Monday, March 02, 2009

If you can't take the heat, I don't blame you.

I'm kind of saddened, but also heartened, by these comments from other women postdocs saying what a miserable time we're having.

Yes, we are.

I was talking to some older women scientists recently and one of them said to me,

If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen!

Get out, yourself, you old bitch! You're the reason it's like this!

Yes, you!

So today, instead of blaming the men, I'm going to take a moment and blame the cowardly women who keep their heads down and try to pretend like everything is okay and will resolve itself eventually if we just put up and shut up long enough.

Newsflash: IT WON'T.

We need some kind of scientific equivalent of a pink underwear resistance .

What should we have? Pink pipettes? Suggestions?

I'm sorry girls, but the women who came before us? HAVEN'T CHANGED ANYTHING. And they're NOT going to help you. Or me.

Meanwhile, the men are all acting like whiny little preteens. I'm disgusted to hear men complaining about open scientific discussion like it's somehow uncouth... although come to think of it, they're all assholes to each other and to us, but they seem to be really uncomfortable with seeing women talking about science with other women.

Hmm. What is that about? Could this be the opposite of the whole two women = automatic lesbian fantasy? Are we causing some kind of cognitive dissonance when we're more than a singular anomaly?

Or is it just the possibility that we're actually more objective and more detached about our work, precisely because we have a better view of the big picture of life? Is that what makes them so nervous? Why do I think they're really the emotional ones?

Oh right, because they're so insecure.

I don't know, I don't know where we're supposed to go. The men mostly aren't going to help us, and even the sympathetic ones can't because they're all in the same boat as we are- getting screwed over. The women aren't helping because of the "poor me syndrome", thinking they had it so much worse (they didn't).

Meanwhile, everyone is talking about all these hiring freezes etc. like the axe is still on the way down. I'm just trying to decide if I'd rather walk the plank, or if it would be better to get shot instead?

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At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your problems have nothing to do with your sex. Do you even read your own blog ?

At 11:17 PM, Blogger Mad(scientist)moiselle said...

I suggest we change all the labels on all the bottles in our labs to pink tape. It will be at eye level and tell have to look at it until the bottles are empty!

And while I agree with your point, I haven't met a lot of women with the musketeers attitude when it came to anything that involved money . . .

At 11:21 PM, Blogger Phagenista said...

What gives me hope isn't the generation of late 40s female scientists and those that came before them... it's the approachable female assistant and associate professors who have children and tattoos. Well, not all of them have both... but women who are succeeding on the academic track who aren't choosing career OR family, and who didn't feel they had to act like a man to get where they are. As a graduate student, there were none of these women in my department. Now, there are several, and even though I graduated before their time, I have been able to network with them, get access to their grant applications, etc. I have found these younger female scientists much more amenable to lending a helping hand than some of the older female mentors I and my friends have had.

But yes, we're in an ultra-competitive profession that is geared to the biology of men (non-gestating parent, including timing of tenure), and to more of a male intellectual style (prizing individual accomplishment over collaborative research).

Many of the changes to a professor's job description that many female science bloggers would like to see would improve the experience of students and trainees... something that would help both young male and female scientists. Or, would improve the state of science (better peer review, more recognition of behind-the-scenes service work) for all scientists.

Would it help if we signed something promising that these changes won't just benefit women?

At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might disagree (respectfully) that the women who came before us haven't changed anything. Some have, even just by their very presence and success. When I get annoyed at my senior female colleagues, I have to remind myself that they probably did have a harder fight, and that some of the things that make my life ever so slightly easier (maternity leave, tenure clock extensions) are the result of a change in the culture that SOME of our senior female colleagues have brought about.

That said, there is NOTHING more annoying than the old b*tch who seems determined to squash younger female colleagues who fail to show her adequate "respect", who do thinks like, you know, have a baby before tenure (Oh My!!) or take that maternity leave (How presumptuous!!), or like, have generally good interactions with male colleagues. They seem to treat this like is some sort of hazing process, and we end up less bitter and unhappy and regretful than they are, well then we just haven't worked enough.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger chall said...

See, I wrote a post today myself and then decided not to post it since it was way too negative....

it went something like this "Remember, remember that there is a boys' club and it is all about who you know... and of course, having a lovely wife who takes care of the home front..."

