Friday, April 06, 2007

The Silence is Deafening.......

I haven't been able to sit myself down and blog lately. Believe me, I've tried but each time I opened a new document, I shut it down. A lot has been happening since we last "spoke". Where've I been? Well, I've been deciding the fate of the next 20 years of my life. After my last blog, I had an additional dinner meeting with the VP for the Western Region of CS (Corporate Science). This person asked me less business-related and more "Are you sure you want to do this?" type questions. It did get me thinking. And that's what I've been doing for the last two weeks - thinking.

It's been a remarkable journey so far. I have been amazed at the spectrum of emotions that I have been experiencing while trying to make this decision. Just the other day, I was having lunch in the faculty dining room at my Institution by myself because SciDad was traveling. Suddenly I became very nostalgic. I started looking around at all the faculty and wondering how it would feel to be out of this fraternity we call "academics" that I've been hanging out in for the last 19 years. It made me sad. After lunch, while in the lab, I wondered how it would be to not have a lab to go to. Strange... When I left later that afternoon to pick up the kids, I felt deeply saddened.

I haven't signed on the dotted line yet. That'll probably happen next week. In the meantime, if I'm not wrong, I'm going through a grieving process. I'm losing something that I've been nurturing for 19 years. I've had highs and lows in my academic career. It's been my life since I graduated with my Ph.D. I had plans; I have unanswered questions; I have avenues of interest that I won't be able to follow. I wonder if this is the equivalent of laboratory "empty nest" syndrome. In any case, I was not prepared for the grieving. I don't know if I'll even celebrate the new avenue that my life is about to take, not yet anyway. There's so much to do. The only thing I'm quite sure of is that the times, they are a-changing.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Biotech Adventure, Part II

Step 2 in the Biotech "adventure" is now complete. I had a business dinner with the local and regional managers of said CS (corporate science) entity. It's been a long time since I've had to answer questions like "What do you think you would bring to this position that is unique?" and "How would you handle situation X or Y?" and the mine-ridden "Why would someone at your level want to make this move?" I felt comfortable and at the same time, out of my element. Although I've done a lot of "dinners with speakers", this just had a whole different feel to it- you know, business-y. I remembered all the simple interview tips - give a firm handshake, make eye contact while speaking, don't talk too much just give straightforward answers, etc. I think it went well but would I really know?

I have no previous experience with CS, except in my dealings with them as an academic researcher. I'd be on the other side of the fence. And I'm grappling with feelings of potential "loss" and "failure". Yup, failure. Now that feeling really erks me because it's not necessarily that I've failed academic science. It's as much that life and circumstances have conspired to make an academic career in research untenable to me now. Why don't I feel like this is an opportunity I'm being afforded "because" of my success in science? I think it has a lot to do with the expectations in academics - you know the stereotype that says if you leave academics, it's because you weren't capable of succeeding in it. I know this is exactly how most of my supposed colleagues would view a move to CS, especially because of my gender. Which is why Zuska's current discussions of the leaky pipeline (Part I and Part II) are so timely.

In her recent blogs on the X-Gal columns in the Chronicle, she's revisiting the definition of scientific success, as defined by her own experiences and those of the X-gals. On her and some of her colleagues decisions to leave academics, she says:

You can say we actively chose to leave the academic path, and some of us never gave it a backward glance. We chose, but it was a choice with a lot of push behind it. And we were all aware of how we were viewed by those who stayed on the path - those who were still in the pipeline. We had leaked out through our own fault. That is, there was nothing wrong with science - the problem was with us. If we had been good enough to become professors, we would have done so. If we had been good enough to become professors, we would never have wanted to do anything else. So leaving was evidence of our incompetence.

Yeah, this is exactly how I feel. And why. Well, as she puts it:

We form our identity around what we do very, very strongly. And if we've had it in our minds that we must become a research professor, then having that taken away from us is not just a career disappointment, it's something that forces us to rethink our whole identity. If I am going to take on a different career that is perceived as lower status - am I going to become a lower sort of person? This status-consciousness is so intense in academia.

One of the questions I was asked at my business dinner was how would it feel to be in a position where the academics I would deal with wouldn't care what I had done in my science career previously, and would assume I wasn't as skilled as I was? I answered by saying I had a lot of experience in that already, especially in my current part time position.

