Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How I would apply for jobs, if I were ever going to do it again.

Yellowfish pointed out that I should discuss what I would do differently.

Well, let's start at the beginning.

Step 1. Choose a grad school that you like, that actually likes you.

My grad school was a bad fit for me. Or I was a bad fit for it. Either way, I did not get off to a shining start. I did not make as many good contacts as I should have, and I certainly did not get a glowing sendoff from my thesis advisor, who was oh-so-relieved to be rid of me.

Yeah, if I had to do it over, I would have paid more attention to my gut instinct. Though honestly, of the places that I got in, none of them felt like the right choice. So there you go. I should have applied elsewhere (?) gotten in elsewhere (which would have necessitated, I don't know, perfect grades and perfect GREs?) and gone elsewhere (or not at all).

Step 2. Kiss everyone's ass, and I mean everyone, all the time.

Step 3. Go to as many scientific parties as possible, and meet people and charm them.

Partly because I'm a girl, I've never felt comfortable going drinking with my co-workers/colleagues/potential future bosses. But I should have done this. At all the meetings, even if it was in some old guy's hotel room, I should have gone. And been charming.

Step 4. Ignore bad advice, even if it comes from Super Successful "Mentors".

Yeah, the ones who told me not to apply for funding? Should have ignored them.

Step 5. Be more bold.

I probably waited too long to start asking questions at meetings. It puts you on the radar.

I also did not go and introduce myself to certain key people at certain key times, because I was too shy. But also because I sensed that they were sexist jerks, and I am rarely in the mood to deal with that kind of rejection. But I should have done it anyway, because now we'll never know.

And that is all. I would argue that I did everything else in my power. I worked my butt off. I read books on applying for jobs. I got feedback on applications from lots of people. I collaborated across continents, and attended meetings, and presented work, and published (some of it). I polished my CV. And I blogged about most of it.

And today I will be doing some more wallpapering. Why? I don't know. Because I haven't officially quit yet.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Responses to Comments


Is being content ever more than merely fleeting?


I think these are probably THE places to be in the next few years. Especially if you have teaching experience and really want to teach (see below).


It's a little more complicated than 'I just want a job at an R1'.

See, I fall into this bizarre category of being underqualified in the teaching category and overqualified in the research category for anything other than R1. Most non-R1s couldn't afford the equipment I'd need.

Of course this is a moot point, since as you know, I'm also still underqualified for any serious R1s.

When I applied to 2nd and 3rd tier places in the past, they thought they were my safety school so they didn't take me seriously. But when I applied to 1st tier places, I didn't make the cut.

I am a B+. Nobody wants a B+.

Perhaps if I were to do this again I would have to really go out of my way to show how extra-enthusiastic/serious I would be about the 2nd and 3rd tier places.

As it was, when I did it I was totally equal-opportunity about the way I did my applications, which is to say I applied without doing nearly enough networking for any of them.

Again, if I were to apply to faculty positions, I know now what I would do differently.

But lately I am thinking I would not apply again. I just want to get these papers out. And then we'll see.

I was laughing at an article I re-read today (I'm sorry, I don't remember which site) about how it's important to take vacations and avoid burnout. But they specifically mentioned students and junior faculty. I don't think it was intentional, but the message jives with my experience: everyone gets to take vacations, except for postdocs.

Anon 8:04,

I don't know you. I'm glad you like your job and it sounds like your job likes you.

But I did 'know' this guy, or at least what he said he wanted and where other people assumed he was going, years ago when we were in school together.

To me, the interesting thing about seeing where people end up is seeing how this measures against their qualifications and people's (past) expectations for them.

Case in point, he's at a place that 'values' teaching, but I know for a fact that this guy NEVER TAUGHT ANYTHING before getting hired.

I'm also, as you might know from reading this blog, very interested in the extreme disconnect between What The Establishment Says They Want in a new professor, vs. Who They Actually Hire.

Getting that paper in requires getting those experiments done, at least to my own satisfaction that I at least tried.

I am infinitely frustrated right now because I would almost rather quit than keep fighting my way over all the everyday speedbumps, because I just don't have the patience for them anymore.

In other words, somebody else should be doing these experiments. My imaginary students or technician.

I know eventually I would come to regret it if I quit now.

But it is taking. so. damn. long. Too long!!!

