Friday, June 01, 2007

It might all be moot.

Things have been going pretty well in terms of experiments. I've been getting enough data that my ideas are advancing... that's the fun part, what keeps me going despite all the s**t. In fact, I am downright excited about the science.

But this week I have had this awful feeling, like something really bad was about to happen and I wasn't sure what.

Today I got an inkling of what it might be, and realized that it probably doesn't matter how good my science is, if politics are really so important.

Which is really too bad, since I think I'm onto something of potentially wide interest, but if I can't finish it, nobody will ever know.

So I'm having that feeling again, like I should just try to hang in there until I can finish this project and get it out there, since I think other people would benefit from knowing what I did, even if it doesn't get me a job or any accolades whatsoever, it might save someone else from wasting time and effort reproducing what I've been doing all this time.

But I think it can't be coincidence that everyone always seems to be putting obstacles in my path, making everything harder than it needs to be. At some point, it's too much to be unintentional, it must be deliberate.

They are never acknowledging how hard I work, both on my own experiments and to help everyone around me get their experiments working.

You'd think they would appreciate it, but instead I get nothing for rescuing their grad students, saving them money by troubleshooting BEFORE expensive mistakes are made, calling the repair people to maintain the equipment, everything.

But no. Instead I am getting into trouble.

First I'm in trouble for spending too much time helping other people when I should be focusing on my own work.

Then I'm in trouble for not helping people as much as I used to, even though I still try to make sure everything is taken care of, and everyone knows I have my own work to do.

I don't know if it has to do with being female, maybe it has nothing to do with that. But I do think that male scientists can, and do, get away with personality quirks and flaws, and a lot less generosity, than female scientists can right now.

In fact, I have NEVER seen a male scientist, of any level, help his coworkers as much as I've been expected to help mine, while still getting all my own work done. If I fall down on either of those counts, I must be a failure.

But maybe I'm just playing the game all wrong. I'm sure I did something stupid along the way, but it's too late now to go back.

Yes, this is probably all my fault. Too bad nobody ever gave me the keys to the club, or the location of the manual of unwritten rules.


I was thinking of this guy today who started his own lab a couple of years ago, and how it's amazing that anybody would want to hire him, much less want to work for him.

This guy was not a team player. He was not liked by anyone. His science wasn't even that great. And he was among the most arrogant people I've ever had the misfortune to meet.

I can think of plenty of examples of people like that, who are not likable at all, whose science is mediocre, but who have somehow managed to what, dodge the politics? Blackmail someone? How does that even happen?

Because I'm wondering if I should change my strategy. Maybe, instead of trying to be liked by the right people, and do the right thing, I should just figure out what people do whom nobody likes. How those people are successful despite being selfish jerks.

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At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You gotta stop helping everyone and do what is best for YoungFemaleScientist, not what is good for you. I used to be that way too and it's good to help others but only to a point - after a while people take advantage of you.

I don't think you should make it into us vs. them, female vs. male - I have also seen foreign scientists vs. americans, or asians vs. non-asians, whatever... Yes, politics matters, A LOT, but results and science matter too - and trump a lot of political crap. There are a lot of weird hires everywhere, but they are almost completely random to make some sense out of this. Bottom line - if you do great science, the right people will notice it, and something will turn up. Blaming politics, chauvinist egotistic males and everyone else won't help all that much, though...

At 12:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe, instead of trying anything at all you should just do what works for you. You are the one putting in all those hours and all the effort to help other people. I know what that's like, I have the tendency to do that myself, but I cannot help it, that is just me. Sure, I moan every now and then that I do not get any of my own work done, but at the end of the day, will you really be happier when you conduct yourself in a certain way just because you think that will work out better in the end? Believe me, if you are going to wear a mask you will definitely not go home satisfied!

At 4:26 AM, Anonymous C said...

Yes, it is to do with being female. Being a woman, you're expected to be friendly and helpful and do "housekeeping" things around the lab.

But you're also expected to focus on your own work, in fact you have to focus harder than all the men around, because you'll have to reach a higher standard than them to be thought equally good. That's why they are giving you advice to focus on your own work, because they know you're falling short of the female version of the male standard.

Yes it sucks. No I don't know what you can do to change it, if the men around aren't interested in contributing to the housekeeping or being chivvied into doing so, or helping others. Unfortunately you've trained them into a state where they think accepting your domestic and helping skills is normal, so of course they are going to be cross if you do less.

At 10:39 AM, Anonymous andrea said...

The politics baffled me to no end -- you were always expected to know "rules" that no one ever mentioned or explained, and were shunned for failing randomly-selected standards instead of having your good efforts recognised.

At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the important thing to realize here is that it is all a game. So you have to play along. What sucks is that yes, sometimes the rules change, sometimes you lose for no reason, sometimes the winner seems arbitrary. What you CAN do, however, is try your best. But you will have to kiss some bottoms, you will have to make compromises. And once you get your faculty position (which if you really want it, you will!) then there will be a new game to play.
I hear similar complaints from my friends in the business world. But what is different in science is that you love what you are doing, you WANT to do it. That will make the game a lot more bearable.

At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel this pull as well, and I know that if I don't conserve my own time and energy, I'm not going to get past being a post-doc. And because I want everyone to like me (call it a character flaw) its really hard for me to say no. But I've come up with a way to deal with this that seems to work for me.

When it comes to grad students or others who I am mentoring, I try hard to make them be independent. Some want me to walk them through a whole protocol when I know there is only one part they need help with. If someone asks me to copy edit an obviously rough draft (and they are native English speakers) I'll let them know that I'm happy to help after they've done some serious work on it themselves. I guess this lets me think that I'm helping the student learn, and saving some of my time.

With other post-docs and folks from other labs, I try to play tit-for-tat. Just because someone has an emergency doesn't mean that it is mine. But, if this is someone who has helped me in a similar sort of situation (or I think will help me), then I'm more likely to drop things and help. If someone who never bothers to come to my practice talks asks me to come to their's, I'll probably have to decline.

There is some grumbling as people start to have to do things for themselves. But I've found that when I honestly explain things to people, they feel like they tend to go along, even if they aren't happy about it.

I'm a man, so YMMV. But I thought I'd say that I feel some of the same conflict.

At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Bug_girl said...

yes, it is because you are female.
and yes, politics SUCK and pretty much control the whole process.

the good news: you are realizing this now, relatively early in your career.
You also are smart enough to figure out how to manipulate the system to work for you, until you get in a spot secure enough that you don't have to screw with politics (as much).

At 2:39 PM, Blogger Joolya said...

Again, I am not known for being super nice - although I think I am moderately well-liked in my lab - but here's my take. People are much more interested in themselves than in anyone else. Therefore, if you make yourself available to meet their needs and don't bring your efforts to their attention, they will heedlessly take advantage of you and not give it another thought. Why? Because they are more worried about their own stuff than about yours and have no conception of how you spend your time. People are dumb and you totally have to use words of one syllable to make your point. You also don't get a prize for being a martyr, so there's just no point. Subtlety and the finer points of etiquette are not the strong points of the lab denizens. Knowing is half the battle.


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