PhD career interests patterns #DiversityJC recap

And here we go with the last #DiversityJC of the year. I’m so happy that we are keeping it up and that our journal club is getting bigger and stronger! This week our discussion was about how the career interests of biomedical science PhDs patterns change according to race/ethnicity and gender. You can see the full article here.  Also, you can read the complete storify kindly made by @MinorityPostdoc.

@labroides started venting about how the article casts leaving academia as problematic. (What IMO is a very good issue and I’m planning to write a blogpost about this soon). “But putting that to the side, the real question is why do we see this differential filtering?” @aiquintero mentioned it isn’t because URM&W aren’t successful, motivated, well-mentored. @IHStreet suggested that in tough economic times, people stick to status quo/less openness. Although the decline in $ for research is general, this may be harder among women and even harder for URMW.

However, @biochembelle mentioned that the article shows women exhibit lower interest in research faculty path even at start of PhD. So why this happens? Some sort of impostor syndrome?@aiquintero stated that # of publications, mentorship, etc was controlled for (in the article). If professional success ~ fit, then something else is missing! @CEK_1of9 replied that it might be the classic problem of no role models that “look like me”, which starts in graduate school. @IHStreet added that there are more visible women in STEM than ever. But may still be early days yet to really drive change. But how can women find a niche if they don’t apply? (Studies show bid drop in number that apply for TT positions).

Along this line @drugmonkeyblog continued saying that Recruitment and retention can be salary, research support, techs, postdocs and even jr faculty lines. Yet you should hear the mewling and whining should anyone suggest paying a huge bonus over expected to recruit a PoC. So *of course* Universities continue to fail to *look* diverse and therefore create impression it is impossible as a career.

@SFBakshi wondered if conference participation/networking in grad school plays a role in choice to pursue academia. The article states that perceived sense of “belonging” – either intellectually or socially – was not associated with interests. Although authors note as study limitations that respondents might try to give “socially acceptable” answers. But this goes together with the line of thought that is not straight impostor syndrome.

@biochembelle replied that this study provides some measures. It doesn’t provide “why” (part of future work). So, how do you encourage the interested without dismissing those who aren’t? There are some programs trying to address this, eg this one from Northwestern

@aiquintero suggested that academia is repellant because perceived as hostile to family/work-life balance. This was questioned by @DoctorZen: More than professions like medicine, law? Not known as relaxed environment. Not really, but those professions tend to pay better & have diversity of practices. So the problem is in academia, or professions more generally? Probably both!

I believe I will end up with this as food for thoughts for next #DiversityJC. We will resume it next year, January 9th, 11EST. Please let me know if you want to be included in the email list or if there’s a suggestion to change the day/time of our journal club next year. Happy holidays and see you in 2015!

Mock cover letter

So I’m working in the application package for this academic administrative job. I don’t need a research or a teaching statement for this position, but just a cover letter and my CV. The main problem is that I’m used to write cover letters for academic scientific jobs and this one has to be really different from those. It has to show passion and it has to show who I am. The more I read the job add, the more I think I’d be perfect for that position and that I’d be very happy to do it. Just talked to my collaborator and she suggested me to use part of my last blogpost into my cover letter. Instead of that, I decided to write a mock cover letter here, to my readers! It seems that it will be easier to express emotions when there’s no pressure about it being to apply for a job you really like:)

Dear reader,

I am writing to apply to this awesome academic administrative job. I am currently a postdoctoral associate working in neuroscience. I believe my years of academic research combined to my excellent networking skills will make me an ideal candidate for this position. Someone once told me that I am a hub, connecting people and ideas. I am a very social person, and passionate about research and science. I sincerely think that this job will be a wonderful opportunity to use my ability to deal with people in an academic environment.

One of the things I love most about being in academia is to interact with people at all levels. I feel truly happy and rewarded to mentor undergraduate students, opening the research path into their lives and watching them grow as a person and as a scientist. I look forward going to scientific meetings where I can spend all day surrounded by other researchers and discussing science. I attend to the SFN meeting every year since 2002, which involves more than 30k attendees come from all over the world. Most of the people think that this is really overwhelming, but I just love it! Another thing that really brings me joy is to organize academic and social events. I love to be in charged of everything! From the list of participants, topics and panelists to the details of the closing ceremony, food and drinks. It is always a lot of work, but there is nothing like the feeling of reward when you see your event happening successfully.