You know it's bad when you find yourself fantasizing about how, if you got scooped, then at least you could justify quitting. Assuming the other guy gets it right and you get the satisfaction of at least knowing the answer (but he never does).

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Not very.

Ran across the lab website of an old acquaintance today, someone I knew from school.

This was one of those people - you know the type - that everyone thought was a Genius (or at least, some did). The Very Knowledgeable Type.

Well I kind of had to laugh because this person is now a professor at an up-and-coming school. By that I mean, it's not an R1. It's maybe a 2nd or 3rd tier school, trying to put more money into research but not quite there yet. Maybe a great place to be, who am I to judge?

But I guess I'm a little surprised, and disappointed in a way. It's always that question- are we all fooling ourselves, thinking we're Good Enough, or even if we're not we can work hard until we get where we want to be?


In other news, I was thinking again today about how I have this one paper that I never sent back. When I got the reviews back, I wasn't ready to deal with them right away.

I was thinking about how I've always been impatient, and how this is both good and bad for research. It makes me look for answers and work a lot, maybe more than others, but it also makes the waiting parts really hard.

I think it was when I was working in a lab during college that someone told me this phrase, "hurry up and wait" and I immediately seized on it as a way to describe my life, my research, the whole vibe.

I'm in a wait period right now, which I hate. More than anything else about this job, I hate the waiting.

There are a lot of opportunities to wait. When you put something in to incubate overnight. When you send off a paper, a grant, an application for a job. When your advisor never gets back to you. The usual stuff.

I always liked the part after you send off the paper, the grant, the application. Because if you did your job right, there's nothing more you can do. But wait. It's almost like a vacation. From guilt, anyway.

I don't like the part where I'm waiting for an experiment, for something to be ordered or arrive after ordering in the mail, for equipment to be fixed, for people to get back to me.

But when you get the reviews back, you have to make a choice. Argue (as I've mentioned before, something I view as work and not fun), or go elsewhere.

In this case, initially I wasn't ready to argue. I think telling my advisor that was a mistake. I think my advisor determined from that one statement that I'm not cut out for academia.

A few days later, I was ready to argue, and my advisor told me we should go elsewhere. I think this was also a mistake. But now it's too late. We never published the paper, and lately I'm feeling like we never will.


Meanwhile, when I had samples ready a few months ago, the equipment I needed was broken. Now that the equipment is available (because the other people who normally use it are all applying for faculty positions, because their papers came out in Top Journals), I don't have any samples.

It never ends, does it?


So anyway I was looking at this guy's profile, and I thought, How Boring. And I realized I was less confused by him having a job at Up and Coming University (rather than Big Famous University) than I was by him having a job at all.

Sometimes I wonder why we pay anyone to do this stuff. I'd like to think my stuff is more interesting, but of course even if it's wildly different from his, it's not more interesting in any way that's understandable or useful to the general public. Not really.

It's no wonder they don't want to pay me to do this stuff.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

The Upper Echelons of Mediocrity

This was written as a draft about six months ago, but I never posted it. I guess I was busy working or something.


Someone asked if I'm really striving for greatness.

I guess the answer lately is simply, I don't know.

I've always been one of those people who wanted to be famous. I don't know why, I wanted it since I was too little to even understand what it is.

As I've gotten older, in some circles I am somewhat infamous. I know it's not the same thing. And I'm surprised when people I've forgotten meeting remember me. I don't think of myself as particularly memorable.

I guess I like the (farcical) theme of Death to Smoochy: You can't change the world, but you can make a dent.

I used to get excited about little things, because they were big to me. I used to jump for joy at a band on an agarose gel. But lately it's just a means to an end, and sometimes I find myself wondering how much I even care about the answer.

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More random musings.

I'm reading a new book right now and it has been really inspiring. The section I'm in right now talks about hunting. The description matches perfectly with what I like about research: being in absolute observation mode, with every muscle and neuron poised to act on the right cue. Taking aim with skill and hitting the mark dead on.

I wish I could quote the book directly, but I've told so many people about it that I'm sure it would out me.

Anyway it reminded me of what I like about my job, and what I think I'm good at, and made me wonder what the hell else is there where you get to use that part of your brain so much?

Apparently hunting is the life for me?

