Archive for: November, 2015

Some more thoughts on networking – my two cents

Nov 30 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

It’s been five years since I received my PhD and I think I might be starting to enter a new phase in my career. For those of us without the imposed timelines of “K” and “R” awards career staging can be a little fuzzy. Unlike academia, where there are often guidelines about job titles, in industry I think we just make it all up. What it means to be a Scientist or a Research Fellow at one company does NOT translate to the next. So, without those benchmarks, I realized that I’m no longer just starting out in my career from my interactions on networking sites like linkedin and research gate.


StrongerThanFiction just posted a great piece on the evolution of her relationship with networking. I totally agree with how she used to feel about networking. It stressed me out! I used to spend hours trying to write an email to ask someone for a meeting, and I remember sitting in front of my computer agonizing about whether or not to ask someone to add me to their linkedin network. I still worry about adding my boss and coworkers on linkedin because I don’t want them to think that I might be looking for a new job, but overall I’m much more comfortable reaching out.


I’ve been participating in a few career panels and I recently got back from the Society for Neuroscience conference where I got to talk with a bazillion (ok maybe not a bazillion, but it was a lot) of people. I think because of these events I’ve been getting a fair number of people adding me on linkedin. Being on the receiving side of these requests has given me few insights into online networking.


  1. Rather than asking a stranger out of the blue if they know of any jobs you might be a good fit for, try asking for an informational interview (either in person or over email). The hiring process and the company hierarchy is often opaque from the outside and it can be hard to know who to reach out to for information about a company, which is where asking for an informational interview can be invaluable!

Here are a couple of links to good tips on asking for and conducting informational interviews

Remember, do your homework and check out the person and company you are interviewing, prepare questions and keep it brief.


  1. Unless you are adding a friend or someone you know well, include a message. I’ve noticed that when I meet people briefly in a large group, I may not remember everyone. If I just get a linkedin add from a name I do not recognize I may not to add them. However, if I get an add from someone who lets me know how/where they met me I happily do.


  1. Follow up! If you ask someone for help and they take the time to respond, even if it doesn’t work out, thank them for their time. Not only does doing so make you stand out positively, you never know what will happen in the future.


Do you have any more tips? Check out our new linkedin group to start a conversation


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Geeking out

Nov 25 2015 Published by under clothes, motherhood

When a neuroscientist mom who likes to sew has a child —


she makes a neuron costume for Halloween with DNA in the nucleus, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, spines as on shoulders, and a hat with dendrites (the child refused to wear leg warmers as myelin sheath).

When the neuroscientist Mom has two kids, she tries to convince them they want to dress up as a neuron and glia (using the same costume above). She is only fervently rejected.


When a scientist has a baby —


she dresses her in apparel with scientific devices.

IMG_20110728_081045 (1)

Or scientific information (The onesie says, brought to you by letters G, C, A, and T, and the number 23).


When a scientist has too much time on her hands —


She searches for nerdy items online…like in Etsy.


How do you geek out?

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Having it both ways: on changing – and keeping – my name

Nov 17 2015 Published by under having it all, transitions, women in science

If I can find a way to get exactly what I want without compromising, why shouldn’t I go for it? That’s what I thought when I made the decision about my name, a personal choice that people make for many reasons, as has been written about by others. When I got married, I was a postdoc with several publications from graduate school that were important for my future career, and knew I wanted to keep my name for consistency in my CV, publication record, and network. But I also appreciate tradition and wanted to have the same last name as my partner and future children.

So I did both! I changed my name legally to my partner’s last name, and I continued to use my original name professionally. It was never even a difficult decision for me. I asked around and heard from a number of people that this was possible, though I never met someone in science who had actually done it. A friend had a mother who had done this and said that it was often difficult because she would use the names interchangeably and so others never knew which name to ask for, but I thought that since I am very good at keeping distinctions this would be no problem for me.

The institution at which I worked when I got married was so easy to make the change with – when I submitted the forms to change my legal name, I simply submitted an additional form to use one name legally and another name professionally. This allowed me to change everything with my insurance, taxes, etc., but maintain everything business related with my professional name. It was a system that was already in place which worked beautifully and I never had any issues there.

