Monday, January 31, 2005

Wiggle Your Big Toe

Applications sent: 9
Rejection letters received: 4


So last night, my boyfriend got a call from his advisor. This is not unusual, the phone calls at home on the weekend, in the evening, from the advisor.

I never had an advisor like that.

This particular call was about a deadline to submit an abstract for a Japanese meeting. My boyfriend had previously suggested we should both apply to go, but he forgot to mention this to his advisor. (Forgot? Freudian slip?)

Anyway, he felt bad and tried to download the info from the web, but none of it was in English. Google translator gave us some barely-intelligible gimish, so we managed to pull out some dates and decided that the 'deadline' hasn't yet arrived, despite what his advisor said. So theoretically, we could still both apply for travel awards.

Unfortunately during this process we discovered that one of my 'competitors' will be speaking at the meeting. Not as a postdoc, in a tiny little time-slot, but as a Speaker, on the main program.


I'm not sure what happened. His advisor, who actually is a woman, regularly gets invited to these things and doesn't want to go, so he gets sent instead. This same thing happened at a meeting a few months ago, when I was excited to give a tiny little talk, and he got about three times longer to tell his story (which I didn't know until I got there... I just love surprises).

I find myself green with jealousy, not to mention resentful. It seems unfair that the system is so political that some postdocs are given these opportunites that really put them above and beyond what anyone else could reach just by trying. It really does seem that if you don't pick the right lab, you're screwing yourself out of inumerable, unimaginable opportunities. Mainly the ones where people learn your name and invite you on all-expenses-paid trips to showcase your accomplishments.

I'm sure this guy will have no trouble getting job offers. But I don't think he's going to apply until next year.

I begin to think that since nobody teaches this stuff, you probably have to be born with a manipulative streak in your genes?
Does it take one to know one? My boyfriend is not manipulative, but he picked an advisor who never hesitates to give his people lip-service.

So then another friend sent me this personality test at the Science Advisory Board Take the Test . The four categories are described in 2 or three paragraphs, but I'll summarize them here: Leader (unquestionably going to be successful); Explorer (obnoxious, creative, self-centered and bitchy); Organizer (methodical, OCD-type), and Enthusiast (spineless team-player who doesn't usually have their own ideas). Anyway the friend who sent it, and his wife, both got Leader. His undergrad helper got Explorer, but she thinks it's only because she's young, or something.

I got Explorer. I'm annoyed by this, since the definition of Explorer is that although they are supposedly 'visionaries', they are doomed to never getting along with anyone. Didn't seem very helpful to me. I wasn't clear on whether we're all supposed to strive to be Leaders, or what. Maybe I was a little too honest with my answers???

My boyfriend's advisor is an Explorer. But it's clear to me, he couldn't behave the way he does if he were a woman. And I have to wonder if he was like this when he first started out. I suspect perhaps less so.

Anyway I was not in a great mood about coming to lab today, perhaps because of all of this political stuff. It really makes me feel beaten down, like it's an insurmountable hurdle and I don't see anyone reaching out of the sky to help me conquer it. And it doesn't matter how good my science is, if nobody knows about it.

And who knows if it's really any good. It seems to me that it's pretty difficult to interpret what you're getting in paper reviews when it's clear they're not entirely objective. People don't even bother to try to hide their motives, it's really sickening.


This morning my cell phone rang, which is unusual since I don't give that number out. I thought for a brief moment that it might be about a job (ha ha ha). Turned out it was our not-so-handy man, saying he has no idea why our roof leaked again.

I did hear a good quote this weekend from Morgan Freeman on the Actor's Studio on Bravo. He said something about how if you lay down, people will just step over you, but if you keep moving, someone will always give you a hand.

Too bad most days it's all I can do to wiggle my big toe (yes, that's a reference to Kill Bill).

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Friday, January 28, 2005

Friday afternoon- rain, and coffee cravings


I am really tired.

Last night I had all the best intentions of going to kickboxing class, but I got stuck in traffic. I went home and went running because I had worked up all this energy- and anger. Most of it was from 'male engineer' guy, who emailed me that he had his best friend read some of my posts, particularly some of my generalizations about the men I have had to deal with professionally, and they decided that I 'have a chip on my shoulder.'


This from MentorNet, which is supposed to be a Network for Women. MentorNet, to their credit, seems to want to do something about this, so I'm curious to see what happens. Unfortunately I was annoyed enough that I deleted the guy's email, when I normally would have saved it in case of the need for a lawsuit, or whatever. Very uncharacteristic of me.

You can imagine this is not the first time I've dealt with harrassment via email.

After the running, I did yoga. The idea is to get tired enough to relax. Or something.

Today I am sore. It is good for me, I know, but apparently if I relax, or get sore, it makes me too tired to want to do much of anything.

Especially work.


So, I am waiting for my reverse transcription reaction so I can set up my quantitative PCR. I've never done this before, so it's more amusing and less tedious than I'm sure it will be the next time(s) around.

