When Your Postdoc Mentor Switches Institutions, or The Amazing Community of Women in Science

(by ragamuffinphd) May 18 2017

I am 9 months into my first postdoc. I am 6 months pregnant. I will be unemployed two days after my son is due to be born.

One month ago, my postdoc mentor announced that he has accepted an incredible promotion at a university on the other side of the United States. For several reasons — including having just relocated my family, the strain on my husband’s career and the expectation of a neonate at the time of the Great Move – I will not be translocating with the lab.

My “mentor” made clear to me last week that he will not be renewing my contract two days after I give birth even though he will remain at my institution for another 1-3 months. Even though he will renew current university contracts with at least one other postdoc for several months and lied to my face about doing so. My Postdoctoral Union, the Academic Resource Center and the university Business Office have nothing to say about this. I have no protections in this situation; it is my “mentor’s” choice.

I have spent three quarters of the last month in debilitating pain because my dentist managed to kill a perfectly healthy tooth and pregnancy hormones exacerbated the effects of necrosis, inflammation and infection (lack of effective painkillers did not help either). The other quarter of the month I spent frantically scouring my current institution for potential academic postdoc opportunities in a sea of unknown or inadvisable labs. Labs that are very unlikely to be willing to contract a woman who would just entered maternity leave at the time of ideal onboarding. By this time, I may or may not have transferable salary from any of the three fellowships I’ve just finished applying for. Likely the latter, which prevents me from sweetening the deal.

‘Just find a new postdoc position by next month,’ my “mentor” advises. ‘That way you can spend a month or two in the new lab before going on maternity leave. No one would refuse you a position because of the pregnancy, that would be outrageous.’ He proceeded at my overly laudatory request to recommend potential employers who were strikingly ill-suited to my career goals or experience.


Given the timing of my imminent unemployment and my need for not only neonatal care but regular treatments for my autoimmune disorder, avoiding a lapse in health coverage is – for the first time in my life – a priority over my career aspirations. In a time when COBRA and biologic therapy are unaffordable, my husband and I must re-budget dramatically to pay our mortgage and loans and keep our neonate (and ideally, myself) alive. I have therefore stretched my feelers into a world I was not prepared to join for several years if (and only if) I could tell with more certainty that professorship was not in the cards: non-academic science.

Mid-pregnancy does not feel like the right time to be making a career-altering decision that could mean closing the door to academia for good. Then again, if my choice is between sacrificing my family’s well-being for a sliver of a chance at a reasonable academic postdoc or sacrificing my pipe dream for a potentially happier and more rewarding life, the latter is my clear choice. This is not what everyone should or would choose in these circumstances. This is likely not what I would have chosen 5 years ago. But I love what my life is becoming and am prepared to shift gears if it means being able to do rigorous, ethical and productive science in a healthy way.

Despite the extraordinarily strenuous timing, this transition is somewhat of a blessing as I have had a miserable 9 months with my current absence of any form of mentorship, the embarrassing dysfunction of this world-renowned lab and the excruciating oppression of both my “mentor” and a male adjunct faculty. This is my way out without being the one to set fire to any bridges.

While most days I feel lost and hopeless, I am grateful to no longer be in debilitating pain and I strive to protect my active little belly parasite from my own distress. I am fueled now more by adrenaline and awe of the circumstances than by fear and depression. And I have benefited from some wonderful advice.

You know who has advised me? Not my male “mentor” who has all but thrown me into the gutter. Women. Women who are senior post docs in my lab. Women who write for this blog. Women who have agreed to interview me for positions in their labs at my current institution. Women who have talked through the circumstances of my potential unemployment and financial crisis with me. Women who have helped me identify solutions. The woman who I interviewed with today.

The ball is rolling in a sluggish but mostly forward direction. Today I have hope because of the women I have met in science.

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March for Science

(by peirama) Apr 27 2017


More umbrellas than signs by the end of the Philly Science March. Impressive how many people stuck around despite the bad weather!

Many of us here at Portrait of a Scientist marched in the March for Science this past weekend. Judging from the numbers across the country, many of you did too. Here are some of our thoughts.


I marched because I support science. Not just because that is what I do for a job, but because I know how important it is for the world and humanity. I believe that to be true for all of the scientists who march. You do not have to be a scientist to appreciate the power of science, but being up-close and personal with it does make that easier.

I spent some time  before and after the march tabling for my local women in science group. I was really impressed by the number of people who were excited to sign up to get the newsletter and to attend happy hours. I was also impressed by the number of parents and kids who came by interested in our outreach program. I’m so excited that our group can have an impact on the next generation, not just by making more scientists, but hopefully also making more people who are not scientists as their job, but who are science-literate and appreciate science.

