Archive for: June, 2017

Moving on: or not.

I am a high school science teacher and I love my job. I love most of it anyway, which is probably better than most people feel about their jobs. Teaching is challenging, relational, and I get work both collaboratively and independently. I talk about science all day, but I also get to engage in engaging discussions about gender identity and the use of technology in education. I spend the summer off with my small, quickly growing children. And most importantly, I feel like I am really, truly making a difference in the world and its future citizens. Most days, anyway.

And despite all that, I’ve recently felt a need to make a change: I’ve been feeling stagnant and ready for forward momentum in my career. I’ve been trying to identify why I’m feeling this way, and I think it boils down to wanting advancement. As a teacher, there is limited room for growth and virtually no merit-based income increase. I make comically little money, given my education background. Sure, I could go into administration at some point, but I really love science.

When I stumbled upon a position for a local company that produces products for the science classroom, I decided to apply. The job description seemed to be written with my experience and career goals in mind. I found myself energized as I filled out the application and updated my resume. My husband was supportive and edited my documents for me. A week after I submitted the application, I was notified that I had a phone interview. As I prepare for that interview, I can’t help feel conflicted. I love my job—but I am ready for the next phase. So maybe it is time to move on, work more and try something else.

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I wrote the first half of this post before my phone interview. I had what I considered a moderately successful phone interview with the HR person at the company, mostly asking whether I’d be open to travel (I said yes, even though I was/am unsure about how this would work with two little kids and my husband’s job) and how I’d used the company’s product in the classroom. When asked for a salary requirement, I gave a range that was overlapping with the salary range they planned to offer for the position (which nearly TWICE as much as I currently make–it is possible that I sounded a little too excited at that possibility). We hung up, she told me she would notify me about the next phase by the end of the week, and I wrote a thank you email to follow up.

In the days the followed, I continued to feel conflicted. I love my job, and would be sad to leave and miss the opportunity to perfect my curriculum. I had been looking forward to trying some of the new Next Generation Science Standards in my own classroom. On the other hand, the job that I had applied for, despite the travel, seemed to align perfectly with my vision for my next career stage.

So when I didn’t get an in person interview, I was surprised and disappointed. I reached out to the HR person with whom I’d interviewed, and here is a summary of her response: she said that as policy they didn’t provide specific feedback to applicants, but they had received an overwhelming response. All the candidates selected to advance to the next round met all of the posting qualifications (I thought I did too) and had “substantial” teaching experience.

To me, this says that my handful of years of high school teaching was not what they were seeking. Despite this clear explanation for not advancing to the next round, I cannot help feel like I am having trouble making the leap to the next career phase. In the last few years, I have been a finalist for two fellowships (AAAS Science Policy Fellowship and ASHG Genetics and Education Fellowship) that I hoped would allow me to pursue science education policy and/or curriculum development in new and different ways. I have what I consider “substantial” teaching experience, public speaking experience and technical writing/editing skills. So, while I recognize that the field that I am aiming to break into is narrow, I’m not sure what I can do to better prepare myself. Feel free to comment with suggestions!!

In the meantime, I feel lucky to have the opportunity to spend the summer with my kids and take another run at my classes next year. I am telling myself the same thing I tell my students: failure is brave, inevitable and a chance to grow. Though somehow my internal voice is less convincing that my teacher voice.


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Portrait of a Computer Scientist

Jun 23 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

I saw this blog post by a friend from grad school so I thought I would share.

My favorite part is this:

I have to add, even if you think or know you’ve been invited to an event, either to give a talk, chair a conference session, organize a workshop, sit on a thesis committee, “just” because you’re a woman and the organizers want balance, don’t let it phase you. You’ve been given this opportunity. Go ahead, make the most of it and show them they were wrong to think of you under the header “woman” before they thought of you as an expert.

Enjoy!

https://blog.f1000.com/2017/06/20/show-them-they-were-wrong-to-think-of-you-under-the-header-woman-before-they-thought-of-you-as-an-expert/


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A quick guide to interacting with a reproductively active woman in the workplace

Doc-momma

Doc Momma designs lab coats for pregnant doctors.

Most of us here at Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman have had some very awkward interactions at work before and after having a baby, which shows us that many people are not comfortable speaking with a reproductively active woman. Since being pregnant is such a physically obvious state, and very exciting for most people, others somehow feel compelled and permitted to talk about it in a way they would never get personal with anyone else. You’ll want to avoid situations like these, which actually happened to us:

Student: *looks at belly* *giggles*

Me: Hi, how are you?

