The other day, someone asked me:"So, why do you blog?" and I didn't have an answer immediately. I started blogging to practice writing: I'm not a native English speaker* so I figured it would be good to write something on a frequent (or less frequent) basis.
But why do I write about the things that I write about? I share bits and pieces of my life mostly to get my thoughts clear - and putting them on paper helps. And I share things because I feel they can be helpful to others, for example how I found my job outside academia.
Also - even though I rarely do this - I like going back to read my own old posts. I realize that sometimes I would have entirely forgotten about things if I hadn't written about them here.
For those of you that have a blog: why do you blog?
*I do appreciate edits and comments that people sometimes send me. Although I feel that most improvements to my writing have more to do with me being a sloppy editor than me not being a native speaker ;-).
Fellow tweeps @IHStreet, @Doctor_PMS and @LadyScientist have started a podcast "Recovering Academic" where they talk about what it is like to leave academia and find a job outside the academic world. I think it's awesome, go check it out!
Two people buy a house together. The form for the mortgage is preprinted and starts with Mr. and then Mrs.. In this case, the person listed under Mrs. brings in most of the money for the mortgage. However, all the mail that these two people get for their house after that, is addressed to Mr.
Two people have a kid together. The kid goes to daycare and the two people are listed as the parents. Whenever something happens to the kid, the mom is the first to get a call. And today, the two people received an email for a course provided by the daycare center for working moms in order to re-find their balance to be a better mother, friend and partner. The sender of this email automatically assumes that the recipient of the email is the mom.
I guess I can conclude from this n=2 that we still live in a world where houses (and cars too by the way) belong to men, while the care for children belongs to women.
Very often when I talk to people about how to advance my career, their advice is: "Be visible!". This is also the advice that people around me are getting.
There are many ways to be visible: you can highlight your own achievements whenever you have the opportunity, you can work hard and hope that others will notice (and highlight your achievements for you), you can get involved with projects that you know will gain visibility, or become an expert in a topic so people know they need to find you if they need certain information. But when I read Chall's most recent post about how it is important for women to be likable, it made me wonder if for men there are more acceptable ways to be visible then there are for women. For men it seems easier to be bragging about achievements without being considered an overachiever, and it seems easier to be critical about a project without being labeled bitchy.
So how to deal with this? I guess for me it helps to think that in a company with so many female role models, there are at least many examples of how to be visible as a woman.
Four years ago, I wondered "if I would ever make the decision to look for a job outside science, and if so, if I would regret all the time and effort put into trying to get data, write papers and get grants?". Before I left science, now almost two years ago, I spent more than four years as a post-doc doing slice electrophysiology mostly. Since I left academia, I've never patched a cell anymore.
Most scientists at the company I work at have done a post-doc, but many of them shorter than the 4,5 years I've spent as a post-doc. And then of course there are people around my age in more commercial jobs that have no PhD or post-doc experience at all (and probably get paid quite a bit more than me because of having more experience) So looking back, one might wonder if I've spent too much time as a post-doc?
I've given this quite some thought recently, mostly because it sometimes feels unfair that people who have an equal amount of experience-years end up in different positions. And I realize that if I had known that I would have ended up where I am now, I may have been able to get there with a shorter route. However, I also realize how much I have learned during my post-doc that is still very useful now, like writing, leading people and also just the experience of living somewhere else for a while. And of course the notion that work is also enjoyable, not just a race to get to some end-goal. So even thought I was afraid I would regret my time as a post-doc if I wouldn't be able to stay in academia four years ago, looking back I wouldn't have done it much different.
What about you? If you have left academia, do you wish you had spent less time as a post-doc?
Instead of: "Hey, are you an intern/graduate student/post-doc here?"
You can ask: "So, what is your position here?"
Or, instead of: "Is this your first job after graduating college?"
You can ask: "How long have you worked here and what have you done before that?"
So that I don't have to say - again - that I am not an intern, this is not my first job and yes, I do look kind of young but that does not take away from my credibility, if you first clear you mind of all the assumptions that live there.