I hope that the march opened some people’s eyes and piqued their interest. I hope that this is not an isolated event but the beginning of a movement, where scientists are more active outside of the lab, both in sharing their science and in getting involved in shaping the future of our country. My sign said: “Resist! Science is Power!”

Danielle Robinson:

I was so impressed with the way my local march organizers handled the organization and run of show. True, I couldn’t really hear the speakers. But that’s because I was running around with a couple of little kids looking at real brains and learning to titrate. I didn’t even get to march with my group (see previous sentence about little kids). Instead I ran into OHSU friends, Science Hack Day friends, OpenCon friends, and made new science friends. Oh, and I saw a lot of great signs!! Like this little guy, these badass witches, these very sick salmon, and – I didn’t catch her – but someone got a great shot an OHSU researcher who is really too busy for this.

While all this was going on, I was in touch with my fellow-fellow* Teon Brooks, who has been tirelessly dealing with organizational challenges and holding calls for 600+ people as the Co-Chair of Partnerships for the Science March DC. He hung with Bill Nye – think he had a pretty good time.

I had a great experience and feel invigorated to continue advocating for science and science education on the local and national level. I met fantastic people at local organizations that I’d like to partner with and had a great time!

*Call for Mozilla Science Fellowship applications is OPEN. Yes, they really reimbursed 6k worth of childcare expenses. It’s been a truly transformational professional experience, I blogged some advice, and I am happy to talk if you’re considering applying, @daniellecrobins.


I marched for science in my new city, Philadelphia (though I wish I could have marched with these guys!). Despite the heavy rain, a really diverse group turned out, many carrying signs, wearing lab coats, or dressed in costumes. A man dressed as Ben Franklin served as a reminder that scientific thinkers played a key role in the foundation of this city and country. Kids marched with their parents, and I had my baby in a stroller. 314 Action was represented, urging scientists to run for office, and letting us know about upcoming local political races. However, the overall tone of the march and speakers seemed more pep rally than political. There were even ‘science cheerleaders’, wearing tracksuits and waving pom-poms.

The most memorable moment of the day for me was when one of the speakers at the rally asked the crowd if all the scientists could raise their hands. I raised mine, and was surprised to see that only about 10% of the people there had their hands up. A young boy in front of me said in awe to his dad, “Look at ALL the scientists!” Meanwhile, I was thinking, “Look at ALL this support!”

Like a lot of scientists right now, I’m struggling to stay funded, to even maintain my job, stuck in a seemingly never-ending application process for a more permanent position. It’s hard not to get discouraged, and easy to think that what I do doesn’t matter to people– especially because of the current political sentiment in America and the blithe acceptance of ‘alternate facts’ by the governing administration and the public who elected them. But standing there, shivering in Saturday’s rain, were thousands of people who came out in support of what we do, who want to fund research, who believe that science can create a path to a better future, and who are willing to fight for it. It was incredibly affirming.

My own sign read, “Science doesn’t care if you believe. It just is.” I wanted to convey the message that there are objective truths that simply aren’t subject to negotiation. When the oceans rise because of global warming, are politicians going to stand in waders in the rising tide, legislating against it? Will they argue belief systems about evolution with antibiotic resistant microbes?

In Carl Sagan’s words, “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” On Saturday, it was wonderful to be surrounded by people who felt the same way.

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Silent Spring Book Club

(by sweetscience) Apr 20 2017

We recently read Silent Spring, the classic exposé of the impact of pesticides written by Rachel Carson in 1962. The book details the use of these chemicals, and the severe but overlooked impact on the environment, from widespread destruction of wildlife and domestic animals to the frightening and ubiquitous exposure to humans. Leading up to the March for Science and Earth Day, we thought this was a fitting example of the importance of scientific analysis of public concern, and the value of communicating these ideas and findings with the public.

Silent Spring

What impressed you most about the book?

Megan: What’s not to be impressed about? This book created an irrevocable social awareness of the detrimental effects of careless pesticide use, spawned a coherent fact-based environmentalist movement, and provided the legal and social leverage necessary to create the EPA. David Attenborough said that Silent Spring has probably had the most impact on the scientific world after Origin of Species, and I think he’s right.

Carson did this by creating a concise, clear, and convincing narrative. She doesn’t pander, doesn’t go on self-indulgent tangents, and is neither overly technical nor emotional. Her passion for her country and its natural beauty, however, becomes obvious through the unrelenting accumulation of anecdotal and documented evidence she meticulously catalogues regarding the destruction wreaked upon it by the wanton and widespread use of pesticides. She uses facts instead of rhetorical devices and scare tactics. The amount of gumption, research, persistence, courage, and hard work involved in the production of this book is humbling.

