Creating a Healthier Academia

This past week I was lucky to be able to attend the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, which is one of the (if not the) largest gatherings of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the world. With over 3,000 attendees, it’s one of very few spaces where trans people are in the majority.

In its thirteenth year of providing space for trans people and health care providers.

In its thirteenth year of providing space for trans people and health care providers.

It’s a strange feeling, suddenly being surrounded by others like you. One that I seem to share with many other trans people in STEM, based on how few trans people raised their hands when a session chair asked, “How many of you have met another trans person in your field before this workshop?” The session was hosted by an organization called oSTEM, or Out in STEM. During the workshop, we brainstormed ways to make the fields better for trans people: ways of calling out inappropriate behavior, how academic curricula fail trans students, role models and lack of overlapping social circles, and how to create a healthier environment. I want to focus on that last one a little, because there were a lot of important points that came out of it.

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Blurred lines in the field

A six hour car ride to a field site. A fourteen mile hike in the wilderness. Two months living together in tents in the middle of nowhere.   These types of experiences are common to those of us that work ‘in the field’ – i.e., not always stationed at our home base. And they all lead to situations where the lines between mentorship and friendship are likely to become just a little bit fuzzy. Let’s be honest, you can only talk for so long about experimental design. Now that I’m in my first summer of field work as a professor, and looking at the friendship-mentorship boundary from the other side, I’ve been thinking about where that boundary should be, how to set it (in the field), and how to reset it upon return to ‘normal’ life. Continue reading

Do I trust my gut?

Earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to do some amazing fieldwork in a remote, logistically difficult field site. This opportunity was essentially dropped in my lap, by affiliation with the research center I work in. I was thrilled — this would open new doors, and potentially set up a life’s worth of work. Our outside contact sent some emails introducing himself, and said he was excited to have me on board. We started chatting about an in-person meeting at my campus, since there are a few of us who would be participating in this field expedition. The big obstacle would be getting funding, which the director of my center was confident I could do, because of my early-career status (with his guidance; he has a very successful funding rate). Everything looked perfect.

And then things started getting weird. Continue reading

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

The necessity of habit

My ever-present “to-do” list: the bane of my existence, the slip of paper that sometimes keeps me up at night, the talisman that protects me from wholly succumbing to the absent-minded professor stereotype, the composition I celebrate by throwing it away and starting another anew.

My list has had items on it this semester that are not the norm for me. I’ve moved my lab several states over and many hundred miles from where it originated, so I’ve spent far too much time looking at equipment specs (and, of course, prices–ouch) and trying to downsize physically while figuring out how to maintain productivity. I’m not there yet. Continue reading