Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Nice Thanksgiving break

It's 5:30am and for some reason I'm up and sipping coffee. It wasn't my intention to get up so early. Something woke me up, and I decided to get a glass of water from the kitchen. A look outside told me that my 4 year old had once again been playing with the lights over his booster seat and it had been on all night in the minivan. After going outside, wrestling with the gate and turning the light off, I didn't feel much like going back to bed. So I podded myself a cup of coffee (yes, sad to say we have switched to the pod system for simplicity, quickness and to get rid of all the coffee mess from daily grinding our own coffee) and got on the internet.

The little one is restless this morning. We've been treating an ear infection in the ear that still has her tube in it because we had some antibiotic ear drops but I suspect the other one is infected as well. So my week post-Thanksgiving will most likely start with a visit to the pediatrician. Still she's been quite the trooper as always and only slightly more clingy and whiny. The "big" guy, my almost 5 year old, has been in a good place. Maybe he sensed I bought and started reading "Parenting the Strong-willed Child".

I always look upon longer breaks with some trepidation. Usually these are slightly stressful days - my children seem to need enormous parental interaction and constant conversation during these times. But this has been a nice break. The weather's been beautiful. My husband has been relaxed and home. We've had days of just hanging around the house. We had a day of meeting a few friends from preschool at the zoo, which was nice for us because it's usually just us going to these places. My husband and I watched a movie one night and played Trivial Pursuit on another (it was a tie as midnight was approaching but I plan to whoop him in a rematch!) We had some stress around Thanksgiving dinner as it didn't get on the table until 1:30pm and the kids were hungry. (Note-to-self: Thanksgiving dinner on the table by Noon as long as toddlers are in the house.) But it was nice to once again, cook a turkey. We haven't done that in several years. I really want to make those holiday traditions for my family and although it's a lot of work and the kids probably won't remember it yet, I'll practice now to get it right for later.

Next week is a big one. For one, my 3 year old is transitioning to the "big girl" house at her preschool. The school made some great safety adjustments for her on their playscape and I feel lucky to be a part of this Montessori school. The kids have thrived there. Second, I'm having a stress test. Yup, as loving hubby said, "Welcome to middle age!" I mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to go back to the gym, get a personal trainer, and get back in some sort of shape. Well about a month ago I did that. In my first session, my trainer wanted to see where I was in general health and stamina. I got pretty winded by the end of the hour session but didn't really think much of it except that after we were done and we were sitting, talking about plans for working out, I couldn't regain my breath. I started to get cold and clammy and nauseous and after 15 minutes, I announced I had lay down. She asked me if I was having trouble breathing, which I was except not in the "my chest hurts and I can't catch my breath" sort of way but that's how it was interpreted and next thing I knew I was staring at the paramedics, right there in the gym. Not just 3 paramedics but 6! I must be special. Since I had been laying down for 5 minutes, I could feel the blood returning to my head but they popped in the oxygen tube and started asking questions, taking blood pressure (90 over 50 by then) and asking me had I starved myself before working out? Do I look starved? Long story short, I didn't need a trip to the hospital, they made my husband come get me despite the fact that we live two blocks away, and I was annoyed by the 90 year old guy on the treadmill near me who came in with a walker. He didn't stop walking on the treadmill the whole time. Rub it in........ This event bothered me enough though to make me go to my doctor, who rightly so, has ordered a stress test. I will wait to see what it shows before I go back and get into a physical workout. I want to know my limits, if I have some right now. I'm glad I went because with little kids, I want to make sure if I have control of it, that I'm around for them for as long as possible.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm feeling peaceful about life; it's tough, I'm perpetually overtired, I'm tired of visiting the pediatrician and I'm way behind on the Christmas planning stuff. But as an article I read in Parenting magazine said, accepting that being the parent of toddlers is stressful, tiring and often, not much fun, could help you move past that to see the great things that are happening around you in your family. Seems simple but I think it's true. So that's what I choose to do, at least right now when everyone else is sleeping and I'm having a nice cup of coffee while tapping away on my computer.

Anyway, I'm thankful for the time we've had together this holiday as a family. Now let the Christmas fun begin. It's my favorite time of the year.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

MIT's Tonegawa steps down

I was pleased to read the online CNN report regarding the fallout over Susumu Tonegawa's inappropriate bullying of a highly recruited female faculty candidate to MIT. It's far more than an issue about gender in science; it's about fairness and ethics. It may not seem like enough for some people that Tonegawa resigned as director but stays on at the Neuroscience Institute but given his ego, this will be a hard pill to swallow. Afterall he did win the Nobel Prize in 1987 and founded MIT's Neuroscience Institute in 1994. I think this is a positive move for my PhD alma mater but also for science in general. There must be action when unfair practices in science are disclosed. However I remain disappointed in Susan Hockfield's lack of public condemnation.

As a woman in an extremely powerful academic and scientific position, I thought she should have been more vocal than she was. On her recent election to the Board of the Carnegie Corporation, the Corporation president, Vartan Gregorian said:

Susan Hockfield is a trailblazer and role model for women in science and technology," said Gregorian. "We believe her knowledge and scientific perspective will bring even greater strength to our influential board. Carnegie Corporation's mission is consistent with MIT's tradition of innovation, research and meritocracy, and I am greatly honored that she has accepted our invitation to join the Corporation as a trustee this early in her administration.

Maybe she choose to work behind the scenes on this one, but that doesn't work for the greater my opinion......

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Where for art thou?

I'm still around. I've been lurking and reading the blogs lately but feeling quite lethargic about posting. I don't know why. Maybe it was in part the Mother and Aunt visit which ate up an entire week (but I did enjoy having them here). Maybe it's the endless preschool activities and doctor's appointments which are culminating in parties at my children's two preschool houses this week. Maybe it has been these excrutiating migraines I've been getting every time a front comes through. Last night the headache woke me up at 2:30am and I spent until 4am chewing Excedrin, hoping it would go away as I'm solo again with the kids and I need all my faculties to make it through the day. Probably it was more the several interactions and conversations I've had recently with my husband and colleagues which made me realize that deciding to do this "part time science" thing was in good part a mistake - at least for the science career. I know there's a blog in that one but I'm too emotionally tired to tackle it now.

I've been keeping track of some interesting events however. The first was that my Institute is creating an administrative position to deal with Women Faculty Programs. Yeah! The goal of the Associate Vice President position is to develop programs, networks and support systems to ensure that the talented women faculty hired have the support system in place to succeed. I put my hat in the ring for this position awhile back but didn't receive an interview. I'm not surprised. I would have been the "think outside the box" candidate. Still I'm excited to see what comes of this new initiative.

Second, my Institution has changed it's thinking on those 'tweener academic research positions we all call "Instructor". It's been painfully obvious, at least to me and other colleagues, that there are a great deal of PhDs awarded to people who will never, or actually don't want to, run their own labs. The American academic science system does not have a place for these individuals who want to remain in research. Usually scientists (and often women) are placed in the Instructor position with the idea that they will be suitable for promotion to Assistant Professor in 2-4 years. Up until now at my Institution, once you wre in the Instructor position for the allotted years, you were out unless you secured a promotion. I call this the second "brain drain". The first is the loss of trained women scientists who fail to navigate the "leaky" pipeline towards professorship. The second is the loss of the "tweener" scientists or "super postdocs" who have traditionally been frowned upon by administration but are viewed as incredibly valuable and productive lab members by the PIs. Suddenly at my Institute, the Instructor position has been changed to an open-ended position, with no time limits. I think this is a step in the right direction, as long as women who are placed in these Instructorships are given the opportunity to be promoted when they have the qualifications.

Third, I'm getting selfish in my old age. I spend a lot of time trying to make life easy for other people and making life safe, fun and happy for my kids. Hasn't left much time for, well, me. I had a great role model as a mother but I think she gave up too much. So I re-signed up at our local YMCA and yesterday, I filled out the information to hire a personal trainer. I'm not a group exercise person so I figure the only way to get myself back in something equivalent to reasonably healthy shape is to have a workout program designed for me. I am just waiting to be contacted by that trainer. My goals are not lofty. I just want some tone back, a little weight loss and some additional energy to keep from being the grouchy tired Mommy to my kids.

