Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Posts tagged ‘Education’

Organizing Your Group: Group Meetings

WomenTrainingAs I was writing the post about how best to meet with your advisor, I kept looking through my own blog for advice on how to conduct group meetings. I couldn’t find a post just on that topic. How is that possible? How could I have missed such an important topic? Is the problem that the solutions are too varied? Or the topic is too broad? Perhaps. But it is more likely that it was just too damn obvious. I mean, I had all kinds of posts about novel ways to organize your research group including: StateOfTheLabAddressTrainingStudentsLabRules, but nothing on actually having a group meeting. And almost every research group has some kind of group meeting sometimes, so maybe I just thought it didn’t need saying.

Well, I think it does, so here I go. Actually, I am going to have a series of posts on this topic, similar to what I did about advice on when to have a baby. That is because I don’t think there is a single right answer. Different groups have different personalities and need to do different things. I have asked some awesome WomenOfScience to send me some of their group meeting advice, and they did! I will start off with what *I* do, and then I will have some posts about what others do. That way, if you see something new you like to do, you can try it. Also, I would be interested in follow-up posts. If you changed your meeting style, what was the outcome? Was it good, bad, ugly?

Types of group meetings: First off, there are lots of ways to meet with your group. I think when people discuss group meetings, they think of weekly meetings where one person of the group speaks about their work over the last couple months and gives a synopsis. We definitely have weekly group meetings, although I have a different style (see below). But, we also have broader, bigger group meetings with multiple groups and journal clubs. In the summers, we offer coordinated “classes” or lectures on special topics. Below, I describe these different types of meetings we have in our group and share how I personally conduct my group meetings and other such meetings. There is no one right way to do this! This is just one example that works for me.

Weekly group meetings: In my lab, I like to have every person present every week to update everyone else in the lab on what they are doing. This keeps me and others in the loop. I also encourage others to comment and make suggestions, so the team and benefit through our various backgrounds and knowledge bases.

To do this, I have a specific format for the presentations, so it doesn’t get crazy and unruly. First, everyone is limited to ONE SLIDE each. On that slide they must have 1. What they they last week, 2. What they plan to do next week, and 3. An image, picture, plot, movie that represents what they did the previous week. I try to get the slides in advance and put them all into a single presentation file that we can go through quickly. I often fall down on this part of the job and miss one or haven’t loaded them all by the start of the meeting, which is definitely not good meeting organization, but it does give us time to chat and talk about other issues in the lab. Group meetings are also a time to organize one-on-one meetings and discuss general group business.

If a student does not have their slide, there is a mild consequence – they must get up and present their slide as a chalk talk and perform a silly dance. Many students are embarrassed and do not forget their slide again. Some students do not find this to be a deterrent to forgetting their slide, which is a problem. There is a solution: I was chatting with another professor who also uses this style of lab meeting (including the  consequence), but his negative feedback is to have the student do burpees – those jump up push up things from gym class that NO ONE likes. Apparently, this is far more motivating than the dancing.

Journal clubs: During the school year, we have a weekly journal club, usually in conjunction with another lab. Some of my students are required by their graduate program to attend a weekly journal club for credit, so this fulfills that requirement. In our journal club, one person is in charge of picking the paper and distributing it. But, that person is NOT solely responsible for the content of the presentation. Instead, that person makes the slides of each figure, and we cycle through different people who present each figure. This format ensures that others have read the paper (at least enough to present their individual figure). This makes the discussion far better, since more people are prepared. I have seen a number of helpful instructions on how best to present a paper. It is very helpful to give these instructions at the beginning of the semester!

Larger/collaborator group meetings: We are apart of larger groups of researchers that collaborate or just work on related topics and want to get together to present their work and discuss and share issues and ideas. In these meetings, we rotate which group/student presents their work to the entire group in a one-hour format. Many times, we connect with collaborators via skype, which can be difficult. These meetings good for students to get practice with longer-format presentations.

Pedagogical group meetings: In the summers, we often have extra meetings that are basically lectures like one might have in a class. This is to help people learn a little more deeply about a specific topic of interest to the lab. Last year, we went through a book, chapter-by-chapter, and took turns presenting/lecturing on the chapters to each other. This year, I have a couple postdocs who want to teach some basics of some of the techniques we use in the lab. In past years, I have added time onto our weekly group meetings to go over professional development such as drafting a CV or guidelines on applying for fellowships or other things. Since the students organize and ask for these types of things, I think they must enjoy and get something from them.

