Archive for the 'cultural differences' category

On word crafting

For the  past 3,5 month, I have been working in medical affairs* for two days a week, picking up some of the tasks from somebody who is on maternity leave and learning a ton about what happens in this area of the company. In this company, R&D is in one location and all of the commercial functions are together in a different location, which leads my R&D colleagues to make all sorts of comments about me "moving to the dark side". In medical affairs - at least with some of the tasks - you're the intermediate between R&D and marketing.

At R&D, we generally joke about how we do all the serious stuff and marketing is adding some frivolities in order to sell more of the stuff that we make. But now that I'm experiencing life on the dark side, I get more insight in the things that marketeers are really good at. And one of those things is -as the marketeers call it- word crafting. It turns out that making materials together with a marketeer is like next level twitter: how can you use the least amount of words to convey the most impactful message? In reality, this means going over the words 10 or more times, going back and forth with new ideas on how to change a word or how to rewrite the whole sentence.

And learning better how to do this and how important this is, I look with new eyes at my own sloppy, barely edited writing. Is this the reason I've been blogging less the past couple of weeks? Because I see how I throw stuff online without properly making sure every sentence is at the right place and in the right order? And I wonder if it would do more scientists good to do a short internship in marketing to learn more about the art of word crafting?

 

*I realize my pseud is getting thin, but in order to write about what I'm learning here, it is important to reveal what I'm actually doing.

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The hardest thing I do each week

It is not often that a post sits in my drafts folder for such a long time as this one. I realize the privilege that my biggest worry is the change of pace in a day at home with my kids versus a day at work. It is a major first world problem post. But I'll post it anyway:

I work four days a week, and so does my husband.*  This is very common in my company, and many parents (men and women) do this. Compared to both working five days a week (which we did when we lived in the US), working four and being home with my kids by myself one day very much highlights the difference between those days. And switching from one to the other -to me- is the hardest thing in the week.

At work, I can be focused on my own things, be in the flow and quickly get things finished. It seems like the more I love my work because it a day is so full of energy, the harder it is to be home the day after. At work, there is a totally different mindset than at home, where I need to be patient, and I can only quite vaguely plan the day because generally toddlers have different ideas about priorities than me.

And while I was doubting whether to post this, because I can see it is rather whiny and can definitely be filed under first world problems, I came across this article about a new book that says that the kids - and therefore their parents - from where I live are the happiest in the world:

You won’t find a Dutch mother expressing guilt about the amount of time she spends with her children – she will make a point of finding time for herself outside motherhood and work.

I indeed don't express guilt about the time spent with my kids but I do feel guilty on days where I quietly think to myself that I would rather go to work and be there with my own thoughts than to spend a day trying to get groceries with a 3 year old. And actually, most days at the end of the day I've had a good (and sometimes even relaxing days), but on other days I'm stressing over work emails that continue to come in while my kids are being bored and beating each other over a toy that nobody had looked at for a year but now is the most wonderful thing in the world.

And like with many things, I realize that when it's almost over is when I finally come to enjoy it on most days. Is it because it is easier now that my kids are a bit older? Or have I finally learned how to be patient and how to appreciate the little things...?

 

* In reality, this means that I go into the office 4 days a week, but I generally keep track of my email on my day off, and occasionally call into meetings on that day. The same goes for my husband, who also works at night, which I rarely ever do.

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Two stories about #everydaysexism

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.

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Is it easier for men to be visible at work?

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.

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Being evaluated on WHAT and HOW

When I moved from academia into industry 1,5 years ago, the biggest eye-opener was that in that company we were being evaluated not only by WHAT we did, but also HOW we did it. So it is not only important that you submit a paper, or get results from an experiment, or start a collaboration, it is also very important how you do that. It is for example important that you openly communicate with people, involve all the stakeholders that are important for the particular project. And this leads to an evaluation system where it can happen that you did not submit a paper that you were supposed to submit before the end of the year, but that happened because you involved an additional collaborator, thereby making it a more influential paper and/or set up a new collaboration, and you will still be evaluated positively because of that contribution.