Right now the most amazing line of thunderstorms is passing by; the thunder and lightning are constant. The house is shaking as if a train is rolling right outside the front door. I don't think I'll every like this southwest weather.....I've just walked my 4 year old back to bed and I'm going there myself........

Monday, October 02, 2006


First let me say "Thanks" to Dr. Shellie for her condolences on our "lost" vacation. We actually drove the kids down to the beach this past weekend for the day. It was beautiful weather, the kids had a great time, and it was nice to completely disconnect from work life. It makes up a little for the time we lost earlier.

Anway, these days I'm re-learning that life is all about perspective. And I've actually gained a clearer perspective on myself in the last few days.

I haven't blogged in awhile. Partly because I've been really busy at work, partly because I was consumed by the planning of my three year old daughter's birthday party and partly because I've was trying to do all of this while battling some mysterious illness which gave me rotating migraines and stomach ailments. And yes, I had a wicked migraine for the actual birthday party - but it went on as planned and it was a success for her.

All of this has been working in combination with my son's current insistence to get out of bed 3 or 4 times a night and come in to wake me up - most often for no reason what-so-ever. I was feeling quite bedraggled at the beginning of this week and was expressing this to my husband.

He gets pretty upset with me when I get this run down because he sees that I'm spending more time at work than I need to. For those of you that are new to this blog, I'm an Associate Professor in Cancer Research who is currently in the unusual position of being a part time faculty member. I took this position because it would facilitate my husband's recruitment to a more senior position and because I have an adopted daughter who needs extra medical attention. So I'm trying to do my science without anyone in my lab, minimal soft money and no real support from the Department Chairman. My husband's perspective on this is that I should work my 20 hours and get out of the lab. In that extra time, I could do a lot of things for the family to make life run smoother - groceries, shopping - and maybe catch some afternoon snoozes. I can see his point but then he doesn't see this from my perspective.

Yes I agreed to this part time position for the kids and to expedite the move to our new Institute. But that doesn't mean that I became less of a scientist. I'm still driven to do something useful in my field. I still have the same level of interest and desire that drew me to medical research in the first place. I have a pretty crazy schedule running between work and kid's appointments, preparing for birthdays, keeping the house running and feeding the family. But that doesn't dampen my scientific drive.

When I get to work, it feels natural to be there. I have experiments that I want to do; I'm working out a new technique and would love to be able to show it's feasibility for predicting tumor behavior. So from my perspective, I'm trying to keep my scientific career alive and yes, it can get to be a lot when family life interferes - and it often does. In addition, I actually like to have lunch with my husband (Sappy maybe, but true) because with a 4 and 3 year old at home, we don't get much time to sit and talk alone! .

I don't know if I will ever get better at just "doing my time" but I do know the this has taught me something that I don't think I've ever really acknowledged about myslef. I understand better how much of me loves what I do. I used to joke that if this science thing didn't work out I could always teach figure skating and make better money. That's still true but I realize now how difficult it would be to completely walk away from life in the laboratory.

Wish me luck.....

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Does your Mother really have to work here?!

So in our lab (mine and my husband's are currently melded), we try to get people to personally "invest" in their projects because it's their future. We also try to instill in them a sense of community in the lab because the lab environment - how well it runs and how they get along with their colleagues - can greatly impact their's and the lab's success. So to me, these concepts don't seem all that hard. For example:

-we have lab jobs - filling pipet racks, filling water carboy, making shared reagents etc. They rotate quarterly.

-we also have a strict sign in, use, clean up and sign out policy in the tissue culture room. In this way, you should always find the TC hood ready for you when it's your alloted time. Sometimes, the autoclavable waste is full at the end of your session, sometimes the pipet bins need refilling, sometimes the ethanol spray bottle needs refilling. If you do these things when they happen on your "shift", then you should expect that others will do the same for you.

-we ask that you watch shared reagents like gels, antibodies, tissue culture flasks, tissue culture aliquots etc. and when you see them getting low, tell the technician with enough leeway so she can realiquot or reorder to avoid interruptions.

Simple right? Seems like these should be simple human courtesies you learn in kindergarden. Right?

Well, no, actually wrong? Inevitably there is one person in the lab who doesn't feel the need to follow these rules. I interpret this as the "my time is more important that yours so I'll take what I need for my experiments and it's too bad if when it comes to your experiments, they get delayed because the reagent is unavailable" attitude.

Then there's the cleaning up after yourself, good citizen behavior. Especially in the tissue culture room, I find bleach splattered all around, trash on the floor, pipets not refilled waste bins full. This is usually in the morning so of course it's the "I'm in late and want to get home mentality and I know that Dr. Smith will be in first in the morning and will clean it up" mentality.

So I hate to say it but 99% of the time, the problem person is male. And most often, there's one or two females who "see" the lab, notice things and invest in keeping the lab running. Unfortunately, it's usually their experiments which get interrupted by the lack of this other person's lack of social skills.

And so once again, I'm setting up sanctions. Come on people, aren't you 25 years old, and aren't you 31. Why is this so hard? Do you really care that little about your surroundings? Don't you understand that if your labmates are successful, then most likely you and the lab in general will benefit from that? Are you really that self-centered? Does your Mother really have to work here?!

Monday, September 11, 2006

09/11 - and then there was Anna

It's been a sobering day. I watched some of CNN 's re-run of coverage from 09/11/01 and it sure brought back memories. My husband and I were in Nova Scotia on vacation. We had flown up via Logan airport in Boston to Halifax and then rented a car to drive out to where my parents had rented a house on the ocean. It was beautiful weather and a gorgeous location. After a few days there, we took off to drive the Cabot Trail around Cape Breton. We stopped at the half way point to stay at the exquisite Keltic Lodge Resort on Middle Head Pennisula in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. On the morning of 09/11, we took the 1/2 mile trail out to the very end of the Pennisula. On our way back, my husband's cell phone rang. It surprised us because most of Nova Scotia at the time had terrible or no cell phone coverage. It was his brother calling from downtown Manhattan to tell him about the plane flying into the World Trade Center. Fortunately, he was about a mile away from the towers. While on the phone, the second plane hit. We ran to the lodge game room where there was a big screen TV and turned it on. We watched the coverage and as other guests walked through, we explained what was happening. I called my parents back at the beach house to tell them what was going on because I knew there was no TV there and they only got CBC1 on the radio.

Then the plane hit the Pentagon and I remember as clear as day that my husband turned to me and said, "Your country is under attack". I instantly felt sick and my entired gut was tied in knots. I couldn't eat the rest of the day as we drove directly back to be with my parents. We had been scheduled to return shortly but the tiny Halifax airport was now home to over 150 flights who were dirverted when the North American airspace was shut down. And besides, Logan was completely shut down. We thought we would just drive our rental car home but no rental cars were being allowed over the border! We were stuck. We finally drove to Halifax and secured a scarce seat on a train which would take us on a 30-some-odd hour train ride around Maine and through Canada to Windsor Ontario. Our car was parked at the Detroit Airport, just across the Detroit river. Except you had to go over the Ambassador Bridge - a 20 minute drive, on a normal day in history. We hopped in a shared cab with another couple and proceeded to take our 3 hour trip across the bridge and home. I remember stepping through the door of our home, wondering what life would be like after this historical moment.

Fortunately for me though, I don't just have to think about the terrorist attacks on 09/11. Two years ago today on 09/11/04, I was boarding a plane in Amsterdam with my husband and a little bit of a thing, bald-headed, with a cold. It seemed strange to be flying to the US on that day and I couldn't help but wonder if it was so smart to be on a big plane. Still we were coming home after our third and final trip to Russia to bring home our daughter Anna. I will never forget 09/11/01 and what I felt that day. But I also celebrate another 09/11, because a new and promising future began.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Academics, Family and Vacation - my story

This blog comes under the heading of academics and family vacation, as it relates to my current life anyway. I'll try to keep the ranting to a minimum.

