Jobmageddon

I believe most of you know that our R01 grant was not renewed. Our score was pretty close to the payline, what means that “maybe” it can be funded in a couple of months. The thing is, we don’t have a couple of months. After the money from our current grant ends, that’s it. Everybody is jobless. I know we’ve made several mistakes along the way, and now we are paying for them. But there’s no time to blame or shame, now it’s time to look forward! I cannot say I was surprised. I saw it coming, and I guess I had my deep crisis during the holidays. So now when the news was finally out, I just had one thing in mind. It’s time for jobmageddon – apply to ALL the jobs!

As weird as it might seem,  I was almost happy with the news. Reading @IHStreet post about feeling you are just not enough, I realized that’s exactly where I was before the grant news. I receive several job alerts in my email, so I knew that there were jobs that I could apply. However, after having applied to several jobs in 2013, unsuccessfully, impostor syndrome was all over me. I thought I was just not good enough for TT, so why bother to apply? But there’s nothing like a kick in the butt to make you move forward! In reality, with luck I will have a paycheck for a couple of extra months. So now I NEED TO BE ENOUGH FOR SOMETHING. Anything.

And it made me think. What are my options? What’s out there besides academia? I talked to several people on twitter and IRL, read articles, really tried to open my mind. The more I read, the more I felt I really love academia and didn’t want to quit. I am not saying I could not be happy working in industry or something related, but I realized I simply LOVE the academic environment. I like working in the bench, but not for the sake of pipetting. I love the whole research process, with a purpose! To come up with ideas of new experiments, designing and performing them… and then getting the data. There’s a special joy on plotting your data that’s almost addictive! And then there’s mentoring and teaching. Showing a whole new world to your students, and feeling really rewarded to see their progress. How can I live without it?

Then I made up my mind. I am not quitting. I am not giving up. Not yet, and not without a fight! On the other hand, the idea of getting a TT position in a R01-Institution kind of started to scare me. The actual funding situation and the constant pressure to get grants and to publish. And also realistically, I know I missed the TT boat long ago. There are holes in my CV that cannot be filled anymore – my research is not very sexy (at least not for NIH standards) and I don’t have any US grant or glam publications in my CV. But R01-Institutions are not the only available jobs in academia! There are SLACs 🙂 I cannot say how lucky I am to have a collaborator working in a SLAC. As a foreigner and academically ‘raised’ to just aim for a R01-TT job, I didn’t really know what a SLAC was until starting our collaboration. I know my CV also has holes for a SLAC position, I have very little teaching experience. But this hole it’s easier (and more pleasant) to fix, IMO.

So here I am now. I am not literally applying to ALL the jobs, but now that I see no light at the end of this (grant) tunnel, I started to look at job adds with a different mindset. I am focusing on job adds in the Chronicle website instead of Naturejobs or Sciencecareers (more SLAC jobs there, and also more VAP, that could buy me some time AND improve my teaching skills). I am still applying to TT jobs, and with my eyes opened to local *alternative* jobs. I am hopeful. My applications look better. I am still the same candidate, I still think I am not enough for a big tier 1 University position, but I must be good enough for SOMETHING!

Now I see that if our grant had been renewed I’d probably just have continue here, doing more of the same and with no real perspective of a future in academia. It may still not work, and I may have to try to be happy outside my beloved academia, but at least I am trying. And in a way I feel I must thank NIH for denying our grant. Without this shake in my life, I feel I would be forever still.

Visiting Professor Opportunity in a SLAC. Worth taking it?

Today was one of those days that I’m really glad to be on twitter and have awesome followers! All started when I had my weekly skype meeting with my collaborator and we talked about a possible 1-year visiting professor position at the SLAC where she teaches. Then I posted this tweet, and you can follow all the input that I’ve got from there all day long:

After talking (and thinking) about it during this whole day I believe I can write down my thoughts so far. Most of the people said “Apply anyways, you can always decide later if you take the job or not”. This would be true, if this was not a position in a place where I have a strong collaborator (and friend), where I’ve taught the last two springs, and personally know the chair. If I eventually apply and get this job, I can’t turn it down, unless I get a permanent offer. If our grant is not renewed, the decision becomes much easier – a job is much better than no job. Period. However, our grant is very close to the payline and there’s still hope it will be funded.

