Sunday, July 30, 2006

Nobody Cares About Your Blog

Was shopping with my 'best' friend when she, laughing, pointed out a t-shirt emblazoned with this sarcastic phrase.

She knows I have a blog, but I've never sent her the URL (plausible deniability!) so I don't know if she's figured out where it is or whether she actually reads it.

I guess she thinks it's stupid for me to ever mention it to her at all?


I'm writing because of angst, rather than any sort of good news.

It's frustrating because I'm always worried about revealing any kind of details that could identify me, but there are some things going on lately that I really want to write about, so I'm going to try to continue to obscure just enough while still giving you the main ideas.

A lot of stuff happened this week that has me pretty upset.


I had a meeting last week where a male friend kind of hijacked the conversation about my work, and while I know he meant well and probably didn't even realize what was happening, the senior PI in the room was looking to my friend to give suggestions on my project, instead of looking to me. Thanks, pal.

It's what I call the 'little birdie effect':

A woman suggests something, some time goes by, a man suggests the same thing and everyone congratulates him on a great idea. The man doesn't remember that he heard the idea from a woman's voice, instead the idea just 'came to him' as if 'a little birdie told me.' So he's in the clear because he didn't mean to steal her idea. He literally didn't realize that he didn't give credit where credit was due.

I was thinking about this because I was reading Absinthe's stories about her experiences at Fermilab and wondering if some of her stories could also be explained this way: we don't even register on their radar, so when they overlook giving us credit, is it because they're deliberately trying to screw us over, or because we don't exist?

So I'm feeling like I'm not supposed to have a voice, from the 'nobody cares about your blog' smackdown to the little birdie effect.

As usual, I'm afraid that if I'm too much of a squeaky wheel, I get labeled as 'hysterical female' (aka 'paranoid' in today's vernacular). But if I don't say anything at all, I get flattened by the wheel of a very large truck.


Oh and then, just for kicks, I went to see an acquaintance in a burlesque show.

Yes, they were wearing pasties and everything.

It was bizarre. But not what I expected. Mostly I was suprised that it wasn't more shocking, that it didn't turn me on in the slightest: it wasn't sexy.

And it was oddly empowering, in the sense that they weren't perfect bodies and they were obviously having a great time prancing around with their asses hanging out.

But I'm not sure how I would have felt about going to see something like that with my boyfriend. He probably would have found it sexy... I'm not sure if I want to know.

And I found myself wondering what sorts of day jobs these women have, because much as I worry about having a blog, I could never do something like that! So here's hoping, in some ways more than others, that nobody cares about my blog.

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At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok... my two cents.

yes, there is a dark side to unions. there is also an even darker side to management. think your upper-level university administration is any less smarmy? think again. go for the lesser of the evils, the one that will fight for your rights. because as you've noticed, the vast majority in science are getting completely screwed. the reason why all large unions are scary and a little reeky is because of who they've had to fight against. remember that.

the guy who hijacked your conversation: hijack it back next time. you are right that us women have two choices: bitch, or silent. well, go for bitch. i did, and i've never regretted it. and i don't think i'm called hysterical. actually, i'm called scary. but i guarantee you i get treated with respect. machiavelli said, if you can't be loved, be feared. women spend too much time worrying about what other people think. you want to be heard? demand it.

i like your blog, i read it, and you do have a voice. we all do. just yell loud enough to be heard. you go girl.

2 cents from another female phd.

At 11:51 PM, Blogger Dr J. said...

Everytime the male coworkers mentioned my ideas I just sat up and said loudly "I´m glad you brought up that idea I mentioned last week, now we can discuss it" or something similar. I was never shy of claiming my things and never quiet where I saw problems and it never came back and bit me on the bum. In fact I was offered a permanent senior scientist position exactly because of that attitude.
Don´t be quiet about what´s yours and fuck´em if they think you´re pushy. You should be.

At 2:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry about post-docs pricing themselves out of the market. Someone's got to be at the bench and analysing the data whilst the PI writes grants. It's not 'artifically driving up the salary' it's charging what the market will bear for a valuable service.

At 2:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I care!

At 3:42 AM, Blogger dlamming said...

On unions: even if you all unionize, you're the ones who get to elect your representatives and negotiate (and vote on) your contracts. Moreover, since postdoc salaries are essentially set by the NIH, there's not much damage that can be done.

