Unofficial mentorship

This post has been rattling around in my head for months now. The seed of it started a year ago, with this post. Then, it sprouted with the first visit from a grad student to my door this past semester, asking for advice. And then there was a meeting request from a second student and a chance encounter with a third student, both ending in tears.  Finally, it fully flowered after I met individually with two other grad students, all seeking a similar set of advice, with more tears (on both their part and mine). Some of these meetings fell under the guise of official mentorship (e.g, I’m involved in the students professional lives in some official way, as their mentor or committee member), whereas others were requests for informal mentorship. But in all cases, I realized that the students were able to be much more honest and open about their issues with me than they felt they could be with other faculty.

The common themes?  All were female students in labs with male PIs (though I have also served as an unofficial mentor to a male grad student in the past). Second, these grad students all wanted advice on how to deal with their difficult advisors*.  But the most devastating theme to me?  All of these women are spectacularly intelligent individuals, and none of them believed they were smart enough for grad school.

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Reflections on blogging for TSW

As one of the founding members of Tenure, She Wrote, it’s been a little over two years since my first post and I find myself reflecting on what blogging for TSW has meant to me. This is my first foray into blogging and so when I started, I was fairly uncertain about what the experience would be like.  Over the past few years, I have used the blog as a way to work through various challenges that came up in my life–both the good and the bad.  (See here for a full list of my previous posts.)  TSW started up in my first year as a faculty member…a fortuitous time since I was experiencing a lot of new things and had a lot to process!  I was able to use the writing process to provide clarity about the issues that had previously been bouncing around my brain. It was terrifying at first to expose my thoughts to the world*, but also liberating because it reminded me that I am not alone in this experience.  Over the past few years, I have learned that if I am having an issue, then often many other people are too.

But blogging is not without its own set of stresses.   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

Supporting other people’s students

As I’ve progressed through academia, my relationships to grad students have changed. First, I looked up to them, then I was one of them. As a postdoc, I was friends with and also a mentor to many graduate students, and now as a faculty member I’m an advisor and mentor for my own and other grad students. So now that I am a faculty member, how can I be a good mentor for graduate students? Over the past few years, I’ve realized that I have thought a lot about how to advise my own graduate students, but I haven’t given much thought to mentoring other students.

A few interactions have made me examine this more closely. Over the past several years, I’ve had graduate students come to me for advice- in some cases because relatively serious issues have flared up in their own labs and in other cases to simply talk through more minor situations and brainstorm how to manage their relationships with their own advisors. I’m happy to know that grad students in my department feel that they have a safe space in which to consult with someone. But what is my appropriate role? (I’m talking here about general advice-giving, not more serious issues that require specific reporting actions on my part). Continue reading

Drawbacks and benefits of administrative housework

Mellivora had an excellent post last week about dismantling a culture of discrimination, and many of the issues she discussed were geared towards pretty large issues- sexual harassment, egregious behavior, etc. But so-called “micro aggressions” are also much in the news these days (e.g., here and here), and have been on my mind recently. For better or for worse, I don’t often notice micro aggressions until later, when they add up and a pattern emerges (probably why the name microaggression is so apt). Because of this, it’s really difficult for me to respond to these “in the moment”, and even if I notice it when it happens, it’s difficult to know how to respond constructively.

For me, one of the forms of “administrative housekeeping” that I’ve been thinking about recently concerns note taking.

I take a lot of notes. I take them every single day, in both research and in meetings. Depending on what I’m doing, these notes are electronic or handwritten. When I meet with my students, I take notes on what they are doing, then transcribe my own action items to a separate “to-do” list and file that note page away. When I’m in meetings with colleagues, I’m usually taking notes on my computer or iPad. Some times these notes float away into the ether, but in general, I find my notes super useful, in so many ways. I’ve used them to jog my memory about what else happened in the meeting, to figure out who made a specific comment to follow up on later, sometime even just to provide context to my overall day. They are also, it turns out, also useful to my colleagues and in general, I will happily send my notes along if someone requests them*.

But recently, I’ve been involved in a few groups where the gendered nature of note taking was almost laughable. Continue reading