I am not sure either what the women have done apart from actually showing us/them all that IT can be done. What we need to do now, as younger women, is to pick up the stick and be even more progressive.

Then again, I am not sure I want to be a pinata anymore... most of it since I don't think I care/want the approval by the men in charge.

I get reminded once again; real power isn't given. real power is taken.

/end tired and annoyed rant from female post doc who spent a long time last week on a dinner with "an important man who told the company of men that they would do fine and did not look me in the eye more than once". Really good motivation.

At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came back to your blog after a year! Last year this lab was a hell on earth. And yes, some female grad students and postdocs played huge roles to that. I think women put too much of personal emotion to the lab sometimes/talk too much about too less of something. But there are too many women too who stick to the rules and tired of too feminine way of life.
Also I agree with you on sexism in science.
I have a question (which is not related to your post): what can one do/think/expect from a PI who hired you without an official offer letter yet says he's funding is not clear at the moment? (when that "hired" postdoc already turned down a several positions with already funded projects)
Would be great to hear your and commenters opinions.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger JAC said...

I don;t agree with everything said by this blogger but the comment:

"2. PhD programs are pyramid schemes

It’s very hard to get a job teaching at a university. And if you are not going to teach, why are you getting a degree? You don’t need a piece of paper to show that you are learning. Go read books after work. Because look: In the arts, you would have a better chance of surviving the Titanic than getting a tenure-track position; and once you adjust for IQ, education, and working hours, post-PhD science jobs are among the most low-paying jobs you could get."

Was actually rather interesting. I wonder if part of the dysfunction that we are seeing is that the academic system has elements of a scam. Trying to enforce fairness in the face of such an underlying (unfair) structure seems to lead to no end of frustration.

I'm not sure what the best options are. The survivors of the current system are rewarded with power and prestige; they've shown little inclination to be agents of reform if it involves diluting such power. I think that this might lie behind some of the senior female scientist comments that you are referencing.

But I think that a useful first step might be to admit that the system, as a whole, has these undesirable properties.

At 5:29 AM, Blogger Raysa Valéria said...

I’ve heard about the problems of being a female scientist. The biggest issues are the personality and the relationship with labmates.
People can’t believe in a well-successfulled scientist that isn’t arrogant just because there is a cultural acceptance that men are better than woman in Science. So, “ 2 tits + brain + degree + competence = definite threat, she needs to be beat into submission”
as an annon has commented in your Blog. When a female scientist is confident it means...arrogance; when she is open-mided it means...she might be a bitch; when she is polite...she is “so cute” not else for her labmates!
Everything is wrong! You can’t find a sterotype for a female scientist.
Boys have a break time when they do pleisure things like play soccer, talk about cars etc. The same happens with us: in some hours we take care about beauty, go out for shopping etc. If men thought that these pleasure things put women far away of Science they have to assume that they do it too!
Scientist aren’t a boffin!

At 6:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"women who keep their heads down and try to pretend like everything is okay and will resolve itself eventually if we just put up and shut up long enough.

Newsflash: IT WON'T. "

I feel your Newsflash might have been my "the emporer has no clothes" moment.

-Young Female Engineering Professor

At 6:52 AM, Anonymous rocket scientista said...

I, too, have ranted about this. Granted, still a lowly graduate student here, but some of my experience with older female scientists has been downright bitchy. We should have an old girls network, and instead it's all about isolationism. It's like no one wants to deal with the problem so those that make it through shut up and thank their lucky stars. Of course, there are a few exceptions to the rule, but in the world of small number statistics, it's not nearly enough.

At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a female third year graduate student, and I think being a postdoc is pretty horrible. I would like to avoid being in a postdoc limbo if I can help it. I think your blog is partly responsible for my views on the horror of postdoc-ing. I'm looking into alternative career options for Ph.D. graduates that does not require a postdoc.

At 12:23 AM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc said...

The thing about "taking the heat" is that not everyone gets the same amount. And the amount someone gets depends on all kinds of things, most of which have nothing to do with the quality of their research.

A few times I went to these "career advice" sessions for postdocs where faculty talked about how they got to where they are. Listening to their stories, the thing that struck me about every single one of them was the wonderfully supportive relationships they had with their phd and postdoc advisors. These people talked about how it wasn't easy for them to get to where they are - they thought of themselves as having experienced "heat" - but really they and others like them don't have a fucking clue about what heat really is in academia.

