Portrait of a Computer Scientist

I saw this blog post by a friend from grad school so I thought I would share.

My favorite part is this:

I have to add, even if you think or know you’ve been invited to an event, either to give a talk, chair a conference session, organize a workshop, sit on a thesis committee, “just” because you’re a woman and the organizers want balance, don’t let it phase you. You’ve been given this opportunity. Go ahead, make the most of it and show them they were wrong to think of you under the header “woman” before they thought of you as an expert.

Enjoy!

https://blog.f1000.com/2017/06/20/show-them-they-were-wrong-to-think-of-you-under-the-header-woman-before-they-thought-of-you-as-an-expert/

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A quick guide to interacting with a reproductively active woman in the workplace

Doc-momma

Doc Momma designs lab coats for pregnant doctors.

Most of us here at Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman have had some very awkward interactions at work before and after having a baby, which shows us that many people are not comfortable speaking with a reproductively active woman. Since being pregnant is such a physically obvious state, and very exciting for most people, others somehow feel compelled and permitted to talk about it in a way they would never get personal with anyone else. You’ll want to avoid situations like these, which actually happened to us:

Student: *looks at belly* *giggles*

Me: Hi, how are you?

Student: *looks at belly, giggles* Um, good! *giggles*


Female co-worker I’ve met briefly twice: You’re pregnant! *rubs baby belly*

Me: *eyebrow raise death glare*


Male colleague: Are you going to be breastfeeding? Where are you going to pump?

Me: Well, there’s a lactation room, so probably there.

Him: You can use my office if you want.

Me: …No, thanks. The lactation room is fine.


Colleague: Have you and your husband been watching birthing videos?  Because you need to watch them.

Me: Um, yes, a few.

Colleague: Have you watched any up close?  Because there is a lot of gross stuff that comes up when the baby is born, you both need to be prepared.


Colleague: I was right behind you walking to work today.

Me: Oh.

Colleague: You don’t look pregnant at all from the back.  But you definitely waddle.

Me: Um…


Male colleague, after complaining about how unfair it is that I am taking maternity leave: I know I’m not supposed to say stuff like this but I think it might be better if women just took 5 years off to focus and raise their kids.


Post-baby:


Male colleague: You look… *stares at belly* less…

Me: Yes, I had the baby, she’s 3 months old now!


Colleague: Weren’t you… pregnant?

Me: Yes, I had the baby, she’s 3 months old now!


Here are some tips for more comfortable interactions and avoiding getting too personal – feel free to use, share, or add your own in the comments!

 

Pregnancy

  • Take a cue from her. If she doesn’t bring up her pregnancy, maybe you shouldn’t either. It’s usually not relevant for most work situations.
  • If you must say something, make sure you’re 100% certain she is in fact pregnant. Otherwise she may not have told her boss or coworkers yet, she may not be ready to talk about it with you, and she may be offended.
  • Don’t even mention her body. Unless it’s to say “You look great!” and nothing more. Why would you do this with a co-worker under any other circumstance? And certainly don’t touch her belly. Just don’t.
  • Do not assume or suggest that your pregnant colleague is disabled. She very likely knows what she can or cannot continue to do in the workplace as her physical condition changes. If you see her in a meeting or at the lab bench, she belongs there. An offer of assistance is generally welcomed by anyone; suggestions that she should not or cannot are unwelcome.
  • Unless you are in a professional role where you can make accommodations for pregnant or lactating women in general, there is no need to ask about her plans and preparations, especially where or whether she will be breastfeeding/pumping. If you are her direct boss or genuinely think you can help, simply say, “I am here for you if you need help making accommodations during pregnancy or for lactation. You can talk to [health and safety, HR, etc.] about this as well.”
  • Family leave time is an important time for all new mothers (giving birth or otherwise), as well as fathers. You have no idea how she feels about the length of her leave or her personal struggles surrounding working and spending time with her child, so please keep your opinions about appropriate leave time to yourself.

