Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Harsh reality

I'm having one of those weeks. And it's only Wednesday.

A well-meaning former colleague sent me an ad for a faculty position in another city, at a school where I don't know anyone.


I said thank you. What's the point in explaining that I'm not going to waste my time and energy applying? I took it as a compliment that she seems to think I deserve a faculty position.

Okay, if that were the worst thing that happened all week, that would be fine. But it's death by a thousand pinpricks, so of course it wasn't the only thing.

Also, a evil former colleague has a paper coming out soon in Nature.

I knew this was coming, but it still pissed me off. Because it's the definition of incremental. Still, somehow the evil boys club got it accepted for publication in a top journal. I'm pretty sure some kind of voodoo sacrifices were involved.

There's also this hullabaloo going on about women in tech, which is just kind of pissing me off because somehow computer science gets to make a big deal about it, as if they invented the concept, while scientific workforce imbalances continue to languish in obscurity??

Thanks to people like this guy bitching about how women get more attention in tech, from the media and for funding.

Read a little about this, and you'll be smacked in the face with offensive accusations that women just "aren't interested" and the idea that it's too late to do anything about it with adult women coming from other careers. Instead, some women are proposing we have to go to the source and make sure little girls aren't playing with Barbies?

Which isn't exactly going to help those of us who did in fact choose other tech-related careers, only to find there are no jobs for us womenfolk once we're done giving ourselves concussions on the thick glass ceiling between postdoc and faculty position.

Anyway, that Techcrunch article ignited some backlash, which opened the discussion again, although nobody seems to have any new solutions. Echoes of Larry Summers, sort of.

Personally, I think this whole discussion is just a sign that tech is starting to suffer from the same thing academia has had for a long time: a bad case of too many wannabes and too little funding.

My compsci friends have been telling me for years that my field is unusually bad, that compsci doesn't see any of these kinds of backstabbing maneuvers, or discrimination, etc. And I wondered for a while if it was because compsci is newer, or because they don't need much money to do what they do.

I thought maybe it will take another couple hundred years for the tech sector to evolve to a higher level of backstabbiness?

But now I think they might be well on their way.

I don't know which is worse. The guys saying it's not their fault, or the women saying it's not a problem and nobody should rush to fix it.

Meanwhile, this post and several comments over at FSP further confirm that so-called "subtle" discrimination continues to hold back women at the faculty level by overwhelming them with heavy teaching loads, while limiting their access to influential committees.

FSP is nothing short of disappointing in her response that in FSP's case, everything turned out to be fine, as if that makes it okay that these kinds of occurrences are still rampant now . Or something.

I think this just illustrates that nobody who is content with their situation is going to be really active in changing the system. FSP seems to be the picture of peaceably complacent.

I've seen this same attitude all the time in lab. It's a kind of protectionist, "not in my backyard" denial. Like it's fine to have a radioactive spill... as long as it's not near my bench. It's fine that your experiments with the shared reagents are failing, as long as mine are still working (or I have my own stock! hahahaha!).

I think what we're going to need are a few good martyrs. Because there's no kindness in complacency.

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At 12:56 PM, Blogger Kea said...

But it's death by a thousand pinpricks, so of course it wasn't the only thing.

It boggles the mind how few of them get it ... constantly telling us off, under the assumption that the status quo is vaguely acceptable ... when we quite clearly gave up on the status quo at the age of two. Who do they think they are talking to? I feel like I've been bashing my head against a brick wall, and cutting myself on glass ceilings, ever since then.

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Oh, and I can assure you that CompSci is NOT OK. They may be doing better at the junior levels, but at the top they are right up there with the theoretical physicists.

At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your life sucks. What are you going to do about it?

I have read your blog, off and on, for the past 3 years. Not one substantial thing has changed.

During that time I have learned some things about life, some of which are trite, but true: You never know what is going to happen, especially bad things. You can suffer great personal loss (as I have), but no one (except your family) really gives a shit. You are expected to move on with your life. Life goes on, relentlessly.