I really like this way of working, because it means that shit can happen (and being in research you can rest assured that shit does happen), but the most important thing is not the shit itself, but how you handle said shit*. To me, this feels very different from being in academia, where it seemed like I was being judged by things that felt largely out of my control, like getting papers and grants accepted and rejected. It seems like in academia there is much less appreciation of HOW you make things happen and I wonder if changing that would contribute to more people being happier there?**

*Of course in the long run you do get judged by the things that you’ve helped to make happen, which makes sense I think.

** Additional reading: Universities with "cooperative culture" can help women thrive 

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Women: when there's a lot of them they are just like people.

When I went to college the majority of professors were male. I remember that the few times we had a female professor, classmates were quick to categorize them as "bitchy", "motherly", or "good-looking". This is not unlike what happens in many movies, when the female characters often remain uni-dimensional.

Now, I work in a company with a much better gender ratio. The other day I found myself in a big meeting with 3 of the bosses and all three of them were women, as well as many of the team leaders and scientists*. And I realized while I was listening to the meeting that we were all there to contribute with our own expertise and knowledge and personality. And I realized how great it is to be in the presence of so many women as role models. There were just too many women to fit them in the one-dimensional categories. When there are many women, they are just like people, I thought to myself.

 

* Before you think that this is a complete utopia: when you're asked to present something in front of the board, you will still look at >85% men.

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Baby vs. work: sometimes you have to choose.

Yesterday, my anonymous friend wrote a guest post about bringing her baby to work and how - for now - this works very well for both of them. On twitter, @crazygradmama said the following:

which I wholeheartedly agreed with. Obviously, not every baby is the same and then we're not even talking about babies with disabilities or illnesses that make it much harder and more intense to care for them. I'm not sure BlueEyes was officially colicky, but he pretty early on was able to make known what his preferences were. He liked to be worn, but only if the person wearing him kept moving when he was awake. Only if he slept, that person could sit down, and he usually only napped for 30-40 minutes at a time, in a pretty unpredictable manner. He did not like to spend much time by himself in a playpen or something like that. He did not like to sit in his carseat and he did not like to be held by unfamiliar people.

In addition, it took quite some time for me to get used to my role as a mother and merge my scientist/professional-me with my mother-me (there's a post brewing about this, but it's not quite done yet). Especially in the beginning this made it kind of uncomfortable to bring my baby to work or to a conference because it felt really weird to be those two roles at the same time. Also, being able to focus on work and a baby on the crappy amount of sleep I was getting seemed a bit much for my already foggy postpartum brain.

With Little Brother, working during my maternity leave was easier. He was a bit less intense than BlueEyes in making known what he wanted and I was a bit better at going with the flow. At home, I put my laptop high enough that I could stand and work, so I could bounce him while wearing him and type at the same time. I took him to work every now and then just to check in at the lab, but we were also moving when he was four months old, so it wasn't that crucial to find a long-term solution of bringing him to work.

With BlueEyes, we were incredibly fortunate that when I had to go back to work three months after he was born, he went to the daycare at our university, where the teacher:baby ratio was 1:2.5. They assigned a particular teacher for each baby, so the babies were mostly cared for by one familiar person. We were fortunate to get a scholarship, because otherwise it would have been difficult to pay for this daycare on two post-doc salaries (and impossible on just one).

Little Brother went to daycare after we moved back to the homecountry, where the teacher:baby ratio was higher, and the amount of different teachers during the week was larger. He really only started to get comfortable there after he was a year old and could walk and start to talk. Before that, on some days he would sleep for 6 hours and barely drink anything (which he caught up on at night). When I was a post-doc, I felt that I should keep working to keep up, and that is also what the amount of maternity leave in most countries suggests. I'm also not sure if I would even want to be home full-time (and I realize that for many, this is financially not an option to even consider). For me, the ideal situation would be somewhere in between: work a couple hours a day, but also be able to be with your baby during the first year.

In the end, I think it is very valuable to share these stories, so that we can learn from each other. I'd like to hear how academics from countries with much longer parental leave have experienced their first year with a baby. Do you actually stop working, and do you think it is harder to get back? Share your experience in the comments or email me if you want to guest post!

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I mostly miss my coping mechanism

It has been nearly a year since I left academia and joined a company. The shiny novelty about having a new job with new and different rules and new people has passed a little and I'm starting to feel comfortable in my new role. Before leaving academia I thought what I would miss the most would be recording from cells or generating data myself. And when I think about it I kind of miss the excitement of doing experiments, but I don't really miss the anxiety about whether I will be able to interpret my data, whether my data will look nice and whether it will be publishable. I don't miss hours of struggling to record form a cell only to bump against my table and loose my cell. I don't miss changing animal cages.

