Archive for: May, 2016

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

May 26 2016 Published by under academia, early career scientist, publishing, research

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.

5 responses so far

No Guilt

May 18 2016 Published by under having it all, motherhood

Working mothers have a lot of guilt. Even before becoming pregnant, women worry about the perception of them in the workplace as women of a certain age – that they will have babies and take time off. They in fact may want to do just that, so the guilt appears before they have done anything.

When we get pregnant it really begins. Doctors appointments, morning sickness, complications take time or concentration away from work. “I should be working harder!” the voice says. “You are letting everyone down!” the voice says. And of course when the baby comes there’s the double whammy of guilt about not working enough and not doing enough for the kid.

I am here to declare myself an anti-guilt crusader. Enough is enough! Working mothers work hard enough between home and work and the extra burden of guilt is unnecessary.

I have started the crusade with myself and have carried on with several of my fellow bloggers. Give yourself a break, feel no guilt.

Here is why:

  1. That guilt isn’t helping anyone! You know you are doing what you can and probably more people than you think see that as well.
  2. Everyone has fluctuations in their work hours and work focus. This is a phase and it will pass. Taking it easy on yourself will get you through it easier than beating yourself up about it.
  3. It is good for the world to have you working. Women bring a different perspective, different temperament to work places (there are lots of examples of how women benefit the workplace). Also, the world needs women to have babies. We currently have no other way to bring new people into the world! Despite this, working American mothers are some of the least supported in the world. You are needed. Don’t forget that.

So next time you start to feel guilty about this or that, stop. Take a deep breath. Tell yourself that you are doing your best. If you need help, drop me a line and I’ll talk you down.

7 responses so far

Challenges with Maternity (Disability) Leave

May 10 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

I will admit, this topic is nothing new, and has even been discussed on this blog. There have been a lot of great articles and media attention on this subject lately, and some baby steps in the right direction! However, it is an important topic, and the US does have a long way to go when it comes to maternity leave. In fact, my workplace doesn’t even have maternity leave! They call it disability leave. Yes, childbirth can set one back, physically, but considering it disability? Something that is healthy and normal in human society shouldn’t be considered a disability, in my opinion…

So, my thought with this post is not to introduce a new idea, but to share my personal experience with maternity leave.

As a first time mother, figuring out maternity leave has been a source of stress from the moment I found out I was pregnant. The first challenge was figuring out what benefits I did and didn’t have. This was especially difficult because I did not have some of the same state benefits that my friends at other employers had.

For example: a lot of my friends assumed that I would be able to stop working 4 weeks before my due date if I wanted, even just for normal pregnancy discomfort and fatigue. This was not the case for me. The thing that was especially frustrating about this was that my doctors office also assumed the same thing. I wanted to continue working up to my due date, but had some complications that made this ill-advised. To be taken out of work before labor and delivery required special paperwork submitted to my workplace. The doctors office was not accustomed to providing this documemtation because most of their patients (presumably) dont need it to stop working before delivery. Not only was this paperwork incredibly confusing to me, but the large health care provider I am covered by has their own set of paperwork that they use instead of the ones I provided. This made it difficult to know if my work disability office was getting everything they needed, because I could not work directly with the doctors office, but had to go through this “middleman” office, and have several phone conversations with my work disability office so that I could go back and talk to the health insurance disability office. In my case, I had to get the paperwork revised several times, because something was not right each time. One of these revisions required going to get the same note from a different doctor. At one point, my health insurer routed me through my primary care doctor to interpret some results even though I started off in the Labor and Delivery department, and that was not acceptable to my work disability office. They needed to see it coming from the OB/GYN department and not primary care. Really?! I felt that so many things about this were ridiculous.

Another major challenge was figuring out the timing of using the different types of leave that were available. To summarize – there was disability leave (pre-birth of necessary), disability leave from child birth (the length of which is dependent on type of delivery), the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (not paid), an additional state leave protection (not paid), and finally, my own vacation days. The disability leave was partially paid, but only after I had gone through a 30 day elimination period of using my own vacation or going unpaid.

Trying to map this out on a calendar when you don’t have some key dates (like the birth of my child) is like trying to put a puzzle together without the border pieces. On top of all this, my leave spans the end and start of a fiscal year, which comes with an additional vacation day, but only if I am at work the last day of the fiscal year. This is something that I only learned after a conversation with one very helpful person.

Navigating my maternity leave required so many in-person conversations (I tried to do as much of this as I could before I left work), emails and phone calls. And the quality of information I got was person-dependent, both on the work side and on the healthcare side. It took a lot of perseverance on my part. And every step of the way felt like I was fighting some big, impersonal system just to care for my child.

I did get through it, but with a strong feeling that change would be beneficial to families and workplaces everywhere. Luckily, my coworkers and immediate supervisors are very family friendly and supportive, and there was no pressure on that end to get back ASAP.  But, I am left with a feeling of resentment for my workplace in general. And, if I was in charge and worried about  retention and long term job satisfaction, that is not a feeling I would want to foster in my employees.

Future note: next year, an improvement is being made in my workplace to give parents (mother or father) an extra 30 days of vacation time.

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Are We Bitches?

In a conversation with one of my female colleagues recently, she referred to me as a “strong woman.” I was surprised to hear that. Maybe because I would really like to be viewed as a strong woman, but not sure I fulfill all the criteria. So then I got to thinking, what are the defining characteristics of a strong woman. What does it take to be strong? Passion? Having it all? Confident? Being hard working? Impervious to criticism? Driven by and focused on a goal? High-achieving? Is a strong woman someone who is able to stand up for herself? Or take care of herself independently of a partner?

A brief Internet search revealed a couple of quotations that mention the word “strong” and “bitch” in the same context. Does a strong woman have to be a bitch? The word “bitch” seems to shift meaning, depending on context. Typically it is defined as aggressive, unreasonable, belligerent, malicious, or rudely intrusive to be strong. But in a feminist context, it can also indicate an assertive woman. Why the discrepancy? If a strong woman, with passion and integrity, does whatever it takes to reach her goal depending on the context, does it make her aggressive or assertive? Which one is it? Does it matter in the long run? Interestingly, I also learned that the term for bitch appears to be derived from Greek goddess Artemis – goddess of the hunt who is free, beautiful, cold, and unsympathetic. To paraphrase, a so-called strong, driven leader with an icy heart who demands respect. The Greek definition was coined a long time ago, does it still carry meaning in the modern society? Can a strong woman be benevolent, kind, thoughtful, respectful, and at the same time tough-minded?

Yes, I would like to think I am a strong woman. However, I would like it if the definitions carried less of a negative connotation – I would like to be strong without having to be a bitch. Is that possible? Which definition comes to your mind when discussing strength? I guess for me it starts here:


3 responses so far