Tag Archives: careers

The Stubborn Ones

Yesterday I attended a WIMS (Women in Medicine and Science) talk regarding being assertive. Today I ran across this article, a look at why there are still so few women in science.

In particular, the following excerpt resonated with me:

Four young women — one black, two white, one Asian by way of Australia — explained to me how they had made it so far when so many other women had given up.
“Oh, that’s easy,” one of them said. “We’re the women who don’t give a crap.”
Don’t give a crap about — ?
“What people expect us to do.”
“Or not do.”
“Or about men not taking you seriously because you dress like a girl. I figure if you’re not going to take my science seriously because of how I look, that’s your problem.”
 

I’m one of those, the stubborn ones. When kids teased me, instead of conforming, I dug in my heels. When I heard that boys were better at math, and my brother regularly demonstrated his skills, I simply worked harder When told that maybe I should just go into teaching, as real science was a man’s field I just laughed.

I gravitated toward the teachers willing to challenge me. Some, especially at the graduate level, push harder and demand more than they do of others. There have been days when I gave in to tears. It wasn’t fair. I had performed adequately– not stellar, mind, but adequately, on par with others. I’d even pointed out flaws in the other students’ work and been able to see things they hadn’t, and yet I got dressed down.

After emotions cooled, I comprehended why my professor pushed me harder. He stated as much. “You’re smart and you can do better. People won’t go easy on you. You’re on a hard path, but I think you can do it.”

At least he expressed his faith in me, but it didn’t make me like getting dressed down any more. Basically, his message was that I was a woman with personal odds stacked against her, in a field dominated by men, and to compete I had to not only do well, I had to blast away the competition.

At one point, when I was extremely frustrated and being told I might be forced to take the Masters because, basically, I had kids and my boss wasn’t sure I could meet the demands of a Ph.D. I had to argue my case to the department chair.

That professor who demanded so much of me told me, “You have what it takes, even more so than other students I’ve seen in this department.” He said a few choice words about anyone who thought otherwise, which is why I took his criticisms so hard later on.

While I’ve had a couple of female biology professors in undergrad I saw as mentors, the vast majority of my interactions have been with males. There isn’t a single female faculty member in my department.

Most of the time, those interactions have been positive, and they’ve been supportive.

The article mentioned the author’s lack of confidence as key to why she didn’t pursue science. I think that right there is the linchpin. I knew what I wanted from an early age, and nothing and no one would stop me. Professors saw that single-minded dedication. When asked what I wanted, I didn’t hem and haw. Rather, I laid out my goals. That assertive, goal oriented mentality is what garners support.

I’m an outlier. I recognize this. We, as a society, need to change that curve. Even as an outlier, there are sacrifices I’m not willing to make. There are career paths I won’t choose, because unlike some who may define their success solely by their career, my definition is much broader. I look at the stacked deck and know when to leave the table. I won’t pursue a tenure position- at least not as a young scientist. I simply won’t play a game that I have little hope of winning, not with three kids that need me around more than a university needs a new professor.

That’s the kicker. While some men opt out at the expense of their career, women do so by the droves. At the end, everyone loses.

There’s no easy answer, but it starts with encouraging kids no matter their gender. It’s up to us to change the structure of academia and industry so that success does not mean sacrificing our families on the altar of the corporate ladder. It means understanding and acknowledging we all have biases, and to find ways to minimize their influence.

Above all, it’s up to us to teach our kids to be the  outliers. I’m working on it, but they are so darn stubborn…

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I’m with Pink on this

From the age of about four or five I wanted to do something amazing with my life. Sure, I wanted to be a mother too, but that was a single small portion of my grand life plan. As I got older and learned about the women’s movement and read hosts of biographies about women who achieved in spite of the establishment, I felt a keen thrill that I could do anything.

Growing up, most of the girls I knew shared this “dream big” attitude. In recent years I’ve heard a disturbing amount of young girls and women say things like they want to grow up, find a man, and have him take care of her.