So, what do you do? Post here in the comments, and I will use them for future posts on this topic. I know there are a myriad ways to have a group meeting – let’s hear yours! To get an email every time I post, push the +Follow button. If you haven’t been getting updates, WordPress might have lost you (sorry). Please feel free to follow again!

Act Like A Woman

Think-Like-a-Man1I feel like a lot of advice for women in male-dominated fields leans toward the “act like a man” type. I have definitely given that type of advice here. For instance, in previous posts (here, here), when I advocated to modulate your voice during public speaking about science. And I also have given advice about what types of clothing to wear (here, here, for the men: here), and I typically say to error on the side of modest. There is also advice about acting confident and negotiating for yourself. These actions are stereotypically seen as male-oriented traits, and women are stereotyped as “less aggressive” and “less self-confident.” Frankly, I know a lot of really successful women who do these things really well, and they are not particularly gendered – except as how society views such activities.

Sometimes, fitting in is important and “acting like a man” in some ways can be helpful. But, in general, I think there are a lot of great things about being more stereotypically “feminine” that can really benefit collaboration, criticism, and science in general. So, I titled this post, “act like a woman.” I do understand that every woman is different, and I do not mean that all women act as I might describe (I include caveats below). Rather, I think that, in our society, women are socialized in certain ways and men are socialized in certain ways. Women are socialized to be better communicators (but, women are not all great communicators) and men are socialized to be more aggressive (but, not all men are aggressive). My point with this post is to point out some of the stereotypically “female” social constructs and how they could be beneficial to science discourse. I also want to say that many of my male colleagues do already act in these nice ways that I describe below, and it is enjoyable and a pleasure to work with them. If you disagree or have other points, I missed, feel free to comment or write a response post for me to post up here.

Saying “I’m Sorry” There was a fabulous sketch on Inside Amy Schumer where she shows a panel of high-achieving, amazing women and they spend the entire panel saying “I’m Sorry,” (episode, sketch, interesting articles about the sketch: above average, Huffington Post). As often with comedy, and especially with Amy Schumer, the sketch had a social point and then went haywire when one of the women apologized herself to death, basically.

I find myself doing this all the time. I apologize for things that are and are not my fault. In my very progressive local environment, many people will actually respond, “There is no need to be sorry.” True, sometimes I say sorry when it isn’t needed, but what I am really saying is, “I see you. I recognize you are there and you are a person who deserves a comment.” It doesn’t always actually mean, “I’m sorry.” Sometimes it means, “I empathize with you,” or “I acknowledge you.” I suppose I could say those other things, but “I’m sorry” is what always pops out of my mouth.

Saying “I’m sorry” is one of those things that men, women and others try to de-socialize out of women. They say it undermines your power to apologize all the time. But, does it? I have male colleagues who are sweet and kind, and guess what? I have noticed that they apologize a lot, too. It doesn’t seem to take away their power. Plus, it is not exactly distracting or bad or anything else (unlike in Amy Schumer’s sketch). In general, it is minor and not even noticeable. Why are we trying to remove people acknowledging each other and, in a sense, just trying to be nice? So, I am keeping the “I’m sorries.” I’m sorry if this bugs you.

Saying “I was Wrong” I find it ironic how adamant scientists can be even in the face of their utter incorrectness. We have to be able to acknowledge that we are wrong, or we might as well stop doing science at all. In general, although, again, not always, I find that women are more capable of accepting their incorrectness, moving to a new thought and accepting the possibility of other options in their science. But why? Is the proverbial woman more empathetic and thus more capable of seeing someone else’s view? Is it that we are bashed and criticized so much (more?), that we are more open to such critique?

Whatever the reason, the ability to accept that you might be wrong is essential, especially in this time when about 30-60% of studies have been shown to be “false.” There was a nice NPR story about this, just this week, actually, talking about the fact that many studies, especially in medicine or biology, are shown to be incorrect. In my opinion, this has to do with:

(1) Biology and parts of science are inherently statistical, yet we do not do a good job of quantifying our results and making the uncertainty clear. For many of their fields, a one-sigma difference is called “significant.” Think about that. One sigma. That means, statistically speaking, you are likely to be incorrect about 30% of the time. That is what a one-sigma difference means!! So, why are we shocked?

