Micropromotion and some problems with protégés

Microaggression, particularly racial microagressions, have gotten a lot of well-deserved press lately in the US, as hate crimes and police brutality have raised awareness of multiple kinds of oppression – some of which is structural, institutional, and overt and some of which is individual, personal, and “small.” There is research evidence that despite seeming small, microagressions add up to a large psychological burden for victims, whether they are being targeted for their race, sexual identity, gender, or other perceived differences.

Lately in my workspace, I’ve been thinking about an opposite: micropromotion. I’d define this as small amounts of praise and opportunities, deserved or not, that add up over time. This has been on my mind recently with regard to gender especially, due to a set of situations I’ve watched develop in my department and study results indicating that professors were more likely to respond to inquiries from white male (fictional) students. [Sadly, there are plenty of additional recent studies that appear to compound layers of implicit biases about women in the academy, including this PNAS study in which professors offered better pay to (fictional) male lab managers.]

After this other PNAS study came out discussing how elite male scientists mentor and employ fewer women, I started thinking about the composition of labs in my department. Continue reading

Choosing and using textbooks

There is no such thing as a perfect textbook – unless perhaps you write one yourself. Going into my third year of teaching I’m certainly not ready to write my own textbook. I am, however, thinking hard about whether the books I’ve been using are the best ones for my classes. I’ve talked here before about the importance of selecting reasonably priced books. Beyond that, however, I want to make sure that the textbooks are helpful to the students and add value to the courses I’m teaching.

The first thing I’ve been thinking about is how I want the students to use the textbook in an intro class, and what it provides for students both in class and in the future. I’ve seen what I would categorize as three main type of books that might be selected for an introductory class. Continue reading

Collaborations, Slurs, and Being Heard

TW: Discussion of homophobic slurs

There have been plenty of times in life when I’ve had men assume that I don’t know what I’m doing or saying, and treat me accordingly. I’m mostly used to it when I go to a car shop to pick up oil, but have recently had it happen in one of the most egregious manners I’ve ever experienced within academia. Continue reading

Guest Post: Finding new definitions for career success: Turning down tenure

I turned down a permanent faculty position. Yes, I turned down tenure. The process led me to redefine what ‘success’ is for me, and hopefully sharing this unusual situation can help others broaden their definitions of success. To start, I love science. I have been sciencing long and hard for approximately 10-12 years, including a Masters, PhD, many post-docs, and nationally competitive Research Fellowships. I am a 42 year-old mother of two, working in plant biology, having graduated in 2007, and submitting my thesis while 8 months pregnant.

In the continent where I work, (not the USA) it is common for people to under-take multiple post-docs across up to 9-10 years. Given that I love research with a passion, and am prepared to sacrifice social life, food, and a decent salary, I decided to continue post-doc as long as I possibly could to ensure I have a strong CV, allowing me to win a permanent job in the city of my choice. Ambitious? Sure, but I felt (dreamt?) that if I worked hard enough, prioritized my career, published in high impact journals and won hundreds of thousand dollars of grants, I could be in the top percentage of scientists with permanent jobs. I don’t need to remind Tenure She Wrote readers, that the percentage of women is lower, and the percentage with children even lower. Continue reading

The last push to tenure

Time on the tenure track is like being in labor. It is like five or more exhilarating and painful years of labor, with the promise of a hard-earned and beautiful reward at the end. Just as every labor and birth story has its own arc, every person’s time on the tenure track will have unique plot twists and challenges, and sometimes the outcome is heart-breaking.* The process of birthing, whether a baby or a tenure package, isn’t always what we had idealized.

Acknowledging these variations, if we proceed with the analogy anyway, then there a few generalized stages of the process: early labor, active labor, pushing the baby out, and delivering the placenta. In early labor and active labor, mothers experience contractions that dilate or open the cervix, making a passage big enough for the baby. On the tenure track, those contractions are the periods of intense busyness (and often stress) that we periodically experience in the years leading up to tenure. Each contraction, hopefully, results in some product — a paper or grant submitted or revised, a student defended, a new course taught — that moves us closer to our goal of tenure. Continue reading


Like many of you, we at TSW were appalled by the response that Dr. Alice Huang gave to the postdoc in the June 1st Ask Alice Science Careers advice column. Science has since removed the column* and posted an apology. Many people have written excellent responses to the debacle, and in some cases have offered a different perspective on what the postdoc should have done**, so see below for the initial list we have compiled.  Also be sure to check out the #dontaskalice hashtag on twitter, as well as the #CrapScienceCareersAdvice hashtag and it’s more positive twin, #GoodScienceCareersAdvice. Started by @mwilsonsayres, both are very useful- one as satire and one as serious advice. Continue reading

Guest Post: When it’s not just students who plagiarize

All course instructors have academic integrity statements on their syllabi. Unfortunately, dealing with students who have plagiarized is one of the worst parts of teaching. But it’s not just students (usually undergraduates but occasionally graduates) who can—and do—plagiarize. Two colleagues plagiarized my work. One of them plagiarized twice. Although these events happened a number of years ago, I still have knots in my stomach just thinking about it. Continue reading