Student: *looks at belly, giggles* Um, good! *giggles*


Female co-worker I’ve met briefly twice: You’re pregnant! *rubs baby belly*

Me: *eyebrow raise death glare*


Male colleague: Are you going to be breastfeeding? Where are you going to pump?

Me: Well, there’s a lactation room, so probably there.

Him: You can use my office if you want.

Me: …No, thanks. The lactation room is fine.


Colleague: Have you and your husband been watching birthing videos?  Because you need to watch them.

Me: Um, yes, a few.

Colleague: Have you watched any up close?  Because there is a lot of gross stuff that comes up when the baby is born, you both need to be prepared.


Colleague: I was right behind you walking to work today.

Me: Oh.

Colleague: You don’t look pregnant at all from the back.  But you definitely waddle.

Me: Um…


Male colleague, after complaining about how unfair it is that I am taking maternity leave: I know I’m not supposed to say stuff like this but I think it might be better if women just took 5 years off to focus and raise their kids.


Post-baby:


Male colleague: You look… *stares at belly* less…

Me: Yes, I had the baby, she’s 3 months old now!


Colleague: Weren’t you… pregnant?

Me: Yes, I had the baby, she’s 3 months old now!


Here are some tips for more comfortable interactions and avoiding getting too personal – feel free to use, share, or add your own in the comments!

 

Pregnancy

  • Take a cue from her. If she doesn’t bring up her pregnancy, maybe you shouldn’t either. It’s usually not relevant for most work situations.
  • If you must say something, make sure you’re 100% certain she is in fact pregnant. Otherwise she may not have told her boss or coworkers yet, she may not be ready to talk about it with you, and she may be offended.
  • Don’t even mention her body. Unless it’s to say “You look great!” and nothing more. Why would you do this with a co-worker under any other circumstance? And certainly don’t touch her belly. Just don’t.
  • Do not assume or suggest that your pregnant colleague is disabled. She very likely knows what she can or cannot continue to do in the workplace as her physical condition changes. If you see her in a meeting or at the lab bench, she belongs there. An offer of assistance is generally welcomed by anyone; suggestions that she should not or cannot are unwelcome.
  • Unless you are in a professional role where you can make accommodations for pregnant or lactating women in general, there is no need to ask about her plans and preparations, especially where or whether she will be breastfeeding/pumping. If you are her direct boss or genuinely think you can help, simply say, “I am here for you if you need help making accommodations during pregnancy or for lactation. You can talk to [health and safety, HR, etc.] about this as well.”
  • Family leave time is an important time for all new mothers (giving birth or otherwise), as well as fathers. You have no idea how she feels about the length of her leave or her personal struggles surrounding working and spending time with her child, so please keep your opinions about appropriate leave time to yourself.

 

Post-baby

  • Maybe people are worried that something bad happened during delivery or with the baby medically and are afraid to ask specific questions. Just keep it general: “I haven’t seen you since you were out on family leave – how is everything?” She’ll probably be happy to tell you exactly as much as she wants to about her baby.
  • Do not ask for any details regarding the birthing process. Hopefully you would not do this for any other medical procedure a colleague went through, and birth is typically even more personal.
  • Again, no comment on her body is needed beyond, “You look great!”
  • If she is pumping at work, it can be very difficult physically, emotionally, and disruptive to her work schedule. Trust that she is doing the best she can to work out her schedule, it is not a “break”, and anyone mentioning or complaining about it will not improve things and only make her feel worse about an already difficult situation. If she needs to schedule something with you around her pumping time, simply work with her like you would with any other colleague with a scheduling conflict.
  • Nothing gets older than hearing “Are you getting any sleep?” Because of course she’s not, and this goes for non-birthing parents as well. Sleep is a sensitive issue for parents of newborns. Tired doesn’t begin to explain how one feels with a brand new baby (or two babies in my case). Don’t tell a new parent that they look tired. And don’t mention to a new parent how tired you are, or on the flip side that you got to sleep in or take a nap on the weekend.

As with any colleague, try to be warm open, and understanding, and you will go far!


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Ideas for a science TV show

Post March for Science (that I could not attend despite this post), I have been thinking of how to maintain public’s attention on science and to submerge science even more into everyday life.  What would make people think science is “cool,” “fun,” “important,” “necessary,” “beneficial,” and ultimately where a big part of our investment for the future should go.

Grassroot outreach is essential and crucial, and we should keep doing it.  However, are there “quicker and easier (dirtier)” ways that can reach out to more people?