Except the waiting part. I like data. I don't like the part where I have to incubate the reaction for hours to get the data.

Read some of the NOW magazine this morning at breakfast. Most of it is too depressing to read, but I couldn't miss the statistic on tenure: only 27% of tenured faculty are women. Yet, apparently on average, 50% of assistant professors are women. Of course, this is not specific to science- it's much worse in science.

Suffice it to say, maybe not the best way to start the day.

Yesterday I also got another rejection letter from a university that claims it received no less than 300 applications for this one position. Not that I'm surprised, but it really does start to seem like the futile exercise, mailing out my CV and trying to write cover letters that don't sound like total schlock.

I am working again tomorrow, all day, or I might be in a better mood now. As it is, I don't have anything fun planned tonight and plan to do the usual- sit on the couch and watch Buffy, maybe go to bed earlier than last night.

Am really looking forward to sleeping in on Sunday.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Dinner at the Cancer Center

Hello, it is late and I should go home, but it is raining out and I am feeling lazy about walking to my car.

Went to dinner tonight with a friend from yoga, at the Cancer Center where she volunteers doing massage on chemo patients.

It was interesting. There is a big rift between the Reiki followers and the massage therapists. It's kind of amusing.

The doctor who runs the place has a big heart, but not much knowledge of science. So he tends to be kind of dismissive of science. So much so, that he's really pushing for alternative, spiritual treatments for cancer.

I agree that there are probably many factors involved in recovery and health, and that modern Western medicine tends to ignore the spiritual, energetic, emotional factors (whatever you want to call them). The attitude of the patient and the doctor do make a difference.

But obviously I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't have some problem with him being dismissive of science.

He was the perfect example of a medical doctor who is too busy with patient care to keep up with the latest developments in research. His idea of the 'latest' thing is the newest drugs approved by the FDA. And I'm working 10, 20 years further up the pipeline than that.

I can see why he thinks science isn't so useful if he's only exposed to outdated models and outdated thinking.

But it kind of annoyed me that he's such a hypocrite: on the one hand, his practice and treatments still rely heavily on the latest drugs, monoclonal antibodies, etc. He must realize where those come from. On the other hand, he talks about how ultimately it's all in the hands of the Divine Creator, so it doesn't really matter what we do.

Doesn't really renew my faith that my research makes much of a difference, when doctors have an attitude like that.

I mean, I kind of see where he's coming from: past a certain point, we have no control. But I hate getting lumped in with reductionists. I hate reductionism.

Well I am tired, or I might go on. You guys seem more interested in talking about some topics than others, so I am always curious to see what gets a response and what doesn't.

Happy hump day!

computers and the generation gap

I had a strange realization today. I was thinking about job applications, as per usual. I really do not want to do any snail-mail applications. I have this- perhaps prejudiced?- feeling that schools who eschew, or are not ready for, electronic applications, are not going to be ready for the likes of me.

I grew up with computers. Literally. We started with a Texas Instruments machine when I was about 5 years old, and now I am the proud owner of a Macintosh G4 running OS X . I know a little unix, a little html, etc. But I am not a computer programmer by training and I don't spend a lot of time honing my skills.

However, I am a big proponent of using computers. Although I never want to be on a computer 24-7, I really like having my laptop at work, having wireless internet at work and at home, and all the opportunities and conveniences that affords me.

I think a lot about what computers might someday be able to do for me. I love trying out new programs- I think all companies should have 30-day trials on all software. Why would I buy something for $200+ if I can't try it out first? I have a huge wishlist of programs and hardware that simply do not exist yet, and I'm just waiting for someone who will figure out how to make them work.

Actually I am big on wishlists in general. I started my lab wishlist a few years ago and I just keep improving on it. Toys are good. It's one of the more fun things about science.

So, my point about the generation gap. I was thinking about what kinds of schools ask for snail-mail applications for faculty positions. I'm guessing either the members of the search committee don't have computers, don't have enough staff to print the stuff out for them, or they simply haven't thought of it/don't know what's involved. Alternatively, the administration is against switching to an electronic format, or they simply don't have the resources to facilitate having an up-to-date computer support staff on campus.

None of these possibilities is appealing to me. Would I want to work someplace like that?

And then it hit me: some of the more senior, tenured faculty are old enough to be my parents. These are the people likely to be on the search committee, right?

There is no way these people are going to take me seriously. They're going to think I'm about as mature and responsible as their own daughters (and after what Larry Summers said on Monday about his own daughter, this does not bode well).

More to the point, some of them are almost as old as my grandparents. If they haven't been forced to use computers- and I have run into some faculty who still refuse to even use email - they aren't going to learn before they retire.

Are these people going to be my colleagues?

This is pretty much the same way I feel about Congress. I think people who are still as sharp and energetic and open to new things at 60 as they were at 30 are extremely rare. Lord knows I'm not remotely as energetic (or smart) as I was ten years ago. Maybe we should think harder about forced retirement.

