Thursday, July 31, 2008

Arrogant wannabe.

Several commenters said it's typical of women to be the 'silent fixer.'

I've heard that, too.

I'm pretty sure that is NOT my problem.

These same commenters asked if I had made my ambitions known and/or asked to be promoted.

Yes, yes I have.

No, no it has not helped.

In fact, it got me branded Arrogant. And got me nowhere.

Apparently, my ambitions exceed my perceived (Note the qualifier!) abilities/achievements, and that means Arrogant.

At least for women.

I think there is some magical formula whereby if women are:

Extremely Nice + Sufficiently Self-Promoting + Gently Express Ambition = Success!

Maybe. Maybe it's not that simple. But I've seen a lot more success from women who fit the stereotype, at least outwardly, of being soft-spoken and shy, who suddenly learn to stand up for themselves and then everyone is impressed ==> Maybe she had it in her all along but we're so proud for bringing it out of her! She gets a JOB!

I think my problem is that my personality is not sufficiently Feminine:

Nice When I Can Muster It + Inconsistently Self-Promoting + Openly Ambitious = Arrogant.

Also, if anyone ever actually TOOK my advice, I'd be The Fixer.

Instead, I am just the wacko in the corner who makes suggestions everyone ignores. And that often includes PI.

Yesterday I reminded PI of something I had suggested a long time ago. THIS time it was a GOOD idea, apparently, but I actually got in TROUBLE because PI couldn't REMEMBER my having suggested it before!

I love it when I get blamed for not nagging often enough, to make up for other people's cluelessness & senility.

When I nag too often, I'm told I'm being Very Pushy.

Dr. J, that company job is sounding pretty darn good.

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At 9:49 AM, Anonymous C said...

It's the old problem for women.

If we're nice, we don't get anywhere. If we're not so nice, we get blamed for not being nice enough/too bitchy/not a team player.

If we self-promote, we're thought of as aggressive and pushy. But if we don't self-promote, then others get promoted whilst our ambitions simmer and seethe.

It really is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't.

However, please, before you throw in the science towel, please know that this kind of thing can happen ANYWHERE, not just science labs. I'd hate you to jump out of research thinking it was all going to be better and then accidentally landing in some other similar situation. There are sexist non-academic situations and there are academic situations where sexism doesn't cause the sort of problems you're experiencing. My point is that if, like many of us, you're going to have a work career where there's sexism, you might as well have it in a job you enjoy where the work interests you.

Ok none of this helps, you need something more to play the game.

I'll tell you what I've found that helps a lot without the Catch 22: enthusiasm, especially enthusiasm in the form of "Let's .....!". It's a much more attractive way of pushing for a goal, because it doesn't come over as negative like nagging does, it's not seen as selfish like asking for things, and it does come over as more "team spirit" because you're trying to carry others along with your enthusiasm!

That doesn't necessarily mean it works all the time, and sure you do have to genuinely work up some enthusiasm for whateveritis, but the most negative tag they can put on you is "overenthusiastic puppy" which is really hardly a downside.

The other thing that can work is if you offer suggestions to people in such a way that either it involves no effort on their part, or you point out what advantage lies in it for them.

I know this shouldn't be something we women keep having to go to so much effort to do, to grease the interaction wheels, but at least it works and you can get somewhere, and it's not going the sneaky manipulative route.

At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Join the club. I've been labeled arrogant too (10x over). Here's some formulas I had in mind:

2 tits = fuckable

2 tits + brain = fuckable with alcohol

2 tits + brain + degree = uh oh, she might be a threat

2 tits + brain + degree + competence = definite threat, she needs to be beat into submission

2 tits + brain + degree + competence + mouth = jesus christ, run away yelling "arrogant bitch!!!" or just dismiss her cuz all those things don't exist together anyway, not possible

Hey, what corner d'ya hang out in? Us wackos need a club. and I need the kind I can beat them up with (irony of the word "club").

Keep your chin up.

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I know. But the real question is whether I enjoy it enough to put up with this much crap.

There's no perfect place, right? So maybe I'd be better off in a job I don't care about, but where there's very little of this kind of crap?

I've tried enthusiasm. It did not work for me. Something about always working with a bunch of old sticks-in-the-mud who were no fun anyway. "overenthusiastic puppy" has one downside: people view you as "inexperienced" or "naive". Even when you're not.

You also said The other thing that can work is if you offer suggestions to people in such a way that either it involves no effort on their part, or you point out what advantage lies in it for them.

This is what I ALWAYS do. The problem is when they don't have enough basic science background to understand WHY it's easier. Especially when my suggestions are getting drowned out by some guy who is their friend, telling them to do it some other way that sounds even easier than my way, except that his way won't work at all (but they don't know that yet).

So I think I am giving up on that approach, too.

I've tried grease.

Today, all I can think about is how badly I want out of the game.

At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go with your gut feeling. You know yourself better than anybody, and you may be telling yourself something without knowing it.

At 6:06 PM, Blogger Maxwell's Demoness said...

My equation looks like:

Usually Nice + Insecure (despite proof that I shouldn't be) + Quietly Ambitious = Walked All Over

Not a good place to be either, apparently the inflection point for success is surrounded by steep slopes pointing to doormat and bitch on either side. =-(

Enthusiasm has helped me for some things, on the other hand it gets me walked on more... "Oh, MD will do that no problem, she won't mind!"