 

Post-baby

  • Maybe people are worried that something bad happened during delivery or with the baby medically and are afraid to ask specific questions. Just keep it general: “I haven’t seen you since you were out on family leave – how is everything?” She’ll probably be happy to tell you exactly as much as she wants to about her baby.
  • Do not ask for any details regarding the birthing process. Hopefully you would not do this for any other medical procedure a colleague went through, and birth is typically even more personal.
  • Again, no comment on her body is needed beyond, “You look great!”
  • If she is pumping at work, it can be very difficult physically, emotionally, and disruptive to her work schedule. Trust that she is doing the best she can to work out her schedule, it is not a “break”, and anyone mentioning or complaining about it will not improve things and only make her feel worse about an already difficult situation. If she needs to schedule something with you around her pumping time, simply work with her like you would with any other colleague with a scheduling conflict.
  • Nothing gets older than hearing “Are you getting any sleep?” Because of course she’s not, and this goes for non-birthing parents as well. Sleep is a sensitive issue for parents of newborns. Tired doesn’t begin to explain how one feels with a brand new baby (or two babies in my case). Don’t tell a new parent that they look tired. And don’t mention to a new parent how tired you are, or on the flip side that you got to sleep in or take a nap on the weekend.

As with any colleague, try to be warm open, and understanding, and you will go far!

Posted in advice, communication styles, empathy, female scientist, motherhood, professional, women in science | 1 Comment

Ideas for a science TV show

Post March for Science (that I could not attend despite this post), I have been thinking of how to maintain public’s attention on science and to submerge science even more into everyday life.  What would make people think science is “cool,” “fun,” “important,” “necessary,” “beneficial,” and ultimately where a big part of our investment for the future should go.

Grassroot outreach is essential and crucial, and we should keep doing it.  However, are there “quicker and easier (dirtier)” ways that can reach out to more people?

These days what media reaches out to more people fast?  TV?  Podcasts? Video series on Youtube?  Websites?  Facebook groups?

I personally do not watch any TV anymore, but think that TV may still be the best way to distribute “cool science.” In podcasts, web series, or social network groups, one needs to find it, like it, and subscribe it. On TV, there is still an essence of forced feeding once you turn on TV and choose a channel (you watch what TV network executives deemed worthwhile to air).  And yes, science will have to be highly entertaining for TV network executives to deem worthwhile.

There are currently well known science TV shows – Cosmos, NOVA, Bill Nye, Mythbusters, etc. These and other shows usually are more of a lecture-like format.  “This is very cool, and here is a 10-minute explanation of why/how cool it is.” You have to actually pay attention to understand. For many people TV is a pleasurable and relaxing activity, and may not want to turn full attention to comprehend. Could we brainstorm for a show that can make science more fun, funny, engaging, easily sunk in, and can be broadcasted on major networks during prime time?  

What TV shows are getting high ratings these days, and how can a science show be one of them?  

“America’s got Science”

I have never seen this show (ok, I’ve never watched any shows I’ll mention below except for the last one), but what I understand is that people showcase their talent in front of audience and judges. The audience, judges, and viewers then vote which performers should advance to a next level of competition and ultimately win a monetary prize. Could we do something similar with science — scientists showcase their research with cool visuals and presentations, and non-scientist judges and audience ask questions. In the end viewers and audience vote on “which science is cooler,” and award grant funding to a winning scientist/project.

Science is no competition (well, aside from grant reviews — collaboration works better for advancement) especially across disciplines. Who is to say which science is cooler or better without personal agenda and interests. But in the name of entertainment… Judgement and ranking would probably be based on how well presentations “looked,” and might not necessarily on the content (but this happens in real science, too, am I not right?)

 

“Extreme Makeover: Science laboratory edition”
“Hell’s Lab”

A struggling lab must find a way to strive again, with a guidance of a PI guru.  

I already cringe just thinking about what form this might take.  It would be painful to watch…

 

“Survivor: Scientist edition”
“Big brother: Scientist edition”
“Bachelor/Bachelorette: Scientist edition”
“Dancing with Scientists”

Ok I kid.

 

“A sit-com in a laboratory setting”

I always thought a laboratory is a perfect setting for a sit-com. Whenever there is a group of smart, overachieving, and driven people budding heads both figuratively and literally, hilarity and drama are bound to ensue. American TV has Big Bang Theory, but there is space for more nerds on TV, people passionately pursuing something. There is enough laughter in labs, while performing DNA precipitation, looking at specimens under a microscope, or, brushing dirt off dinosaur bones. Maybe one can crowdsource plot lines and episodes from different labs all over the world, across disciplines, for a such show.