And so while I continue to pursue this exciting lead, I will also work on my own re-definition of success. If I do leave academics, I hope one of the lessons I can teach my kids as they grow up is that one can define your own success, and that definition doesn't always have to agree with what the mainstream masses think is success. That's a tough one.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Charles de Gaulle's women

I made it. Last week I went overseas to a meeting to present my work. This was the first time I have been away from the kids for so long - and so far away. And guess what, SciDad did a great job. He did profess to being tired but the kids did well. I had a great time giving my presentation and walking around this beautiful European city.

On the way over and back, I went through Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Now that was an interesting experience. First, I was in Terminal 2 and the directions to get you to where you want to go were awful. Second, the terminal was so "skinny" in places that when flights were boarding, the people blocked any flow of other passengers trying to get from one gate to another. In addition to that, it took over an hour to get through security with plenty of French AND Americans trying to cut in line.

But in one instance, while raising my fists and eyes to the ceiling and cursing the state of travel, I noticed something very interesting. Large banners with faces of women, one of which looked very familiar to me. My ability to decipher the French (three years in Montreal) helped me determine that these were women scientists and these were the women selected for the 2007 L'Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science awards! One from each continent, faces displayed like rock stars in one of the world's busiest airports.

The face I recognized - Mildred Dresselhaus. She's an MITer who you can't get through a science stint at MIT without seeing a picture of or hearing about. There's a nice tribute at eQuarksDaily.

L'Oreal-UNESCO also gives International graduate and postdoctoral fellowships. Yet another example of how Europe is way ahead of the US in supporting women in science.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ring, ring.....Corporate calling

Hello? Is this SciMom?

Yes it is. May I ask whose calling?

Yes this is Biotech. You probably think of me as "corporate science". How are you?

I'm not so well. In fact, I'm struggling in a part time academic position, working my a#* off trying to keep my research alive. I have an inattentive Chairman, a department which only sees me as an appendage of SciDad, and minimal chances to obtain funding because of my part time status and lack of people in the lab, not to mention the dismal government funding situation. I am finding it hard these days to be self-motivated - I've never before had motivation problems. I'm heading to a conference in Europe next week to give a talk and I wonder why the heck I'm going? Oh, was that too much information?

No not at all. You see someone told us you might be interested in a different challenge. One that would value your years of expertise in oncogenetics.

OH! Who are you?

We're "RSBC" (really stable biotech company).

Yes I've been using your technologies for years and along with SciDad, have helped your new technologies move into a broader scientific marketplace.

Well, we're looking for someone with your background and expertise. And we're excited that someone with your years of experience might be able to come onboard. You know our plan is to move more into diagnostics in the next several years while still staying strong in academic research. Does that interest you?

It does. Let's chat some more. Uh huh, yes. What about travel? I see. Salary, well that would work. Stock options, 401. How are the goals defined? Well that's a little different than I'm used to but the role is also different. I can't relocate.

You wouldn't have to! So what do you think?

I think I actually might be interested. It's scary to think about walking away from a traditional research job because I love that aspect of my life a great deal. But gee, salary stability, job stability (assuming I perform well), growth within a company, a place that VALUES me?!?! What do I do next?

Just go online and send us your resume. There are other applicants.

Yes I imagine there are.

But let's move forward and see where it takes us.

OK, I'll do that this evening. Thanks for calling.

No, thank you. I'll be in touch.


Wow, working somewhere where my knowledge and experience might be valued. What an attractive concept........

Friday, February 16, 2007

Networking Broads

It's been three weeks of sinus hell in this household. My three year old has just finished her antibiotics, my 5 year old is a few days into his, and I'm three days into mine! SciHusband is two weeks into his cold but it looks like he may conquer it without the help of pharmaceuticals. I'm finally, finally feeling like I've turned the corner on this bug that's been attacking me since two days before my 5 year old's January birthday party. Thus the infrequent blogs. I'm running on a sleep deficit in normally but I've lost a lot of additional sleep hours - and I feel it.

I am about to undertake two trips - one next week back to snowy New England to meet with collaborators and spend a few days with the parental units. The next a few weeks after that across the pond to present at a meeting. I have mixed emotions about these trips - I need them, I'm looking forward to them and yet I already miss the kids and I haven't even left yet! I think only a primary caregiver knows what these conflicting emotions feel's a strange mix of excitement, worry, guilt and a lot about not being in control. As SciHusband says "We'll survive with you on speed dial".

