Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Posts tagged ‘Career’

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):

Dempsey

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.

Back in the Saddle Again

Saddle

Saddle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of us, for some reason or another, have to take a hiatus from traveling, networking, or some of the other parts of our jobs. Coming back can be a challenge. I think many women, especially if they have tenure, take a big reduction in traveling once they have kids. Sometimes it can be difficult to get back in the saddle of long-distance traveling after a long time away. Plus, being away from kids can be sad if it you haven’t been away from them much.

Here is one woman’s story of getting back in the saddle. Enjoy!

I was really divided over whether or not to come to an international meeting, because I didn’t know that many people on the schedule, and honestly I was a little scared. I think everyone thinks I am good at schmoozing, but I had cut down travel so much the last few years that I am out of practice. I haven’t been out of the US/Canada since 2005 — I forgot to bring a European power adapter, felt very stupid and had to buy one at the airport. I was tired and jet-lagged the whole time I was there. I was also feeling really shy — I feel that I look so much rounder in all my business clothes after having kids. I didn’t know that many people at the meeting, and it was mostly really old guard white guys. Many of the participants were from Europe and were used to a more hierarchical academic system, and I forgot that many of those kinds of guys treat me like an infant.

Even worse, I was missing the kids so much that I didn’t feel like talking about science much. I ended up talking about the kids a lot whenever I tried to schmooze.  One of the few people I knew at the conference was a guy of whom I think as a mid-career mover and shaker. I just assumed that he was very well-connected — he’s done well in his career, he’s very friendly and gregarious, he’s gotten some awards, and he’s already on some editorial boards. We ended up eating many meals together, and surprisingly, he told me that he does not like travel much. He usually just goes to society meetings, and has never been to a Gordon Conference. He also told me that he is not good with strangers, and that he was missing his family a lot, also.

So it got me thinking. Maybe not everyone is traveling and schmoozing as much as we imagine they are, while we stay at home turning down invitations and cleaning up baby vomit. And maybe things have changed enough that, once we are done cleaning up baby vomit and are ready to get back in the saddle again, we’ll find that people are more accepting than we think.

Another good thing came from this meeting. I got an invitation to be on an editorial board from the trip, and I think we will have an invited article out of it, also. So it’s been a real positive, even beyond the “international invited talk” on the CV.

My impression is that this WomanOfScience is very brave and good things resulted, so congratulations to her! Any stories of getting back out there? Fears, concerns, or stories of bravery and success? Comment or post.

Advice for Grad School from AboutToBeDr

chemistry

This post is from an awesome amazing graduate student woman of color. She is successfully navigating graduate school, and is almost done with her thesis.  I asked her to share her wisdom for future, new, and current graduate students. Remember, you can follow this blog by clicking the +Follow button. You can also lead this blog by posting comments and your own posts, like this one. Enjoy!

Entering my first year of graduate school I knew that it was going to be different from my undergraduate experience, but I really had no idea what I was getting into.  There isn’t a “Graduate School 101” course to take to learn the ins and outs of this academic journey.  Here are 10 tips and wisdom that I have acquired going through my Ph.D. program.

  1. Forget about imposter syndrome.  This is better known as the “I am stupid and I do not deserve to be here” feeling. Many underrepresented minorities and women especially experience this feeling throughout their graduate school career.  Your admittance into the program was not by mistake.  You have earned where you are and though there are times where you will feel like you do not belong, just know that you do.
  2. Pick a supportive advisor. Picking an advisor is one of the most important decisions you will ever make in graduate school.  It really is a “match-making” experience.  They have expectations of you and you have expectation of them.  This person should care about your overall career goals and help you along the way to achieve them.  For example, my advisor understands my need for structured independence.  He empowers me to take control of my project and teaches the other graduate students  and me to be confident in our work.  I honestly believe I hit the jackpot in finding my advisor because we work well and understand each other. The relationship between advisor and advisee evolves along the way in graduate school.  So choose with your gut and if you feel like something is off with a particular person trust it.
  3. Surround yourself with mentor(s) from different fields of study. Your advisor can be your mentor, but should not be your only mentor.  I personally have about three mentors who help me with various situations.  For science and career advice I usually contact my undergraduate advisor.  For navigating life as a female of color, I have a former sociology professor I have known since I was 18.  You get the idea.  Each mentor knows different part of my life and they help me navigate my present dilemma or triumphs.
  4. Do well in your classes. Just because you have your Bachelors in whatever field you are going to graduate school for does not mean you are an expert.  Study!  Graduate school teaches you to think more in-depth about a subject.  It is an overall training to become a critical thinker.  College was about scratching the surface of your desired subject and graduate school will be a full immersion process.
  5. Be humble and open to new experiences. You will learn how to think and approach situations differently.  Learning is a collaborative process and with this collaboration, respect for others is essential.  In summary, do not be a “know-it-all” and shut people out.
  6. Take care of yourself. Take a break everyday to do something you love other than your studies.  Sometimes stepping away from something for even an hour can give you a new set of eyes the next time around.
  7. Every opportunity is a networking opportunity.  Talk to a faculty member or a student you do not know at a seminar or a department gathering.  Go to conferences and make it a goal to introduce yourself to someone prominent in your field.  You never know if that conversation would turn into an opportunity for future employment or collaboration.
  8. Be involved on your campus and/or in your department. Taking a leadership role in your department or on campus can be beneficial in your own social life personally and for your career.  Personally, if you are organizing gatherings for graduate students you will interact with people who are going through the same process as you.  This can be rather comforting and supportive during rough times.  Career-wise if you are organizing something like a departmental seminar series with other students you will interact with people in various fields and this could lead to future opportunities.
  9. Swallow your pride and ask for help.  I say this because I use to be the person that would try to learn at other people’s pace.  When I did not understand the material right away, I would be too embarrassed to ask questions and I would not learn it.  This was detrimental to my learning process and resulted in failing my first class in graduate school.  Ask as many questions as you can and do not be afraid to have meetings with professors outside of class to go over material.  Study groups with other students in your class are also very helpful.  Make a habit of swallowing your pride and admitting when you do not understand something.
  10. You are not alone. Graduate school is an emotional rollercoaster and more of an endurance race than anything.  The people before you and certainly after you will experience the same ups and downs.  Have a positive outlet or someone who will share in your achievements and your failures.

What do you think? Have other advise? Post or comment.

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