Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Don't remember how but I came across this recent really disturbing article entitled Why can't a woman be more like a man? by this pseudo-feminist (or anti-feminist) named Christina Hoff Sommers.

I had heard of her before because she's the author of that classic contribution "The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men".


What's really scary is that if you didn't know anything about feminism, and read this article I linked to above, you'd think

a) feminism is crap
b) the author is a man.

Assuming you might not want to read the whole article, I want to highlight one major argument she makes and point out the flaw in it.

She cites numerous studies (well, actually doesn't cite all of them but talks vaguely about their existence) showing that girls play differently from boys, draw different pictures (people) than boys (houses). I'm well aware of these studies so it wasn't news to me.

But she keeps coming back to this point as if it explains everything. She claims that veterinary medicine is the dream job for women, since it combines both systematic thinking and empathy, and that this satisfies our (women's) inherent need to nurture.

As an aside, veterinary medicine, if she's right, is an interesting paradigm. They went from 8 percent women in the 1960s, she says, to 77 percent now, supposedly without any kind of role models or mentoring programs.

One has to wonder
a) is that true?
b) how did they do that?

But she doesn't offer any explanation, except to use it to buttress her argument that we shouldn't fund Title IX or similar equity-enhancing programs.

But let's get back to the point about little girls vs. little boys.

1. Hypothesis: What we might have played with as children could be irrelevant to our abilities and career aspirations later in life.

Experiment to test this: Hasn't anyone ever done a survey? Maybe we should. It could be as simple as asking women who are still in science vs. women who hated science vs. women who dropped out of science

whether they

a) played with dolls
b) felt that having a family was paramount
c) felt that having a family was incompatible with, or at least extremely difficult to achieve with, a career in science

Well, actually we already know the answer to c. Which leads me to my other point:

2. Culture is way more important than Hoff-Sommers allows.

She makes a point of saying that most people agree (74%) that women don't go into STEM disciplines because they choose not to.

As usual, the point that gets lost here is why women don't want to. She attributes it to our affinity for playing with dolls when we're little. I attribute it to a hostile climate both in and out of science.

If we had better childcare support (e.g. onsite facilities everywhere), science would just as attainable for women as for men.

Hoff-Sommers is probably one of these ones who buys into the idea that women should shoulder the majority of the child-rearing burden. I don't know. But I think it's a major flaw in her argument.

But pressure to raise a family aside. Let me tell you that I started out liking math, so I think it's culture and not nature that makes women choose not to go into STEM disciplines.

I liked math. I really did. Personally, I did not like dolls. But I didn't particularly like trucks, either.

I liked books. Still do. But gradually math class became less fun. Come to think of it, this started round about when we all hit puberty. Coincidence?

It wasn't until years later that I realized why I stopped enjoying it. I was certainly not aware of gender bias at the time.

Years later when I read studies about boys being called on more often in class (check) and girls losing confidence when they're in the minority (check), it started to dawn on me that this could have been a factor. Maybe the main factor.

I certainly did well enough on aptitude tests to suggest that my performance did not match my potential, but nobody at school seemed to be aware of that.

(It's ironic because the longer I stay in science, the more I notice that I'm being pushed harder to perform up to my supposed potential, which must be much higher than my male colleagues', since they seem to do less but get a lot more credit for it.)

She also quotes somebody as saying there's no objective evidence from the MIT report that women received less laboratory space (they did, measured in square feet how is that not objective??) salary (they did, but she claims the numbers were never released outside MIT, which I'm pretty sure is also not true) or other resources (which refers to what exactly?).

And one more gem, just because I get all warm and fuzzy reading it. She seems to think that equity will make everything worse and more "politicized".

"Departments of physics, math, chemis­try, engineering, and computer science have remained traditional, rigorous, competitive, relatively meritocratic, and under the control of no-nonsense professors dedicated to objec­tive standards. All that may be about to change."

Yup. After some of the comments I've seen in the past week where women were recounting the outrageously blatantly sexist treatment they've received from physics professors especially, not to mention all the sexual harassment lawsuits in computer science departments especially (which are apparently on the rise), I'd say that "relatively meritocratic" and "objective standards" are not descriptors reflecting reality. At all.

