Archive for the 'gratitude' category

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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Working Through: Fertility issues in the workplace

My husband and I stopped trying not to get pregnant 6 years ago. About 3 years ago we started trying to get pregnant and just over a year and a half ago I had my first miscarriage. We found out that there was no heart beat at 9weeks, confirmed it at 10weeks and had a D&C at 11weeks. One of the reasons why it took us so long to actively try to conceive was my fear of losing the pregnancy. I remember thinking that it would be an unsurvivable experience for me. Now I’m at a point where I can say that I appreciate the extra time before starting my family and the strength I found in myself and my relationship with my husband. That being said, miscarrying is horrible. Each time I lost a pregnancy I obsessed about all of the things I might have done wrong to cause the loss. Was I too stressed out, did I eat the wrong thing, was my shampoo poisoning the baby, did I touch the wrong thing at work?

A number of my closest friends and my sister were pregnant right around the time of my first pregnancy and it felt like my miscarriages made things awkward for us. They were worried that talking about their pregnancies/babies would hurt me, (and maybe they were a little right, I swore off of facebook for a while because it seemed like everyone was pregnant except me) but when they stopped complaining to me about swollen feet and colicky babies or telling me about the little joys like feeling the fist kicks and seeing first steps I felt even more isolated. I worried about talking to them too much about my miscarriages, I didn’t want to worry them about the viability of their own pregnancies. I knew it was irrational, but I felt that by talking with them about what happened my dark cloud would contaminate their happiness, which was the last thing I wanted. Friends asked me if I was seeing a fertility specialist (I’ve learned I shouldn’t call them infertility specialists because that sounds negative) which is a totally reasonable suggestion, but one that I was reluctant to follow up on for a long time. For me, this whole process has been confusing. On one hand, I want to be a strong feminist and be outspoken about the fact that I have had miscarriages to help other women feel less alone. On the other hand, I want to curl up in a ball and cry while telling myself/everyone that everything is fine and the next time will work out.

It has been almost a year since my last pregnancy. 4 months ago we finally started seeing a specialist. We did all the tests our Dr. recommended and everything is normal. There are little things that the Dr. points to and says this or that maybe on the low or high end of normal, but nothing that we can point to and say, yup that’s why it’s been so long or that’s why I’ve lost all of our prior pregnancies. The one good thing about all of this waiting, is somehow in the last few months I feel like I’ve come closer to a kind of acceptance in regards to this process. I am cautiously optimistic each month and each month I am disappointed, but it doesn’t devastate me each time.

All the while I have been struggling with these miscarriages and fertility issues I’ve been working, and it has not always been easy. At my last job I told my boss that I had miscarried and that I would need a D&C because I needed to take the following day off. She is a great boss and mentor and was as supportive as I could possibly have hoped for. About a year ago I changed jobs, and while I like my bosses, I chose to try to be more professional and less open about my struggle. It might be misplaced, but I worry that they will be mad/frustrated/disappointed/concerned-about-how-the-work-will-get-done if they find out that I am pregnant, and since I have had so many false starts I don’t want to have that negative interaction before I have to. Industry jobs are very volatile and I always want to put my best foot forward. Reasonable or not, I worry that people would consider (consciously or not) my future maternity leave against me if there was a restructuring of my department. While I stand by my decision to maintain my privacy in my professional life, it does pose some problems. Infertility testing and treatments are time consuming. There are a lot of timed tests that I/we have to go into the lab or clinic for. At first I would let people know that I had a doctors appointment, but then my boss started asking if I was ok and I got paranoid that he either thought I was really sick or he would assume that I was already pregnant or he would think I was interviewing for other jobs. So I now I’m trying to be more vague or slip out without saying anything, but that also feels very obvious and slightly disrespectful especially when I am missing meetings.   I worry that people will think that I am just shirking my work. I don’t know what the right thing to do is. It would be great if more of the appointments could happen before/after work hours or of the weekends… but that’s just wishful thinking as far as I can tell.

I’m writing this post on the eve of my first IUI (intrauterine insemination… basically they collect the sperm spin it down and stick it into my uterus through a catheter, woo hoo!). This morning we went for the ultrasound and unfortunately my follicles were a little more ready than we expected… so I had to run out to the pharmacy and take my (injectable) ovulation stimulating medicine immediately. I had a meeting at 9:30am so I got the drug and injected myself in my car in the parking lot (there are no sharps containers in my work bathrooms, I didn’t feel right injecting myself in the lab where there are tons of sharps containers, and I didn’t want to wander around work with my needle and medicine so I decided my car was my best option). I know to people who have to give themselves injections all the time it probably doesn’t sound like a big deal but it was my first time injecting myself ever and it took a little bit to convince myself to stick the needle in, maybe it was a good thing I was running late for my meeting. It makes me wonder what things other than having a pumping room would make fertility struggles, pregnancy and having kids easier to balance with work? Does how hard it can be to get pregnant (especially for those of us no longer in our 20’s) have anything to do with the high attrition rate of women in science? I know it has impacted how much of a go-getter I am at work and how much I “lean in” since I don’t want to have to back out if I have an appointment/have a crappy pregnancy/go on maternity leave (and yes, I know this is exactly what Sandberg says not to do).

