Field season safety: Part II

This is Part II of my Field Season Safety series; the first tackled road and driving safety.  [Editor’s note: this post was written and published online before yesterday’s tragedy in Oregon. Our thoughts are with the school and community in Umpqua.]

After yet another horrific school shooting yesterday, it’s high time to revisit gun culture and regulations in the US.* While that topic is far too big a concept for this blog post**, gun culture and safety does intersect with the academy, research, and fieldwork. There is terrible violence that has been carried out on college campuses with guns. But my post today focuses on how guns affect fieldwork safety for students, technicians, and other researchers***.

Guns could be pretty much anywhere you work

Gun laws in the US are fairly lax, including those for concealed handguns. This means, frankly, that almost anyone could be carrying a gun. Even if it doesn’t look like it. That may sound like some kind of scare tactic, but it’s not. 2013 research by the Pew Research Center found that 1/3 of US households claimed to own a gun – but that there are somewhere near 300 million guns owned by citizens in the US (so excluding law enforcement, etc). That’s nearly one gun per person in the country. So it’s important to know. Continue reading

Tweeting from a toxic lab

As somewhat of a Luddite who still carries a flip phone, I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve been enjoying my experience on Twitter (which yes, hilariously I can only use from my desktop computer since I don’t have a smart phone). There are lots of blog posts about how scientists “should” use Twitter and get the “most” out of their time and energy on social media. But I want to focus on how graduate students and early career scholars who, like me, feel isolated and unsupported in a toxic lab situation can use Twitter* to their advantage.   (Check out some of our previous posts on toxic labs and lab culture here, here, and here.)

Connect with peers across the country

Actually, I should amend that to across the world. While you may be trapped at your desk analyzing data or writing your thesis, you can have real time conversations with fellow researchers all over. This seems like a cliché claim, but it’s true. It all depends on how you choose to reach out – just like networking in person. It’s been fun to have a small but eclectic group of people I converse with everyday, mostly other early career women scientists, even though we study wildly different things and live very far apart. We commiserate and celebrate milestones together – and if, like me, you don’t feel like you have a cheerleader for your accomplishments in your advisor or lab group, expanding your support network is a great feeling. Continue reading

No access to travel funding: does this make cent$?

As a later-stage graduate student, I’ve been trying to make sure that I attend a few conferences per year. There are lots of reasons to go to conferences, some of which we’ve discussed here before, including meeting people who do similar work, becoming inspired by others’ work, learning about new ideas in your field, networking for future job opportunities/grant collaborators, and more.

But after coming back from a conference earlier this summer, I’ve been thinking about the costs. Not the direct costs per se, although there are great reads written by others on the high price of attending conferences these days. That’s not even considering the carbon footprint of academics jetsetting all over the planet. No, rather I’ve been thinking about how much graduate students in my lab group pay to attend conferences, while the PI pays nothing. Continue reading

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

Field season safety: a tale in two parts

Field season is coming up fast as the spring semester winds down, and even though I’m done with fieldwork now, it’s on my mind as my labmates gear up for theirs. Field season safety in particular is on my mind. There have been great recent articles and blogs about the dangers of sexual assault and unwanted contact while conducting fieldwork, especially in remote locations or isolated conditions. But I want to focus on two different, potentially overlooked and very American aspects of safety: cars and guns. Today I’m just talking about cars and road safety, and my next post will be about guns.

Working in the “field,” wherever that may be, often requires driving to field sites. For my own research, I was often driving for more hours in a given day than sampling at each site, due to the distance between field sites and frequency of sampling. While the sheer number of hours I’ve logged behind the wheel may be at the far end of the spectrum, driving for at least two hours per fieldwork day is common for others in my lab and department.  Since fieldwork is often collaborative, the driving is also often split between the research team. This means that undergraduate students, technicians, graduate students, and postdocs all rotate driving shifts throughout the day and across the field season. I never gave much thought to trusting my field crew with driving and our field vehicle until an incident a few years back. Two undergraduates who worked for me and I were in the car. One of the undergraduates was driving, and as he was pulling out from a field site, he took a weird angle going up a short hill (this was not on a paved road) and our vehicle rolled over. Fortunately, no one was injured and we were traveling so slowly (since we had just started the vehicle) that the car was not totaled. However, it was a deeply humbling and frankly terrifying experience for everyone involved. Continue reading

A 3 body problem, part II

Recently I wrote about my family’s newfound challenge to find a place to live in that has both career opportunities for my partner and me – and the medical resources and community support for my special needs kid. Thanks again to all who shared their stories of how they’ve confronted this issue in their own family.   Fortunately, since this last post, my partner (who is currently on the job market while I am a year or two away) landed an academic position with a lot of growth potential in a city with great resources for our kid. To say I am pleased would be an understatement. I’ve been crying a lot – mostly out of gratitude to the universe at large (and probably in part still due to all the new mom hormones).

So with my partner and my kid’s needs apparently taken care of, I’m now the third body. With up to two years of graduate school left, I am trying to line up my ducks for: 1) successfully completing and defending my dissertation while living far away from my lab group   2) (hopefully) successfully lining up employment post-defense in this new locale.   Let’s break these down. Continue reading

Prospective Students and Lab Culture

‘Tis the season for would-be faculty to field campus interviews. It’s also the time of year when accepted prospective graduate students come for campus visits. Usually a two or three day blitz of events, on our campus it always includes a day’s worth of interview time with each lab group that a student is considering joining.* Some of that time is a formal interview with faculty PIs, but much of that time is spent chatting with current graduate students and post-docs over coffee (or adult beverages).

Every year that I’ve been here, we’ve had at least one prospective student interviewing with my lab group. And each time, I’ve been struck by how these students did not ask a single question about the culture of our lab group, even when having private one-on-one conversations with current graduate students. Now that I’ve been in graduate school for several years, I’ve realized the extent to which lab culture and communication norms can make or break one’s sanity. Continue reading