A couple weeks ago I tweeted this. I had a meeting that - for reasons I won't go into here - was going to be a rough meeting for me and when I came out I was pretty proud that I hadn't cried.
To answer Dr. ScientistMother's question: I'm not sure if having meditated for 10 minutes a day the past year helped me in not crying in this meeting. Maybe. But the main reason - that is admittedly a bit childish perhaps - was that I promised myself a present if I didn't cry. This way, every time something happened in the meeting that I might cry about, I could focus on my present and divert my attention from what was happening in the meeting. So I politely smiled, talked and nodded while thinking about something else. After this 1,5 hours of not crying, I gave myself the book This is how we rise from Claudia Chen. It is an awesome and empowering book, but more about that some other time.
But I want to come back to crying in meetings. Because cried I have in meetings, as documented on this blog here and here. That last post even drove a commenter to diagnose me with a depression and advise me to seek help. And also at work I've had people ask me if I needed a break or not. But at the same time people praise me for my energy and dedication. And to be honest, this package of energy and passion and dedication for me automatically comes with crying every now and then. Crying because I care, or because I am frustrated to make something happen or because I really appreciate the people I work with. Most of the time, it is not a sign that something is wrong with me, it is actually a sign that I care. Because at the end of the day, I'd rather not zone out and think about something else in a meeting just to make sure I don't cry.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?