I'm also feeling a bit unstable in general which might be contributing to the travel anxieties. I'm in the midst of casting about to see what my options might be for a change in career. There are some things afloat which make me think my part time position is more unstable than previously thought. While surfing, I came across a website for 85Broads, a women's networking website set up by former financial manager Janet Hansen, who worked for Goldman Sachs on WallStreet (thus the play on Broad Street). Check it out. What caught my attention was her story:
When I left 85 Broad Street in 1988 to raise my daughter Meredith and later, my son Christopher, I felt a powerful sense of loss. I realized that while I certainly missed the action on the trading floor, I missed my colleagues even more.
This sentiment rings loudly in my ear, even though I'm still working part time.

What also caught my attention was Broad 2.0, a networking resource for women who have had to step out or step back in the workplace because of family and other responsibilities. This seemed like a unique resource for someone in my position but right now, access to this particular part of the website is limited to current students and alumni of a specific but expanding group of colleges and universities that have signed on to be involved with 85Broads. However, this might useful for some of the women in science that read this blog.

Is there something comparable out their for women in academics?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Wow Wow Everybody

It's been talked about, it's been rumored and now "it's for real" as my 5 year old would say.
Harvard has named it's first female president, Radcliffe Institute dean Drew Gilpin Faust. Now it joins its Cambridge neighbor, MIT, who installed Susan Hockfield as president several years ago.

As reported on the CNN website:

Drew Gilpin Faust recalls her mother lecturing her that "this is a man's world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that, the better off you'll be."

It was a lesson, she wrote in a memoir, that she refused to accept.

"I hope that my own appointment can be one symbol of an opening of opportunities that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago," Faust said. But she also added, "I'm not the woman president of Harvard, I'm the president of Harvard."

Wow wow everybody!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Invisibility Factor

I was catching up on blog reading and came across FemaleScienceProfessor's post about being an "invisible female scientist". I have run into this situation many times in my career. Just some examples:

At University 1 where my husband and I both had academic positions, we would routinely run into Professor A in the garage elevator. He would ALWAYS say hello to my husband, have a short chat and then exit the elevator with us. Yes, he knew me but clearly didn't feel it necessary to acknowledge my general presence in these situations. Other than being just plain rude, it showed his lack of respect for me as a faculty member.

At the Institution following this University, a promotional video was being produced and all faculty in the particular program to be discussed were asked to be available on a certain day for taping. There were 4 research faculty. Oh did I mention that no one bothered to tell me about it? In the end, I was asked to stand in when they interviewed my husband and they asked me a few questions. I couldn't gather enough energy to bother answering them in any interesting fashion because I was so pi#@ed off. I landed on the editing room floor.

At my current Institution, I'm sure that I have taken on a wispy, ethereal appearance because I can be walking past people that I have been introduced to several times and they pass as if they've never seen me before or actually DON'T see me! I'm the kind of person who will at least give a passing hello if I recognize someone. I can stop and see my reflection in the windows so I know that I exist. It fascinates me how often this happens. And this is probably one of the biggest issues I have with my current position. The issue of invisibility. I was prepared to give up some level of visibility by going part time, but I wasn't prepared for the lack of respect from my colleagues and almost complete invisibility to my Chairman and Institution.

I agree with Zuska though that not only to we as women have to speak up for ourselves but those male colleagues who are there in the moment these disrespectful interactions occur, also have to speak up. If they don't (and if we don't) then all of us remain part of the problem. (On a side note, the comments following Zuska's post are well worth the read. I laughed, I applauded, I got angry, and I asked myself why so many times I didn't speak up).

While I was writing this post, I remembered that when this used to happen to me in my younger days, I would make an effort to speak a bold "hello" or nod while vocalizing "Dr. X"'s name to those that liked to ignore my presence- just to force them to look up, maybe speak, and but mostly make them aware that they were lacking in social manners. I guess I've lost a bit of my edge with age but now that I've written this, I think I'm going to start up again.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

I was a Mother Superior but just for this weekend

I did it. I made it through another toddler birthday. And it was a good one.

My big guy turned 5 this weekend. On Friday, at his school, they do a special "circle time" where he talks about how he has grown up and the new things he can do. Then in the afternoon, he can bring a special celebration snack. I made 72 mini -blueberry/raspberry muffins and 64 chocolate-dipped strawberries - all on Thursday night because they only taste good when made fresh. I started at 7pm on Thursday night and finished at 11:15pm with the clean up. On Friday, I joined him at his school for his special circle time at 10am, had a parent/teacher conference from 10:30 - 11:30am about my younger daughter who has just transitioned into that house, stayed for part of their lunch at their insistence and finally got away at 12:30pm.

