Category Archives: women in science

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!

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

Infertility and academia

We often talk about how and when to combine having babies and an academic career, but we don’t often recognize (at least openly) that having babies is not something you can always plan. I was fortunate enough to not have to struggle to have my two children, but I have seen the pain and suffering that infertility causes very closely. This week is Infertility Awareness Week and TenureSheWrote has a great post about dealing with infertility as an academic scientist. Go check it out!

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Filed under academia, baby, health insurance, postdoc, pregnancy, science, women in science

My thoughts on (yet another) rejection

This morning I found out that I didn’t make it to the interview round of the homecountry fellowship I applied for. This was the second time I applied for this fellowship and the tenth time I applied for anything. This fellowship would make sure I could stay for another 3 years and have some time to apply for other things to try to establish my own group. You can only apply twice and this was my second try. For your reading pleasure I have organized these thoughts in two categories.

1. Pessimistic thoughts

Crap, now I only have 1 year and 3 months of postdoc time left if I don’t get another grant or fellowship. And with zero out of ten so far, why on earth would number 11 be more successful. Why would I even bother trying. If I didn’t get this one, why would I be more successful with a more senior fellowship? And why am I trying to get my poor little baby who is having quite some trouble sleeping at daycare used to this place if I’m going to then do something that a couple of reviewers and a committee think I suck at? Why have I spend the past four years as a post-doc instead of invest in trying to find another job? Because so far it seems the only skill I got from this is that I am remotely capable of dealing with a whole bunch of rejections. Is that useful anywhere?

2. Optimistic thoughts

Okay so I didn’t get this grant, but a lot of the review comments were actually pretty positive. It sucks that this one guy (yes I know who you are if you ask me to only cite papers from your own group) was very negative and said my CV was poor, but other than that they liked my ideas. The new lab that I will work in is headed by this professor who is really good at writing grants and might be able to help me improve. Also, I appear to be the only one who can do what I do in this group so they might want to try to keep me beyond the 1 year and 3 months that I have signed for now. And that would give me some time to try for the next things. Because I just found out that getting an ERC starting grant or the homecountry equivalent gets you a tenure track position at this university. Maybe if I get around this corner I can see the top of the mountain?

For the past two years I have told myself that if I got to ten unfunded grants I would stop and find a job outside of academia. But I think I’m going to try again. Because I tend to be optimistic most days.

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Filed under academia, decisions, disgruntled postdoc, finding a job, funding, grant writing, leaving academia, life in the lab, postdoc, review, science, women in science, worrying

Addiction is a disease and why I don’t #boycottNature

Yesterday Nature published an editorial about the fact that addiction is a disease and not a choice. This is a very pervasive idea that even persists in my graduate school IACUC for example. There both I and other addiction researchers had to explain over and over that addiction is not a lifestyle choice, but rather a chronic disease. Even though the first use of alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs can be considered a choice, the continued use and especially relapse following abstinence is not. It is a chronic brain disorder that kills people and that we need to study in both animal models and people in order to find better treatment.

So I shared this piece on Facebook and on my personal twitter. I thought about doing this because wasn’t I supposed to #boycottNature after everything that happened over the past couple weeks/months/years? I think it is very important that Nature gets the message that they need to show that they take steps to be inclusive and treat everybody the same. It doesn’t feel right to say on twitter that I will boycott Nature but do something else in my real person identity. So I will share here that I decided I won’t boycott Nature. Not only because boycotting Nature publishing group means boycotting some of the journals that I tend to publish in and review for, but most importantly because I think it is more important to try to speak up rather than to silently boycott. Just like not going to Sochi won’t magically make gay rights happen in Russia, boycotting Nature won’t increase the amount of women authors, reviewers and other voices in the journal.

With a very hesitant hand I hit the Publish button….

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Filed under academia, addiction, blogging, drinking, ethics, experiments, science, women in science

So how many papers does having a baby cost?

I think we’ve all read the correspondence piece in Nature yesterday on how we don’t need to worry about gender bias, because it really all comes down to women having babies and therefore publishing less papers. Lukas Koube, the author, already wrote this as a comment last year, but apparently Nature still thought this piece was worthy of being put in the journal. I don’t think I need to add anything to what Melissa WilsonSayres wrote about it yesterday. She already says that it really is possible to be a scientist AND a parent, and that babies are often made by more than one person, and that the other parent (often, but not always a man) can also pitch in. And as we established last week, science is about generating ideas (or not?) and I might as well generate a scientific idea while nursing, or while changing a diaper.

Okay maybe I do want to add something: Really, Nature? Did you think someone who has published zero scientific papers knows whether you can publish papers while pregnant or taking care of a baby? And Lukas Koube, do you really think that that is the only thing holding women in science back?!

