Now what?

(by psywguest) Aug 23 2016

Todays guest post is by Ragamuffin, who is enjoying the new title of Dr. Ragamuffin. As she writes this she is on a several month break between defending her dissertation and starting her new shiny postdoc fellowship, leaving some time for reflection, dinner with friends, and relocating.

Screenshot 2016-08-22 20.57.04

I did it. I buffed my writing and pipetting calluses. I landed a postdoctoral fellowship from a surprisingly prestigious lab. I defended my dissertation. I moved to New-Job City. Now what?

There once was a girl who lived for scientific observation and inquiry, and devoured the history of science and the scholars who built the foundations of modern biology and medicine. She crafted from piles of biographies the ideal career path to be able to do what these almost mythical icons had done. Ramon y Cajal. Curie. Levi-Montalchini. Franklin. My shy and introverted soul wanted to spend her days at a lab bench and a microscope. Discovering new things about the physiological landscape through observation and methodical inquiry. Asking the big questions, and making the keenest observations that would contribute to understanding of our world. I thought this meant that I wanted to be a primary investigator (PI).

Nostalgically and fantastically motivated, a slightly older dreamer traversed her predoctoral training hardly straying from the pursuit of an academic research position. The path and its benchmarks were clear. Even in the most tumultuous year of candidacy, enough mentors had told me that I COULD do this that it enforced the belief that I MUST. For myself, for women in STEM, to impress my future children. I must become a PI. Even as the rest of my cohort prepared for careers in teaching and biotechnology, I stood my ground feeling strongly that I neither could nor should do anything else.

There were several periods during my PhD that things did not sit right with my original personal or professional goals, but I usually acknowledged them only as expressions of stress and anxiety. I learned that in order to fully embody the spirit of my scientist icons in a modern landscape meant an entirely different kind of regulation, financial restriction, productivity and politics. As an avid sponge of historical science, I knew that these types of challenges were similar at face value. Scientists have always needed to publish their work and receive funding to see it continue. But Science is a vastly evolved creature from 15 years ago, let alone a century. These two basic requirements in modern scientific research are much more competitive, complex and convoluted than they once were. To be adept at either one requires a different set of skills.

A solid neurobiological experiment, for instance, can hardly be conducted in one’s kitchen anymore. Today in order for a publication to reach a substantial audience [in my field], publications almost always include multiple extensive experiments repeated several times with overwhelmingly high statistical power and at least one highly advanced technology. The kitchen is almost guaranteed to be useless.

At first, I wanted to be a PI because I thought that is what it would take for me to access the resources necessary to produce valuable scientific contributions. A flawed premise, and at odds with my appreciation for what it means to be a scientist. I knew — and spoke openly about — the evolution of scientific inquiry, the rising influence of research institute teams, and the profound talents of the numerous staff scientists who otherwise receive little to no credit for their contributions. In spite of the regard with which I held others in my field, I maintained that my PERSONAL value could only come from a senior academic title. That because I “COULD” do this, I MUST. That despite some hard times and poor luck during my predoctorate, I was born for it. That I would continue to enjoy writing research manuscripts. That I wouldn’t mind perpetual grant writing. That I would develop the time-honored thick skin necessary to respond positively to rejection. These were my mantras through graduate school.  But upon receiving my PhD, I feel a rush of freedom to question all my motivations.

  • My pipetting and mental calluses could use a break.
  • Although I enjoy writing manuscripts, I loathe editing and reformatting them.
  • I do not mind grant writing, but patience for it waned substantially toward the end of my degree.

Experience has not left me thick-skinned, but for now annoyed and easily exhausted.

On the other side of my degree, I have achieved a level of self-appreciation and confidence that allows a more honest reflection on my career dreams. One does not need to be a PI to support and represent women in STEM. My future children will have plenty to be impressed with. I very well COULD tire of this phase and once again work passionately toward professorship, but I no longer feel that I MUST.

Now what? The dreamer begins her postdoctoral fellowship a month from now. She intends to use this new beginning to examine all of the personal and career possibilities that she ignored or did not bother to explore as a predoctorate. For the first time, she does not clearly see what the next step should be. And that is both terrifying and exulting.


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On grant funding

(by torschlusspanik) Aug 18 2016

One of determining points in my leaving academia was grant funding.  I was not confident enough, or motivated enough to sustain continuous funding for however long I was willing to be a PI .