But even if the grant is funded, should I stay here? I’ve been in this lab for 7 years, clearly doing research that’s not competitive enough for getting grants. I’ve been doing much of the same and not being able to grow (research-wise) at all. My R03 was not discussed because I’m a senior PD with no strings attached to the University. My PI said that if our grant is renewed, I would be promoted to research staff and then I could re-apply for my R03 grant. But there’re no guarantees that it will get funded and even if it does, I don’t think it would make my CV improve that much in order to be realistically competitive for a TT position in a R01 Institution.

I really don’t want to give up academia and research. And I really enjoy teaching, so a position in a SLAC looks appealing to me. However, despite having some experience teaching here and then, I was never fully responsible for a course and that’s a big gap in my CV when applying for SLACs. So staying here in the same lab will not improve this, unless I find some teaching side-job in a community college around here. Most of the comments on twitter were positive about applying to the temporary position to get teaching experience and improve my CV, if ultimate goal is to apply for SLACs positions.

Of course, I don’t even know if I’ll get the job to begin with. But it’s good to be forced to think about it, because in the end of the day it’s not about this job in particular, but where I want to go with my life! So far, the pro’s of applying are that I’ll get more experience teaching and will have a more competitive CV after that year. I could use this year to doing another PD somewhere else, but I believe the research hole in my CV (no grants or glam pubs to get a regular TT position) is much harder to fill than the teaching deficiency (needed for a SLAC position).

On the other hand, there are several things that terrifies me. First, the SLAC is in a tiny town (7000 ppl). I am really a city person, and for me, the bigger, the better. I’m currently single and usually I stay home 2-3 nights per week. Simply cannot stay one whole day at home and crave for social interaction all the time. I know getting this job would mean a LOT of work and this will probably slow me down for a while. But I know how miserable I get when I don’t go out and have social interactions. I know small town doesn’t mean that I won’t have social opportunities, but the idea of living in such a tiny place scares me. A lot. And I’m not talking about being not confortable about it, I’m worried about getting depressed and not able to make it. I had 2 experiences when I tried to spend a weekend out of civilization and had panic attacks. Literally, I cannot take silence, green and peaceful environment. It sounds weird, but that’s exactly how I am.

Then you may say, it’s only for 1 year, it will pass so fast you won’t even notice it! True. But then comes my second point. Regardless my professional life, I still have dreams of finding a partner and having kids. I’m almost 40 yo now, and in my mind, spending this year in a temporary position means to literally give up any dream that I still have of having a family. And last, as I said, it’s a temporary position. What are the real chances of getting a real TT position in a SLAC after that year is done? I’d be applying for new jobs after being there for 3-4 months, and interview process would be in the middle of that crazy year.

I believe I covered everything I wanted to say. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

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?

#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)

3rd #DiversityJC recap, guest post by @jkgoya

Our third #DiversityJC article was this letter presenting and analyzing the changes in women and minority involvement in the Ecological Society of America, at both the membership and leadership levels. As a letter from members of the Society, to the Society, critiquing the Society, it represents an important type of critical feedback, and it gives us a chance to see the Society’s response to the letter (as well as the community response).

The letter suggested that the absence of women and underrepresented minorities in the Society leadership could be attributed to either a time lag as we wait for the recent changes in membership proportions to propagate to leadership, or that selection committees preferentially exclude women and underrepresented minorities from consideration, whether intentionally or otherwise.

I think we agreed here, that just giving it time would not lead to balancing out the proportions.

Another point that was discussed was that it’s often potentially damaging to one’s career to speak out about these kinds of issues (diversity, harassment, injustice generally). I’ll leave off embedding those tweets as it seems wrong to publicly blog an embedded tweet in which someone expresses concern about speaking out.

We also discussed what happens outside of academia. Is it better or worse? What role does academia play in the larger culture?