Really?

Seriously?

I was talking with a young woman today who said, “I didn’t even realize I was smart until half way through high school.”

I think I just stared. How can someone not know whether or not they can learn, retain, and use higher reasoning skills with ease?

Society.

If people treat you like a pretty, pretty princess whose most complicated thoughts revolve around coordinating your wardrobe, you will believe that’s all of which you are capable.

Let me be clear that an intelligent woman can be beautiful and coordinate her wardrobe. So, maybe it took me a few more years to learn those skills, but I was busy learning important stuff, like calculus and chemistry, and how to not “hit like a girl”.

Pink asks, “What happened to the dream of a girl president?”

That was on my nine-year old to-do-when-I-grow-up list. I’ve got the scientist and writer part down. Never say never. If I decided unraveling the mysteries of cell signalling and creating literary worlds is as much as I wish to tackle, I have two daughters, whom I will make damn sure, know they can aim as high as they want.

Conversational Bomb

I have the absolute, perfect conversational bomb. Granted, this only works with people I’ve just met, but so far my empirical results suggest it is foolproof.

What’s the bomb?

“I have three kids and I’m a graduate student studying medicinal chemistry.”

I think it’s the and that does it. The comical dumbfounded expressions, the dropped jaws and quizzical looks are endlessly entertaining. If I want to draw out the awkward stares, I strategically steer them to other hidden mines, like the miniature zoo or the writing career I’m also pursuing.

What?

I’m not crazy. I’m sure my therapist would tell me if I was.

Why do I find it humorous? I suppose it is the implied idea being a mother is so daunting that it’s unthinkable to pursue career paths which suit my skills, but happen to be of the more difficult variety. I’m a firm believer in doing what fulfills both your mind and spirit.

Is being a parent challenging? You betcha.

Is it an obstacle to achieving my goals? No. If I gave up and settled for a job that barely pays the bills because it was easier, what kind of message would that be for my kids?

Over and over again I hear fellow grad students say something akin to, “Wow. I can barely take care of myself.”

You know what goes through my head? If I were an employer and I heard an employee or a potential employee say something like that it would severely undermine my faith in their abilities.

I’m not organized or particularly punctual and while I’ve gotten better at remembering where i put my keys, I seem to have developed the habit of forgetting plenty of other things….like the day of the week, but they have aps for that.

How is it that our educational system has gone to great lengths not to crush children’s self-esteem, to the point of abolishing actual grades, and yet the young adults I meet have so little self-confidence?

My answer?

In order to succeed, you can’t be afraid to fail. You have to tackle difficult challenges, and maybe fall a few times before getting that gold star. If everyone gets gold stars, why bother?

I had the privilege of  growing up when a teacher could still tell a student that “excuses are for losers” and give a big fat red F when they didn’t pass a test or a class.

I owe my mother a very large debt of gratitude for a lesson she pounded into my head. More times than I can count she told me, “Do the best you can do. If you can bring home straight A’s, then do it. If something gives you trouble and the best you can do is a C, then that’s okay, but always do your best.”

I admit to not doing my best now and then, but because of the attitude she instilled in me, I maintained a “what you put in is what you get out” mentality. Whining accomplishes nothing.  Not only that, but she reminded me that there will always be people out there telling you that you can’t do XYZ. That doesn’t give us an excuse to not try. Sure, it’s important to know our limitations, but how do you know them if you don’t try?

No, I don’t pressure my kids to succeed, but rather try to impress upon them that you get out what you put in and you have to live with the consequences. Mr. Smarty-pants goofed off in elementary school and had to face the cold reality that he could not get in to the better schools. This year he buckled down. He still requires a prod now and again, but he had to stumble and fall before learning his lesson.

Miss Drama was a bit of a different case. She needed help. Once I gave her the tools (ADHD meds and a tutor) she put in the effort. I’m very proud of the progress she’s made.

