barked? That is annoying, but does owning a dog make you less serious of a candidate?

She was worried that having a baby would make her seem less dedicated, but she was having a phone conversation with a program officer 2 weeks after giving birth! What could be more dedicated?

I think we need to discuss that maternity leave is partially a medical leave! It isn’t just women being hard on themselves. When I was prego as a postdoc, I had two advisors. One was a WomanOfScience who had two kids, and knew that having kids can actually make many dedicated WomenOfScience more efficient and productive. The other was an OldWhiteMaleProfessor who had a stay-at-home wife while his kids were young. When I told him I was pregnant, he was happy. And he said how I was lucky that I had such a supportive advisor like him. This, as I know now, was a red flag.  Anyone who says they are super supportive is probably trying to convince themselves. As the end of my pregnancy loomed closer and my belly loomed larger, he started driving me harder. He would make me stay late – until 9pm to meet with him on a couple of occasions. My belly became too big to actually work on parts of my project. In particular, I was aligning optics, and I noticed the beam shoot across the room because my belly had accidentally moved the mirrors in the front of the optics table. I decided it was getting dangerous to be a fat prego in the optics lab. There was plenty other stuff to do, so I decided to work on other stuff.

One of the other things I was working on was a manuscript. My WomanAdvisor was reading drafts, making edits, and pushing it forward. My OWMP Advisor would not read it. WA said it would be best if I got it submitted before the baby came. I agreed. OWMPA still wouldn’t read it.  He finally read it and said it was ready to submit AFTER I gave birth!

One night I was working late, OWMPA asked me, “What are you doing on your vacation?” I said, “What vacation?” He said, “You know, when you are away.” I said, “That’s not a vacation, its maternity leave.” I was flabbergast. He said that he just wanted to check that I would be working while I was away. This was pretty ridiculous because up to this point, I have had one paper published in a high profile journal, a second that he wouldn’t read, and I already had a job waiting for me at UState, which I was postponing for a year to stay in the lab. In what world would I not come back to work? How could I possibly quit and give it all up just when I was getting everything I wanted?

Further, I have something to say else: MATERNITY LEAVE IS NOT A VACATION! It is a not a leave for fun. VACATIONS DO NOT START BY HAVING YOUR WHOOHA BLOWN OUT OR BEING CUT IN HALF LIKE A MAGICIAN’S ASSISTANT! Maternity leave is a medical leave because you have had a traumatic event destroy your body. It feels like you got hit by a truck, and you can barely move the next day. And, it takes you 6 weeks to physically recover from the experience. So, I hate when people act like maternity leave is anything but what it really is – a medical leave!

Let’s put it in terms an OWLP can understand: If you have surgery for, let’s say, a kidney transplant which cannot be done laparoscopically, and requires you to be cut in half, you would not expect that person to be reading papers and coming into work before the doctor-prescribed recovery time, right? It would be insensitive to expect that person to work, so why is to cool to ask that person to, say, submit a manuscript 6 days after giving birth?

So, let’s get real.

Women: don’t put so much pressure on yourself to act like everything is totally normal right after giving birth. Your husband may be able to go back to work right away, but you cannot because your body needs to HEAL. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Take your leave, get some sleep, and figure out being a mom. The time is really very short, and will not harm your career to be away for 6 weeks. What if you were in a car accident? and had to recover for 6 weeks?

Men: don’t act like maternity leave is not a real, medical leave. Women need time to recover, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t dedicated. It doesn’t mean they aren’t going to come back. Give them time to adjust. It will be alright.

I hope my description of the post-birth experience didn’t swear anyone off of having kids. Post or comment. Push the +Follow button to get an email every time I post.

Top 10 Reasons Why I am a Feminist

DoorPinsI am a feminist. This is not a radical stance. It means that I believe in equality between men and women. I have a couple pins on my door that sum up how I feel. They are pictured on the left. The one I like the most says, “Feminism is the RADICAL notion that WOMEN are PEOPLE.” Yes. Very radical. That we should be treated as human beings. I was trying to figure out why I am so radically in favor of fairness, and I came up with the top 10 reasons why I am a feminist. Please comment or share your own reasons! Push +Follow to get updates on this blog.

10. Designing Women and Murphy Brown.

Yes, really, the TV shows. I grew up, like many Americans, watching a lot of TV. Designing Women was a show that I connected with because these women were strong, big-mouthed, business women in the South. I grew up in the south in a state that has taken many backwards steps recently on the front of women’s issues. These women were role-models and they were what I thought strong women could be. They weren’t perfect. They were funny and snarky. But, they were leaders, business owners, and career-minded women.


And Murphy Brown was just amazing! She was strong, brave, a career-woman, out spoken, snarky, funny, and just everything I wanted to be as an adult woman. She spoke out and nailed political idiots. She was actually attacked by a real politician although she was fictitious, and the writers smacked back. I see now that she was safe – not being a real person who’s real career could really be in jeopardy – but at the time it was empowering to feel that you could control your own destiny, say what you wanted, be smart, be funny, and be good looking.