In a way, my years as a postdoc and project scientist traumatized me for applying for grants.  In my former lab, my PI’s grant (NIH RO1) application preparation was a group effort.  Our PI assigned advanced graduate students and postdocs two or three sections of his grant application, and we had multiple meetings prior to deadline to flush out ideas, revise sections, and integrate them into his master draft. It was a great practice for me, until the deadline came.  Whether it was paralysis, procrastination, or waiting until we were under extreme duress to come up with brilliant ideas, finalizing an application as a lab came always at the last minute or never.  For one submission, graduate student and I took turns pulling all-nighters for one week prior to a deadline, to come up with preliminary data for experiments proposed in a grant.  In another or the same submission cycle, on the date it was due with 6-7 hours left, all members of the lab sat around a conference table as if in the Situation Room.  Each person stared at his/her laptop screen, worked on different sections of different versions of a draft, sweated grease, pulled hairs, and waited to be called by our PI so that our sections can be integrated.  The time of submission brutally approached, and we were nowhere near being done.  My PI was on the phone with a departmental grant officer pleading for more time and understanding.  The time of submission came and passed, and we kept on working.  About 20 minutes later my PI finally called it, “ we are not submitting the grant.”  We did this at least TWICE, for two consecutive application deadlines.  As you can tell by italics and capital letters, it still raises strong emotions for me, even years later.

In my tenure at the lab, getting an NIH RO1 grant for my PI remained elusive. He did however receive other grants to keep the lab thriving and afforded me.  But we needed a RO1. What imprinted in me from the experience was how difficult it is to obtain a RO1 funding.  Without RO1, one is less likely to get tenured and maintain a lab.  If my PI, whom I deemed a brilliant scientist, had this much trouble getting a RO1, what an audacity to assume that I would get one?  I felt I had no chance.  Or more honestly I did not want to work that hard.  I did not want to make my graduate students and postdocs work that hard only to fire them when the funding did not come.

So I was scared and chickened out.  The shrinking funding rate did not help either.

It turns out I would have faced obstacles if I stayed in academia, not just my own demons (I am as bad, if not worse, procrastinator as my former PI)  but external ones.  Not to be consistently pessimistic but if I had stayed in academia more than likely I would have become a part of statistics in this recent article.  The study analyzed gender and race differences in the likelihood of receiving NIH RO1 in years 2000-2006.  The authors found that race, and not gender, was a key determinant in RO1 award. While white women did not differ from white men, Asian and black women received significantly less funding than white women.  Although this study did not find disadvantages of being a female applicant, many other studies do (like this one).  As a woman of color (Asian), I would have faced an uphill battle, a double bind. If only I was more ambitious, this type of studies would have made me energized and strive to reverse the current status.  At this point, I can only ask for those who are still in it to try…


6 responses so far

Postdoc pay disparities

(by peirama) Aug 06 2016

The scientist I work for pays some of his postdocs below the NIH pay scale. This is despite our institute’s website saying that it “sets the salary scale following the current NIH Kirschstein-NRSA stipend levels,” and despite that he has bragged about how much grant money he has.

After all of the recent stories about abusive misbehaving scientists, my complaint feels small. However, the outrageous among us should not drag down the baseline of normalcy and acceptable behavior.

I have been lucky in that I have always been paid on the NIH pay scale without having to ask for it. This probably has to do with me being on and off training grants rather than his respect for me or my hard work. This means, however, when I found out recently that a postdoc who has been here longer than I have is making significantly less than me left me surprised and horrified.

I am left with some questions. If these postdocs asked for more, how would my PI respond? If these postdocs were men would he pay them more?

I know there are many discussions on the blogosphere and Twitter about whether or not postdocs in general should complain about their pay. I think that it is at least reasonable to agree on a pay scale and then stick to it.

Do you know PIs who don’t pay their postdocs on the scale? Does your university do anything to enforce the scale?


One response so far

Stepping through the week of returning to work

(by strongerthanfiction) Jul 31 2016

Sunday

I wake, laying quietly in bed, thinking of how interesting the last three months have been… That first month of a new baby – whoa. Did the world start spinning at a different speed? A few months ago, I could barely figure out how to physically get out of bed and get food into me, let alone this crying newborn. Now, we have a nice little routine going. In fact, my days have started to feel like they are missing something. Immersion in the outside world, perhaps. It does feel a little repetitive if I don’t get out and do something with baby. Wake, feed baby. Play a bit, feed baby, try to convince baby to nap – ahhh! Stress – baby, please nap. Repeat eat, play, nap. But I like predictable. I like routine for this growing little synapse machine. When things are predictable, I know whether or not I have a good handle on things, and know how to make them better the next day. I feel a little proud – I got her to a good place. But underneath that pride is a little worry. Me going back to work won’t undo that, right?

Monday

Little munchkin is so sweet playing there in the crib when I walk in at the (lately) usual time to get a smile before I pick happy baby up. Oh, the smell of baby. Intoxicatingly relaxing. I go about my routine, now acutely aware that the luxury of these slightly repetitive daily activities is about to come to an end. Mental note –enjoy every second of this day. It takes a lot to remind myself not to stress. We didn’t get munchkin accepting bottles yet. Despite weeks of trying and many different types of bottles. To me, there is a lot to stress about. To future me, this stress is probably laughably tiny. But, I am not future me.