Carson is an inspiration to anyone who aspires to write or communicate about science—and even more so when you remember she was largely excluded from the academic scientific establishment because of her gender.

SweetScience: It is amazing that Carson pulled all this together when, as noted in E.O. Wilson’s afterward, ecology was not a supported science, and conservation biology was not even a thing! It takes a really special mind to be able to synthesize information from seemingly different realms to come to new big ideas; and to be able to then communicate all of the research to capture the hearts and minds of a lay audience is astounding.

What surprised you about the book?

SweetScience: I was shocked at how many times the same mistake was made without any regard for past experiences – states employed programs of mass pesticide use with little reason, destroying life, often in incredibly visible ways, like hundreds of birds and other animals writhing and dying in plain view, and virtually always without success eradicating the intended pest. How could they not have researched this before making the choice?

Megan: I’ve recently heard a lot of people, typically right-wing, crediting Carson for the wholesale ban of DDT. These people also blame her, and the environmentalist movement, for millions of malaria deaths worldwide. So, I was somewhat surprised to read that her position was much more nuanced. She writes: “No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored. The question that has now urgently presented itself is whether it is either wise or responsible to attack the problem by methods that are rapidly making it worse. The world has heard much of the triumphant war against disease through the control of insect vectors of infection, but it has heard little of the other side of the story—the defeats, the short-lived triumphs that now strongly support the alarming view that the insect enemy has been made actually stronger by our efforts. Even worse, we may have destroyed our very means of fighting.“ In other words, blanket spraying of DDT leads to insect resistance to DDT. So, if blanket spraying in high concentrations were not conducted (sometimes for agricultural reasons), DDT may have proved a more effective weapon against insect-borne diseases. This is what Rachel Carson was arguing for: the use of powerful chemicals according to scientific, evidence-based, careful practice– as scalpels rather than anvils, as precision tools to cure a specific ill rather than to kill indiscriminately.

Needless Havoc

What questions did the book raise for you?

SweetScience: Since the book was published in 1962 and focuses on events of the preceding decade, I was constantly wondering how much was still true about regulations, which chemicals are commonly used, and especially whether agencies and people ignore the evidence and warnings in choosing to use mass application of pesticides. And then unfortunately that question was partially answered by the EPA’s recent rejection of scientific evidence of chemical harm. I also want to know about the differences in organic farming, especially what pesticides are allowed and how much they have been tested. I really wish there was a modern response/annotation to the book that outlined how things have changed since then.

Megan: Sooo many questions…. As a society, we’re currently facing down threats to our environment and public health, and we’re being led by a political administration with little regard for science, or even facts. How can we most effectively deal with the threat of Zika, while learning from the lessons of Silent Spring? What will the impact of the repeals of EPA regulations under Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt be? What would Rachel Carson do today? What can we do, as citizens and scientists?

Who would you recommend the book to?

SweetScience: I suggested this to someone who cares a lot about preserving the environment and is really worried about the current state of government control on these issues.

Megan: Scott Pruitt.

Also– environmentalists, feminists, scientists, science writers, US historians, politicians, voters, policy-makers, citizens, farmers, teachers…

But mostly Scott Pruitt. I may even mail him a copy.

The Other Road

Here are a few excerpts that resonated with us.

Megan: “For mankind as a whole, a possession infinitely more valuable than individual life is our genetic heritage, our link with past and future. Shaped through long eons of evolution our genes not only make us who we are but hold in their minute beings the future– be it one of promise or threat”.

I just love her writing style: “[Genes] hold in their minute beings the future”… I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about genetics phrased so eloquently!

SweetScience: “Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good?”

The description of the introduction of natural predators to maintain a forest ecosystem in the chapter “The Other Road” really struck me with its final note that “Much of the work of caring for the ant colonies (and the birds’ nesting boxes as well) is assumed by a youth corps from the local school… The costs are exceedingly low; the benefits amount to permanent protection of the forests.” which is really something to aspire to: community understanding and involvement to maintain precious resources.