Since moving and setting up shop at big Cancer Center a year and a half ago, we have been struggling to find time as a family to "get away" for a vacation. Part of the problem is the lack of actual vacation days we are alloted here and having to accrue them monthly. In this regard, we were actually demoted upon joining the faculty - despite being Associate Professor level, we had to start at the bottom of vacation days along with all the other newbies. No amount of negotiation changed that. A ridiculous policy if you ask me. I doubt a recruited VP at an Academic Administration level would be treated as such. Don't they understand how stressful it is to move a family with two small children and set up two labs, get things running and learn the ropes? Don't they understand the financial stresses involved in a move, with the buying and selling of a house, and how money can be tight for awhile?

ANYWAY, I finally, after 1 1/2 years, found a solution. Four days post labor day at a house on the beach, just an hour drive from home. Said house is on a pedestrian-only beach, near a new fishing jetty and "clubhouse" with small playground. Beach house is also, and maybe most importantly, dirt cheap for the four days after labor day because well, everyone else is back at work and with kids in kindergarden and up. After making sure my grant reviewing, SPORE-writing, summer course-lecturing, seminar-giving, traveling husband agrees to block off the time, our "vacation" is secured. Of course, it's really only going to be 3 days because we can't get in the house until 4pm on that Tuesday and we have to be out by Friday at 11am. Dr Shellie's off to Alaska for two weeks and Abel PharmBoy hung out in Colorado (although he was ill for part of that). Still, these three days seem to have almost magical possibilities for a family who needs a break...........

Packed up Tuesday morning with a car full of food and amenities for beach house living. Arrive a little early to find the house ready and by 4pm the family was running and playing on the beach. Children are jumping in the waves, digging in the sand. The weather is unusually coolish and dry; perfect beach weather. The sun is up but there's a slight cloud cover to give some protection from the UV rays. I call my parents in New England on my cell phone and gush. They're off to Nova Scotia tomorrow for 10 days. I'm in heaven.

After 2 hours on the beach, we come in for a spaghetti dinner. The kids are bathed and put in bed and my husband is taking pictures of the ships and wildlife on the beach. I rock a bit on the swing on the front porch, watching and listening to the waves and breathing in the salt-water air. My son felt a little warm when he went to bed and he's been sniffling the last 4 days. But I chalked it mostly up to wind and sun, and excitement, gave him a little children's Motrin and he went off to slumberland. My daughter was in a lower part of a bunk bed next to him; perfect height for her because she's still in a toddler bed. She seemed right at home there, not at all perplexed by her new surroundings. She covered herself, placed her thumb securely in her mouth and drifted off to sleep as well.

Next morning the kids are up before the sun - no sleeping late on vacations with a 4 and almost 3 year old! We have our cereal with fruit breakfast and by 8:00am we're on the beach, canopy up. My son has a fever of 101 which seems to respond to Motrin and he acts happy enough so we let him run around on the beach. We're hopelessly trying to fly a kite I bought but without success. Are there tips to flying a kite? We're digging holes, the kids are sitting in them and I'm filling them with water. But by 10:30am, my son is dragging and he wants to go inside. My husband follows him and I stay a little longer on the beach with my daughter. When I do go in, I find my son shivering, glassy-eyed and miserable with 102.7 fever. He says his throat is really really really really really sore (and spikey; I love the way kids describe what they feel) and I look inside; it's really red. I give him some more Motrin and wait an hour. The fever's not responding. He's miserable. I'm worried because this isn't the sniffly cold he's had for the past few days that seemed to be getting better and his fevers ALWAYS respond to Motrin. So I call the doctor's office and wait for the nurse to call back. I know them well by now and trust their judgement. She says we need to be worried about Strep throat but maybe we can wait out the night there and see if he's better tomorrow morning. OK, so here's where I'm a wimp. If my kids are sick, I want to be close to the medical care I trust. Although we're only an hour away from home, we're in the middle of nowhere, medically-speaking. I'm used to hanging out around some top notch medical institutions. So we do the dance - should we stay, should we go, stay, go, stay,go - each one waiting for the other to make the decision. As a mother, I think it would be best if he was in his own bed at home, reinforced by the RST (rapid strep test) to tell me whether it's Strep or not. As a person, I desperately want and need to stay! I need the rejuvenation. But I never want to put that in front of the health of my children. We wait and discuss and watch. I check his throat again. It's covered in white spots now.........his fever is still 102.something on full-throttle Motrin.......we better go home.

It takes less than an hour to pack the car and get going. My husband has a headache on it's way to a migraine so I drive. I cry for about the first 20 minutes of the drive. I'm really frustrated, disappointed, depressed, and angry (although not at my son). We arrive home, my son is miserable and he's now throwing up a little. He still tries to swallow some food but all in all, he's unhappy. At bedtime, he's still 102 ish. I check on him several times through the night at at 1:30am, the fever is 101.5 and he hasn't had Motrin for 9 hours. It seems to be subsiding. By 6am, which is when he wakes me up, he's cool. The RST we took later that day at the doctor's office is negative.................. "vacation" over.

Do I regret coming home? No not really. It was what felt right at the time for my son. Am I really really disappointed? Yup, but just writing this made me realize that for them, the experiences they had on the beach were great although short - and that's what matters really. Am I happy? No, I have a cold now myself and my husband is off for 7 days to Europe - 3 of those days he is spending with his brother in England, relaxing. I don't begrudge him that time with his family whom is doesn't see very often but I'm jealous. I never seem to get that downtime anywhere in my life. Maybe that's what being a Mom is all about.

Probably the most important lesson I've learned is that 3-4 days prior to any vacation, I will no longer allow my children to attend any birthday parties. My doctor and I both agree that letting my son attend a party at Chuck E. Cheeses the Saturday before the travel was probably the culprit. I hate those places anyway but this was one of his few special friends from school and he really wanted to go. And so in the end, the kids are fine........and I'll survive...................I hope!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Young, smart and female - they're out there

Never fear, there are still some bright young women scientists venturing into the academic world. I met one yesterday.

I have been looking for colleagues to inform me and collaborate with me on the issue of tumor stem cells. After emailing another department chairman, I was referred to a new faculty member - M.D., Ph.D, - who was working in this area at my Institution. We met over lunch at the faculty dining room to discuss what I'm doing and what she's doing, and whether there was a potential area of collaboration.

I was struck by how once again, science in general is a very small world. Turns out she did her undergraduate Chemistry degree at an Institution that I know well - Mt. Holyoke College in Western Massachusetts. This is an women's college, in a bucolic setting - in the vicinity of another top rate women's college, Smith College. The Chemistry department is top notch. I know this campus because I spent the final year of my Ph.D. doing experiments there. My first husband was a faculty member in the Chemistry department and after living separately for 1.5 years, I was able to convince my department at MIT to let me finish my final year of experiments out there. This was interesting because I had to establish my own protocols (i.e. radiation, human subjects, etc.), set up fund accounting, and determine what supplies I needed to do my work. Every two weeks I would travel back into Boston for a lab meeting and visit lab supplies to restock. At the time, I was rewashing, reracking and reusing pipet tips. I decided if I ever had to do this to survive in the lab, I would get out of science! I never realized until later though what a great experience this was for me to get a handle on what it meant, in some small way, to run my own lab. This also reminded me that I've always traveled a unique path when it comes to my science. I left graduate school after one year, worked for a year, came back, then finished my research off campus. Now I'm doing this sort-of-temporary, part time faculty position with no definite grasp on how this is all going to play out in my future. Oh well, it keeps life interesting......

In any case, this young faculty member was clearly the product of a good, strong education. I remember the undergraduate women that I met at Mt. Holyoke. They were smart, headstrong and well aware that they would encounter some obstacles in their professional journeys, solely due to their gender. At the time, I thought some of the stuff they were told was a little "over the top". Looking back I'm not so sure. She was outspoken, well read in her area and clearly driven. She had aligned herself well with the leaders in her field in the local area and was just 6 months into her new faculty position. I think she's going to do fine. My only complaint was that she hadn't mastered the art of listening but I suppose you are so involved in the start of your own lab, you forgot that others might have information to convey.

