A manel that talks about women in science

(by babyattachmode) Dec 07 2016

This morning I tweeted this when I saw that there was a Nobel prize press briefing with a table full of men in front of paintings of men (or wait, maybe that one person painted in a light green jacket is a woman?).

Briefly after that, the ERC tweeted this very ironic tweet:

Yes, role models are key, but where are they??

2 responses so far

On becoming an expert outside your direct area of expertise

(by babyattachmode) Dec 01 2016

This week I received feedback that I need to act more confident in my role as expert. I recognize myself in this feedback, because often when I'm in a discussion about something neuroscience with someone who is not a neuroscientist, I come with all these nuances and considerations and find it hard to make very concrete statements. However, that is something that is needed when decisions need to be made about how to measure something or how to interpret literature.

This lead me to think about the difference of what you consider an expert on a topic in academia vs in industry (at least in my line of work).

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My interpretation of the difference between being an expert in academia vs in industry. Not drawn to scale. Also, the yellow is a drawing from Little Brother that I thought would not be visible but clearly is.

In academia, after having completed a PhD thesis and some time as a post-doc, you can consider yourself an expert in those topics (even if it feels like there are others who are even more expert). I definitely feel confident making statements about subjects in those incredibly tiny circles. However, now that I am in industry I am supposed to be an expert in much larger areas in a group of people who know even less about this topic (along the lines of: "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king"). I have always been more of a generalist, so I like reading and thinking about these bigger areas (with dotted lines in the drawing because the areas change every now and then).

But I guess what comes next in this transition from the left circle to the right is to stand up in a meeting and either say:"I know that this is such and such and that's why I recommend this" or "I need to analyze this further and will come back to it". I need to figure out how much knowledge and analysis is needed to fulfill this role, because it is impossible to take the time to reach the expertise level from the left circle in my current job. And in academia, I feel I've been trained to withhold from any firm conclusions until you've looked at a topic from different viewpoints.

And I guess for a part it comes back to the question of how you become visible and get your opinion heard if you don't look like the prototype expert...?

2 responses so far

Why did you just throw away my box of memories, Microsoft?

(by babyattachmode) Nov 28 2016

Dear Microsoft,

I am the kind of person that likes to keep little boxes with memories. At my parents’ house, I have a box with letters that my grandmother sent to me when I was studying or working abroad. When she passed away, she had a box with the letters I wrote to her, so now I have a slightly bigger box that contains both our correspondence. I have a similar box with letters from friends in high school. And a box with pictures from the time before digital photography.

My Hotmail account was a box like that. I started using it in the late nineties just before I went to college and continued to use it for almost 10 years, until I switched to gmail. I never deleted anything, except for in the early days when Hotmail only allowed you so much storage and I had to make the difficult decision of which of those precious emails to delete.

I hadn’t logged into my Hotmail account for over a year, and then when I did yesterday, it had switched to being outlook, and to my horror my inbox said: ”You’re all caught up” and it was empty, except for the image of a winner cup. What have you done, Microsoft? Did you just throw away my box of memories?! A quick google search shows me I’m not the only one, but that Microsoft has been an overachieving Marie Kondo for everybody and apparently decided that none of those emails were sparking joy and therefore could all just be deleted.

So now I’ve been preoccupied since yesterday with trying to remember what was in those ten years of emails: the entire electronic correspondence with the person I had a relationship with for more than half of that decade, the email from his mom around the time we broke up about how I needed to make decisions for myself – an email that really upset me when I received it, but that when I re-read it years later finally understood the warmth behind it. Also, emails from my friend when she was abroad for a year when we were 18. Sent emails from myself when I was abroad for work or studying. Very precious emails from the first person I ever dated when I was 14: email did not exist back then for me, but we later found each other back – in an email that kind of changed my life afterwards (yes – dramatic, but that is the case when you’re adolescent right?). Also: pictures from before the digital era that people had scanned and emailed. And probably many other things that I couldn’t remember, but that were in that box as well.

Why did you just throw away my box of memories, Microsoft?

7 responses so far

What does my pseud mean and should it change?

(by babyattachmode) Nov 22 2016

I came back from SfN last week and want to write about some of my observations there, but with little time to sit down and write this, somehow this post came out first.

I’ve been asked a couple of times (both at SfN and elsewhere) what my pseud means. I thought it was an obvious play on words, but I guess it was a very nerdy play on words, so here is some explanation. Before I left academia, I was a post-doc doing electrophysiology doing whole cell recordings in slices. When doing that, before you reach whole cell mode, you are first in cell-attached mode (ie when the pipet is attached to the cell membrane, before you actually break into the cell). A good image on how that works is here.