 

“Is It True TV?”  

All of the above ideas are knock offs of American (or originally British) TV shows. The idea for this blog post actually originated from importing a Japanese “variety” TV show, translated “Is It True TV (Honma Dekka TV)”.  The show is in its eighth season, gets high ratings, and covers lots of science. The show is hosted by one of most popular comedians in Japan with no science background, and features a panel of academics and experts “the intellectual mass,” including a biologist, environmental scientist, psychologist, economist, exercise physiologist, educator, neuroscientist, lawyer, and others from various fields. The show also include non-scientist celebrities, who are there to ask questions, comment, and offer comic relief. The show is taped in front of a studio audience who are very audibly reactive when surprising or unexpected information is presented. Every week there is a theme that is relevant and/or useful to everyday life, i.e., “How to live healthy,” “Latest in medical advances,” “How to be popular,” “How to succeed in love life,” “How to have healthy relationships,” “Personality traits: how to know them, and how to deal with people with different traits,” “Successful child rearing methods / education,” “How to best save money,” “Internet common sense,” “Dangerous habits,” and so on.  

Most information presented by the academics and experts are drawn from peer-reviewed journals (some demographic studies, too). Granted they might stretch implications to add to the shocking value, but they usually mention who conducted the study, sample size, and experimental design of studies they draw from.  

Each show starts with a presentation of one finding, which makes the audience and guests to react, “Is it true?” “really?” “no way!” and the academics take turns sharing various information, facts, and research findings associated with the topic.  For each subsequent presentations by the academics, the host, guests, and audience react and either agree, disagree, comment, or ask more questions.

In one episode of the show with a theme of “the Great Mother,” the show opened with a research finding that mothers’ love received during childhood prevents illnesses well into middle ages. The host, guests, and studio audience reacts, “really?!?!”  A medical doctor introduced the study which demonstrated that those who perceived mother’s love while growing up – whether their moms understood issues and were present when needed – were less likely to develop diseases often associated with growing up in poverty.

The MC asked, what about fathers?  The same doctor claimed that currently (at the show’s airing), there is not much research done on fathers’ love.

Then one of male guests requested, “please research this right away!”  “I took my son to a park today, and are you saying there is no benefit in my doing it?”

The neuroscientist on the panel chimes in, “there is!” “The more a father spend time with his kids and teach about rules, the kids are more likely to learn and develop persistence .” [As I searched for this article, I found more studies on father’s role on child development.]

Another psychologist (parent-child relationship expert) continues, the benefits of mother’s love extends throughout one’s lifetime.  Those who were raised by a mom with good moods are likely to be more optimistic and adaptable in their adult life (I could not quite locate an article with this particular finding, but found similar findings).  

Other information provided by the experts included:

  • Children of mothers who had morning sickness are likely to have higher IQs.
  • The fat content of breast milk increases as baby drinks, giving the sense of fullness in the baby and stops feeding, and allows for more milk production in mothers.
  • Babies fed breast milk is less likely to develop allergies (I found this to be controversial in my own lit search).
  • Lower risks of breast and uterine cancer for women who breastfed.
  • Women who breastfed are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
  • Babies cry at night to prevent parents from making more babies – to increase their chance of survival and monopolize parents’ love and attention (I actually said “hmmm, really??” to this one).
  • Infants’ smiles are sufficient to decrease mothers’ interests in other needs and wants (I could not find a reference for this either

These studies were provided with banters between the comedians, celebrities, and academics, sometimes making fun of each other and sharing their own anecdotes for laughs.  

It is definitely an entertainment/comedy show, and not a strict educational show. Perhaps that is why it is gaining high ratings. And yet the show still does a good job of bringing science to everyday life.  The academics and experts are becoming celebrities on their own; they are publishing books, making appearances in other TV shows, and touring the country on speaking engagements.  Why not more scientists be like heroes and celebrities, like the GE commercial, or be pursued by fashion designers to dress like movie stars?

I envision more scientists like Neil Degrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku to appear on media, but not just from astrophysics but representing different scientific disciplines. I’m sure there are many scientists with big personality and charisma who can entice and engage the public.  Who is up?