The sad part was she was already painfully aware of how difficult it would be to survive in academic science in the current climate - whether male or female. She was glad to be active in the clinic, despite the time it drained away from her research. At least she could treat patients and bring in a salary if this "research thing" didn't work out. We agreed to talk more after looking into a few articles and I left feeling good about knowing smart young women are still venturing into this thing we call academic science. I hope she makes it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Case Western is WISER

Since my Institution is just now seeking to create an administrative leadership position to development programs in support of women in science, I've been trolling the internet looking at what things are already out there. I came across a really nice program at Case Western Reserve University called ACES (Academic Careers in Engineering and Science). Funded by the NSF "way" back in 2001, just two years after Nancy Hopkins report on equity for women in science at MIT, this program
seeks to contribute to the development of a national science and engineering workforce that includes the full participation of women at all levels of faculty and academic leadership.
There were many aspects of this program I was impressed with but one excellent one was the Advance Opportunity Fund. These were grants designed to maximize the success of women faculty by making available $60,000 grants to ALL women faculty including instructors and research faculty for support of:
-seed funding for unusual research opportunities
-bridge funding when ongoing research funding has been suspended
-grants to support writing of books
-travel to explore new techique or attend advanced training courses
-child care to attend a professional meeting or conduct research at another institution. (Harvard included this in their recent $50 million dollar commitment to developing a more equitable research environment for women - I didn't realize Case Western had implemented it years earlier).

Importantly these grants are available to non-tenure track personnel. I can't tell you how many internal funding opportunities I am not eligible for in my current research-track position, and not just becuase I'm part time faculty.

Another interesting aspect of their program was "coaching". Not a mentoring program, which also exists. But a coaching program. What is that I wondered? The objectives of this program were to
1) facilitate professional and personal growth through a structured coaching opportunity, 2) provide academic and career guidance as well as leadership development coaching, 3) promote academic workplace cultures characterized by equality, participation, openness, and accountability and 4) enhance overall retention and advancement of women faculty in the Sciences, Tehcnology, Engineering, and Management disciplines.
They even have a "coaching hotline"! for temporary coaching for one or two "emergency" sessions. Yikes, sign me up!

Finally, I was impressed with the WISER program. WISER stands for Women in Science and Engineering Roundtable which links women science and engineering students in a community with other students, women faculty and postdocs. The WISER program has three aspects for students. First year WISeR students have access to:
WISER SEMINAR "On Being a Scientist". The seminar is aimed at helping you learn how to talk about science by reading scientific articles and news reports of scientific research and discussing them both in terms of the quality of the science and their wider implications.

WISER MENTORING - First year WISER students participate in a mentoring program in which they are matched up with third-year and fourth-year women science majors. These student mentors help navigate the CWRU system with advice on classes, professors, research internships, dorm life, you name it.

WISER WORKSHOPS - First year students and their mentors will attend monthly workshops. These workshops are designed to stimulate discussion and thought about some of the issues related to being a woman in science and to help build skills for success in the university and beyond.

I've bookmarked these sites for future reference. I want what they have now - not only for myself as I carve out my way in this strange, temporary(?), part time science career but for all the young female postdocs and new faculty at my Institution. I promise to hold the new administrator for Women in Science at my Institution to very high standards.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

I'll take "The Business of Science 101" please Alex

I was reading Science+Professor+Women=Me's blog on War stories and it reminded me about how much our jobs as academic faculty are like small business owners. As a PI, you are the creative force (ideas for projects), financial manager (managing grant money), human resource manager (responsible for the hiring and sometimes firing of your workers) and marketing department (writing of grants, procuring collaborative relationships and seminar speaker), all wrapped up in one. When I set up my first lab, I used to joke that I was going to add "electrician, plumber, and carpenter" to my CV. It's amazing how many times I've discussed rewiring to add emergency power outlets, or discussed sink drainage with physical plant workers. I've crawled behind incubators, under tissue culture hoods and on top of benches to keep the lab running.

Either I had my head too far in my lab book or I never realized how my PhD and postdoc didn't really totally prepare me for running a lab. As a graduate student and postdoc, my life centered around the wet lab and manuscript writing. Then suddenly as a lab PI, I was pushing a lot more paper around on my desk and dealing with a lot of human issues. One of my favorites was calling a NY-based moving company and threatening to descend the corporate lawyers upon them if they didn't release my Thai graduate student's belongings for delivery by the contractual date in two days. They were taking advantage of her poor English to hold her belongings for ransom until they had a reason to drive a truck out our way. And there's the postdoc who I hired against my better judgement (and gut feeling). At her second yearly review, we spent close to two hours discussing why I was giving her a negative review, at the end of which she replied, "So am I getting a promotion?"

Based on my experiences over the last 10 years, I think I would change the cirriculum for science graduate students to include two additional courses: Grant Accounting 101 and Personnel Management 101. Grant accounting because to this day I can't read the financial spreadsheets that accounting sends me to let me know how my money is being distributed and spent. In my last position I was blessed with a deparmental financial administrator who loved numbers and always made sure all money was used appropriately and fully. She hated giving money back to the government. And all kidding aside, Personnel Management 101 training could be really useful because labs are small communities with people of different personalities, different bench-styles, and different likes and dislikes. It can be quite challenging to keep the lab environment positive; a shared interest in a research area is often not enough. I think I would have appreciated some insight into what my management style was, the types of human issues that a laboratory head might encounter and some management tricks of the trade would probably come in handy.

SciMom: I'll take the Business of Science for 100, Alex.
Alex: The answer is: Academic Science Faculty position
SciMom: What is a job where you get a PhD (4-6 years), perform at least one postdoc (2-4 years) and despite all that additional training, will still be required to find the funding for your own salary?


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What a Mom wants, What a Mom needs

I've been having a great time reading my favorite women scientist blogs ( Dr. Shellie, YoungFemaleScientist, Post Doc ergo Propter Doc, Dr. Mom, and Science+Professor+Woman=Me), and following their experiences and thoughts about the trials and tribulations of being a scientist and sometimes a mother at the same time. I've been reflecting a lot on my current academic position as my yearly review is coming up with my chairman and I'm not really sure what to expect. Our original agreement was to offer me a temporary, part-time research associate faculty position for "a few years" in order for me to have the time to take care of some of my daughter's medical needs. (for any new readers, my husband was the recruit they were after but they had to create a position for me if they wanted him to come!).

I am appreciative of my Institute's willingness to invent this type of position for me because I think I'm the only one in existence here. Upon my hiring, the benefits people couldn't produce a benefits book that explained my particular situation and what types of coverage I had. I think they made it up as they went along. My favorite moment was when they told me I wasn't "eligible" to be supplied with lab coats because of my part time status. Fortunately, half way through trying to explain to me why that was, even though I was going to be doing research in the laboratory, the woman stopped mid-sentence and said, "Now that's just dumb, even Visiting Scientists get lab coats. We'll sign you up for your lab coats"!

But now that I've been working for over a year, I've seen some downfalls to this particular situation. First, despite your part time status, the unwritten expectations are actually still the same - get your work funded, get an R01. With only a technician in the lab full time and me in the lab part time, that's a pretty unreachable goal. Even more so now with the funding levels below 10%. Second, even though I've been assigned an administrative assistant, my part time status makes me a bit of an afterthought. I get these resentful looks whenever I walk down to ask for something. Third, full time faculty get a generous PDA (personal development allowance) which they can use for conference travel, books, computer purchases, etc. I guess I expected that I might get some amount, maybe half? But I actually get nothing. So how am I expected to travel to conferences and join important associations, to keep myself viable in this interim position?

Well, my impending review has got me thinking about what types of "out of the ordinary" positions could be fashioned for women in science, especially during the "small children years"? Based on my experience, and despite it's downfalls, the ability to be "part time" for a short period has been invaluable. Wouldn't it be useful if a temporary "part time" status was available to mothers (or fathers) following the end of traditional maternity leave? This would allow women to stay competitive in their science but still have the flexibility to work fewer hours for a short period of time. Even I've experienced the constant sicknesses that come with moving children from "in home" care to "daycare". Of course, a part time position would require a sacrifice on the part of the scientist as they would have a smaller salary, but it would lessen the financial burden on the department for that period of time which might make them more supportive towards this type of arrangement. I wonder if women would take advantage of this type of opportunity in addition to suspending the tenure clock for a year?

Does anyone have any other ideas about creating unique academic situations that might help maintain women in the sciences through the difficult early childrearing years? I'd love to hear them.

