Posts Tagged 'careers'

New ways of doing science, Yamana Science and Shifting the Effort/Award Ratio

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the first annual (I hope) Unsummit, organized by Yamana Science.  Yamana was founded by mom, scientist and powerhouse Kennen Salinero, and describes itself as follows:

“Yámana Science & Technology is an organization that envisions a science culture where both people and ideas flourish in the presence of effective support, balanced lifestyles, and thriving workplaces.”

The Unsummit pulled together a creative group of scientists and organizational thinkers to dream up and hopefully one day act upon a new way of doing science – from basic cultural changes in the way science is carried out to practical changes including work-life balance.  It is all related really.

If you are devoted to science and to change check them out and begin to take charge of what we do and how we do it.

 

Creativity in Science Careers: why I love AAAS

When I first started this project I was warned by Fran the editor that by suggesting there are many options for scientists other than the straight and narrow path to academia, I may hit some nerves. I had agreed with her and even wrote about how the “science establishment,” needs to be more open to different career options. But maybe we were more pessimistic than need be (although to some extent this is what happened with the recent Nature review of the Motherhood book – more on that here.)  This month, through a number of “outlets” the AAAS and their journal Science clearly show their support for scientists who venture off the academic track, and it’s refreshing to see a major organization be so supportive and creative.

First, was the April 3 Science Editorial by Bruce Alberts who writes:

“A recent survey of more than 1000 of these young scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), reveals an unusually broad range of career aspirations. Less than half select becoming academic researchers like their mentors as their first choice. One senses that we are reaching a tipping point, where students who prefer to work in the world of public policy, government, precollege education, industry, or law will no longer be viewed as deserting science. Faculty and students can then begin to talk honestly about a whole range of respected, science-related career possibilities. This is crucial, because we must promote the movement of scientists into many occupations and environments if our end goal is to effectively apply science and its values to solving global problems.”

Read it and cheer!

Next up is Science Careers upcoming Webinar, Nontraditional Careers: Opportunities Away from the Bench,  and finally, a really interesting NewFocus Profile (in Science) on Jorge Cham, researcher in neural prosthetics turned successful cartoonist, who amuses and reveals the life of PhD students and advisors through comics (see his blog at or check out his books.) Cham is quoted as saying about his career shift,  ” ‘if you have the drive and creativity, you can forge your own path,’  and ‘you can choose your own definition of success.’ ”  My thoughts exactly.

My dad always said do what you love and you’ll succeed. For many it’s a luxury to be able to do what they love, for most scientists that’s exactly what they’re doing.   We just need to appreciate and support all the different ways scientists do what they do.

Advice wanted for re-entry: hosed out of the pipeline at mid-career

I am posting this for Gen, a scientist who recently wrote to this site about her career, seeking advice from readers:

“As an NSF predoctoral fellow in the life sciences, I climbed pretty high up the ladder at a soft-money research institute.. It was crazy trying to balance a toddler, two pregnancies and a new baby with what has been called an “extreme” career as a laboratory head. However, I did contribute a number of significant, recognized papers to my field.

As an independent investigator I earned four research grants (2 federal and 2 private) over the course of ten years. I was awarded a five year R01 just after having my second and last baby (at age 42–don’t think it is easy–I was just lucky)! I was an Associate level researcher before my lab was shut down because my R01 wasn’t renewed after two tries. During this time I had two sons and a miscarriage. This contributed to a “productivity problem” that grant reviewers have been eager to point out as a reason not to renew my grant (we all know there doesn’t need to be much of a reason to deny a grant these days). I published three papers on a single R01 grant as my only source of funding, with only one post doc in the lab. Two more papers nearly ready to submit. Well, at least you can say I was efficient?

Now what? I have been out of work for nearly a year. I have some well-recognized publications and the colleagues I have contacted stated they regard my work highly and are really sorry that I am no longer engaged in my research.