(2) People have a hard time admitting their uncertainty in their publications. Indeed, there is not incentive to accurately report your uncertainty when we are pushed to make big, broad claims about our work to publish in “high impact” journals. I find it weird that the old standard journals with good, solid work, much of which is reproducible, have the lowest impact factors. I find it even weirder that the newest journals on the street often have crazy high impact factors, when they have only been around a short time. That system is clearly flawed even more than the one-sigma significance system. At least one-sigma significance has a quantifiable uncertainty!

In the NPR story, the scientist double checking all the work said that he had some of his own original work debunked. He was asked why it is so hard for scientists to face the fact that they might be wrong. He said it was because we feel like the fact we discovered is a personal procession – we own it. I disagree. I am not so tied to my personal possessions, and many scientists are similarly minded. I think it is more that it feels like family or even a part of your own self-identity. Your scientific discoveries define you. To realize that they may be wrong is like realizing you, yourself, are not who you think you are.

So, I see that it doesn’t pay to clearly say “I could be wrong, and it may be by 30%.” On the other hand, your short-term gain is science and society’s long-term loss because we are working off of faulty data. So, overall, I think we could all benefit with being a little more honest with ourselves about our short-comings and admitting that we could be wrong, by as much as 30%.

Listen and summarize – don’t just contribute your own ideas all the time. There is a saying, “You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you speak.” I have a majorly hard time with this, especially when the topic is something I am excited or passionate about. But, I have found myself in a number of meetings, especially over the summer, where the room was dominated by big voices and personalities talking about things I wasn’t as interested or passionate about. I noticed that the domination was coming mostly from males… OK, entirely. This is partly because I am in a male-dominated field. But, it was more than that. To me, in these meetings, I distinctly had the impression of male animals marking turf and competing with rivals for dominance of the room, ideas, and airtime. If I were to draw a picture, it would look like this:

 

WomenAtMeeting

This situation happened twice in recent memory. In the first instance, I was one of two women in the room. Both myself and the other woman worked with the group to synthesize the discussion and the loud ideas coming from the men. I also contributed many ideas that were incorporated. I felt valued and heard in that instance. It was clear to both myself and the other woman in the room that, without us, very little would have been accomplished because no one else was doing this oversight and group dynamic management that were were doing.

Another more recent occasion, there were three women. We all shirked our responsibilities as the “women who help” to synthesize and steer the conversation to productive avenues (see this article). Why did we do this? It seemed fruitless and a waste of time, given the personalities in the room and the way they interacted with each other. It was easier to keep our heads down. Every now and then, we three women would discuss separately, come to a good idea, and then patiently wait, literally with hands raised, until the males calmed enough to see us. We would give our idea, which was good, and often accepted, and another topic would follow with more “hoo-hoo” and “haa-haa” (gorilla noises in my head, see image) about the next topic. In this second venue, all three of us felt under-valued and unheard, despite the fact that our contributions were significant to making progress for the group. It is demoralizing and marginalizing and off-putting, and worst of the worst – wasteful and impeding to progress.

Again, yes, “Not All Men” and “Not All Women” but what I am advocating is the end of that type of behavior at all. Good leadership and meeting management can help avoid these types of meetings and interactions, but it would be better if such people just acted politer and more gracious – act like a woman – in the first place. I guess I am just saying that the aggressive posturing doesn’t actually work to make progress to solve problems, so why bother doing it?

Be constructive and nurturing – not destructive and critical for the sake of being critical. Many scientists are teachers, many are not – even if they work at a university. Even those who do teach, don’t always value or develop that part of their jobs. Teaching, especially at the K-12 levels, is a primarily female occupation these days, but the opposite is true at the professorial level. Why? Is it because the endeavor of actual teaching is seen as more nurturing and caring than other professions (such as scientific researcher) and women are the nurturers of the society, so they are steered toward those jobs? Whatever the reason for the switch from women educators at lower levels to men at higher levels, is not really my point here – sorry to lead you astray.

Here, I am advocating that science would be more fun, more collaborative, more productive, and more welcoming to under-represented groups if we could be more pedagogical with our criticism. As I have said before (above and in prior posts), criticism is vital for the re-evaluation and assessment needed to understand right and wrong (see above). What many people say though, is our current form of critique is too harsh. This relates to the points made above about impact factors and the cut-throat granting environment. As an editor and scientist who is reviewed, is that reviewers are often emotional, unhelpful, and frankly, a$$h0les, when doing reviews. This attitude doesn’t help science or the authors you are reviewing.