Monday, August 07, 2006

My Motto to Live By

When I reacquainted myself with my Rules for Success that I had taped next to my computer, I also noticed another piece of paper hanging next to it. It was in an email that someone sent to me that still makes me laugh. I've sort of adopted it as my life's motto. It read:

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, latte in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO what a ride!!

Based on my mirror lately, I'm well on my way! The last 6 years have seen the adoption of my two children, a complete redirection in my life, several medical scares and two major location moves. I've certainly aged in these years but it's sure been a ride!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Speak Up, Speak Out

I broke one of my own career rules yesterday. I was attending a seminar for a departmental candidate along with my husband. Another faculty, who had emailed my husband concerning sharing reagents for a mammalian inducible expression system, was also in attendance. My husband had passed this email along to me because I have successfully used this system in my laboratory, I have the reagents, and I have the experience to help them out. I emailed back the contact person in this lab who was actually going to use it and we got together and exchanged the necessary components and information. Well, at this seminar, the PI thanked my husband for supplying the inducible system reagents. I was sitting right next to him and I didn't say anything. I broke my career rule Number 1: Speak Up, Speak Out.

What are my rules? They were extracted from a book by Gail Evans called Play Like A Man Win Like A Woman. I haven't read the book but the Six Rules of Success that I printed out were excerpted from this book on a website I was looking at some 5-6 years ago (I don't remember which one, sorry). The stories on Science+Professor+Women=Me's, YoungFemaleScientist's and ScienceWoman's blogs that I've been reading lately reminded me of these rules which I have taped next to my computer.

The Six Rules for Success were listed as follows:
1. Speak Up, Speak Out: Sit at the front of the room. Voice your opinions. Make eye contact. Get noticed.

2. Toot Your Own Horn: Men learn to call attention to their deeds. Women need to do the same. Take credit for your accomplishments.

3. Don't Expect to Make Friends: Remember that your job is only part of who you are. Making friends is not an objective of a business situation. It's just nice when it happens.

4. Accept Uncertainty: Have faith in your ability to perform and stop worrying about tackling a new job. There's no such thing as absolute certainty. Part of being good at work is learning to improvise.

5. Take Risks: You can't get ahead without sticking your neck out. Remember that failures are learning experiences that can lead to successes.

6. Don't Assume Responsibility Without Authority: Avoid volunteering for tasks where key people don't report to you. Offer your services only when you are certain there is a career opportunity. (this one I'm always doing......)
(adapted from Gail Evans' book by Victoria Fung)

You can find a more extensive list of the "rules" and a really good review of the book here as well.

So why didn't I speak up and say something to the effect of
"I'm so happy my lab could provide your lab with these reagents. We've had a lot of success generating inducible mammalian cells with this system so feel free to call me if you have any technical questions or need to do some troubleshooting"?
Maybe it's because it was my husband and I don't feel threatened by any successes that he might have. But then again, as you know if you've been reading this blog, I struggle with gaining the respect of my colleagues because I was "the wife of the recruit".

I should have spoken up. It would have created a situation where there was direct eye contact (rule #1) and recognition of my position with a senior member of another department (also rule #1). It's a missed opportunity. I put Gail Evans' book on my wish list. I'll get it as soon as I finish reading Pope Joan and Siblings without Rivalry.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Am I doing anything well?

I've been waiting to be struck by creative lightning to write something interesting on my blog. In the meantime, I've been reading a lot of blogs lately about women scientists and their careers, challenges, accomplishments etc. I've shared some of these women's experiences, some are different than mine. I feel like there is a community of women out there that I have a lot in common with and yet at the same time I feel completely isolated. Then it hit me. That's what been bothering me lately. I feel alone at sea in my own complex world of science and motherhood. I moved to my current position about 1.5 years ago and I made a calculated decision to "sign up" for a part time academic research faculty position to allow for my husband's career to flourish but also to take the time to get my youngest the physical and occupational therapies that she needs. It was a calculated decision for all the right reasons. So why the glum face?
I don't know anyone like me. I'm 45 year old associate professor level scientist, and an older parent with a 4 year old and a 2.5 year old. I'm part time but really, let's not kid ourselves, there's no doing part-time science. I'm at work a lot more (by my own choice) because I don't want to disappear from the scientific world that I love and gain so much energy from. And yet, I don't feel a part of my department. I didn't interview for the position; it was just created. I'm the wife of the recruit. I don't publicize my part-time status. It makes me feel like an impostor - someone who doesn't possess the ability to be academically successful full time while having young children. I don't have anyone in my lab now except a technician whose leaving. I'm the only hands on my project and I'm just trying to make slow and steady progress. I think there must be very few people who know what it feels like to try to do science with little money, no extra hands and little support or interest from others, especially in this era of limited governmental funding. I'm my own motivator, my own creative director, my own data generator. The energy tank is getting low.

Then there's the Mommy me. I have the responsibility of the two children every morning. I get them up, feed them, dress them, get all of their preschool "stuff" together and get them to their respective schools. Some mornings it takes all my energy to accomplish just the above. And I especially hate Mondays because of all the nap linens and swim stuff that accompanies the usual packs and such. When I get to work, it feels like it should be "me" time! I just want to sit down and have a nice cup of coffee and a muffin and browse the internet.

Then it starts again in the afternoon. I pick up the kids. I never know what I will get but often I get whining about stopping for a donut or arguing over what CD to play (yes I did say the kids are 4 and 2.5 years old). I get home in time to start dinner. I used to enjoy cooking. Now it's just a chore. Two picky eaters sap the fun out of trying new things. Sometimes the play in the next room gets loud and rowdy and I resent it. It's been a long day and my experiment didn't work! I yell and then I feel bad. How come I took this part time position to be a better parent and now I'm losing it over some loud screaming in the play microphone?

When the kids are finally in bed and asleep, I see all the laundry and picking up and next day preparation that needs to be done. If I choose to sit down to watch a show on TV, I may not get up again. Then I feel like I've wasted my precious night hours. Finally, I flop exhausted into bed at the end of the day and wonder if I feel like I'm failing at work AND I feel like I'm not being a good parent, what the heck am I doing?

See this just turned into a bitching session..... I knew I didn't have anything worthwhile to add to my blog.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Commenting on the commentary

I was just reading Dr. Barres commentary in the July 13th issue of Nature addressing the current "hot" topic of gender issues relating to the ability of women to succeed in science. I would do a synopsis of the article but a nice one was already done by Propter Doc with a follow up. I confess to having only discovered this issue of Nature because I was rifling through a pile of "stuff" that has been accumulating on my kitchen counter because a) said husband just celebrated his 40th and I was running around like a lunatic trying to make it special, b) I subscribe to the local newspaper but only get around to reading it about once a week, c) I'm behind in reading both my Parents and Parenting magazines and my Bon Appetite issues ( I have two picky eaters of 4.5 and 2.5 years of age; I should give up the Bon Appetite) and d) there was some mail like this issue of Nature that had somehow found it's way under the large box holding my 24 hour urine sample kit - a story for another blog!

Anyway, I'd like to add two comments to Dr. Barres' article and Propter Doc's synopsis for doing a better job of advancing women in the science fields. First, I think academic institutions should add a list of women faculty, their contact information as well as academic interests into the new recruit folders for every female graduate student, postdoc and faculty member. The ELSO database that was just set up in Europe is a great example of how a compilation of such information on women in science can benefit young women entering or thinking of entering science. And to follow that up, we women in academics need to do a better job as serving as mentors for these women. As I've blogged before, I've worked with women who when they "made" it, forgot what it was about the system that made it so hard for them to reach the point where they are. Thank goodness some really good scientists like Dr. Nusslein-Volhard who, despite being a Nobel Prize winner, can still see the struggles of young female scientists.