As for a TV show, would a funny science TV show lead to more funding in science?  ….hard to say.  Though I might go back to watching TV if a science show that makes me laugh out loud existed.  So TV producers, what about it?

Posted in March for Science, Science Communication | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Choosing a research question – for science or for the public?

There is increasing pressure and urgency for scientists to be visible and accessible to the public, but also to choose the most important and appealing research in an uncertain funding climate. To whom are scientific researchers beholden in the choice of research studies to perform? To the funding agencies who sponsor us? To the taxpayers who ultimately fund those public institutions? To ourselves to carve a niche and promising career path? Or purely to science, to go where the data and your passions take you?

A recent article in the Atlantic described one extreme – research demonstrating the lack of a link between gluten and heart disease – not because there was any reason to believe that such a link existed, but precisely because there was no evidence that one should, and yet many popular books, diets, and people espoused this idea. The researchers argue that this is how science should work – people of the world have an idea and scientists demonstrate whether there is evidence to support the idea or not.

I strongly support this approach on principle, but I have to wonder if it’s the wisest course of action today. Is it wasteful to spend precious resources on research questions that have no basis and minimal chance of adding to knowledge that will improve the human condition or the world? To be clear, I absolutely support research for the sake of knowledge, and hope it is widely understood that future revolutions will come from today’s explorations for the sake of curiosity, like cell phone capability relied on a foundation of knowledge from Hedy Lamarr’s invention of frequency hopping in the 1940s, which couldn’t be implemented with the technology of the day. But when we’re talking about biomedical research like the study mentioned above, would those resources be better spent on investigation of mechanisms and treatments for real ailments?

Furthermore, using science to disprove a popular misconception doesn’t seem to work, as has been the case for the supposed dangers of vaccines. The translation of information from scientific findings to incorporation into the public mindset and practice must be fixed for this to be effective.

These days I’m just hoping we can maintain a funding level that covers research that runs the gamut, from scientists like me, following the data and trying to help human conditions, to pure exploration, like some of my favorite researchers.

Posted in conflict, funding, hearable message, Public, research | Leave a comment

Attitude Adjustment

So many things in my life are colored by my expectation and attitude. From when I was, I dunno, a middle schooler, my parents would tell me to try to be happier. Smile more, they say; don’t be such a sourpuss. One of my rather large flaws has been to get stuck on a certain thing and not be able to move past it. My partner, bless his soul, has taken the brunt of this often stressful reaction. I don’t know why it is that relationship that means the most in my life that I put to the test the most.

So, every few years, I try to make a resolution to really put that part of my personality under the microscope. For me this time, it involves several things: relationship, being a mother, family, and work. Below I discuss a couple of these things.

With my relationship, things still feel like they are in the adjustment phase after having a child. And, I do feel like I have made some headway in the “being too critical and upset” department. But, unfortunately, I think it is because I simply just don’t have time to worry about anything but eating, sleeping, trying to workout, and the catch up on the day basics. I often don’t have the ability or time anymore to worry about who is going to plan dinner, or take care of the dog. Whoever gets there first, and if it becomes urgent, there is just simply less sleep to be had. So, having to let go of things out of necessity over the last year of being a mother has had an overall positive effect on my relationship because I just don’t have the time to worry about some of the small stuff anymore. I am simply thankful when my partner takes care of something that I don’t have to feel overwhelmed with managing everything.

Work, on the other hand…. there is room for growth here, and I feel like I am going in the opposite direction. When I started at government job a few years ago, it was like heaven compared to being a postdoc in terms of available time for family and pay. And the work is extremely interesting to me. I was so confused about those coworkers who fit the stereotype of government workers – always complaining about how the system is so unfair, and how they are going to rebel by just not working as hard. It was beyond me at why they seemed to make everyone’s life harder (including their own) by being a pain in the ass. Well, here I am a few years later starting to understand. This I find my self stuck in this negative thought process of being inconvenienced and not appreciated, and feeling slighted. However, past me would have been completely understanding of this situation, and laughed off the mishaps of the week as being innocent misunderstandings that have minuscule effects on my life. I have learned to be as informed as I can about govt policies and procedures because no one else is going go to bat for me, except me. But really, my situation is no different now that it was a few years ago, so why am I starting to make mountains out of molehills? I guess because when everyone else is building up all these mountains around me, I feel pressured into building my own mountains. But there is no need to do that. I need to push back against this a a lot harder; shift my attitude.