Deep breath – enjoy everything about today.

Ahhh! Baby will starve!

Deep breath – oh, that baby is so cute.

Tuesday

Today is supposed to be overlap day with dad– the next caretaker. One of the ideas was to have it be Dad-led day. But there are so many chores and tasks and a yard project to work on. Dad ends up working outside most of the day. He has been around, knows the routine, and knows the tired/hungry signs, I think. All the sudden the day is over. There wasn’t actually much overlap today, but everything will be fine, right?

Mental checklist – did I get everything I need into my purse from my other purse (formerly known as diaper bag)? Did I make enough food for the next few days? What is lunchtime, again? Did I get the A/C adapter and all the other parts and pieces for the breast pump? Did I pack enough ice for the milk to sit on? How am I going to carry all these bags around tomorrow?!? Uhhhh, crap, I have to wear normal clothes again – crap, none of these pants fit me! Hmmm, where did I put those stretchy waistband maternity slacks, again? Ahh, that is much more comfortable. Eww. I have to wear a bra again – these nursing tank tops are waaay more comfortable.

Ahhh! Baby is not taking a bottle!

Deep breath.

Wednesday

Wake up, feed and walk the dog, make breakfast and get dressed. I am leaving a little later than I did pre-baby to try and breastfeed her well before heading off to work – without early wakeup. So far, so good. I will hit a little traffic, but, oh well. I filed the paperwork to switch from 9 hr workdays back to 8 so that I don’t have to be gone so long. I will miss bi-weekly day off, but maybe I can get back to it, eventually.

As my car rolls up to work, I have these very strange emotions. I am excited, nervous, anxious, and second guessing myself, all in one flash. It is a little surreal, because I have not gone through these motions in months. I feel the same as the familiarity floods back, but it is weird. Everything is different. I have a kid. But I am still me. I guess I am still figuring out what being a mom means.

It is very strange to bring this extra giant bag with me full of pumping stuff. Thankful for pinterest in its suggestions about what to put in a pumping bag, but man, this thing is huge.

Whoa – emails galore. I did occasionally sift through work emails, but there is a lot to catch up on at my computer for the next few days.

It is very strange to take the elevator down to the pumping room when the time comes. I am so thankful for my other recent mommy coworker who shows me the ropes and offers me advice for my very frequent questions.

Ahhh! Is my baby eating? Check the baby tracking app. AHHH! She hasn’t eaten anything yet and it is 2pm! She will starve! Ahh!

Get home – awwwwww! Baby is soooo cute! Mmm, I missed that baby smell. Oh, wow, she is really hungry.

Thursday

Back at it. Ok, I know what to expect in the morning now. Tank up, baby, ’cause you did not eat enough yesterday.

Hmm. I should probably go get a few things that fit better. Wardrobe still feels very limited.

My coworkers are very understanding, for the most part. Some ask questions about how it has been for me and relate with their own experiences. Some are so sweet and just want to see pics of baby. Oooookkkaaaayyyy, I guess I can show you some of the 20 bazillion on my phone.

Ahh! Is baby eating today? No bottle, still! Time to call the doctor. What other mom friends do I have that I can ask about this?

It is really nice to ease back into work. There are not a lot of expectations placed on my to get anything done immediately. I find a way to make myself useful today, but still just playing catch-up and reorienting myself to lab.

Get home – oh dear, baby is really, really hungry, but I pumped all day. Not good.

Whoever gave me the advice to return on a Wednesday instead of Monday, I want to hug you.

Friday

New game plan. Tank baby up, still continue to get her used to a bottle, but husband brings baby to me at lunch. Oh man, I am tired today – the several addition nighttime wake-ups last night were unwelcome and exhausting.

Pump and watch adorable videos of baby.

Start getting organized for the thing I want to do next week at work. Read through a lot of the old work I did before I left to remind myself of the small details.

Oh man.

Survived the week. And so did baby, despite her drastically different eating habits. While in some ways, my stress persists about baby regressing from a nice healthy schedule, all in all, we are all still good. Next week is a new week. We can attack with a new strategy.

The saga continues…

I am so thankful for my other mamma friends who have given me such solid advice, on this blog, and elsewhere about not having high expectations about jumping back into work. I would normally expect myself to jump right back into the deep end, but hearing other people talk about it has helped me wade in more slowly from the shallow end. It is ok to take my time.