At my next (current) job, I found right away that there were going to be difficulties. I thought that since this was a bigger institution there would surely be the same kind of practical solutions in place as my previous employer had – surely many people had come before me who had used this system. But no, there was nothing for it! I had to choose one. I tried to work around the system – I ended up registering everything in the beginning with my professional name so that I could get an email address and ID badge according to what I wanted for business. Then I submitted all the documents to change my legal name as I would if I had just gotten married – what a pain! It generally worked the way I wanted, but with a couple of complications. First, there is supposedly no way to change my name in the directory – it has to be my legal name; so if any of my colleagues try to look me up with my business name they can’t find me at all. The other issue that comes up more often is that even though the distinction is clear to me where I should use each name, it is not clear where my institution uses each, so I have to be prepared for either. It can be a waste of time trying to work with someone to find the right name in the system, and it can be embarrassing when a colleague is with me and I have to explain the whole thing.

So far, besides the hassles described above, I’d say there’s only been a real problem once. I traveled to a professional conference, which I registered for under my business name. I traveled using my legal name, of course, and brought appropriate identification. When I tried to register in-person for the conference, they had a strict policy of only giving the packet, which included a Visa gift card used for food at the conference, to registrants with ID. But I don’t have any legal identification with my original name (besides my original birth certificate and marriage certificate, which I am not in the habit of carrying with me), and I hadn’t even brought my institutional ID with my business name. They eventually let me register when I showed them my confirmation email, but it was a major hassle.

I anticipate a handful of experiences like this in the rest of my career. If I was going to be at my present institution longer, I would try to see if I could make improvements to the current system for myself and for others to follow who may need similar situations, but I don’t have that fight in me today and am just trying to make due the best I can for now.

Would I recommend this choice to others? Yes. Would I do it again if I was to do it over? I don’t know… I’ve since thought more and more that I might prefer to keep my own name – and deal with whatever hassles come from that decision to have two last names in the same family. But as it is, I am definitely proud to have each name, and I encourage people to not feel stuck choosing between options when you can have it all!

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The price of gender inequality

Nov 09 2015 Published by under gender inequality, pay gap

I applaud any company that makes an effort to pay their male and female employees the same. Every company should do it, so it ought not be special. Out of my dreamworld and back in reality though, it is rare enough that it is special. Thus it is worthwhile and important to praise those companies that do.

However, this leading line made me cock my head and raise an eyebrow.

The price of gender equality: $3 million.”

What this sentence refers to is that the software company Salesforce reviewed all of its salaries adjusted the female employees’ salaries so that men and women are paid the same.

An alternate leading sentence:

“The price of gender inequality: $3 million”

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Discussing obstacles for women in science – when is the right time?

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Ben Barres speak at my institution. His talk about his research on reactive astrocytes (something I knew nothing about) was very intriguing. But what I want to comment on here is the 5-minute aside he took in the middle of the talk to discuss obstacles that women in science face. He brought up some issues that I was aware of and some that I wasn’t – i.e. the fact that by his estimate, around 95% of women have been hit on at conferences, making women less likely to feel comfortable attending networking/social events, potentially inhibiting their careers, similar to the column by Kelly Baker today advocating codes of conduct at conferences. All those points were thought-provoking and important, but that’s not my primary focus here either.

What really struck me was simply the fact that Dr. Barres, a prominent name with a large draw (as the Chair of Neurobiology at Stanford among other notable experiences), pointedly took time from his resesarch-focused talk, when he had a captive audience, to bring up this issue that is so clearly important to him, and to many of us.

As I looked around the crowded auditorium I saw that, as usual, 75% of the audience consisted of a combination of old white men (PIs) and young women (grad students, postdocs), while the other 25% were mostly young men and a few senior women. I thought to myself, “Who in this crowd would have ever chosen to attend a talk about the obstacles that women face in science?” I would wager that it would almost exclusively be the young women – those with the most at stake in the issue, yet those who are arguably the least capable of removing the obstacles.

For that matter, if one engaged senior PIs in a conversation about sexism in science, would they be receptive to hearing the message or would they take the opportunity to state their own view, or dismiss the conversation out of hand? In the context of Barres’s presentation, they had virtually no choice but to sit and politely listen without inserting their own response.

In short, I thought this was a brilliant way of getting an important message heard, forcing people who could and would avoid or ignore the issue in other situations, the people who really need to be aware of the issues and how they need to be the ones to act to change them, to actually listen. While I would not advocate or appreciate every academic talk turning into a political soapbox, I would love to see more prominent people taking on important and relevant issues like how we can foster women and underrepresented minorities in science.

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