These days what media reaches out to more people fast?  TV?  Podcasts? Video series on Youtube?  Websites?  Facebook groups?

I personally do not watch any TV anymore, but think that TV may still be the best way to distribute “cool science.” In podcasts, web series, or social network groups, one needs to find it, like it, and subscribe it. On TV, there is still an essence of forced feeding once you turn on TV and choose a channel (you watch what TV network executives deemed worthwhile to air).  And yes, science will have to be highly entertaining for TV network executives to deem worthwhile.

There are currently well known science TV shows – Cosmos, NOVA, Bill Nye, Mythbusters, etc. These and other shows usually are more of a lecture-like format.  “This is very cool, and here is a 10-minute explanation of why/how cool it is.” You have to actually pay attention to understand. For many people TV is a pleasurable and relaxing activity, and may not want to turn full attention to comprehend. Could we brainstorm for a show that can make science more fun, funny, engaging, easily sunk in, and can be broadcasted on major networks during prime time?  

What TV shows are getting high ratings these days, and how can a science show be one of them?  

“America’s got Science”

I have never seen this show (ok, I’ve never watched any shows I’ll mention below except for the last one), but what I understand is that people showcase their talent in front of audience and judges. The audience, judges, and viewers then vote which performers should advance to a next level of competition and ultimately win a monetary prize. Could we do something similar with science — scientists showcase their research with cool visuals and presentations, and non-scientist judges and audience ask questions. In the end viewers and audience vote on “which science is cooler,” and award grant funding to a winning scientist/project.

Science is no competition (well, aside from grant reviews — collaboration) especially across disciplines. Who is to say which science is cooler or better without personal agenda and interests. But in the name of entertainment… Judgement and ranking would probably be based on how well presentations “looked,” and might not necessarily on the content (but this happens in real science, too, am I not right?)

 

“Extreme Makeover: Science laboratory edition”
“Hell’s Lab”

A struggling lab must find a way to strive again, with a guidance of a PI guru.  

I already cringe just thinking about what form this might take.  It would be painful to watch…

 

“Survivor: Scientist edition”
“Big brother: Scientist edition”
“Bachelor/Bachelorette: Scientist edition”
“Dancing with Scientists”

Ok I kid.

 

“A sit-com in a laboratory setting”

I always thought a laboratory is a perfect setting for a sit-com. Whenever there is a group of smart, overachieving, and driven people budding heads both figuratively and literally, hilarity and drama are bound to ensue. America TV has Big Bang Theory, but there is space for more nerds on TV, people passionately pursuing something. There is enough laughter in labs, while performing DNA precipitation, looking at specimens under a microscope, or, brushing dirt off dinosaur bones. Maybe one can crowdsource plot lines and episodes from different labs all over the world, across disciplines, for a such show.

 

“Is It True TV?”  

All of the above ideas are knock offs of American TV shows. The idea for this blog post actually originated from importing a Japanese “variety” TV show, translated “Is It True TV (Honma Dekka TV)”.  The show gets high ratings in Japan and covers lots of science. The show is hosted by one of most popular comedians in Japan, with no science background, and features a panel of academics and experts “the intellectual mass,” including a biologist, environmental scientist, psychologist, economist, exercise physiologist, educator, neuroscientist, lawyer, and others from various fields. The show also include non-scientist celebrities, who are there to ask questions, comment, and offer comic relief. The show is taped in front of a studio audience who are very audibly reactive when surprising or unexpected information is presented. Every week there is a theme that is relevant and/or useful to everyday life, i.e., “How to live healthy,” “Latest in medical advances,” “How to be popular,” “How to succeed in love life,” “How to have healthy relationships,” “Personality traits: how to know them, and how to deal with people with different traits,” “Successful child rearing methods / education,” “How to best save money,” “Internet common sense,” “Dangerous habits,” and so on.  

Most information presented by the academics and experts are drawn from peer-reviewed journals (sometimes demographic studies, too). Granted they might stretch implications to add to the shocking value, but they usually mention who conducted the study, sample size, and experimental design of studies they draw from.  

Each show starts with a presentation of one finding, which makes the audience and guests to react, “Is it true?” “really?” “no way!” and the academics take turns sharing various information, facts, and research findings associated with the topic.  For each subsequent presentations by the academics, the host, guests, and audience react and either agree, disagree, or ask more questions.