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A year of saying NO

(by sweetscience) Apr 11 2017

I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened. I realized a couple months ago when I took on a few new things, that I had pointedly avoided taking on anything new or extra for over a year – since before my baby was born. It’s advice that is often given, especially to women and people of underrepresented groups, who are likely to be asked to do a lot of extra jobs: learn how to say no; don’t wast your time on things that are not going to help advance your career; set limits at the beginning of the year for how many committees you will be on, how many papers you will review, how many conferences you will attend, etc. and then say no to any after that. And I am guilty of taking on too many of those extra things that you don’t get any career credit for – organizing a symposium, giving a lab tour, etc. When I was pregnant, I never consciously planned to not do any of those things after having a baby, but I wish I had because it worked out brilliantly. It was simply that my home life was my number one priority and I figured out what I had to get done at work each day, and did just that. Here’s what that first year back at work looked like. Day to day I worked pretty short hours. In the mornings my partner did daycare drop-off so this was my alone time and I usually ended up getting stuff done at home and going in to work later in the morning. Throughout the day I had to pump milk, cutting out ~30 minutes 3x, then 2x per day, and I am still maintaining one session a day. Then I wanted to leave work before rush hour and early enough to get a little bit of non-cranky baby time before baby bedtime. I always thought I could work a little in the evenings, but I was so tired and rarely had anything urgent enough to warrant it that I seldom did anything other than answer emails. I did spend a number of evenings applying for jobs. So that was maybe 5 solid hours of work a day for a big chunk of the year. Of course I was extremely efficient in those few hours, but while at work I just did the essentials. I ran my experiments, I helped others when needed to keep the lab/experiments running, and I wrote papers. I attended meetings and only the most relevant research or professional development seminars. The only real ‘extras’ I did were serving on a panel and picking back up facilitation of a career development group I had begun before taking my leave, things I really cared about. I did not write any grants. I did not start any new lines of research. I did not join any new groups or committees. I went to two conferences when my baby was young (with my partner and/or mother there to help take care of the baby), which I had signed up for while pregnant. I did not register for any future conferences, and I did not regret that one bit. I don’t know exactly what changed after the first year, but things started to fall into place in a way that allowed me to pick up some new things. In part, things got more routine with the baby, but I didn’t consciously think that. At the same time, some appealing opportunities arose – some funding opportunities came up that I didn’t want to pass up; some professional development opportunities seemed important enough for me to commit some time to. So now I’m working just a little bit longer days (still not more than 8 hours including evening work, on average) with less time out for pumping, and doing a few extra things. I feel good! I basically trimmed the fat from my time, and I don’t think anyone else was really affected. There was one opportunity I felt a little bad about missing that would have allowed me the opportunity to interact a little more closely with several PIs, but I couldn’t work it out with my partner’s schedule. Even including that I felt virtually no work-related guilt the whole year. I attribute this to my actions matching my priorities, something that is easier said than done. An important aspect of this was that my mindset wasn’t hugely different pre-baby – work was always just work to me – so I didn’t have a major shift in priorities or learning how to re-balance them. What about you? Would a period of saying NO to any extras help you re-prioritize?

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Training Wheels

(by Danielle) Apr 06 2017

In the time since I wrote my last post, a lot has happened. I was forcibly elevated to fifth year PhD candidate status. Then sixth, though I was writing and had an exit strategy when that happened so I noticed it less. I secured a fellowship I thought I’d love, and now I love it. I angstily completed my PhD training, wrote and defended a dissertation, and filed the final edits two weeks ago. And now I write to you from my rather delightful home office (it’s a dining table). IMG_8757From here on out, I’m unanonymizing myself. Anonymous posting made sense for me when I started writing. (Deep thought: Anonymous posting was training wheels for my writing.) But now it doesn’t seem like I need anonymity to say what’s on my mind. So… Hello! I am Danielle. You can read more about me here, here, here, and check me out on GitHub where I don’t write much code but manage to contribute to a lot of projects anyway.

I am now a mentor. Mentorship – what a mentor is, what the expectations are on either side, and how to communicate well within a mentor-mentee relationship – has been a challenging issue for me over course of my PhD training. I feel excited and uncertain to be a mentor myself. As a part of the Open Leadership Training Series I am mentoring two projects, Why Not Open Science and NeuroTechEDU. Each project is at a different stage of development. On the surface, the projects are smaller than a PhD, however each has the potential to grow and have a big impact on its community. Each is a science related project, albeit with different audiences (academic researchers and anyone interested in DIY projects to learn more about the brain, respectively). I’m not an expert in either survey research or neurotech / hardware hacking. But as it turns out, I don’t need to be as long as I can show up and listen.

We expect a lot from mentors. We want them to support us and help us develop. We want their time and their availability. We want them to listen. We want them to have feedback that feels useful. In academia, not all who serve as official mentors get training in how to mentor or even how to manage a research group.