So where does that leave me? Is it worth it to even apply to these places that are apparently trapped in the Dark Ages?

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Monday, January 24, 2005


Well, it is Monday and I had to laugh this morning, I was reading Jane at the breakfast table, and got to the horoscope section. It said something like "the 24th is your day to stop being a failure."


We are at least halfway through the day and so far, I'm not feeling any earthshaking changes.

Was particularly amused that this month's issue of Jane has an article that is *semi* relevant to us- it's about grad school. Granted, as per usual, they picked women in non-science disciplines, in this case Philosophy students at the University of Washington. Who have major drinking problems. Who are 36 years old and taking Ritalin to stay awake and party.

I'm sorry, but it seemed like they deliberately picked people who must be major losers with no direction, no work ethic, and very little self-respect to continue in a job like that for $13,000 or less per year - and with very little sign of ambition to finish and get out. Many of them quit in the middle of writing their dissertation. I mean, if you're going to quit, why quit then?? You just leave empty-handed. At least if you finish your degree and have no job, you can say "Hey, that's Dr. Failure to you!"

Anyway, typical of Jane to sort of miss the point that people going into PhD programs in the humanities are either totally obsessed with their topic, totally naive, or both. They either don't notice or don't care that there are not going to be many job opportunities for a professional philosopher.

Whereas, I would argue that most people going into PhD programs in the sciences are actually duped into thinking it's going to improve their chances of getting a job. The programs are marketed that way, they deliberately use false advertising to draw in new recruits. And everyone participates: the undergraduate institutions the students are coming from, and the graduate schools that are trying to recruit them. I've actually participated in career seminar panels where I sat with deans and professors, who were trying to convince a crowd of clueless undergrads that going to grad school would somehow solve all their problems.


Not to mention the NSF, which is only now starting to realize that all their own reports on the 'shortage' of scientists were completely outdated by the time the data were ready to be released.

Catch up, people! The Biotech boom is over! And Jane, I really do hope you plan to do a story on female scientists one of these days. You like to talk big about women's issues, etc. but you seem more concerned with women in other countries, you know, starving and getting raped and stuff. I mean, sure, that's important and heartbreaking and it's good for us to learn about it so we can feel guilty about our pampered, sheltered lives. But at the same time, why not do some good at home, in the U.S.? You've got the right demographics...

Got a reasonably nice and thoughtful email from the guy I ragged on in my last post, although now I'm afraid to go to the site and read his 'public' reply since I'm not sure what to expect. It made me feel better to hear from some of you that you had similar experiences on some of these discussion groups.

I should get back to looking busy, or something. Plenty of stuff to do, but yesterday was my 'day off' and it ended up being a major chore day: laundry, Costco , and other annoying errands. But hey, won't have to buy toilet paper again for a while.

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Friday, January 21, 2005

Science dinners, networking, and unwelcome non-advice

I just got back from dinner with some visiting scientists.

Ugh. How awkward.

Not only did I miss their seminars, but I haven't read any of their papers. I know just enough about what they do to know what it is, but not enough to ask any probing questions.

And they don't speak English all that well.

And the restaurant was really loud.

And I was the only female there.

Getting the picture?

Let me also add that we were seated at a high table in very tall chairs, so that my feet were swinging far above the ground.

Really does at lot for one's confidence, you know?

It was pretty pointless. Theoretically, this sort of thing should be 'useful', since it helps with 'networking', but as it turned out, I had just gotten annoyed with somebody about the very issue of networking, so I was in a pretty horrible mood when I got there. Hard to be really outgoing when you're privately seething and bitter.

I'm annoyed enough that I'm just going to reprint it.

Here is what happened (names deleted because I'm classy like that):

my original post:

I'm doing a 2nd postdoc on an interdisciplinary project of my own design. I'm currently in the nasty part of starting of the job search, publishing a paper and feeling overwhelmed by not having enough contacts in my field (my advisor doesn't have enough contacts to make up a whole network for me). Help!


male stranger's reply (please keep in mind that this was in a section with a specific field designated, and this guy does not work in this field. Also keep in mind, that this whole site is *supposed* to be for women to help mentor other women):

There's a quote in your message that troubles me: "my advisor doesn't have enough contacts to make up a whole network for me." That's not your advisor's job, that's YOUR job.

A network is like a weapon: you don't need it until you need it, and then you need it very badly indeed. :-)

There's a post in another forum that speaks about technical and professional society involvement as a way to develop leadership experience and contacts...a position with which I strongly agree.

My advice is to start building your personal network NOW (and there are lots of posts around here about how to do that...just remember to keep your links with network members "warm" with occasional communications...the only times they hear from you should NOT be when you need something. :-) )

I would also suggest that you reflect on contacts you've made during your two postdocs as well as your undergrad/grad studies. Perhaps there is someone there who would be a good member of your network. Anyone who was favorably impressed with your work, your demeanor, enthusiasm...whatever; even if they cannot help you directly they may be able to refer you to someone in their network.

