Archive for the 'cultural differences' category

On calibrating how we talk about feelings

The other day I had a bit of a conflict with someone at work and I talked to somebody else about it to get an outsider's perspective. One of the first things they advised was:"you should try and step in their shoes and see it from their point of view". I immediately thought to myself:"I wish THEY would step into MY shoes and understand how I feel". Of course I didn't say this and the reminder to look at the situation from the other's point of view did actually help me in understanding what the conflict was about. But this experience also made me realize that the only way other people can put themselves in my shoes is if I express myself well. And that led to the realization that for everybody the range in which they express their feelings is very different (see figure for a very rudimentary illustration). One person might easily share it when they are not feeling well, while another person will put on a brave face and pretend they're doing okay. And then when a third person asks both people how they are doing, the anwer "I'm okay" can have a very different meaning.

Some people are rather sensitive to where somebody else sits on scale of Feelings Expressions, while for other people, this may need to be made more explicit. Personally, I've come to realize that I am on the top scale in the figure, and I don't easily share if I'm not feeling well. At the same time I hope that if I say "I'm okay", people will immediately understand that I'm not too well. And that obviously leads to disapointment on my side.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was an easy way to calibrate these scales before entering into a conversation...?

No responses yet

Prestigious scientist says "Dutch women don't want to work hard"

Yesterday was International Day of Women and Girls in Science and it was great to see all the different faces of women and girls in science on twitter and read their stories. I love the atmosphere of people lifting each other up and cheering each other on. Sadly, my day ended with reading this news article where prominent Dutch cancer researcher Hans Clevers responds to criticism on the newly opened virtual cancer research institute "Oncode". Part of the criticism he received was the gender disbalance in this institute to which he respondes [my translation]:

"The gender balance is indeed a problem. But that problem is caused by women. We see many young women with potential, but when push comes to shove they quit. That's not our (the men's) fault. Dutch women just don't want to work hard."

Later in the article, he nuances this statement a bit by adding that it is not only women who are to blame, but (Dutch) society: that societal pressure to spend time with children on weekdays falls much more on women than on men. And by creating opportunities to work part-time, society has created a pretty narrow mold for women to fit: daycare centers often don't offer 5 days a week of care or advise against taking 5 days and HR people often ask pregnant women how many days they are planning to come back to work to (thereby implying less than 5 days), which is not asked to men. According to Hans Clevers, this causes the leaky pipeline: the fact that men and women perform equally through graduate school and post-doc and then women drop off in dramatic numbers.

Now let's unpack what he is saying here:

  1. Part-time culture. It is true that The Netherlands are the country where most people work part-time and there is a huge gender disparity there (see figure). A likely explanation is that Dutch women were relatively late compared to other countries to join the workforce, and many people of my generation and older have grown up with their mom at home taking care of housework and the kids, which is different than in the US for example where women joined the workforce much earlier. It is important to note that the gender disparity in part-time work is not only due to child care obligations, because also women in their 20s without children work part-time in large numbers. There is no clear data showing why this is: is it the choice for different sectors of employment where part-time work is the norm and it is more difficult to get a permanent contract, are women more inclined to live to work rather than work to live or is it a matter of everyday sexism that favors men for full-time high profile positions? We need to understand this better before we can start pointing fingers. I do agree that the narrow mold for women to fit in terms of how to combine children and a career is problematic, and I hope that when men such as Hans Clevers see this, they do the work to help this, for example by providing high quality childcare at work. The ratio of children to daycare teachers is much higher here than it was for our (expensive!) daycare in the US, which for us was a reason to each work 4 days to only need 3 days of daycare.

    From: https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2015/05/economist-explains-12

  2. Women don't want to work hard? Let's go back to this first statement from Hans Clevers, even though he later goes back to add more nuance. I would love to see actual data showing that this is true, because I am aware of data showing that women actually have to work harder in order to get equal results, and the other way around: that with equal levels of productivity, women are less likely to get promoted/get grants/get papers in high IF journals. And that is on top of the fact that most of these women will be doing this hard work in a climate that is unsafe and unwelcoming. So we should ask ourselves (and this is somewhat of a rhetoric questions): are women not willing to work hard, or do women - after working equally hard with less recognition while taking on more of the childcare responsibilities - at some point think "f*ck this sh*t" and leave academia?
  3. What it means when someone like Hans Clevers says this. This is the part that really makes me sad: that someone in such a position of power as Hans Clevers makes statements like these that seem unsupported by the data that is out there on gender disparity and general inequality in academia. How many young students who are women, people of color and in particular women of color who have few or even no role models to look up to will read something like this and think "f*ck this sh*t" even sooner?  Also, making such a statement suggests a lack of awareness of Hans Clevers' own bias against women and minorities. If he has the choice between hiring a man or a woman for a position, I'm pretty sure his bias against women ("women don't want to work hard") will likely drive him to choose the man, unless the woman is extraordinarily qualified. And for someone who is likely in numerous committees deciding the future of young scientists, this is highly problematic and demoralizing.

 

26 responses so far

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.

4 responses so far

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.

2 responses so far

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.

2 responses so far

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.

3 responses so far

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 

2 responses so far

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.

2 responses so far

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!

12 responses so far

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.

7 responses so far

Older posts »