Here's hoping she's right that it's about to change. It's about time.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Gender Discrimination (GD) Discussion Continued

Anon 9:51,

I don't think any of that is the problem here.

If anything, I've been told that when I highlight my achievements it's perceived as 'arrogant', not 'impressive' so it's a very fine line to walk.

And if anything, the male professors are much more fixated on formatting than the women professors I've had look at my CV.

And in my field, there is absolutely no such thing as 'positive discrimination.' I strongly suspect that Fermilab is more like my field than it is like yours.

Again, I need to read the paper.


I am not a statistician, so in a way it won't matter what I say about the paper. So maybe I should just refrain from addressing it.

I think DrugMonkey picked up on my main point re: your post.

The point was that conference presentations, while perhaps not well supported by the data in the Towers' manuscript, are in fact quite likely playing a role. And that this issue is definitely deserving of further study if, as you say, you would only be convinced by more numbers. FSP and I have both blogged repeatedly about the dearth of women conference speakers. It's not like it's a hard phenomenon to witness.

Beyond that, what I'm saying is, this is an issue I care about deeply because I have firsthand experience with it. I've read some of the Absinthe blog so I know some of the story without needing to read the paper.

I think you should consider how you write about these topics, since you sounded doubtful of the existence of GD because of the way you criticized the arguments in the paper.

You actually sounded like this is the first you've really heard of it, and even worse, as if this is the only evidence or report on it. Perhaps none of that is what you intended but that's how your post reads, aside from one or two comments that seem painfully PC. I don't really care if you don't doubt that it "could" be occurring. What I'm saying is that IT IS. But you think that's some kinda religion-speak.

I don't think it's fair to say it's religion just because there aren't sufficient numbers.

The whole point of lack of representation is that there weren't many women to begin with, so how could she have large numbers of data points. HOW.

You're like those reviewers who say "this could be better" but don't actually have any ideas for experiments. What's the experiment? Ruin more female postdocs' careers and then see how they like it? I mean, seriously.

And in a way I'm saying that the point is it doesn't matter how many. That even one example is horrifying and needs to be brought to the light of day.

The allegation that it was systematic is not surprising to most of us. We're also not surprised that the documentation is somewhat spotty.

What's surprising is that it could be documented at all.

But perhaps she went about it the wrong way, trying to quantify it at all?

GD is anecdotal by its very nature. Ever hear of little fields of study like
Cultural Anthropology?

Do you know how Cultural Anthropology works? They interview people and watch them work, play, live. Do you know how they document their observations? By writing down stories describing what happened.

Written observations in a narrative form.

It's much like a blog, in a way, if you assume that most bloggers aren't lying about what they're describing.

Or a Supreme Court decision. Or the notes taken by a clinical psychologist.

Many important things go on in the world, and believe it or not, they can be described accurately and completely without numbers.

To me, description is important and still a form of science, even if it's not as quantitative as you would like.

Still, I think the arguments about lack of numbers belie a certain naivete about how insidious these things are. Here are a couple more things for you to mull over.

1. Nobody likes backlash. So most women don't complain about GD. They just leave. That's going to limit your numbers right there.

2. Settlements include gag orders.Yep, that's right. Most of the time when someone complains about GD (or medical malpractice for that matter), the solution is to settle and that usually includes a promise not to ever mention it again. That's going to limit your pool of witnesses, too.

Again, I didn't read the paper so I don't know if these issues are mentioned in the article. But it's a negative result- unless she knew these women before they left, why they left and where they went, she can't track them down and find out if there were, perhaps, more cases than the 9 she reported.

But let's go back even further. Lots of the women who would have worked at Fermilab probably never got there. They probably quit science back when they were discriminated against in math class. There's lots of numbers on that, too. Maybe you should go look those up and think about whether that's not also a form of institutional GD.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Insidious, hard to quantify, Gender Discrimination

This post is in response to Okham's post, on which I would have loved to log a comment but won't for reasons of maintaining anonymity.

I'm not going to comment on the paper, you can read Okham's post and get to the paper (it was sent to me in a comment on one of my posts).

Because I haven't read it yet.

However I am going to comment on a couple of interesting points raised by Okham's blog.

And yes, I read Okham's post first because it was easy and it pissed me off rather than reading the article because I had to download a file and I knew it would depress me whether it was convincing or not.