At the same time, BlueEyes was born, and he was somewhat the opposite of babies that you often see in pictures: relaxing and/or sleeping in a crib or something like that. He was mostly happy when he was being held and even then he was sometimes unhappy *. I quickly discovered babywearing and other types of attachment parenting thingies that seemed to help retain everyone’s sanity.

So when I started tweeting and blogging around that time, babyattachmode seemed a good name. I did not really think ahead to the time when I would no longer be a post-doc doing electrophysiology and no longer have little babies. So I contemplated whether to change my pseud, but since I already find it confusing when people change their avatar on twitter, I’m just going to stay who I am online.

Have you outgrown your pseud and have you changed it because of that?

 

* I know, this is normal baby behavior too – but we see it much less often in books or on TV…

2 responses so far

Figuring out your identity outside academia

(by babyattachmode) Nov 02 2016

This morning, I went for a run before work and listened to this week's Recovering Academic podcast. In this episode, they talk about how a large part of being an academic in recovery means having to figure out how much of your identity is being an academic scientist, and if that is gone, what is left? I very much recognize this feeling, even though I'm still a scientist, just not in academia. I did very much have to redefine myself, not just on the outside (new outfit, different haircut), but even more on the inside. What I am mostly still struggling with, is the difference in achievements and how visible those are. In academia, I was very much motivated by getting papers published and being able to search for my name on Pubmed and finding an increasing number of hits. The output is very tangible and is celebrated with press releases and such. Now that I work for a company, the end-product that we make is even more tangible (an actual thing that can sit on the table), but my part in it is much less visible, especially to the outside world. Think about it, you can read everywhere who invented CRISPR or optogenetics, but many inventions coming out of companies are celebrated in a much less personal way (to the outside world at least). Sort of connected to that is the fact that I took pride in the things I finished (experiments, papers), whereas now it is much less clear when something is actually finished and the work leading up to that thing that can sit on the table is much longer most of the times.

On the other hand, the fact that everything was so personal was also a reason for me to leave academia. Because the downside of celebrating personal accomplishments was the fact that also criticism on papers and grants proposals felt very personal. Anyways, just some rather incoherent thoughts after listening to that episode, which you should do too!

2 responses so far

I need to reduce my amount of crying at work

(by babyattachmode) Nov 01 2016

I think that in the past couple of weeks I have cried more at work than in the years before that combined. We have a complicated thing going on with people who have feelings and opinions about the complicated thing which made me cry in frustration when discussing it with my manager. I have a colleague whose dad passed away which made me cry in sympathy. I had a bad migraine last week that made me cry when another colleague asked me if I was doing okay. And then today my manager kindly asked me if I was doing well in the middle of all of this and their kindness made me cry. My manager asked:"you're crying, are you sure you're okay?" and I told them that I guess I cry easily and I'm really, really okay and their concern about me made me cry more.

To feel better after this meeting, I re-read Meghan's post on crying in science because it says so nicely why it can be okay to cry at work:

... instead view [crying] as a natural form of emotion that simply indicates that the person is passionate or stressed or concerned or tired or anxious or frustrated – or, more simply, that they are human.

Someone who gave a training in our company a while ago said: "it's not so bad to cry at work as it used to be, because we are starting to appreciate vulnerability more." I'm not sure this is true, but I like the idea.

I feel that I need to reduce my crying at work though. I've started meditating again at the end of my day, because I feel that I was dragging all these emotions and opinions from people at work home, without really realizing I was doing that. I need to order my thoughts more so that I won't be caught off guard during a meeting by something someone says. But I guess I don't want to stop caring about what I do, so there may be some crying at work left sometimes.

2 responses so far

On selling your soul to the devil

(by babyattachmode) Oct 19 2016

Say you work for a toy company*. You enjoy making toys and you know the toys make the kids happy. The company that you work for has to sell the toys in order to make profit. But in order to get the parents of the kids to buy the toys, the company thinks they need to market them with gender-specific advertising. You are not in the marketing department, so very far away from where these decisions are made. And - as I said - you like the toys, the company and the fact that you make kids happy with the toys, but not the way the toys are marketed. And when you address this with your direct colleagues (so not the marketeers), most of them say:"Well, this is just how the world works, boys like cars and girls like dolls, we cannot change this. Also, this successful marketing is what pays your bills."  Whereas I feel that changing this might actually be a little contribution to a more equal world, and at the same time, the company emphasizes they value a diverse workforce, which in my mind is almost not compatible with the marketing strategy behind their products.

Have I sold my soul to the devil? Do I accept this is the way things are or do I try to change this somehow? If you work in a commercial setting: how do you deal with things you personally disagree with?