Sometimes things, grossly unfair things, happen and you realize that there is no possibility of you ever having the life you wanted or imagined. A life that should be yours, that many others have, but you can't. It fucking sucks beyond belief. You can cry, rage and despair, and it doesn't matter. The world is cruel partly because most people care only about themselves, and if you happen to be naturally generous or concerned with fairness, you will suffer and suffer.

Regardless, life goes on. Live for now. Fuck all that lab work you did. You sequenced some shit, you transfected a gene, you discovered some pathway, who cares. Just take all your lab note books and burn them in a fucking pyre.

Just don't keep doing what you're doing.

At 4:30 PM, Anonymous FrauTech said...

Just when I thought I was calming down about this whole thing. I ranted here:

Funny how these articles always bring out the emotional male. The one that gets angry/hurt when a woman complains about discrimination. He feels so vindicated when some woman steps up and says "no, see it's all fine." I do think private industry CAN be better than academia, b/c there's a more pervasive HR and PC culture. Not to mention in academia you'd expect it to be more merit based whereas a lot of people realize in the corporate world it's more about connections and bs and attitude.

As for what you said about people being complacent, I definitely see that. But also that women in power are still only women in power, not men in power. They can't "help" like other powerful people can. My last boss was a minority and I could tell he made a concerted effort to hire all kinds of minorities and women when he could and give the best ones opportunities at promotion. He never advertised this (I'm sure upper mgmt would not have approved) but I liked his sneaky methods of making the world a little more diverse, at least on the little bit of ground he had control over. I'm hoping I'll have the intelligence and determination to do the same once I'm in some position of authority (perhaps I should say if...). Now you've given me ideas to write more on this subject...

At 6:49 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I agree and I've learned all the same things.

But still, the blog is what the blog is. From day to day, sometimes different, sometimes the same. I do this because I do this, not because I'm trying to be excellent at it, and not to get paid. And you still read it, apparently.

I'm not sure what you think is the equivalence between this blog and my life, or whether you're more than a bit behind, but some things have changed.

I'm not sure what you assume I'm doing, or if you just don't like these posts?

Maybe you should get a blog and tell us about your personal loss and everything else you've learned about life and blogging, and what you've been doing all this time you've been reading my blog and thinking about what I should do with my life or blog. What have you been doing lately? I would be happy to read more about it.

FrauTech, Great post! Thanks for linking that! I'm following your blog now. Sorry I didn't get around to doing that sooner, I've been extremely lax on all things Blogger and following-related.

I think it's great that you can still get so riled up! I'm really in that place, I think it was Zuska who said something about burning out on rage. I'm like, sort of beyond the point of really getting angry anymore. Maybe I'm just too depressed. Anyway I'm glad to see other women are still capable of being pissed off about things I care about. :-)

At 7:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's exactly right about having to do the sneak attack. You also have to expect a pushback/question if the covert operation is detected. Boys club shit is never advertised but always promoted, wink wink pat pat, as Quality Hire. Perfect Addition to The Club. Good Job Son. blah blah. I was recently invited for something I can't attend, so in the decline email, I listed 4 women who should be contacted. The d00d reply was: "are they your friends? you listed all women." My answer was: "no, we are not friends beyond colleagues, but surely you have noticed their work!" Sherlock 0 jc 1.

At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here we go... another wasted article on why we need to get more Americans into science...

The comment is about the only thing that makes sense.

At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Professor in Training said...

Why would/should it matter whether you know anyone at the school that has the vacant faculty position? Or do you mean that nobody famous works there? Or that it's not a famous school?

You're looking for a faculty position, right? By your own admission, you feel as though you deserve one. What could it hurt for you to submit an application? Are you applying anywhere this year?