 

Finally, many links were shared to try to answer some of these questions:

The importance of open access to research for supporting diversity:

http://blogs.biomedcentral.com/bmcseriesblog/2012/12/06/guest-blog-why-i-publish-open-access/

An example of the scale of hostility that can exist outside academia:

http://www.nj.com/business/index.ssf/2013/05/post_269.html

Reports from various STEM-related organizations on career trajectories:

http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/2013/start.cfm?CFID=16466301&CFTOKEN=55531281&jsessionid=f030f7015d517b2f872e303224a2f61e45f3

http://www.asbmb.org/asbmbtoday/asbmbtoday_article.aspx?id=15855&page_id=2

http://www.biochemistry.org/Portals/0/SciencePolicy/Docs/Chemistry%20Report%20For%20Web.pdf

http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2012/may/24/why-women-leave-academia

http://diversegreen.org/report/

2nd #DiversityJC recap

For those who don’t know, the idea to create a #DiversityJC (a twitter journal club discussion around #diversity in #STEM) was born of twitter interactions between Emily Klein (@DrEmilySKlein), Jonathan Goaya (@jkgoya), and myself (@Doctor_PMS). You can read more about it here. For our first #DiversityJC we discussed the paper that started the conversation and it was a great discussion (recap)! For this second #DiversityJC we chose a more general article by Kenneth Gibbs (@KennyGibbsPhD), describing what is diversity more broadly and why it matters in science and STEM fields. I was gladly surprised by the number of people that joined our discussion, I barely could keep up with my feed! There was a lot going on, so I’m going to try to focus on the main points in this recap.

As a heterogeneous group, many issues were brought up in the beginning of the discussion. Beth Hellen (@PhdGeek) stated the importance of having people who make determined efforts to promote diversity, Dr. Wrasse (@labroides) pointed out the loss of smart people from the academy when only traditional groups are supported, with big implications in conservation because we are closing doors to people from biodiverse countries. Emily Klein (@DrEmilySKlein) commented on the serious issue of meritocracy in academia (that is, the idea that diversity can be ignored because those that are best at science will still rise like cream to the top). Importantly, @PhdGeek pointed out the comments of the article, where it seems many people don’t recognize the issue as a problem “we need deportation programs”.

Exactly. “So if the answer is increasing diversity, can we do that through recruiting more diverse applicants into programs?” (@labroides). This is one option. Other alternatives suggested were diversity training at work (@MicroWavesSci), mentoring programs for minorities (@Doctor_PMS), target grant-writing seminars, fellowships for diverse peoples aim to prepare women and POC (@AlyciaPhD), on-paper diversity (@jkgoya), and more formal hiring criteria (@PhdGeek). Perhaps formalized diversity committees in Institutions. Of course, hiring is one end of the pipeline. “Problem has to be tackled at an earlier stage than job search” (@CoralReefFish).

Another point was  the importance of a good mentor. “Potential mentors should be approaching minorities, not wait to be approached” (@mccullermi). The importance of having a role model, teaching not only skills but also demonstrating passion for research. To this end, we also needmentoring training, as well as diversity training.

Our second Diversity Journal Club made clear we all cared about this issue, and had a lot to say. The take home message I believe it’s that “Diversity needs to be seen as mission-critical, not as an add-on” (@AlyciaPhD).

Please feel free to contact me to be added to the #DiversityJC twitter list. And here is the article for our next #DiversityJC on October 17th, 11EST: Diversity at 100: women and underrepresented minorities in the ESA. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 434–436 from Kate Boersma (@kateboersma). All are welcome to join!

Thanks to all participants: Emily Klein (@DrEmilySKlein), Jonathan Goaya (@jkgoya), Beth Hellen (@PhdGeek), Dr. Wrasse (@labroides), Cheng H. Lee (@chenghlee), Rhiannon Jeans (@PositronicNet), Laura Williams (@MicroWavesSci), Alycia Mosley Austin (@AlyciaPhD), Rebecca Weinberg (@sciliz), albatrossphd (@albatrossphd), Luiz Rocha (@CoralReefFish), Megan McCuller (@mccullermi), Wes Wilson (@WesleyWilson), Cara Fiore (@clfiore1).

#DiversityJC recap, guest post by @DrEmilySKlein

“According to my clock it’s 1100EST, let’s get this #DiversityJC rolling!”

 

And with that, we were off.

 

You know, it’s funny how things get started these days (especially for a twitter newbie like myself). One little tweet can ring so true, and next thing you know, you’re talking with complete strangers over the interwebs. But they don’t really feel like strangers, do they?

