Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Posts tagged ‘career network’

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.

Attributes of Scientists: Perseverance

Christabel_PankhurstI am currently at a fantastic meeting for Undergraduate Women of MyFieldOfScience. I was brought across the country for this event, and today I am giving a talk on my research with some background information on myself. I love these events! The undergraduate women, who are uber-underrepresented in MyFieldOfScience, are so excited to be here. Once you group 10-20 schools worth of women together, it is a lot. Women who are isolated or the only woman in their department can connect with their peers. It is wonderful, and I am excited and honored to serve as their mentor for this short time.

Throughout the meeting, there has been a theme that has clearly emerged to me. Several of the speakers and students have described their perseverance within science, or that perseverance is a key attribute they look for in applications to REUs or graduate school. I was thinking about it, and it is really true. Although, sometimes I might call it stubbornness or pigheadedness, and it can backfire in those forms resulting in close-mindedness. But perseverance is a better term and has a slightly different meaning. It reminds me of Madame Curie’s struggle to discover radium (for a funny post on Madame Curie from another Awesome WomanOfScience, go here).

So, here is one story from me about perseverance. It is about how I got to this meeting for undergraduate women in MyFieldOfScience. It is meant to be funny, and just be a silly example of the stuff scientists will put themselves through to fulfill a promise. Enjoy.

This story starts on Wednesday morning. It was like any other Wednesday morning except the baby was sleeping in. I have two kids – elementary age and toddler age – and we still call the toddler the baby, because he will likely always be the baby. Now, the baby doesn’t sleep in. In fact, the baby usually wakes up far before I want. But today, was different, and the brief reprieve of his late slumber was making our morning cyclone a bit calmer.

I almost was worried I would have to wake him, when I heard his lovely WAIL, and I made him a bottle and was bringing it to him. When I turned on the light, I realized he had puked all down the side of this crib as he was standing over the railing crying. This kicked the morning cyclone up a notch to Kansas Tornado that Brought Dorothy to Oz level. One of us was cleaning the baby and stripping him down while the other was stripping the bed and wiping it down.  And now we were worried. What was this puke about? Was he sick with a stomach bug? Or did he just cough too much and make himself throw up? Or did he swallow too much snot, the evidence of which was still sluggishly dripping from his cute little nose, and that upset his tummy. After the ruckus, he asked for a bottle, and kept it down, he had no fever, so we assumed something besides sickness had caused the puke. We took him to school and they admitted him, despite our story of puke. Hooray for our daycare service – they are the best!

Unbeknownst to us, the puke cleaning job was infecting us with a stomach bug that was biding its time to strike. On Thursday night, my husband got hit. He was up all night evacuating his insides. Most of this I had no idea of, because we have both learned to sleep through quite a bit of noise and motion with two kids.  I was set to fly across the country, and felt totally fine. I woke at 4am, showered, and got out the door for a day of flying and uninterrupted writing time (I love that you can work uninterrupted on airplanes – no meetings, no phone calls, just you and your computer).

During my 4 hour layover, it hit me. A nauseating feeling in my stomach. No, I thought, I can’t get sick. I am already traveling. The second flight offered me a much needed afternoon nap in the *most comfortable of positions* with my mouth drying out as it hung slack jawed while my head was jammed against the window. I woke to the upset stomach and started downing the antacids I always carry when I travel – just in case – and getting a ginger ale from the flight attendant. I was able to ignore the stomach ache while working, and got a bit done. I felt like Patrick Dempsey in Outbreak in the airplane scene (They didn’t have an internet picture of Patrick Dempsey with a sickly sheen and coughing, and I didn’t want to buy Outbreak, just so I could screen capture that image, so here he is playing with the monkey infected with the Ebola virus or whatever):


Luckily, I didn’t actually look like him. Nowadays they won’t let you on the plane if you are sick. Anyway, the stomach thing got worse, but I persevered. I went to dinner. I talked to students. I made jokes. I got into a playful argument with a ManOfScience over whether one should clean your own toilets, or pay someone else to do it, provided they have the money. He thought people should clean their own toilets, and I thought you should pay someone to do it, so you could spend more time with your family having fun. I wasn’t as upbeat as I usually am, but I put on a good face.

It all came down after I got back to my room. I slept upright trying not to puke all night. I felt strangely normal around midnight and was able to sleep for 5 hours when I was woken by my intestines bubbling back into my stomach making me queazy and burpy. These are ominous signs. At 7am, I puked. I puked hard. I have puked enough times to know by now that holding your hair is secondary to holding your nose when you puke. No one ever talks about it, but hard puking makes it spray out of your nose cavity, too, and you have to hold your nose to block that passage. (Helpful tips on puking from your local scientist.) I got puke all over my pajamas. It was nasty. I did feel a a lot better after puking up what looked like last night’s dinner and yesterday’s lunch from my layover airport. How does the body do that?

