Archive for the 'women in science' category

Justifying your time

In assessing my mental state over the 8 months that I have been in this new postdoc position, I have observed a trend. It’s not good.
I spend a great deal of mental energy — from the time I drop off my kid at daycare to the time I pick him up — thinking about whether my time is being well spent. Primarily, imagining how frequently my boss entertains the idea that I am not worth the 15% of my salary that she pays for.
The goals of a postdoc position are not well defined. How you spend your time is pretty open ended. We are categorized as “exempt” under the Federal Standards of Labor Act. The singular unifying benchmark we have to assess our efforts is publication. So… there is a lot of wiggle room as to how work hours are spent, and what kind of work is done “after hours”.
I spend about 60% of my time in lab (over 8 months of failed or delayed experiments), 40% time in the fellowship training that pays my salary, and only work 40-45 hours a week. I find it challenging to justify how I juggle my time to a boss who expects people to be in the lab 110% of the work day and use extracurricular hours to fulfill professional development training.
Maybe it’s a desire to have a more professional framework to my work life, maybe it’s having started a family a year ago, or impostor syndrome, or maybe I’m just not cut out for this work environment anymore. But either my perspective or my work needs to change, because I now have enough data for an evidence-based conclusion: this trend is unhealthy.
How much energy do you use justifying how you spend your working hours? Do you ever even feel like your work hours are being wasted? Is this just me?

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Motherhood has changed my perspective on my career

Motherhood has changed my perspective on my career. (gasp!)

During graduate school, everyone told me that this would be a bad thing. It would be a sign of failure if growing a family altered my career objectives. I have decided (embarrassingly late) that this is yet another very unfortunate stigma. On the contrary, the psychological adjustments that I have made are major improvements to my mental and physical health, and likely also my career path.

It has been – far and away — the hardest thing I have ever done to start a new postdoc in a new field as a new mom. But I have learned some things about myself:

  1. I am a badass. I have never been more proud of myself as a human than when I realized that I had figured out how to coordinate pumping, training fellowship meetings, learning the lay of the lab from my colleagues when THEY had free time, juggling my son’s 2-3 weekly medical appointments and actually getting to be his mother for an hour a day. And by the way, I made actual science happen during windows between these obligations. It has all failed so far because none of my projects are as developed as I was told they were, but I have been a badass investigator and problem solver.

 

  1. It is possible that I am mentally moving away from a career at the bench. Becoming a mother has made me an even more organized and punctual person than I was prior (which is really saying something!). This includes a diminished patience with the snail-paced progress, general inefficiency and overwhelming failure rate of scientific experiments. I adore trouble-shooting; it is where I shine as a scientist. But I do not enjoy trouble-shooting that is never-ending. I used to compensate for this onerous progress by working 60+ hour weeks (as many do), but right now I refuse to miss my son’s bedtime more than twice a week, so I’m working much closer to 40 hours. Admitting that may I no longer have the patience to be the operator at the bench has given me the peace of mind I need to continue figuring it out.

 

  1. My Science Careers IDP match has always listed “Principal investigator in a research-intensive institution” as my top career path*. This is because I enjoy all the components related to being a PI – asking questions, writing grants, managing projects, mentoring scientists, networking at conferences, giving seminars, teaching science, scientific outreach. However, I don’t necessarily want my job to require ALL of these activities together. I would likely be perfectly happy with a career focusing on 2-3 of these things! What I now know that I definitely do NOT want out of my career – at least for the next few years while my son in young – is a 60+ hour work week. And that is a major change for me. I think I like it.

 

So now what? What do I do with this new perspective? My current plan is to reassess my position and objectives at 6 months and 1 year into my postdoc**. I do not think that 3 months in is the right time to reassess or act on a job change. But it is absolutely on my mind. And so is getting to go home to my sweet happy baby.

 

*As an aside, the ImaginePhD IDP matches me best to a writing/editing/publishing career. Fascinating.

**A bigger subject for another post!

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When should details of misconduct be made public?

Amid the #metoo movement, we have seen extreme publicity of the Hollywood allegations of sexual misconduct, including the shocking and sensational details revealed by victims coming forward. We have seen some spread of this movement and publicity to other arenas as well, including research in STEM fields. Academic institutions should already be prepared to deal with allegations as they arise, but should also be able to respond to the growing attention paid, by both the media and people in the field or organization, to issues of misconduct.

A recent termination of a prominent scientist at a prominent research institution raised a lot of questions – with no answers apparently forthcoming. The particular scientist and institution are not essential for the message of this post, but you can read about him here. This institution, like many others, has a reputation for quelling accusations before they reach a level where action must be taken, and for not taking action when many deem it necessary. So, many people were happily surprised to find that someone (a prominent someone!) would and could be terminated for breaching institutional policies.