 

* Clearly I don't, but for the sake of the argument it doesn't matter.

7 responses so far

On consent for sexual assault

(by babyattachmode) Oct 12 2016

I just RT'ed this tweet. And as I did that, for a split second there was a voice in my head that said: "but that one time when a boy in high school grabbed your breasts you were drunk." "And that other time when a stranger kissed you on the mouth out of nowhere you were by yourself and wearing a skirt." "And when you're in a club it's nearly normal that guys grab you when you walk by."

Why am I making up excuses for the men who did this? When was I taught that being drunk or wearing a short skirt are consent for sexual assault? Because obviously they are not.

I guess this is how that works: when you hear those kind of excuses often enough you start to think it is normal that these things happen. And even worse: you almost start to believe that your actions cause these things to happen. Which in itself is already #notokay.

3 responses so far

The M:F ratio of asking questions at talks

(by babyattachmode) Oct 04 2016

Yesterday I attended a seminar and I noticed that at least 75% of the audience were women. The speaker was a man, and so was the person who introduced the speaker*. After the talk, there was time for a couple questions and the three people who asked something were men.

Overall score: a room full of women and all the people who opened their mouth to speak were men.

I know what it is like to be in an audience, and wonder if the question you might have is one worth asking. The time to make this decision is short and before you know it someone else asks their questions or the time is up for anyone to ask a question. But my advisor encouraged us in a somewhat strange way to ask questions: after the speaker was finished, she would point at one of her grad students and say:"now you have to ask something.". The first time this happened to me I was obviously caught off guard and was barely able to utter something resembling a question. Yikes. But the next time, I knew this could happen to me and ever since, I've trained myself to just have some questions ready in my head to ask. This may seem ridiculous, because if you don't have something to ask, why try and come up with something. But to me, it's been good training in coming up with good (and sometimes not so good) questions. So that when a talk ends, I don't have to hesitate, but I can put my hand up and ask something. Sometimes because I actually want to know the answer, and sometimes to be visible to the speaker or others in the audience.

Do you see the same? That women are less likely to ask questions? And if so, what do you do encourage them to ask something?

 

*I had never before seen someone so good at highlighting his own achievements while introducing someone else by the way. A remarkable skill in itself.

9 responses so far

How to create a culture of openness in a team?

(by babyattachmode) Sep 30 2016

I'm currently involved in 2 different projects, and without sharing any more detail about what they entail, I've noticed that the teams differ a lot in terms of openness of the team members. With that, I mean to what extend people dare to voice their concern and be critical towards each other and towards the project. To me, this is not very different from the situation in academic labs, where sometimes there is more room to be critical and share new ideas than in other cases. For example, how do you deal with results that don't fit the story that the lab is building?

But how do you create such a culture of openness? If I compare these two teams that I work in, I see this as the main difference: In the open team, a lot of the tasks are shared, even if it may seem unnecessary to share this much. Meetings are larger, because more people are included. Sometimes people join who don't seem experts on the topic, but this also means that they can think out-of-the-box compared to people who have been working on something for a while. In the not-so-open team, people tend to get their own little assignment from the team leader, that they then need to report back on once finished. Sometimes the different team members aren't aware of what the others are working on, or where they are in the process. In the open team, the way of working leads to the feeling that we are all working on something together, whereas in the not-so-open team it sometimes even leads to an us vs. them kind of feeling.

When I read the piece on Theranos in Vanity Fair recently, I realized that this was almost an exaggerated description of the not-so-open team that I work in:

Holmes [Theranos' CEO] had learned a lot from [Steve] Jobs. Like Apple, Theranos was secretive, even internally. Just as Jobs had famously insisted at 1 Infinite Loop, 10 minutes away, that departments were generally siloed, Holmes largely forbade her employees from communicating with one another about what they were working on—a culture that resulted in a rare form of executive omniscience. At Theranos, Holmes was founder, C.E.O., and chairwoman. There wasn’t a decision—from the number of American flags framed in the company’s hallway (they are ubiquitous) to the compensation of each new hire—that didn’t cross her desk.

And the end of the Theranos story warns what can happen when you create a culture like this. Just to add: the team that I work in is by far not as siloed as the situation at Theranos, but reading this and comparing the two teams that I work in makes me realize the value of being open and being able to share your opinion and ideas.

And then to end: what can you do as a team member? Personally, I try to continue to share my opinion in the not-so-open team, even if that is often not met with enthusiasm from the team leader. I try to catch up with other team members and share what we are working on - sometimes outside the scheduled team meetings. But working in these different teams also makes me realize how difficult it is to change the culture within a team - as a team member at least.

3 responses so far

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