At 2:00 PM, Blogger the unknown said...


if u spend as much time writing on ur research, as u do on ur anger+angst, im sure u'll get a good paper out soon.

think only of the things that u want.
throw everythin' else out the window :P

ur mind cant juggle between negativity and creativity without gettin stucked. the two r opposin' forces that dont go well with one another.

so chill out and start making things happen!

At 3:45 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


Well, it's possible that I don't know anyone there because they're not famous. But the practical issue is that it's nearly impossible to get an interview if you don't know anyone at the school, and in the long run, you'll never get any useful feedback if for some reason you have an interview but don't get the job. That's what happened to me last time. I got some bullshit explanation, which I couldn't (can't) address in future applications.

I'm not planning on applying anywhere. My letter-writers have written literally hundreds of letters for me over the years, NONE of which got me interviews, and I don't have any funding now, nor am I eligible to apply for funding without an appointment. These days it all comes down to those who already have funding. Preferably an R01. From what I can tell, most of the departments I would have been interested in (based on facilities and research topics relevant to collaborations) are hiring faculty around from each other in circles. The existing assistant profs from one place move to another; or move up to associate profs. They're not hiring postdocs into assistant professor positions. The ads are all vague and just say "tenure track" or claim to have multiple positions; in reality most places only have the budget to hire one person, possibly a couple if there's an employable spouse.

So far as I can tell, there is no point in going through the stress and heartbreak again when the economy is only getting worse, especially in academia. I've literally seen maybe less than 10% of the ads there were last year, and last year was down to maybe 20% of the ads I had seen in previous years.

I don't think applying blindly to ads works in my field. You absolutely have to know people, preferably multiple people in the same department, who will ACT on your behalf. The departments are too big, and there are factions within them. Even if half the department wants you, if the other half wants someone else, you're very likely screwed.

At 4:25 PM, Blogger Girlpostdoc said...

I don't know how you stand the repeatedly abusive comments. If they don't like the blog they should fuck off. Sometimes our lives just suck and the reason we blog is to find a space to rant about suckage.

I also agree with your assessment about t-t positions. If you haven't been able to secure external funding, it doesn't seem to make sense to apply for a t-t position. This is also true in my field unless of course you have 30 publications before you leave your PhD and surprisingly I know at least 2 who have done so. But this happened because of opportunity, luck, and yes they worked hard. But frankly, it's a myth to think it was all to do with talent.

At 2:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think applying blindly to ads works in my field. You absolutely have to know people, preferably multiple people in the same department, who will ACT on your behalf. The departments are too big, and there are factions within them. Even if half the department wants you, if the other half wants someone else, you're very likely screwed.

So, so true.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Hypothetical Engineer said...

As I understood it FSP's post had less to do with gender and more to do with being the trailing professor. The discrimination had more to do with being offered a position as a condition to get the significant other than anything to do with gender.

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I deleted several negative, non-constructive comments from people who clearly missed several posts.

I'm not a postdoc anymore. Haven't been for a while.

So, to those of you who are trying to give me career advice on academia?

Kindly fuck off.

That is all for now.

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

p.s. Hypothetical Engineer - then I think you missed the point of that post and several of the comments. There were multiple instances where people wrote in to say that regardless of which spouse was trailing, or whether the couple was hired together and supposedly "equal", the husband was given more and better opportunities to improve his status and bootstrap his way up the ladder. GENDER MATTERS. I wish it didn't. But it does.

At 9:51 AM, Blogger the unknown said...

hypothetical engineer : regarding fsp's posting.

the cute thing bout human motive is its
ambiguity. nevertheless, intuition is highly useful in handling this form of ambiguity.

unlike engineering that entails a number of tools/measure to ascertain the factor of a particular phenomenon, things can get pretty messy here.

from ur understanding, it had nothin' to do with gender. how certain r u of this understanding?

are u a female? lol
are u a female lecturer trailin her husband?
have u tried simulating the scenario with mathlab or amos? lol

if ur conclusion is based on ur ability to read and think ie rationality..
r u conversant with social psychology? which model of thinking r u using for ur understanding?
how did u test ur understanding?