Over my academic years, I’ve always acknowledge the importance of advocating for our rights. Specifically, I’ve been a representative for every single position I’ve ever had. Back in my home country, I was the president of my undergraduate class and representative in the Physiology department for many years. As a graduate student, I was involved in the reorganization of the local association and later I was assigned as the vice-president for the national undergraduate student association for 2 years. As a postdoctoral associate in the US, I’ve been part of our PDA for almost 2 years, advocating for PD rights and helping the establishment of an actual niche for the PDs inside the University. I have worked closely to the former holder of this position at the University, what makes me feel somewhat familiar with what to expect from this position and confident that I can do it accordingly.

Conciliating all these extra-academic activities during my undergraduate, graduate and PD taught me a lot about time management and multi-tasking. And patience! Dealing with people is not easy and many times you need to find a way to conciliate different ways of thinking. The academic part of my training developed a sense of prioritizing but also helped me to deal with frustration. Failed experiments, nasty comments from reviewers of my manuscripts and grant refusals. But most important, to overcome all the frustration and be able to try again, and be even happier when you are successful 🙂

As requested, I’m enclosing a copy of my CV and arranged three letters of recommendation to be sent directly to your email address. I will gladly provide any other supporting materials that would be helpful. I am looking forward hearing from you soon and thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Doctor_PMS

So, dear reader, would you hire me?

Looking for *alternative* options

That’s it. It is definitely time for a change. And probably took me way too long to realize that. But It’s not easy to think about giving up almost 20 years in academia. It’s really scary to look into the unknown and think about other options. During all our training, we are very familiar with the academic way of life, teaching and grants, but what else is out there? What are those *alternative* positions that most of the PhD’s end up getting? And most important of all, how to look for them?

The first question people ask when you say you want to leave academia is “What do you want to do?” That’s such a tricky question when you are not really sure what’s out there! Industry is the first thing people usually suggest. I am a little skeptical about going that way. I really love my research, and it’s not about the bench itself. It’s about the scientific discovery, doing research with a purpose. As I’ve been working with a very specific subarea of neuroscience, and I am not sure if industry cares about fundamental questions in science. I believe they pursue more practical and translational aspects. It’s not that I’m not interested in those either, but again, it’s hard to let my research go… I don’t want to be at the bench for the sake of just being there, so it seems that industry is not the most appropriate pathway for me. Right?

Then the second question is “Are you willing to relocate?” Again, this is another tricky question. I mean, I’m single and don’t have anything that really ties me to this town. So yes, I could relocate. But, I’m also not that young anymore. It is already too scary to think about leaving the academic path into the complete unknown. However, it’s even more scary to think about moving to a complete different place where you don’t know anyone to work in a job you know nothing about. It’s not about the money, it has never been. I am passionate about science. I certainly believe there are amazing jobs out there and that I can be happy doing something else science-related. Just need to know exactly what!

I’d rather think about my skills and what could make me happy. In case you haven’t noticed, I am a VERY social person. I love interacting with people, I really love science, reading and talking about science. In that line of thought, I’d rather go for jobs that I could work remotely, like science editing or consulting. But apart from that, I’m not sure what else I could try.”You know nothing, Jon Snow”. Please, let me know if you have other ideas/suggestions of possible jobs. I am ready to move on. Just need some directions now! Can you help me?

Is it time for a change?

Just realized my last blog post (except for the #DiversityJC ones) was on June, 18th. Yes, I’m not a very active blogger, but no, I’m not okay. Writing definitely helps, but I don’t want to sound like a broken record – that’s why I’ve been away for so long, I suppose. But I need to get it out, somehow…

When did my crisis begin? I’m not sure. I believe during job season last year, when I applied for 15-20 TT positions at MRU and didn’t get a single interview. Shortly after that I started to attend to job talks for a position in our Program, and started to realize how my CV falls short of theirs!  Decided to write an R03 grant and try to teach – to fill up some holes in my CV. Teaching went great, but my R03 was not discussed. When I talked to the PO, it was not because of the science, but because I’m a senior PD and I’d need to receive research staff status for them to fund me. Except that our R01 grant is ending next January and they can’t promote me now. Sigh.

In the middle of all this I met someone. Even though I was busy and totally focused in my career, one cannot predict romance.  I tried to fight it, and I was still strong enough to tell him that I could not promise anything for the future. He owns business in town and told me he would not move from here. There’s no place for me at a MRU here. So case closed. We split apart. Buuuuuut, of course, he planted the seed. I have forgotten that I also needed someone by my side. That I still have some hope of getting married and having kids. And I was sad… I started to doubt if I wanted to go for TT at a MRU. I started to look for *alternative* jobs in town. Because of him? Not sure. I think partially, but wanted to see what was out there in case that our R01 was not renewed. Didn’t see anything that caught my attention.

