I didn’t really understand how unjust the academic system was for career advancement for women until I had children  

In an exceptional piece over at Scientific American, Rebecca Calisi talks about the difficulty of not only being a woman in the science work place, but of being a mother.

I have pulled out some of the interesting passages below, but you really should stop what you’re doing and go read the whole piece.

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“I never used to notice these things. Of course, I was keenly aware of various other challenges women faced in the workplace, having both seen and experienced sexual harassment and gender bias on many occasions. I was also aware of the gut-wrenching statistics that revealed how having a baby negatively impacts career advancement for women. In an attempt to combat and overcome such things, I took a proactive approach: I attended women-in-science meetings and workshops, served on multiple committees to address women-in-science issues and participated in various outreach programs to support girls in science.

But I didn’t really understand how unjust the academic system was for career advancement for women until I had children.

From the moment we enter the beginning stages of starting a family, many of us are forced to do battle with various health issues, including nausea, nerve and lower back pain, dehydration, anemia and flat-out exhaustion. In the U.S., however, we are met with little to no prepartum assistance in the workplace. The time afforded to us for maternity leave, paid or unpaid, is hugely insufficient, and the severe lack of postpartum medical care for mothers in our country is unconscionable. Despite a mountain of research findings emphasizing the importance of maternal physical and mental health for both mother and child, our policies to support women during this time—or lack thereof—are illogical and shortsighted.

Concerning my own experiences, I could talk about how the only medical care I received postpartum involved a quick physical checkup, followed by a mental health questionnaire that alerted my doctor to my level of “baby blues.” But this only led to recommendations like, “try to get some more sleep,” “don’t forget to drink lots of water” and “maybe try talking to a therapist?”

I could tell you about how women who deign to pursue a career and have a family are often sentenced to the expectations that we must work as if family did not exist—and parent as if work did not exist.

Being a woman, a scientist and now a mother in a system created for and by white men with stay-at-home partners obviously has its problems. Many of us are either pushed out or decide to set sail for smoother waters. Sometimes when I hear exclamations of “we need to inspire more women to pursue the sciences!” I think: We’re here! We want to do science! But how can we when, to advance, we’re forced to run at double the speed of our male colleagues on a career track clouded by bias and covered in LEGOs?

Sometimes people ask me why I bother to stay in a career so hostile to women. I remind them the culture is changing, more quickly in some places than others. I also remind them it is not just science or academia in general that harbors this sex-biased hostility. My friends in law, business and entertainment have horrified me with unjust tales from their workplaces. And yet many of us stay the course, determined to both overcome and overturn obstacles in our paths to pursue our goals and passions. We do so by standing on the shoulders of fierce women who came before us, our forward momentum toward a destination made visible by their efforts, a hand hopefully extended behind us to pull up those even less privileged.

That’s when it occurred to me. The conference organizers wanted to support the needs of their nursing attendees—or at minimum avoid negative attention. They just didn’t know how. I got to work on listing all of the ways conferences could make their events more family-friendly, especially for working mothers, and why this benefits everyone.

Realizing my suggestions were born out of my own experiences and viewpoints, I called upon the power of diversity to help solve this childcare-conference conundrum. I organized a working group of 45 fellow mothers-in-science, composed of postdocs, assistant and tenured professors, scientists working in industry, National Academy of Science members, science journal editors, and an MD. In addition, approximately a forth of us were members of underrepresented groups in science in the U.S.. I uploaded my manuscript draft to a shared cloud drive and witnessed edits, suggestions, and revisions pour in from my co-authors in real time.”

 

 

Competition for the “best” REU applicants is outrageous

“Do you have a a high quality REU program? Do you know that your mentorship and research opportunities can put your REU students on a path towards success in STEM? Then how about you stop fighting with other REU programs over the students with the most amazing applications, and instead invest your time and effort into students who might not have another opportunity? Know that you’re actually making a difference.”

In another awesome piece at Small Pond Science, Terry McGlynn writes about the pressure for Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs to get the “best” students. Getting an REU is not the same as getting an early career grant, but it does put on you the path to future success. And I agree, looking for the most competitive students might be further disadvantaging under represented students.

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Science editors wanted to debate #scicomm. But they attacked the messenger instead.