But it is something that is on my mind often: how many papers would I have had during this post-doc if I wouldn’t have had children? Would I have worked harder and/or longer? I can say that I’ve become a lot more efficient since having BlueEyes. Perhaps I’m not in the lab as long, but I am very productive while I’m there (and so is my husband I have to add). But let’s be scientific and calculate this: When I leave here in two months I will have been a post-doc for four years, in which I have had 2 children. I have taken 3 and 4 months of leave*, so that adds up to 7 months of not doing experiments (although currently a tech is doing some of my experiments). Also, during my pregnancies I was less productive than during non-pregnant periods because of being nauseous and tired and foggy (although working also helped to keep my mind off of feeling crappy)**. And the 1+ year of sleep deprivation also didn’t add to productivity (but that was divided mostly equal between my husband and me). So say that I missed somewhere between 6 months to a year in productivity out of four years. That’s 12.5-25% of my post-doc. I think that’s an overestimation, but that would mean that instead of 4 papers I would have 3. Or instead of one or more high impact factor papers I would have medium impact factor papers.

BUT there are so many more factors to this: could better mentoring have led to more productivity (YES!), are publications in high impact factor journals dependent on which field you work in (yes), whether your data are negative (yes), whether stuff works like it’s supposed to (yes), etc etc.

So to conclude: assuming I make it through the “post-doc to faculty bottle neck”, in the bigger scheme of my scientific career this is going to be peanuts. If I am a scientist for the next 35 years (until I’m 65), then that 6 months to a year is only 1-2% of the time. And not every woman has children. So any disproportion of female to male authors more than 1% is due to something else than having babies. There, Lukas Koube. I just used some science to calculate this WHILE AT HOME WITH A BABY!

The biggest problem right now: using my precious nap time to blog about this instead of work on a paper…

* I know that some people (are able to) take more leave, and I also realize that many female scientists (at least me) won’t be able to sit at home for 3 months without thinking or doing any science.
** Here I should add that my pregnancies were pretty smooth sailing, and I know that for some it can be 9 months of total agony. And for some people the process of becoming pregnant takes a lot of mental, emotional and physical energy.

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Filed under academia, attachment parenting, baby, publishing papers, women in science, writing

My thoughts on harassment


It took me about a week to gather my thoughts after I read that this happened earlier this week. And even trying to write this post now, I’m having a hard time to put my thoughts on paper. It seems like “it’s not that big of a deal” is engrained in me. Like @AmasianVwrote: “Because [these remarks I got] never really affected me much at the time, so why make a big deal out of nothing??” 
Thinking about this all week made me wonder: have I been harassed? I have got remarks on how I looked, comments on my body (especially when pregnant) and the occasional “you look very young” in a setting where it was not necessary to comment on my body or my looks. I wasn’t trying out to be a cheerleader; I was trying to convey my science. But at the same time I don’t mind getting compliments on my outfit for example, so that makes it kind of a grey area sometimes. I’m not sure I would be in favor of eliminating any comments people can make in this regard, but the hard part is that different people have different levels of what is acceptable. This makes it important to say something when you feel that line has been crossed.
What is worse about this, and I only fully realize that after this week, is my inability to speak up when I get comments I feel uncomfortable with. Sometimes it takes me a good 15 minutes to realize I just received an offensive comment and to come up with something to say in return. Other times (and this is much worse) I’m afraid that speaking up will come at a cost for me. If harassment happens in a professional situation where you are harassed by someone who is your superior I would be afraid that it backfires. For example, what if you tell your PI not to make certain remarks anymore and he takes it the wrong way? Even in the situation where you don’t work for this person anymore, you’re still reliant on your PI to get papers out, to get letters of recommendations and to stay in the club of scientists that you try to become a part of too. And I’m not sure if filing an official complaint makes these outcomes better or even far worse. So even if you recognize that a comment someone made makes you feel harassed, it takes a boatload of courage to speak up about this. 
It makes me wonder: what can we do to make this easier and how do you make sure speaking up doesn’t ruin your career? So my #ripplesofdoubtaren’t so much about whether I have got to this point in my career because of looks or whatever, but more about whether it is possible to do something about this without destroying where you are.

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Filed under life in the lab, women in science

Late to the party but I am #standingwithDNLee

As Dr24hours said: “If you haven’t been under a rock the past couple days you already know about this”. I wasn’t under a rock, but I did not have time to switch on my laptop this weekend and I haven’t mastered the art of posting something from my phone without getting too annoyed trying to cut and paste links.. What happened is this: DNLee, a scientist who writes a blog called “The Urban Scientist” and who happens to be female and black was asked to blog for Biology Online. When she asked how much she would get paid and the response was zero dollars, she declined and then the guy from Biology Online CALLED HER A WHORE…. You can read the whole story here because her own blog post at Scientific American got taken down
I’m sorry that this happened and I agree with the numerous other people who posted about this that the one thing that can help here is to create awareness about what happens to women and minorities. Even if it happens a little late….

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Filed under feminism, women in science