For the Hermitage: NO BAYBEEZ!

Aug 23 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I finally can take some time, real time, to just sit down and think about writing this. Of course, this isn't until the day of the actual deadline and practically the 11th hour (almost literally), because due to my job and living situation (and, sorry, baby), it is a luxury to find some time to think. Normally by this time of the evening I am too tired and my brain is too scrambled, but I think I can make this work tonight.

Here are our good lady's questions (as submitted by her readers), and my responses below:

1. It seems to me that often women don't have as strong professional networks as men - the kind that gets built over shared interests (sports or drinking). People seem to gravitate towards others like them. What specific advice do you have for establishing and maintaining network with men as well as other women?

As a grad student and postdoc, it was socializing at every social event possible, and sending brazen emails to anybody I wanted to talk to, even some very big name people, with no regard for my relative nobodyness. The worst response I ever got was none, and mostly people were very helpful, so I guess it worked!

Now as a PI it requires much more effort, and involves some drinking, but not as much as when I was a student. The things that have worked for me so far as a PI:

  • Going to conferences and workshops alone, or with my lab group (but trying to leave them their own time to hang out without me). Asking lots of questions in seminars and at conference talks and discussion panels. Just generally getting my voice and opinion heard in large settings, and when you're a "girl" people remember you for that, apparently.
    (Actually, the best networking at a conference I have done so far was when my sister also attended, and the two of us hung out the whole time and were enough of a novelty item that a bunch of people remembered us. Subsequently, some of them remembered me and noticed my science, too, which was cool.)
  • Inviting people who I would like to meet to be speakers in my local seminar series. Always signing up to meet with the visiting speakers others have invited whenever I can possibly make room for it in my schedule. Pushing myself past my (surprising, given that I can be kind of gregarious) introverted tendencies to chat to people and be friendly. When all else fails, tell them about the latest crazy idea I have for something cool, or talk NIH shop.
  • For maintenance: try to pick some smallish society or meeting, or sub-meeting of a big society, to make an annual trip and bring my group (or as many of us as we can afford). The conference with my sister turned into this for me: I see the same group of leaders in the organization, as well as other successful people whose work is relevant to mine, since this organization crosscuts a wide range of fields but centers on a philosophy of approach. Many of them now remember who I am, and notice when I pass across their radar screens, and some even keep a watch out for how I am doing. This is one of the best ways to build a meaningful and helpful network. It's like having a whole crew of senior folks out there in your corner, wanting the best for you, and ready to help you with advice (mentors at large!).
  • I have a different network for being a woman in science at my institution, since we have an NSF ADVANCE grant, and they work hard to make connections between us. It mostly gets maintained by going to the functions regularly and trying to set up lunches as often as calendars and chaotic lives allow.
  • Relatedly, in my own department, we have a lunch network where as many folks as possible go to lunch every Friday at a local brewpub. For intradepartmental networking, this has been invaluable, and also helped me feel very comfortable in a department of almost all male faculty.

2. Early on, what was your "Oh @!#$%" moment and how did you recover?

As many of you know from my blog's beginnings, I submitted (re- and re-re-submitted) a K99/R00 grant and eventually got it. I was completely convinced that the central approach proposed in the grant was totally new, that I was the first person to try it. I had searched high and low, yonder and non, with every permutation of every keyword you can think of, to support that presumption. Nothing had come up, and nobody countered me on it through all my talking about and grantwriting about the idea, and so I kept on assuming. Fast forward to the first year of being a PI, and we have finally gotten the proof-of-concept data and submitted to a journal. The reviewer comments: "This would be really cool if it hadn't already been done before: [CITATION (from FIVE YEARS PREVIOUS!)]"

I definitely felt like an idiot for days. I might have even cried a little. But then I sucked it up, reminded myself that pretty much nobody ever does anything truly new, and re-worked the frame to lower the hyperbole a bit and focus on what was innovative and useful about it, submitted it elsewhere (with this newfound citation included) and things went fine. This is just the way it goes--sometimes you got scooped a long time ago. It was kind of like when I was a little kid and learned about the structure of the atom, how it was a central nucleus with all those little electrons spinning around it in orbits, and thought "MY GOD!!!! IT'S LIKE THE SOLAR SYSTEM!! MAYBE WE ARE JUST SPECKS ON AN ELECTRON!!!!!!!@$1$@1$!$" and told my dad, and he said, "Yeah, some philosophers wondered about that a long, long time ago." I mean, of course I am a genius, but I guess so are a lot of other people, some of whom were born before I was.

3. How do you deal with female health issues (heavy periods and period pain that lasts for a week, heavy migraines that strike suddenly, etc.), when you are in a predominantly male environment?

Mostly I just don't talk about it. Or I just make faces and complain that I don't feel well. I'm kind of overly talkative about my health problems in general, so there's usually something else I can talk about (like my heart arrhythmia, nerve pain, or the weird ocular migraine that I got once). I used to talk about some possibly TMI pregnancy stuff to them (SORRY, babies, but the bodily issues are related to the question!), and they usually acted kind of weirded out, or just were matter of fact because most of them have wives and/or female relatives.

4. How do you balance "assertiveness" and "bitchiness" - in the sense that it's harder as a female (than a male) to "get away with" being protective of your time, stating your opinion, and so forth?

I have changed, from when I was an undergrad to when I was a postdoc, and again now that I am a PI, and it's an adaptation to my environment. I come from a very "nice" place, where everyone is "nice". I postdocced in a very NOT NICE place where many people were hostile, and many interactions were very competitive. There I learned to be NOT NICE and to hold my own and give people a piece of my mind. I just didn't really care if people thought I was a bitch, and secretly kind of enjoyed it when they did, because it was badass and I knew I was righteous.

But when I came to PI-U, I realized that things were different here. Going back to the "nice" model works a lot better here, and there wasn't much need to be badass most of the time. Here, I still try to state my opinion, speak up, ask for what I want and need, etc. But I tend to combine it with more self-deprecation and gentleness--not that this is the best way to do it everywhere, but it's how I have adapted, and it mostly suits this environment (departmentally). I think I could use a little bit of my inner badass back, because sometimes I think I am getting set aside or lowered in priority--but it's usually a balance of when it's worth it and when it would just make it worse. So, I'm saving it for when and if it's really worth it.

One response so far

  • Dr. Dad, PhD says:

    Thanks for posting this. I've really enjoyed reading everyone's responses, and I think I've learned a lot from them.

    Obviously I come at it from a different perspective (being male and all), but a lot of the issues still apply to me. Well, maybe #3 is not so direct, but hopefully you know what I mean....

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