Best of luck...and remember that you have two separate but connected issues here: your short-term needs (job, etc.) and long-term ones (building a network that will serve you for your entire life/career).

Best of luck!

-- male engineer

my reply to his reply:

Wow, that was pretty condescending, and not useful at all. Perhaps I should clarify.

Actually I'm *very* involved in national and local scientific groups. I have begun to meet people through those connections, and I am currently conducting a handful of very productive collaborations.

However, but I haven't met many people who are willing and able to actively help me get a job, even if they say they are impressed with my work. The most willing are usually the least connected, while the most connected ones can't seem to be bothered because they're too busy being rich and famous.

I have the strong impression that nobody wants to do much unless it benefits them, too. Hence the successful collaborations- scientifically, everyone wins. That part is easy. My getting a faculty position, however, doesn't do much to help people who are already faculty. For the most part, they could care less what happens to me, because it won't benefit them directly.

Most of the people in my field are men. As I've mentioned in posts in other forums, most men seem more interested in mentoring other men. That's one of the reasons MentorNet appeals to me. Most women faculty, in my experience, are much busier than their male counterparts. They're expected to serve on many more committees. Furthermore, many women faculty still do an unfair share of child-rearing, so they're often racing out of the lab in the evening and don't attend as many meetings as the men. For these reasons, it's much harder to meet female role models. Most of the male faculty I've met, much like yourself, tend to assume I'm an idiot without bothering to find out who I am or what I'm about.

It's all fine and good to talk about having a network, but it's a very vague concept. I have lots of contacts, I have made many acquaintances. I try to make specific requests when I contact people, and I try to do it in a friendly and respectful manner. However, I'm clearly missing some important aspect of networking and I'm not sure what it is. My impression, and the reason for my post, is that you need to have more 'nodes' to get good coverage, and nonlinear science supports this notion. If you don't have the *right* contacts, it takes a lot *more* contacts to get the same coverage. For the well-connected, and by that I mean the lucky person who chose a famous advisor and got along with them swimmingly, a job may be only one or two contacts away. They essentially had a network handed to them. For those of us who worked - albeit successfully- in relative obscurity in grad school, and in my case, had a sexist schmuck for a first postdoc advisor, we are still six degrees of separation away from a job.

-- still pissed off

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Scientific etiquette

So yesterday I went to a meeting in another department, and was saddened to realize that they're just as rude as most everywhere I've been.

This was not the first time I went to a meeting where I knew no one, and no one even attempted to make contact. Not only did no one ask who I was, but no one introduced themselves, either.

Sometimes I will pipe up and ask if we can go around the room, but this time I didn't have the energy to bother.

I was especially disappointed since this particular department has a reputation for being interdisciplinary and creative.

Hard to be creative in a group without talking to each other---?

I'm so tired of scientists who have no manners. I don't care if you're shy, introducing yourself will not cause hell to freeze over!

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Not Enough Mentors

I just went to the MentorNet site, which, btw, my University is not a member of, so I can't use all the resources.

Nevermind about that. One really can't expect any help, can one?

So I looked at the list of "Mentors needed" vs. "Mentors available", and it seems clear that faculty, particularly women, in the 'hard sciences' -e.g. engineering, compsci, etc. are much more committed and available for mentoring than their counterparts in the biological sciences.

We could say this is just statistical: there are many more postdocs in biology than in these other fields combined. So there couldn't possibly be enough mentors to go around.

But perhaps this is part of that 'sadly mistaken' phenomenon- everyone thinks that Biology is somehow Easier- that it's less of a science, that there are more women in it so we're less in need than those in Engineering.

I would argue that because the job market is that much more competitive in biology, we need that much more help, or we're going to have a lot more people on antidepressants, and a lot more PhDs working in fast-food chains.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I despise Harvard, I detest Harvard

The title comes from a T-shirt a friend of mine used to wear. He got it his senior year in high school, when he was accepted to Harvard. Except his version said "I hate Yale, I despise Yale, I detest Yale..."

Makes you wonder why Harvard, if it's so great, is threatened by a tiny, old school in New Haven?

No, this blog is about a speech given by Harvard's president yesterday. Kudos to Grrlscientist for letting me know about this! I live under a rock, btw, that's why I hadn't heard about it yet.

God, where to begin. Well, let's start at the top of the article and work our way down.

First, "The president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, sparked an uproar at an academic conference Friday when he said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers."

As someone who has been dealing with this kind of crap my whole life, I have to say that it never gets any easier.

I was in the Gifted and Talented program from 3rd grade on. In 2nd grade, I used to make a boy named Peter M. bang his head on his imitation-wood desk just by repeatedly beating him at speed-tests in basic arithmetic.

