Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Posts tagged ‘award nomination’

Importance of Minority-Only Awards

CHRIS ROCK

THE OSCARS(r) – THEATRE – The 88th Oscars, held on Sunday, February 28, at the Dolby Theatre(r) at Hollywood & Highland Center(r) in Hollywood, are televised live by the ABC Television Network at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST. (ABC/Image Group LA) CHRIS ROCK

Did you see Chris Rock’s monologue at the Oscars? At the end, he mentioned that there should be black-only award categories. He said there are already arbitrary men/women categories that didn’t need to be there, so why not arbitrary white/black categories? In science, we do have awards that are specifically for women or minorities. I have heard both men and women say that they are dumb to have for various reasons, but I would like to cast some light onto why they are crucially important with a some examples.

Example 1: When I applied and was admitted to graduate school, two different programs offered me little fellowships. One was not specifically for women and was a few bucks to help with cost of living or moving. The other was specifically for women and minority students. The point of offering me these minor pittances was to recruit me to the school that offered the fellowship over other schools. I am not sure if they realized it, but it had a secondary effect. I felt more welcomed at the school.Whether it was real or all in my head, I felt a little special that they had actively recruited me to the school. It helped mollify the imposter syndrome that plagues us all and the stereotype threat that only plagues minorities.

A few years later, I was in a lab and being productive. I was riding to an event with a new male graduate student who was trying out the lab and my female advisor. The male graduate student was complaining that he didn’t get a fellowship or enticement to go to graduate school, and he should have. It “wasn’t fair” that women and minorities get these things when he, a white male, did not. I probed a little further and realized that this guy wasn’t a stellar student. He had As and Bs, but I had a 4.0 GPA. I also asked him if he expected to get into graduate school, and he of course did. I explained that, this was a big difference between the two of us. Despite my 4.0 GPA and my extensive self-driven research experiences as an undergraduate, I did NOT expect to get into graduate school anywhere. When the first school accepted me, it was all I could do to not accept back right away. I had to actively be patient to wait for the others. I got into 6/8 school, but not the two most prestigious/highest ranked schools. My subject GRE was low – average for a woman from a liberal arts school – and many schools look at that exclusively (for a nice article on why that is a terrible idea if you want women and minorities in your programs, click here). I explained to the other graduate student that the purpose of the very tiny award was not to actually reward me, but was to say, “we want you, you’re ok,” when all other cultural signals were pointing to this being the wrong way to take my career. The purpose was to help my self-esteem and make it clear that I belonged in science.

Example 2: Recently, one of my awesome postdocs, who happens to be a black woman in science (sorry to my postdoc, I know you are probably reading this) was informed that she is being selected for a postdoctoral fellowship. This fellowship is specifically for minorities and had other stipulations. First, my postdoc would not read the email. I grabbed her phone from her hand and read it. I handed it back with a casual, “You got it. Why wouldn’t you read it earlier?” I told her to read the email that validated her excellence. And she began to tear up. And I totally got it. I knew why she wouldn’t read it. She was worried about not getting it, and what the blow would do to her self-esteem, which is already (unreasonably, considering how amazing she is) low. She started crying because she did not consider herself good enough or worthy enough for this prize. This award is only for minorities in life science. There aren’t that many. Further restrictions mean that there are very few applicants. That sounds like I am trying to diminish her award, but I am not. What I am trying to say is that, in my mind, there was no way should wouldn’t get this award. But, in her mind, there was no way she would. This award is doing for my postdoc what the tiny graduate award did for me. It is pointing toward the signs that “You belong here.”

And that is why we still, to this day, need minority only and women only awards. Because, despite all the grit and all the challenges, it is still not obvious to the excellent that they belong here. They constantly feel like they are doing the wrong thing because of their gender, their skin color, their weight, their country of origin, their health, etc…

