Where the Overrepresented are Underrepresented

Hi everyone! I’m excited to be back at Tenure, She Wrote. I’ve spent my time away from the site using a lot of the advice written here and am very excited to be able to come back to the blog as a new Assistant Professor!

Over the course of my first year in my new job, there have been a lot of opportunities for me to learn more about pedagogy and evidence-based techniques for teaching students in STEM. I went to quite a few of these, since the thought of teaching had me feeling like I’ve been thrown to the wolves. I understand that’s a common experience, especially since many of us spend most of the previous ~decade doing research first as a grad student then as a post doc without learning terribly much on how to effectively teach students.

chairs classroom college desks

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

From the very first one I attended, what really stood out to me was how not-alone I was. In my field, men outnumber women by about 10:1, and I’ve been on experiments where I’m the only woman on the team. The statistics are even worse for minority and marginalized groups, and being a queer and trans woman meant I was it for most of my entire career. But a quick head count at all of these events for new professors revealed the same thing over and over: There’s a far higher percentage of women, people of color, and LGBT people who attend STEM education workshops and conferences than any place within the rest of my field.

Being a scientist, I started with counting the obvious. Using names of attendees to attempt to estimate gender percentages is a very imperfect method, but I started seeing ratios that were 3x, 4x, and higher at these STEM education events than the general population in my field, and even just within my own department. At the most recent event, I was even one of three (!!!) trans professors who attended.

I never thought I’d ask this about something science related, but the question that has been on my mind as I go to each of these is: Where are all the straight white men?

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“Up” on a pedestal: mental illness and grad school, or mania and research

My mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly after I was born, and shortly after her grandfather, who she loved deeply, suddenly died.  As an adult, I can make sense of it:  I can reason that the combined effects of grief and pregnancy on her body did something to bring to light an illness that had been latent; but when she told me when I was a child, I thought maybe if I hadn’t come along, my mom wouldn’t be sick.

Bipolar disorder is highly heritable, and both of my parents have diagnoses.  I’ve known this for most of my life and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare me.

It has taken years for me to push back against all of the ableist rhetoric that society has shoved into me.  The thought that depression was something I could just push through if I tried harder.  The idea that if I went on medication I would lose myself, I would change.  The notion that if I went to therapy I was weak.  That I couldn’t seek services because then it would be official, I’d be crazy, and what’s worse than that?

And frankly it’s all utter bullshit—but it took years to deprogram.

So here’s where I am now:  Continue reading

Becoming a Manager

While I was a grad student, I spent all of my time inside the details of my Ph.D. research program, focused almost exclusively on what the problem-of-the week was and trying to solve it. During my time as a post doc, I’ve found that not only do I need to continue solving the problem-of-the-week, but I also have to oversee a number of students and help them to solve their own problems-of-the week and provide projects for them that are appropriate to their skill levels that also challenge them intellectually. In essence, I’ve become middle management for our lab. Continue reading

Ask TSW: Can I do a project that’s outside the scope of my home department?

Dear TSW,

I have finished up my first year in my PhD program in public health. I like my classmates a lot, the classes are fun, and I am making the big leap of doing more research, but there are days when I question my decision to attend this program. My problem is that the people in my department seem very anti-health. In recent faculty and chair searches, I’ve discovered that global health isn’t a priority here. I think I can deal with this if I take the initiative. Sometimes I think I should have gone to a school with a bigger curriculum in what I want, but that school didn’t fund me nearly as well as this one.

What advice would you offer to someone who is pursuing a curriculum outside her home department and wants part of her dissertation, say 50%, to be done on a topic that’s outside of her department?  And let’s say the professor in global health can’t fund me, but I still very much want to pursue this?  What advice would you offer in terms of applying for a funding, or looking into grants on campus?

Also, the professor in global health wants me to help him develop a course for undergraduates. However, he knows it’s unreasonable to ask me to help him if he can’t fund me.  I would think developing a course isn’t exactly research, but if a student is considering joining faculty one day, I’d suspect this is something to put on a CV because it’s part of the PhD learning process.  So if I apply for some type of grant, is this something you’d put on an application or would it not be relevant?

Sincerely,

MCH Student
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Not as easy as apple pie: Running the research conveyor belt while publishing apace

red apples

Photo by Tom Gill on Flickr. Used under a CC license.

It’s apple season. I’ve got apple sauce, apple crisp, and a crust waiting for apple pie. I’ve also got apples in the fridge, apples on the counter, and apples on my desk at work. Unfortunately, there are also apples going bad, and apples in the compost bin. I don’t have enough time to turn all of the apples into their delicious conclusions.

I’ve also got a lot of professional projects going on. There are grants and papers to write, students to advise, data to analyze, and unfortunately, some of those projects aren’t moving as quickly as I would wish. In fact, there’s the real risk that some of them will “go bad” while waiting for attention from me.

So I’ve been thinking a lot…about apples…and about prioritizing my research efforts. It turns out that when peeling apples, you’ve got some time to think.

I’ve been envisioning research as a sort of conveyor belt. Continue reading

Surviving the Research to Teaching Transition

Starting a new faculty position is challenging, no matter what type.  There are multiple things that take time and energy: endless decisions about purchasing and organization, deciding how to be an effective mentor and advisor, and learning the ropes at a new institution, to name a few. The transition to a new faculty position can be particularly difficult when changing gears from a research to a teaching focus, especially if you (like many researchers) have had little to no training or experience with teaching.  The metrics for success in teaching are very different from those in research.

During my training I never had a certain type of academic position in mind – I didn’t feel a strong pull in either the research or teaching direction.  Through a combination of circumstance and choice I ended up at a PUI (primarily undergraduate institution). The teaching load, although lighter than at some institutions (and in many fields) is a lot higher than those of my peers at R1 universities.  I was warned by multiple colleagues at teaching-focused schools that life would be different – and a lot harder – the first year of teaching after a career as a researcher.  Some things I was prepared for due to the timely advice of friends, but other things caught me off guard and some of them I still haven’t figured out.  Continue reading