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Book Club – Lab Girl

(by sweetscience) Jul 20 2016

We recently read Lab Girl, the nationally bestselling memoir by Hope Jahren, PhD. Dr. Jahren is a Professor at the University of Hawai’i Manoa where she runs a Geobiology Laboratory. She also blogs about interactions between women and men in academia at https://hopejahrensurecanwrite.com. The book is mostly about her life and career path, but it also weaves in interesting vignettes about plant life that appear as metaphors related to aspects of her experiences.

Lab Girl image

What was the most relatable part of the story for you?

fishprint: I read this book, in part, to find a relatable female scientist. I probably wouldn’t have admitted this at the time, but I like her writing, I love her Twitter presence, and I really wanted to relate to her. So, I spent the first half of the book hating it. Until finally I recognized I’d brought all these expectations to the book. Then I could let all that go and read it.  Do not read this book if you want a relatable female scientist role model to compare yourself to. Read this book for a well written, complicated personal story. You may relate more to the grad student who quits, “sneering on her way out that she didn’t want a life like mine”, but that’s OK. No one, probably not even that student, was really being asked to have a life like Jahren’s. But the proximity of the book (and worse if you work for her, I imagine) makes you compare and question.

peírama: One thing the book relies on and yet only briefly touches on directly is how Jahren’s relationship with Bill is important to her success in science. There are the straightforward ways, that he works for almost nothing yet works harder than most employees would and that he is a consistent presence in her lab from before she even starts her lab throughout her career (a trait which can make someone invaluable if they are competent, which Bill seems more than). Then there is the personal aspect of it. As Jahren readily admits, doing science is hard. There are setbacks from the natural world and from the world of people. Having someone interested in the same things as you, thinking about the same questions as you, who you get along with, who is there to support you when things get tough, makes things so much easier. I think the way our scientific society is set up to put people out on their own without a built in network and constantly ripping scientists away from people they know is counterproductive. Jahren lucked into a situation that should be more common in science – scientists with common interests working closely together, supporting each other, and working toward the same scientific goals.

Curiouser&Curiouser: Unlike fishprint, I had not heard of Dr. Jahren before reading this book, but I think I initially expected to find a role model in Lab Girl.  I did not.  I found very few specifics in her story relatable, but these 3 themes resonated with me.  

  1. In science you do not act alone.  I felt like the second half of the story was basically a platonic love letter to her best friend/lab manager.  While at times I felt awkward when it seemed to me that she was writing for/to Bill, (even though he said he would never read the book) I appreciated the sentiment that led her to want to say thank you and make sure credit is appropriately shared.   
  2. Being a scientist is hard work. ‘Nuf said
  3. Your personal struggles impact your career both positively and negatively.  It’s not always possible to check your personal baggage at the door.  

SweetScience: Dr. Jahren has clearly worked hard throughout her education and career, but it seemed like many major elements (i.e. certain jobs, her work partner Bill) just fell into place for her. This is not to say that she didn’t earn and work to keep those things, but I can relate to feeling like some things just come to you, even while things you try so hard for remain elusive.

 

Here are a few quotes that resonated with us. (Pages refer to original hard-cover edition)

  • “…my true potential had more to do with my willingness to struggle than with my past and present circumstances.” P. 18
  • “As much as I have loved being a scientist, I am ready to admit that I am tired of all the hard things that should be easy by now.” P. 25 (stated in the context of funding, but widely applicable)
    • C&C: This was one of my favorite quotes from the book.  I feel discouraged at least weekly by how much of a struggle it can, and will continue to be.  
  • “…there are only two kinds of people in the world: the sick and the not sick. If you are not sick, shut up and help.” P. 44
  • “On some deep level, the realization that I could do good science was accompanied by the knowledge that I had formally and terminally missed my chance to become like any of the women that I had ever known.” P 71
  • “…because I am a female scientist, nobody knows what the hell I am, and it has given me the delicious freedom to make it up as I go along.” P 277
    • SS: I can’t directly relate to this because I feel that female scientists are common in my field/generation, but I do think it’s interesting and important to understand that someone has felt this way in very recent history. Further, I can relate to the idea of ‘making it up as I go along’ as it feels like everyone is struggling through the decisions that need to be made early in one’s career in a way that is probably different than previous decades, given the overabundance of PhDs, lower relative number of traditional academic research jobs, and wide array of other science-related careers open to us. There’s no clear path, and no history of scientists having to navigate these conditions.

 

What surprised you about the book?

SS: I was surprised that there was virtually nothing relating to the interactions between women and men in academia that are the focus of Dr. Jahren’s blog, and a talk I saw her give to a Women In Science group. Given that she’s had plenty of experiences relevant for the subject and is clearly passionate about the topic and changing the state of academia’s treatment of women, I wonder why she didn’t draw attention to those issues in this book. Maybe it will be the focus of book number two?

f: She still doesn’t sleep. She still goes to the lab every night.

