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.