Archive for the 'meeting' category

Repost: To a conference in babyattachmode

Six years ago I went to SfN in DC. It was close enough to where we lived that I could drive, which meant that on the weekend I brought my then 4 month old baby, and on the weekdays I brought my pump. I wrote about what that was like and will repost it below. However, at the time it didn't occur to me to address what a hassle it was to walk back and forth to the designated childcare area. I was a post-doc, I just had a baby and all I did was try to cope with that in whatever circumstances were given. This year, with SfN being in the same conference venue in DC, SfN blogger Rebecca Calisi Rodriguez is addressing the fact that the childcare and lactation "room" is less than ideal.

 

She started a google doc here, where parents and caregivers can leave their suggestions for improvement. I think it is awesome that people speak up about this, because for me, as a young parent and a post-doc, I didn't feel it was my place to speak up and I can imagine more sleep-deprived struggling parents feel that way. However, I do think that for the sake of inclusivity, breastfeeding success and overall happiness of new parents it is SO IMPORTANT to address this. Here is my experience from 6 years ago:

Last year’s society for Neuroscience meeting was right when I went back to work after my maternity leave. And since I had patched a whole bunch of cells while very pregnant, I even had something to present there. The meeting was right around the corner from where I live, which is why I decided that even though BlueEyes was only 4 months old, the whole family was going to the meeting (and in this case, with meeting I mean the actual science-part, and not so much the social and drinking part). So on Saturday and Sunday I put BlueEyes in a baby wrap (Girasol Chococabana for those of you interested), and walked around the conference.

SfN turned out to be very baby-friendly, since they even had a specific room for infant care, where you could nurse and change your baby. The only disadvantage was that this was kind of far away from the poster hall, so after I had checked out a poster or two I had to walk back there to nurse a hungry baby or change a diaper. Oh well, most people walk around the poster hall to meet people they know instead of actually look at the posters anyway, right? A major unexpected disadvantage was that when you show up at someone’s poster with a baby attached to you, they automatically assume that you’ve come to show your cute baby instead of ask a serious science question. So not much science talk for me that weekend…

On Monday BlueEyes went to his usual daycare, and I traded the baby-in-wrap for my breast pump. This was potentially even bulkier and certainly more annoying to drag around all day. The same sort of thing as before happened where I would check out a bunch of posters (at least now I got to ask science-questions and have people answer them), and then have to walk back to the infant care room to pump milk. And after I presented my own poster I realized that whoever thought of four hour poster sessions had probably never lactated him- or herself….
A last thing to note is that the night after we took BlueEyes to SfN, he had his longest night sleep so far (a 6 hour stretch of sleep!). And mind you, this was in November… So I guess nothing puts our baby to sleep like a couple 1000 neuroscience posters!

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I am not going to SfN this year

Oct 30 2017 Published by under Academia, Decisions, meeting, networking, science

Decisions are never straightforward and often there are reasons behind a decision that may seem very irrational, yet are important reasons anyway. For example, I held off breaking up with a boyfriend for longer than I probably should have because I really really loved my in-law family, and realized that breaking up with him also meant never getting to see them again.

Ever since I left academia, there have been subsequent decisions that made me move even further away from neuroscience. And when I received this tweet it made me realize that going to SfN is a bit like my adorable ex-in-law family: it is the part that makes me not want to let go of neuroscience. I’m not going to SfN this year, and if I continue on the path that I have started on, I may not go to SfN for the foreseeable future.

It makes me realize that it is impossible to have everything and that moving towards one thing, means saying goodbye to another. What I love most about going to SfN is the profound feeling that I’m part of a large group of people all working to better understand the brain and find ways to cure psychiatric and neurologic diseases, yet at the same time meeting friends from all over the world. It’s like a warm bath of people and science. And then there’s sfnbanter! But I will be doing other things.

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I need to reduce my amount of crying at work

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.

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The M:F ratio of asking questions at talks

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.

