January 17, 2014, 11:30 am

Women really don’t ask

i.chzbgrLike many research centers, my center offers travel awards to graduate students and postdocs to help cover their expenses when presenting at conferences. The typical award is $500, which is often enough to cover travel to conferences in the region. Because my center is very well-funded, we don’t really have an official limit to how much someone can request or be awarded. I do have an unofficial limit, but it is rather high. I decided not to advertise what the limit was, because I didn’t want to be suddenly flooded with large requests and have to fund fewer students. Instead, I would simply evaluate the applications on a case-by-case basis. If someone needed more than $500 and asked for it, then they would likely get it.

This has played out in a rather interesting, yet sadly predictable, way. I did not notice the pattern until I received an application last week from a female graduate …

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August 8, 2013, 1:02 pm

Advice for Aspiring Alt-Acs

In a few days, I am meeting with a small group of graduate students and postdocs who are interested in alternative academic careers. I’ll be honest – I have no idea what to tell them. I will tell them about all of the different kinds of jobs that I am aware of, like mine, and science writing, and administration, and biological research stations, and doing research for other kinds of organizations. But there’s no good way to go about searching for jobs like these, unfortunately. It’s hard to give people a path to follow when, by your own admission, you stumbled upon your current career. Serendipity seems to be a theme in many alt-ac narratives, and that is just not inspiring to students who are worried about their futures.

I will also give them my usual spiel about getting well-rounded experience and cultivating skills that most graduate advisers do not value and in fact may advise…

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January 17, 2013, 3:23 pm

Let’s skip the small talk

I don’t understand why some people have such a strong resistance to using email to communicate at work. I frequently hear and read that “email is a distraction” and “it’s so much better to communicate face-to-face.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I can deal with most emails in two minutes or less, and I can do it when I want to. It’s a lot harder to get rid of most people who pop into my office in less than two minutes.

Especially when they want to chat.

I am not a small-talk kind of person. I’m not very good at it, and I don’t enjoy it. I’ll do it when it is socially required, and I always try to be friendly, but in general I try to avoid it. I especially hate it at work. I strive to be efficient and productive from nine to five so that I don’t have to work more than forty hours a week. I prefer just to get down to business in a meeting or when I have a work request for someone…

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November 16, 2012, 1:46 pm

Focusing on the journey, not the destination

I admit that I’ve had a bit of a rough time lately with life. Our Center has an annual cycle that means that fall and winter is an extremely busy time. During the month of October I worked on one of the annual mammoth tasks, looking forward to November when it would be over… only to have to immediately start working on the next mammoth task. It’s depressing. Other parts of life have been less fun lately too – even derby has been getting me down.

In fact, I realized that the only thing I’ve really enjoyed recently is my drum lessons (have I mentioned I am learning to play the drums?). My husband commented that I’ve been getting really good, and I laughed and said it was funny that I’m good at the one thing I’m doing with absolutely no goal in mind. Sure, it would be fun to play with a band in public, and if that happens, great – but I am playing just because I like it and it’s fun.

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October 19, 2012, 3:09 pm

Where’s the use of looking nice?

“Where’s the use of looking nice, when no one sees me but those cross midgets, and no one cares whether I’m pretty or not?” – Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Like many others, I was appalled when I saw Dario Maestripieri’s comments on the attractiveness (or lack thereof) of women at the Society for Neuroscience conference. Janet Stemwedel wrote a really nice post about what is wrong with this behavior and why we need to address it. This casual sexism is far from unusual in academia – in fact, we see it pretty regularly. There’s just no winning for women in academia – if you’re unattractive, then you’re a bad female. But if you’re attractive, you’re a bad academic.

Cat wearing a dress

Image source: http://lolpetclothes.com/2010/cats-wearing-dresses/

Beauty is, arguably, as much about presentation as it is about genes. Most people …

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September 26, 2012, 3:02 pm

It could be worse

Sometimes when things get overwhelming at work and I start humming my dearly departed father’s favorite song (“Take This Job and Shove It,” by Johnny Paycheck), I try to remind myself that things could be worse. I could be in the private sector.

I spent a couple of years in the corporate world between college and graduate school, in the typesetting department of a financial printing company. As nice as it was making $50K/year with awesome benefits right out of college, the main thing I got from that job was the firm knowledge that I DID NOT WANT TO BE THERE. This was 1996-1998 – exactly the time period that the movie Office Space was based on. I almost cried the first time I saw that movie, because it was such a perfect representation of how awful my job was.

Just a few of the many things I hated about that job:

  • Having to work overtime/weekends/holidays whenever needed, or else…

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August 19, 2012, 10:58 am

Belabored writing is better writing?

I have been half-heartedly working on a manuscript for a book chapter. It’s a chapter that I am perfectly qualified to write and I have things to say, and yet for some reason I have been entirely uninspired and have been procrastinating for quite some time. Finally I just started slogging through it, until I had something that looked like enough of a rough draft to send to Co-author. Co-author added some bits and made some edits and sent it back, and I reluctantly sat down with it again. To my surprise, Co-author didn’t really change much of my writing. And I am realizing that it isn’t really that bad. It’s quite serviceable, actually. It is just not easy going with the writing.

Spouse and I were commiserating about this phenomenon, and he added that when he really struggles with writing something, when it comes really slowly and it feels like everything you are writing is crap, his…

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July 3, 2012, 2:12 pm

The less popular emotions

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I am starting to develop a real appreciation for emotions that are more complex than the usual pleasant emotions (joy, excitement, etc.). Today I am basking in: that particular feeling of relief when you’ve gotten yourself all worked up about something that will go wrong or be a huge pain in the ass, but it turns out to go very smoothly and quickly, especially when due to the helpful actions of other people, and you feel a little embarrassed that you made such a big deal of it all, but mostly you are happy that it went ok. I’m not sure what that’s called, but perhaps there is a German word for it.

Another one of my favorites is envy – both sides of it. Yes, like most people I do enjoy being envied, though not because it makes me feel superior or anything like that. Being envied helps me remember to appreciate what I have and not to…

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June 19, 2012, 3:05 pm

Pretty Note-taking

Photo by Flickr user donabelandewen

I think it’s fair to say that I am a bit obsessed with the art of note-taking. I have spent more time (and money) than anyone should browsing notebooks and pens online and in stores. I buy Moleskine notebooks in bulk. And when I saw this book on an exhibitor’s table at a conference recently, I knew I had to buy it. Field Notes on Science and Nature includes essays by fourteen field scientists on how they take notes in the field, with scans of actual pages from their notebooks. Many of them include beautiful sketches of plants and animals. I love looking at other people’s notebooks – I like to see how they organize their thinking and what sorts of things they notice. But it also makes me feel envious and inadequate.

In meetings, at seminars and talks, and…

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May 24, 2012, 5:15 pm

A change of scenery

At the end of every summer, I tell my husband, “I don’t think I’m going to do fieldwork next summer. I think I’ll stay home and travel less.” He knows well enough by now to nod quietly and say, “Sure, that will be nice,” but not to get his hopes up.

Because every year, sometime around the middle of January, I start getting restless and annoyed by my comfortable, nicely appointed office. I get tired of sitting at a desk all day, writing emails and updating websites and spreadsheets and start daydreaming about being in the woods and catching birds. And then I tell my husband, “I’m thinking about going to the field in May,” and he responds, “I know.”

I pack up the car with all of my field gear and about 30 pairs of socks (you can never have too many socks in the field), a couple of laptops and grand plans to work on a couple of manuscripts during my downtime. Since I’m not at home and…

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