Instead of being harsh, I wish people would try to be educational. As with everything I am saying, there are always specific places where this is not true. I have a favorite “home base” journal where I like to publish. This journal is great because mostly, the reviewers are helpful and pedagogical without being pedantic, patronizing, or condescending. The reviews are helpful to making our papers better. Needless to say, this is not a “high-impact” journal in the short-run. But I have been able to replicate experiments published from that journal, AND using the experimental methods outlined in the papers as published. In the long-run, these papers will be the truly impactful ones – the ones that are correct.

I would like to note, when being pedagogical, try not to be patronizing or fatherly. This can be a hard line to walk. Just remember that the thing you are reviewing is actually written by “the expert” on that subject. You are brought in as an expert on what you do, which is not exactly what the authors you are reviewing do. They are the experts – it is their science. You are there to offer advice to help improve the manuscript or proposed science. Consider them a colleague seeking advise. If you blast off a review and act like a know-it-all, that is a$$h0lish, too. Basically, follow the golden rule – treat these authors the way you would want to be treated by a reviewer. Keep calm, don’t get emotional. Stick to the science and the facts – not your opinion of science and the facts. And, for heaven sake – cite your references in your review!

Man, that was a long one. What do you think? Comments are welcome. If you want to get an email every time I infrequently post, push the +Follow button.

Writing, writing, writing

write-on-november-is-national-novel-writing-month-a5349cc216There is a lot of reading and writing in science. This is ironic for me, personally, because I went into science because I am a slow reader and I hated humanities classes where I had to read all day. I liked my math and science classes where I solved problems with pencil and paper. My professors delivered content, so I never read textbooks. It is true, despite the fact that I endorse active learning now where students have to read for themselves.

So, here I am, a tenured professor and all I do it read and write all day long. I rarely solve problems with pencil and paper, and I joy in the chance to do so for courses I teach or just snag some back-of-the-envelope time while reading a paper or writing up my own work. I also cannot get most of the content I need delivered, although I go to journal clubs and talks because I am a great auditory learner and I learn best that way. I even have to read papers to myself out loud. This is embarrassing, and I have to close my office door when I review manuscripts or proposals.

After writing that past post about how best to give presentations, I realize there a lot of aspects of this job that we can write how-to posts about. Writing has an seemingly unlimited supply, since we do so many types of writing. I think we will have a few posts (a theme, if you will) on writing. I am happy to entertain guest posts to describe your best practices for writing different things. I am going to list a few that come to mine, comment if you have more types of writing you can think of in addition to these.

  • Manuscripts
  • Proposals
  • Abstracts for posters/platform talks
  • Chapters
  • Books of research
  • Thesis
  • Textbooks
  • Lecture notes
  • Reviews of manuscripts for peer review
  • Reviews of proposals for peer review
  • Grant reports
  • Committee reports
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Letters of Support
  • Job Application Materials for various stages and types of jobs
  • Published proceedings
  • Biosketches
  • Biographical Information
  • Webpages
  • Blog entries on science
  • Book reviews for publication
  • Articles for general audiences
  • Highlights of research articles
  • Annual personnel reports/highlights
  • Memoranda of understanding
  • Requests for waivers

OK, that is all I can think of. I have written almost all of these types of writing assignments over my career. I haven’t written a textbook, yet, but I really want to. I think I have worked out schemes for writing each of these types of things, and I will write a couple entries about some of the most prevalent ones (or you will). Do you have any advise to offer? Post or comment!

Express Yourself: Giving Good Presentations

Valley_girl_posterI was recently apart of an interesting conversation about speaking styles. Robin, a frequent poster, mentioned that she mentors her students on speaking styles when they are practicing giving talks for conferences or for interviews. We were particularly discussing Up Talking. First, let’s define Up Talking. Up talking is when every sentence sounds like a question – even if it is a declarative sentence. Here is an example:

Regular declarative sentence: “The sum of the angles on a sphere is greater than 180 degrees.”

Now, restate the sentence with up talking: “The sum of the angles on a sphere is greater than 180 degrees?”

This speech pattern is often designated to young women – particularly teenagers. It is called up talking now, but when I was a kid, it was called a Valley Girl accent. In its native environment, it is often associated with a huge number of “ums” and likes,” as so, “Like, the sum of the angles on a, like, sphere, is um, like, greater than 180 degrees?”