Did I mention I was coming down with a sore throat on Thursday night?

By Friday midday I was feeling pretty punk. Went home to eat a quick refrigerator grazing lunch, left to pick up the birthday cake at Costco and returned home about 2:30pm. Dropped off the cake and left to go to the party store for the essentials - plates, hats, etc. - returned at 3:30pm. Dropped off the stuff and left to pick up the kids. Did I mention I was feeling really bad by this time?

Friday night I did what I could to prepare for the party the next day but given how I was feeling, it seemed sleep was the best thing to get that night. The party was from 10:30am - 1:30pm on Saturday and we were expecting 4 friends and potentially two siblings and associated parents. I don't believe in the "invite everybody" parties. I like to have them more personal, in my home and with only the "friends" that my kids ask me to invite. I won't bore you with the details of the party except to say we had a "Mad Science" person come and put on a really great show. The kids were dazzled by the disappearing water, the dry ice "cloud", the firecracker colors, and a chance to make their own "slime". It was a great show and even the parents enjoyed it. Did I mention I gradually lost my voice over the course of the party? Anyway, after pizza and presents, and a little time outside as the rain stopped, all went home. My son remarked that this was "the best party ever". In the few times in life when it all falls together and you make your kids happy and fulfilled, it totally rocks to be a Mom. Now if I can only get my voice back.

Friday, January 26, 2007

SciDad's post

So here it is - the first of two installments from SciDad in response to my previous post regarding dual careers. SciDad says:

One of the illusions you lose about life pretty quickly is that the world is your oyster. Careers are not constructed like Lego from a big box of options in an open space. They resemble a dash through the woods, where occasionally you enter a clearing with only a couple of paths ahead. And you never know what is around the next corner - both in the bad and the good. After I had finished my 5+ years of post-doc I did not have any top-10 journal papers and so I did not have many choices for a faculty position. Against the advice (but with the support) of my mentor I went to an OK place, because I was ready for independence. This is not an unfamiliar condition in a career that keeps you as an underpaid, overworked trainee for close to 10 years... At the time SciMom and I decided that my career would take precedence - we were trying to have kids, so this seemed right to both of us. After a few years at OK place we were approached to consider a move. We went to Good place.

The latest move - which is most relevant to SciMom's recent post - grew from that first decision. I had in fact not looked for this move - we were both very happy at Good place where we had gone together, quite equally. While Good place had its limitations, the microenvironment was very supportive and we could have stayed there longer. But it was not a place that made research easy or that offered long-term possibilities or where it was easy to recruit good people for the lab.

Then I was approached by one of a handful - three or four - of top places for the work that I do (let's call it Top place). The difference is that if I told 10 randomly picked scientists the name of Good place and Top place, all would know Top place, and maybe 1 or 2 would know Good place. Plus, the position they asked me to compete for had a leadership aspect - literally one of a few positions like it in the world, in my particular area of interest. So, rather than me being restless, and moving around at the expense of my spouse, I seized a possibly once-in a lifetime chance to get one of the best positions for someone like me in the world!

As SciMom has said, we made some mistakes, that resulted in part from my excitement and my admittedly somewhat selfish desire to seize this amazing opportunity. Timing was rotten, in the sense that the kids are at a needy stage, and she decided to step back, which is more difficult at more demanding institutions. Also, how supportive the Chair is varies - and you don't know it until you are there a while, trust me.

I think the situation can be fixed - it will take some time, perhaps some changes in the funding climate overall and some more work on both our parts. I am trying very hard to obtain additional funding to support SciMom, and in return she is taking an active part in my work. The aim is to develop enough funds to hire a post-doc to work with her on her projects, with a view to getting data for a new grant. It will take a few years, but it can be done.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

No Comment

Over the last 6 months, I have read my favorite blogs, green with envy seeing the number of interesting and helpful comments their posts regularly receive on their blog entries. A few weeks ago, I found a comment on a post I had just added to my blog. Excited I clicked on it, only to find out it was spam! Grrrrrrrrr. This prompted me to go searching for a way to get rid of it. And that's when I stumbled on the settings for accepting comments. Ohhhhhh, these things have settings. Should you ever feel the desire to comment, it should be easier now.