 

The Diversity Journal Club (#DiveristyJC) was born of conversations between Jonathan Goaya (@jkgoya), Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) and myself (@DrEmilySKlein). For our first paper, we discussed the one that got it all started (learn more here, and read the article here. The premise of the paper was that women get more positive feedback on their grant proposals than men do.

 

And our thoughts?

 

First and foremost, many had concerns with the methods used. Of course, as scientists assessing study in an unfamiliar field, we tempered that with a healthy dose of “well, the methodology was new for me so…”. Regardless, we generally agreed that the methods had to be somewhat addressed to assess the limitations of the study and critique results.

 

Concerns with methods included weighting very different words with the same value (i.e. being a genius is apparently the same as having a knack for something), distribution of words used, and how words were categorized and what those categories meant. Re-doing the study as a double-blind would also help, as well as a more narrow choice of words in general (such words like “queen*” and “king*” seemed… excessive, and were – let’s hope – doubtful found in a single response.) Authors should have limited the words addressed by their analysis to those that may have actually been used by reviewers instead of what appears to be a standard list of YAY and NAY words. Also, pretty small sample size. Of course, as Beth Hellen (@PhdGeek) pointed out, it could be a pilot study. In any event, we agreed that the methods needed some work, but we’d all like someone versed in them to provide a better critique.

 

However, a note: My understanding was the words used did come from other, published studies and methodologies. Either way, there did appear to be a underlying bias in the words used – perhaps indicating a larger, systemic problem with the words we use to define people along the gender binary, and how we code and value those words. As Cheng H. Lee (@chenghlee) noted, “In perhaps not-so-subtle way, this could have incorporated broader biases about masculine vs feminine words into the analysis.”

 

Moving on to those “larger issues.” First and foremost, why would women be praised more than men? Especially given the increasing evidence that women are seen as less competent and are overlooked for jobs, tenure, even mentoring, and described using less capable words even by people trying to get them a job/money (e.g. in letters of rec)?

 

Given the findings argued by this study… What’s going on with grants?

 

Well. Perhaps we should be looking at it a bit differently. As Jonathan Goya (@jkgoya), the premise could be seen another way: “Do reviewers use different language to review women and men?” Ahhhh… now we’re getting somewhere…

 

For the first potential explanation, an old favorite of mine: Chivalry and the gender binary. Ladies be all soft and sensitive, duh, and, moreover, a true gentleman is not rude to ladies. Yes that’s an exaggeration, but you get my drift: Men used “nicer” language when speaking with women than with men.

 

Although… the women were also better funded, according to the study, so there’s less evidence that men were just being nice and letting the ladies down easy. That said, Jonathan Goya (@jkgoya) still noted “from personal [experience], I’m pretty sure men speak to each other in much more directly critical language than between men and women.” Also personally believing this to be true, I’m unwilling to throw out this explanation as a possibility. In addition, R. Deborah Overath (@scienceknitsteryes on that name) pointed out that, given how awesome the words were for women, they should actually have scored better.

 

Alternatively, as Ruth Hufbauer (@hufbauer) suggested, maybe men are becoming more aware of their biases and are overcompensating or being too careful… ?

 

Another explanation: The bar is lower for women. Many people are just surprised (surprised!) when women write a stellar grant proposal. They don’t expect it, so are more glowing in response. Moreover, Jonathan Goya noted “…to get the same scores, women have to really wow the reviewers” and Lauren Sakowski (@LaSaks87) reiterated that the women may have put in “extra effort for the same funding/recognition”.

 

Basically, we either don’t expect women to do well, or they have to put in the extra effort for the same recognition. Or both.

 

As some additional evident, Beth Hellen (@PhdGeek) noted that there is a larger difference between the positive and negative words used for funded women, but little difference for men. Perhaps the actual content of proposals from men somehow counted more. In addition, again to R. Deborah Overath’s (@scienceknitster) point that women possibly should have gotten better scores given the words used in their reviews. Perhaps the bias is not in the language used, but in the actual score that, you know, actually matters.

 

Of course, perhaps women just write better grants.

 

Or… they have more experience with them and exactly what reviewers are looking for. We all know grants can be formulaic. We also know women are less likely to be tenured or in leadership positions. Maybe these women have spent more time in soft-money jobs that simply require more grant writing to stay afloat in the world. Consequently, they’re just better at it.