Either way, it's bad news for me that either Sherry Towers is right (probably) but nobody believes her or will do anything about it (likely) or she's wrong and making the rest of us look bad and actually weakening our case.

See? Either way, depressing. I swear I'll read it when I'm in a better mood.

Regardless, I think Okham does us a disservice, or needs to get a little of enlightenment on this one issue in particular. I'm going to excerpt this part of the post here since the original post is very long and this is just one small section:

"Conference presentations
What about speaking invitations ? Have women been reserved fewer slots than they would have deserved ?

Before we address this issue, it need be stressed that conference presentations, in and of themselves, are only a modest "reward" for one's scientific accomplishments. It is commonly accepted that the main objective of a postdoctoral researcher, is not that of speaking at conferences, but rather landing a university faculty position. Towers' case of GD is ultimately about jobs, not invited talks. Thus, the importance of any imbalance in the allocation among researchers of conference presentations, depends on the (real or perceived) impact of presentations on the main professional aspiration of a postdoctoral scientist. If only a tenuous connection with career advancement can be established, a charge of GD based on conference presentations alone is not likely to be seen of much interest, nor substance.

Towers' data seem to indicate that speaking invitations were mostly granted to male researchers, although the validity of this contention is difficult to assess independently, as no raw numbers of speaking invitations for female and male researchers are provided, and Towers' "conference reward ratio" gives disproportionate weight to talks given by "unproductive" researchers.

The most striking result, however, is that the correlation between speaking invitations and faculty appointments is weak, virtually non-existent for male researchers (Table 1). In other words, the lion's share of conference presentations may have gone to male researchers, but they derived no measurable benefit from that. Towers herself seems at a loss explaining this. Wouldn't you expect speaking invitations to be especially important for "unproductive" (i.e., male) researchers ? After all, by delivering an effective presentation, an "unproductive" individual (whose CV is presumably weak) may impress the audience and partly compensate for his productivity gap with respect to his competitors.

The observed little impact on career advancement clearly raises doubts about the real importance of conference presentations; one cannot help wondering what the perception may have been, among researchers in the sample, how many of them may have regarded presentations as a "chore", rather than a "reward", and to what extent they have actively sought to obtain speaking invitations in the first place...

Generally speaking, it is clear that any action (deliberate or not) whose effect is that of depriving a researcher of the proper recognition for the work accomplished (including a chance to showcase in public his/her speaking ability) is unacceptable, and should therefore be prevented and remedied. At the same time, given that the impact of conference presentations on career advancement is unclear (to say the least), serious allegations such as "gender discrimination" and/or possible violation of Title IX regulations seem unwarranted, if solely or primarily based on conference presentations.

At a minimum, more information on, and greater understanding of the process by which conference slots are allocated is required. It is conceivable, for example, that productive researchers may simply not be interested in, nor place too much weight on presentations, which they may perceive as scarcely useful in bolstering their hiring bids (rightfully so, apparently)."

Okham raises a good point here that is easily refuted.

Q: Do conference presentations correlate with job offers?
A: Only if you give good ones.

The point here is that more study is needed. Here's how I think about this in a nutshell:

data 1. Women are invited as speakers less often than men.
data 2. Women are a smaller part of the applicant pool.

Hypothesis: Face time is more important for women than it is for men.

The kinds of gender-biased decisions pointed out in one of the comments illustrate this point nicely:

"...qualified women routinely get ranked lower than men for the following reasons.

Many of the confidential letters of recommendation for qualified women dwell on personality and degree of assertiveness (either too much or too little), rather than scientific accomplishments. This personality rating is then used to either say they will not be leaders in the field (not assertive enough) or they may be difficult to work with (too assertive). Being "just right" is an extremely narrow window. The letter for male applicants match potential leadership qualities with their work, instead of their personality.

I have watched faculty meetings which drop qualified women to the bottom of the list due to vague comments about not fitting in, or doesn't act like a physicist. Such comments might have merit, if they refer to experimental style, teaching, or thinking. However, these comments upon later elucidation, refer to her clothes, her persona, her... femaleness.