I do want to return to my former career trajectory and become a full professor in 5-7 years time, but with certain modifications. I believe that I will need about three years to regain my publication “quantity”: my publication “quality” is excellent. I currently have a small grant, with funds I can make last for 2-3 more years. I can probably get work as a “research track” faculty member (i.e. superpost-doc) in someone else’s lab. I’m not currently competitive for a faculty position because I am a 50 yr old woman and it seems that most places would prefer a younger, “hotter” new investigator. Is it a good idea to take a downward step for a few years while my youngest (age 8 still needs Mom a lot? If so, can I get back on track…ever?

Any advice would be tremendously appreciated!”

Am I guilty of enabling?

I am thinking about the recent review of Motherhood, in American Scientist. Londa Schiebinger, author of the review writes, “The women who succeed—and there are many in this volume—are those whose partners take an equal share of the responsibility for raising a family and making the household function..”

Although grateful for the positive review, I am also realizing that once a book is on the loose the interpretation is up to the reader. While I guess I knew this for fiction, it never occurred to me for a  collection of nonfiction essays.

One goal I’d hoped for the book was that it’d begin some discussion about science careers in general – and what makes or defines a “successful” science career. According to Schiebinger, as a mother whose husband has the full-time job, I have not succeeded, only enabled. Perhaps. Maybe there is some truth to this that I have suppressed. Or maybe I really did want to be home for the kids after school, or maybe I didn’t want to relinquish control over the kids day-to-day lives to my husband (yes, I’ve been known to be something of a control freak when it comes to household minutia) – if there is any enabling, I think it’s that I accepted the consequences. That isn’t my husband’s fault. So if I’m guilty of anything – it’s in accepting that my career isn’t as illustrious as it could have been (or not – I could have worked full time and still be on the same “level” in terms of ladder climbing that I am now.) Perhaps had I picketed outside of the local colleges, or federal agencies carrying a sign something to the effect of, “Took time off, but I’ve still got a brain!” I wouldn’t be so guilty of perpetuating the all or nothingness of academia and research.

I do however, fully agree with Schiebinger that I’ve been “complicit” in allowing my husband to “shirk [his] responsibility,” although here I might suggest using the word partner rather than husband or even spouse. I am guilty of perpetuating the idea that my part-time career is less important than my husband’s full-time career, leaving me and “only me” open to doctors appointments, picking sick kids up from school, and sticking around for snow days. This doesn’t mean the work doesn’t get done – it gets done – but what I’ve lost is my own time. To be honest this has always been a sore point – a place for resentment to build – and so I will try harder to claim my time on the job as just that – my job my time.

Motherhood media

I’m happy to announce that the video of the first Motherhood Panel, held at the Cornell University Bookstore is now available. Tune in (though I’ll warn you it’s long!) and hear Joan Baizer, Marilyn Merritt and Gina Wesley-Hunt, along with Cornell faculty dicussants Shelley Correll, Melissa Thomas-Hunt, Lisa Fortier, Margaret Frey, and Barbara Knuth, talk about motherhood and science.

On another note in addition to Ellen Galinsky’s excellent commentary on motherhood and work (Ellen is President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute) Motherhood the Elephant was also highlighted on a recent broadcast of Hartford CT’s WNPR Navigating Motherhood and Work episode of “Where We Live.”

I’m afraid I didn’t do the book and the contributors justice. No excuses but nerves got the better of me! Now that I have the luxury of letting my fingers do the walking across the keyboard (where my brain has some time to think) I feel I can better respond to host Diane Orson’s excellent question, “what did I learn from the other scientists.”  I mentioned patience, particularly from those who navigated the motherhood/science path before me. It is certainly possible to have the desired career along with the desired level of input into the day-to-day family care – but maybe not both at the same time (of course depends of the level you desire!) Sometimes somethings got to give – and sometimes there are opportunities in the future you’ve just got to plan, keep a hand in the game and be patient.

I’d also add the confidence to ask for what you want. Several contributors pointed out that flexible hours, extended maternity leave, the ability to work from home didn’t just happen. They asked.

