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.
Four years ago today, I published my first blog post. Since then quite a bit has changed: I had another baby, I moved, I quit academia and I'm still busy figuring out what I want in my current job.
To celebrate my blog-birthday, I'd like to know a bit more about you, my dear reader! Please comment (or de-lurk) and tell me about:
- who you are
- how you found my blog and how long you've been reading here
- what you like and don't like about my blog
I was the smartest kid in my primary school class, I think. I know I was the smartest girl, which was not a thing to be proud of. I was a smart kid in the time where there were no additional things to do aside from the normal curriculum. There were no science projects or other extra things. There was the education everyone got and then there was a lot of waiting until everybody else was done. I quickly learned that being smart or nerdy or funny was never rewarded. It was laughed at (not in a good way) and ridiculed both by my classmates and by some of the teachers. Girls (kids?) were supposed to be average. So I learned to wait. I remember not being allowed to sit next to a plant because out of pure boredom I killed the plant by picking at its leaves whenever I was waiting for the rest of the class to finish an assignment. Imagine the things I could have learned in that time. Luckily my parents are both scientists and there was enough to learn and explore outside school. I played an instrument and I fondly remember a car ride with my mom when I was 8 or 9 and I asked her all about HIV and AIDS and how that worked. My mom patiently answered all my questions with her knowledge from reading Scientific American.
I'm not sure if learning to act average has made me sloppy and the not-at-all-perfectionist person that I am. Maybe that was always already there. Learning to act average however comes with one advantage, which is that I always knew I could do much better if I actually did something. Even though I had to work harder once I got to secondary school and later university, there was always still that feeling that there was a lot of reserve, and that I could always go that extra mile if needed.
Yesterday I talked to my manager about the fact that I don't really know where I want to take my career and where I imagine myself in 5-10 years. I ended with:"Or am I overthinking this?" And they laughed and admitted that to them, the idea that this amount of planning a career was not what they had ever done. They responded saying:"Personally, I try to have a job with as many aspects in it that I really like to do on a day-to-day basis". They continued:"So my advice would be that if you talk to people about what their job entails, don't talk about the tasks that they do, but about the things they like in their job. That might help you find what kind of job would make you happiest."
This advice sounds so simple and also so in contrast to what I've learned before, which is that you should work hard and in the end you are rewarded with something. That you need to climb a steep ladder to get to where you want to be. Maybe the end results is not the most rewarding thing in a job, but the fact that if you find a job that you like, going home everyday with a smile on your face is the best reward.
If you think about it, this is what we learn at school already: study hard and get rewarded with a high grade. You rarely get to wonder if you like what you are studying. Is this why so many of us seem to struggle with finding what we like doing later in life? Because we have learned to ignore whether we like what we are doing?
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?
I just noticed it's been a month since I last posted here, which is mostly because it's busy here. Like I wrote before, I have this whole list of things that need to be finished before the end of the year because those are my targets. And really they need to be finished now because higher-up people need to put those things on longer lists to show the even higher-up people what we have been doing all year.
In the meantime on the internet, IBM did a poor attempt at drawing girls/women (?) into science and technology with the #HackAHairDryer hashtag. I agree fully with what @wandsci said on twitter about this:
I do this. Every time BlueEyes says:"this is for boys and that is for girls" I correct him and tell him anyone can be this or that. So for now, I have this awesome NASA video that we watched ad nauseam when BlueEyes had a space shuttle period, that shows men and women astronauts in a space station.
In a continent where 67% of Europeans don't believe that women possess the skills to be in high-level scientific positions, it is nice that the Dutch scientific organization (NWO) organizes a talent day for female scientists. What is sad about it, is that they call it "Pump your career"*. What is wrong with that, you might ask. Well, by focusing on uncomfortable footwear for women, it focuses on appearance. And by focusing on appearance, you essentially disempower women and take away the focus from their ability to do awesome science.
Interestingly, NWO isn't the only one in this country who thinks women are attracted to things if you show them pictures of shoes. In yesterday's newspaper I spotted this ad for a women-only fellowship at the technical university in Delft):
* Ah, a kind of sexist play on words when talking to females with regards to science, where have we heard that before (hint: the UK's recent "Pretty curious" campaign to attract girls to STEM)