Image from here: http://gentlemen-always-know.tumblr.com/post/104584707343
I'm beginning to realize more and more that whether your manager or PI is helpful and goes the extra mile for you can make a HUGE difference for your everyday happiness and the advancement of your career. The other day I heard the following story of an industry scientist (paraphrased by me and changed some details to ensure anonymity):
"I recently received the feedback that I need to be more visible and impactful within the company in order to be able to keep my job and be eligible for any type of promotion. I want to be impactful, but I feel that I rarely get the opportunity: when I make slides for a presentation, my manager is the person who presents them. And when I ask them about this, they replied that they also need to work on being impactful to those higher up. On the other hand, my manager says that they want to help me, but I don't see how they do this. What can I do?"
I think that this is a clear example of having a manager who does not have much space to give you the things that you need to advance your career. I've been in that situation when I did a short post-doc with a PI who was only a few years more senior than me. While I saw PIs around me give their post-docs the option of co-supervision of PhD students or a co-PI position on grants*, or even 'just' the opportunity to meet collaborators and give talks, this person did not seem to have the ability or willingness to do that, or was still very busy getting those things for themselves. Perhaps it sounds entitled to want these things from a manager or PI, but I've seen around me how these seemingly little things can have a big effect on where you take your career.
It seems like this industry scientist is in the same situation: the manager and the scientist are not very far apart in seniority and the fact that the manager is busy getting the same things as the industry scientist within the same company makes it difficult for them to help the scientist advance.
So what can this industry scientist do? In the situation where they asked for advice, the following suggestions were given: find a mentor/coach other than your manager to help you with certain aspects, be more vocal about what you've accomplished and ask your manager to present your own work instead of having them present it for you.
*I can hear my US-readers think: you're supposed to show independence from your PI, which is true, but here it seems inevitable to have a period as senior post-doc when you're trying to become independent but here there is often no funding nor TT positions to be able to do that.
Story 1. A few weeks ago we (husband, BlueEyes, Little Brother and me) went to visit a friend of mine. My friend had pinkish red nail polish on her toe nails and both BlueEyes and Little Brother thought that looked really interesting. My friend asked if they wanted that too, which they did. She painted their toe nails and both of them were incredibly proud to have such pretty looking toe nails. The next day, Little Brother went to daycare, where he proudly showed his toe nails and continued to do so for the next couple of days. BlueEyes went to school and when he left he was very excited to show everyone his nail polish. When he came home at the end of the day, the first thing he asked me was to take it off, because "nail polish is for girls only".
Story 2. In the morning, BlueEyes asks to watch some tv and I turn the tv on for him. We search for a channel and at some point we find the power rangers, which he says he wants to watch.
Me: "I liked watching that too when I was little"
BlueEyes:"But you were a girl when you were little, right?"
BlueEyes:"Because power rangers is only for boys"
I am surprised and ask him why, but then when the show ends I realize why: because the channel specifically says so...
How do I tell my children that anyone can become whatever they want and like and wear whatever they want, when society tells them that certain things are for girls and other things are for girls? And when society seems to yell much louder than I ever can?
Everyone who is involved in animal research has heard about the 3Rs: Replacement, Reduction and Refinement. They are the key items scientists need to address in order to argue that what they want to test is not possible in any other model system than an intact animal, but that all care will be taken to reduce the number of animals and refine the way the animals are treated.
The 3Rs were first described by Russell and Burch in 1959 but what I did not know is that Bill Russell much later wrote a brilliant song describing the 3Rs:
it's been nearly two years since we parted. When we just met, I was so in love. I wanted to be with you, gather data and write papers for you. I wanted to science with you and spent many of my waking (and supposed-to-be-sleeping) hours thinking about you. I wanted to stay with you and worked so hard to try and make that happen.
But then, when I was all disgruntled and unsure whether us being together was really what was best for me, I decided to leave you. I decided to join industry. In industry, the building is shiny, the people have had training on how to communicate and I was even offered a permanent contract.
But when I look out of the window of that shiny building, I can still see you. I hear about you at home from my husband and from friends. And now that the honeymoon phase with industry is over, and I see the cracks in the shiny building and the fact that even with communication training, people are sometimes still jerks - but in a politer way - I miss you. I miss doing research without the boundaries of what is commercially useful and what is important to convince the people who need to prescribe or buy things. I miss being able to think of a project entirely by myself and write it down in the hopes of being able to execute it some day. And mostly, I miss the dream of being important someday; having my own lab that does breakthrough science and wins prizes for it.
And I don't know if this means I should try to get back together with you, academia. Or that I just forgot the disgruntled bits and only remember the good times we had together. Or that - perhaps - I can figure out some way to have a threesome.