Starting in 4th grade, I was the only girl in my math group. IT REALLY SUCKED. There were only a handful of us in my math classes in junior high, maybe 20% of the class was girls (say, 5 out of 25 in Algebra and Geometry). Senior year, in multivariable calculus, I was again the only girl. The one other girl dropped out.

Why, you might ask? Honestly, all I can do is speculate, based on many conversations with my peers, a few classes in Women's Studies, and a lot of reading.

The one thing I learned in school, above all others and perhaps most importantly in life, is that no matter how good you are at some things, you can't be the best at everything.

I believe in cultural effects on gender bias. You can't study Anthropology and miss this. If it's an innate property, why is it that our culture is so patriarchal, while many others throughout history were not?

Perhaps because girls seem to do better in school than boys in general, they tend to gravitate toward subjects where they are already excelling?

Girls generally kick boys' asses in all things literary, for example, and foreign languages. And that's fun. It's a lot more fun than struggling to get an A- or a B+ in trigonometry. Most girls I know really like a pat on the head more than the guys I know.

Boys are strongly encouraged to do well in math and science, much more so than girls are. (someone please remind me to ask my sister what she thinks about this!).

What guys do better is hide the struggle. Boys are encouraged- or used to be, pre-sports for girls- to be more competitive. Girls have a tendency to self-regulate, to try to force each other to fit in. Excelling in math goes against the grain when you're a standout- all the girls will hate you.

They hated me in elementary school, but I can't say if it's because I was better at math, and worse at hiding it, than they were. Maybe it's because I didn't want to hide it?

So I believe in socialization, and I believe in discrimination because I've experienced it myself.

Speaking of outright discrimination, Nancy Hopkins, btw, is one of my all-time heros. See the study that changed it all .

Obviously Harvard isn't making a lot of progress on the issue, since "The percentage of tenured job offers made to women by the university's Faculty of Arts and Sciences has dropped dramatically since Summers took office, prompting vigorous complaints from many of Harvard's senior female professors."

-- "the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks."

Ugh. How can he say this is not due to our CULTURAL NORMS, where the man DOES NOTHING and the women do ALL THE WORK???

And more to the point, I never want kids anyway, but I still get plenty of discrimination. I worked for a guy who said that he loved employing pregnant women because they were so organized and efficient.

The last guy I worked for treated me like I was a heartless bitch because I didn't have any inclination to be somebody's mother. A woman who doesn't have this drive must surely be too much like a man, was his insinuation.

And someone I worked for once told me that the reason I'm good at tissue culture is because 'women are more nurturing.' (He didn't know it was because the MAN who trained me was a good teacher!)

You get screwed either way.

Also, to bring up the point about 80-hour work weeks, this is also a cultural norm. Several women have commented to me that they seem to get evaluated as being 'lazy' because they're efficient with their time.

As one friend put it, "why would you want to reward someone for taking hours longer to finish the same task? Why is it good to brag about how you stayed late?"

"daddy truck" and "baby truck"

Again, generalizations made from flawed studies... what children play with is largely a function of what they're given and what they see adults and children around them doing. It's very difficult to find children who have never been around any adults or children or toys before!

I never wanted dolls as a child, UNTIL MY SISTER GOT ONE. There is definitely something to be said for children following examples. But even then, I was just copying her, and the logic went something like this: I'm unhappy and my sister is always happy. She has a doll. Maybe a doll will make me happy.

Dolls didn't, and don't, make me happy. But I had to do the experiment!

And nobody gave me too many trucks, either, although we did have some early robotics sets that didn't work very well, and my father was always bringing home the latest computers from work.

Nobody let us take apart the toaster, as many of my guy friends did, because our parents were afraid we'd get hurt. And we were terrified of getting in trouble, so we wouldn't have done it on our own.

Nobody let us go out to play without supervision, especially not at night. Meanwhile, the boys were off exploring half-finished buildings during the day and playing kick-the-can in the dark. And that old saying, "boys will be boys" is why it's okay for them to take apart the toaster without asking.

Anyway, this guy Summers is clearly out of touch with reality. He's selective in his reading and his interpretation of the literature, and hasn't bothered to do his homework.

And I feel really sorry for his wife and his daughters. Not only is he a sexist prick, but I'm sure if he had been around more while they were growing up, his wife could have had all kinds of opportunities she probably didn't have time for, and he would have learned a lot from his daughters.

I mean, he's the classic example. How convenient for him to have children and still work 80 hours a week! How does he think that happens??? I swear, the man can't do simple math.

Oh, and one more thing. I didn't want a job at Harvard anyway.

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the generation gap

Grrlscientist reminded me that I might as well use this as an opportunity the plug the National Postdoc Association.

Perhaps in the past there was no need for such an organization, but it fills a void: the generation gap.

There is a gigantic void between the generation that is now tentured professor-dom and the generation that is now looking for jobs is a tremendous one.

It's worth reassessing your goals and your plan to reach them in the context of: things have changed since your advisor got a job. The old formulas don't apply anymore.