The reason they don't have a clue is because real heat is academia's way of saying "Get lost, we don't want you." To which one may reply "Fuck off assholes, you don't own Science." The problem though is that the fuckers do control most of the infrastructure of academic science, so if you want to keep at it you have to go to extremes. E.g., in my case that has meant 10+ years in postdoc type positions, much of it in obscure parts of the world, waiting for the chance of a low-paying faculty job at some obscure foreign uni (which looks like it has finally come -yipee!). Basically you have to be willing to wait around for some scrap to turn up that the anointed ones either missed or turned up their noses at.

If there are enough of us, we could make a revolution! :)

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


we don't have any of those in my field. the assistant and associate female profs with kids are totally unavailable, frazzled, and barely keeping their heads above water. the ones with tattoos that i know are all kind of stuck-up.

I agree, most men our age would like the see the same kinds of changes we're always discussing on these blogs.

Anon 9:22,

If maternity leave and tenure clock makes your life better, that's great. It doesn't help me AT ALL. So I feel like the "big" accomplishments of our predecessors are worthless to my career, they're more about helping make it easier to maintain the personal life status quo of woman-does-all while man sits-on-his-ass.

I agree about the hazing process though. I'm not rushing their sorority.


lol! I guess we had the same kind of day. I totally agree about feeling like a pinata half the time, and invisible the rest of the day. It's bizarre.

Anon 2:04, will write a separate post on that.


I love the comparison to surviving the Titanic.

I totally agree that the survivors of the current system are too busy enjoying their rewards to be agents of reform.

I worry about why the people in power are not trying to fix it. I think it's psychological- they convince themselves that since they succeeded, the system must be good because it means they are good, and they can't bear to consider the possibility that the system is bad, because it undermines their own sense of self-worth.

anon 5:47,

glad to hear it.


I agree about people who think they have problems. I have a friend who is having a very minor tiff with his PI right now and thinks it's the end of the world... I'm like, dude, this is NOTHING. He has no idea how much worse it could be.

did I get a hint of good news in your comment? a yippee??/!!!

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Normally, I enjoy reading your blog - I don't get sucked into the bitterness, and it's a good guide for how to avoid crap when I finally get to the post-doc level. Unfortunately, I found today's post to be complete crap.

The women who came in front of you fought fights that you'll never have to face, and broke ground that you now tread without a second thought. They deserve a lot more credit than you give them.

And no, not all men are uncomfortable watching women talk science. Hell, my girlfriend is a scientist, my coworkers are ~50% female, and they all get the respect from me that they deserve. My supervisor (a male) mentors his female students along just as well as his male students. (The female scientists from his lab have gone on to excellent positions at good universities.) Frankly, I begin to wonder if you're studying at some backwater university in Saudi Arabia.

Have you never met one man who is willing to treat a woman as his equal? Or is this whole blog just a bunch of rhetoric to draw sympathy?

I recognize that the fight for gender equality is not yet over. And I'm willing to grant that you're probably in the lab from hell, but can we tone down the undeserved bashing of everyone who isn't in your shoes?

At 4:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my PI (male) talks and jokes about sex in the lab, about other women in science how they got their current position through men?? I am so discussed about him and have been always after the 3rt month of my arrival. The bitchy last-year grad student is his Chihuahua. They play the boy's politics. That's how my PI survives and he's got the only one friend in the department who's a chinese faculty that nobody trusts and speaks poorly in english. One and only underg. student cooks and eats in the lab keeping 10lb rice bag next to the fume hood. It's been 2 years to stop him eating in the lab. An indian postdoc finished his term but still comes at nights to work for free so that he could get some paper. His "Rate my professor" profile says he twinkles his yes when reading failed students. All this is happening in at a quite well ranked University in east coast. I am in biomed. science and our dear PI can not design reverse primers. Do you guys think I should let the higher authorities know that? I am sure they'll just keep these quite. Don't you think?

At 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know yfs, you make some really good points, and that is why I always come back to read you even when you annoy the crap out of me with your perpetual negativity and proud victimhood. But you just can't look outside yourself at all.

House of mirrors. No way out.

Go, get some meds. It really will help.

At 3:17 AM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc said...

"did I get a hint of good news in your comment? a yippee??/!!!"