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Some incoherent thoughts on fitting in

May 11 2016 Published by under Academia, blogging, meeting, new job, role models, science

Last week I went to a conference with nearly 100% medical doctors. It was interesting, but also weird to go somewhere where it was so obvious that I did not fit in. I was there as a scientist, to learn how doctors look at things and what is important to them in treating patients*. It really made me think about how you fit in somewhere. It made me think about Doctor_PMS's post about how to fit into science Twitter when you're no longer a scientist and it made me think of nicoleandmaggie's recent post on who you are online compared to IRL. And I've started this blog post a couple times trying to put my own thoughts on paper but they are just too incoherent to press the publish button. So I'll just leave you with this (very broad) question: Do you feel like you fit in where you are (online or offline)?

 

*this was a very good learning experience and I can highly recommend it to academic scientists too. Some meetings already provide this mix of clinical and preclinical people of course.

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What you mean when you say 'diverse'

The other day I was invited to attend a meeting with a couple of important (internal and external) people at my company. And even though overall the company that I work for has a very balanced gender ratio, at this meeting I saw mostly white men.

Interestingly, today I read what the boss of the division wrote about this meeting. They said something like: 'we had a very diverse group of people at this meeting'. I assume they were talking about different scientific and commercial backgrounds that were covered by this group of people. Or perhaps a group of mainly men and one woman is considered 'diverse'?

Also, it makes me wonder how we talk about quota of women at the highest level of companies, but never about all those levels in between*. And if at those levels we are not talking about gender diversity, how do we ever fill the pool of women who will be able to fill top positions?

*Or am I wrong? I would love to hear about places where gender equality is addressed at different levels, so not just overall and at top positions.

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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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On working in an open office

Jan 04 2016 Published by under industry, life in the office, meeting, networking

The building that I work in is designed as an open office with flexible workstations. There are desks where you can hook up your laptop and at the end of the day you need to completely clear your desk. There are lockers and cupboard spaces to keep things. You can adjust the desks and chairs in height and they even raise high enough to become a standing desk. From a recent article in the Washington Post, it seems that not everyone is a fan of open offices, but here it works really well.

From The Washington Post article:

“As the new space intended, I’ve formed interesting, unexpected bonds with my cohorts. But my personal performance at work has hit an all-time low. Each day, my associates and I are seated at a table staring at each other, having an ongoing 12-person conversation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s like being in middle school with a bunch of adults.”

I think that what makes it work here, is that it’s pretty clear when and where it is okay to talk. There are a couple desks in little fishbowls where you can work quietly. There are bigger fishbowls where you can have meetings. People step outside into the hallway or into a fishbowl to make a phone call. And so the large open office space is usually pretty quiet. And then when it’s not, I actually kind of like to hear people talk to each other about work. It has happened more than once that people overhear a conversation and then actually have something to contribute even though nobody would have thought to ask them in the first place.

The only disadvantage: there is glass everywhere. People can look on your screen at all times. And worst of all, there are virtually no places in the building where you can cry at work without being seen, except the bathroom. But after having cried, you still need to cross an entire building full of fishbowls on your way out.
Do you work in an open office? And do you like it?

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On going to a conference alone

On twitter, @Dr24hours asked the following question:

When I think about going to a conference by myself, I think mostly about my fear not being able to find people to hang out with. I think about how a conference can feel a bit like starting in a new school or going to college first: I'm afraid of being the only person who has nobody to eat lunch with. It really depends on the conference you go to whether this becomes reality. And actually, most of the times other people are by themselves too and I end up meeting really nice and interesting people. However, it is much easier at conferences that are set up to stimulate interaction, for example by automatically sharing meals together. At other conferences it can be much more difficult, for example if all other people seem to already know each other and hang out in seemingly difficult to break into groups.

When going to a conference with your PI (but without other peers), it really depends how willing your PI is to introduce you to other people, either their peers or your peers. If you PI is doing that, it is really helpful to go with them, but if they run off to hang with their friends, it might be even more awkward than if you just go by yourself.

Even though I've become much more confident going to meetings by myself, now that I am in a new job going to different conferences than the ones where I started to know many other people, the feeling is still a bit the same. And actually, one of the conferences I went to last year, with many non-scientists attending, was almost worse in terms of not being able to find people to hang out with than when I was an undergrad. Other people attending this conference seemed to all come in groups that were seemingly not that interested in networking, so I ended up talking mostly to the other people from my company.