Once low in the ranking, the woman candidate is packaged up as a "member of the minority pool, who was interviewed, but didn't make the cut", and this satisfies the University rules about affirmative action (or whatever they call it these days)."
-- Anonymous

Now, I only have one good anecdote on this point, but I'm used to use it because this is a blog.

A couple of years ago I went to meet with some collaborators, and they wanted me to give a seminar so they asked for my CV.

After my talk, one of the PIs said to me, "Wow, you're really MUCH more impressive in person than you are on paper."

So there are two points to my logic here.

1. Women appear less productive on paper than we really are.
One of the reasons we appear less productive is because we often get bumped down the author list, or our papers get downgraded to 'lesser' journals because of the catch-22.

You know the catch-22, I blog about it a lot. If you self-promote, you're being arrogant and/or bitchy. If you don't, you're screwed. It's a lose-lose.

So we often get less of a byline than we deserve.

In other words, our publications systematically under-represent our productivity.

But I don't have to support that with evidence- other people already have. It's the middle of the night so I'm not going to hunt for the references, but I'll do it if you're too lazy to go look for them. (I don't get the impression that Okham is in any way lazy.)

2. The chance to change people's minds by meeting them in person is priceless. Maybe Sherry Towers tried to make this point, I don't know. But it needs to be made vehemently.

My impression is that many of my problems at work have been because of one simple thing.

Assumption based on observation: Men are terrified of women crying.

(I hope you're laughing because I think this is a hilarious topic, but bear with me because I do have a point.)

Because men are terrified of women crying, they tend to avoid confronting us even more than they avoid confronting their male colleagues and advisees (passive aggressive types that we get in science, especially).

Since there is no direct communication with us, assumptions are made. Men confer with each other about what they think is going on with us.

Erroneous assumptions are always made in the absence of actual data.

Assumption based on observation: Men who don't have much contact with women besides their family members (i.e. especially in fields where women are in the tiny minority) DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT WOMEN.

Ahh, that reminds me of a great song from a Broadway show....

And so, dear folks, this brings us back to the Great Divide. At the end of the day, here is the take-home message from Okham's post:

"I cannot really say that I have ever witnessed a blatant case of gender discrimination (GD) on the job" -- Okham.

Dear Okham, I have. And so have most of us women bloggers. One reason Sherry has only 9 people in her study? BLATANT GENDER BIAS AT ALL LEVELS LIMITS THE NUMBER OF WOMEN.


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Thursday, April 24, 2008

What peps you up?

I'm having a progressively worsening week, which seems to be culminating today in a kind of ultimate death-by-thousand-pin-pricks, very depressing way.

Unfortunately I have a couple of things I'm supposed to be doing today and tomorrow which I know will be good for me in the long run, but only if I can try to have a Positive Mindset.

I was doing pretty well last week, but this week I feel like I've been running away from a steamroller and just not running fast enough.

I feel cartoon character flat.

So far nothing's working. Somebody quick, give me a pep talk. I need puffing up.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Dear Google

Dear Google,

I know it's early for their release, but I am desperately in need of your two new applications, Google House and Google Car. You see, I cannot locate my university ID, and while it is a mostly useless object, right now I need it. I can't figure out where it is but I'm pretty sure it's in my house or my car. I'm thinking that since Google can find anything, if I could just google search those places it would solve my problem.

Thank you.



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Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Hard not to notice several of my male peers getting away with, or even kudos for, stuff that is considered immature or unprofessional if I do it.

Example: a friend who is working on a manuscript and about to submit to a C/N/S journal.

Got the green light to submit, but hasn't yet even formatted the figures and has been working from a draft with everything as Powerpoint slides.

My advisor won't even discuss figures with me, much less a draft of a paper, until it looks like a paper.

I've tried before to get feedback on Powerpoint slides, so as to avoid re-making figures over and over and over, but it's always treated like I'm showing preliminary data instead of something I've actually reproduced several times.

If I reformat and label everything, I might be lucky enough to schedule a meeting.

This has been true for the last several types of things like this I've done, including grant applications, etc. with different advisors.

Interesting to me that appearance seems to matter maybe even more than substance sometimes, but it depends on whose substance we're talking about.


Meanwhile I am trying to forget that I know about two other male postdocs who are getting or about to get their papers published in C/N/S journals.