P: I was also surprised about how she talked about working all night like it was normal and how her family seems like afterthought.

C&C: I didn’t pick up on her struggle with mental health issues early on in the book, and so I found her description of her interactions and environment unnerving and often depressing.  Once she made it clear that there was more going on than a selectively empathetic, extremely driven person I was able to let go of the idea that an “ideal scientist” should follow her model, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the second half of the book.  

I also was shocked by Bill’s living conditions until they get to hawaii, what a loyal friend to stick it through!

 

Are there any messages in the book you disagree with for yourself or as a role model for young scientists?

SS: I don’t love the propagation of ‘the absent-minded professor’ stereotype, particularly the scientist who is so passionate and caught up in their work that they are up all night excited about a potential discovery at the expense of their personal lives; it is possible and indeed common for a career in research to be ‘just a job’ and that’s something I feel is a valuable message for young scientists.

f: Many of the pronouncements in this book are things that have worked for Jahren, and are not broadly true (or good) for other people. She is in lab all day and then hits the lab again every night starting around 10:30pm. I doubt she sleeps more than a few hours a night. And that’s OK for her, it makes her happy, and it works for her team (Bill). But seen as a message, it is a damaging one. My first PI bragged about sleeping 3 hours a night. In fact, every boss I’ve ever had has tedious glory days stories about being in the lab all night. They are not all successful, but they all want to cast themselves as passionate, committed night owls. Why? Is that really when they do their best work? That’s when I start breaking things and deleting files. Not sleeping and not caring for your health can look like a thing that interesting and successful people do, but it’s not going to work for everyone. In defense of Jahren, she’s just telling her story. It’s messy, it’s literally manic, and her life would only work for her.

Oh, and that part about trying to weed out the students who value their time. Sigh.

P: She paints a picture of a world where a certain type of man is what the world sees as a scientist, and thus she and her best friend/lab tech who is a man but doesn’t fit that description are science outsiders who have to work twice as hard as everyone else to gain scientific acceptance.

I do not argue with that, as that is clearly true. However, she paints an alternate picture of a stereotypical scientist. The scientist that can’t stop until they’ve answered all the questions. The scientist who works until their knuckles bleed and needs no other sustenance but a good question. I think a lot of people, including myself and my fellow bloggers, love science and consider ourselves scientists but also do not fit that stereotype of a scientist.

One sentence that caught my eye in the very first chapter was “I glanced at the clock and noted that my son had gone to bed several hours ago.” She makes clear that her priority is science over everything else. That is not how I want to live my life. Yes, my husband is perfectly capable of putting my children to bed and does on many occasions, but I like to put my children to bed. My children and my husband bring me joy and I knew a life with a husband and children was something I wanted as surely as I knew I loved science. Hope Jahren has written a memoir, so perhaps it is unfair to criticize what is only her own story. Her way is one way to be a scientist. Perhaps the problem is not that she has told her story without any acknowledgment of other alternative ways to be a scientist but that there are not more stories that make it to the mainstream of those other alternative ways to be a scientist.

C&C: From the description in the book I don’t think Jahren can be considered a viable role model for most young scientists.  She has a unique set of challenges and gifts (she has found the most loyal employee ever and neither of the seem to need to sleep?!) that make her career and life choices reasonable to her, but I can not see them leading to happiness or scientific success for most people.  

 

Who would you recommend this book to?

SS: I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about what it means to be an academic scientist, or who likes different memoirs.

f: People who enjoy memoirs and science. I would not pitch it as an “inspirational female scientist”.

P: On the whole, I enjoyed this book as a book. That is to say, I enjoyed reading it when not thinking critically about what message it was sending and whether I agreed with that. I think it tells a compelling story of a woman finding her way in the world. It flows well and drew me in.

I also think this book is good for anyone interested in the natural world. I learned a lot about seeds and trees.

C&C: I think people who feel marginalized and/or struggle with mental health issues may enjoy the book.

 

All in all, most of us enjoyed reading most of the book, and we’d love to hear what you think too – tell us in the comments!


6 responses so far

Do the same rules apply to all genders as mentors?

(by sweetscience) Jul 12 2016

parks-and-rec-nbc
Image source: http://zap2it.com/2015/01/parks-and-recreation-leslie-knope-feminist-goddess/

I have great summer student. She was a student of mine at my previous institution and came to do research in my current lab for her summer internship. On her first day I was really busy and sorry I didn’t have time to do much more than set her up with her training, so I said, “Why don’t I take you out to lunch tomorrow?” I thought it would be a good chance to catch up and get to know her better. So we went out and got to chat about what was going on in her life and she asked me a lot more about my career history. It was great, and exactly what I would hope for from a mentor-mentee relationship.