Then we wrote the R01 renewal, new job season arrived. I had a big project to finish and needed to write the paper, so I decided I was not going to “waste my time” applying for all the jobs. Why would I bother trying jobs that kind of suit me if I still don’t have a grant on my own nor glam publications? Started to look for jobs at SLACs too, but most of them were in tiny cities, that is for sure a no-no for me. I finished my project, I’m almost done with the manuscript. Ended up applying for a single position, the only one I found that asks for my specific neuroscience area of expertise, in a SLAC. Haven’t heard from the job and our R01 grant received a 16th percentile score (we are still in the grey zone). Grant ends in January 30th, and I still don’t know if I’ll have a job or not next year!

As the end of our grant gets closer, so does my stress level. I start questioning myself why this is happening to me. Bad choices, I should have gone to a different lab for a second postdoc and not the same I’ve been doing since grad school. Bad mentoring, because no one told me I should apply for grants by the time I’ve got here and we had 2 R01s in the lab (life was good). But that’s all done and now I have to face that I cannot come back in time and fix my mistakes. Now I feel I don’t want to go for a TT position at a MRU, I don’t want to live under the constant stress of having to get grants and publish to get tenure. But then I wonder, is it really that? Or I’m just giving up because I feel I’m just not good enough? Or, do I feel like choosing a TT pathway would definitely end my dreams of finding someone and starting a family? In this meantime, I briefly dated someone else, thought that my ex was done with me, but recently we had a *deja vu*. He seems not to be over with me, I’m definitely not over with him. He is helping me a lot with this crisis, despite we don’t talk about “us” anymore. He is also not happy with his job and thinking about making a move. I know we cannot talk about us until I know I’m going to be here for a little longer. Or until I know what I want to do with my life. And I also think that it will not be wise to make career decisions in the middle of all this mess. But maybe I’ll just have to…

 

 

#BlackLivesMatter… but what about in academia? A #DiversityJC recap.

I don’t know about anyone else, but in the wake of the non-indictments of Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner (and allllllll the other people of color assaulted and made dead by police), I had a tough time getting work done. I felt distracted and depressed, exhausted from the excuses I saw on social media and how backwards everything seemed. Yet, as Jon Stewart (another person of considerable privilege) put it, I could only imagine what it would be like to actually live these experiences as a person of color. On twitter, we discussed briefly if the Diversity Journal Club should address the current state of things more directly, or if we needed to stay more academic.

Laura Williams (@MicroWaveSci) had a great solution:

For me, these articles (found here and here) made painfully clear that diversity issues directly concern academic and scientific communities. Even if you feel racial injustice doesn’t affect you directly, these articles demonstrate they do impact your colleagues, your friends, and your students.

Our discussion opened with the divide between racial groups, and how this persists in academia. These can be physical, such as living in a very white or racially divided area. They similarly exist in academic communities, where departments are very often dominated by white men.

Yet the divide also manifests in less obvious ways: When you are not part of the minority group, you don’t have to care about minority issues. We don’t have to talk about them, even when we talk about other major social events.

And if we do talk about them, we can be woefully, painfully, ignorant.

And this is at the mild end of the spectrum. The excuses I heard on social media were downright disturbing.

But even if you do care, and you are aware of the real issues, and you do discuss them appropriately, as the articles make clear, they don’t affect you nearly as acutely.


This has real repercussions across academic communities, and across the career arc of minorities
. As students, as the article points out, their science may not feel as immediate as the injustice they and others deal with every day – injustice that may get them arrested or dead. This is a real threat to their person, and their ability to work and learn.

Furthermore, if the community around them while in school isn’t discussing very real injustice, or is outwardly dismissing it, this only increases the divide, deepening the difference between a student’s life and their academic training and community. They can feel so disconnected, as albatrossphd (@albatrossphd) noted, some mentees don’t even know others would care. If this isn’t enough, they are often also expected to shoulder the responsibility of enacting change, while others around them don’t have to care.

As students progress in their careers, they continue to be the minority as faculty. They continue to be surrounded by colleagues that don’t appear to care or be affected, and remain responsible for changing things when others don’t speak up. They are likely to also want or be expected to sit on a range of committees and do additional work as the token minority faculty member. Little of this work is acknowledged, valued, or included in the tenure process.


This is how diversity directly impacts peopleyour colleagues and peers and students if you aren’t in a minority groupthroughout their careers. From start to finish.

Add to all of this the fact that white peers and colleagues don’t have to care about anything but their research, and can focus their passion on science and science alone. This is likely not the case for minority students and academics, as one of our articles argues. There is a struggle to balance your life’s work, with your life.


In addition, academia operates as if we are all under the same standards. It wants us to believe it is a meritocracy. If you are smart enough, work hard enough, are passionate enough, you will succeed. This idea is willfully ignorant of reality.