Like Robin, I mentor my students about their presentation styles and specifically point out when they Up Talk. It is not just a plague of young women, I should note. I have met several male professors who Up Talk during regular conversations or during presentations. There are other things to keep in mind about presentations.

(1) Tone of voice. We just discussed Up Talking – don’t do it. Every fact should be declared, and the end of the sentence should go down in tone – not up like a question. You should also have a lower voice. Especially if you are in a male-dominated field – which is almost every field of science once you get to the professorial level – you need to speak with lower tones. Men have a harder time hearing higher tones. If your audience is mostly men, you want to be heard, so you should practice lowering your voice during speaking. Also, avoid too much “vocal fry,” the rasping vocalization that is now attributed to young women, too. I should note that some recent press has pointed that a little vocal fry helps women to lower their tones and be taken a bit more seriously. Hilary Clinton uses mild vocal fry to accentuate points with lower tones. If you are worried your voice will waver due to nerves, you just need to practice, practice, practice.

(2) Use of pointer. If you are nervous when speaking, your hands might shake. You should put two hands on the pointer to steady it. Also be careful not to point off the projection screen and not in the faces of the audience. Make sure you are pointing where you want the audience to look. If you cannot use the pointer well, it is better to not use it at all.

(3) Body movements and gestures. I am a really animated speaker. I gesticulate a lot with my hands and have been known to use my entire body to make a point about my science. I try to do at least one dance in each talk I give that illustrates my point. But, I try to not randomly pace back and forth. I try not to fidget too much. I want my gestures to have meaning for my presentation, and I try not to gesture for no reason.

Another good hint for presenting both in seminars and when teaching – go into the audience. I know it sounds strange, because there is this barrier between the speaker and the audience, but walking into the audience can connect you to the audience. It works very well during questions if you walk toward the person asking the question – into the audience if you can – it demonstrates a caring for their question and ideas. It shows warmth and respect, but you still command the presentation.

(4) Demonstrations and Active Learning. This sounds like I am talking exclusively about teaching, but I am not. If demonstrations and active learning can wake up an audience of students who might not want to even be there or listen to your lesson, think of how powerful it could be for a group of people already interested in the topic of your talk. At a recent SmallResearchConference, I gave a 20 minute invited talk. The 3rd of the day of 12 talks that ran from 8 am to 10 pm (with a long afternoon break). I used demonstrations and active learning techniques to engage the audience. I let them know what I was doing, and many loved the active learning aspects of the talk. I had a number of people ask me about best teaching practices afterward, and many loved the talk – even if they didn’t work on exactly what I did. One conference attendee came up to me and said, “I am from a SmallLiberalArtsCollege, and I use active learning in class. At first, I thought it was stupid to use it in a talk at a conference. But, you know what, I remember your talk better than any of the others. So, I think it is good to do.”

If you are giving a job talk, you should definitely do this. At many research universities, you don’t give an example teaching lecture, so your research talk must demonstrate how well you can teach as well as your past, present, and future research. Using demonstrations and active learning techniques will enable the interviewer faculty that you are good at presentation and will likely be a good teacher.

I am sure there are other things to consider, but this is what I thought of at first sitting. Post and comment to give more advice about best practices when presenting your work.

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.

Designing_women_cast_1986_1991

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.

MURPHY BROWN

9. The Cosby Show

CosbyShow

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.

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

johnstosselnew

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.

PikiWiki_Israel_9290_Gan-Shmuel_-_girls_in_class_1952

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

BarbieGymnastics

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.

demotivation.us_MATH-TEACHER-_134789415945

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.

mathteacher

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.

Wellesley_College_Green_Hall

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.

SuperMom

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!

Organizing Your Group – State of the Lab Address

I was just visiting with my former postdoc at her new tenure-track job to give a couple talks. I had the opportunity to talk withchemistry-glassware a few other relatively new female faculty members, and I was giving them a laundry lists of things that I figured out to do with my lab to make training students, setting expectations, and overall communication a bit smoother. Mostly, these are things that I didn’t start doing right away, but eventually figured out and they work pretty well. As always, if you have any suggestions of organizing tactics for your lab, please post or comment. To get updates from this blog, push the +Follow button. Today, I will describe an orientation I do twice a year in the lab, called the “State of the Lab Address.”

