Category Archives: role models

Why it annoys me if people say academics should work hard

I am annoyed and I think it is not because I can’t figure out how to hang our curtains that I just picked up from the store. It’s also not because our internet is very slow because the cable that goes into our apartment hasn’t been put in place correctly. (Sorry to my husband who I just called being annoyed with the things mentioned above, I found out I’m not annoyed because of that). I’m actually annoyed because of this blog post I read this morning. It’s about how you need to be the best post-doc in order to become an academic PI.  (it does actually have a bunch of good points about how to write efficiently and don’t waste too much time trying to get things to be perfect).

Sure, it should be possible for someone to work 37.5 hours per week and still get senior positions in academic science;  it should be the case.  However, I fear it is not.  And what incentive does the academic science have to change?  What universities have are a workforce who happily work their 37.5 hours per week and then stick an extra 10-20 hours per week on top voluntarily.  A workforce who don’t take their entire annual leave allowance.  A workforce who work when they are sick and rarely take time off.

So yeah, you need to work hard. I don’t think this is unique to academia. As I tweeted in response to this, I think academics aren’t special snowflakes who work for love instead of money. They are people too. And I think in every profession, the best people are at the top. The best soccer players probably are the ones who practice while others sit in front of the TV. The best garbage men are those who walk those extra two steps to get the garbage that people put a bit further away from the street. And the best academics are perhaps the ones that work 80 hours a week and never take vacation. But does it help anyone to keep repeating that? To keep saying that if you don’t work hard you won’t succeed? As someone who just took a month off in order to make sure our new place gets organized and our kids are supported while moving to another continent, I can so: No, this is not helpful at all. It just makes me feel like everyone is passing me left and right while I am busy being a mom and a wife and a very proficient IKEA-furniture-builder. I think we need to hear more of that: of how to be more than just a scientist and be very successful at it too.

So I’d much rather read things like this: You don’t need to work 80 hours a week to succeed in academia!



Filed under absurd, academia, disgruntled postdoc, efficiency, leaving academia, life in the lab, parenting, postdoc, role models, science, women in science, work-life balance

Do as I say, not as I do: advice for foreign post-docs in the US – part II

This time I want to talk about finding a post-doc mentor. This topic of course not only applies to foreign post-docs but to anyone looking for a post-doc position. Lots and lots and lots and lots has been written about finding a mentor. And when I say mentor here, I mean the PI in the lab that you decided to join. Because of course you can always find more mentors in the people that surround you.

However, there are a couple things you might want to consider as a (non-native English speaking) foreigner:

First, a major reason – at least to me – to work in the US as a post-doc for a couple of years was to become more proficient in speaking and writing in English. In order to learn this, it is important that your PI, who you will be writing papers with and who will critique your presentations, is good at these things. This does not mean that your mentor needs to be American, but it is a good idea to go through hir publications and/or see them speak at a meeting and check out their style. Also, when you interview, ask who writes the papers. Because your mentor can be great at writing, if ze isn’t willing to teach you that, it’s useless.

Another reason for me to go to the US is that there are so many great scientific meetings here. Of course there are also great meetings in Europe, but living here is a great opportunity to go to meetings that are otherwise much more expensive to fly to. But you need to find out if your future mentor would be willing to let you go to meetings or whether ze chains you to the bench and never allows you to leave the lab. Ask this when you interview.

A last thing to consider specific to foreign post-docs is funding. Since your presence (and that of your family) here in the US is dependent on your visa, it is nice if your future mentor can offer you some guarantee of funding. Because it’s not that great if after a year the lab runs out of money and you need to find something else fast or you will need to leave the country. Of course another option is to come with your own funding – I will write about that later. Again, this is important for anyone, not just foreigners, but an important thing to remember is that if you’re not a US citizen, you’re not allowed to apply for an NRSA for example.


Filed under academia, advice for foreign post-docs, cultural differences, decisions, funding, grant writing, life in the lab, managing people, meeting, mentoring, networking, postdoc, publishing papers, role models, travel

Do I suck at feminism?

You know how sometimes it takes so long to form an opinion that it’s almost not worth voicing it anymore? That’s what happened after I read this list of tips for male academics on how to deal with women on TenureSheWrote. My first opinion was:”If we (women) are telling men how to behave, isn’t that exactly what we don’t want to have happen to ourselves?”. Isn’t the idea of feminism that we (men and women) are all treated equally and that therefore neither men nor women should tell the other sex how to behave?
It is not that I don’t agree with the list; I’ve had many of those things happen to me and I think that sucks. But after seeing the amount of anger and annoyance when people commented on this exact issue, I didn’t really dare to voice that opinion until I had thought about it a bit more. Because the reactions on twitter and in the comments made me doubt:”do I suck at feminism?”. Am I too privileged with a grandmother who had a job and a grandfather who walked behind the stroller? Am I too privileged with two parents who have PhDs? Am I too privileged because my mom always treated my brother and me the same? Am I too privileged because all my life I had this knowledge instilled in me that I could become anything I wanted if I just worked hard enough for it? Even though I get comments on the way I’m dressed and the amount of children I produce or the fact that I look way too young to be where I am in my career, my first thought is:”You can say that, but I have every right to be here and be as awesome as whoever just gave me that comment.”
But this upbringing also makes me think that everybody thinks the same way. And that maybe even though a man may comment on my outfit, that does not make him think less of me in a scientific way. This is where I probably go wrong. Perhaps my idea that if we all work together we can create a happy society where nobody needs to tell the other sex how to behave is a bit too optimistic. Perhaps it is necessary to tell each other how to behave in order to create more equality. Not just in science, but for everybody who needs feminism.


