Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Up... and then down.

Yesterday was a Pretty Good Day (PGD). I don't have a lot of those. I set up an experiment, helped a student, went to an interesting seminar, emailed some people about reagents and they REPLIED RIGHT AWAY, and I read some papers. All around, it was a good balance of thinking and doing, alone-time and interaction-time, faith in ideas and faith that there are some people who actually are willing to share both ideas and tools, so we can actually get some work done.

Sigh. Why can't they all be PGD?

Today started out as a PGD and went downhill. I managed to do almost everything I needed to do before a meeting, managed a non-rushed lunch and actually found some people to eat with!

After lunch things got a little hairy. I had to do some running around looking for stuff I didn't have at the last minute (e.g. in the middle of the experiment)- poor planning on my part, mostly. Okay, fine. Disaster averted.

But I got interrupted by someone needing help, and didn't have the heart to just say NO when I should have... am still working on that skill.

Then at the end of the day, a couple of guys in our lab were sitting around talking. Every once in a while I would say something and notice that the one guy was rolling his eyes at the other one, like "When will she shut up?"

Maybe I'm just being hypersensitive. Maybe the guy had something in his contact lens, I don't know. But I could really do without that crap. hint: If you don't want to talk to me, don't have your conversation right next to my bench.

And I was struck by how typical it was: the guys are sitting around chatting, while the only female in sight is working her tail off.

Again with the math: we literally have to be 10 times better than our male peers to get the same job.

I was thinking about this today, how we get hit with bullshit stereotypes all the time. You know how they claim that women have fewer publications because we tend to collaborate more and have lots of middle-author papers? There was an article in Science recently (sometime in August, I think) about how women, on average, have fewer patents than their male peers. The explanation? Women collaborate LESS.

How can we both collaborate TOO MUCH and TOO LITTLE??

Oh, they always find a way to screw us over.

Anyway so at the end of the day, I heard from a PI friend that his wife, a postdoc, has some job offers. He was telling me this since they will probably move. Now, here is what my little brain thought when I heard that:

Now his position will be open, right?

Is she getting offers because he helped her shop her CV around to a bunch of schools (and they get him as part of the bargain)?

Who the hell is getting job offers? This woman better walk on water, or I'm going to be PISSED.

Lately I've been going to a lot of seminars by senior-ish postdocs, and it's quite clear to me that I'm among the top postdocs who have similar levels of experience. So I'm left with trying to logic my way out of a very illogical, very black box:

Assumption 1: My CV does not suck.
Assumption 2: I deserve a job.
Assumption 3: There are no jobs.

Observation 1: I'm not getting offers.
Observation 2: Other people are getting offers.

Conclusion 1: I must suck.
Conclusion 2: There are no jobs for people like me.

I'm either working in the wrong field, not supported by politics (which I knew), and/or it's just that nobody can picture having me as a colleague. I'm not likeable enough.

Goody. Not much I can do about any of that. Despite my efforts to meet people in positions of power, I think my un-likeability prevents them from, you know, bending over backwards to help. So it all comes back to the cult of personality.

I've read the body language books, the communication books, the management books, the managing-up books. I've mellowed considerably, believe it or not, since I started grad school, and I've made a serious effort to learn how to be more patient and give people the benefit of the doubt.

But there's only so much you can change about yourself.

So I'm a bit of an arrogant bitch.

Let's say I can't get a job in science that I would actually like, because people find me unbearably opinionated. Is there any kind of job where that isn't considered a liability?

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At 10:20 PM, Blogger Chief Scientist said...

I don't know you from anyone so snap judgments are bad but pulling out the 'men talk and we work' plus the 'they roll their eyes because I am a woman' cards would lead me to believe you have a chip on the shoulder that has nothing to do with the relatioship between skills and the job of your dreams.

You don't have to play the game or be someone you're not but if someone is less skilled and easier to work with, I would hire them first too. Success in business and science aren't all who had the best grades, it's who is motivated and can get others motivated to get things done as well.

Leadership is action, not position, and all that.

Cheers ...

At 3:56 AM, Blogger SciMom said...

I remember the days of looking for my first academic position and they weren't fun. What I've learned is that there is no realm of science that isn't rife with politics - governmental or academic. You really need someone helping you, mentoring you, putting you "out there". I don't know if you have that in your PI but if you don't, find someone else in your field to help and guide you in your career - male or female. I have been able to help find postdoc and faculty positions for my lab members mostly through contacts and not through the ads you see in science journals or magazines. There are often opportunities which can be made to happen. I have found that a lot of times, the ads are there to satisfy human resource and govermental requirements but individuals have already been identified.