In one episode of the show with a theme of “the Great Mother,” the show opened with a research finding that mothers’ love received during childhood prevents illnesses well into middle ages. The host, guests, and studio audience reacts, “really?!?!”  A medical doctor introduced the study which demonstrated that those who perceived mother’s love while growing up – whether their moms understood issues and were present when needed – were less likely to develop diseases often associated with growing up in poverty.

The MC asked, what about fathers?  The same doctor claimed that currently (at the show’s airing), there is not much research done on fathers’ love.

Then one of male guests requested, “please research this right away!”  “I took my son to a park today, and are you saying there is no benefit in my doing it?”

The neuroscientist on the panel chimes in, “there is!” “The more a father spend time with his kids and teach about rules, the kids are more likely to learn and develop persistence .” [As I searched for this article, I found more studies on father’s role on child development.]

Another psychologist (parent-child relationship expert) continues, the benefits of mother’s love extends throughout one’s lifetime.  Those who were raised by a mom with good moods are likely to be more optimistic and adaptable in their adult life (I could not quite locate an article with this particular finding, but found similar findings).  

Other information provided by the experts included:

  • Children of mothers who had morning sickness are likely to have higher IQs.
  • The fat content of breast milk increases as baby drinks, giving the sense of fullness in the baby and stops feeding, and allows for more milk production in mothers.
  • Babies fed breast milk is less likely to develop allergies (I found this to be controversial in my own lit search).
  • Lower risks of breast and uterine cancer for women who breastfed.
  • Women who breastfed are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
  • Babies cry at night to prevent parents from making more babies – to increase their chance of survival and monopolize parents’ love and attention (I actually said “hmmm, really??” to this one).
  • Infants’ smiles are sufficient to decrease mothers’ interests in other needs and wants (I could not find a reference for this either

These studies were provided with banters between the comedians, celebrities, and academics, sometimes making fun of each other and sharing their own anecdotes for laughs.  

It is definitely an entertainment/comedy show, and not a strict educational show. Perhaps that is why it is gaining high ratings. And yet the show still does a good job of bringing science to everyday life.  The academics and experts are becoming celebrities on their own; they are publishing books, making appearances in other TV shows, and touring the country on speaking engagements.  Why should have more scientists be like heroes and celebrities, like the GE commercial, or be pursued by fashion designers to dress like movie stars.

I envision more scientists like Neil Degrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku to appear on media, but not just from astrophysics but representing different scientific disciplines. I’m sure there are many scientists with big personality and charisma who can entice and engage the public.  Who is up?

As for a TV show, would a funny science TV show lead to more funding in science?  ….hard to say.  Though I might go back to watching TV if a science show that makes me laugh out loud existed.  So TV producers, what about it?


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Choosing a research question – for science or for the public?

Jun 01 2017 Published by under conflict, funding, hearable message, Public, research

There is increasing pressure and urgency for scientists to be visible and accessible to the public, but also to choose the most important and appealing research in an uncertain funding climate. To whom are scientific researchers beholden in the choice of research studies to perform? To the funding agencies who sponsor us? To the taxpayers who ultimately fund those public institutions? To ourselves to carve a niche and promising career path? Or purely to science, to go where the data and your passions take you?

A recent article in the Atlantic described one extreme – research demonstrating the lack of a link between gluten and heart disease – not because there was any reason to believe that such a link existed, but precisely because there was no evidence that one should, and yet many popular books, diets, and people espoused this idea. The researchers argue that this is how science should work – people of the world have an idea and scientists demonstrate whether there is evidence to support the idea or not.

I strongly support this approach on principle, but I have to wonder if it’s the wisest course of action today. Is it wasteful to spend precious resources on research questions that have no basis and minimal chance of adding to knowledge that will improve the human condition or the world? To be clear, I absolutely support research for the sake of knowledge, and hope it is widely understood that future revolutions will come from today’s explorations for the sake of curiosity, like cell phone capability relied on a foundation of knowledge from Hedy Lamarr’s invention of frequency hopping in the 1940s, which couldn’t be implemented with the technology of the day. But when we’re talking about biomedical research like the study mentioned above, would those resources be better spent on investigation of mechanisms and treatments for real ailments?

Furthermore, using science to disprove a popular misconception doesn’t seem to work, as has been the case for the supposed dangers of vaccines. The translation of information from scientific findings to incorporation into the public mindset and practice must be fixed for this to be effective.

These days I’m just hoping we can maintain a funding level that covers research that runs the gamut, from scientists like me, following the data and trying to help human conditions, to pure exploration, like some of my favorite researchers.


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