 

Yet, again, as scientists assessing a study from a generally unfamiliar field, we craved more information. We speculated on additional variables that may help us piece apart the methods and the results, and really assess why this paper, on its surface, seems to contradict what more and more studies are telling us, and what many if not most of us know from experience: women are biased against in the sciences. We are still going up the stairs, when men have had an elevator.

 

 

Finally, Ruth Hufbauer reminds us that, yes, we’re scientist, but we’re also human. Just like the reviewers and the authors. It’s difficult to do things, like be on review panels, without either being biased in some way, or at least being worried about it.

 

This would be the final point I’d make, and I hope it’s one we come back to repeatedly in the Diversity Journal Club: As Dr. Wrasse (@labroides) asked: does a fish know it’s in water?

 

How do we recognize our own biases?

 

And what do we do about them when we start to figure them out? How do we deal with them in others?

 

That was where the Diversity Journal Club left off: contemplating how we become more self-aware, how we educate ourselves and others, and how we raise awareness.

 

We hope we’re doing our little part of this, in our own little corner of the twitterverse. Until next time, kids…

 

Lastly, a quick but very important note from Jonathan Goya and Beth Hellen that I was absolutely guilty of: avoid using karyotype (e.g. XX or XY) when discussing men or women. This automatically assumes sex, and negates a person’s right to self-identify their gender. Therefore, please instead use M, F or alternative. And please keep these critical hints coming!

 

 

The next Journal Club will be next week! We will post a paper on Monday 9/29 to review on Friday 10/3 at 11am EST. Have one we should read? Let us know! Since we just did one on gender, let’s have a new diversity topic for the next one – any and all welcome.

 

Thank you to all participants (and give them a follow, they’re awesome!)*

 

Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) – the one who got us started with one little tweet!

Jonathan Goya (@jkgoya)

Dr. Wrasse (@labroides)

Beth Hellen (@PhdGeek)

biochem belle (@biochembelle)

Ruth Hufbauer (@hufbauer)

Mark (@NE14NaCl_aq)

PinkGlitteryBrain (@aiquintero)

Cheng H. Lee (@chenghlee)

Lauren Sakowski (@LaSaks87)

Deborah Overath (@scienceknitster)

Ian Street (@IHStreet)

Storify of the #DiversityJC

 

… and anyone else who checked in and followed the discussion. Again, we invite any and all participants, as long as you read the article and no trolling, please (although that just means we’ll ignore you. Which is a bummer. For you.)

 

‘Til next time!

 

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)

 

*Let me know if I got any names wrong or you have trouble finding someone!

I’m scared

Earlier today in response to this very powerful post, I told Dr24hours: “Because we all get scared, but only some of us have the courage to write about it”. So here it goes…

Every time that there’s something that bothers me, I tend to set it aside my thoughts. A la Scarlet O’Hara I always say “I think about that tomorrow”, and keep postponing it forever. I know that our grant is going to finish in the beginning of next year. I know there’s little chance of it being renewed. I know I’m too old to look for another postdoc somewhere else. I started applying for TT jobs, tried to aim to “middle options”, avoiding the really famous and the really small Universities. I know the job market is tough lately, but i thought that my CV was ok and it was worth a shot. Received a couple of rejection responses, but that still didn’t alarm me. The wake-up call started to come when I started to attend to job talks at my University. I’m at a tier 1 research institution, but I wouldn’t consider it as one of the top Universities. All the candidates either 1) have glam publication(s) and/or 2) have grants. Then I looked back at my CV and without any of those attributes it seems pathetic. Then I regretted having overlooked those small Universities, those teaching positions.

Today I’ve attended to a talk about tips to find jobs outside academia. I’m not hopeful at all about my job applications, and the thought of being jobless in about a year terrifies me. If there’s no place for me as a TT, maybe I could expand my horizons somehow? Big mistake. That talk was not really about finding jobs outside academia but career change. Alternatives for what to do if you hate graduate school. At every slide and through the whole talk, the only thing I could think was “But that’s exactly what I love about my job, that’s exactly where I want to be”. Realizing that brought me a tremendous pain. I believe that even without realizing that’s the reason I never really looked for jobs outside academia. I think about that almost everyday, but there’s always something else to do. Me and my usual denial. I don’t look for jobs outside academia because I don’t want to get out. And on the other hand I stopped applying for jobs at academia because I feel like I’m not good enough for that. And that left me with the sensation that I’m not doing anything and can’t do anything to avoid being jobless in a year.