But what were those policies? What actually happened? The institution has not revealed this, except to say that it was not scientific misconduct, which leads one to believe that it must have been inappropriate interpersonal behavior. Indeed, even some employees in the researcher’s lab have no idea what happened, and reportedly have asked the institution to explain, with no further information obtained.

It is certainly important to consider that the institution may be acting in the interest of the individuals involved – both perpetrator and victims – to keep the details undisclosed. But is that the best course of action?

In a time where we – all of us, right? – are trying to rid our institutions of the sexual misconduct infestation that negatively impacts both individual and field-wide well-being and advancement, institutions should be doing everything in their power to make it known that this specific act will not be tolerated here. This would encourage others with allegations to come forward, and discourage potential perpetrators from initiating or continuing similar actions, and, all in the best long-term interest of the institution, enhance the overall image and attractiveness of this place as a safe environment where misconduct will be investigated and not tolerated, leaving the work to be the central feature.

Institutions should endeavor to be as brave as the many women who have come forward to share their stories – for the benefit of the people and the future.

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When should details of misconduct be made public?

Amid the #metoo movement, we have seen extreme publicity of the Hollywood allegations of sexual misconduct, including the shocking and sensational details revealed by victims coming forward. We have seen some spread of this movement and publicity to other arenas as well, including research in STEM fields. Academic institutions should already be prepared to deal with allegations as they arise, but should also be able to respond to the growing attention paid, by both the media and people in the field or organization, to issues of misconduct.

A recent termination of a prominent scientist at a prominent research institution raised a lot of questions – with no answers apparently forthcoming. The particular scientist and institution are not essential for the message of this post, but you can read about him here. This institution, like many others, has a reputation for quelling accusations before they reach a level where action must be taken, and for not taking action when many deem it necessary. So, many people were happily surprised to find that someone (a prominent someone!) would and could be terminated for breaching institutional policies.

But what were those policies? What actually happened? The institution has not revealed this, except to say that it was not scientific misconduct, which leads one to believe that it must have been inappropriate interpersonal behavior. Indeed, even some employees in the researcher’s lab have no idea what happened, and reportedly have asked the institution to explain, with no further information obtained.

It is certainly important to consider that the institution may be acting in the interest of the individuals involved – both perpetrator and victims – to keep the details undisclosed. But is that the best course of action?

In a time where we – all of us, right? – are trying to rid our institutions of the sexual misconduct infestation that negatively impacts both individual and field-wide well-being and advancement, institutions should be doing everything in their power to make it known that this specific act will not be tolerated here. This would encourage others with allegations to come forward, and discourage potential perpetrators from initiating or continuing similar actions, and, all in the best long-term interest of the institution, enhance the overall image and attractiveness of this place as a safe environment where misconduct will be investigated and not tolerated, leaving the work to be the central feature.

Institutions should endeavor to be as brave as the many women who have come forward to share their stories – for the benefit of the people and the future.

3 responses so far

Attending a conference with a toddler

I just got back from my favorite conference. It’s always a great mixture of science, inspiration and networking. Oh and great food, the food is awesome. This was my first conference since I had my baby and my husband and I decided that we would all go since it was semi-local, I’m still nursing and the hotel looked fabulous. I was pretty nervous about bringing the family.  Since we were local we brought LOTS of baby gear, toys and finger food.  Overall, it was a good, but tough, experience.

The conference program was great. The schedule was planned such that if I had needed to pump there would have actually been time to do so. I was staying at the same hotel as the conference so, to nurse, I just went up to our room but I’m sure a place would have been provided.  Speaking of food, the wonderful/kind organizers were so understanding they even told me that they were sure no one would notice if my husband popped over for some of the meals.

Hubby had a few meetings each day that he needed to call in for and we actually did pretty well with the handoffs. He and Baby had a lot of fun and Baby even got to see snow for the first time!  I felt a little sad that I’d missed out on these adventures, but it’s just something I’m going to have to get used to.

The main issue for us was, as sweetscience mentioned in her post, SLEEP!  Our baby is not a good sleeper, he hasn’t been since about 4-months old. We called ahead and the hotel had a crib placed in our room and we tried to keep to as many of our sleep routines as possible, but the baby basically did not sleep at night. Since we were in a hotel room there was no place to go (I did consider the bathtub) so I basically didn’t sleep. This general lack of sleep led to some fuzziness on day 1, crankiness on day 2, by day 3 I was a bordering on becoming a zombie, and on day 4 my body just gave up and I got sick. Thanks to coffee (maybe a contributor to the nausea and dizziness) and great talks I didn’t fall asleep in any of the lectures, learned a lot, and was inspired with the cool new ideas and techniques, but I do know I didn’t get as much out of the week, scientifically, as I could have.  My brain felt slippery, like I knew I should be able to latch on to some of the concepts but they were just sliding by.