Here's the upside though, as I see it: postdocs have pretty widely disparate benefits, with some getting no health care depending on what type of grant they're on. Postdocs also have no job security at all, which is kind of ridiculous. So there are a lot of things a union could help improve.

Oh, and on unionized workers "driving up the cost of education" - I'm not saying you're right or wrong in your particular case, but typically speaking, most people concede that raising the minimum wage has little or no effect on inflation. So just because the workers at your school were being paid more, doesn't mean that it raised the price of education very much.

At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Joy said...

I know that unions are supposed to be helpful to the workers, and offer protection. However, I've seen them becoming a burden, and bloated bureauracy. I've had experience with student Unions in India composed to "students" who rather cause chaos, than productive solutions..

About the Birdie effect, that is an unfortunate happening at work. I don't know the surrounding circumstances, but I would definitely try to either talk to that person to stole your idea, or to the senior PI to clear things up..

You have a great blog! Cheers!

At 5:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, good post, i like the way you link all the things together! i soooo know what you mean about the 'little birdie' effect, that's a good name for it. it's something i've been fuming over for years now!

At 10:23 AM, Blogger kstrna said...

Pricing yourselves higher would be good. The only thing is it has to be done in a way that doesn't hurt the advisors since increases in post-doc salaries of course aren't paid for by the schools themselves but rather by the grants' of the PIs. Any raise not covered by a corresponding increase in the grant should be covered by the universities (they get overhead from the grant, basically it would come out that). That would give the universities incentive to push for more money for grants. If the UAW listens to its membership hopefully it can push to create more "research scientist" positions for those who don't want to be faculty but want to stay in university level research.

Aren't post-doc salaries artificially low? Higher pay means there would be a cost incentive to get post-docs to move and not stay for years working away while stagnating professionally. There are already post-doc unions (UConn Health Center I do believe is one example). They seem to be doing just fine.

Most unions in this country aren't anything to write home about. Most unions afterall are all about partnerships with the companies, which in the long run kinda defeats the purpose of a union. Plus they are too cozy with the Democrats (not that being cozy with Repulicans would be good). Having a union is better than not having one. You should fight to make sure democratic procedures are used to make decisions.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger PhD Mom said...

I care about your blog.

I do think you are a little negative, but hey my sister is like that and she's alright. For the longest time I was convinced that you might be my sister or a girl in her lab. The stories of horror seem to match, but you mentioned something bio a while ago and she is not so it must be that horror is universal.

At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How Pathetic. You whine all the time about how you need a union and are underpaid, then when something happens you are too much of a sissy to make a firm decision about the issue.
Academics = weak and unattractive people.

At 6:14 PM, Blogger avocadoinparadise said...

I care about your blog! But I care in the way that is ok, not in the annoying trying to figure out who you really are way that we worry about. :)

In fact, I just linked to you from my favorites list! I think the written word is really a boon to the movement for women to have stronger voices in society. And blogging is great writing practice!

I've read that it's easier to get published by using I. N. Itials professionally instead of a female name...

At 6:56 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

re: dark side to management, I have been to the dark side, and where I am now I think is not it. Actually I think there are a lot of really great people running a very democratic faculty here, so I have a hard time blaming them.

I did say 'yes, I wanted to do that' in past tense, but you guys are right, I should have said, as Dr. J suggested, 'I'm glad you brought up that idea I mentioned weeks ago" in more explicit phrasing. But really in some ways I think I'm too possessive and paranoid about getting credit for my ideas. I have PLENTY of ideas and I think most people know that.

That said, thanks for the pepping up about being pushy! That always makes me smile.

Postdocs don't have to be at the bench, we have grad students for that. Don't we?

dlamming, thanks for bringing up the point about how we should get to vote on everything even if we unionize. I'm not sure how it works with UAW but maybe it won't be a total loss. My feeling right now though is that it's not going to be totally democratic.

re; benefits, the UC system just finished changing the benefits for all 8 campuses, so everyone is pretty equal now. So it's not clear why unionizing would make much difference if, as others have pointed out, our salaries are frozen thanks to the NIH budget (hello, congress!). And the university overhead couldn't possibly afford to pay us all what we're worth! And yes, having fewer postdocs would be GOOD, I'm in favor of that. But it does drive up the cost of education. It's not minimum wage we're talking about - that's what we get right now. We're talking about significantly more. Let's say the average postdoc salary is ~$40k in academia. In industry it's more like ~$60k. That's a significant increase and it's not at all clear where the money would come from. Tuition? We already went through this when Arnold cut the UC budget- everyone is still fuming about that.

thank you to kstrna for the point about cost incentive to get postdocs to move and not stay for years! that is one good thing that could come out of this.