9. The Cosby Show


Yes, another TV show. I watched a lot of TV. Oh, the Cosbys! They were great. They were both professionals. The dad dealt with the kids more than the mom because she worked outside the house and he had his office in the basement. Their kids went to college. They played jokes on their kids to teach them lessons. Is there anything bad about this amazing show? I dare you to watch it and not be awestruck and inspired about what you can achieve.

8. Salt-N-Pepa.


The rap group, Salt-N-Pepa were also amazing role models of strong women who didn’t take shit from anyone.  They could be hard in baggy clothes, like the men, or they could be sexy. They talked about taboo subjects because they were important. They were brave and funny and strong. I still love them to this day, and I listen to their songs when TheMan is trying to keep me down.

7. John Stossel


Yes, the dude on TV. When I was a kid, he did a lot of reports on 20-20, the news magazine show on ABC. Why my parents let me watch so much TV, I have no idea. Anyway, John Stossel did a series of reports when I was a kid about about bias and how people are treated differently for looking different. He did a report in a fat suit to show how people treat fat people vs. thin people. He did a show about race. He also did a report about women wherein he dressed as a woman to see how he would be treated differently compared to when he was a man. I remember distinctly that he said he didn’t only get treated differently when dressed as a woman, he felt different. He felt shier and less at ease with himself and his body. In particular, when he was sitting at a bar, by himself, dressed as a woman, he felt the need to look busy. He looked in his purse and fiddled with things. He was nervous. This was because he felt uncomfortable being a woman alone at a bar. In our societies’ eye, this is improper and makes women feel anxious. This was amazing to me. Even a man, dressed as a woman, feels the same way I do! Society’s influence is so strong and pervasive.

6. Research on How Girls are Treated in Class.


Based on some other John Stossel report, I initiated a study of how girls and boys are treated differently when in school. I found primary sources and the report was a good thesis by the time I finished. I found that girls are expected to act nice and quiet and be “good” but boys were allowed to be smart and creative and be obnoxious. I could see in my own experience how girls and boys were praised for these different actions, and that pissed me off – even as an early high schooler. I vowed to seek out institutions where I would not be treated differently. It eventually led me to the SmallWomensLiberalArts College for undergraduate education (see 2).

5. Gymnastics


As a kid, I was a gymnast. Not Olympic level, but I trained with girls who were. I was level 9 in 7th grade, which is highly competitive. I was in a state in the south that was the most competitive place in the country for gymnastics at the time. Gymnastics made me strong, determined, and hardworking. It also made me put up with a lot of jerks. My coaches were big jerks. I used to make myself sick to my stomach thinking about going to gymnastics. I went to therapy to try to figure out how to deal with them. They told me I was stupid, which I knew I wasn’t. They told me I was worthless, which I knew I wasn’t. I am thankful for school and my parents who gave me high enough self-esteem to fight the daily onslaught of insults. So, gymnastics helped me learn to deal with jerks. It also made me strong – physically. I could kick almost anyone’s ass, as long as the fight lasted less than 2 minutes (gymnastics is not known for endurance training). I was 4 ft, 10 inches of solid muscle. I had wash board abs. Knowing you are physically strong is very empowering.

4. My 8th Grade Math Teacher.


In 8th grade I moved states from the deep south to a northern, apparently more progressive school. The progressive school did not believe in honors. So in 8th grade, instead of honors 8th grade math, I was put in regular 9th grade math with regular 9th graders. It was so boring! I would do my homework in class and not pay much attention to the teacher because I didn’t need to. I did everything on time and correctly – making almost perfect scores. I approached the teacher at the end of the school year about applying to a program at a local university to do more advanced math. She flat out told me that I would not get in because I was a white girl. Wow! I was really pissed. I certainly wouldn’t get in if she didn’t support my application. And, yes, she was also a white woman.

3. My 9th Grade Math Teacher and A New School.


After 8th grade and the boring year, my parents moved me to a small, open enrollment school with honors. The school was awesome! Best yet was my math teacher. He was an older man, a heavy smoker, and he meant business. We used a Chicago University text book series and we had to work through all the problems in the book doing at least 1 section per night. Because I was from another district, I couldn’t take the bus home. I had to sit at school and wait for my parents to pick me up. I asked if I could go faster, so I could fill the time with math instead of nothing. I finished 3 years of math in one year. Mostly because I wanted to, but a little to show up the math teacher from 8th grade who I never ever saw again that I could. So there, ttthhhhppp! Another great thing about this school was that is had a math team! I actually lettered – yes I got a Letterman Jacket – in math team. The team had both girls and boys – pretty evenly split – and was a big source of pride for the school. I was only there for one year, but it was life changing in so many ways – not just educationally, but also because I met all kinds of students. From these students – many of whom were women – I realized I had the power to change my personality to be more outgoing and how I really wanted to be.