Example 3: Finally, while I was at a meeting recently, my roommate and I were talking about the Society’s fellowships. My roomie successfully nominated some women in her field, and she was aiming to nominate more this year. A couple women protested saying, “I’m not old enough, I haven’t done enough, etc, etc…” These all basically translated into “I’m not good enough,” which is complete BS. If these women were not good enough, no one would think to nominate them. My roomie correctly pointed out that these women needed to win in order to “get out of the way.” What that means is that no other women who is younger will ever be able to win the award or fellowship unless these more senior, more established women get it. When put that way, many of the protesting women caved and agreed to be nominated. Interestingly, these women felt so self-negative that, despite their excellence and despite the call from others to be nominated for that excellence, they didn’t think they were good enough. It was only when the argument was framed as helping others (getting out of the way, so others can have a chance) that they agreed to be honored. Again, women/under-represented groups do not feel they are good enough or will ever be good enough. Society tells us we are not good enough because this is not what women do. I have advocated again and again in this blog to self-nominate and to try to win awards (here, here, here). It is hard to put yourself forward when society’s bar and your own bar are so damn high.

Example 4: I wrote most of this a week ago, but another thing happened just yesterday that also reminded me of this issue in the opposite way. As you know, I am on sabbatical. I have a desk in an office suite for three on a hallway of similar offices. These offices are filled with graduate students, postdocs, and some undergrads. It is close quarters, and I can often overhear the students’ conversations (including one where they were discussing golf and the penalty reward for scoring a hole-in-one, which was to have breakfast at a strip club {I can’t believe that is something anyone would want}). Anyway, yesterday a postdoc in some lab was discussing with a relatively new grad student about his job search. He was so, so confident that he was going to have an offer. He had about 6 interviews, and had heard back early from AnIvyLeague that he was not the top choice. He was confident that he would be hearing from the others soon. They all said the decision would come in 4-6 weeks, and this was week 6. Any second, he would get that call from PrivateSchool or BigMidWestU saying that he was the one. I was pretty blown away by his confidence. Despite having as many interviews and 3 solid offers from pretty good schools, I was never confident that I would get an offer from any of them. I was happy to have been given an interview. I think I performed pretty damned well at most of the interviews, but I never thought they would call me up for sure.

Further, if I am being honest, I didn’t even apply to the top schools. I had the excuse that I had a two-body issue, and I was pretty confident that the spousal accommodation policies were non-existent at these schools. But, mostly, I didn’t apply because I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance in hell at getting an interview or offer. I may have been wrong about that. In fact, the one IvyLeagueU where I did apply, I got the interview and the offer. I’m not sure if other women held themselves back as I did, but looking back, I wish I hadn’t. I know now that the rejection is minor and hiring has many whims and issues (there are words like “fit” thrown around that are subjective), so I wouldn’t and don’t take the rejection so personally now. I do feel like I have more confidence now, but I don’t think I will personally ever have the level of ballsy self-confidence that I overheard from my office. I’m not sure many other women/minorities would either. How about you?

So, what do you think? Are minority-only awards good? Do we still need them? I don’t personally think we are post-sexism or post-racism yet in science. As Chris Rock says, “Is Hollywood racist? Yes. Hollywood is sorority racist. They’re like, We like you Rhonda, but you’re not Kappa material.” Replace Hollywood with Science, and I think the same sentiment is true. Scientists are nice, liberal people, but they want to hire, work with people who look like themselves. “We want opportunities!” (-Chris Rock). Since the bar is so high for us, winning awards (even ones where no one else is qualified) is important to helping us overcome the self-doubt and the unnaturally high bar of being an under-represented person in academic science.

How to Write About How Awesome You Are

1160px-Eleanor_Roosevelt_receiving_the_Mary_McLeod_Bethune_Human_Rights_Award_from_Dorothy_Height,_president_of_the_National..._-_NARA_-_196283I have said previously (a long time ago now, actually) that awards are important and publicity in general is essential (awardspublicitypublicity). When I wrote those original posts, I have recently gone through the tenure process. I was thinking about how you needed to publicize yourself to ensure that your letter writers can speak well about you. But, as you go along and get older, publicity is still important. Remember, being a PI is like being a pop star (PI Pop Star), you need to stay relevant and go on world tour to make sure your science is being heard. In that vein, getting awards is still important. Unfortunately, as I have said previously, once you get tenure, mentoring seems to more or less end (end of mentoring). That means that you probably have to try even harder to get nominated for awards. Further, since you no longer need mentoring or support, many people won’t even bother to write you their own letters. You will likely have someone request that you draft the nomination letter or letter of support for the award. This is for two reasons: (1) People are busy and we are getting busier every year, so providing the letter is essential. (2) You actually know all the great stuff about yourself way way better than anyone else. When people ask you to write your own letter, they often are thinking it will be better for you – especially if they are someone you do not know all that well. I recently did this to someone. I felt bad, but the letter this awesome WomanOfScience provided was way way better than anything i could have written.