However, what I do miss is my coping mechanism. When I was doing my PhD, I would imagine what my defense day would look like. I would imagine how I would feel when my PhD was done and I would hold the book in my hand. I would imagine how incredibly happy I would be when a publication would be accepted.

During my post-doc, I would imagine what I would feel like having gotten a fellowship or a grant. I imagined how people would congratulate me and tell me I had deserved this after all my hard work. I would imagine how - further in the future - I would maybe become a full professor, which in my homecountry is accompanied by having a whole day of festivities including giving your inaugural lecture in front of the whole university. I would imagine how awesome that would be. On crappy days I had this mantra in my head and I would repeat "keep your eyes on the prize" over and over to keep writing, experimenting and analyzing data.

In my new job, the future is much less clear. There is not one path, but there are many paths one can take. There's less need for a coping mechanism because I feel much more at ease here, but at the same time I notice that I used these fantasies about the future as my motivation to get work done.

I guess I may need new incentives and I don't know what those are yet.

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On working for a company

Via Nicoleandmaggie I came across this post about whether to work for a large company or not:

This is what I imagine working for a big corporation feels like:

You’re somewhere in the belly of a huge ocean cruiser, making sure that some aspect of the engines run smoothly, but you do not see where the cruiser is going, why it is going where it goes, and you are not sure whether it might currently be in the process of running over a small fishing boat or polluting the sea with oil. But at least someone is paying the cruiser for what it does. You feel some loyalty to the rest of the huge crew in the cruiser and you know that they all depend on the engines working well, maybe you also feel loyalty to the passengers who are paying your salary, but the captain and his plans are extremely far away from you, and you suspect the captain may be evil, you don’t know, you will certainly never meet him except when you see him in the news.

But you are surrounded by a nice team of specialists working on the engines with you. You have fun together and you can use your talents and capacities really well. Your direct boss is likable and praises you for your effort. You earn good money and you can live a life in safety.

Is that good enough?

*Spoiler alert*: this post is a couple weeks old and the last comment says that they did decide to join the large company.

I really like the analogy of being somewhere in the belly of a large ship, not being able to see or influence where the ship goes. For now - with small kids who still sleep-deprive me more often than not and a husband working towards getting some stability in academia - I like being in this safe big ship. I like the people in my ship and the ship often sends inspirational videos of what happens out on the sea to inspire the people working in the ship. But it's a BIG change from academia where I felt much more like I could decide what to do and what to work on (which of course if you think about it is only true if the PI and/or funding agency allows you to work on it...). Now, I have to think about what my targets are, and which of those has the highest priority. And when I want to know exactly how something works scientifically speaking, the answer is that if it's not in the interest of the big ship, it's not something that I should be working on.

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"Women are just not that interested in a career in academia"

I keep hearing people say this over and over and I am never sure how to respond to this. I usually ask if people who say this have data to support their statements, which they usually don't. But in yesterday's diversity journal club on twitter, the following paper was brought into the discussion: "What's the purpose of a scientific career?" in which Kenneth Gibbs makes the point that women and underrepresented minorities tend to choose their career based on slightly different motives:

This and other work shows that women and URM scientists on average “choose differently.” Their choices are made “outside of ability, outside of competence”—but in keeping with expressed desires to pursue social justice, community involvement, and altruism, he says. In contrast, men from well-represented groups more often seek academic research careers that incorporate the value of “scientific freedom, the ability to research what you want on your own terms.”

For scientists with strong social concerns, scientific and social motivations are “intertwined,” Gibbs says.

This really resonates with me, because when people ask if I'm happy in my new job, I usually answer that what makes me most happy at the moment is that it is less personal. My job now is not about my ideas and my papers and my rejections anymore. It is about what I contribute to the team, and in the end: what we as a team make for the people that buy the things that our company makes. And while it makes me a little sad that the victories are not mine alone anymore, it makes me very happy and relieved that the rejections are not mine alone either. And maybe this feels different when you are the PI of a lab and you have a team of your own, but the difference between being a lonely post-doc in a competitive environment versus a team player feels like a huge difference to me.

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