To come back to @Dr24hours' question: he also seemed concerned that his student would be more vulnerable going to a conference alone because she is a woman. I had not even considered this option, perhaps because I have been lucky enough not to experience harassment at a conference. Or should I say: not to experience harassment other than I experience in daily life? Which is why the same rules apply that my mom taught me, like: don't go somewhere if nobody knows where you are, don't hang out with people that don't feel right, don't make yourself extra vulnerable by drinking too much for example and leave when you feel uncomfortable.

What are your biggest concerns when going to a conference alone?

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A day in my life

Recently, The New PI asked what people outside academia do in a random work day. That random day is today, Monday November 9th.

As you know, I left academia a bit over a year ago and I now work as an R&D scientist in a company. To keep it kind of vague because of trying to stay somewhat pseudonymous here, I'll only disclose that my company makes stuff for patients and that we do preclinical and clinical studies to see if that stuff does something for the patients.

6:00 am: husband wakes me up after a night in which Little Brother was up a couple times and husband took him to the living room around 5ish but let me sleep for a bit longer. I make breakfast while husband showers and then all four of us have breakfast together. Then I shower while husband makes lunch for himself, BlueEyes and me (Little Brother gets lunch at daycare) and around 7:15 am Little Brother and I leave the house to cycle to daycare and work (husband brings BlueEyes to school which only starts at 8:30).

8:00 am: I arrive at work after dropping Little Brother off at daycare. I search for a spot in our open office, chat with colleagues and read my emails. I had already opened my email Sunday evening to see how much I could expect but now take the time to properly read them and respond. Then coffee with colleagues.

9:00 am: We are working on a big grant (yup, EU likes to fund public-private partnerships, so lots of grant writing still even outside academia) and I'm trying to decide what I can do before we have a meeting about this grant that I am chairing. I also need to prep for this meeting.

9:15 am: Unexpected fire drill. We all leave the building and go to the meeting spot outside. I chat with a colleague I had never met about what kind of work she does, which is interesting. Then I chat with our preclinical manager about an experiment I'm planning with a CRO and what I need to do for that. So not entirely wasted this fire drill time.

10:00 am: Meeting about the grant. Writing the grant precipitated some decisions about what direction to go, which still needs to be aligned with the marketing and regulatory people. This kind of stuff really distracts from the actual writing, which also needs to happen. Also, we have not yet heard from everyone in the consortium yet, even though we plan to have a first draft ready by the end of the week. Yikes, stressful.

11:00 am: Coffee with my manager who couldn't attend the meeting about the grant to update them. Again more about the larger decisions and why we had not made those earlier than about the grant.

11:30 am: Back at my desk staring at the grant. Typed a little section, tried to call one of the consortium members but left a message on their voicemail.

12:00: lunch with colleagues, chatting about a conference someone had just been and what they had seen there. Joking about how close the field is to a cure (not..).

12:30: back at my desk, more emails (about the experiment with the CRO) and prepping for a group of MSc students that are coming to visit the company later in the day.

1:00 pm: some more grant writing. Okay and some procrastination on twitter. And some panic about whether or not the experiment with the CRO is going to happen. The money needs to come from this year's budget so if I can't make it happen before the end of the year it won't happen at all.

2:00 pm: give a talk to the students together with another colleague about what our company does, how we got these jobs and what kind of work we do now. It's a really nice and interactive group of students who ask a ton of question. Then we give them a tour around our (new and pretty amazing looking) building.

4:00 pm: the students have just left and I briefly chat with a colleague. Then I look at the grant and try to figure out what I can still do while tired from the students visiting. I write a short boring section that still needed to be done.

4:45 pm: I check the weather forecast (rain for the next hour) and leave to pick Little Brother up from daycare. I am lucky today that husband worked from home and picked up BlueEyes, because normally I cycle first to the daycare (that is close to work) and then to the after school care (that is close to home) and then home. Husband has also already cooked so we eat together at 6:00 pm.

6:45 pm: we start the whole bath, toothbrush, read a story routine that lasts until 7:30 pm (which is a good day :-)..).

7:30 pm: answer a couple emails, write this blog post and then it's time to watch Walking Dead with husband (only in season 2, so no spoilers please!).

 

 

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