I’ve had two very positive and productive relationships with academic mentors and two that were less positive and less productive for everyone. Near the end of my PhD – while I was really struggling with my PhD advisor – I am embarrassed to admit how much angst and emotional processing it took to accept that I would never get the kind of support I felt I needed from that particular PhD mentor. Once I accepted that, I saw that I was getting that support from other mentors – faculty in other departments, my program director, my peers, some cool deans, and others in my professional network. I wish I could go back and tell my past self to chill out and appreciate these other mentors rather than spending energy being angry about the PhD advisor. But I guess we need to learn some things the hard way? Now that it’s in the past, it is easier to see some of the reasons why it went wrong. These experiences with mentors –  the good and the less good – have shaped the way I approach mentorship.

I have often lamented that researchers who run labs get no formal mentorship training yet are able to take on PhD students and postdocs. In fact just today, while giving the NINDS Workforce Survey a piece of my mind I snarked, “The ability to write a grant likely does not correlate with the ability to run a group.” And now, I’ve taken my own advice and engaged in a formal mentorship program.

As an Open Leadership Training Series mentor I participated in a mentor training session with Abby Cabunoc Mayes. This half day session was like training wheels for mentoring. We did role playing. We talked about our feelings. We learned how to apply the GROW model in conversation (Goal, Reality, Options, Way Forward). We learned to just listen, ask questions, and let our mentees come to their own conclusions on the options and way forward – without filling up time with our own opinions and ideas.

My new identity as a mentor is about a month old. Participating in the Open Leadership Training Series mentor training, This training has already impacted my communication style. Whenever acronyms designed to help managers come in to play things can get cheesy. But for me, these exercises made my question many of my habits and patterns of communication. I’m inspired by the projects I’m mentoring and feel like I have the support I need to mentor these projects. I’ll keep you posted!

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Why I’m Hopeful

(by notarealteachers) Mar 28 2017

Today, it is easy to be discouraged about the state of the world. On NPR today, I heard about the hunger crisis. Yesterday, I talked to a P.I. at a large research institution in despair about the proposed budget and its impact on research. My students come to school on a regular basis in near tears about the state of immigration, health care or the most recent crisis of the day. I have been guilty of burying my head to some degree, for my mental health. But recently, I had the privilege of taking part in a panel regarding the role of STEM education on girls.

I was invited to participate in the panel because I coach a science extracurricular activity at an all-female school. I had few of my students participating, and other faculty and high school girls were invited to be on the panel. When the day rolled around, I was grumpy about having agreed to participate. My children were both sick, I had family in town and it was rush hour when I had to drive across town. Adding insult to injury, the audience was composed of a measly smattering of elderly people; I’m not sure what I’d expected, but I’d hoped for a least a few more people.

The point of the event was to showcase efforts being put into encouraging young women to go into science and technology. The responses of the teenagers astounded me. The totally understood the perceived and stereotyped behaviors of women in STEM in a way I never did as an adolescent. They demonstrated a value for their own collaborative skills. And they left me feeling hopeful about future of women in science and tech.

When the moderator started asking us me questions, I realized how odd it was for me to be on this panel. I was sitting there giving “advice”, as a young person who had recently left science. Inevitably, as I introduced myself and my history, the moderator asked me the question: “so why did you leave research?”. Sure, I’d been asked that question before, but I’d never had to answer it publically or succinctly. And without realizing it, I had a great answer: I love science. After grad school, I was no longer interested in doing research. I was (and remain) interested in talking about science and I find it fulfilling and challenging. So girls, you should do what you love—I am. Sure, there were lifestyle reasons, but it ultimately came down to my personal interests.

Interestingly, I recently got an invitation to complete a survey about myIDP. It forced me to log in and revisit the assessment I’d done during graduate school. I completed it long before I transitioned to teaching and sort of wrote it off. In retrospect, they had me pegged before I was ready to admit it. So I guess my other advice would be to be open to suggestion—perhaps I’d have discovered teaching sooner if I had been more willing to do so. I’m hopeful that the next generation will be able to value and identify their own skills in STEM much more quickly than I have.


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Variability of sexist behavior

(by sweetscience) Mar 20 2017

“Science is not about conforming to an ideal, masculine or feminine, but instead relies on the diversity of perspective that gives rise to insight. The individuals do not derive identity from the group; the group is defined by the identity of its component individuals. Or, as I phrase it to myself, the point is not whether I think like other scientists do; it’s that one scientist – me – thinks like I do.”

I love this quote from the essay “The Truth is in The Distribution” by Indira Raman. Her article gives a number of liberating insights for women in science based on her personal perspectives, which I found to be refreshing.


In other parts of the essay, she extends the discussion of variability to the range of behavior – good and bad – observed in scientists, relating specifically to the challenges faced by women in science. This part hit home for me, as I had been thinking a lot about the circumstances under which I ascribed someone’s behavior to sexism. These thoughts come across best in the cases of two individuals I had been dealing with.