Politics is one of the parts of science that isn't taught in graduate school. Too bad because I've seen some not-so-good scientists make it a long way on politics and some really good scientists fail because they don't know how to work the politics of science. It's no different in corporate America either. One of my advisors told me that an academic career is like a pyramid. You can only move up the pyramid so far with good work. Politics and connections will be needed to take you the rest of the way. How right this person was.

At 10:17 AM, Blogger ceresina said...

Did you really sing opera? That's beyond cool.
I'm only commenting on that because I have nothing helpful to say about everything else. It all sucks.
I hope today is a MBD (much better day)

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Chief Scientist, I don't know you, either. But I don't consider describing things that happen to me as 'playing cards.' I would guess from these comments that you've experienced nothing like this, and are therefore in no way a minority (making you, by a purely statistical guess, likely to be a white male).

Dear SciMom, everything you say is so true. I don't have anyone to put me 'out there.' I don't have a way to find someone to do it. I've known this for a few years now and despite trying, haven't had any success at rectifying the situation.

It makes me sick that it's so easy for schools to get around EOE rules.

Why DON'T we teach politics in grad school in a more organized way? I certainly learned a fair bit about the inner workings of my particular grad school, enough to know I'd never want to work there. But it's not clear to me just how much- and which parts- of what I learned in one place holds true elsewhere.

Ceresina, yes. It was. Today... not so much. But partly because I was in a bad mood to begin with.

At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Landed here a few weeks ago googling about the UAW stiuation. I've checked back a few times because you raise some compelling points, and I'm generally sympathetic to your arguments. You do, however, come across as quite bitter when discussing the plight of being female in a male dominated world. Your anger is understandable, but I can't help but think that if you wear these opinions on your sleeve then you do potentially place your career at risk. Like it or not, interpersonal interactions (sometimes even with people who you loathe) are essential for a successful career in science. If you make enemies agressively fighting injustice everywhere you go, then I fear for your prospects. I'm not saying shut up and take it by any means, but I do suggest that when you encounter a negative situation you first consider diplomacy as your course of action rather than a full frontal assault. If diplomacy fails then you have to pick your battles carefully.

Consider: You're a search committee and you interview 2 candidates. One is slightly more qualified than the other, but in a discussion with a colleague you hear that they could create a contentious atmosphere in the department. You only have a brief interview, a CV, and references to go on. Are they worth the risk, or do you hire the slightly less qualified applicant that you've only heard good things about?

This may sound mercenary, but every person you leave a positive impression with could help you out later.

Then again, odds are you're not as abrasive in person as you sometimes are while blogging. After all, a blog is a good place to curse the darkness, and sometimes spitting anonymous venom is therapeutic, no?

Keep your chin up. I suspect that if you persist you will succeed.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger Holly said...

Wowzers! You sound exactly like me. Same boat. I got the 'you have a chip on your shoulder' line too. Whatever. Surprised they both came from men? No.

We all need somone to put us out there. That's how people get those jobs. My 'advisor' (who hardly deserves that title) is not a mentor (we need those too!). I found one. He was the only one at my univ. who could be relied on to have a heart of gold, seriously, the man is just amazing (he's also the same one who told me about the chip on my shoulder - he was right at some level). He spoke up for me, and I know that tipped the scales in my favor for getting the two amazing jobs I got.

Now I am jobless and he has prostate cancer so my cheerleader might not be around much longer. Then what? I try not to despair and remind myself that I have made it this far virtually alone and I can use my wits and tenacity to get me further.

Here's to hanging in there!

At 3:57 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

Hi Ms. PhD! Networking (what you were calling politics) is probably the difference between you and your PIs wife ... he could network for her. I agree, networking should be taught in grad school, but things aren't hopeless because it isn't. I don't know if you've dropped by Science Magazine's careers section on their website, but you might want to give it a look. They have hundreds of articles on various subjects, including being a woman in the lab and job-seeking skills like networking.


Guide to networking, part 1

Guide to networking, part 2

Guide to networking, part 3

I hope this helps. Don't lose hope, you'll get your faculty position!

At 6:41 PM, Anonymous TW Andrews said...

Let's say I can't get a job in science that I would actually like, because people find me unbearably opinionated. Is there any kind of job where that isn't considered a liability?

Yes. Politics or Consulting. Unfortunately, you're already vastly over-educated for both.

At 8:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow!! You do sound bitter. It is a shame because you are probably a nice/tender person inside. People probably react to you negatively because you probably sound annoying and pathetic at the same time -if you talk the way you write. Do you ever dress up? Look pretty? Ever?

Have you considered getting a life? Maybe the job you think you want is not the best for you. Are you open to applying for jobs outside of academia? Other jobs that are a bit more burocratic will shield you from male egos more easily (you can take them to HR). Maybe you'd be happier in a more profesional environment and not in a university.


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