Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Posts tagged ‘industrial science’

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.

Industrial Story – Part 1

3514668147_061a386342_zThis story comes from a fellow WomanOfScience who is in Industry. This is a two-part story, and should be read as an anecdote to help those of you interested in going into industrial science, and what you should watch out for in that route. Some of these characters and situations are quite similar to the academic track, which is sad. I hope you enjoy the story and learn from it, as I have. Part 2 will come online shortly.

Part 1:

I graduated from one of the nation’s most exclusive tech universities with what was considered a very “hard” major and nearly straight A’s at age 19.  I got my Ph.D. at 24, again with near-perfect grades.  I thought my math and science abilities would always allow me to overcome the occasional unprofessional encounter.

Then I entered the corporate world.

I had wanted to be a professor.  I found out a week before my planned start date of my second post-doc that there were some serious problems with the position.  Fortunately, a grad school connection asked me to interview at the only company in the world with commercial success at what I had studied in grad school.  I decided to accept a job at this company.  I thought I’d be able to prioritize my work and benefits to eventually re-enter academia.  Many departments in my FieldOfEngineering value a couple years of industry experience.  Some even require it.  Things looked bright.  My new manager “Dr. Jekyll” was world-famous in my scientific niche.  The two of us would be the only ones in the department doing research.

At the time of the job offer, I knew I should try to negotiate something more.  My father, who has a background in Science and Engineering Management, warned me that it’s much easier to negotiate options or stock, followed by salary.  Conference attendance would be very hard to negotiate.  As the company was still a start-up, I was willing to accept the low pay.  Low salary with the expectation of a big reward from stock options is the norm at many startups.  It had been drilled into me that women often wind up with lower salaries and benefits because they don’t ask for as much.  Because I still hoped to return to academia someday, I naively asked for more conference attendance (3 conferences/yr , thinking that would keep in touch with academia).   Indeed, I was told that I could go to the conferences  already in the pipeline (those at which I already had papers/abstracts accepted), but after that no more than one conference per year.

Note: In reality the only way that I was able to manage even the one conference per year that I did was because I was a member of the technical committees at those conferences.  Most other industrial scientists/engineers didn’t go to conferences every year. The lesson: be skeptical of all promises that aren’t in writing.


So now I was yet another female engineer with low pay.  Six months later, when I checked on Glassdoor to see how my salary stacked up against my peers, I was shocked that I was being paid 30% less than my peers.  I had thought the low pay applied to everybody, not just me.

Earlier, I had read “Women Don’t Ask”, about women, salaries, and negotiation.  Based on this, I put together some slides on why I should be paid more. Now, to be clear, the book had emphasized that women sometimes get penalized for asking for raises.  In spite of this, I thought that the fact that I was being paid so much less than my peers meant that I couldn’t possibly be penalized much for asking.  Here I was, working nearly every weekend while the other engineers were not.  Meanwhile, it was just a coincidence that Dr. Jekyll’s projects kept getting canceled, right?  I was still doing good work and deserved commensurate compensation, didn’t I?

The first time I made my case for a raise, Dr. Jekyll seemed taken aback.  He said he didn’t think there was much he could do.  He said our company didn’t value the research-y work he and I were doing, and that both our jobs were at risk.  Indeed, the answer he claimed to have received from above was “no.”

At this point, I was spending about a third of my time on Dr. Jekyll’s pet project, “Frankenstein.”  It became clear to me that Frankenstein would never succeed.   In private I started to mention to Dr. Jekyll the reasons we should drop this project.  He kept saying things like “It has to succeed.”  Near the bitter end, he even yelled at me for my “negativity.”

Note: the project was eventually handed off to another team.  The new team quickly realized the project was hopeless and cancelled it.  The new team couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been killed years earlier, around the time I started vocalizing my concerns…

I asked for a raise about 6 months after my first request.  Dr. Jekyll got visibly angry and said no.  I didn’t understand how he could possibly be angry at me.  I was getting more done than most engineers in my department and being paid much less.  I assumed his anger wasn’t directed at me personally.  Big mistake.
I heard about an opportunity to join another team in need.  I thought, if my current team’s work isn’t being valued and I’m at risk of losing my job, why not join another team?  The hiring manager of the other team was optimistic about my potential contribution.  However, when I next met with Dr. Jekyll, his demeanor was that of an adult who had just caught a kid with her hand in the cookie jar.  “Didn’t you know I’d find out you’ve been looking at other teams?”, he said in fury, before I could say a word.  I didn’t understand what he was so angry about.  If we were at risk of losing our jobs, wouldn’t it be better for all of us if I left for a more stable team?  A few months later, another inquiry into another internal opening yielded a similar result.

So, what do you think? Comment or post! Follow the blog by pushing the +Follow button! Part 2 will be online soon.

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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