While not sleeping in the middle of the night I did recall my coworker telling me I was crazy to bring the family, that I should just take the hotel room and get a few nights of real sleep.  I’ll be honest, at that point I totally agreed with her. But in the morning I looked over and got to see my son and my husband snuggling while I read the abstracts for the day, and I realized that I kind of got to have the best of both worlds.  Minus the vomiting.

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What’s in a name?

I defended 7 years ago this month…. and I’m still a Research Scientist 1.  I had hoped to be up for a promotion last year because I felt like I kicked butt all year. When I had my year end review, my supervisor said I did great and was up for the top merit bonus… but no mention of a promotion.  I mustered up the guts to ask how I was doing “in terms of career development” and he said “Great! You’ve only been with us for 2 years and it usually takes ~5 to get a promotion so you are right on track.”  I was bummed but I was also 5 months pregnant (and sick as a dog) so I had other things on my mind and I let it go.
It took me a little time to get back into the swing of things once I came back from leave in September.  But now I feel like I’m back and ready to take on really juicy interesting projects. I’m also looking around and seeing that other people in other departments are getting promoted and I feel like I am getting left behind. I’m starting to worry about my ability to transfer to a new company… will it be held against me that I’m still a Research Scientist 1?
Some days these thoughts/worries motivate me, make me work harder and try more.  I skip pumping sessions and pick up the baby late so I can squeeze more data out or be at a meeting hoping my presence and input might be the little bit extra to push me over the edge into an “early” promotion.  Other days not getting a promotion makes me question my ability and value as a scientist. Should I just quit and stay home with my new baby? Open an Etsy shop?  Paint?

I recently started talking with a new mentor in the Contracts and Alliances group who suggested I might be able to try out her group or Project Management. I thought about it long and hard (and after some twists and turns) I talked to my supervisor about it. He was supportive but also encouraged me to stay the course if I wanted to stay a scientist. I decided not to pursue it at this time but I still feel torn. It’s hard to move forward when I can see so many interesting options and feel under appreciated (sometimes). I think the idea of not being a scientist anymore is also really sad/scary to me… who would I be?  Would I be happier in a different profession?  For now I’m just trying my best at work and sorting through the options hoping for the patience to take the time to see how things go in the new year.


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The current state of science career paths

Dec 14 2017 Published by under advice, alternative career, women in science

We recently received an email asking the following: “I just wondered if you had any words of advice on how to manage the love/hate relationship with the current state of science career paths?”

peirama answered in a previous post. Here are a few more answers:

Danielle: I became very jaded during my PhD, it seemed like I was trapped in a low paying job that I couldn’t quit. All I could see were the problems with the field. The toxic advisors, the low pay, the uncertainty, the lack of benefits and stability. With some distance from that experience, I know that for me that was a necessary part of identifying what kind of a scientist I want to be. Being a PI and running a research group is not a realistic career option for me. I love research, but I also love my family, making a better income, and weekends. I could not commit to the protracted low-pay of the postdoc training period or the geographic uncertainty of the faculty job search. I love working with scientists on infrastructure issues and systemic issues that impact research and scholarly communication.  So, I am taking my wet-lab neuroscience training and using it to work to work on systemic issues, infrastructure, and policy. When you see the flaws in a community, a system, a company, or other organization perhaps it might mean you’re in the position to do what needs to be done and improve it.*

 

I’m focusing on improving access scientific research and data, as well as opening access to the profession of science in the hopes of making research reproducible and making the field a realistic career option for others. Want to get inspired by all the people working for science to be an awesome, inclusive, career? I encourage you to check out VangaurdSTEM,  Mozilla Science, Software and Data Carpentry, OpenCon, Rescuing Biomedical Research, Bullied into Bad Science,  Future of Research, and ASAPBio. People are working for a better future for science – and you can get involved!

 

* I do not advise this person to continue their graduate training if it will lead to debt and stress, and if they’re not enjoying the day to day research environment (which can be quite miserable depending on the research group!). As a non-traditional student myself (started the PhD at 31), I know that I was in part proving something to myself. You can do amazing work without a PhD. You can have enormous impact on the world without a PhD. Many of the smartest and most successful people I know do not have PhDs – heck, some of them didn’t finish high school and others never went to college. This person already has a master’s degree.  A Master’s degree is an awesome accomplishment. I’d encourage them to question why they feel like they need to get a PhD, why they want to continue in academia, and where they want to be in 5 years.

