Archive for: October, 2015

The benefits of networking – thoughts on what that really means

For years, networking was a terrifying word to me. In the past, it meant going a mile out of my comfort zone to find the biggest bigwigs at a meeting or seminar and getting their attention somehow. And trying to force conversation that hard is just painful, and I would end up falling on my face. Often hearing in school that I “should” be networking to advance my career just made my stomach do flips. What I realize now is that I had a huge misconception about what that word really was, and the people promoting this idea never really stopped to explain it to me. Thankfully, over the years, I have gained a much more profound understanding of what it is. My ideas about networking have gone through a beautiful evolution to the point that networking seems effortless, and I actually look forward to these opportunities. Net-building happens in ways you can’t always anticipate, and at times you don’t even know it is happening. It is fun for me to reflect back and try to see some of the webs that have been formed in my life, some of which have gotten me where I am today, and others that have perhaps influenced someone else’s path. Allow me attempt to unpack what this formerly terrifying word really means to me, today. Networking is NOT about only looking forward. I am referring to the bigwigs here. Networking is more about looking around in all directions. It is important (in lots of ways) that interactions are with people at ALL stages of their career. When I reflect back on my own experiences, the people who I previously thought I was supposed to network with have been the least helpful in carving the path I took to where I am at. One misconception I had about networking was that it was only about what I could get out of the interaction. I have gotten where I am by networking, but it wasn’t in ways that I thought. Often it was the lateral connections that have made the most impact on me, like: talking with other postdocs – sorting out the pros and cons of our goals, strengths and weaknesses, teaching with other people and having casual conversations about what they value and dislike about their current path, and talking with friends and former peers who are no longer in academia to see how their lives have changed. It was one of my friends who pointed out the opening for the government job I have now. While the numerous conversations I had with both my graduate school and postdoc mentor were insightful for one particular path, it was very limited in perspective. And I like to think I have provided insight to those mentees I have worked with. I always go out of my way to get coffee or lunch with people who want to know more. I love following their career paths as they graduate and get their first and subsequent jobs. I find it very satisfying to participate in the bio sci mentor program as an alumnus. This slightly ties into the larger issue of women in STEM in general. Often, younger female students don’t get enough exposure to the reality of working in STEM. Currently, 36 percent of high school students within the United States are not ready for college-level sciences. Misha Malyshev, CEO of Teza Technologies works with nonprofits to curb that number. International Day of the Girl is a great time to celebrate the women in this field, and every field, and recognize the opportunities allowed to girls. This will take effort on our part as we progress in our career paths. There will always be girls that come after us, and we should step up to the responsibility of mentoring, even though we will never have it all figured out. Day of Girl Networking is more effective if you express your genuine thoughts, ideas and questions. Another one of the misconceptions I had about networking is that I had to have a crystal clear understanding of myself and what I wanted before I “networked” so that the superstar I was supposed to rub shoulders with could help get me to where I wanted to be. It gave me so much anxiety to think that I had to know where I wanted to be while I was still in high school and college, and even grad school. As a result, it was almost like I had to create a character for myself (who I thought I wanted to be in the future) and only interact within these bounds. This had the unfortunate effect of preventing me from asking questions – questions that probably would have given me a lot more insight into figuring out who I wanted to be. Referring to the women in STEM example I gave above, if younger women had a more real understanding of what STEM careers are really like, these numbers might be different. Now, what networking means to me is having casual conversations with all kinds of people. What I have found to be most effective is trying to put myself in their shoes, a point that this article also makes. I try to understand their perspective on where they are at in their careers, or the interesting issues they are having to deal with at work. It has led to some fascinating conversations. Knowing what I know now and being rather new to my field, I try to follow up with those contacts I have had a meaningful conversation with. I send an email about how much I enjoyed chatting with them, how they have added to my understanding of x,y, or z, and any offer to follow up on a,b, or c. I want people to remember who I am. I know I have a lot to learn, and I believe I have a lot to offer. I have no idea what opportunities will come my way in the future, but I want to be in the best position I can to tackle them, and be in the best position to offer meaningful insight to people who are searching! I would love to hear other people’s networking successes and/or experiences to learn from.

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The struggle is real

Oct 22 2015 Published by under academia, having it all, uncertainty

Since I have been a postdoc I have struggled with my career identity. This is not my first post on the subject.

In grad school I was very happy. I had an incredibly supportive mentor. I had success in lab. I had the time to work as hard as I needed. Obviously a career as a professor at a research focused university was for me!

Toward the end of grad school I started to have some doubts. The number of experiments I had done that weren’t going to see the light of day was depressing. The balance between scientific rigor and competing against splashy publications seemed challenging. But things still seemed manageable and I forged ahead toward a postdoc anyways.

Many things were different when I started my postdoc. I had a kid! My mentor was much less supportive. I didn’t have the community I had had in grad school. My commute length, now including childcare drop-off, had more than quadrupled. On top of all that I didn’t have great success in lab and I switched projects three times in the first year.