the thing is, if one has socialized sufficiently, in a setting related to the aforementioned context, it is not difficult to perceive fsp's situation as somethin' related to gender bias.

my lecturer confided the same problem to me like 10 years ago. she's more accomplished than her husband, research wise and etc but almost invariably, was given the breadcrumb in matters that depended on musculine societal support ie suggestion by male dominated faculty members etc.

forgive me for this long explanation but it's kinda annoying to hear what u said bout fsp's posting, when u dont hv the slightest clue. :P

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MsPhD is spot on for what's happening in my field. I can name several postdoc men off the top of my head who got hired in the last few years as assistant profs because they had NSF funding. The money set them apart from the pack of postdocs. Hiring, tenure, promotion comes down to money. Full Stop. How did these POSTDOC men get NSF funding you ask, you know, since postdocs aren't allowed to apply for funding outside the NSF postdoc fellowships? They were included on large grants as Co-PIs with their male postdoc advisors. The postdocs had very few first author papers, they had low impact factor papers, maybe one major paper in their field, little to no teaching experience outside TAing, certainly not "adjunct lecturer" experience. With hundreds of applications, the selection factor is money, and ability to get money now. The boys club force is strong, and men *always* have Potential. Their papers had name after name after name of their buddies wink wink nudge nudge who have funding. Someone who knew someone who knew someone else was in the hiring department. The roots run deep, and into deep pockets. Did these postdocs *know* anyone in the dept when they applied? Maybe, maybe not.

If you don't have money in my field, don't bother applying, because it means that the PIs you know and work with weren't willing to put you on as a co-PI on their grants. The women postdocs, meanwhile, are being ghost writers and page assemblers for grants they are NOT Co-PIs on, and adjuncting into oblivion so they can get their teaching experience that they are told by male PIs is so critical for hiring (women). The moneyless women are getting hired into teaching heavy positions at lower tier schools. They are kissing their research good bye with every 4/4 load they get.

To the women postdocs and adjunct lecturers who are reading this, please please please do NOT ghostwrite grants for your PIs. Write your own grants, ask THEM to co-PI with YOU, but Do Not give them the proposal. Watch your backs. Share your ideas with people who you trust, who will support YOU and your career. Think big, go for the big money and big projects, don't take the same routes you see around you. Reach out to new groups of people. There are women and men out there who will help you. You don't have to rely on the same ole group of people. Also, you can poke around and ask who is on the hiring committee, because if there is one woman, then it's a bad sign. If they are willing to tokenize women on their committee, they are showing you straight up what life's like in that dept. Go to their webpages.

When someone sends me a job ad telling me to apply, I usually write back to that person asking if they know anyone in that dept and if they were told to contact me directly about the position. I know many people who get prompted wink wink to apply. I'm glad colleagues send job ads around, but the excitement of open positions kinda wore off years ago.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Affluent Average Male Colleague (not friend): You know, you really should lighten up and be grateful for what you've got.

Kea: Fuck Off.

AAMC: I have an old friend who remembers fighting in WWII, and you should ...

Kea: I said, Fuck Off.

AAMC: But if you want to be happy, you should ... bla bla

Kea: And you are qualified to give me advice, why? I told you to Fuck Off.

AAMC: And you women think the problem is with us men! Humph!

At 5:23 AM, Anonymous Abel said...

I'm not a postdoc anymore. Haven't been for a while.

Whoa, YFS! I've been very behind on my blog reading over the last few months but how did I miss you had moved on from science???

Perhaps I need to go back to your archives. Apologies in advance for the bewilderment and ignorance.

I wish you all the best in moving forward. If I can be of any help, you know where to find me.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

@ the unknown: thanks for writing that!

@ jc, as usual, huge hugs. it always helps to know I'm not the only one who has seen this. so that makes at least three fields (you, me and kea).