Lies the faculty told me:

1. It doesn't matter who you know.

correction: Who you know is the only thing that will get you an interview.

2. The same number of people get faculty positions now, so it doesn't matter as long as you're in the top 10%.

correction: the competition is so much steeper now, it's a nonlinear situation. the dropoff from the top 9% to the top 10% could make all the difference in your success. It's true for grants, and everybody knows it. Why do they pretend it's not true for jobs?

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women scientist role models

Hello again, silent (and possibly nonexistent) observers.

Today I want to talk about aspiring to have, and do, things our role models could not.

As a woman in science, I don't have a lot of role models. Any woman scientist who garners the slightest approval from the field or the public wins my respect and admiration, if only because I know how hard it is. Even if she's an unbearable she-witch. (I'm working on my infinite compassion. Supposedly it's good for your brain. See this article if you haven't heard about this study with the Dalai Lama.)

I was thinking about this today while listening to NPR on the way in, the Talk of the Nation today was about Condoleeza Rice. I have to admit that I have no idea what to make of her. Part of me wants to admire her just for making it this far, even if she had to sell her soul to do it. Or did she ever have one? Or is she really that naive? I can't believe she's a complete moron...?

Anyway, today I was reading this page about Maria Goeppert-Mayer , who is a physicist I never would have heard of if she hadn't won the Nobel Prize.

The gist of the page is that she always worked with no pay (until the very end of her career). Her husband, of course, was a professor, and her family was wealthy, or she couldn't have survived.

Similarly, I read this book about Barbara McClintock called Feeling for the Organism , which basically tells the story of how poor Barbara, discoverer of many many useful biological things, drove around the country as a 'visiting scholar' for much of her career because she didn't have a Real Job, Much Funding or Lab Space.

Sigh. It just doesn't seem like a viable option nowadays, to work for no money in a field like science. In the Arts, sure, because you're supposed to have passion and you're supposed to be bone-thin, anyway. But you're supposed to be impartially passionate in science, something I've never really mastered.

Meditation... check on gel.... meditation... transfer gel... meditation.... finish western.

Hope for Enlightenment and World Peace.

Monday, January 17, 2005

I hate advertising

Okay, so at the moment my randomly-changing Google Ads is showing linking to PhD programs.

I just want to say for the record that I don't think ANYONE should EVER go to grad school.

So I'm kind of conflicted about the ads. I mean, on the one hand, I think people thinking about going to grad school should definitely be reading my blog.

Little do they know what it's actually like!

On the other hand... well if anyone had told me what grad school would have been like, I would have seriously considered cutting off one of my hands if it meant I didn't have to go. Lord knows I would have considered cutting one off if it would have gotten me out of there sooner.

Well, I did consider various forms of dismemberment, both for myself and others...

Anyway, as it turned out, I redid my experiment on Sunday Night and it actually worked a little better. Tonight I will try again... yes, it is MLK day, and it is technically a holiday, but as we scientists know, cells wait for no man's cold-blooded murder anniversary.

Technically, scientists don't observe holidays of any kind. We work all day, every day. Well, we do when we're feeling motivated. Or competitive. Mostly when we're breathing, we are working.

Do we get any credit for this? Noooo. Do we get paid well? Nooooo

Do the math. It's just not worth it. Friends don't let friends go to grad school.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

saturday night in the lab

Well, I am here trying to do an experiment, but it's not really working. I should have known, but usually when I try something new I have this irrational optimism that it might actually be fun (and easy).

Oh well.

Anyway I am getting close to giving up for the evening and going home. This is probably as much as I could expect for a first attempt, and I am all set to come back and try again tomorrow. Of course, if the equipment weren't always busy during the week, I wouldn't have to sacrifice my personal life for failed experiments...

Thursday, January 13, 2005

No one is safe anywhere

Went to dinner last night with some acquaintances, one of whom is now looking for a postdoc position. He's basically made up his mind, but ostensibly wanted to discuss the decision with me.

Let's just say, like most scientists, he had already made up his mind and the matter wasn't really open for discussion anymore.

Mostly I was frustrated because he's making a lot of the same mistakes I made, but he seems to want to ignore the possibility of actual advice, which I had none of when I went through this.

You can lead a horse to water, or whatever.

Then today, I talked to a friend who is a medical writer at a company. She makes more money, has tons of great benefits, but after a year she is finally admitting that the job is not giving her everything she hoped it would. Science seems infinite, it's about slow progress toward extremely long-term goals, and lots of people find that frustrating. She went to writing thinking that having deadlines was kind of soothing, having things to check off on a list of To-Dos can be very satisfying. Employee evaluations, the possibility of advancement, all that good stuff. But it makes me sad that it's not what she expected.

One of my professors in college gave me some advice. He said that it doesn't really matter what you do, there will still be frustration and mean people and all that yucky stuff. Basically he said there's no point in wondering whether you'd be happier doing something else, because you won't be happy no matter what.

