Professional Development: When Diversity Means You

Recently, my department had it’s first-ever Safe Zones training. It’s a diversity program, available at many colleges and universities, that raises the issues faced by gender and sexual minority students. After attending the training, participants are issued “Safe Zone” stickers that they can put on their door, which allows faculty to open display that they are aware of and had training in issues that many LGBTQ students are uncomfortable bringing up. Every time I visit a university for a conference or to give a talk, it’s immediately on my radar and gives me a sense of whether the department has ever even had a passing thought about people like me.

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Fit for the field, fit for me

I’m out of shape. Like many people during graduate school, my health often took a backseat to my work. I made some progress on this during my postdoc, but the first year of my faculty position has seen me backslide. I stress eat, I forget meals and then make bad choices as my blood sugar tanks, I grab something quick and easy to eat when I’m short on time, or use food and alcohol as a soother for a stressful day, and the gym is one of the first things to go when my schedule gets tight. I have a driving commute, and I sit in front of a computer all day. All of these things add up to too many calories and too little movement.

As a consequence, I’ve gained weight. My cardiovascular health has declined, and I get winded much more easily with just a little exertion. I have less energy overall. I’m more stressed. My body and joints ache. I get more migraines. I know that I feel better– physically, and about myself– when I’m active and making good food choices. I know that I have more energy, less pain, and can better manage depression and anxiety when I’m active. Somehow, this knowledge hasn’t been enough to motivate me to change my habits, to make better choices, and to make my health a priority. Continue reading

Guest Post: Braggy Sister Bear

At the risk of triggering your gag reflex at the kind of domestic picture this presents, I will tell you that my spouse and I love reading out loud to each other. We are currently partway through “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, one of my childhood favorites. Last night we read Chapter 7, where youngest sister Amy is disgraced over an incident at school regarding pickled limes, an inexplicable tween trend of the 19th century. The chapter concludes, as many do, with a moral message delivered by the girls’ mother Marmee:

“You are getting to be rather conceited, my dear, and it is quite time you set about correcting it. You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long; even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty.”

When my spouse read this in his “Marmee voice,” I snorted. For although it is true that Amy is a bit of a conceited twit, I strongly object to the core messages in this little speech: don’t show off, even if that means no-one notices how awesome you are. It’s better to be overlooked than to be conceited.

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Am I still failing?

Four weeks ago, I wrote that I was failing.  Today, I re-read that post and cringed- partly because I know that, realistically, I’m not failing and partly because, even with the anonymity of a pseudonym, it’s difficult to admit weakness.  I need to remind myself that my feelings then were authentic and reasonable; I was truly at a low.

I ended the post with this: “I’m writing this post and hoping for catharsis. Then I’ll go back to work, put my head down, and keep checking off all the items on my to-do list.“  It’s now been one month, so how am I doing?  Was the post cathartic?  Have I checked off all the items on my to-do list?  Am I still failing? Continue reading

How to do a medical leave

I’m three-quarters of the way through medical leave. I’m going back to work soon and I feel ready, even though my health still isn’t perfect. I was anxious about going on leave and determined to make the most of it. Going on medical leave isn’t about going on a four-month vacation; it’s about getting better and learning to work around your illness (if it’s chronic) – and that takes work. Here’s my guide to making medical leave a success.

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Family is about more than babies

She is 65 years young, vigorous, a retired professor, who loves nothing more than being outdoors. She lives in the country, by herself, and enjoys watching the birds feed at her backyard feeder. On Friday evening, she went out to fill the feeder and slipped on some ice. Her body twisted, and she heard the bones in her legs break. Somehow, miraculously, she dragged herself through the snow, up some steps, back into the house and called 911. Rushed to the local hospital, then the regional hospital, then into surgery, a few days in the hospital, a week in the rehab unit, and then up to 4 months in a non-weight bearing cast.

She’s my mother. Continue reading

Harassment as a crossroads

As a woman in a STEM field I generally feel pretty lucky.  I was never told I couldn’t do well in math or science and I’ve never felt unsafe in an academic setting.  Sexism and harassment isn’t something I have thought that much about because I never thought of it as happening to me.  However, looking back on my life with a more jaded outlook I realize that one event that seemed relatively insignificant at the time has percolated through the years, subtly affecting many decisions throughout my life.

The summer between my sophomore and junior year in college started off great… I was off to a summer study program associated with my undergraduate university, considering it a trial run for a semester abroad I hoped to take the following winter.  It was the first time I’d been away from everyone I knew, and I was nervous but optimistic.  Continue reading