@ kea, you just gave me an idea for another post! thank you!

@ Abel, thanks. I guess a lot of people missed that since I deliberately did not trumpet it to the skies & beyond. But I get tired of people telling me to move on when that's all they told me for years, while only a tiny handful offered to HELP when I needed it, so I figured I say it again.

Of course, that led to being deluged with questions of "how and why" etc. that I can't blog answers to right now.

And a couple of new trolls. I deleted their attempted nastiness on this post, since Blogger has a button for "spam" but no way to block certain people from commenting (?). I hope if I keep deleting without reading their noxious nonsense, they will give up.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger the unknown said...

kea, honestly, i dont know u, but from the look of things, u gotta give AAMC some credit for his sincere concern of ur wellbeing.

im a guy, and if u had said that to me ie f**k off, i'd laugh. lol i wouldnt try to placate u or anythin' i'd juz lol.

so pls be kind to him. at least for his effort in showing how much he cares.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Hypothetical Engineer said...

In FSP's post, there was one example in the comments that I think one could safely assume was due to gender(Male trailing still treated better). Regarding the original writer in FSP's post and FSP's experience, if you removed any reference to gender in the story it would still make sense. It's natural, especially if you're not familiar with the situation to assume the trailing professor got in on the lead professor's coattails. As a graduate student it's how I assumed it worked. From reading the conversation I've become aware that is not usually the case. I'd say the prejudice in the story is more just a misunderstanding of how the hiring works than sexism. Never attribute to malice what you can explain with ignorance.

YSP, maybe ask the colleague who sent the notice whether they were just forwarding it, or had a particular reason for thinking you'd be well suited there? Maybe they know something about it, like a relative lack of people applying for that position or something. It might be a stretch, but weirder things have happened.

At 9:23 PM, Blogger Kea said...

To the unknown: if it was a one off instance, fair enough. But when someone does it again and again and again, eventually you begin to doubt their ability to listen to anything you say, and this does not give one much faith in their 'concern' for our person.

At 10:57 PM, Blogger Kea said...

P.S. OK, so there are many issues that are not clear here. An important one is this: women find that certain male colleagues don't know the difference between being a 'colleague' with a woman and being their 'friend'. The woman, on the other hand, knows that such a colleague could never be a good friend, because their reality is so many light years removed from hers. This leads to an enormous number of misunderstandings, where the man gets offended by 'his friend', to whom he has never actually listened carefully. Now the woman knows that caring, attentive men exist, because she has probably met one or two ... so she is unlikely to accept the man's innate biological idiocy as an excuse for his inability to listen.

At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FSP gives some constructive advice to the 'trailing spouse', expresses sympathy, and doesn't just condone the situation. I can't figure out why you interpreted the post as you did. Maybe it disappointed you for not being more angry(?).

At 5:35 PM, Blogger the unknown said...

hypothetical engineer :

dude, u can infer all these extrapolations juz by reading what has been written in the post, without regard to its connection to the real world?

dude, either u're an alien from mars or simply havent socialized enough :P

im sorry. it's hard for me to maintain a serious stance when discussing this with u, given ur compelling naiveness on the subject matter.

so, if i write a letter to a girl, can u determine with certainty, whether im in love with her or not, juz by reading it?

lol juz a thought.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Hypothetical Engineer said...

My point is that you can't extrapolate that much from the limited information given. In other words we cannot say that it was gender related at all. Now if there were tons of stories on there about male trailing spouses getting treated better, it'd be fair to conclude that it was gender related. But we have two stories that can reasonably be explained by a misunderstanding of how the trailing spouse hire system works. As such I think it is premature to jump to sexism immediately. It's possible that these really were sexist cases, but there was no real evidence given for that. The only case where sexism is the better explanation is the 3rd story given in the comments where a male trailing spouse was treated better than the primary female hire. I am not extrapolating too much. I am taking the simplest possible explanation.


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