In one case, the postdoc was born in another country and has been in the US about 10 years. His English skills are weak, so the PI wrote all the text and had a huge influence on how the paper came together (what went in the figures, designing the model to interpret the data, etc.).

In the other case, the postdoc did everything himself. The PI is making phone calls on his behalf to make sure that when they address the reviews on the paper, the editor will accept it.

I've never had anyone do either of those things for me. I'm pretty sure I won't ever.


It's also hard not to notice that one of my other female postdoc friends has had a draft of a manuscript ready for a year, and her advisor keeps changing the plans.

I can't help thinking this is all the damned-if-you-do-or-don't scenario as usual.

I've noticed that many PIs seem to exploit their female postdocs more, want to get as much out of us as possible, but always with their own gain in mind and not our career success.

If we try to tell them what we think we need in order to succeed, we're being bitchy, confrontational, disagreeable, or 'hard to work with.'

And if we don't, we're screwed. Our papers get delayed, sometimes by years, and when they're finally published it's in 2nd-tier (or lower) journals.

Meanwhile the male postdocs get patted on the head, promoted, and encouraged when they're not performing to the same level. They aren't asked to perform at a higher level, and they aren't even sure they want careers in academia.


I have another friend who is reluctantly trying to get a paper accepted at a C/N/S journal because the PI wants him to.

This same PI is constantly complaining that her female postdocs aren't motivated enough, or are lazy, or aren't sure what they want to do with their careers.

But she has willfully and continually ignored my friend telling her he's not sure he wants to stay in academic science. When he says this, she says "Oh you don't mean that."

She did the same thing to a previous male postdoc who ended up going to industry.
Despite all the warning signs, she was shocked when she found out, and still hasn't bothered to process what it meant.


Hypothesis 1: If you're a male postdoc and you aren't sure you want a career in academia, or the PI thinks you're somehow deficient, you get more help and promotion.

Hypothesis 2: If you're a female postdoc, chances are good that your PI will delay submitting your papers longer, and when they're published they'll be in a slightly lower tier journal.

And all the studies on pipelines are asking why women don't seem to publish as much or as high impact as men do?

Anybody notice that at the postdoc level, this is determined more by the PI than by the postdoc?


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Monday, April 14, 2008

Accidental information

Hey! This is a pop quiz! Guess what I accidentally found out today?

a) My department is interviewing people with fewer first author papers than I have now. Fewer, in fact, than I had when I applied for jobs before and didn't get any interviews.

In one case where the candidate is very likely to be interviewed, the candidate has not published a single first author paper in several (>5) years, but has a couple of recent reviews in High Impact Journals and works for the very famous ex-spouse of someone in the department.


b) The candidates' packages are each reviewed by no more than 4 faculty, but usually only 2 or 3 faculty, to determine whether they are worth interviewing.

You might get reviewed by two faculty, and get turned down because one of those hated everyone. Meanwhile someone else might get reviewed by two totally different people. Or maybe you could be the lucky one and get reviewed by the softie who wants to interview as many people as possible. But only if you pick a department where you know there's a softie who works on something related to what you do, or if you have a friend who will snatch your application out of the pile and insist on being the one to review it.

But I'm not saying this happens. Nope. I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't say it's a lot like the way NIH reviews grants, either, or how fucked up that is.

c) The administrative assistant gets the first run at the stack of applications, which means you could get cut by a non-scientist before a scientist ever sees your application.

You might have thought that was more common in places that have applications filtered by HR, like companies and places with staff. You'd be wrong.

This must be why buzzwords matter so much, eh?

d) There are no standout candidates on the list that everyone can even agree is worth interviewing, but they're going to interview some of the ones they have already looked at and deemed mediocre, rather than going back to the original pile of packages to see if the admin threw any good applications in the trash.

(I'll refrain from mentioning that this admin has a proven history of throwing out the best candidates for staff positions, since there's no chance that would be an issue here!)

e) all of the above

f) none of the above, I'm just making crazy shit up, nobody in their right mind would do it this way

g) why I am really glad I am not applying to this department, or anywhere else right now

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

You know you're doing pretty well when

All those people who ignored or snubbed you are suddenly asking what you're up to these days, what your plans are, and how things are going.