Case 1 – a young man, fellow postdoc. In informal seminars where discussion is encouraged but usually occurs at low levels, he often interjected to ask the presenter (usually female) a question, but more often, to share a story or concern of his that was similar. In one instance where a fellow female postdoc was giving a practice talk for a presentation at a conference and several faculty members started critiquing her, the male postdoc added in his generic talk advice.

Case 2 – a young woman, research technician. In lab when faced with a problem, she would ask my advice. I would give her advice such as, “I would do X.” She would respond, “I’ll just do X.” What I just said, rephrased to sound like she just thought of it and didn’t need my advice after all. I never heard her do this with a man, including those more junior to me in the lab.

In the first case, my initial reaction was to label this guy a classic mansplainer, and consider how I could talk to him about what he was doing. After some thought and further observation, I recognized that he is just a super-talkative guy who believes everything he thinks is important enough to be said out loud, though he wasn’t typically condescending, and it was just circumstance that made him look like a mansplainer since he was often the only male in the room*. In the second case, my first reaction was to think this was just a really annoying way of talking through ideas. But after thinking more, I believe she is a mansplainer, who doesn’t like any idea unless it comes from her own mouth, but only when the other party is a woman.

So I realized that I was quick to ascribe bad behavior to sexism in a man and quick to forgive bad behavior as a personality trait in a woman, and it is important to consider the individual as only representing him or herself. That said, however… there are clearly patterns of bad behavior, and the range and variability of those patterns are not the only important metrics – the number of women affected by sexism (i.e. virtually all women) is arguably the most important, as was brought to collective awareness by the #YesAllWomen counter to #NotAllMen trends. Therefore, whenever we see sexism at play, even from a small number of men, we can’t simply write it off as individual variability. That is where I felt Raman’s essay was lacking – by accepting that it is a relatively small number of offending individuals making the field more difficult for women, it can indeed be liberating, but it remains essential to act against sexism where we see it, as well as proactively. She does acknowledge that she appreciates these efforts and that is not the focus of her essay.

For my part, I will continue to try to be more judicious in my own evaluations of people’s behavior that may or may not appear sexist to me, remembering the range in people of all sexes.


*Though of course it is valid to consider him (and us) a product of our culture generating this male-typical behavior, making it no coincidence at all that the only man in the room was also the only one who felt like his ideas were important enough to interject.

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I’m Not Oppressed

(by saraswatiphd) Mar 16 2017

“I don’t see gender. I don’t think men and women should be viewed separately. I also don’t see color. I don’t distinguish between black and white. I see people. That’s what I do – I see people. When you separate genders and races, you run into trouble. That’s where problems can begin. You know, so many women in this country think they are oppressed. They are not! They are not oppressed in this country like women in other countries are. And don’t even get me started on the gender wage gap. It is simply untrue. It does not exist. Women in the US are not oppressed and they get paid the same as men!!!”

I sat in my senior colleague’s office in the upper management position in my company listening to a rather heated response to my “oh you’re wearing a red shirt, is that for Women’s Day (March 8th)? I didn’t know you were such a feminist.” Perhaps I should’ve been more careful than to imply that he may be wearing a color in solidarity of celebrating International Women’s Day. And no, he does not celebrate Women’s Day as it turned out. In fact, he appeared to express strong feelings not only about celebrating the day, but also about women’s “oppression complaints.” I couldn’t quite process that at the time – having just attended a weekend-long very intensive conference on neurological consequences of inflammation and recovering from a rather ill-timed stomach flu my children generously shared with me the moment I stepped off the plane – my own brain was probably succumbing to an inflammatory cytokine storm of my own. No, I did not respond. I sat speechless. Incapacitated.

That night and the following day, I couldn’t get my colleague’s remarks out of my head. Having just attended an amazing conference, where PhDs, MDs and NDs got together to discuss global disease patterns; I, on the one hand, was reveling in the fact how amazing that I get to go to conferences of such nature with incredibly motivated, intelligent scientists and clinicians… And on the other hand… Well, let me take you back to the conference.

I encountered a Santa-looking older MD at this conference who attended a talk of mine last December. He asked so many thoughtful questions in December, that I sought his attention at this conference, and started chatting with him. The conversation, at first, so inspiring and exciting, turned a more… interesting (troubling? creepy?) direction. After probing me for “are you married/do you have kids/how old are you” sort of questions, he steered the conversation into the realm “whoa, your husband is so lucky to have you. How did he get you? Did you have a lot of boyfriends before him?”