And then, because I always love over-analyzing things as a gender-based thought experiment, I wondered how this would be different if our genders were different. Could taking a student out to lunch to get to know them better be perceived as inappropriate if my student was male? Probably not, but it would almost certainly be less comfortable for me and probably for the student. What if I was male and my student was female? That gave me pause. Of course this one event was within the bounds of normal mentoring, but I could see the potential for something like this to make a student uncomfortable or to be the beginning of a series of problematic events where the power differential* makes it difficult for the student to say no to increasingly line-crossing interactions.

Should I be okay with behavior that I don’t see a problem with in one gender combination, if I do see it as a potential problem with a different gender? The image above is an extreme example (since everything Leslie Knope does is extreme and awesome), but there are many things that can seem not noteworthy coming from women that would never be acceptable from men.

On the one hand, I think it is even more important for women to get close and mentor other women to help them overcome the obstacles we continue to face. However, when I think about a man mentoring another man [preferentially], it makes me feel like the old boys club is being perpetuated. Is it fair to think that one is essential and the other should be avoided, as long as there is an imbalance in the field?

Further, why should the line be drawn in a different place for me as a female mentor than for a male mentor? Should I hold myself to the same standards and distance that I would expect from a man?

There are certainly ways male and female mentors may have different benefits, for either female or male mentees, and for this among many reasons, it is advisable for a student to try to have several mentors. But what should a mentor take into consideration for his or her interactions with different trainees? How does one give each student the mentoring they need or deserve without favoritism, and is it possible to support stronger relationships between more similar people without perpetuating the existing hierarchy?

I’m really asking! What do you think?

*I’m not factoring sexual orientation into the equation here, mostly because the focus is on gender-based power differentials, and I’m trying not to consider sexual or romantic circumstances; I do recognize that people who are not heterosexual or cisgender may have even greater cause for worry or discomfort when presented with unclear lines in social situations related to the workplace.


6 responses so far

A day in the life – at a conference with an infant

(by sweetscience) Jun 28 2016

I’m at my second conference for the year, which is also my 5 month old baby’s second conference! Luckily my partner is in the same field and understands how this works, and we could all come together. Unfortunately though there are a lot of things at this conference we both want to see, or, more often, we want to go to different sessions at the same time, so we try to trade baby duty, which essentially leads to me seeing half as much as I normally would at a conference. This experience will be different for every parent, every baby, and indeed every day, but here’s what today was like for me.

12 – 5am – I’m awoken every hour or so by baby noises – Baby is congested and I think having a harder time than normal sleeping straight through. Most wake-ups we both just go right back to sleep but about every three hours we do a feeding just to make sure hunger isn’t the issue.

5:23am – Baby has been making noises for a few minutes now, so I think this is the real wake-up for the day. I’ve been waking up all night and have my presentation today so I ask my partner to wake up and take care of Baby for now.

5:30-6:30am – Wake periodically to noises from Partner and Baby until my alarm goes off at 6:30, at which time of course they are silent.

7:10am – Wake up, unsure how I fell asleep (if I had to guess I’d say 5 months of sleep deprivation), go to the sitting area of the hotel room to find Baby sleeping on Partner, who is also sleeping on the couch. Get dressed.

7:30-8am – Play ‘pass the baby’ as Partner and I get ready for the day. Nurse and dress Baby, taking care not to get any bodily fluids on my presentation outfit (but I did bring backup clothes, as the 5 months sleep deprivation has not prevented me from learning a thing or two).

8am – We decide to forgo the Plenary session and get breakfast at the conference.

8:30am – I put up my poster and take photos of Baby in adorably nerdy onesie with me at the poster. I walk Baby through my poster, but Baby just likes the scratching noises on the poster material.

8:40am – We wonder why none of our friends showed up for breakfast. (We find out later they were out late drinking. I was in bed at 9:30 and loving it. I am not even a little bit jealous of them.) We plan who will have baby duty when and when to do the hand-off so we can both see the talks we want in the morning sessions.

8:45am – Run into a few people, catch up with a previous mentor who recalls taking her 3 month old to a big conference over 30 years ago!

9am – Partner notices that Baby seems to have an odor and quickly recalls that I’m on baby duty, so passes the baby and I head up to the hotel room.

9:10am – We’re locked out of the hotel room! The door is ajar but I can’t open it! No response to my banging on the door (like the neighbors didn’t already hate us, we have a baby!), no sign of housekeeping anywhere… I go back to the elevator to call the front desk as Baby starts complaining – they transfer me at least 3 times and finally say they’ll send someone up.