Filed under feminism, role models, women in science

On motivation in the lab

Without going into too much detail about the state that our lab is in due to the economy and sequestration, there is a great lack in motivation in some people in the lab. This is not new, as I have written about this before, but it does make me wonder what PIs do to motivate people in their lab. How do you make sure people stay enthusiastic about doing experiments and if they’re not, how do you try to help them? Personally, I find that it helps to associate with people that are working hard and are trying to be productive rather than to hang with the people that seem to have given up hope to get experiments done and papers written. But other than that, when I am in the position to mentor someone (like an undergrad, summer student or tech) I find it hard to find a balance between giving someone the freedom to schedule their experiments and plan their time for them for example. How do you go about motivating the people in your lab? Or do you feel that’s not necessary as people should come with enough intrinsic motivation?

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Filed under experiments, life in the lab, mentoring, procrastination, role models

When role models are super models

This week, Nature has a special section about women in science. Wait, aren’t we all just scientists? And is Nature going to have a special issue about left handed scientists next week and about Greek orthodox scientists the week after? Just kidding, I think it’s great that Nature explores how women are doing in science, in terms of salary, funding and getting tenure. Also, they have an article featuring four successful scientist, who are not only women but also have children. Awesome, you would think, to see role models that we can all look at for inspiration.
One of the women featured in this article is @kaymtye. She is an amazing kick-ass scientist who has her name on 6 (six!!) Nature papers, and now holds a position as assistant professor at MIT. Also, I learned in this article in Nature, she’s expecting her first baby. I don’t want to say anything bad about Kay, because she does great research and made an awesome career for herself (and is a break-dancer too apparently!), but what is Nature doing here?? Are they showing that sure, you can be a woman scientist and have a baby, but only after you had a decent amount of Nature papers and a TT position at a top institute? I like to look at role models around me, especially when they are female and have children, to see how they have done things, but this story makes me feel kind of incompetent and it makes me wonder whether I’ll ever get to be a kick-ass scientist without all those Nature papers before I had a baby. Am I just being jealous you might wonder? Yes, a little bit.


Filed under feminism, life in the lab, role models, working mom

Spending your emotions wisely

Recently, it seemed like every conversation I had was about how hard it is to get grants and how little money there is for science. At SfN this year it was all I talked about. But the awesome conference that I’m at now is completely shifting that. It is great to be here in so many ways:
First, I get to sleep and relax. Last night I decided not to go out and drink, but to go back to my hotel room at 11 and sleep. I slept in a whole stretch to the next morning. That hadn’t happened in 2 years and it was great. Also, there is some time to relax and I just spend an hour and a half at the pool reading a book. Anyone who has a kid realizes that that too is something that only happens every 2 years or less. 
Also scientifically this meeting is great. There are many good speakers and sessions, but what this conference also makes me realize is that I am someone who works in a certain field and knows things. For example, I know who the people in my field are and what they do. I realize what the questions are that the field has at the moment and I’m starting to think of ways to answer those. But also, other people are starting to know who I am. Yesterday, the most awesome science-thing ever happened, where I was talking to someone I hadn’t met before and at some point this person realized that ze was familiar with my graduate work. But not only that, my graduate work had “inspired the work that ze was doing now” (hir words). OMG this still makes me so excited and happy!
This meeting is also really interesting because there are so many senior scientists who show genuine interest and share advice. Not only did I get assigned two mentors because I won a travel award but I have also been talking to numerous other senior scientists. Talking to them does sometimes make me wonder if I’ll be able to pull it off to be a rock-star scientist when I grow up. The morning I left for this meeting I kind of broke down under the pressure of writing a paper and a grant in the same month, and worrying about funding situations and about Dr. BrownEyes’ paper and grant and on top of that trying to clean the house and do laundry in the 2 hours I had before leaving for this conference after a pretty crappy night of sleep. I cried and said I couldn’t take it anymore. And then I heard all these stories about women whose kids got sick or who went through the trouble of adopting a child from a far-away country. Would I be able to take anymore load on top of this? I don’t even dare to think about what would happen when BlueEyes would get sick in times like these when it is so busy. 
And that brings me to the title of this post. Because at the women’s lunch at this meeting the speaker was talking about how you can only use your emotional capacity once in a day. There is only so much energy you can spend on emotions, that you’d better spend it wisely, she said. So her advice was to use your analytical scientific brain to determine whether something is word worrying about, and if not, stop worrying about it immediately. 
So I am going to walk in the sun and spend my emotional capacity on being happy about all this exciting science, instead of on worrying about funding rates of such and such percentage!! And did I mention how glad I am again to spend time with people I met on twitter?!


Filed under meeting, networking, role models, science, sleep, work-life balance, working mom

You could have given me that money for real science, EU!

The whole day the internet has been shaking with lots of outrage over the EU’s video to attract girls to doing science. To be honest, I don’t really mind that these are young girls that aren’t even doing science while being observed by a guy. I don’t mind that they’re wearing skirts and heels and I don’t mind that the background is pink. I look like that sometimes and if it even persuades one girl that science is fun and for girls too, then that’s fine. I don’t think it will though, and what pisses me off about it is that the EU probably spent a whole bunch of money on this.
And last year I applied for a grant that was funded by the EU. This grant (for post-docs going abroad) had a pretty stable success rate of about 20%. However, last year all of a sudden there was a lot of talk about that year being the last year that they would fund this grant because of money shortage. And since you can only apply once, twice the amount of people applied than normally. And even though I scored within the top 20% I didn’t get the grant because they only had a set amount of money.
So instead of wasting that money on that video that pisses everybody off, you could have given me that money, EU! And I would have done real science with it. You could even have come and filmed me, and for some extra money I would wear heels, a skirt and even lipstick.

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Filed under grant writing, role models