 

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When Your Postdoc Mentor Switches Institutions, or The Amazing Community of Women in Science

I am 9 months into my first postdoc. I am 6 months pregnant. I will be unemployed two days after my son is due to be born.

One month ago, my postdoc mentor announced that he has accepted an incredible promotion at a university on the other side of the United States. For several reasons — including having just relocated my family, the strain on my husband’s career and the expectation of a neonate at the time of the Great Move – I will not be translocating with the lab.

My “mentor” made clear to me last week that he will not be renewing my contract two days after I give birth even though he will remain at my institution for another 1-3 months. Even though he will renew current university contracts with at least one other postdoc for several months and lied to my face about doing so. My Postdoctoral Union, the Academic Resource Center and the university Business Office have nothing to say about this. I have no protections in this situation; it is my “mentor’s” choice.

I have spent three quarters of the last month in debilitating pain because my dentist managed to kill a perfectly healthy tooth and pregnancy hormones exacerbated the effects of necrosis, inflammation and infection (lack of effective painkillers did not help either). The other quarter of the month I spent frantically scouring my current institution for potential academic postdoc opportunities in a sea of unknown or inadvisable labs. Labs that are very unlikely to be willing to contract a woman who would just entered maternity leave at the time of ideal onboarding. By this time, I may or may not have transferable salary from any of the three fellowships I’ve just finished applying for. Likely the latter, which prevents me from sweetening the deal.

‘Just find a new postdoc position by next month,’ my “mentor” advises. ‘That way you can spend a month or two in the new lab before going on maternity leave. No one would refuse you a position because of the pregnancy, that would be outrageous.’ He proceeded at my overly laudatory request to recommend potential employers who were strikingly ill-suited to my career goals or experience.

“Mentorship”.

Given the timing of my imminent unemployment and my need for not only neonatal care but regular treatments for my autoimmune disorder, avoiding a lapse in health coverage is – for the first time in my life – a priority over my career aspirations. In a time when COBRA and biologic therapy are unaffordable, my husband and I must re-budget dramatically to pay our mortgage and loans and keep our neonate (and ideally, myself) alive. I have therefore stretched my feelers into a world I was not prepared to join for several years if (and only if) I could tell with more certainty that professorship was not in the cards: non-academic science.

Mid-pregnancy does not feel like the right time to be making a career-altering decision that could mean closing the door to academia for good. Then again, if my choice is between sacrificing my family’s well-being for a sliver of a chance at a reasonable academic postdoc or sacrificing my pipe dream for a potentially happier and more rewarding life, the latter is my clear choice. This is not what everyone should or would choose in these circumstances. This is likely not what I would have chosen 5 years ago. But I love what my life is becoming and am prepared to shift gears if it means being able to do rigorous, ethical and productive science in a healthy way.

Despite the extraordinarily strenuous timing, this transition is somewhat of a blessing as I have had a miserable 9 months with my current absence of any form of mentorship, the embarrassing dysfunction of this world-renowned lab and the excruciating oppression of both my “mentor” and a male adjunct faculty. This is my way out without being the one to set fire to any bridges.

While most days I feel lost and hopeless, I am grateful to no longer be in debilitating pain and I strive to protect my active little belly parasite from my own distress. I am fueled now more by adrenaline and awe of the circumstances than by fear and depression. And I have benefited from some wonderful advice.

You know who has advised me? Not my male “mentor” who has all but thrown me into the gutter. Women. Women who are senior post docs in my lab. Women who write for this blog. Women who have agreed to interview me for positions in their labs at my current institution. Women who have talked through the circumstances of my potential unemployment and financial crisis with me. Women who have helped me identify solutions. The woman who I interviewed with today.

The ball is rolling in a sluggish but mostly forward direction. Today I have hope because of the women I have met in science.

Posted in academia, alternative career, biotech, bosses, broken dreams, early career scientist, female scientist, industry vs academia, job search, postdoc, women in science | 3 Comments

March for Science

ScienceMarchPhoto

More umbrellas than signs by the end of the Philly Science March. Impressive how many people stuck around despite the bad weather!