9:20am – In the room! Don’t know what was wrong with the door but I just messed with it more and it finally opened. Baby is still upset (it’s naptime) but what should I do? I don’t want to be in the middle of nursing, or diaper change, or putting Baby down for a nap when security comes by about the door… Decide changing first is the best option. Security comes at the perfect time in between events so it’s all good… except Baby, who was so tired a minute ago, now doesn’t want to sleep!

9:50am – Baby is finally asleep – but it’s terrible timing because our hand-off is supposed to be in 25 minutes, so I let Baby sleep on me and just grab my stuff and go.

10:15 – Unsuccessful hand-off wakes Baby up. I have to just get to the one talk I want to see and try not to think that I should be doing something better for Baby – Partner can handle it.

10:20am – I see an interesting talk I thought might be about a method I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to use, but actually it uses other techniques which I was unfamiliar with so now I have more to think about.

10:50am – I meet up with Partner who claims to have successfully taken awake Baby to a talk as well, but I am skeptical since I only had mild success trying that yesterday. Head back up to the hotel room, text friends about lunch plans, get Baby ready to go out.

11:30am – We meet friend from grad school for lunch. Friend has already eaten, so can hold Baby while we eat, ahhhh! We discuss everything I like – science, friends, dogs, baby stuff!

12:30pm – Back at the hotel I nurse Baby, play a little, and make plans for later. We decide to skip the next session of the conference since we weren’t too thrilled with the potential topics and have friends/colleagues to see.

1:30pm – Meet Partner’s friend/collaborator and his wife for drinks and dessert (isn’t lunchtime dessert the best?!) while Baby naps part of the time. I leave Baby with Partner so I can do my poster presentation.

2:45pm – Pump breast milk in hotel room* so Partner can come back and feed Baby during my presentation.

3:10pm – I arrive at my poster session but no one is at my poster and my assigned presentation time is later so I stop by a couple others I wanted to see first. I spend most of the rest of the time at my poster, busy almost the whole time. One researcher made my day when she came by and said she’d been having some of the same problems and could commiserate with me. Mostly it was people I knew coming by my poster but I did get some good feedback and people seemed interested in the general questions I was asking, which is where I want to take my research in the future, so that was good! I also found out that a colleague here is traveling with her 5 month old baby as well, so maybe we can get together tomorrow.

5pm – Partner hands off Baby for me to go to lab dinner with my grad school lab past and present. It’s fun to catch up and get to know the new people a little better. Baby is getting tired and a little shrieky (it’s bedtime!) but one friend who loves babies does the entertaining for me.

7pm – Baby starts scream-crying (luckily a rare occurrence these days) on the way back to the hotel but falls asleep in one minute. Now back at the hotel, how can I wake this precious sleeping baby just to get ready for bed?!

7:30pm – Partner comes back from the evening conference session so I suggest dinner with the friends I ran into on the way into the hotel. Nurse and get Baby ready for bed. I have a small bottle of extra milk from the afternoon pumping so I try to top off Baby but as I remove the cap there is a milk explosion all over me and the rug so I swear and scare Baby and run to the bathroom but I’m holding Baby awkwardly in one arm and the dripping bottle in the other and do the best I can to clean up. Baby doesn’t like this at all and is still mad about the swearing I guess, or being awoken from the nice sleep.

8pm – I put Baby to bed, scarf down my chocolate in case Baby decides to resist sleeping and needs to be put to sleep, and start blogging.

9pm – Debate showering or sleeping, decide on sleeping since Partner is still out and I want to be able to hear Baby. Get ready for tomorrow and I’m in bed around 10 (this never happens at home and feels so good)!

What I notice when I think about this day is that really not a lot of science happened. But a lot of networking happened, mostly through catching up with people I already know. I think this is the most important part of attending a conference, so my distribution of my time seems relatively in line with my priorities – lots of family time, plenty of friend/network/career building time, and a enough science to get me thinking critically about my own work and thinking about new possibilities connected to other work.

So that was my day at a conference with a nursing 5 month old infant!

*When I emailed the conference organizer a couple months ago to inquire about a lactation room, I was told I could book a room in the conference hotel, and if I didn’t have that, I could find someone who did have one who would let me pump there. I haven’t responded to this because I don’t even know what to say. This was in stark contrast to the other conference I was attending of a similar size, which went to great lengths to provide a private space for multiple people, at a location that did not have a facility already set up for such a purpose.


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Mission Statement

(by Curiouser&Curiouser) Jun 14 2016

There is so much that I love about my career as a Research Scientist in BioTech. I love the creativity and intellectual stimulation, the teamwork and independence, the opportunity to apply expertise but always keep improving and learning, and I love the puzzle of it all. But sometimes I feel drained, and recently I’ve been in a bit of a funk. I think part of it is from our continued fertility struggles; but I start thinking that maybe I’m not in the right job or even the right line of work…. Maybe I want to run away and be an illustrator or a farmer. I should go live on a commune and teach kindergarten in a tree house. But when I really sit down and outline what I want out of a career/my life I realize (again) that I’m doing it, I have my perfect job. So why do I feel so blah?