Overall, I’m excited and a little nervous about the IUI but I also appreciate that for the moment my life is beautiful as it is. My partnership with my husband is stronger now than ever and I have hope that our family will grow one way or another. In the mean time I’m trying to learn to be more chill/sneaky? about this personal process at work and I’m having an amazing time being an aunty to my niece and all my friends’ adorable babies.

One last thought for the moment. I really appreciated what Mark Zuckerberg did by posting his fertility struggles along with his pregnancy announcement. One thing that makes me extra thankful for the opportunity to share my experience anonymously is the ability to talk about the process before we have the safety of having a successful pregnancy. Thanks!


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A woman scientist in love

Jun 27 2015 Published by under career trajectory, gratitude, happiness

I am not ashamed to admit it. I am head over heels. I am riding a high. I am optimistic it is going to work out. And guess what!? – it has been the OPPOSITE of distracting. Being in love has had the effect of extreme focus in the workplace and pretty substantial scientific progress. I am in love… with my job.

Maintaining a loving and healthy relationship definitely takes some work. I know I am not always going to express these emotions about work – things will get challenging. People, policies, and black voodoo magic that causes instruments and reagents to mysteriously malfunction will cause some turmoil. But this feels right.

The objective for this post is not to rehash all the #distractinglysexy topics, although it has been wonderfully amusing and strangely encouraging. Instead, my thoughts were to just share some of my recent experiences as it relates to the themes of this blog – the adventures of being trained scientist who is figuring out her niche. That could be supporting other scientists, teaching, raising kids, developing a kick-ass product/therapy, or wining a Nobel prize.

And perhaps a selfish objective is to provide an amusing account for myself to flip back to years in the future when I am frustrated or hopeless. Seriously, though, I have had so many conversations with friends and colleagues about emotions as they relate to our respective career paths. I don’t always know what to say or how to encourage someone. There was a period of time where I felt all I did was dim the mood. Sometimes navigating a path is rough (especially when you can’t see the way ahead). Sometimes it is exciting. Sometimes it is scary. Sometimes it is boring. Sometimes it has you swooning (remember that feeling of being accepted to grad school?).

This has me thinking about ways that we all relate to each other, and effects we can have on one another.

One of the things that has me so giddy right now is the interaction I have been having with people outside my lab, outside my agency, outside my state and outside the country. That influx of ideas and opinions is so refreshing. I have had the extremely good fortune of getting to attend three very interesting meetings in a very short amount of time.

So, something I want to remind my future self: opportunities to go to meetings, trainings or conferences sponsored by work may not always come up. But there is almost always the flexibility to spend work TIME elsewhere even if the costs for transportation, lodging and registration aren’t covered. Some of my recent travels required me to pay out of my own pocket. I cannot think of a better way I could have spent that money.

At the moment, I am inspired. I am seeing how a scientific field is growing, changing, and making progress. I also see so much further down my current path right now! I see a role that I can play in this field. Meetings have always generally had a good effect on me. I do find some contrast, though, in attending meetings as an academic scientist compared to a more applied scientist. As an academic scientist, I was always trying to find the things I could do to make my individual projects more innovative. The things that would help me outline my next grant. Sometimes I came back frantic with all these things I might do, and companies I might contact. I had a hard time handling that pressure. Now, I don’t have the freedom or responsibility of an individual research project. For the most part, people in my lab are all working toward the same thing. This work is spilt up, and the overall goal is to provide a service. But the ways that we provide this service advance with technology. The lab has projects to keep up with that change in technology in an efficient way, while at the same time making sure that technology (and personel’s expertise in how that technology is working) be solid enough to testify to results in court. So, now, when I am at meetings, I focus on those projects, and ways the lab can keep up with the changes in technology in efficient ways, providing ideas where I can.

Getting back to the idea of why meetings and groups are money well spent – it fosters ideas. There are so many ideas I have – things I can do at work that would benefit my current workplace – these are things other people across the country and the world are already doing and work well. I may not have a position to change policies where I work, but I can certainly provide ideas to the people who do.

I also get to hear about how other people landed in the positions they are in. I find it very interesting to hear about other people’s backgrounds. I helps me realize that opportunities come up all the time that are un-forseeable. Perhaps I am even impacting my future path in ways that are not visible yet. Maybe some of these people that I interacted with at these meetings will remember me and invite me to participate in other opportunites in the future.

Conferences or not, interacting with other people I have noticed has been generally helpful. When I have gotten anxiety or fear about where I was headed, my first instinct is to hide that feeling. I feel I need to figure it out myself before I have another conversation about it. It was easy for me to avoid those conversations or change the subject quickly. But, when I did open up and share how I was feeling about where I was going, or not knowing what I wanted next, it usually had a positive effect on me. Sometimes that is easier to do with people you don’t know. A friend recently told me about a set of interactions that the career center strongly advised them to have. Using linkedIn and other websites, they got an idea of what type of positions were available at differently companies, schools, etc. This helped to see all the different roles that a PhD scientist can have. To get a better idea of what these positions were like, this person contacted these people for the sole purpose of doing a little mini-interview about what their job entailed. They said it was a very awkward experience at times, but was so helpful for guiding what niche they would be excited and interested about.

So, I feel fortunate right now to have benefited from so many helpful interactions. I am wondering if there is a way be on the flip side of that. I am extremely interested in maximizing the effects of being in love with my job. I am so motivated and constantly thinking of ways that I can positively impact my workplace. I strongly believe there is a place for love at work.


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