Um. Excuse me? What did you just ask me? And when did it become ok to ask these questions? Remember, we were just talking about adrenal health. Not my, what was it, personal life. WHICH IS NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS!!!

I excused myself. Told him I was getting tired and needed some rest before the next day’s talks started.

The next morning, I felt bad (why? what is wrong with me?) – I didn’t want him to think that I was rude or short or whatever else that women are taught not to do or be. I came up to him in the morning (short break = can’t stay too long to chat) and followed up on a question he asked me the night before. A scientific question. Not a personal creepy one. I sat next to him in a char. I was dressed down. My feet hurt from the night before. I wore keds, khakis and a sweater. He was staring at me while I talked. Then he placed his hand on my shoulder (personal space, dude!) and said that I looked so lovely “dressed down.” He kept saying that. Over and over. He also told me he “had a very nice time chatting with me last night.” Ok. It was time to go. So I wrapped up. But before I sprinted back to my seat, he told me how beautiful my hands were. And that I “must take very good care of them.” My hands thanked him. And my hands and I bolted.

Needless to say I avoided eye contact with him for the rest of the conference.

You know, when these things happen, I am always caught off guard. I think “they can’t possibly mean what they are saying/doing.” I try to make excuses – they are socially awkward, etc. etc. But in reality, there are not excuses. This was my third conference I attended, representing my company. This is the third time an older MD dude asked me exactly “how old I was.” This is the first time, however, someone went as far as to ask me very prying details of my personal life, touched me by my shoulder, commented on my hands. It is probably not the last.

So what I have to say is this – no, I do not feel oppressed. But the gender gap is more real than ever in the professional world. I would’ve liked to see the look on my colleague’s face when someone started prying into his life, asked him how old he was, and violated his personal space. Perhaps it is not only relevant but also very important that we understand gender differences. And celebrate them. We can then move on from what a stereotypically “smart” and respectable clinician or scientist ought to look like. And if a professional does not fit the stereotype, it does not mean there is an invitation to be asshole. Ever!

What frustrates me the most is not what is said. It is how I react or rather don’t react while I’m in this situation. Where exactly do I take a class on how to tell a jerk to go fuck himself in a polite, respectable manner?



4 responses so far

Motherly endeavors

(by strongerthanfiction) Mar 09 2017

Happy International Women’s day!
In this post, I will be talking about something specific to women -mothers in particular: breastfeeding. I had a lot of anxiety, trials and tribulations when it came to breastfeeding my baby. It took a lot of practice, and for some reason, the process and all the transitions were very confusing to me. My personal goal was to breastfeed for 6 months. Maybe writing about my experience here can help someone else in the future.
Figuring out breastfeeding
Both my baby and I had a very difficult time in the first few days. The hospital lactation consultant sent us home with some extra stuff to help us out. Baby didn’t really eat the first couple days. Once we were shown how to supplement baby through syringe tubes and droppers, they let us go home, but the first 10 days were extremely stressful. Because baby wasn’t gaining weight, we had more frequent check ups, and a few 1-on-1 appointments with lactation consultants.
Thankfully, I have an awesome coworker that reached out and let me know about breastfeeding support groups in my area (totally free, no strings attached). I was very hesitant to go, at first, and really didn’t want to drive anywhere. But I am really glad I did. Seeing other moms dealing with some of the same things made me feel less crazy. And the scale that helped us figure out how many ounces of milk baby was drinking was also helpful. The combination of all of these people helped me to deal with my extreme emotions about why things weren’t going great, and more importantly, helped me work toward solutions and strategies instead of getting worried and upset about our slow progress.
In those first few weeks, I was totally not prepared for the crazy schedule. I know baby class tried really hard to prepare us, and I heard what they said, but I was definitely not prepared. Specific to breastfeeding – baby needs to eat every 2-3 hours for the first several weeks-months. That sounds pretty straighforward, right? What I didn’t realize was that baby could take 20-30 minutes….per side… per feeding……. That is a LOT of time. And NOT a lot of time in between. That was the hardest part for me. But after the first month or so things got a lot better. The feedings got a lot shorter, and the interval between feedings got a little longer (especially at night, which meant more sanity for me, yay!)
Fast forward to work
Going back to work full time right away was a big change, and at three months my baby was still eating every 2-3 hours during the day. It was important for me to not miss one of those “feedings” because I new that consistency was important for supply. I gave up working out  in the morning (my normal workout time) for the first few months after going back to work. I would breastfeed baby right before leaving for work, and then again about 2.5 hrs later (mid-morning). Then again at lunch, and again in the afternoon before I left for the day. Then I would rush back home after work to get one feeding in early evening, and then again at bedtime. I did this for 3-4 months until I was getting substantially less per pumping session than I was originally. Then I went to two sessions at work during the day. Oh how wonderful it was to get my lunchtime with friends back!!! This went on for several months until I was again producing a lot less. I went down to one session at work, but that didn’t last too long. Eventually the only time I was breastfeeding was first thing in the morning and right before bed. We made it to 10 months before breastfeeding rather abruptly ended for us.
Pumping place a.k.a lactation room (have a backup plan)
It was refreshing for me to learn that my law (can’t remember if it was nation, state or local), said that any employer having more than 50 employees is required to provide a place to pump. It cannot be a restroom. Unfortunately, even some of my male coworker friends with kids whose wives pumped assumed the bathroom was the go-to place. I found it very useful to immediately say to anyone who suggested it (even whose intentions were the best) “would you prepare your lunch in the workplace/public restroom?; this is lunch for my infant”.
Personally, I was provided a very comfortable space. Only twice did that close and lock the area where the room was without telling me to go out to lunch for the next hour and a half.  :/ It was acceptable to me (although not ideal) to go down to my car and plug in my adapter to pump in these instances. I did have a kinda dark parking garage to go into, and there was no one that really would have seen me. I can imagine this would be very distressing to me if I had taken public transportation or had my car in a busy area.
Babies grow, time flies
Looking back, I am very proud of the journey. It has some gnarly challenges, but it was so beautiful and well worth all the tears and pain. I would do it all over again.