Second, as Harvard seems to have committed to doing and Dr. Nusslein-Volhard is doing, let's put some money where it really counts. Child-care benefits, re-entry grants, equivalent start-up packages and mentoring-grants. Let's stop talking about the genetics of women's ability until we equalize the social barriers that exist to their advancement.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sehr gut Dr. Nusslein-Volhard

I was reading the latest email of WICR member news from WICR communication guru Pam Marino and ran across another interesting story about women in science. This caught my eye for two reasons. One because it was something done by Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, a woman scientist who won the Nobel Prize in 1995 along with Dr. Wieschaus and Edward B. Lewis for their characterizedaion as to how the genes in a fertilized egg direct the formation of an embryo. Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard was just the 10th woman to win a Nobel Prize in one of the sciences. But second, if that isn't amazing enough, she then set up a foundation in her name to award grants to promising German women scientists to help in the care of children and running of the household. She was recently interviewed by Claudia Dreifus for the New York Times (videos also available). In reading this, I was stunned to learn that she never had children and yet understands the drain they can have on a woman's career. In the interview she states:
In German science, we have a special problem. We lose talented women at the time they get pregnant. Some of it occurs because they are encouraged — by their husbands, bosses and the government — to take long maternity leaves. Germanic thinking has it that children can only be properly brought up if the actual mother is cleaning and picking up. Many stop their research for two or three years. Later, these young women find it difficult to get back. They drop out.
I don't think this is a German-specific problem except that in the US the long maternity/family leaves don't exist. I can see where a year out of the lab would make it incredibly difficult to ge back in and be competitive, even if your job is still there waiting for you.

She was also asked about Harvard University's Lawrence Summers comments on women and science which I've blogged on previously. Her response:
In mathematics and science, there is no difference in the intelligence of men and women. The difference in genes between men and women is simply the Y chromosome, which has nothing to do with intelligence.
What troubles me is that some might think: "Well, if the president of Harvard says this, it must be true. He's just being attacked because he said something politically incorrect." What Summers said was scientifically incorrect.
Thank you for the level-headed and unemotional response to that story.

And despite having won the Nobel Prize, apparently her skill in the kitchen still gets mentioned in articles about her:
Q. Every article I've read about you mentions that you bake an incredible chocolate cake. Why is that?
A. It's true! They want to make sure "she's still a woman." There is terrible prejudice against women who are successful. If she's beautiful, she must be stupid. And if a woman is smart, she must be ugly — or nasty. I think it makes some people feel better to learn I bake good chocolate cake.

So nice to see a smart, level-headed scientist who made it to the pinnacle of her career, use her position to do something practical about keeping talented women in the science field. I know there are many nights when I look at the work bag and then look at the play room looking like the result of a nuclear explosion, the information about tomorrow's field trip, the swimsuits that need to be clean for tomorrow's splash day, the blueberries I bought days ago in hopes of making muffins for the kids breakfast and I have to say, 95% of the time, the work loses out. If I actually sit down to do something work related at night, it's not until after 10pm.

No offense to husbands who do more than most husbands (like mine) but you don't see half of what I do to keep the household and children's lives running. It's no wonder I'm good at printing out scientific papers but never seem to find the time to read them. Maybe a grant to pay someone to read papers and distill the informaition into one useful paragraph should be established - now there's something I could really use!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Tumors have faces

I read with great sadness Abel PharmBoy's story about the unexpected death of the brother of one of his past lab workers from a staph infection, related to his treatment for osteosarcoma. This young man was battling his cancer, and seemingly doing well. To be felled by an opportunistic infection seems unfair.

These kinds of stories always seem to hit me more emotionally now than they used to. Maybe it's because I'm getting older or maybe it's because I have two small children. I don't know. Since I work in the cancer research field, I spend a lot of time thinking about cancer. It's a lot easier to do this if you forget the patients and the people behind the tumors. We cancer researchers talk about our "tumor banks" as prized possessions, which they are for research purposes. Yet it can seem a bit glib at times to be "glad" to have such extensive ones. We like to say in our manuscript introductions "over 170,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the US this year". But those numbers and tumors have families, dreams, futures and potential - most of which will be cut short. I had an experience back when I first opened my own cancer research lab that has stayed with me all these years and always reminds me that tumors have faces.

I had just started my first independent laboratory at a University where the 1995 America's Cup yacht race was being played out. This was the year America3 had its first ever, all-female crew. The wife of one of the coaches for the America3 team had been diagnosed and was being treated locally for breast cancer. She wanted to hold a fund-raising event for breast cancer research to benefit the Cancer Center and for some reason, my laboratory was selected as the destination for these funds. I remember meeting Candace. She was a warm, open, engaging, energetic and smart woman; I liked her instantly. She was excited about doing something for breast cancer research. You wouldn't have even known she was sick, except her hair was gone from the chemotherapy.

The fundraiser was a chance to take a sail with the crew on the America3 training boat. Now I have some sailing experience from my youth, racing on a 14 foot Lightning at our local sail club, but this was something altogether different. You really got a feel for the science and technology that went into designing this spectacular boat. What was even more impressive was that the crew took the time, during this very intense and important yachting event, to hold this fundraiser. It was quite successful and along with some matching dollars, made a respectable contribution to my budget. I felt an enormous responsibility to Candace and the Cancer Center to use this money wisely. After all, it came from the hard work and dedication of someone currently battling breast cancer.

When the race was over, I had the opportunity to meet Candace for lunch at my favorite local restaurant overlooking the ocean. She was upbeat, exicted about the potential of being associated with the next America's Cup in New Zealand in a few years, and thrilled to have her hair growing back. She showed me a picture of her two little girls (aged 8 and 5 then I think) dressed in frilly sundresses and floppy hats- beautiful kids. I have that picture seared in my mind because they were so adorable and I wondered how it was she balanced such a positive attitude with the thoughts of potentially missing out on the trials and triumphs of those two beautiful children. We hugged, we wished each other well and we parted.

Some months later, and I really can't remember when, I returned to my office and listened to my phone messages. On one message was the voice of a male but he spoke so softly I couldn't understand the message. I must have played it 20 times. Then I finally deciphered it as Candace's husband calling to tell me she had passed away (was I really on the "must call" list? I was so humbled by that). I called him back and spoke to him briefly but what could I say? I hung up and just sat for awhile. I thought about the face behind that tumor and that battle with breast cancer. I felt depressed. I felt sad for the family to have lost such a strong and vibrant woman.

For some reason, even before Abel PharmBoy's post, I'd been thinking about Candace a lot lately. I wondered how her family was doing but I hadn't kept in touch and did I want to intrude on their lives if I was a reminder of a very bad time they had put behind them. Armed with little information, a 15 minute internet search connected me with her husband's place of work. I sent an email to the company and left it up to him to return my email. Much to my surprise, he did and we exchanged updates on our lives. The family is doing well and he added:

"All they way to the end Candace did whatever she could to help others. If the A3 fund racer helped you in your mission to find a cure and possibly have let other cancer victims spend some more time with their loved ones she would have been so pleased."

I kept Candace's pathology report on my desk for many years and through many moves, as a reminder that tumors have faces. For me it's important to remember that what I am doing is not just for the advancement of science and yes, a "cure" for cancer, but more importantly, it's for people like Candace; it's for the patient and their children and the lost time.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A viral 4th

I'm resurfacing after a 7 day fight with what must be the worst "viral" infection I've ever had. I slight cold turned into a massive sore throat and an nasal-only cold like I've never had before. That turned into a high fever and vomiting, flat on my back for two days experience from which I have been slowly crawling back to normal existence. The kindly doctor on call on Monday (I could post forever on why these things always happen over a holiday weekend!) prescribed me Azithromycin on the off chance it was strep throat although she didn't think I would have the whole body symptoms. At this point I was thinking of strep that had gone systemic - for some reason I've never forgotten that Jim Henson of The Muppets fame, died of systemic strep after ignoring a sore throat. Anyway 3 hours after taking the first double dose of a short course of this antibiotic, I developed a rapid pulse, flushed face and neck and a general uneasiness about taking anymore of it. I called the pharamcist and I could tell he was reading the same info I had in front of me - not very useful. I went on line and found some additional information on the side effects of this antibiotic. Now I'm not a pharamcist nor an MD but as a cancer researcher I hang out with a lot of them and my general interest in medicine has allowed me a reasonable enough background to look on line and make some simple decisions for myself. I am a strong proponent of taking and finishing your meds but in this case, I discontinued them.