This is a signal boost post. Read the original medium post here, but the full letter is replicated below.

500 Women Scientists’ Leadership team sent the following Letter to the Editor to Science magazine following their recent Working Life column “Why I don’t use Instagram for outreach.”

Dear Science Editorial Board,

We’re writing to express our disappointment at poor judgment that led to the publication of publishing “Why I don’t use Instagram for outreach,” which singled out and criticized a successful woman science communicator for her Instagram presence promoting and celebrating science. Science is one of the most highly esteemed journals, yet this article reads like a smear piece worthy of a tabloid. The job of an editor is to ensure the best possible argument comes through, and there is certainly an argument to be made here. For instance, women and underrepresented minorities take on a great deal of science communication, mentorship, and outreach work without recognition or professional reward from their institutions. Though there’s an increasing institutional pressure to communicate about science — whether to increase a university’s public profile or meet NSF’s Broader Impact requirements — many institutions expect that work to be done on personal time without compensation or additional resources. While the piece hinted at these systemic issues, those arguments were undermined when the work of another woman was criticized with an unabashed tone of condescension and without an opportunity to respond.

Rather than address the roadblocks facing women and underrepresented groups in STEM or grapple with the author’s personal misgivings around science communication, the piece was framed as an attack. The tone implied that anything beyond basic research is a frivolous waste of time, belittling meaningful approaches to science communication and public engagement. It offered a false choice between an authentic and relatable social media presence and effective advocacy for institutional change. The kindest interpretation for running this article is a lack of thoughtfulness on the editor’s part. At worst, Science made the choice to run an inflammatory article for the sake of increased website traffic.

The pages of Science are meant to mark advances in scientific discovery. But pinning one woman scientist against another is destructive, irresponsible, and perpetuates unreasonable standards for women and underrepresented groups in STEM. It is antithetical to the open, accessible, and inclusive future that we at 500 Women Scientists envision for the future of science.

— 500 Women Scientists Leadership Team

Trying to Fix the Gender Imbalance in Science Press

Women in science face a gauntlet of well-documented systemic biases. They face long-standing stereotypes about their intelligence and scientific acumenThey need better college grades to get the same prestige as equally skilled men, they receive less mentoring, they’re rated as less competent and less employable than equally qualified men, they’re less likely to be invited to give talks, they earn less than their male peers, and they have to deal with significant levels of harassment and abuse.

Additionally, women are literally being written out of science stories.

Read about Ed Yong’s desire to combat this pattern, and what he learned in the process, here.

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Free Posters Celebrating Mighty Women in Science

Designer Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya has created a series of incredible posters celebrating women in science. They are perfect for displaying in a classroom, in a kid’s bedroom, or on the wall of your office! Also great for lab spaces and communal break rooms.

The six posters featured here, were created by Amanda, a science-trained designer, to connect the Women’s March to the March for Science as part of her Beyond Curie design project focused on women in science.

Over at A Might Girl, they included an introduction to each of the featured scientists as well as recommended reading for both kids and adults. Find the posters here! Download and enjoy.

Katherine Johnson

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Rosalind Franklin

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Maryam Mirzakhani

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May Britt Moser

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Chien Shiung Wu

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Mae Jemison

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Shelf Life: 33 Million Things

@GrrlScientist wrote an excellent article over at Medium (written for the Guardian).

“Natural history museums are many things but they are not the exclusive domain of dry, dusty old white men, rooting around in dry, dusty old drawers, examining dry, dusty old dead things. In fact, most natural history museums are modern research institutions filled with a vast diversity of items and people whose lives revolve around them. They are collections of almost anything you can name or imagine, from centuries-old specimens to more recently collected frozen tissues and digitised genomic data. These collections are essential catalogues to the sciences of taxonomy, phylogeny and biogeography, disciplines that provide a firm footing for evolution, natural history, ecology, behaviour, conservation and anthropology as well as insights into more recent processes like human-created climate change.”

Want more? Read about it here!

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2017 year-ender: What I’ve learned from reading health news every morning

Each morning, Jill U. Adams (health journalist and an associate editor at HealthNewsReview.org) scans 26 news sites for stories that report on some claim of a health benefit by a specific intervention.