Those people in this case, are PIs who previously wouldn't give me the time of day. People whom I was content to think had forgotten who I was, or just didn't care.

I'm very amused because from these kinds of encounters, I get the impression that my scientific reputation is improving.

Sometimes I even get mentored on these little run-ins. Suddenly now everyone wants to give me advice.

I think it's funny because I think they are realizing that, rather than quitting like everyone seems to have expected me to, they might actually have to deal with having me as a colleague someday.

Maybe, just maybe, I might be worth the effort of mentoring.

So I'm laughing. Because although I will always need it, and I need it now, they were not there for me in the past when I really needed it.


Oh and to the people who think I always blame other people for all my problems? Maybe you're right. I'm with Sartre on the whole population issue: Hell is other people.

At the end of the day, I'm pretty sure I'd be perfectly happy if people would just leave me alone to do my job.

Most of my complaints with work and with my parents have to do with people who think they know what's good for me but who never stopped to even ask me what I want.

A lot of the crap I went through in grad school also falls into this category, where the 'adults' (PIs) were constantly trying to block me from finding my own way. Which in my opinion is a lot of what grad school should be for.


As a postdoc, when I ask for help, it's not because I'm lazy but because I know it would be faster to have someone teach me and/or I've exhausted all the other resources.

But what I've learned is that most faculty aren't really aware of how they got where they are. They've never been forced to articulate what matters in choosing what journal to publish in, how to write a cover letter, or how to write a good grant and make sure it gets funded. They just do it.

A lot of times they're not even sure what they did. Or they might even suspect it was partly political, but they don't want to admit they've had these advantages handed to them, and all they did to deserve it was to be appropriately agreeable.

You know, how to do these things (publish, get funded, get a job) is what we should have learned in grad school, but nobody taught us systematically. And I'll agree that it's hard to articulate and hard to teach. But not impossible. I've met some PIs who can teach it. And I think these things should be required of any PIs that universities hire.

And right now they're not.

In fact, I think I've learned a lot more about the job market, for example, from blogging and reading blogs than I ever have from real PIs in real life.


I had a funny/depressing conversation with a young faculty member the other day, who said that although he knows he had a great advisor in grad school and a stellar experience (which is fast becoming a stellar career), he doesn't remember being mentored. He's not sure what his mentor did that made everything always seem easy and turn out all right.

I know this guy's advisor and he was definitely a good mentor. But I think people who've always had good mentors take it for granted.

Even though they're surrounded by stories of how bad it can be, the natural reaction is to deny it, and to blame the victim. It's hard to believe it until you've experienced it yourself.

Worst case scenario, these people end up being terrible mentors themselves, just because they don't have a clue about what they should or shouldn't do.

And they might not even realize that being a good mentor is an active process.

To his credit, this guy is at least aware that he needs to figure out how to mentor his grad students, and fast. And I think he will, because he knows how important it is.

I personally have not had the stellar mentoring experience in science, but I know what it can be like because I've had other mentors in other areas of my life, and it's a wonderful thing. But in science, I've kind of given up on having that kind of relationship with anyone anytime soon, and I'm not sure if I ever will. My goal is to be the stellar mentor myself.


When finally given the chance, I found my own way and it mostly works for me when I have the courage to stick to it. Which isn't always easy. At all. And when I chicken out or feel pressured by 'advice' from people who 'know better', I have no one to blame but myself.

(See that, trolls? I blame myself. I don't blame anyone else!)

When I'm brave enough to do it, it works for me and I'm really glad I got the chance to find that out.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008


Was feeling pretty broken yesterday. Not sure I feel much better today, but there's things to do and I have to be functional.

Read this post over at FSP and that made me feel a little better.

I guess the thing for me is not a lack of confidence per se but a feeling of always getting the rug yanked out from under me for not being good enough.

I was thinking about this yesterday and how I kind of have to blame my mom.

Yes, my mom. I often wonder if she has any clue how much she damaged me.


When I was little, my parents used to sign me up for some activity, and then let me do it for a while until they decided I wasn't that good at it.

And then they'd pull me out.

This happened with dance lessons, sports (of course, I sucked at sports), and with various musical instruments.

Basically, anything a little girl would enjoy doing.

But they wanted to find something I was the best at, I guess.