I'm grateful for the on call doctor. She spent at least 5 minutes talking to me. In what was most likely a more female-type question, she asked about kids in the house and recent sicknesses. Well, yes two weeks ago both kids had an "out of nowhere" fever for 24-36 hours. Oh and yes, the little 2.5 year old who never throws up, projectile vomited all over me and the bedroom one night for an hour about a week ago, and then went happily off to sleep. I guess what I've learned is that you don't always have "Mommy-immunity", which I seem to have a lot compared to my husband, even though I ususally do most of the sick-child caring.

Thankfully I have a husband who took over last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday morning to allow me to just vegetate and be miserable in bed. I don't know what they ate, wore, did, what time they went to bed, nothing (and I usually know ALL of these things). These kind of wipe-outs for me really hit me emotionally too because I can't be there for my family. It really makes you realize how lucky you are when you have your health. Don't ever take it lightly.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

One small step for womankind

You've probably heard of the controversy sparked by Harvard University's soon to be ex-President Lawrence Summers last year over his comments at a session on the progress of women in academia organized by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass. In his speech, he mused that genetics might help explain why fewer women than men reach top scientific posts. Nancy Hopkins, a biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who listened to part of Summers's speech Friday, got up and left. You may recall Nancy was largely responsible for "encouraging" MIT to revisit some of it's hiring practices for women scientists. Public opinion went both ways on Dr. Summers comments although most believed them to to ill-placed. I think we've barely begun to address the social issues impacting women, to say anything about the "genetics" of their success in science.

Apparently in the wake of the uproar, Harvard University set aside $50 million to help women and minority employees. A report has just been issued detailing how the initial few millions will be spent by the new office of faculty development and diversity. As stated in the CNN report:
It includes a 53 percent increase in child-care scholarships, plus other steps such as funding for child-care grants when faculty and staff travel to professional conferences....Harvard also will create university-wide parental leave guidelines, increase by 50 percent its subsidy to six existing day-care centers, and provide more staff and equipment so junior professors can conduct research more efficiently en route to tenure.

By George, I think we're getting it. Finally some tangible progress. I can say from my own experience that having small children with both parents in the scientific field impacts greatly on each one's ability to work the long required hours as well as their ability to travel to important scientific conferences. I've missed seminars and special events because of my spouse's travel/work schedule, which because his position responsibilities often have to take precedent. I think it's encouraging that the new Office has clearly identified child-care as a major factor impacting a woman's ability to maintain competitiveness within her chosen field. Such support will also benefit male scientists as well. So something positive came out of that speech, which might not have garnered much attention had Nancy Hopkins and others not walked out in the middle of it. Will others follow suit?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Across the pond

I'm going to get on my "women in science" bandwagon and once again high five the European Life Sciences Organization (ELSO) for creating a Database of Expert Women in the Molecular Life Sciences to increase the visibility of European women from post-docs to senior group leaders. I came across this article via Pam Marino, Women in Cancer Research's Communication guru. In Karla Neugebauer's article in PLoS Biology, she brings up an interesting point.
Governments and scientific organizations are logically concerned about the failure of women to progress in science because they provide the resources for scientific education and training—from primary schooling to university education, to pre- and post-doctoral fellowships.
Their gamble is that this investment will provide returns in the form of discovery and technological innovation. If 50% of the beneficiaries do not advance within their fields, this is perceived as a waste of education and training. Clearly, not every post-graduate student of science can become a professor—there are simply not enough professorships to go around. However, we place faith in our merit-based system of hiring and funding as the means of selecting the best talent to lead science, technology, society, and our economies into the future. But unless something changes, much of our female talent will continue to be permanently lost to science.
Now call me crazy but this makes logical and financial sense to me but I don't believe this aspect of the attrition of women in science has hit American academic research on the head yet. (By the way, Karla M. Neugebauer is a group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, and a member of the Career Development Committee of ELSO. She currently manages ELSO's Database of Expert Women in the Molecular Life Sciences).

Intrigued by the database, I went to the ELSO Career Development Committee page. I was impressed. Clicking on the database brings you the names of 370 "expert women" whose pedigrees, areas of interest and pubmed publications can be researched by a single click of the mouse. What also caught my eye was the mentoring resources listed under the Women in Science link in the left column. These are resources specific to women. Even more links can be found under the Mentoring Resources link in the same left column.

This then prompted me to search the Women in Cancer Research part of the AACR website, which by the way is deftly hidden under the Membership tab. I was hard pressed to find the word "mentoring" except in Point 4 under the Mission and Purposes section. I did surprisingly find, under the WICR leadership link on the left bottom a description of several conferences held on professional career development with an emphasis on women in science. The last one was held in 2004. I follow this with two questions, 1) Why did these stop and 2) I'm on the WICR email list and a member of WICR. Why was I not aware that these had taken place?

Yes, I admit it. I'm a disgruntled WICR member. I have some experience with this organization and I think it's lost it's focus. The Council is now populated with high profile women at the advanced stages of their career, except for one lone Assistant Professor. I supported their move from independent entity to bonafide council within AACR. I'm revisiting that decision. When that occurred, it suddenly became of interest to more of the established women scientists who didn't give it much of a turn of the head before. Granted some amazing women started this council - like Leila Diamond and Bridgit Leventhal. I wonder what they would think of it now.

This all leads me back to a previous post which suggests that Europe seems to be way ahead of the curve in trying to better address women's issues as they relate to scientific careers. Maybe it's time to move across the pond....

Sunday, June 04, 2006

When to get out...

I've been thinking a lot these days about career changes. The situation with NIH is bleak. Even the most talented grant writers, of which I am not one, are having trouble getting funded. Star players are getting triaged. I recently had yet another grant declined - the payline was 6.8%!!! It was a small, one year award but I've come to realize that people are searching for whatever grant money they can find - so even the small grants are sought after by the big labs. There were almost 1700 applications for this very specific grant.

This experience makes me wonder if I can survive in the current climate. I was confident in my ability to be funded if the paylines stayed at 18-20% but less than 10%, I don't know. I find this depressing because such low paylines force reviewers to fund "what they know" and many interesting genes, pathways, concepts, etc. will never be investigated. This seems contradictory to what scientific research is all about. So when is it time to get out? And what's out there anyway? Once you get to a certain career point, you are most likely too specialized to move freely between academic, pharmaceutical and/or industry.

It's always seemed pretty clear to me in figure skating when it was the right time for some competitors to get out. Take Michelle Kwan for example. She should have "left" the sport a few years ago. She had not progressed technically for 4 years and she wasn't maintaining her status at the world level. I think much the same for Sasha Cohen. He chance for an Olympic Gold medal came and went. She won her Silver. She had everything to be an Olympic superstar - grace, athletic skill, the look - but lacked that competitive edge that holds you up under the pressure of such World competitions. I think she should join the ranks of the professionals and inspire us all with her spectacular presence on the ice. She's on the USFSA A team envelope for next season's competitions, maybe just to keep her options open to the last minute....but I hope she doesn't make a "Kwan" mistake.

It's so easy to see when others should move on. Why is it so hard to move on ourselves? Maybe if the options were there, it wouldn't be so hard.............

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Feeling connected

I'm pretty much a neophyte when it comes to blogging but I'm learning through reading other blogs. I like this little applet which graphically represents websites . Despite the fact that only a few people actually read this blog, this makes me feel more connected to the web world.

Now back to the stuff I should be doing : reviewing a manuscript for a cancer research journal, data crunching in nightmarish microsoft excel, preparing a presentation for a lab meeting tomorrow, and remembering to call about those contacts which are supposed to allow me to actually read up close. On a tangent, that should be my question for the day: "Why do they make the writing on children's medicine so small? One of the problems with being an "older" parent I guess.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Anchors Away...

I'm angry. Yet another glass ceiling resealed. Tonight on the ABC World News broadcast, Elizabeth Vargas closed with this note
Before we leave tonight, a note about change. There's been a lot of it on this broadcast. From Peter Jennings' announcement that he had lung cancer, to his death, to the decision to name Bob Woodruff and me as the new anchors.

Bob's injury in Iraq forced us — yet again — to change the way we planned to cover the news and now, another new chapter will begin. As of Monday, Charles Gibson will be taking the helm of this broadcast as I focus on anchoring "20/20" and the arrival of my new child.