Any other ideas for jobs like that? The only other thing I could think of might be as a recruiter, some kind of talent-spotter for Hollywood or modeling? Get it? Like a Headhunter?

Except for the part where I have no pedigree!

Yes, mediocrity is the life for me.


I'm really having a lot of trouble rising above. People treat me like a grad student, I tend to act like one. And lately since I'm doing a lot of wallpapering, like I did as a grad student, I can't help feeling like I'm reverting backwards into what could potentially be called the worst part of my life thus far.

When I say reverting, I mean I'm dressing like I did then, wearing my hair like I did then, and eating badly. I had been so good last year, but this year I am reverting to eating badly. Because I am too tired after a day of wallpapering to cook anything.

There is one sweet grad student in the lab who actually congratulated me the other day when I thought things were working correctly.

This morning I was thinking about a student I had a few years ago. I told her if she wanted to work with me and learn to do wallpapering, one thing she should do is cut her nails. She didn't want to do that, even though she said her ultimate goal was med school.

Um, I wouldn't want someone with those nails operating on me.

Anyway she didn't last that long, less than a year, and now she's working at a company. I picture her now, wallpapering at the company with her long fingernails.

I guess I have a lot of baggage about wallpapering. Sooner or later, someone will probably come up with robots to do it (and maybe there already are, but we can't afford them). Until then, it is monkey work for me.

Yes, monkey work is the life for me.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

My job sucks.

Bad day.

Well, it's a new day, and nothing is working.

It's probably fixable- most bench things are, with enough time and elbow-grease (and sometimes money)- but I'm frustrated to the point of wanting to go home and cry.

But benchwork is not the only reason why.


Spent part of my day counseling yet another distraught grad student, who is being bullied by a sexist visiting professor in her lab. Her somewhat sexist advisor is nowhere to be found when she needs an authority figure to step in, and while her co-workers all agree that this guy's behavior is inappropriate, nobody will stand up for her or with her to either confront this guy or the advisor.

This is such an old story, but this poor student feels like we all feel when this happens:

Is it me (no)?
Am I alone in this (sort of)?
Is it because I'm a girl (probably)?
Is this what I can expect if I go into academia (or maybe the workforce in general) (yes)?

Is this worth putting up with (questionable)?

I wish I could go over there and give the advisor a piece of my mind, but I somehow doubt that would do any good (?). After all, I'm a Nobody.

Meanwhile, she can't get any work done because the bully is literally monopolozing her equipment, and sending her harrassing emails.

He's only there for 6 more months, so I told her that she's tough, if she has to she can suck it up. I gave her a bunch of other suggestions (including to document, document, document), but mostly I just hate that she has to go through this at all.

Perhaps most nauseating about this whole scenario is that she asked another postdoc what to do. This postdoc (whom I don't particularly like or respect) told her to just act sweet and stupid and do whatever he says to do. And then he will like her.

Thankfully, this grad student is more like me than this other postdoc. We agreed she would be setting a bad example and hating herself if she tried to 'act sweet.'


Worse than that for me on a personal level, the interview talks are starting up, which means I'm getting details on the people who are getting the interviews.

What's most sickening is that they aren't much different from me. They don't have more papers. Their projects aren't even that interesting.

What they do have is pedigree. Their papers are in Nature Something journals and always with famous co-authors.

I'm trying to be happy (?) that at least some of them are women.


In other news, while I'm thinking about going to industry, it's also because I'm worried that I'm either way too smart or way too efficient to be in academia.

(You're either standing in the shoes of a genius or a fool?)

Bear with me for a moment while I explain.

I agreed to host a speaker for a group.

I invited the speaker. Speaker agreed and we set a date, time and place and picked a title.

When I informed the group that this was all set, they were amazed that I had done this so quickly (it took 1 email, and 1 to confirm).

I was stumped, but pleased that they seemed impressed.

Some time goes by and we need to confirm the room. There's a staff member who is supposed to help print the flyers and book the food, etc.

Group Leader asked me to make the flyer. I said I thought the staff person did that, and I had already sent all the info that would go on the flyer (date, time, title).

Two more emails back and forth, I just made up the flyer and sent it, just because it wasn't worth the time to argue.

Eventually Group Leader writes back that Staff Person will make the flyer with the Logo.

I was thinking: Ok so you didn't send me a template, but now you're saying my flyer wasn't good enough? Does anybody even recognize the logo? I know I don't pay any attention to those things.