So. What do we do? While we discussed why and how diversity matters to academia, we also discussed what steps we can take – especially as allies for people of color. First, we talked about whether or not we should bring these issues up with our students – is it appropriate to talk about Ferguson in class? Did we need to? How do we bring it up and in what space?

Personally, I believe we have a responsibility to discuss these issues, to make clear that we do care and we are not going to be silence. We need to initiate conversations, “signal support” to mentees (Laura Williams, @MicroWaveSci), and figure out “stating your stance” to the community at large (Luna CM Centifanti, @LunaCentifanti). As Chris Rock has put it recently, racism is really a white problem. It is about white actions, it is white people that need to be educated and it is our behavior that needs to be altered. It is up to us as white people to make change. Our silence, our inability or unwillingness to speak up, does nothing for that change.

But how do we go about it? We also shared some experiences and some tips for bringing up what are indeed difficult subjects that are outside the scope of the classes we seek. For instance, it can be as simple as checking in with our students.

…and it can be helpful and safe to have the conversation one-on-one:

In addition to smaller conversations, we can bring these things up in class:

Sometimes other issues are more important than science.

There is a larger world out there with significant problems we as a society need to address, issues that feed back into scientific institutions and communities that claim to be above the fray. They are not, and if we do nothing, they will remain that way.

One piece of advice was to bring recent events and transition them to discussions of why they matter to the science we’re doing and discussing.

However, albatrossphd (@albatrossphd) shared that her attempt at conversation didn’t go that well at first:

Despite this, we determined that even bringing it up at all still demonstrates these issues are important to you, and could be helpful in the long term – that students may think about later. It still clearly mattered to some in the classroom, even if they didn’t know how to continue the dialogue:


In addition to students, as Laura Williams (@MicroWaveSci) pointed out, we also need to be thinking about ways to reach out to staff, faculty, and others.

We can mentor and support junior faculty and junior staff, including postdocs. In addition, for me, this means being visible and vocal. Show up for rallies and on-campus conversations, volunteer to be on committees. Share your views on the importance of diversity at your institution and be informed on why diversity matters. We are scientists – every day we discuss evidence and make arguments. We can and should do that with diversity at our respective institutions. Speak up about student issues, hiring, promotion, etc.

…and encourage our institutions to directly address diversity:

This is also happening at my previous institution, the University of New Hampshire, but we need people ensuring it isn’t just lip service and translates into action. This, of course, means we get leadership and administration on board. After all, leadership is key for systemic change, and determining the direction, priorities, and environment of an institution:

We can do more to make clear that these things matter to us. That we are allies, and we are (or want to be) engaged in the movement.

We can also “just check in” with our friends and colleagues, with our peers.

But we should follow such check-ins with “what can I do?”

Check-ins should also be done broadly, as a way to focus attention on these important issues. It’s not just checking in individually, it’s checking in with our communities, our institutions, asking “how are we doing on this? What are we doing about this?” Doing this alone makes clear you know these things affect everyone together, and that it is something we address together.

Doing all of these things are critical steps we can all take, and they have a secondary result: they also mean you help share the responsibility of creating change.


Of course, it’s more than just our immediate academic communities. We need to look at the people around us, too – including our families and our kids.


In the end, I realized the connection between science and diversity is not just about how we speak up and take action around diversity and for social justice specifically, but it also means doing great, interesting science that we share with others.

This is also where it matters. Where we connect with others, with the next generations. Where we encourage passion and curiosity – and where we say “yes. You can do this too.”


For me, it also means doing the best science now will put me in a better position, in a leadership position, later down the line – one I can leverage to address diversity issues, to amplify diverse voices, and support diverse careers. This is also how my science can make a difference one day. I am committed to a career that focuses on diversity issues, as well as a career of interesting and useful science. These are not mutually exclusive career objectives.


I know I am not alone.


Thank you to everyone who joined in and followed the discussion! Please let me know if there are any errors here, or if I missed anyone. Leave additional thoughts, questions, etc, in the comments here, or on twitter under #DiversityJC!


Give these fine folks a follow, too (in no particular order)!

Ruth Hufbauer (@hufbauer)
Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti)
Megan McCuller (@mccullermi)
Laura Williams (@MicroWaveSci)
albatrossphd (@albatrossphd)
Rebecca Pollet (@rmpollet)
urbie delgado (@urbie)
Joshua Drew (@Drew_Lab)
Cynthia Malone (@cynth_malone)
Cleyde Helena (@cleydevan)
Roy W. Smolens Jr (@smoroi)
April Wright (@WrightingApril)
Cheng H. Lee (@chenghlee)


Thanks again and watch for a new article – the last of 2014! – on Monday 15 December.

Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS)
Emily Klein (@DrEmilySKlein)