Last week, this article appeared in Neuron:"A Tale of Two Sexes" written by Marian Joëls and Carol Mason: the current FENS and SfN president respectively. They write a powerful piece about women in science, the leaky pipeline and factors that cause women to leave science. You should go and read it (and then come back!).
There is one thing that I want to highlight here, which is this:
A study in the Netherlands showed that 77% of all newly appointed medical full professors in the period 1999–2003 were recruited through a closed appointment procedure, i.e., not involving advertisements (Van den Brink, 2011). Understandably, committee members look for candidates who are a younger version of themselves, in other words, Caucasian men around age 40. Just pointing out this fact helped to change things.
This is actually something I have observed as well - and not just for full professor jobs, but for most jobs in academia. In the homecountry, MANY of the post-doc positions, assistent prof positions and apparently also full prof positions are filled without an advertisement. Needless to say, this does not at all increase diversity. And even though the data from the paper that is cited are from 1999-2003, I highly doubt if this is much different now. I haven't been able to find data supporting one or the other, but judging from what I see around me, I wonder if this has changed a lot in the last decade. So that last sentence that I quote: "Just pointing out this fact helped to change things." I have a hard time believing this. I think that in order to change this, a policy should be in place that jobs need to be advertised. Because even though people may post adds while the vacancy is already filled, it makes people stop and think about other candidates, instead of going for the obvious person.
In an ice cream store, all the flavors lay next to each other and you can compare what they look like or even sample the taste before deciding which one you want. In real life, choices are rarely ever like that. There's almost never two jobs right next to each other so you can compare. And whereas for ice cream it's pretty easy to predict what your experience will be, with jobs you will never know until you do it. So instead of strawberry or chocolate, the choice can be: struggle to hopefully get a grant and stay in academia or transfer into something unknown. And also, having lived your life thinking you're a chocolate ice cream person and then toying with the idea of ordering strawberry is a little confusing. I guess the comforting thing is that there is no alternative universe to see if you've made the right decision. And in the end, I tend to be happy with whatever ice cream I choose.
Getting asked to write a piece about grant writing and rejected grants for some website* and then getting that piece rejected after spending quite some time writing and rewriting it. Yup, that happened.
*it's a website from this journal you probably all boycott. They also have a blog about employment, and apparently they fill this by pieces that people write for free...
Yesterday, MyTChondria tweeted this:
. Symptoms of include: sad, empty, hopeless, tired, irritable, angry, and anxious.
and it got me thinking about how to deal with this constant stress about getting grants funded. As a disclaimer: I know very little about depression in people other than that it is a very serious disease and I am not trying to argue that having a good coping strategy will eliminate your depression. I do know from animal research that studies phenotypes that resemble symptoms of people with a depression that it matters what coping strategy animals use for the severity of their symptoms. I can imagine that the same thing holds true for academia: that the coping strategies we use determine how we feel. Which is why I want to share some of my -embarrassing- coping strategies.
Let's start with the most embarrassing one: When my first paper, the one that made me cry in the lab, was submitted to Biological Psychiatry I very often found myself singing "Biological Psychiatry - oh please God help me!" (to the tune of "One" from Metallica). The paper didn't get in, but I still sometimes sing this song to myself and it reminds me of how relieved I was when we submitted this paper. The paper ended up in another journal of which I also sometimes sing the name of the journal in my head.
Less embarrassing: I often print out awesome data, even if it's very small like a band on a Western blot after some struggle to get the antibody to work, or the first trace of the first cell I recorded, or a significant result, and I paste these on the wall where I can see them every day. It reminds me that things (sometimes) work and that I am producing data.
Please share your (embarrassing) coping strategies in the comments!
If your Friday is going as crappy as mine (a so far unsuccessful struggle to get a new piece of equipment to work), then I have some good advice to make sure you still walk out of the door feeling like you've accomplished something today:
Instead of putting on your to do list: "fix piece of equipment", say "work on piece of equipment for x hours". Then if x hours have passed, you can cross this off your list and very effectively fool yourself into thinking you did something today. It works on me at least!