Miss Diva rejoiced at the system fluke which prevented fourth grade from switching to the idiotic non-letter grade system.  Of her own volition she is doing her best to get honor roll every quarter. So far she is doing very well.

Perhaps there’d be more mothers and fathers out there pursing their dreams and creating a much better world if we taught children to truly believe in themselves, rather than handing out meaningless accolades.

Better Odds: UPDATE

A fellow writer mentioned a contest a couple of weeks back, the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  After getting two rejections (technically three, as one rejection was for two pieces) less than a week apart, I figured, hey, it can’t hurt. After all, Amazon sells just about every thing and the lucky people who make the final cut will get a bigger lump sum of money than most publishers dole out now days. For a mostly unpublished author, that could be the stepping stone to a real writing career.

So, by February 13th, I’ll know whether or not I make the first cut. For those of you interested in the contest, better hurry. Only three more days remain before the deadline, assuming they don’t hit the 10,000 entry cut-off before then.

1 in 10,000.

While not exactly amazing odds, it’s better than playing the lottery. Just entering the contest scores each entrant a discount code for their Kindle-ready conversion service. Seeing as how I had plans to self e-pub the novel I submitted, I figure it’s a win-win situation.

In the interim, stories await.

*UPDATE: Didn’t make the cut. 😦

Which Hat Today?

I originally planned to rant on the insane cost of school supplies. However, instead of getting on this:

I decided to share a bit of this as it relates to my day job:

An ancient Greek bit of wisdom still passed on today: “Know thyself.”  Well, I’ve know for a very long time that any job in which I did the same thing every day, day in and day out would drive me bonkers. I don’t mind some routine and repetition, but mixing things up keeps life and work interesting.

Life in a research lab demands no shortage of “hats” one must don. On any given day I might have to be any or all of these:

  1. Dishwasher- A lot of people seem to think those dishes will magically wash themselves.
  2. Shelf stocker- If the boss wants things reorganized, guess who gets to do it.
  3. IT Helpdesk- I’ve done everything from virus scans and software updates, to setting up new PCs and  PC troubleshooting. I know just enough to be dangerous.
  4. Mechanical Engineer- The first time something in the lab broke and my boss turned to me and said, “So, fix it.” I think I about panicked. I’ve replaced thermocouples and assembled new equipment, jury rigged old equipment (DUCT TAPE!), but the best lesson to learn is find out who to call to get it working again.
  5. Janitor- For some odd reason the actual janitors don’t like cleaning in labs full of chemicals.
  6. Secretary- Least fun job= yearly inventory
  7. Teacher- Whether undergrad student or experienced PhD, the new person always needs someone to show them the ropes. I get tossed into that role on a regular basis.
  8. Delivery Person- Usually actual delivery person does this, but sometimes things go to the wrong place and I get elected to cart them to where they belong.
  9. Writer- Unlike stories, nothing tops the tedious scale like writing scientific papers.
  10. Chemist- Well, it had to appear eventually, seeing as how I AM a medicinal chemist.
  11. Biologist- Not all medicinal chemists work in the biology side, but I do. I can grow cells and work with DNA, RNA, and protein just as well as I mix chemicals together. There are days I think I make a better biologist.
  12. Mover- I’ve changed lab space twice and there’s a possible move in the future. When space needed to be made for a new employee, who did the heavy lifting? Yep. Me.
  13. Purchasing Agent- I just fill out P.O.s now, but there was a time when I had to not only purchase stuff for the whole lab, but also keep track of budgets.
  14. Safety Inspector- No, thionyl chloride should NOT be evaporated outside of the hood. Acid/Base waste should NOT go down the sink. Chlorinated and Non-chlorinated solvent waste should be separated if possible. Please, please, please, do not leave needles lying around.
  15. Book keeper- See #13

Now, add in the hats I wear as a mom. I  do believe that the odds of me suffering from boredom are below the detectable limits.