Many of us here at Portrait of a Scientist marched in the March for Science this past weekend. Judging from the numbers across the country, many of you did too. Here are some of our thoughts.

peírama:

I marched because I support science. Not just because that is what I do for a job, but because I know how important it is for the world and humanity. I believe that to be true for all of the scientists who march. You do not have to be a scientist to appreciate the power of science, but being up-close and personal with it does make that easier.

I spent some time  before and after the march tabling for my local women in science group. I was really impressed by the number of people who were excited to sign up to get the newsletter and to attend happy hours. I was also impressed by the number of parents and kids who came by interested in our outreach program. I’m so excited that our group can have an impact on the next generation, not just by making more scientists, but hopefully also making more people who are not scientists as their job, but who are science-literate and appreciate science.

I hope that the march opened some people’s eyes and piqued their interest. I hope that this is not an isolated event but the beginning of a movement, where scientists are more active outside of the lab, both in sharing their science and in getting involved in shaping the future of our country. My sign said: “Resist! Science is Power!”

Danielle Robinson:

I was so impressed with the way my local march organizers handled the organization and run of show. True, I couldn’t really hear the speakers. But that’s because I was running around with a couple of little kids looking at real brains and learning to titrate. I didn’t even get to march with my group (see previous sentence about little kids). Instead I ran into OHSU friends, Science Hack Day friends, OpenCon friends, and made new science friends. Oh, and I saw a lot of great signs!! Like this little guy, these badass witches, these very sick salmon, and – I didn’t catch her – but someone got a great shot an OHSU researcher who is really too busy for this.

While all this was going on, I was in touch with my fellow-fellow* Teon Brooks, who has been tirelessly dealing with organizational challenges and holding calls for 600+ people as the Co-Chair of Partnerships for the Science March DC. He hung with Bill Nye – think he had a pretty good time.

I had a great experience and feel invigorated to continue advocating for science and science education on the local and national level. I met fantastic people at local organizations that I’d like to partner with and had a great time!

*Call for Mozilla Science Fellowship applications is OPEN. Yes, they really reimbursed 6k worth of childcare expenses. It’s been a truly transformational professional experience, I blogged some advice, and I am happy to talk if you’re considering applying, @daniellecrobins.

Megan:

I marched for science in my new city, Philadelphia (though I wish I could have marched with these guys!). Despite the heavy rain, a really diverse group turned out, many carrying signs, wearing lab coats, or dressed in costumes. A man dressed as Ben Franklin served as a reminder that scientific thinkers played a key role in the foundation of this city and country. Kids marched with their parents, and I had my baby in a stroller. 314 Action was represented, urging scientists to run for office, and letting us know about upcoming local political races. However, the overall tone of the march and speakers seemed more pep rally than political. There were even ‘science cheerleaders’, wearing tracksuits and waving pom-poms.

The most memorable moment of the day for me was when one of the speakers at the rally asked the crowd if all the scientists could raise their hands. I raised mine, and was surprised to see that only about 10% of the people there had their hands up. A young boy in front of me said in awe to his dad, “Look at ALL the scientists!” Meanwhile, I was thinking, “Look at ALL this support!”

Like a lot of scientists right now, I’m struggling to stay funded, to even maintain my job, stuck in a seemingly never-ending application process for a more permanent position. It’s hard not to get discouraged, and easy to think that what I do doesn’t matter to people– especially because of the current political sentiment in America and the blithe acceptance of ‘alternate facts’ by the governing administration and the public who elected them. But standing there, shivering in Saturday’s rain, were thousands of people who came out in support of what we do, who want to fund research, who believe that science can create a path to a better future, and who are willing to fight for it. It was incredibly affirming.

My own sign read, “Science doesn’t care if you believe. It just is.” I wanted to convey the message that there are objective truths that simply aren’t subject to negotiation. When the oceans rise because of global warming, are politicians going to stand in waders in the rising tide, legislating against it? Will they argue belief systems about evolution with antibiotic resistant microbes?

In Carl Sagan’s words, “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” On Saturday, it was wonderful to be surrounded by people who felt the same way.

Posted in March for Science, Resistance | Tagged | 1 Comment