 

SweetScience: It makes me so sad to think of all the amazing talent lost due to discriminatory or even harassing work environments. As one of the rare women in science who doesn’t feel like these pervasive issues have actually affected me or my career directly, I won’t say much on this topic, but I can tell you what I do to stay on the love side of the love/hate relationship the reader mentioned. When I see writing, especially editorials in scientific journals, or hear speakers at scientific conferences calling out discriminatory practices or discussing them in any light, it makes me so happy that people are talking, labeling this as unequivocally unacceptable, and bringing it to the attention of those who need to hear it most. I try to make sure this feeling outweighs the sadness that comes along with reading the distressing stories, and to do that, I consciously remind myself that this is the beginning of the change! I also try to do everything I can (now mostly as a mentor) to support individual young women in science, again with the idea that this is the only way we can move forward from a toxic history.


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#Me Too

Last Sunday night it started popping up on my Facebook feed…
“Me too.
If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

I almost didn’t speak up, again.

I worried about how it would make my family (and my husbands family) feel. Hurt, sad, embarrassed?

I worried about my coworkers and my friends seeing and worrying that I was talking about something they did. Sometimes I was, most of the time I wasn’t.

I started reliving the memories, rehashing them. Imagining what I could have done differently if I didn’t always freeze.  I don’t want to presume, I don’t want to be impolite and make things awkward.

I started making excuses. Was this one just a misunderstanding? That one was so long ago. I didn’t scream. He was drunk. I flirted. He’s old, was it ok back then?

I justified, it wasn’t so bad.  Others have been through so much more.  I’ve moved on.  The day-to-day instances a so small. They don’t hurt me any more.  I don’t want the attention/pity/questions if I say “me too.”

I got angry that I was still thinking about all of this; frustrated that I couldn’t either just join or just let it go. Why should I have to deal with this all again and speak up?

Then I remembered, there was a reason my mentors were mostly women.  It was a conscious choice I made, because I didn’t want to put myself into “that position.”  I remembered that I chose not to pursue a position in an exciting lab at a top University because the PI had a reputation and I was scared. I remembered that when choosing my new job, on the con side (unfairly for him) of my pro/con list was that my boss would be a straight man.

Maybe it is my problem. Maybe my experiences do count. Maybe I am one of the women they talk about, who don’t speak out. Maybe this is my chance not to freeze.

I posted.

#Me too


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A day in the life of a Mother-of-a-5-month-old/Scientist in biotech

Oh my goodness it’s so hard to be a working mom!  I always respected working moms but it is so much harder than everyone else makes it look!  First off, leaving my little man at daycare was really hard at first… and then it got hard again when we all got sick… and just today I got scared again because another mom in my son’s class told me that they wrap the babies in muslin and put them on their stomachs for naps-that’s not normal right???!!! Secondly, because of where we work and where the daycare is, I get to/have to do both drop off and pick up for our little guy. It really makes me evaluate how I use my time at work because I don’t want him to stay at daycare for too long (and we have a 10hour max each day). Lastly… pumping… oh man, trying to make time to pump even twice a day (30mins with set up and clean up each time) is really hard. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE being a mom and I still get so much satisfaction from work. It is all worth it and I’m figuring out how to juggle everything, but it is hard. So here’s a look at a day in my life.
12am-6am wake up a million times to flip the baby back over (he can roll onto his belly but it freaks him out and he wakes up crying), or put his pacifier back in, or feed him.
6:15 wake up and give the baby his reflux medicine. Then get up and get ready for the day.
6:45 get the baby ready and feed him again.
7:15 kiss my husband goodbye and wave to the puppies (he takes care of them in the mornings) and get going
7:45 drop the baby off at daycare
8:00 get to work and get some breakfast, check and respond to emails
8:15 prep solutions etc for my experiment for the day (I’m setting up a new assay so I’m excited to get going)
9:30 stop everything to head down to the “mother’s room” to pump/read papers/email/zone out. When I first got back to work I was able to pump enough for my little guy easily in 2x/15min sessions each day. Then I got sick and my supply tanked. I was pumping 25mins 2x/day and getting only half of what he needed. Luckily I had a good sized freezer stash to hold us over (we tried to get him to take formula but wasn’t having it). I realized last week that I had also stopped eating enough for two so I’ve upped my caloric intake and voila! My supply is back, fingers crossed I can keep it up. Ps a pumping bra is essential!
10:00 head back to the lab and start my assay
12:30 finish up and head down to lunch and relax with friends
1:00 pump again.
1:30 sort through and analyze my images from the histology core
3:30 meet with a new mentor in another department – I can’t wait to tell you guys more about it in my next post!
4:15 grab my pumped milk and head out
4:30 pick up my little one
5:00 get home, give the baby meds, feed dogs, start dinner and to get some errands done while baby plays
5:15 hubby gets home and we tag team – playing with baby/dogs and getting dinner ready
5:30 eat dinner
6:00 the whole family walks the dogs up to the park and watch the sunset. 6:45 get home, get little one in the bath
7:15 all snuggle in the baby’s room, feed him while hubby reads him to sleep
7:45 pump and watch tv
8:15 prep for tomorrow. I’ve started showering at night, pulling my clothes for the next day, preping lunch and getting everything I can put by the front door, this seems to help everything go smoothly in the mornings. Get ready for bed
9:00 get into bed and unwind. Try to get some sleep before the little one wakes up, usually around 1am.