2 responses so far

I’m pregnant YAY!!! Now what?!

(by Curiouser&Curiouser) Feb 21 2017

Long time readers of this blog may know that my husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for many years. Well, it finally worked!!! I’m now 31 weeks along and we are beyond excited. We had our babyshower the other weekend and I was so grateful, not just because it was beautiful, fun and delicious, but also because it felt like such an amazing milestone in this journey.

I couldn’t believe it when our doctor first called to say that I was pregnant. I was totally convinced it hadn’t worked, after so many failures I couldn’t imagine we’d get pregnant on our first round of IVF. I’d just wrapped up a major project at work and had decided to take 2 weeks off. We did the implantation and then took a road trip and went camping for the next few days. I tried not to focus on what may or may not be happening in my body and just enjoy myself – although I was less than pleased when I got bitten by 2 mosquitoes in the first 5 minutes setting up the tent (OMG zika?). When we got home I decided not to get my hopes up and didn’t take a pregnancy test, after all I didn’t feel nearly as terrible as I had with any of my previous pregnancies so I couldn’t be pregnant, just goes to show what I know/knew.

The first 4-5months were scary and exciting. We were trying not to get our hopes up that this one might work, but I also didn’t want to miss the joy of it. My husband didn’t get excited until he saw me throwing up – I usually have a stomach of steel and hadn’t gotten morning sickness any of the previous times– unfortunately, me throwing up would become a pretty common site up untill… well actually I’m still waiting for that loveliness to end, but never mind.

Trying to figure out who to tell when was tough. I decided to let our environmental health and safety person know pretty much right away since I work with isofluorane and other toxic stuff. They were great and had people come test the lab and me right away (although they did accidently forward an email with the info that there was an un-named pregnant person in the group to a few of my colleagues, which was a little awkward, but it worked out fine). I had to make some work modifications so I told one of my coworkers when asking for help at around 8weeks.

When my boss asked me for an updated plan for our upcoming year-long study, which I obviously wouldn’t be able to complete before my due date, I decided to tell him that I was pregnant (at 10.5 weeks). I was really really nervous to tell him, after all, I’d just finished one big study and we weren’t going to start the new one for a few months – and I’d need to go out on leave partway through – it would almost make sense if they let me go (I know they probably couldn’t easily do that legally, but I’m a worrier and I always try to think up the worst case scenario). My fears were totally misplaced, my boss has been so supportive and a huge advocate for me. He encouraged me to accept help – which felt totally unnatural – and helped me to realize that I probably wouldn’t be comfortable running 8hours of behavior for weeks at a time at 8.5mo pregnant. Now that I’m getting a little closer to the end and I’m still retching, dealing with back aches and having to take breaks every few hours to eat and test my blood glucose (yup I got gestational diabetes) I’m so thankful! He also brought up the option of my coming back part time for a little while once my maternity leave is over! I don’t know if I will take him up on this offer, but I am so grateful that it might be an option and I feel so supported.

Hopefully, everything will keep on going (pretty) smoothly both with the baby and at work and I can’t wait to report back what it’s like having a newborn while working in industry.

4 responses so far

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