Frequency:  I give this talk twice a year to reinforce and to orient new people, mainly undergraduates, who start in the lab.

Social Orientation: I first go through a sort of social orientation for new lab members. I name and describe all the types of people in the lab: professors, postdocs, grad students, undergrads, high school students, high school teachers, technicians, or whomever. It depends on who is in the lab at the time.  For each type of person, I list the expected behaviors and tasks that they are supposed to do. I even do this for me, the professor. There is a chapter in the book “At the Bench” that goes through some of this. Remember that many young students have no idea the trajectory of an academic professor. By educating them, you can help people get along with each other and show each other the proper respect they deserve for achieving the level of education they worked hard to achieve. I set social expectations for respect to each other in the lab.

Lab as the Small Business: I relate the environment and structure of the lab to something they hear more about in the media – the small business. I state that we are shareholders of a small business called, “WomanOfScience Lab,” and we create knew knowledge and smart people who go off to do other great things. I say that I am the Principle Investigator (PI) of the lab, but my role is that of CEO. I have to make sure there is money to pay you, but it is also my job to promote the lab and make us all look good. So, I write lots of proposals for grants to pay people, and I go to give lots of talks to promote our work, so it is easier to get grants. They are the shareholders, and they need to work hard, so I can have something good to say to the grant agencies. Here, I set up expectations for professional behavior. Call in when you are sick, so we know not to expect you. Turn in assignments on time. Do you work in a timely manner. Make time for lab work (undergraduates need help with this).

Job Expectations: I specifically outline the expectations for each level of person in the lab. I make it very specific about how I spend my time (writing proposals, writing papers, traveling and giving talks, teaching to education people and recruit good, new shareholders). I find that, as a woman, people see you sitting in your office, and they automatically think you are goofing off, and not working. So, I make it really clear that, if I am here, I am working. It helps them understand all that goes into the job of being a professor, in case they are thinking of going the academic route.  I also describe all their jobs and expectations. For instance, I say that it is the job of undergraduates to try to learn, try to do experiments, and make sure that the work is fun, and you want to stay with science. Our goal is a paper, conference abstract and presentation either off-campus or on campus, and likely a capstone/thesis report. I also make it clear that their classes come first, and there are always times when you have 3 midterms, and can’t make it to lab. I remind them that missing the lab for other things is fine, but they need to report in via email or phone, so no one is worried they got in a car accident. When you give this talk, you can make your own definitions for each position, as they should work in your lab. Just make sure you are clear on these expectations.

Science of the Lab: I do an overview of the science work in the lab. I try to tie it together with a broad introduction, as I might do in a talk to undergraduates. I specify each experiment, the progress made by people in the lab (SoAndSo is writing a paper on this now). This is the easy part, because it is the stuff you think about often. I try to update it, but don’t have to update the front matter. I also explicitly discuss the money situation of the lab. In this, I am showing my personal belief that students need to understand “how the sausage is made.” It does no good to protect them. I tell them straight out, “We have a grant for this from FederalFundingAgency for this amount, and this covers one graduate student’s salary for 3 years.” Or, “We ran out of funds for this line of research, and I am working really hard to get a grant to cover X’s thesis project.”  Again, I want them to respect the fact that getting funds is difficult, and I am working hard to fund our science.

Rules of the Group: At the end, I go through any rules of the lab. For instance, I have weekly group meetings. If people can attend (if they don’t have a class), I require everyone to present weekly and each person must have 1 slide with a picture/movie/figure that illustrates what they did over the past week and describes what they will do over the next week. I make it clear that participation is not optional, presentation is not optional. If they are present, but don’t have a slide, they must do an interpretive dance of their work. I also try to establish that they need to be respectful of the equipment, materials, and physical property of the lab. Again, I am not afraid to bring up money. I tell them how much stuff costs, and how much we spend on materials and supplies. I also tell them that I often go without pay in the summer. This opens their eyes. In following posts, I will discuss the Rules of the Group in detail, so stay tuned for more.

So, why do this? I find that this 1-hour presentation helps to avert problems in the future and helps everyone understand each other. This is a time-saving mechanism. Further, it helps to head off questions and misconceptions about expectations. This presentation does not cover research training on what we actually do in the group. I train students on research skills as a group in a “Bootcamp” setting, which I will describe in future talks.

My question for you, is what am I missing? I have developed this de novo, but what else should I include? Comment or post to discuss.

Tag Cloud