But I didn't say anything.

Now I am getting emails about the room. The room we wanted is booked. There are literally dozens of other rooms on campus we could use.

They are conferring amongst themselves about which room. Several emails about this. The most obviously available ones, they argue, are too hard to find.

I'm thinking: Um, is this a college campus? Shouldn't we assume that people are capable of reading a map? Or asking for directions?

But I don't say anything.

This is not a big event. The audience will definitely number less than a hundred, maybe less than 50, maybe less than 20, I don't know and I don't care. I wanted to see this speaker, I will be there.

All of this got me wondering, is this how academia does things? Because I am horrified at how inefficient it is. How pointlessly democratic. Do we really all need to agree on the logo? The flyer with the logo? The room? NO. We don't. It just has to be functional for what we want to do.

And I have to wonder what Group Leader and all the other group members do all day. Because it can't possibly be actually productive, actual work.

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Benchwork and being benched.

Been doing a lot of benchwork lately, which means I don't feel like doing much else.

I have relatively short breaks while things are incubating, 30 minutes here, 10 minutes there. So during these breaks I'm doing something I haven't really done since grad school, when I used to do a lot of benchwork and often found myself exhausted, late at night, just trying to stay awake to do the last step and go home. My main activities during these times were playing little games and reading junk on the internet.

And I mean junk: I'm reading my junk mail and clicking on the links for clothing sales, etc. I mean, how pathetic! I normally would never do this during the day.

It's especially funny since I'm usually pretty good about working at work, but I just can't do it right now. I. Just. Can't.

Meanwhile, most of my co-workers are diligently working at their computers. One is applying for a greencard; one is writing a paper; one is writing a computer program; one is putting together a talk for a job interview.

(We won't mention the tech who plays solitaire on his iPod. All. Day. Long.

We also won't mention the Not So Super Doc who sells things from his eBay website. All. Day. Long. )

But I'm too tired to read, write, or otherwise construct much of anything intellectual on days like this. I am just a pipetting machine. And then I am a couch potato.


One thing I did read was kind of disturbing, included as advice to candidates looking for faculty positions (which I reiterate again, I am not):

The best, meaning most useful, letters, by the way, are the ones who say things like "This candidate is very much like CCC and DDD were at this stage in their careers." Real comparisons like that are much more helpful than "The candidate is bright, creative, and a good communicator."

from this blog.

The author seems to miss the point that this automatically discriminates against women and minorities. There aren't enough obvious choices to compare us to, and most people wouldn't think to compare us to successful white men.

Another point missed in this kind of advice is that it assumes the people writing you letters have known some famous CCC or DDD at some point. So if your letters are from younger folks who move in less ritzy circles, they can't honestly say 'this candidate reminds me of so-and-so' because they didn't actually ever meet so-and-so!

Does anyone ever bother to check up on that?


In other news, I was amused to be invited to join a networking group and find that I had more connections than I thought I did (and more than most other people in the group).

I'm not exactly sure, but I think that's probably why I was invited. But lately I get these invitations to be a representative of 'my group' and I'm not sure which one they mean. My university? My gender? Postdocs? One of my professional societies? Because the invitations usually don't say, and they seem to expect me to self-identify.

Bored benchworkers everywhere, unite! I represent you!


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Which is worse: before or after tenure-itis?

This was an interesting discussion over on FSP about someone who got tenure and seems to be acting like a prima donna now. The comments were widely varying and the only thing we can conclude with certainty is that tenure, and the tenure climate, are different everywhere.

This is especially interesting to me since I have been feeling pretty anti-academe lately, despite the fact that my research is moving along, I love students, and always wanted my own lab and the freedom to work on my own ideas.

Lately I'm thinking that even if I got a faculty position even in the highest esteem of academe, it wouldn't be worth it.

So I was thinking about where I've worked, my vague impressions of how they handle tenure (from the point of view of a student/postdoc) and how the younger profs seemed to cope with it.

I've worked at places that have Tenure and places that don't have it at all. Interestingly, the places with no tenure seem to follow more or less the same pattern as the ones that have it: a majority of the most senior profs are only indirectly involved in research, and while powerful in the Service areas, not particularly helpful in those roles (especially to women and minorities!).