From this practice (for work it must be noted) she’s come up with a list of things that are becoming clear in health reporting this year (read the full article here):

 

Coffee. It’s neither terribly good nor terribly bad for you.

CelebritiesA study about the most attractive female lips offered up a chance for news outlets to post photos of Angelina Jolie. We’ve seen the same thing with many other celeb-focused health stories. New treatment for morning sickness? Kim Kardashian.  Wacky health claims? Gwenyth Paltrow. A “struggle” with chronic dry eyes? Marisa Tomei. It’s clickbait.

Headlines. Beware the hyped-up headline. Nothing makes me skeptical faster than a headline telling me how to live longer. And it’s hard not do a second roll of eyes when I scan ahead to see the article describing findings from an association study. I also watch for any of publisher Gary Schwitzer’s seven words you shouldn’t use.

Headlines, head-spinning version. Talk about different framings to a story! In April we blogged about seemingly opposite headlines on stories covering the same study. One news outlet’s story on colonoscopy warned readers that delaying the procedure was risky; another proclaimed waiting was okay.

Healthy foods. Please no. You can have healthy diets — such as a healthy pattern of eating that is rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. But there is no one food that will prevent cancer or make you sleep better or make you heart healthy despite what headlines may tell you. Why? Because there is no evidence for such things. Most of the studies on individual foods are association studies that rely on participants’ self-report of what they eat. They are not clinical trials that randomly put participants into an “eat blueberries” group and an “avoid blueberries” group and test the intervention for long enough in enough people to show causation.

Ill-defined interventions. Exercise is a prime example. Everyone knows by now that “exercise” is good for you. A health news story looking at exercise as an intervention should be specific  — how often, how long, and how intensely the physical fitness was measured. In December, we called out the lack of specificity in this HealthDay story review.

Proxy outcomes. Another HealthDay story, Can Coffee Perk Up Heart Health, Too?, reports on a study that measured the activation of particular gene clusters involved in inflammation. It’s quite a jump from these molecules to inflammation in general to inflammation that leads to pathology, much less to actual health outcomes. A New York Times story from the same month, Running may be good for your knees, reported on a study that found different inflammatory mediators in the knee’s synovial fluid after running or sitting for 30 minutes–which is a proxy, or a surrogate marker, for knee health.

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Moving for Science: the Coming to America Edition

In our ongoing “When I Grow Up” series, my close friend and great scientist Dr. Simon Uribe-Convers writes about the experience of coming to the United States for Science. In additions to his scientific contributions, he was notorious at the University of Idaho for two things: 1) He was a great mentor to other PhD students who were moving to a small town in Idaho from various South American countries and 2) He started the tradition of the PhDerailer (it tastes like angel tears and happiness). Both lasting legacies of his time at Idaho. 

It’s been over eight years since I arrived in the United States from Colombia to start my graduate career. I began with a Ph.D. in Biology at the University of Idaho, followed by a postdoc at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, and a second postdoc at the University of Michigan. Not only have I lived in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, a large sprawling city in the Midwest, and a buzzing college town crazy for (American) football, but I have driven from coast to coast, traveled to more than 20 states, and married an American—so you can say I know the country quite well. When asked to write about my experiences in this country as a foreign scientist, I took the opportunity to think introspectively and to reflect about it all. Even though I am writing these words with the US in mind, they can completely be applied to other countries—I lived in Germany and Spain for a year each and the experience of being a foreigner is, as a whole, similar. By the way, I’m not going to mention some very important things to keep in mind because a friend of mine just wrote about them last week!

Do your homework and find a good principal investigator (PI) to work with 

This one is straightforward and also applies to Americans, but it is absolutely essential. You will spend a lot of time with your graduate or postdoctoral advisor—they will guide and influence your research and take decisions that will affect your development as a scientist, so working with a person with whom you have nothing in common is a bad move. As foreigners, we are mostly aware of the big universities (i.e., Ivy League schools) but the US has so much more to offer! Instead of focusing only on the big name schools, focus on the person you want to work with first. A good approach is to think of the scientific papers that you like or that have had an impact on your research, and to pay attention to the author list. You should also do this with a few scientific journals that are relevant to your field. Do you see people that keep popping up? These are the people you should work with! Write them an email—almost everyone is nice about getting questions about working with them—and start a conversation. Be aware that people are busy and that PIs get many (~100) emails a day, so be patient and don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a response immediately. Also, and this is key, be sure to send a polite and casual reminder with your first email attached to it if you haven’t heard back in a week or so. Again, people are busy and your email might have gotten lost among the others.