I have been a big fan of Elizabeth Vargas and was pleased when she was selected to co-anchor the news after filling in following the death of Peter Jennings. But now we find out she's been "replaced" and in essence demoted to just anchoring "20/20". It's my belief that this is not solely her choice and is in part due to the impending birth of her child. Sad again that a woman who has reached the pinnical of her career has it derailed when maternity leave hoovers.

Sad too now that Katie Couric will be taking over the CBS news. Now I think Katie was great on the Today Show where perkiness is required. But I can't warm up to her anchoring the evening news. It's said that CBS news is going for the younger demographics - which I am definitely not a part of - but maybe they don't realize that these kids are getting their news from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I have to say to Katie, "You go girl!". We've lost a talented newswoman from an important anchor position so we better support the other new girl on the block.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Taking the Initiative

One of my favorite bloggers Abel PharmBoy sent me a link to Duke University's Women's Initiative Project in response to some of my posts regarding women's issues in science. This was a study commisioned by the outgoing President of Duke, Nannerl O. Keohane. As stated by now President Richard H. Brodhead:
The comprehensiveness of the Women's Initiative report remains its most striking feature. Rather than studying a single segment of the university community, a team of task forces considered the full set of women's experiences within the university: the lives of women faculty, staff, graduate students, undergraduates, and alumnae as well. Through this breadth of focus, the report was able to highlight issues that link the experience of women across categories, such as the critical role of mentorship. At the same time, the study noted that the most salient issues for women in the university are often specific to their position, so that a women's agenda needs to have many different parts
I encourage readers to go look at this study and what Duke has done to address the issues of women in academia. It's an interesting and encouraging read. It brought up one of the issues I spoke about in an earlier blog on mentoring. Finding a mentor as a female scientist is difficult in general. Finding a senior female mentor even more so. I wish women in their respective academic institutions would form their own mentoring groups such that their names, contact information and/or meeting times could be given to recently recruited women faculty upon their arrival at their new Institutions.

I would love to hear from other academic women about programs that exist at their respective institutions, especially if they relate to the mentoring of women faculty at all levels.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Time to be Mommy

I have a few things I want to put on the blog but they'll have to wait. Today our two year old daughter goes into the hospital for eye surgery. We've had to postpone this twice before due to illness. In fact last fall was a terrible time for both children and sickness. It went way beyond the 6 month, "sick-all-the-time because of entering preschool" ordeal. I can't think of more than a month total that I had my "normal" working schedule from September 2005 through March 2006. It was tough on the science and the delays in research results in part cost me my R01 resubmission. Oh well, these are the struggles I have now that we have two children. Thankfully the cold she came down with last week has been a minor one and she is well enough for surgery. Of course, my son came down with the cold (who says kids don't share!) two days ago and so I'm concerned about him having to go to preschool slightly under the weather. I'm usually the Mom who keeps them out a day or two to give them time to recover by being home, and to try not to spread all the germs to the other kids. I've found this not to be the norm though - I've seen a lot of very sick kids being dropped off. I guess it's the product of our current society.

In any case, I will be out of work for the next few days as she recovers. I'll be glad when this is behind us and I can once again try to concentrate on my science and not worrying about her impending surgery.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Time for Mentors

With my husband traveling for 5 days to a conference and me with the kids, I find very little time for blogging (or anything else intellectual or relaxing!) but while the kids nap, I finally sat outside in the sunny 80 degree weather here to read through the latest Nature. I was pleased to find a small bit in the editorials concerning mentoring awards ("Mentoring award 2006", Nature 440:970, 2006).

Once again my hats off to the UK. Last year Nature/NESTA sponsored awards for creative mentoring in science. This year the program includes both the UK and Australasia. I have always been a proponent for recognizing the skill of mentoring. As rightly stated in this short editorial, " There are many heads of labs whose students have turned into outstanding scientists, but all too often such cases have exemplified survival of the fittest rather than being the product of deliberate nurturing." I agree. I have always enjoyed and have spent a lot of time mentoring PhD students, undergraduates wanting some lab experience and in my other "profession" of figure skating coach, 6 - 70 year olds pursuing ice dancing goals. I have reaped great rewards from these mentoring relationships and my students have gone on to receive national fellowships in science and acheived higher dance test goals than they ever thought they could.

A few years ago when I was serving on the fledgling WICR (Women in Cancer Research) council prior to it's acceptance as a component within the AACR (American Association of Cancer Research), I often brought up the idea of rewarding in a small way, the mentoring talents of women in science. It was never received with much enthusiam and the focus was on sponsoring a high profile award lecture at the national meeting, which didn't necessarily have to go to a woman. I believed then and still do now, that WICR is not serving women in cancer research in many of the areas that they most need. This includes possible grants for re-entry into science, that I talked about in my last blog. So far it's UK 2, US 0!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Where are the women?

I read an interesting essay in Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology by Fiona Watt (Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 7:287-290,2006), looking at the issues concerning the attrition of women as senior scientists. One issue Dr. Watt mentions is the process of "re-entry" into science for women (and men) who have had to step back for family, health or other reasons. She writes:
"In addition, to legislation that prevents discrimination on the grounds of sex, there have been various initiatives to encourage women to remain in science. A practical example is The Wellcome Trust's re-entry fellowships scheme in the UK, which was launched in 1994. This gives scientists the opportunity to re-embark on a scientific career after a break, and allows them to work part-time if they choose. Most people think of a break as lasting a year or two, but it is possible to re-establish a scientific career after a break of more than 10 years."

I say "Bravo" to the Wellcome Trust for their support of a non-traditional science career. Unfortunately, Dr. Watt does not mention that such programs do not exist in the United States. Many years ago, the NIH had such a re-entry grant which was very underpublized although I was aware of one person who received one, and this was a male faculty member! However, these, along with such funding mechanisms as the R29, have been discarded. Now one can check the box "New Investigator" on an R01 application. In my personal experience having sat on study sections for 15 years now, this makes little difference. The R01's get reviewed equally with R01s from "established investigators".

Why is this issue important to me? Because I'm one of those women who has had to take a "non-traditional" route to my science career, for the sake of my husband's scientific career. In our most recent move to BTCC (Big Time Cancer Center) in the Southwest, I took a non-tenure track, part-time position with no lab space and no start-up money to facilitate my husband's significant career move. I was not necessarily against this decision for a year or two, but now I realize how much I have put my scientific career in jeopardy - a lack of interest in my career from the department chair and the current diminishing NIH budget pretty much makes it impossible for me to succeed at the level of an R01. In addition, what I was not aware of was that this part-time position prevents me from competing for any of the internal funds which are available to other investigators. Why I ask is that? I want to add that my "part-time" status makes very little difference in the amount of time I spend in the lab and was taken in part for flexibility reasons to deal with health issues for one of our children.

It now makes me wonder why I worked so hard to obtain an Associate Professor level after obtaining a PhD at HPU (High Profile University) in New England and a postdoc with a world reknowned cancer biologist. I'm sure some will see this as complaining. However, I only wish to open up a dialogue to say that there are many routes to a successful science career and sometimes those careers can get derailed. Science should be more open to these issues and avenues, especially for women as they will almost always be the ones who have to deal with these situations. I couldn't forsee this future 10 years ago and my goal still remains to be a successful scientist, and add something important to the field of preventing and/or treating cancer. I end by asking the question: "Why don't such groups like the Women in Cancer Research group within AACR or the Avon Foundation and other private funders of cancer research, support such women's issues and offer such fellowships to help stop the attrition of good women scientists from the field of cancer research?"

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Intro to Doubleloop

Hello and welcome to my blog. This is my madien voyage into the world of blogging. I am a research scientist who has become a Mom late in life. In addition, I am following my husband around as his career takes off. All of these things have greatly affected who I am and where my career is headed. Some of it good, some of it not so good. I've long been interested in women in science, how they "make it" and what the obstacles are to getting to where they're going so I hope to blog about those issues here. In addition, until I had my family, I taught ice dancing part time. Although I've given up the teaching for now (those pesky kids....) I'm still very much interested in the world of skating. And so I hope to share my random ramblings on being a Mom, being a scientist and being a figure skating enthusiast.