Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wait Your Turn

"Wait your turn" is what my advisor said to me yesterday when I told her I'm not sure what to expect from the job search business.

She was complaining that one of her former postdocs- and this is a very common complaint- doesn't want to be bothered finishing up some publications since he left. I told her there's no incentive once you get out, unless you actually think you're contributing to society or the general progress of scientific knowledge. If it doesn't get you anything immediately and personally, most people just don't care.

Anyway it took most of the day for her comment about waiting to sink in.

She meant it in terms of her own grants- everyone knows now that most grants don't get funded on the first try, but that perseverance counts for a lot. So I think that's what she meant- just keep trying.

But. I also think this betrays a certain female attitude, that good things will come to those who wait patiently, fold their hands prettily in their laps and smooth their hair.

Screw that. Men aren't going to wait. Men say, "Give it to me!" and they get it. They go out there and they demand a job. They're never going to assume it will eventually come if they're just... what, passive enough? Give me a break.

Yeah, yeah, some men are passive too. But women are usually terrified to be aggressive, because we're usually punished if we stand up and insist on being counted.

I just think this is something my advisor doesn't even realize has hurt her own career. I can think of all kinds of examples where a little more assertiveness on her part would have helped, rather than complaining after the fact that nobody noticed that she was doing a good job and deserved more, or whatever. To me, this is a trap women always fall into, and I'm trying to learn how to avoid doing it myself.

I think we have to start by getting rid of the attitude that waiting is a worthwhile activity- sometimes it's just not worth the wait. I decided a long time ago that I'm not going to stay a postdoc for 9 years just to get a faculty position. To be honest, I don't want one badly enough to do this for that long. I think I've paid enough dues, and if I don't fit the profile of what most search committees are looking for at this point, I give up. They want to complain that there's not enough innovation in science, but they're looking for the wrong thing if all they're hiring are people who did 8 or 9 years of postdoc.

7 Comments:

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Fab adventures of Carlysle Tancha said...

0 year postdoc? yes, that is what I am definitely trying to avoid.

Thanks for checking my blog--tunrs out that the call came today and would offer a whole lot of flexibility and could start off on a more consultant type of manner--meaning I could work from home (or go with the postdoc) and keep hush about what I do in my spare time.

In terms of aggressiveness: I have been called a 'tough cookie' by one PI. Eventually, that relationship crumbled and I had to leave his lab. He wouldn't accept the molecular revolution--despite the fact that I thought he had interesting projects in cardiac medicine. So, I had to leave that lab after taking the initiative to drive my project--only to get kicked out of another department for my outspoken attitude. Today's science doesn't seem to reward the outgoing creative individual. I am not a person whom is just loud to be loud, but when I see that things should be done differently, I will speak up and let my opinions be known. I think that I will eventually write a book on the experience, but that has to wait until I get far, far away from the trauma...

Keep on chugging!!!

 
At 3:34 PM, Anonymous BWJones said...

I would absolutely encourage a bit more aggressiveness/assertiveness. Go out and punk rock it! Kick the doors in, tell people what you want and make it happen.

Here is the deal: People will take whatever you are willing to give them........and they will take.......and they will take......until you start establishing your own boundaries and your own desires.

Sometimes the situation is untenable. For instance, after graduation, I started a post-doc in a cancer lab and it became apparent that I was not going to be able to MY work in addition to the PI's work. The situation was untenable and I ended up leaving after 6 months for a post doc that I was being actively recruited for. However, friends that stayed in the lab who were much more passive ended up not getting anything out of the experience and they left academia entirely after the experience.

Leaving was a good decision. It's been 18 months since I left and things are looking as good as they possibly could be. Don't be afraid of telling people what it is that you want. Don't be afraid of talking to the chairman. Don't be afraid of telling people what you need to succeed.

 
At 9:16 PM, Blogger pluripotentate said...

academic science is weird. it rewards people who memorize and regurgitate, people who crusty old p.i.'s hope they were like as young men, rather than people who come up with new ideas.

(your blog's a mess on IE on a mac, if it matters to ya. looks good in bloglines, though.)

 
At 11:00 PM, Blogger John said...

My monthly dose of platitudes:

Waiting for a turn works poorly. And biting ones tongue is poor strategy, too.

On the other hand, don't be repetitive. If you say it, they understand it, and they don't agree, move on. If someone tells me something loudly and fervently and repeatedly, and I disagree, I won't be listening very carefully the next time. It's ok to disagree, preferably clearly and constructively, and it shouldn't be a confrontation. Get the reputation for having an incisive point of view, not for rubbing peoples' faces in it.

 
At 2:25 AM, Blogger Dr J. said...

The sitting patiently with hands folded is something I´ve noticed a lot with female scientists. And then when that doesn´t work they become bitter, paranoid, snappy and with a chip the size of Everest on their shoulder. I´m one of them I admit, but it took quite a while to realise that, and to come to terms with the fact that by being so negative I was ensuring that I wouldn´t succeed.

John´s point here is valid. The angrier I got that things weren´t coming my way, the more I sat back and waited for it too because that´s what I thought I deserved, then the less likely it became, then the more I bitched, then the less things........

Women sit on their hands a lot and wait for things to be delivered (this is a generalisation I KNOW) because they think that this is what the men get. In some ways that is true, the guys have their networks, it comes easier. But then again, the guys have their networks and creating and maintaining these is also a way of bringing things to you. Keep yourself in the picture, extend your sphere of influence and for god´s sake make sure people know who you are, what you do and how good you are. Don´t sit back and wait for them to realise ´cause they won´t.

Now I´m in business development I see more clearly these networks, and I see how much everyone (also the men) work on them. I also see that in this world, I´m being accepted very readily, being encorporated into the networks of my colleagues and already branching out my own sphere of influence. It used to scare me, this whole selling yourself, but actually it´s a lot of fun.

 
At 7:04 AM, Anonymous C said...

...everyone knows now that most grants don't get funded on the first try, but that perseverance counts for a lot. So I think that's what she meant- just keep trying.

But. I also think this betrays a certain female attitude, that good things will come to those who wait patiently, fold their hands prettily in their laps and smooth their hair.

Screw that. Men aren't going to wait. Men say, "Give it to me!" and they get it. They go out there and they demand a job. They're never going to assume it will eventually come if they're just... what, passive enough?


I don't see a contradiction between those. Yes, men go out and get it and women should too - which means perseverance in the face of rejections.

I think it's useful to bear in mind the typical rejection rate just so's you can protect your self-esteem when the inevitable rejections happen, but to me, perseverance is all about NOT waiting, but going and getting it! That go-get attitude is exactly what's needed for perseverance!

 
At 7:20 PM, Blogger Dr. Mon said...

My favorite mentor, a woman, told me I could have any position I wanted when I started searching. That was great advice. It was not advice to be haughty or egotistical, but a word to say visualize what you want and go for it. I agree with you in a lot of respects--sitting around waiting for things to happen puts you in a position to just complain later that you were discriminated against and passed over because of X Y or Z. When you go for what you want with your best package and 100% effort, you will either meet with much success or rejections that at least give you feedback as to what you need to do to get where you want to go. Those who stay sitting in the wings never really have that external feedback to know fully how to move forward, adjust, improve, and achieve their goals....Oooh I'm about to start preachin on ur blog!!

 

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