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When Your Pregnancy is a Job Hunt, or The Amazing Community of Women in Science Part II

Several months ago, I wrote about the experience of being 5 months pregnant and told that my postdoctoral mentor was leaving our institution.

This was my chance to leave my oppressive pit of a working environment without burning any bridges. This meant trying to find a new position before giving birth so that I might avoid unemployment. This was exciting. This was terrifying.

Four months later, I have a fellowship and a job lined up for after my “maternity leave” [read: unemployment]. I gave seminars and had interviews at 7 months, 8 months and 9.5 million months pregnant and each time have been pleasantly surprised that I portrayed myself first as a capable scientist and then as a pregnant woman (inevitable shortness of breath notwithstanding…). This experience has shown me what women are capable of, and given me a newfound respect for myself.

The Process:

Despite now feeling that this journey has ultimately been a success, I have never had a more confused, frustrated or nihilistic perception of my career and future. It was at once a frantic crisis and insignificant. During this experience, I not only interviewed for academic postdocs within my current institution and at nearby institutes, I applied for industry scientist positions – something I thought I would not do for several years to come, if at all (and thanks to very active support and a recommendation from our very own Curiouser&Curiouser, I was even invited to give a job talk!).

But all of these interviews were hard. Because throughout the whole process, I was so disenchanted with my previous aspirations, and overwhelmed with the possibility of entirely changing my career track when all the while all I actually cared about was keeping my little imminent offspring healthy and becoming a new parent. How could I possibly communicate my interests and goals in an honest way when my thoughts were in such an unmotivated place? Somehow, I channeled Ragamuffin circa 2016 for every interview and she did me a great service by masking my current intellectual turmoil.

I narrowed my opportunities down to two academic labs and an industry position (I had way more options with diverse potential than I expected, which made the whole process even more confusing). The industry opportunity continues to play out, but I expect this was more a chance for me to introduce myself and be remembered favorably when I apply for a more fitting position in the future. Of the academic labs, one lab was small and very low-key and would probably have prepared me well for a future industry position. The other lab was mid-sized with high expectations and would probably prepare me equally well for either a career in industry or academia. The small lab required finding my own funding, and only when I had secured that was I able to really consider which lab I preferred. It took me a month to decide.

What if I make the wrong choice because of pregnancy brain and end up hating my next position?

What if I misinterpret what lies ahead like I did with my current postdoc lab and wind up losing another year of productivity?

What if it turns out that my career goals change drastically after I become a parent and I chose the wrong work environment to accommodate whatever those are?

I calmed down a bit when my self-employed husband’s income (which crashed the day my PI announced his departure) started to recover, and I felt less guilty about the fiscal implications of staying in academia.

And after several communications with each of the PI’s (both women), I chose the mid-sized lab with high expectations because I felt a strong connection with the PI that made me believe I wanted to and could continue (for now) down the path I would have chosen a year ago. Because there were no wrong choices, only the next chapter of life.

Closing Up Shop:

I left my current lab last week to begin maternity leave. I put all the materials I’ve developed over the last year in cryostasis and labeled them to be shipped to my adjunct faculty oppressor so that he can continue my work (ostensibly) and take credit for my contributions (inevitably). I photocopied my lab notebook, backed up all my meticulous protocols, and archived my server emails so as to have a record of my contributions if I need to defend my right to authorship in 5 years (undoubtedly). I said heavy goodbyes to the colleagues who have been such wonderful influences over the last year, and begrudgingly said an adulatory and pleasant farewell to my PI. And left behind a year of professional struggle and wasted scientific effort.

 

And now, I am ecstatic to spend the remaining two weeks of my pregnancy job hunt-free. Bring it on.


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