It’s not you, it’s your environment

I recently had a conversation with a male friend at another institution. While he is successfully advising graduate students of all genders, he was concerned because two women students had quit after their first year and he’s not had a man quit. My friend told me that they had good reasons for quitting, unrelated to his advising, but he just didn’t like that pattern and feared that maybe he was also doing something wrong that made it harder for women to succeed in his lab.

Having watched my friend in professional settings and knowing that he’s pretty plugged and conscientious about issues of women in science, I don’t think my friend isn’t doing anything egregious. In fact, I’d like to believe that he’s one of the men exemplifying how our society is changing for the better. Nonetheless, it probably wouldn’t hurt my friend to review Acclimatrix’s “Don’t be that dude: Handy tips for the male academic” to up his game.

But knowing my friend and knowing his institution (having spent a few years there myself), my response to my friend’s fears was “It’s probably not you, but it might be your environment. Look around at the climate for women in your department and university.”  Even if my friend is running a great, supportive research group and doing a superb job mentoring students of all genders, that won’t completely counteract a male-dominated, sexist broader environment. Continue reading

Celebrating the village that ‘raised’ me

Earlier this week, Professor Terry McGlynn shared his story of how he found science as a career path on the Small Pond Science blog. As a woman in the academy who is also a scientist, I wanted to share some of my story.

Why? It’s not that I think I have a particular unique path to where I am now. Mostly I want to share it because there can be so many difficult things about being a woman in science and a woman in the academy. I’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate the path that led me here, to a mental and physical place where I work hard to do work I enjoy while mentoring women students in science – and to thank (although anonymously here) the many women mentors who helped get me here. It takes a village!

There’s certainly a stereotype that kids who have chemistry sets or collect fossils are the ones who grow up to be scientists. Maybe that’s true, but that wasn’t my path – and it wasn’t the way I was brought up. Continue reading

I have a weird sounding (to you) name

I have a perfectly common girl’s name where I’m from. Not like Emma or Sophia, but a solid top-50 name that I don’t have to repeat twice when I order my coffee or spell out for anyone.

Not so in North America.

Here, I already know that people will not understand my name the first time I say it. It’s just not something that they expect to hear. It’s not long or particularly hard to pronounce, once you understand what I am saying, but something about it seems not to compute. So, I always have to say it at least twice. I don’t mind, really. I actually appreciate it when others make an effort to say my name correctly.

I do my best to help people remember my name and how to pronounce it. At conferences I always hold up my name tag as I say my name, and that usually helps. I put my name on every page of my handouts and slides, so students and talk attendees don’t have to to work hard to remember. On my website, part of my “personal” page is devoted to the etymology of my name, and there is even an audio of me saying it.

Another characteristic of my name is that it doesn’t end with an “-a” or “-ie” sound. In fact, it has basically all of the characteristics of a male name that are discussed in this article about boys’ and girls’ names that you should all go and read. So maybe it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that most people who have only seen my name in print assume that I am a man. That is depressingly common.

I can’t decide if I think that it helps me or not. Continue reading

Figuring Out My Next Steps

I’m nearing a point in my post doc where I think I’m ready to finally start applying to faculty positions. I’ve gotten a few publications out, I’ve built a lab pretty much from the ground up, and I’ve mentored students in the lab ranging from high schoolers up through grad students. I’ve gotten leadership positions within organizations in my field, and I’ve managed to secure a chunk of time using the equipment at a national lab. Right now, it’s also the time of year when positions are advertised for the few months before the November and I’d have to wait another year for the next one. And though I’m ready to start applying, I’m a bit concerned about leaving.

Continue reading

Overcoming My Impostor Syndrome

For most of the time since I started on my academic career path, I’ve been dealing with the feeling that no matter what I was doing, it was somehow never going to be either “good enough” or “real enough” to the point where I would one day be a Real Scientist. I’ve had impostor syndrome for quite a long time, although I’ve recently been discovering that it’s been deeply lessened within just the past couple of years somewhat by accident. Continue reading