The places with tenure seem to have just about as much dead wood, but the floaters they have are by far and away much worse than the floaters at places without tenure. They are usually dangerously unproductive, but worse than that, dangerous in terms of groping females, wasting resources, and blocking (in one particularly memorable case) the hiring of women and minorities into faculty positions not just in their department but sometimes across the entire university.

One thing I've seen over and over again is the tendency to restrict research lab space based on funding/hiring. So as long as the dead woods have a few young bodies at the bench, they get to keep their labs. If no one will work for them anymore and/or they don't have grants to pay people, they are restricted to smaller and smaller spaces, eventually ending up with an office the size of a small closet.

I realized I've worked almost exclusively at places where tenure is not trivial, so there is a lot of turnover at the younger prof levels. My experience has been that younger profs are stressed about research and not nearly as involved in service as the students need them to be.

I understand the logic of 'protecting' younger profs from the 'burden' of service, but I think ultimately this is another area where the system is horribly broken.

Nothing will ever change if we continue to maintain this kind of hierarchy, whatever the good intentions.

I was talking to a grad student yesterday about this, and whether it's good to choose a brand-new prof as a PhD mentor.

I am of the opinion that brand-new assistant profs fall into two categories, and only two:

Type I worked their asses off to get this job, sometimes superstars but more likely persisting as postdocs for 6 years or more. They know how to do everything already, including writing grants, papers, hiring, firing, buying, and negotiating service contracts. They will be great mentors and might tend to take on more than they can handle, but they will love it. They see it as a luxury to be able to choose to sleep in their office, because they always dreamed of the day when they could, and now they can.

Type II got their job because they had the pedigree. They don't really know what they're doing, and that includes everything from how to do basic experiments to how to supervise and train students and staff. They are usually aware of this so they're insecure, defensive, and spend most of their time employing the formula that got them where they are today: sucking up to the rich and powerful. They are horrible mentors, abhor all kinds of service, and do only as much as required to get tenure.

Type I is people like profgrrrl, who stress out about tenure because they love their jobs and genuinely want to be good at what they do and earn the respect of intelligent people.

Type II is more like FSP's little buddy, who may have kept up appearances for the sake of self-promotion, but has now run out of energy to maintain the facade of being the good colleague.

Personally, I think there are way too many Type II's out there. I also think none of this is going to go away until people adopt the strategy of industry to stop relying on recommendation letters.

Which brings me to another thing I wanted to mention. I was talking to a friend this week who just got offered a faculty position. She is a Type I and I'm really happy for her. But I was mildly dismayed when she told a story about how the interview went, where the people told her the main reason they wanted to meet her in person was because one of her recommendation letters was so good. She laughed while telling us that this was a letter she had written herself. PI just signed it.

It doesn't bother me in the least that she wrote herself a great letter, or even that PI just signed it, since, as we've discussed here before, this kind of thing goes on all the time.

What bothered me about this story was that she was left with the impression that this was the single most important factor about her application.

She doesn't seem to mind how she got her foot in the door, and I say more power to her.

But think of it this way: if many hires are Type IIs, and some fraction of them get interviews based on totally phony recommendation letters they wrote themselves, doesn't that seem like a recipe for having a bunch of idiots as faculty?

In fact, somebody wrote a book about this. It's called The Lexicon of Inconspicuously Ambiguous Recommendations (L.I.A.R).

Along these lines, I heard another nightmare-inducing New Assistant Prof story the other day. Warning: this might make your head spin.

Basically this guy says he writes his postdocs' fellowships for them. Outright writes the whole thing before the postdoc ever arrives.

The way he sees it, they always get the money, and it helps him out since it's one more salary.

The way I see it, this is like paying someone take your SAT test for you. It's totally cheating the system. But worse than the SAT, where you actually have to show up in person and show ID, there is currently no way to discourage this kind of behavior or reveal how widespread it might be.

In a way, I have to commend his ingenuity. But in all reality, the whole system is predicated on the assumption that everybody believes in maintaining a certain level of fairness.

It ain't there.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Women can't argue.

(This post was inspired by the book Women Don't Ask, among other things.)

Lately I find myself forced to attend seminars where I disagree with the speaker... and most of the people asking questions.

Once upon a time, I might have tried to 'ask' a 'question' in such a format as to argue with the overriding opinion of the Group. You know, a criticism cloaked as a pseudo-question.