? I recently came across a blog post entitled “why a personal mission statement is key to career bliss.”  Based on this maybe the question I need to be asking myself isn’t what I want to be, but rather who do I want to be. I like this idea! I don’t need go external and look for a new passion project or do anything drastic to find my happy place, I just need to be more mindful of my “core motivators” and make sure that I honor that thought in my daily life. Here is my first attempt at a personal mission statement, it’s pretty broad, but I like that it applies to my work-life and my life-life.….

To be a compassionate and creative person who contributes to, and supports teams trying to make the world a better place.

I would love to hear from you, do you have a mission statement?  Has it helped you?


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Workplace support

(by strongerthanfiction) Jun 09 2016

What defines a productive member of a work group? I was reading a personal account recently about a woman who’s supervisor was very supportive of her role as a new mother because he knew that she would be a more productive if she knew her baby was well cared for. While this makes a lot of sense, it got me thinking about the opposite of this situation…What if he wasn’t supportive – how would that have changed her behavior with regard to her work responsibilities?

I started out this post with an example of motherhood, but this could apply to many things in life – family, extracurricular roles, or further education. For example – if a member of a work group is also interested in educating others, some employers allow flexibility to accommodate teaching the course.

Personally, when an employer allows me the flexibility to move things around when I need to take care of something in my personal life, it goes a long way in my attitude toward work. I am willing to stay those extra minutes or hours to finish something up when nothing pressing is tearing me away. The opposite of that might be that when an employee feels taken advantage of, they actively find ways to be at work, but maybe distractedly, or taking off when the clock strikes quittin’ time, even when they know that picking up that particular task the next day will mean extra time invested to get back on track. This could create a lot of tension between employees and employers when they notice a particular behavior in another – like two forces working in opposition on a rubber band.

So, back to the question – what defines a productive member of a work group? It can’t just be the number of hours, because there is a quality difference in how people spend their time at work. And, other countries have very different maternity leave policies  – allowing mothers months of sometimes paid maternity/paternity leave. Not everyone in the workplace uses this time because not everyone has children. But, I bet that some of those parents are considered to be very productive members of the work group.
What are some contrasts that you notice in your workplace about productivity?

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Could aiming for a glam pub make me a better scientist?

(by sweetscience) May 26 2016

I’m usually not very judgmental but I’ll admit that I have disdain for scientists or labs who almost exclusively aim for glamor publications in journals like Nature, Science, or Cell, and sometimes even say they don’t value research from low-impact factor journals. Debates about glam pubs usually focus on the fact that such journals don’t correspond with quality of science, or the apparent need to publish in high-impact factor journals to advance one’s career (get a tenure-track position or get tenure) and  and the idea of boycotting or subverting such journals and going open-access.

This is a little different at smaller institutions like I’ve been at in the past, but even at major research institutions I’ve never been in a lab that really aimed for glam pubs. Between my four past and present mentors, they may have had two such publications, and the fact that I don’t even know the number shows you how little I notice/care about that. I never thought it was important to me to publish in a glam journal, and was perfectly happy to publish in what I considered the most appropriate journals for my work and subfield*. I like to do whatever are the best experiments for my line of research and then publish when I have a complete story**, and figure out where that story fits best.

Lately I’ve been exposed more to labs that primarily publish in high impact journals and I found myself thinking about it a little more. I wondered what it would be like if I was aiming for a manuscript I could submit to a high-impact journal. What would I need to add to my story? What would it take to get there? If I couldn’t do the experiments myself due to resources or expertise, who could?

This made me think about a lot of advantages. Of course the obvious advantage is that by getting that publication I may get a better chance at that tenure track position, etc. But perhaps more importantly, it really would push my work somewhere I wouldn’t otherwise take it. Maybe it would be good for me to think beyond my comfort zone, to actually consider those experiments that I would have written off in the past as ‘beyond the scope of this study’. In addition, it would push me to develop collaborations with others and/or expand my own expertise. This would be good for my current work, for my later independent work (i.e. fundability), and probably for increasing my job opportunities as well.

I find that I can be the most productive and even creative if I’m given a little framework for a goal. Maybe aiming for a glam pub is just the kind of structure I need to motivate me, and push me outside of my comfort zone to become a better scientist.

*Which is not to say I haven’t submitted manuscripts to the glam journals, because I have.

**My use of this term is quite different from what might be considered a complete story for a glam pub.


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