Finally (though there are many other good lessons learned) I think it’s that success in career/science really is what you make of it. Don’t wait for external validation. Though it’s nice when it comes, for many, particularly those who work independently or who have chosen non-traditional paths, it may be a long time coming!

News on the balancing act from the EU

I was scanning the ScienceCareers site today and came across an interesting blog entry – Career vs. Family: An ESOF Smackdown, by Katie Travis. For those (like me) who don’t know, ESOF is the European Open Science Forum.  Having no experience with work-life balance in Europe and elsewhere around the globe – I’d always assumed that motherhood was greener on the other side of the pond.  I’m not referring to wooden toys and cotton diapers – but rather I’d always assumed that the desire to combine work with family was better developed and appreciated over there.  Maybe that’s not so.

Writes Travis, “I heard something I haven’t heard expressed out loud in a while: Women do need to choose between a career and family.”  Baffled by women who suggested that women must choose, Travis kept looking until she found other perspectives, one offered up by a physician, field researcher and mother of four who she writes is “…. a “trailing spouse”–her husband’s diplomatic job takes the lead and takes them around the world. She’s got a self-described service mentality, so even though her husband’s career has been the most consistent, she’s applied her expertise in whatever region she’s in. “I believe it’s my responsibility to prepare myself to say yes to opportunity,” Tokola says. She adds that she’s managed work-life balance by having a husband who’s 100% supportive and by having outside help with childcare.”

For more of Travis’s observations, check out her entry Career vs. Family: An ESOF Smackdown.

And I used to think Title IX was all about sports

Back when I was in high school Title IX came along just in time for us to get our nascent lacrosse team bumped up from a club to a varsity sport. The new law also prompted one student, Jeff G. to join the women’s soft-ball team, claiming it worked both ways. Though our suburban school wasn’t known for great performances in sports (well, unless you count tennis) the softball team went to state finals that year. I’m all for fairness – but I wonder if Jeff G. has kids and if he does if he’s sharing equally in childcare and house work these days?

Title IX wasn’t just about sports, although apparently it was never really enforced in other aspects like academics or fields other than the green and grassy ones, like Science.

John Tierney explores this topic in his article, A New Frontier for Title IX: Science, published in today’s New York Times.

According to Tierney, “The members of Congress and women’s groups who have pushed for science to be “Title Nined” say there is evidence that women face discrimination in certain sciences, but the quality of that evidence is disputed. Critics say there is far better research showing that on average, women’s interest in some fields isn’t the same as men’s.”

No kidding? Although this is just a single sample, I’ve got a good college friend who’s an engineer working for a large military contractor who admits, she just doesn’t get a charge out of blowing things up like the guys do (but at this point after so many years invested, changing jobs just isn’t feasible with two kids in college.) Yes I know, there are likey plenty of women engineers out there who might feel otherwise.

But seriously, there is plenty of evidence as discussed in Motherhood the Elephant and elsewhere that at least in some sciences women now represent 50% or more of all graduate students.

Yet, as Tierney points out,

“They remain a minority in the physical sciences and engineering. Even though their annual share of doctorates in physics has tripled in recent decades, it’s less than 20 percent. Only 10 percent of physics faculty members are women, a ratio that helped prompt an investigation in 2005 by the American Institute of Physics into the possibility of bias.

But the institute found that women with physics degrees go on to doctorates, teaching jobs and tenure at the same rate that men do.”

Later in the article he refers to work by Susan Pinker, whose suggests that the disparity isn’t necessarily a question of opportunity but choice,

“Ms. Pinker says that universities and employers should do a better job helping women combine family responsibilities with careers in fields like physics. But she also points out that female physicists are a distinct minority even in Western European countries that offer day care and generous benefits to women.

“Creating equal opportunities for women does not mean that they’ll choose what men choose in equal numbers,” Ms. Pinker says. “The freedom to act on one’s preferences can create a more exaggerated gender split in some fields.””

Interestingly the greatest single field responding to the initial call for essays for Motherhood were physicists, so many that I feared if they all wrote, the book would be too slanted toward that one field!

It’d be interesting to hear their thoughts on Tierney’s article.