Lately, for a variety of reasons but mainly because I'm Tired, I don't ask anything.

I don't want to argue.

Somewhere along the line I decided that maybe because of my personality, and at least partly because I'm female, it doesn't usually help my case or my mood to bring up alternative viewpoints. At least, not unless I have at least one other person in the room to back me up.

Sure, I might reach one or two not-yet-biased students in the room, who might be curious enough to ask about it afterwards or even go back to their lab and look it up.

But it that enough to make it worthwhile? Usually not.

I realize that Scientific Discourse is supposed to include Discussion Of Alternatives, and the other day I got a strange look from somebody whom I think was expecting me to pipe up about something when I chose to say nothing at all.

Of course maybe I was imagining that, but I'm wondering if this man has any concept of why someone like me might choose to keep her mouth shut in certain situations.

I hate that some people only respect you when you're constantly arguing with them. I find that bizarre.

I also hate that when I'm going to argue for something Different, I'm forced to be extraordinarily articulate... or else written off as Crazy/Stupid.

Maybe I'm just out of practice, but I just don't enjoy the part of communication where I have to spell out the most basic of concepts in order to make a point about something a bit bigger. I really don't enjoy having to condescend to people who choose to be deliberately obtuse.

Or maybe they're really that stupid? I can't say for sure.

Maybe worst of all, I really hate that I'm supposed to care what they think, or worse- try to change their minds when I know I can't (at least not from the vantage point of asking a pseudo-question at someone else's seminar).

It's these kinds of things that really make me question whether I would enjoy academia in the long run, or any kind of research much longer.

That, and talking to an incredibly successful friend who is up for tenure and telling me not to apply for jobs because I'd just be signing up for more of the same stuff I hate now.

I realize that he's upset right now because he got screwed by one of these typical funding snafus (got scored in the 8th percentile with a high priority, they funded down to 14th percentile, but they didn't fund him and said he should resubmit next time around).

But this is also one of the people who told me not to go to grad school. And boy do I wish I had been listening to him then.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Investigation or Argumentation?

Lately I've noticed a disturbing trend of seminars sounding more like the opening arguments of a court case than a scientific discussion.

These seminars often contain a phrase like "I hope to convince you that..." at the beginning.

Usually there is a lot of background and heavy-handed explanation of the significance. An almost evangelistic proclamation of why we should care. How important and wonderful it would be if this model were correct.

The message is:Don't you want it to be correct? Wouldn't you feel bad about poking holes in it? You don't want to think critically, you want to be charmed!

Then there is a list of evidence supporting this model. When questions are raised about "Did you check whether [this other thing might be going on]?" the answer is invariably "I didn't check, but I think not because...."

Sometimes this is fine. Sometimes it really is just a way to present the evidence in a structured format so it's not too confusing.

But more often lately I'm noticing that alternative explanations are avoided, as are including things like references to other people's work (my favorite phrase is "Another group showed that..." when used in the absence of a reference on the slide) or details of methods (that might influence interpretation).

This worries me most when I see it among a subset of younger scientists who are clearly trying to please older scientists in their field. There is so much pressure to perform, to be the favorite, and I have to sit there and watch them start down the slippery slope to ethically muddy areas.

What it they say about old white guys and suckers?

Oh yeah, there's another one born every day.

It's this kind of thing that makes me think the type of research I want to do might be a dying beast.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Response to Distraught grad student

Ok, as usual Blogger is not cooperating (or I'm too busy to use it properly).

Someone wrote a really long, very disturbing comment about her horrible situation with a verbally and physically dangerous sexist advisor, financial problems, thesis project that isn't what she wanted to work on, and no idea what to do. Oh and severe insomnia.

My heart goes out to you.

Dear Insomniac,

First let me say that if your health insurance covers mental health at all, you should get some professional help from someone near you.

Where I went to grad school, we had so many suicides that they added free mental health benefits to help cover their asses. Your school sounds about as bad, but if they're adept at covering things up, they might not have this benefit.

Friends, family, anyone you can vent to, try to get yourself a support system. Make sure you're getting enough exercise and cutting out the caffeine and limiting your alcohol. I know this sounds trite, but trust me, it's critical. Make sure you're eating well. Take care of yourself!