So basically from the start of my postdoc I had a million reasons to question the tenure track life. To question whether I could do it. Whether I wanted to do it. The dream of a faculty position persisted in fits and starts but I spent long hours daydreaming of other careers or being a stay home mom.

There are many difficulties of being a PI but most of them I see as challenges to be overcome, not things that would prevent my career progression. The one that always holds me back is time. I work 40 hours a week and can’t imagine working more. I am — with children, commuting, working out, doing chores — busy until 9 pm every day. When am I supposed to work more? I’m afraid if I work on the weekends I’ll feel out of touch with my family and myself and lose my sanity. I feel strongly that my quality of life is important and I don’t want to give it up for anything.

I just attended a large conference in my field. There are so many inspiring people doing such neat research. People with children. People who seem happy! Busy, yes, but happy. Am I being too quick to shy away from something because it will be hard? Maybe if I paid for more help around the house (an investment in my career!) I would see the extra career work as manageable.

It is hard for me when people ask why I don’t want to be a PI. It is hard because part of me really loves the idea at being a professor. I love research (on good days anyway). I love mentoring. I don’t mind writing and I like the idea of laying out experiments in a grant. I’m really just scared that I won’t have the energy for all of it and I’ll end up unhappy. I’m scared that if I’m unhappy I won’t feel able to step back and reclaim my time.

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One Year In

Oct 16 2015 Published by under female scientist, gratitude, happiness

Happy anniversary to us! We’ve now been writing and sharing our stories for a whole year here at A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman. It’s been great for us individually, and especially as a group interacting and discussing the issues of our lives and careers. And thanks to those of you who’ve added to the conversations in comments and guest blogs!

Most importantly, we hope that our writings on our own experiences have enriched the blogosphere and helped our readers find something they identify with or new ideas to consider.

It’s been a big year for women in science, from prestigious awards (ie a Nobel Prize, MacArthur Fellow) to media drawing attention to sexist views and policies (sexist attire, sexual harassment, conference demographics). While we occasionally touch on some of these issues (ie Tim Hunt), we’ve mostly focused on our own experiences.

Each one of us has an individual experience of being a woman in science and yet each of us can see ourselves in each other’s stories. We hope that by reading our struggles, our decisions, our ups and downs you too can see a little of yourself.

Thank you readers for your support! Keep posting comments - we love hearing your thoughts and reactions and knowing how we reach people. Feedback is also welcome - what would you like to see more of from us in the future?

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A Whole New Wardrobe.

I dedicate this post to my dear friend Karen…

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Prior to starting my new job I needed to go shopping for new clothes. I don’t love shopping. I used to love it before I had children. Now it feels like another chore, and it takes forever just to get through the mall, and then finding something that looks good on you, that has a reasonable price tag and that is work-appropriate is an additional challenge. All things considered, I knew that going shopping and updating my wardrobe to fit with my new role as a (official! Grown up! No longer a student/postdoc! Woo Hoo!) scientist was a necessity, as my old partially bleached and/or permanent marker stained postdoc clothes was not going to cut it. Still, why bother going shopping for a new wardrobe one might ask? Sounds like a very superficial thing to worry about for a scientist who takes themselves seriously? Well, it would be nice to pretend that caring about what one looks like doesn’t matter. But that is not the case. As you can see, this topic has been discussed here, and here. It is like we are expected to look nice, however we shouldn’t talk about it, in fear of bursting the effortlessness bubble of how we should “have it all” and “look good (and effortless) doing it.”

How you present yourself matters. My reasons for seeking a new wardrobe all had to do with me growing into a professional I so yearned to be. The team I was going to manage has been comprised of people who have worked with the company for many years, and who actually are older than me. It was this intimidation factor of not knowing what to expect that drove me to try and attempt to control the uncontrollable, and at least get myself looking respectable. Chemicalbilology addressed it in one of her blog entries, which took on an interesting angle of ornery undergrads not respecting her style of teaching. And why? Having spent enough time TA-ing undergrads at that very institution (and postdoc-ing with Chemicalbilology), I know it was because she didn’t wear tweed jackets with elbow patches, or knit sweater vests and pleated pants. So I was determined to buy a wardrobe that spoke for itself about the excitement for the new position from my perspective, and not from a perspective of a middle-aged man with a poor fashion sense.  Through my newly acquired clothing I wanted to convey my enthusiasm for meeting my team, and learning all the awesome ways that I could contribute to their overall already awesome professional spirit. This sounds a bit shallow, how could my clothing choices affect my team’s overarching awesomess? I guess I was just trying to adjust my confidence levels, after all, if you look as fabulous as Kerry Washington in “Scandal,” you’re bound to kick butt, right? Or Gillian Anderson in “The Fall,” or even Charlotte or Miranda (it will take me some time to grow in to Samantha’s outfits, and for the most part, Carrie’s outfits have always been intriguing and questionable for me). And certainly, my inspiration was inspired by Stacy and Clinton from way back when I had time to watch really good bad TV.

Blog Post 10 Olivia_Pope


Blog 10 Gillian-Anderson


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