Archive for the 'role models' category

I made a mistake at work

Last Thursday I found out I had made a mistake at work. It wasn't a life-or-death mistake, but it was a mistake that was big enough it affected a project I work on, including people outside the company. It wasn't entirely my fault, but it surely felt like it. I talked about it with people in my team, including my manager and left in tears before the end of the day. I felt so bad on Thursday that I wondered if I would dare to step into the office on Monday again.

I was awake half the night wondering how upset people would be with me and asked my manager if I could call him on Friday. I told him how bad I felt, especially for the people that were affected too* and that I wanted to learn from this mistake and look at how we could do better from now on. I cried when I was on the phone with him. I guess part of why this got to me so much is the amount of work that I'm doing, that JUST fits in the time I have with very little room for error.

On Monday, I dragged myself to the office, half dreading what people would say, half rested and ready to try and make it right - or at least be pro-active in repairing the damage. And then I was surprised how supportive everyone was. A friend at work said she had experienced something similar and advised me to look to the future. My manager saying that to him it didn't particularly matter whose fault it was but that we need to learn from how this happened to prevent it from happening again. And the people that I work with were helpful in fixing what can still be fixed and doing it better from now on.

I still need to talk about the mistake to a higher boss who is not often around and I get a bit nervous thinking about this, but I guess what I've learned this week is that making a mistake (even one that feels like the end of the world) is something that happens to many people and is something you can learn from.

 

*I've made mistakes before when I was in academia and I discovered that for me at least, a mistake feels much less horrible when it affects mostly yourself then when it affects those around you, and especially when you represent a company and make the company look bad.

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A manel that talks about women in science

Dec 07 2016 Published by under Academia, mentoring, role models, women in science

This morning I tweeted this when I saw that there was a Nobel prize press briefing with a table full of men in front of paintings of men (or wait, maybe that one person painted in a light green jacket is a woman?).

Briefly after that, the ERC tweeted this very ironic tweet:

Yes, role models are key, but where are they??

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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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How to create a culture of openness in a team?

I'm currently involved in 2 different projects, and without sharing any more detail about what they entail, I've noticed that the teams differ a lot in terms of openness of the team members. With that, I mean to what extend people dare to voice their concern and be critical towards each other and towards the project. To me, this is not very different from the situation in academic labs, where sometimes there is more room to be critical and share new ideas than in other cases. For example, how do you deal with results that don't fit the story that the lab is building?

But how do you create such a culture of openness? If I compare these two teams that I work in, I see this as the main difference: In the open team, a lot of the tasks are shared, even if it may seem unnecessary to share this much. Meetings are larger, because more people are included. Sometimes people join who don't seem experts on the topic, but this also means that they can think out-of-the-box compared to people who have been working on something for a while. In the not-so-open team, people tend to get their own little assignment from the team leader, that they then need to report back on once finished. Sometimes the different team members aren't aware of what the others are working on, or where they are in the process. In the open team, the way of working leads to the feeling that we are all working on something together, whereas in the not-so-open team it sometimes even leads to an us vs. them kind of feeling.

When I read the piece on Theranos in Vanity Fair recently, I realized that this was almost an exaggerated description of the not-so-open team that I work in:

Holmes [Theranos' CEO] had learned a lot from [Steve] Jobs. Like Apple, Theranos was secretive, even internally. Just as Jobs had famously insisted at 1 Infinite Loop, 10 minutes away, that departments were generally siloed, Holmes largely forbade her employees from communicating with one another about what they were working on—a culture that resulted in a rare form of executive omniscience. At Theranos, Holmes was founder, C.E.O., and chairwoman. There wasn’t a decision—from the number of American flags framed in the company’s hallway (they are ubiquitous) to the compensation of each new hire—that didn’t cross her desk.

And the end of the Theranos story warns what can happen when you create a culture like this. Just to add: the team that I work in is by far not as siloed as the situation at Theranos, but reading this and comparing the two teams that I work in makes me realize the value of being open and being able to share your opinion and ideas.

And then to end: what can you do as a team member? Personally, I try to continue to share my opinion in the not-so-open team, even if that is often not met with enthusiasm from the team leader. I try to catch up with other team members and share what we are working on - sometimes outside the scheduled team meetings. But working in these different teams also makes me realize how difficult it is to change the culture within a team - as a team member at least.

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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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The difference between a supportive and unsupportive manager/PI

I'm beginning to realize more and more that whether your manager or PI is helpful and goes the extra mile for you can make a HUGE difference for your everyday happiness and the advancement of your career. The other day I heard the following story of an industry scientist (paraphrased by me and changed some details to ensure anonymity):

"I recently received the feedback that I need to be more visible and impactful within the company in order to be able to keep my job and be eligible for any type of promotion. I want to be impactful, but I feel that I rarely get the opportunity: when I make slides for a presentation, my manager is the person who presents them. And when I ask them about this, they replied that they also need to work on being impactful to those higher up. On the other hand, my manager says that they want to help me, but I don't see how they do this. What can I do?"

I think that this is a clear example of having a manager who does not have much space to give you the things that you need to advance your career. I've been in that situation when I did a short post-doc with a PI who was only a few years more senior than me. While I saw PIs around me give their post-docs the option of co-supervision of PhD students or a co-PI position on grants*, or even 'just' the opportunity to meet collaborators and give talks, this person did not seem to have the ability or willingness to do that, or was still very busy getting those things for themselves. Perhaps it sounds entitled to want these things from a manager or PI, but I've seen around me how these seemingly little things can have a big effect on where you take your career.

It seems like this industry scientist is in the same situation: the manager and the scientist are not very far apart in seniority and the fact that the manager is busy getting the same things as the industry scientist within the same company makes it difficult for them to help the scientist advance.

So what can this industry scientist do? In the situation where they asked for advice, the following suggestions were given: find a mentor/coach other than your manager to help you with certain aspects, be more vocal about what you've accomplished and ask your manager to present your own work instead of having them present it for you.

 

*I can hear my US-readers think: you're supposed to show independence from your PI, which is true, but here it seems inevitable to have a period as senior post-doc when you're trying to become independent but here there is often no funding nor TT positions to be able to do that.

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Tiny sad stories about our society

Jun 23 2016 Published by under parenting, role models

Story 1. A few weeks ago we (husband, BlueEyes, Little Brother and me) went to visit a friend of mine. My friend had pinkish red nail polish on her toe nails and both BlueEyes and Little Brother thought that looked really interesting. My friend asked if they wanted that too, which they did. She painted their toe nails and both of them were incredibly proud to have such pretty looking toe nails. The next day, Little Brother went to daycare, where he proudly showed his toe nails and continued to do so for the next couple of days. BlueEyes went to school and when he left he was very excited to show everyone his nail polish. When he came home at the end of the day, the first thing he asked me was to take it off, because "nail polish is for girls only".

Story 2. In the morning, BlueEyes asks to watch some tv and I turn the tv on for him. We search for a channel and at some point we find the power rangers, which he says he wants to watch.

Me: "I liked watching that too when I was little"

BlueEyes:"But you were a girl when you were little, right?"

Me:"Yes, why?"

BlueEyes:"Because power rangers is only for boys"

I am surprised and ask him why, but then when the show ends I realize why: because the channel specifically says so...

 

How do I tell my children that anyone can become whatever they want and like and wear whatever they want, when society tells them that certain things are for girls and other things are for girls? And when society seems to yell much louder than I ever can?

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"You need to persevere in the right direction"

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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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