Or maybe he just meant me.

Anyway I think most career counselors- especially that nut job yesterday- would scream bloody murder at advice like that. But it makes sense in a way- unless you're really miserable, all the time, there's no guarantee that a change will fix much. A lot of the things that suck about work are simply endemic to all jobs.

Ah, the working life...

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Lies Scientists Tell Themselves

I just got back from a meeting with a collaborator. Of course, things I had previously suggested had not been done, and when another outsider made the same suggestion, everyone acted like it was on the list and they just hadn't had time yet (yeah, right). Priorities, priorities.

Meanwhile, I visited a friend who is not yet done with grad school. She, like many of my friends, seems to labor under the assumption that I am an outlier, that I am unusually frustrated with the scientific system the way it exists in this country right now. More importantly, she seemed to think that because I'm very vocal in my complaints, that it must be worse for me and I have made bad decisions that account for my bad experiences (Lie #1: It Will Be Different For Me).

We spent some time thinking about why, even as graduate students who work closely with postdocs, we were so clueless as to how bad it would be.

Here is the take-home message: most postdocs are working too hard at experiments to notice that they're not going to get jobs until it's too late.

Everyone told us, if you work hard and do well, you will get a job.

One is therefore left to conclude that if one does not have a pile of job offers, one is exhausted and burned out for some reason other than failed attempts at working hard and doing well.

I'm not someone who has been at this for many years, but I'm not sure that I like it enough to toil away with no funding, no space, and no hope of recognition or respect (ok that last one will probably last forever no matter what I do).

What's sad is, I am one of those people. Lies I didn't realize were lies at the time:

1. I don't care where I live. I will be happier in a good lab in a bad place than a bad lab in a good place.

2. I don't care if I never make any money. (This one goes away as soon as you start paying your own rent in a studio in a ghetto).

3. I like science enough that it makes up for all the bullshit.


Topless and Luckless

Yes, they are ripping the roof off our house as we speak (so to speak). Five guys showed up with dirty boots, hammers and ladders and away they go. They checked in the attic- our whole roof probably needs to be replaced, but we somehow doubt that will happen since our slumlord doesn't really care what happens to this house. Rumor has it he paid it off years ago so now anything he makes off it is pure profit.

Went to a career seminar yesterday, it was awful. The guy wrote a book - here's the link:

Luck Is No Accident

It's all about how he can take credit for being so clever as to have the job he has now, but he told us a story that sounded like pure luck to me. He said the day he lost his internship, he ran back to his school to ask if anyone could find him another one, and he just happened to run into someone in the hallway who knew about an opening. He called the place and just barely made it under the wire for the deadline for an interview. Well, he ended up getting the job, but tell me that's not luck-! I mean, if he had been an hour later, even a few minutes, he might not have gotten that interview.

Some of us are not so lucky.

I did like that he showed a Monty Python clip during his seminar, but then he didn't really deconstruct it at all. I mean, the Vocational Career Counselor basically steers the client into an only marginally-different job, and to me this is classic for what these people do. But he didn't even comment on it.

Anyway, my point being, most of that stuff is not useful. He didn't tell me anything I didn't already know- take advantage of the opportunities that come your way, yada yada.

The part where I get stuck is having opportunities come my way. I do everything I'm supposed to- I schmooze, I really do. I'm not afraid to ask anyone and everyone I meet if they have any leads for me. But so far, no job.

Oh yeah, the other great news of yesterday- one of my competitors is interviewing at my alma mater. I don't even have any interviews (yet???), but a friend of mine at the school sent me an email to let me know that he had seen this guy's seminar advertised. Lovely! Just what I needed to hear.

Hope you all had a better day yesterday than I did.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Monday, 3:37 pm

Dear All,

We are back with yet another rainy Monday. I brought my backup umbrella from home, in case you were wondering.

Went to lunch for someone who is leaving. That was awkward. What do you say to someone you doubt you'll see again, ever? I still don't have a good way of dealing with this. I tend to fall back on assuming I will probably run into them again somewhere, sometime. I figure you never know... Science is small, after all. Less than six degrees of separation, and everyone is always travelling, we run into each other at meetings, etc. And everyone is always moving, you don't get to plan on living anywhere for more than about 5 years.

I swear, someday I will own real furniture. I mean, it's ridiculous to think there is this whole segment of overeducated professionals in their early 30s with no real homes or possessions or jobs.

It's really quite insane when you think about it. What a joke all those 'stay in school' ads seem to me now!

Split cells again and avoiding starting a new experiment. Edited this paper, the Paper That Won't Die. It makes me physically ill to think about the next stage of editing it and submitting it again, but it really needs to get done.

Hunted for jobs a little bit online, but that was too depressing to even describe. Let's just say this: whoever told us we would be able to get good jobs with a PhD in Bioscience, that was a lie. That advice has long since expired. There are way too many PhDs, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is just clueless.