Yeah, although it was a half-ironic yipee (hence the missing 'p'), since a low-paid faculty job at an obscure foreign uni after 10+ years of postdocing wouldn't be considered a great career outcome by the usual measures. Still, it's a big improvement on current situation, and any job is to be appreciated in the current climate.

My main reason for mentioning it is to let people know that these kinds of opportunities are out there (although I know that for many it wouldn't be a feasible option). There are various countries in recently developed parts of the world where universities are under government pressure to become more international by hiring some foreign faculty. This means job opportunities for westerners who are willing/able to relocate and settle for a lower salary...

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anecdotally, my peer group of PhD-holders have submitted 100+ faculty applications each over a span of 2-4 years, gotten 1-3 interviews (typically only in the last year of applications) and 0-2 offers. these are people like me (though you don't know me, so I'll summarize what I think are important demographics). excellent pedigree (top 10 institutions for their discipline in ug, grad AND postdoc), 1 (not 0 or >1) C/N/S paper during grad or postdoc, solid productivity besides the top tier paper, grad and/or postdoc work supported by a competitive fellowship, 3+ (up to 7) postdoc years.

Compare to the anecdotal group of MD faculty I know. doesn't matter where they did undergrad. MD institution is important a little bit, but really that just gets them into a residency, where performance there just gets them into a fellowship, and solid performance there pretty much guarantees them a job (well, there is competition, but it isn't like there are 700 applicants, just 2 other ~equivalently qualified people and there are jobs out there for at least 2 of the 3 of them).

so the MD paradigm presents progressive triage with clear alternative career paths (i.e., not getting an academic position for an MD is not tantamount to failure like it is often presented to PhDs) while the PhD paradigm offers no sense of personal ability compared to peers, has fewer relevant alternatives and no triage.

and did I mention that MDs have all sorts of incentives offered by NIH to entice them to do research? K-series awards, med school loan repayment programs, etc... so next time you don't get hired, see if the person who did was an MD.

At 7:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please cease and desist NOW. These ageist posts must stop!

You will not get away with calling senior scientists "old bitches" again.

You create your own reality.

HATEFUL CONTENT: Users may not publish material that promotes hate toward groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/gender identity.

At 2:32 PM, Blogger JaneB said...

I read here pretty regularly; I was a post-doc myself for four years and am now a faculty member. I have a lot of sympathy for your position overall, having been through some similar experiences, and encountering all the usual daily crap of an academic life. But... what did I do to you???

I'm sorry girls, but the women who came before us? HAVEN'T CHANGED ANYTHING. And they're NOT going to help you. Or me..

THANKS A BUNCH. YOU haven't got a faculty post and have a hard time, and it's clearly partly due to all of us 'women who came before' (I'm 40 and faculty, I assume I count as older than you in career and calendar years). The hard work of many, many other women over many decades to get here, to even have the right to BE IN THE CLASSROOM never mind doing the science, is dismissed. Women like me are now the enemy? I'm not as senior and 'special' as you aspire to be, but I have a decent post at a decent institution and I do some pretty sound science published in good places by the standards of my field. Apparently, even though I effectively slow down my OWN career development every time I sit down with a younger woman and talk to her, read her drafts, take time to train her in a new technique, every supportive action I take, every time I use up a little of my own credibility to stand up for a younger woman scientist in any context from the seminar questioning to the appointments panel, is irrelevant? Is nothing?

I work hard to make a safe and supportive environment for all my students and post-docs, to build my own career so I can help others up, to nurture female students and support all their life choices - and indeed to live a balanced life myself, defying the expectations and pressures of the 'system', because only by BEING the change I want to see can change really come about - but when I hear these sorts of 'bitches' 'they won't help' comments from someone who should follow her own dictates and look for evidence not wave their prejudices in public, I really don't know why I bother.

Because it's HARD, OK? Life doesn't get magically better with the little green and yellow capsules, or with the faculty job, but every gain is hard fought for and hard held.

I refuse to believe that I am the ONLY female scientist faculty member who thinks hard about fairness and about how to help others succeed, especially other women, about ways to change our field and our environment for the better. I'm not perfect. But I'm darn well trying, and this sort of crass, hostile generalisation is just driving away your natural allies.

At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

from my own experiences, NONE of the senior faculty and senior scientst - regardless of being male or female - helps postdocs in career issues. Why should they? they are all too busy focusing on their own careers and intellectual pursuits, postdocs are just lab hands. Apathy is gender-neutral!


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