Integrate—you are not in your country.

So you traveled to the US to pursue a Ph.D./Postdoc. That’s great, enjoy it, but don’t forget that life exists outside of school! Now is the time for you to adapt, integrate, and familiarize with the local culture. First off, do you feel comfortable with the language? If not, try to take courses before you arrive or soon after, as this will make the transition to your new life much smoother. Second, learn about the acceptable social norms and abide by them, and be accepting and respectful of the way people operate here. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t like for a foreigner to come to your country and disrespect what makes your country special for you. Don’t be that person. Third, make local friends. We are always drawn to people who are similar to us (e.g., same culture) but if you are, for example, Latino and you only have Latin friends, you will not learn anything new about the local culture. Having American friends will also help you with my first and second points because you will speak English constantly and friends will let you know if you are disrespecting their local culture. Moreover, you will experience things that depending on where you are from, you haven’t been exposed to; such as skiing, sledding, or other winter sports. Bottom line, go make friends; carve pumpkins in Halloween, get invited to a proper thanksgiving dinner, and be open to new experiences within a community.

Share what’s yours

Now that you have American friends, be sure to share your own culture, language, and social norms! Throw a party to celebrate one of your country’s holidays, make some of your country’s food, and show people a part of your heritage. The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world and people love experiencing new cultures and cuisines, so share what’s yours and highlight your own culture!

Understand the American system

Each country has its own way of doing things and the United States is not different. Within the first two weeks of arriving you will have to: get a social security card, a phone, a driver’s license or state ID, open a bank account, etc., and each of these transactions will require different documents and forms. It’s not difficult but it can take time to figure out. The good thing is that most universities have a group of people in charge of international students, and who will give you lots of information about all this. Take advantage of the facilities that your university has and make your life easier. One thing I struggled with (as many people from all nationalities including Americans) was understanding the healthcare system. What’s a deductible, what’s a co-pay, what’s covered and what’s not? These are complicated questions and are different in every state and insurance company, so make sure you understand them well and if you don’t, ask for help! Again, universities have people who can help you with this, so do your homework and avoid massive medical bills. Concerned? Don’t even get me started with taxes! Bottom line, find the information and help you need to navigate the system and you’ll be fine.

Enjoy your time in the United States!

I have traveled throughout the country, camped in breathtaking national parks, visited cities that blew my mind, and most importantly, created long-lasting friendships along the way. This country has been very good to me and I hope that it is as good, or better, to you. Now, go explore it!

Do you have any questions, comments, or recommendations for someone coming to the US? Leave them in the comments below, I would love to hear what others have to say about their experience!

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A postdoc union

From a University of Washington Postdoc:

“Like all the postdocs I know, I love my research. But we face significant day-to-day obstacles as we try to dedicate ourselves to science. At most universities, policies governing postdocs’ working conditions and terms of employment are substandard or, more often, nonexistent. Our titles and employment arrangements vary, leaving us isolated and frequently at a loss when dealing with complicated human resources issues. Many of my fellow postdocs are thinking about starting families, and parental leave and child care policies are, for the most part, sadly lacking. Living with this constant anxiety can make it difficult—and in some scenarios impossible—to focus on our work.

Nine days before my scheduled dissertation defense, my then-spouse and I split up. I was able to navigate this enormous life event and get through my defense with the support of a counselor, provided by my university’s student health center. When my father received a chilling medical diagnosis, this resource again helped me cope. But shortly afterward, I was suddenly turned away from the counseling I had relied on. My adviser and I had decided that I would stay on for about a year as a postdoctoral researcher, which rendered me ineligible for these services. My experience is just one example of the poor working conditions awaiting postdocs—and why I’ve become involved in efforts to form a postdoc union at my university.”

I couldn’t agree more. This is especially true since postdocs, relative to other fields with equal amounts of training, are drastically under paid.

Want to read more? Find it here!

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