2. SmallWomensLiberalArts College.


Thanks to my personal research about the differences in how girls and boys are treated in classes, I opted to go to a Women’s College for undergraduate. Like many other people, my college experience was extremely formative. I had the opportunity to do my own research, I had excellent professors who thought I was great, I had a great group of fellow women undergrads in my classes and we all worked together on homework and helped each other all the time. It was a great community to mature in and figure out what I wanted from my life and career.

1. My Mom.


My mom has always been the biggest role model for me of a woman who can work and be a great mom at the same time. I am very fortunate that she set that example for me. Although she doesn’t feel that she had a career, she did, as a computer programmer. She didn’t have a permanent job because she worked on contracts, but she still had a career that progressed and changed and morphed from programming COBOL on mainframes to working in the financial industry as an analyst. She also was a math major and taught me that women can be analytical and do math and science. Her ability to organize the family and our house while making more money in the family was a constant support for me when I decided I wanted a career and family. Thanks, Mom!

The Resistive Load vs. the Drift

ResistorsAs I said earlier, I recently went to a BigIvyLeague University to give a talk, and I met with a group of young scientists – men and women – for lunch. The meeting turned into a mentoring meeting, as any meeting I have with young scientists tends too. As I said, there were two women postdocs, and we were discussing women’s issues. Another part of the conversation was about the impediments to advancement for women. Different people experienced the resistance at different stages, and this is normal since no two people’s trajectories will ever be exactly the same. Of the two women postdocs, one felt that she was being disregarded and put down even in graduate school. The other had a happy experience in graduate school, but was beginning to feel the resistance now as a postdoc. Of my WomanOfScience friends, many did not feel it until they got to a tenure-track job or even until after tenure. Myself, I had an 8th grade math teacher tell me that I could not advance more than a year in math. Perhaps my early exposure to the resistance is why I am so hyper-aware and intent on changing things.

Studies have shown that the glass ceiling for women in academia is at the full-professor level, as I describe and quoted primary research in this blog post. So, despite the onset age of the resistive load, the trend of the resistance, or other personal factors of each woman’s career, the highest resistance comes just at the precipice of really becoming a fully acting, voting, participating member of your department and college making similar wages as your colleagues. More on this issue in future posts, I think.

The main reason why I wanted to discuss the resistive load was because the meeting directly after the lunch, I met with a young, newly hired WhiteMale Assistant Professor. I had met this guy before at a small conference, and I knew he had been a postdoc at the same BigIvyLeague University where I was visiting, and where he was now tenure track. Some BigIvyLeague Universities do this, when the person is truly a superstar, so I assumed that this was the case, although I didn’t know his full record. This guy is young, and he was very open and honest when I asked him about his trajectory. He said that he had not had many other offers or even interviews, and that he was not, in fact, a superstar. The only places he had interviews were places where people already knew him. He said that this was because he had a low publication rate. Of course, BigIvyLeague University knew him, and his postdoc advisor was key to getting him this position. I consider this a gross case of “The Drift” where someone just continues to advance without any forethought or even any real effort. It is kinda like being in the lazy river at a water park. You get pushed forward.

I often see these people who appear to “Drift” in Second Generation Academics, whose parent(s) were also academics. Second Generation Academics are always typically extremely good at what they do, and in the meritocracy of academia  they advance seemingly effortlessly. In actuality, I think they just understand the game intuitively because they were raised in it, but they are good and working hard. Unlike a Second Gen Academic, this guy is an extreme version of a true Drift. He is literally coasting with no cogent plan. He isn’t applying to grants, or really trying to get students. He is trying to get a few more postdoc publications out because his publication record was reportedly slow.

The juxtaposition of this Drifter with the hard-working excellently bright, quick, and enormously put-down women of the lunch meeting was almost sickening to me. I was somewhat in shock as he told me his path and his non-existent plan. I would like to think that the system would weed this guy out, but given how far he has come, I cannot be sure. Being at a place like BigIvyLeagueU helps in so many areas, like getting good students and postdocs, getting grants, and having papers accepted based on BILU’s reputation. And the worst part was that I really couldn’t blame this guy. He is a nice guy. He is an open and honest scientist. So what if his publication record is slow? What boggles the mind is the system, the structure that promotes this guy and denies even better women and minorities the chance to  work in academia at SecondTierStateU without a hope of even getting to a place like BILU. Or, if you do get an offer at a BILU, they don’t have spousal accommodation, so you have to sacrifice other parts of your life for the benefits of BILU. Indeed, several women I met at BILU did just this.

This post has been long and rambling, so I apologize. These thoughts have been kicking around in my head, and I am not quite sure how to approach them to reconcile the fact that excellent women have so much resistive load against them. What do you think? When did you first feel the resistance to your forward progress? Do you know any female “Drifters”? Even the most excellent and well-promoted women I know really deserve it and still suffer from impostor syndrome, self-doubt, and are truly excellent yet still under-recognized. Post or comment here. Remember to hit +Follow for updates whenever I post. I hope to post more frequently now that classes have ended for the semester!

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