I ended up doing science in part because they thought I'd have a chance to be pretty good at it.

It occurred to me the other day that my parents never put any of my childhood artwork up on the walls or the refrigerator. Later, my mother would remark on how bad my art skills were when I had to draw anything for projects at school.

It's no wonder, years later, that I hate making figures!

Hard as I try, and all the 'rough spots' I've been through, I still sometimes find myself feeling like there's no point. That eventually someone will decide that my best isn't good enough, and it doesn't matter how much I enjoy research, what matters is that I have to compete. Constantly. Without end.

Compete, compete, compete.

And that, dear friends, is what sucks the life out of me.

But FSP is right. If persevering works, then persevering is what I'll do.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

More interdisciplinary woes.

I had yet another horrible realization yesterday.

I realized that most of my peers are smart enough to come up with long lists of possible experiments. I admire and respect that. It is useful to me.

But horribly, most are not wise enough to modestly account for their lacking knowledge of practicalities.

In other words, they don't know enough about how to do those experiments to weigh the input and caveats vs. outcome.

Some examples include but are not limited to:

- The person who proposed an experiment for which I've tried to do the controls, and they don't work.

That makes the experiment a weak one at best, impossible to interpret at worst.

And the response was: "Oh but you don't have to do that control, just do the experiment."


- The person who works in a different system, who perpetually proposes experiments that would be easy in that system but inordinately laborious in mine.

- The people who believe that anything in my system is meaningless until I can also show that the same thing happens in theirs.

(I think this is backlash, because I know their reviewers expect the converse from them.)

Of course for me to learn how to do anything correctly in their system - MsPhD says, modestly - would take a long time.

And if I can't do it correctly, I have to wonder why it's worth bothering.

Right now I'm struggling with not just choosing which journal's reviewers to subject myself to (UGH!), but meanwhile convincing my collaborators of what's worth the inordinate effort to try to circumvent potentially valid criticisms, and what's not.

I feel like I'm always working really hard, and maybe selling myself short by not always trumpeting all the troubleshooting we've done to even get this far. It's a fine line between self-promotion ("Look at this hard thing we did, aren't you impressed?") and sounding like I'm whining.

Deep down, I have to admit that I worry about being perceived as lazy or underachieving when it comes to my science.

I can't help but want to grab these people by the scruff of the neck and drag them forcibly around with me as I do experiments every day. I keep wondering if they had to walk in my shoes, whether they would say the kinds of things they say?

On the other hand, part of me thinks maybe it's good. Like most people in academia, I work even harder when pushed. And maybe this response - and the lack of a complete physical breakdown - leads people to even higher expectations of me.

Which maybe, just maybe, leads me to have higher expectations and more faith in myself.

I'd like to think I have even more untapped potential. But given all the hurdles and what is at best the grudging cooperation of almost everyone I've ever worked with, I have to wonder if I have the energy to tap into all of it.

And whether I should have to use up all my reserves to prove it.


I'm also really struggling with the problem of bad precedents.

I like the field(s) I work in. For good reasons.

Unfortunately there is at least one technique I have to use that everyone seems to have been sloppy about since it became popular (relatively recently).

This means that most of my peers (and I expect, my reviewers) ask for me to do it and expect a certain result to be presented in a certain way.

Okay? Sounds okay.

But I'm torn about how to handle this. My idealistic self wants to do it right or not do it at all.

Doing it right is really, really hard. I'm not even sure if I can figure out how. I've already spent a lot of time working on finding a way.

Contrast that with how everyone else does it: basically a form of cherry-picking.

This is where my respect for my peers and my love for these fields breaks down.

Stuck in the mud on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Breaks. Down.

The only other option is another technique, which is much better in many ways, except for one major problem: it's orders of magnitude slower. We're talking 6 months vs. 1 week. And that's the idealistic estimate. Realistically it's more like 1 year vs. 1 month.

So I'd like to do it the right way, or at least do the other thing the right way.

I'm just not sure I want to spend all of another year doing either one.

This where I have to wonder if I want it badly enough.

It's hard not to envy other fields, where they publish lots of little papers every year. I have collaborators in a couple of these other fields, and they're baffled by why I don't have a faculty position yet.

And most of the time, so am I.

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