Always rushing, never celebrating

One of the most discomfiting moments of last semester came in my lab meeting in late November. I’d just submitted a big grant and we had gotten past a conference where my students presented preliminary results and research plans. I felt like celebrating. But we were also in the throes of the end of semester craziness. I asked the students to go around the table and tell the group what they’d accomplished during the semester and what they still wanted to get done. The first student quickly listed off about 5 things she wanted to accomplish before the end of the term. There was a long pause and then she managed to articulate one thing she’d accomplish already. I gently reminded her about the poster she’d presented only the week before. There was an “Oh yeah, there was that.” And what about the fellowship application she’d submitted a week before that? “Right, that too.” We moved on to the next student. She listed close to 10 things she wanted to get done before the term ended in 3 weeks. And then she tried to pass off to the next student. “But what did you accomplish?”, I queried. She said that she’d made a poster, but had to be prompted before she’d include instrumenting a field site and beginning data collection (a massive undertaking) in her list of things she’d achieved during the semester. We moved onto the third student…and the same thing happened. Even having watched me prompt her colleagues for their achievements, she still focused on the to-do list. And so it went.

Those few minutes have stuck with me, because I’m tremendously proud of what my students have gotten done in the few short months they’ve been in graduate school, but I’m also worried that I’m setting the wrong tone for them. Continue reading


Do your ho-ho-homework: TSW’s gift guide for the academic on your holiday shopping list

The holidays can be a great time to show your appreciation for the academic in your life. The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s has always been one of my absolute favorites– the celebrations, the festive atmosphere, gatherings with friends and loved ones, decorations, the first snow, delicious food and seasonal cocktails (I happen to love eggnog and spiced rum). For academics, however, it’s also a particularly stressful time. As a grad student, I had course and grading obligations, plus financial stress often meant I could’t travel, or couldn’t afford gifts. As a faculty, November marked the beginning of my major grant-writing season, and moving across the country for my job means my partner and I are celebrating without our closest friends and loved ones. While the holidays are a time for much-needed restoration for everyone, they’re also a great opportunity to give your favorite academic a little love and support.

If you’re celebrating a gift-giving ritual this season and you’ve got a stressed-out, overworked academic on your list, fear not! Tenure, She Wrote is here to help with your gift-giving needs. I asked our blogging team what they’d love to unwrap this year. Continue reading

What happens when everyday sexism is ignored?

Today’s post is by a guest author, graduate student SquirrellyRed. She shares a recent experience about what happens when small acts of (benevolent) sexism add up to create a broader culture of hostility towards women.

Given Acclimatrix’s recent post on how gender equality needs to be a collaborative venture in academia, I thought it’d be helpful to share a story about what could – and in this case, did – happen when some of those points that seem trivial or harmless (especially #2) are ignored – and how the effects are amplified the further down the academic totem pole you travel.

As a PhD student in a mid-size biology lab at a large Midwestern R1 university, my group includes a team of undergraduate research technicians that I help supervise. In my lab’s case, all of the undergrad helpers are female students in biology related majors (woohoo!). They are curious, hardworking, and hilarious – a critical combination when we sometimes spend twelve hours at a time together, driving to field sites and collecting measurements. So while I’d like to tell you the rest of this story is about how hard the lab has worked to mentor and support them, unfortunately it’s a story of how the lab failed one of them this summer. Continue reading

A day in the life…

As a post-doc, I did three things: I did research, analyzed data, and I wrote. I ran behavioral experiments and western blots, I did a lot of data analysis.

There were other things – I worked with students in the lab, and I organized events with the Post-doc Association at the post-doc institution. Later I applied for jobs, a significant time commitment, especially in the second year. It isn’t that I had a lot of free time, but I did have a lot of flexibility. When a grant deadline was coming up, or a set of experiments to (hopefully) finish off a paper, I could clear blocks of time and focus on that one thing. This – and my friends in that town – are the only things that I’m nostalgic about from my postdoc.

That is not what my days look like anymore. Now I have a few other things on my plate. Now there is teaching, routine meetings, and the ongoing administrative work of running a lab, not to mention grant writing and trying to stay on top of the literature. Coming up is graduate admissions season, and a couple of deadlines for training grants for my lab peeps. This increase in the number-of-things wasn’t unexpected, I had watched and spoken with my grad school and post-doc mentors, not to mention other people both IRL and online, enough to know better. And the amount of work is a lot, but it’s not unbearable. What I am finding difficult is the fragmentation of my time.

Continue reading


Acknowledgment: Thanks to everyone who talked to me about this both on twitter and in person. Please join in the discussion – I’d love to hear thoughts on this.

We think a lot about mentoring here. About who we want to be, what we need, how to GTFO of a toxic situation (and help others in similar boat). I’ve been thinking about the role of my female mentors, and about my role in mentoring students and trainees.

There is a question I get asked with some regularity, it is “Why did you do your PhD and post-doc with women mentors? Was that on purpose?” The answer to the first question is “because they were doing the science I wanted to do” and to the second “yes, it was very much on purpose that I worked with people who were doing the science I wanted to do”. I usually answer that way, because I’m obstinate and I intensely dislike the question that is actually being asked – did I choose to work with women because I am a woman? Continue reading

What kind of a mentor do I want to be?

Remember those teenaged fights with your parents that inevitably ended with some iteration of “I will never forget what it’s like to be a teenager when I’m an adult!”? In spite of our best intentions, I think we are doomed to forget, to some extent. Now, as I prepare to start my first faculty position, I find myself trying to remember all of those things I promised myself during the struggles of graduate school, when I fantasized about what kind of mentor I wanted to be one day.

I count myself lucky to have had a fantastic mentor. He remembered to praise (a rare trait), gave good feedback, and was supportive. I was able to talk to him about my  family troubles, or a problem with my health (perhaps that is as much a testament to my being an over-sharer as it is to his emotional intelligence). We had open discussions about my anxieties or fears. He always listened, gave me constructive feedback, offered validation when I needed it, and pushed me to do better.

Our lab group was close. Continue reading