I know I’ve neglected some precious years of my academic life investing in my personal relationship. I wanted to get married, to have kids and build a family. Of course, I was still working, but without a professional goal. My partner didn’t want to leave this city or his job, and I just passively lived my life by his side. When I finally woke up and realized that things were not going to work between us, it was already late. It took me a while to set my feet on the ground and look towards the direction I wanted to go. Then my visa problems kept me one year out of the US, and despite still working, all I could think and wish was to be able to come back. When I finally came back, I was ready. I spent a whole year hoping and planning what I was going to do once I was here. I completely immersed me into a working mode, wrote a grant, started a collaboration, worked on job applications. Totally closed myself to relationships, at first in home country because I knew I didn’t want to stay there, and later here in the US, because I just don’t want anything or anyone to muddle my goals.

About a month ago I started to have second thoughts about that. I started to miss feeling something, and unconsciously started to lay down my guards. Allowed myself to look around. And to be looked. It’s amazing how being alone is just a matter of how you feel about it! Then it happened. I met someone. Everything was unexpected and we still haven’t met again after our first rendezvous. Before anything he was really honest and told me he was still recovering from a broken relationship and I thought “Great. I’m not looking for anything serious, so let’s go”. But words and feelings are such different things! After a couple of hours I started to realize it was a big mistake. That he was a really nice and sweet guy. I secretly wished that he wouldn’t ask for my number so I could avoid trouble. He asked. Then I thought that he would never contact me and he just asked for my number for politeness. He texted. We’ve been texting everyday since then and despite feeling happy to receive his texts, deep inside I wish I had the strength to cut it off. I know I may fall in love for him. I know I might get hurt, but what terrifies me the most is to let my feelings get on the way of my professional goals, again. But he asked me to get together and watch a movie sometime this weekend and before I could even think about it, I said yes.

I’m scared. But at least writing this post made me stop crying.

Advice to new postdocs

Tonight on twitter biochembelle started a trend of tweets giving some valuable advice to postdocs. And that made me think about how I’ve been doing it all wrong.

“A postdoc is a job. A *temporary* job. You (postdocs) should be thinking about where you want to go next and what you need to get there…”

When I moved to the US, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay here or come back to home country. So I just came here and started working. Without any clear goal in mind. I also moved to a lab that did pretty much the same as what I did during my PhD, so that was my first mistake. You should go somewhere you can grow, learn new techniques and expand your research.

“Then look for opportunities to get what you need. As a postdoc, primary job is research. Publications are metric of productivity…”

Working in the lab of a senior researcher, there was a lot of romanticism about the questions of our research. We don’t work in a top-priority field, but even then, there are stronger questions that can be asked, new methods to be learned! Along the years our subfield became smaller and smaller and there was no motivation from my PI to change the field of research that he’s been working for more than 30 years! But, as a postdoc, one has freedom to work in aside projects! Of course, I did publish during all these years, but I don’t have any publication in glam journals, and my top IF is around 5. So, focus on publishing, yes, but aside all those little projects try to work on some research that you may publish in a good journal.

“Research & pubs are important. No one will argue that. But alone they’re not sufficient (especially when looking outside academia).”

There were two R01s in the lab when I first arrived and not so many people working there. So we were pretty “rich” and I never bothered (and no one told me) to write grants or apply for travel grants. When I first heard about the possibility of getting a K99, I was already passed the 5 year-limit to apply. NRSA training grants are for new postdocs learning new techniques, and I was already too “trained” for that. After 5 years in the same lab I just applied for an R03 last cycle. That’s just wrong! If you want to stay in academia writing grants will be your everyday life, so you better get started as soon as possible!

Now I am in the job market for a TT position and I feel that my CV basically lacks high impact publications and funding. I’m trying to fill those blanks, working hard on a project that I believe can be published in a good journal and also applying for grants. I think I’m already too old to go for another postdoc where I can have better opportunities of learning and publishing. But it may happen, if our grant is not funded and I don’t get a faculty job. I’m still hopeful things can work for me, but if only I had known those things before, I’d have done things different and I could be in my dream job!