So, the question remains: How do you write a letter about yourself? How do you nominate yourself for an award? What is you have to write letters from multiple people and make sure they are different enough? Obviously, you expect people to edit the letters, but in case they don’t?? Below, I give my advise:

Drink alcohol and get a bit tipsy before you start. This will help to lower your inhibitions about things, especially about talking about yourself. OK, I get that not everyone drinks, but what I am really saying is try to get to a less inhibited state. Our self-inhibitions make it really difficult to talk about ourselves in the awesome light you deserve. WARNING: Do not get drunk. You will get sleepy and actually do nothing. Just get tipsy.

Open your most recent and updated CV.  Do not use a biosketch! A biosketch is just that – a sketch – you should have a long CV. If you do not know what should be in your long CV, click here: Your CV. OK, now that you have your CV open (an updated) do the following:

Make a list of all your awesomeness in all categories: research, teaching, mentoring, service to field.  Now, what of these things would this person for whom you are writing the letter, know about? How would they know? What example can you provide that verifies the awesome attribute you are trying to write about? For instance, if you are trying to say you are creative, give an example of a particular time when someone could have observed your creativity. If you are trying to say that your work is paradigm-shifting, cite a particular paper or topic that is paradigm-shifting. What have you done for education or mentoring that goes above and beyond?

Stick to important things. I would not discuss how hardworking you are. You are not trying to get into grad school or a postdoc. You are trying to get an award. Awards are given for being smart – a genius even. I KNOW! This is so hard! Because (1) society tells us that women cannot be geniuses, (2) what does it even mean to be a genius?, and (3) even geniuses probably don’t think they are geniuses. Presumably as soon as you think you are a genius, you probably stop pushing yourself. That is why winning the Nobel Prize of Field’s Medal too early in your career is the kiss of death for your career. Think about someone in your field who you think is awesome. What would you write about them? Can you say anything similar about the same attributes about yourself?

Multiple letters. If you have to write multiple letters from multiple people:

(1) Pick a few things you think every single letter must highlight. Make sure that goes into all letters.
(2) Pick 1-2 important things that it would be reasonable for each of the people to know about you. For instance, if someone is from your home dept, they might know more about your teaching and mentoring activities. They could comment more on that. If another person is a big mucky-muck in your field, they should stress your research and your service to the field. More than one person can talk about these extras, but make sure it is reasonable. For instance, a big muckety-muck in your field won’t know about your mentoring per se. But, they might know you taught at a cool summer school or something that is higher profile teaching.

Have someone who is good at promoting others read it after you. Hopefully the person you are giving the letter to can do this. But, just in case, see if someone else can read it and help out.

Submission. When you send the letter to the person who is supposed to have written it, also send your complete CV. If they want to pick and choose a few extras, they can. They will have to submit the letter themselves, or the nominator will, so make sure they have all the information they need about how and when to submit it. You don’t want to lose out because they didn’t push the button in time!

Try again and again. Will you win every award? No. You do not get every grant awarded, and you will not win every award. But, your chances of winning are zero if you do not get nominated. There is NO DOWNSIDE to being nominated! People see your CV. They see people care enough about you and your work to nominate you. People will get to know your name. Even being nominated is actually great. Plus, awards committees often complain that very few qualified and excellent women are nominated. This is code for ZERO women who are qualified for the award are nominated. Yes, we have an uphill battle to win awards – especially awards where we are competing with men. Study after study show that women are always seen as less competent. Yet, we have to keep pushing and trying. We have to put ourselves out there. If enough of us are nominated (more than one woman), they will have a very hard time justifying only giving awards to men. When only one woman is nominated, it is easy to write her off. But, if 20, 30, 50% of the nominees are women, they will have to give it to a woman more often!

What do you think? Are there any more helpful hints about how to do this? If so, post or comment here. To get an email every time I post, push the +Follow button.

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