At 7:23 AM, Blogger kstrna said...

Of course how much are administrators at the UC campuses getting? Why should research money be spent on running the rest of the university? Shouldn't it help to pay for research? The problem is we don't provide education nor research enough resources. Universities shouldn't be relying on research grants for anything more than research. This won't change unless there is pressure for a change. As long as you have low paid post-docs willing to work for years why pay more? Why not take the money and help pay for great perks for admins?

At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My university has no union, but the staff slack off like crazy here, too! So maybe it's not the union's faults per se ...

At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now and I support what you're getting at in some ways, but I think you're missing the bigger picture.

our salaries are frozen thanks to the NIH budget
I've said this before... The price of a service is set in negotiation between a willing provider and and a willing buyer. Your salary can be supplemented by non-NIH funds. If you didn't discuss this issue with your PI before starting your position, you are getting what you deserve.

It's not minimum wage we're talking about - that's what we get right now.

I don't know where you get this idea, but your numbers are wrong. Minimum wage is like $5/hr or annualized ~$11,000. Postdocs already make significantly more than that. Even if you consistentlyt work 80 hour weeks... At the $40k figure, you're still making about double the minimum hourly wage. (Which is totally livable in many many many MANY parts of the country.)

Let's say the average postdoc salary is ~$40k in academia. In industry it's more like ~$60k.

I would be shocked if the average starting salary for a PhD in 'industry' was $60k. That's awfully low. Heck, you can go to a national lab as a postdoc or junior staff scientist and make that or better. When I left industry before grad school I was making $50k and had stock options (sure it was during the 90s boom, but there's still good money out there). And with a couple years of post-doc experiences you should be able to find a position that will pay at least $80k.'s not at all clear where the money would come from.

I think that you are asking the wrong kind of question. If you want to get paid more money, do something that is more apparently relevant to society. If the outside world can't evaluate your work against measurable performance criteria they won't care one whit about how many hours you put in or how difficult your problem is or how 'cool' your latest result is.

Finally, I've said this a couple times here, you are paying a premium to be on a coast. Someone I know, a specialist in maternal/fetal medicine said that he makes about 50% more money NOT BEING ON A COAST. So many people WANT to be on a coast that they don't have to pay as much for high end positions. It's not terrible to be a relatively bigger fish in a smaller pool.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Johnny Virgil said...

Anonymous postings are kind of pathetic.

I read your blog, even though I don't know what you're talking about most of the time.

Go figure.

At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Zuska said...

"Nobody cares about your blog" is a t-shirt made by someone who is cashing in on all the people who don't have blogs and are jealous of those of us who do. They are jealous that we are witty and intelligent and articulate and passionate enough to write about our lives and concerns. They are jealous that we do have friends - virtual friends! - who care passionately about us! They just wish they had 1/1000th of our fabulousness. They don't. So they print and buy t-shirts. Your 'best' friend sounds pretty passively-aggressively hostile. Just pity her. She is not a goddess.

Unions: they got health insurance for my grandparents and parents and me; they were the ones who fought to make working conditions in the coal mines safer. You can bet management didn't give a crap if a couple hundred coal miners a year got killed. Better working conditions are important. Health insurance is important. Postdocs deserve both. What if you don't want to work 80 hours a week? A union might help with that. A union might have helped keep Absinthe from losing her job when she had a baby. Professors are trying to unionize in some universities. If you are not management, then it is ALWAYS better to be in a union. Ask the Wal-Mart employees. Oh wait, don't bother. They aren't allowed to talk about unions.