All of that said, your situation sounds pretty bad.

Let's try to break it down and talk about your options in order of easy --> hard.

Option 1: stay where you are and keep your mouth shut (aka the Suck It Up option).

You're already doing this. It's the easiest in the sense of your not having to take any overt action. And you will most likely finish and get a degree, though you won't be learning what you said you wanted to learn.

You said you're in your 3rd year? Doing molecular biology? I'm guessing you have at least 2 years left, then?

Two years is a long time to not sleep. I think the only way you can make this work is to develop an iron-clad coping strategy.

Oh and whatever you do, write everything down. Keep a journal where you record, in as much detail as you can, anything abusive that happens in your lab, to you or to others. It could be handy should there be a need for a lawsuit or an anonymous call to the press.

But keep this one thing in mind: you could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Don't you deserve better?

Option 2: Stay where you are, but speak up.

I think it's debatable whether this is harder than Option 3, but it's worth trying if the later options seem appealing.

Basically, you can stick your neck out.

You can say to your advisor that you hate your project and you want another one. You can do this with your advisory/thesis committee present, better yet ask for a meeting in the Dean's office.

You can try to organize other witnesses in your lab and at your school, to make a formal protest to the administration about your abusive advisor and their inadequate response to the things that have already happened.

It's unlikely that this will work, but sometimes it does. It all has to do with timing and critical mass.

If there is an Ombudsperson or Office of Sexual Harrassment or anything like that, go talk to those people for advice about your school's policies. They're required to talk to you anonymously and you can be given the choice whether or not to file charges and go forward under conditions that will reveal your identity.

The main advantage to going this route is that it might help prevent these things from continuing, and the administration might be so embarrassed that they would bend over backwards to get you into a new lab in exchange for making sure you shut up.

More likely, though, from what you said, they'll try to expedite your leaving. Which might be fine if you're thinking about taking the option of switching schools.

Option 3: Switch to another lab.

From your comment, though, I get the impression there is no one currently at your school that appeals to you in terms of joining their lab.

Keep your eyes peeled. When I was in my third year, someone new came to my school, and I immediately added this person to my thesis committee, and that helped me a lot. I wasn't unhappy enough at that point to consider switching.

By the time I was wishing I had switched, it didn't make sense anymore (it was too late).

Option 4: Transfer to another graduate school.

This would require that you pay a fee to apply, probably, but they should be able to waive it if you can demonstrate your financial straits.

If you get in and decide to move, you should negotiate to get them to pay for your moving expenses. They can do this, you know, you just have to make it clear that you can't come unless they do it.

They might even raise your stipend if they want you badly enough. A friend of mine unwittingly discovered this when she genuinely couldn't decide between two schools, one of them offered her a sort of signing bonus to go there.

Transferring would take a while to put into action, but now is the time. Deadlines are... nowish, if not already passed for this year. Best case scenario, they could admit you for Spring semester if your credits will transfer. More likely, though, you'd be stuck until next Fall.

And it would take you longer to graduate, no doubt, unless you manage to switch back to chemistry, which could be faster than MoBio in terms of completing a thesis project.

Your best chances at finding a better lab and not repeating your current predicament are to research thoroughly the labs you're considering, get in touch with the PIs and the people in those labs ahead of time, and only apply to those schools where you've already found people doing what you want and agreeing that they think you're a good candidate and/or could give you a direct admit (some schools still do this at the PI's request).

Just make sure you do your homework, find out what you're getting into.

Option 5: Quit.

Quit now and go find something else that makes you happy and/or pays the bills (not necessarily in that order).

Maybe something that only requires a BA or if you can, leave with a master's.

I've written a lot about quitting, when and why people do it and how they feel afterwards (as have many of the people who comment here, see also FSP's blog).

You don't sound like you're ready to quit science, but it might be time to pick up and move, and start over somewhere new. But that takes a lot of guts and a lot of energy, and most people avoid major changes like that (and hence would probably take Option 1- suck it up).

I'd recommend reading this short little book called The Dip by Seth Godin. The book is about knowing when to quit. But I think he'd say that you're in panic mode, which is not a good time to make a decision. You have to get yourself into better shape (sleeping, for example) before you're equipped to make a decision.

And hang in there. Our thoughts are with you. Just remember, you're neither the first, the last, nor the only person going through this exact same thing right now.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Young women voting for men (Obama).