And with that, have a happy Monday, y'all.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Someone stole my umbrella

It's been raining all day, which is pretty impressive for where we live. Anyway I left my umbrella hanging on the doorknob to our shared office, and when we got back from lab meeting, it was gone.

People suck.

This guy who was talking today was a visiting speaker, he's been pretty successful. I didn't like his stuff at all, to me it seemed like more crap on a very large pile of crap. It's not really his fault, he doesn't really know any better and the peer review process clearly doesn't work, or he wouldn't have gotten this far basing all his hypotheses on these kinds of assumptions... But if I try to ask him some questions to try to lead him to realize some of the flaws in his design... well let's just say one of his faulty assumptions is quite common among scientists: they assume that if you're young, and they haven't heard of you, that you couldn't possibly know anything. So then I give up, because this guy claims he wants our input, but he clearly doesn't actually want to hear that he's using cells from the wrong organism, and he needs to show his controls, and the drugs he's choosing to use will create artifacts in his assay....

Oh, nevermind. Just because I get criticized for similar or more minor problems with my own work, doesn't mean I get to tell anyone else they're doing it wrong!

Lately I'm having a hard time thinking science is worth doing when so much of it is so clearly incorrect. It seems like we could easily spend forever disproving theories that are obviously wrong, rather than coming up with new ideas. Even if you have a new idea, you can easily spend your whole career trying to convince people it's worth testing.

Pisses me off.

My friend invited me to a dinner in a few weeks, there's this doctor at a local cancer center who does some outreach work with volunteers who help improve patients' quality of life- music therapy, massage, etc. Anyway my friend does massage and other kinds of Body Work, so she's going to this dinner and wants me to come along. I feel very conflicted about this, since I will likely be the only person there with any science background, and supposedly this guy wants to talk about advances in chemotherapy and diagnosis, etc. I don't know if it will be very watered-down or if I will just think it's all crap, which seems to be how I feel about the vast majority of bioscience these days. And I'm not sure I want to mix these two things, because I'm usually pretty non-science when I'm with this friend, so having to do both at the same time, the idea makes me uncomfortable.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Day 2: What day is it?

I had food poisoning on Monday night, thus the stream of consciousness was diverted and I went into hardcore fasting-and-meditation mode. This would please my yogi, but my boyfriend was a bit frightened that I'm actually declaring myself vegetarian until further notice (mostly because it was chicken that made me sick in the first place).

I'm not saying I've been super-productive today, but I managed to do a little work on a figure for a collaborator who I'm sure doesn't fully appreciate how lucky he is to have me contributing to his paper. Oh well. Ran into a friend who finally got a faculty position and got an earful about how it doesn't matter how many jobs you apply for, what really matters is who you know- and anyone who tells you differently probably applied for jobs 15 years ago. I think he's right, but it didn't cheer me up at all. I don't know anyone and nobody who knows me seems too impressed with my amazing ability to question the existing assumptions while, naturally, simultaneously pissing everyone off. Of course, this 'friend' I was talking to has a job offer and I know a lot of people who really hate him. So none of this is easy to rationalize. Clearly being disliked is not enough to hurt you... well maybe that's only true if you're a man. It seems much easier to slam women, I still don't entirely understand why.

Thus concludes another email into the void. Hello, void! Please send me a comment or a question so I know somebody will eventually read this thing.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Day 1: Being awake makes me tired.

Hello, and welcome to yet another amateur blog. I won't ramble on about how this is my first time blogging, I just want to say that I hope I am filling a niche.

For starters, I will tell you about a typical day in the life of a lab rat. For example, today I got up and made phone calls before I came to work. I do this because it's frowned upon to show any interest whatsoever in non-science activities while in the lab. Also because I rarely have time to do anything during 'normal' business hours. Then I came to lab, and checked on my cells. I'm growing five different kinds of cancer cell lines right now, a number that will double by the end of today when I thaw out some more aliquots. Cells looked ok, so I stained them and went over to the microscope. This was just a control experiment, but it was kind of disappointing. More disappointing: someone used up all my PBS, which is not supposed to be a shared reagent. More disappointing still: got two emails from my collaborator regarding a paper we are still trying to get published. He wanted to make sure I had seen the two papers that my competitors published recently. Gee, thanks.

We are now halfway through the day. Someone asked me about a protocol, so I wrote it down for her. We have lab meeting in a couple of hours so I have to figure out what else I'm going to do today, and then try to get motivated to do it.

Lesson number one: Be a self-starter. Nobody's going to hold your hand or pat you on the head.

Lesson number two: You are not your job. And thank god, because work can be really boring. That's why they call it work. Or in my case, that's why they call it re-search: same shit, different day. If it worked the first time... but 95% of what we do doesn't work the first time. Or the third time. If you're not in research you probably have no idea what I'm talking about or why anyone would choose a career like this.

Lesson number three: Get back to work. Time management is key.

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