Also, I agree with other commenters, don't bother with nice and quiet. It gets you NOWHERE. And they don't respect you for it. They think you are an idiot and a pushover and a den mother. NEVER BAKE COOKIES AND BRING THEM TO THE LAB. Also, I don't care if you have 84,000 ideas per hour, don't you ever let anybody else claim your ideas. Maybe when you are a tenured Nobel prize-winner at MIT you can drop a few ideas here and there for others to have. (Although, apparently not, if you follow the Karpova-Tonegawa mess.) You hold onto your turf. I personally don't care if they are stealing the limelight consciously, like Tonegawa, or unconsciously, through the "little birdie" effect - the end result is the same. My feeling is any guy who is doing that unconsciously is AT FAULT because he has somehow managed to make it all the way through a PhD program without learning how to treat women as human beings. He doesn't do that to other guys, does he? No, them he sees as human beings whose ideas he respects. It's only the women he sees as not-humans whose ideas are there for the taking. He doesn't SEE us, so he doesn't HEAR the stuff as if it's coming from our lips. It's a disembodied voice, because we don't exist as equal human beings and equal scientists in his world. So HE IS AT FAULT whether he is being conscious of his actions or not. He is a grown-up. It is impossible to live in this society and NOT be aware that there are gender issues in science. If you don't take an active positive stance, then you are passively agreeing to be part of the problem.

At 11:32 AM, Blogger kstrna said...

Might want to take a look at this Science Careers article that talks about the UConn Health Center post-doc union. Basically the fears of fewer post-docs with better benefits/pay did not come about.

At 10:00 AM, Blogger kstrna said...

Here is a blog that is pro-union but no love for the UAW international.

At 4:40 AM, Blogger Cherrie said...

Hi there!

Interesting post about blogging and being a female scientist - I can totally relate!!! (oh I skipped that stuff about unions coz it sounded boring and I'm still undergrad so I'm probably still too naive about pay and all that 'money stuff')

Anyway, I think there are goods and bads about keeping a blog anonymous... I started mine off being totally honest and blunt (but not keeping it a secret). But now that more and more people (who I know) are reading it (and NOT commenting! It's SO annoying), I feel sort of obliged to make it slightly more PC than I would like and slightly more reserved, etc. Yet I am flattered they like reading my blog. But I still sort of think - a blog is not just for READING, you must get engaged and participate in the discussion!!! Well, sorry for the rant, I would post on my blog about it, but I fear that my grand total of 2 readers might leave.

Anyway, I think it's also important to know (from most of these lovely comments posted by people who I assume don't know you personally) that there are other people who face the same problems in the workplace. I mean, I don't think it's just women (though it's probably more frequent), but people in general,who may be shy or not as 'un'attentive as some, whose ideas get taken and actually surprises me how people can so easily believe that they thought of the idea, EVEN THOUGH YOU CLEARLY TOLD THEM TWO DAYS AGO. I mean, fair enough, they probably genuinely don't remember, but I mean, is this some sort of sub/unconscious denial thing happening, or are our memories REALLY that bad, or are our listening skills so bad that we just filter information and forget the context/relationships and all that stuff?

I don't know. Anyway, I found this blog for the first time today and I think I'll add you to my Bloglines. :)


P.S. I'm thinking of doing a PhD as well! Any advice? =D

At 4:42 AM, Blogger Cherrie said...

Oh I have another question, if you don't share your ideas with anyone, how do you know if they will work or if they are important?

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Milo said...

I have not comment in a while, but the mention of the UAW has prompted me to start tapping away at the ol' keyboard.

I was at the bench the other day, doing a little chemistry, when a woman opens the door to my lab, walks in and asks me to sign a card. When I ask her to identify herself, she says she is a "postdoc" rep. Turns out that she has been seen befor on campus trying to get people to sign these little union card things.

Personally, I have no problem with unions, if they are honest. These clowns are resorting to dishonest tactics in order to gain a foot hold in the UC system (BIG$$).

Thanks for continuing to write.

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous angiebean said...

Just wanted to add my two cents. I worked at the UConn Health Center during the Post-Doc Union drive and voting.

The UConn Health Center Post-Doc Union came about because of abuse by some faculty. Most Post-Docs were receiving the NIH minimum, given insurance, and were treated with respect by their PIs.
Several Post-Docs (mostly foreign born) were not. Some Post-Docs were getting as little as $8,000 per year with no health insurance. Many would refuse to take vacations for fear of losing their visas or not getting renewed for another year. American Post Docs could not compete with the foreign born Post-Docs. Very little pay, no insurance, no holidays, and fear of being sent back to their country. This was unfair all around and this is why they voted for the Union.

From what I hear, the union really hasn't had much impact on the day to day life of Post-Docs except for the fact that now everyone gets a living wage, insurance, and time off for vacation.

Does UC have a similar situation? Are the Post-Docs being treated with respect and given benefits?

At 4:27 AM, Anonymous ell said...

Thank you! Very relevant information. I think it would be useful to many.


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