One thing that helps me sometimes, if you have a couple good friends/mentors, is to get them to promote for you, and promote for them in turn (tell the PI how awesome a mentor they are). That way you aren't being "pushy" and get to be grateful = nice.

This is probably harder for you as a PostDoc though, the most effective pattern seems to be PostDoc promotes Senior Grad student, Senior Grad student promotes Young Grad student, Young Grad student promotes undergrads.

At 7:19 PM, Blogger Maxwell's Demoness said...

Actually, it's more of a phase diagram. I made a quick graph that's up my blog... does that look about right?

At 1:12 PM, Blogger JaneB said...

Depressingly familiar situation.

If there IS somewhere where there's less of this crap, even for those of us who are not stereotypically female in our demeanor (e.g. tits + brain - pink frou frous/fashion passion/sweetness), which is not like that because it's women-dominated in a suitably womanly role, then I'd love to know about it! It's often less obvious... less blatant... but that doesn't make it any less problematic.

From what you write here (which of course is only part of the picture, as for all of us) science per se is still fun for you. Your particular job situation is NOT. You want to move up to a tt post or similar - but is it maybe time to think very seriously about moving 'sideways' to a different context, whether that's a different lab, university or even non-university post? That doesn't require a change of the long-term goal, but if you're this unhappy it's going to be almost impossible to do the cheerful/enthusiastic/balanced act needed for the networking stuff (I know if I'm feeling ground down, then I come across as a bit scarily manic when I try to act positive... no idea why, but I just do).

Seeking out mentoring type relationships is definitely a good idea - as a post-doc you've probably collected friends in other labs who can/do act as 'peer-mentors' for you, as well as 'more senior' type mentors.

Some more equations (because they're kind of funny and would be more so if not so true):
Enthusiasm + female = naivity

female + asks question = dumb
male + asks question = keen.

female + qualification implying braininess + competance + tendency to show competance in conversation = a majority of men run or do a good act of being amused by the novelty (particularly in science where we all tend to be less socially sophisticated, to be honest).

female + doesn't do administrivia correctly = incompetant.
male + doesn't do administrivia properly = brilliant researcher, cannot be expected to do lesser tasks.

female = must want to do caring stuff with students (have had a male colleague turn up in my office once demanding that I come immediately as one of the girls was crying in his practical class... because she was so frustrated with the lack of clear guidance, it turned out, but really...)

At 3:57 AM, Anonymous (i) said...

I agree it is a sh*tty environment to be in, and you can probably never do it just right. Each research suggesting that women - in general - should behave in a certain way to get ahead (like men, but not too much like men) always has a lot of super-fine print saying that it is only theory and of course, in your situation, things could be different. Plus, it all depends on the type of other people you're dealing with.

Personally (I'm a YFS, too) I've never been treated even remotely the way you describe. But then again, I am in no way a threat to anyone because everyone knows I will get out of academia as soon as I round up the PhD. Additionally, I have a female supervisor and all my male superiors have daughters around my age, which is apparently something good, for they see their daughters struggling in their careers as well.

At 7:20 AM, Blogger Ginger said...

"I love it when I get blamed for not nagging often enough, to make up for other people's cluelessness & senility."

I really really hate that situation. I've been there before and it part crippled my PhD. Unfortunately, I have no ideas on how to deal with it.

Regarding your PI not remembering your suggestions, I'd be tempted to make any suggestions that you think really have potential to go somewhere via email. That way, when your input is being forgotton, or deliberately glossed over so that someone else can take credit, at least you have the paperwork showing how and when you made the decision in the first place.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Maxwell's Demoness,

Yup, that sums it up better than words.


Moving to another lab or university is NOT an option, as I have blogged about repeatedly. Non-university is my most serious alternative right now. But I think it does mean giving up on the long-term goal. My field moves too fast, if I dropped out of the 'race' for a year, I would get flattened like those poor pilgrims in India.

I like your equations. So true. Especially the administrivia one. I'm pretty sure that has been yet another time sink for me.


Yes, if people think you are leaving academia, you are not a threat.

In my experience, PIs with daughters are no better than PIs without, but I'm sure it depends on their age and the personality of the daughters.


I've tried that. In my experience, they think you're being snotty, not professional and organized, when you tell them "Yes, I believe we discussed that and decided..." and then produce proof. You might win the battle, but in the long run, you can't use that approach to win the war.

At 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


There's nothing wrong with a little arrogance... or a lot of arrogance, for that matter... assuming that two basic conditions are met:
a) You're sufficiently good at whatever it is that you do.
b) Someone higher up in the chain-of-command recognizes that.
If that is the case then you can go around being as unpleasant and obnoxious as you like, and everybody else can either listen up, or go jump off a bridge.
For example, there's this guy I work with (well, used to work with, when I used to work, before [remainder of Randall's life story removed. Reasons: excessively long / somewhat depressing - Ed.])
who's quite possibly the most unpleasant man who's ever lived (With the possible exception of myself) and yet everyone tolerated his grumbling and cursing and whatnot because of his occasional strategically-timed brilliance and general cost-effectiveness. Ultimately, the world's all about money, and if you're doing more, while costing less, then people are prepared to overlook and/or tolerate a fair bit... this increasing when aforementioned cost effectiveness increases.

And if that doesn't work, just blackmail 'em. Can't go wrong with blackmail!

Anyhow, here's wishing you a fantastically unpleasant and unfulfilling life.
Go die in a fire.
- R. L.


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