Someone wrote that I should be cheered up by Obama winning Iowa's democratic primary.

I'm not.

Here are the three reasons why I'm not:

1. First off, let me say this: people put way too much stock into a totally unrepresentative sampling, and then it influences all the other primaries. I hate that.

2. Young women in Iowa voted for Obama, rather than Hilary.

3. More white people in Iowa voted for Obama (~ 70%) than black people - less than 50% of black voters in the Iowa primary chose Obama.

Yesterday I watched the (all white, on this occasion) commentators talking about why this is.

Apparently people can easily understand why black Americans wouldn't vote for a black man (the main reason among black women, they say, is fear that he would get shot).

What I don't like is that young women didn't vote for Hilary.

I agree that Hilary's campaign has not made a point to 'reach out' to younger voters, and that this was probably a mistake.

I also think, although no one has talked about it much, that younger women are mostly sheltered from the sexist realities of grown-up life. I know I was. I really didn't experience anything consistently disruptive to my success until after grad school.

It doesn't really help that organizations like NOW devote most of the pages of Ms. magazine to international abuses of women's rights. They also do things like putting out anniversary issues patting themselves on the back for all the progress they've made. It sends the erroneous message that most of the work is already done, that sexism in the U.S. is mostly gone, been taken care of.

I beg to disagree.

David Gregory said on Tim Russert's show that he thinks Hilary has transcended the whole gender issue.

I think he's wrong.

Let me say again that I think Hilary is great. I respect her more and more as a strong role model, the kind I'm sorely lacking for in life in general. And I think she'd be a great leader.

But in talking about Hilary, I've seen a subconscious sexism among my friends, the same thing I've seen when talking about female professors.

They don't say she's incompetent, stupid, lazy, or that she would do a bad job.

They say they don't like her.

What nobody seems to be able to articulate too well is why they don't like her.

Here's what I think: this is a classic example of subconscious sexism. There's plenty of evidence that we expect women to play certain kinds of gender roles, and that being liked is more important for women's career success than being competent.

In short, I think people are harder on Hilary because she's a woman. What's most insidious about this is that no one makes the gender connection in these kinds of judgments. That's the thing about prejudice: if you're not aware of it, you're probably influenced by it.

All of that said, I like Obama just fine. I'd be happy to have any of the democratic candidates, truth be told, and I'm terrified of all the republiscum.

But it's interesting. The more I see Hilary trying to 'soften' her image, and doing more interviews, the better I like her.

I feel the reverse about Obama. He's a bit too polished. I don't like his tendency toward overblown rhetoric. I don't trust it. I don't like how it's beginning to sound like unrealistic, evangelistic, pulpit-talk. And it seems to be getting worse the longer he's on the campaign trail. He's playing to young voters because he's preying on young people's idealism, and while I see what he's trying to do and I would love to buy into it- I don't. I know from personal experience that Hilary's battle-hardened pragmatic approach is where Obama will end up, whether in the White House after learning the hard way, or later on when he's a bit older.

So no, I'm not really happy that Obama won in Iowa. I'm just a little bit disappointed that minorities are being kept down by their own prejudices- against themselves.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Blogging less.

Have been blogging less lately. Will probably be blogging less this year.

The most interesting things happening around me lately are thoroughly unbloggable things.

There's no way to anonymize them without removing all content.

Which is too bad, because they're outrageous, or funny, or incriminating, or horrifying. And you're missing out on all of this as entertainment. Or mind-opening.

Despite the occasionally amusing moments of mostly coworker incompetence at work, my mood hasn't changed.

I know nobody really enjoys reading my rants, so I've decided that unless it's really a new topic, or generally funny, I'll just skip it.

I guess if I thought complaining would make me feel better, I could just block receiving comments on those kinds of posts, but somehow using that setting bothers me more than not blogging at all.

Unfortunately I don't feel like I have any new insights on life, pop culture, or science, at least not that anybody wants to hear.

The same things still bother me; nothing is changing.

Time marches on, which is good in some ways and bad in others.

Still trying to figure out if that whole 'live in the moment' thing is total bullshit.

Never worked for me. Maybe because when I really need it, I realize that most of my days are like the chokehold of a giant necklace, made of horrible moments strung together.