I bagged my puke clothes, showered, got dressed, and prepared for the day. I went to the hotel lobby, and worked with them to figure out how to get my clothes laundered. The hotel is run by students, and they were not sure it was possible, but after some pleading and creative problem solving on my part, they figured it out, so that I would have clean PJs by 7pm. Note to people who don’t yet travel too much:  Hotels can do lots of stuff. You have to ask, but they will often do it. It sometimes comes with a price. I was willing to pay as much as $50 to get this stuff laundered in a hurry. It ended up costing 15 minutes and $3.

Day 2 was much better, although I was still sick. I ate and kept it down. I mingled, I served on a panel about REU programs. I submitted some letters of recommendation and tweaked my talk based on the format others were presenting. I went to dinner. And this is how sickness spreads across the country. It was holding steady in my state and now I have brought it across the country to another state. I try to be good and wash my hands, but I cannot know who I infected. So I apologize, in advance, to the bright, motivated, young Women of MyFieldOfScience that I probably infected on this trip. Yet, I persevered, and you will too.

So, should I have canceled? Should I have turned around at my layover when it was clear where I was heading with this illness? It would have saved some other people a 24-hour bug, but I made a promise to be there, and I want to help mentor this lovely, bright, smart, wonderful generation of Women of Science. I would make the same choice again. What do you think? Post or comment. You can follow this blog by pushing the +Follow button, and you will get an email every time I write a new post.

Not Just in Academia

Us Highway System in 1926, Dept. Of Agriculture, US Government

Us Highway System in 1926, Dept. Of Agriculture, US Government

While recently at the wedding of my BestFriend, and fellow WomanOfScience turned OfficialWomanOfGovernment/Science, I ran into a number of women and men who I overlapped with in graduate school. It was great to reconnect, and surprising, since my BestFriend is  from my undergraduate years at SmallLiberalArtsSchool4Women. The FriendsFromGradSchool turned out to have been good friends with my BestFriend’s new HusbandOfGovernment/Science. It is interesting when networks reconnect and make a circle. And it reminds you how small the science community really is.

I took this opportunity to reconnect with these NiceGuysOfScience and these AmazingWomenOfScience, and rebuild some of my dilapidated career network. I see my career network as a lateral expanse, much like the road system of the United States. Sometimes, the roads can become a bit run-down, and when you get the opportunity, it is good to reconnect and make repairs.

I was very impressed with these WomenOfScience. They spanned all types of careers and many points along the career trajectory including some WomenPostdocsOfScience, ScienceWomenOfGovernment (some of whom were on a forced vacation), BigShots at PrivateUniversities, and WomanOfIndustrialScience. I have asked them, as I ask you every post, to help other WomenOfScience by posting to this blog. They all seemed very positive, so I hope to bring you some of their stories shortly.

I was most intrigued by WomanOfIndustrialScience. I am always looking for ways to branch my network into industry because you never know when it can help your work or help your student. I feel I am particularly bad at mentoring students who want to go into industrial jobs because I never pursued that path, and I do not have many friends/colleagues who went that route, either.

I was asking my reconnected friend about how it was to be a WomanOfIndustrialScience to get more information for me and students on that path. Maybe because I don’t have direct experience with industrial science, I had it in my mind that it could be better there for women(?).  In chatting, I realized that industrial science is fraught with just as much peril for women’s careers as academic science. On the bad side, it seems like science is difficult for women in either area – academia or industry. This is likely due to the fact that society as a whole does not think of science as women’s work.

On the good side: There does seem to be some advantages to industrial science jobs over academia. Most importantly, it seems that in industry you have the ability to remove yourself from bad situations more easily. Bad bosses could be reported to HR, be moved, be fired, or be sued. It seems like if they are bad bosses to women, they are often bad bosses to dude’s too, and they don’t last too long. From the outside, the option of litigation appears to be more prevalent and perhaps more effective, in industry than academia. Suing in academia certainly means losing your job and career because it is unlikely you will be hired by another school. While suing in industry may not preclude you from getting another job in industry.

But, most women in science are not so litigious. Another option: you can move. You could move laterally within a company or move to a new company. It seems much faster and more fluid in industry than in academia.  In academia, job applications take 12 months instead of 2, as they are in industry. So, even if you are trying to get away from a bad situation in academia, you often have to live with it for many months or even years while you are trying to move. If the bad guys know you are trying to move on, they can even sabotage you, and make your move impossible. Add on top the fact that, in academia, you will likely need to move to a new state and uproot your family, and you might need to resolve a TwoBodyProblem, and the thought of the endeavor could be paralyzing. So, it seems to me that industrial science jobs might be less stressful on these fronts.

Hopefully, we will get more posts from WomanOfIndustrialScience on these topics and more. Do you have something to add? Post or comment. As always, you can follow this blog by clicking the +Follow button. Hope to hear from you!

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