Yeah, OK I confess, I'm only a part of this technology world because I live with the world's greatest computer and electronic wizard gadget guru who just happens to be my husband. (Like right now he regaling me with information about EVDO GSM cell phone something-or -other.) Anyway, he pulls me along (heels firmly planted in the ground) as he embraces the newest of new technologies. He helped me set up this blog. But as usual, I learn just enough to plow ahead because he's my very own troubleshooting manual so I don't have to learn it all upfront.

On that same note, he also reads this blog. I wasn't going to tell him about it so I could complain about him if I wanted. But then I decided knowing he would read it, would help me keep things in perspective. And after a recent post, he jokingly suggested he should be able to do a guest blog, telling his "side" of things. And so I invite him to do so. His perspective on the dual career challenges will probably be quite enlightening.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Oops, I did it again

(Note: in the process of finishing this entry up, I read post doc ergo propter doc's entry on dual careers and it's challenges. And apparently, there is a discussion about dual careers on the science careers forum)

I have found that the New Year has not brought much more in the way of "peace" about my particular part time academic position. I have spent an enormous amount of energy trying to put a finger on what makes this so hard, with the mindset that I might identify an aspect that I can change for the better. It's not like I haven't been in this situation before........

Job Recruitment 1: Husband takes first academic position at new University. I'm 2.5 years into my Assistant Professorship at current University where husband is postdoc, just landing first R29 NIH grant. Husband signs contract prior to any negotiations for me regarding a job. My negotiating power - zero. (We both agree, rookie mistake on his part but done not out of disregard for me but in the excitement of first independent academic position and pressure from University to sign; marriage survives) The department creates a faculty position for me. No real start up package -$20K to replace some of big equipment being left behind. R29 pays for technician and $800/month for supplies. Time in situation: 3 years
Pros: Had my own lab space, connected by a door with husband's. Had my own technician. Put out some nice papers. Had an extremely supportive Department Chairman. Chairman supported and I received promotion to Associate Professor.

Cons: No office; gave space up to be converted into a TC room for both labs so had a desk in the lab. Didn't have the respect of the department's other faculty. Wasn't in a department related to my primary research focus. Had to fight to get my own mailbox (no really, this required the Chairman's intervention!) No money to grow the lab and become more productive.
Job Recruitment 2: Husband looking at new position where I have friends. They are aware of the difficulties I have encountered in current position. New Institute does two recruitments - 2 trips, 2 seminars, 2 offers.
Pros: Had my own lab space. Had my own office. Had a full recruitment package including decent salary. Got to work with two colleagues that I've known for 10 years! Was very productive with a group of 4. Supportive Chairman who realized it was important to keep me happy if he wanted to keep husband around. Flexible schedule works well with arrival of first child.

Cons: Not in a department with others focused on my primary area of research so not much chance for local collaborations.....uh, that's about all the cons I could think of.
Job Recruitment 3: Husband recruited to big time Institute over the course of a year. No discussion to bring me down or find an independent faculty position. Decision is made to ask for part time position in part because newly adopted daughter will require a fair amount of medical visits but also because not asking for a full time, FTE-position will facilitate my husband's job and required scheduled move time.
Pros: Flexible schedule made it easy to accommodate the year of constant illnesses that my two kids experienced going from an in-home Nanny to a Montessori preschool! Established a good relationship with the family pediatrician, ENT, and opthalmologist at big-time Children's Hospital. ummm, can't think of any other pros!

Cons: Didn't ask for lab space so lab has been absorbed by husband's; maintaining a bench. Despite having both names outside the door, no one considers it part "my lab space". I am invisible to the other faculty members of my department. I didn't interview and I didn't give a seminar; sometimes appearances can mean a lot. I still haven't been added to the birthday lists for which a monthly lunch is held. Don't have a supportive Chairman; has no idea what I do, and doesn't care. No mentorship, no support - no start up package; maintaining one project on an R01 subcontract; other main lab project dead in the water. Trying to develop another project with minimal funds. Hate feeling invisible; not appreciated for what I could add to the department.
Lessons learned:

1. Don't start out by giving up too much. You can play second fiddle but make sure you still get to play. I should have never put myself in the position of joining a department where they didn't feel it was worthwhile for me to come down and give a seminar to the rest of the faculty. I am not seen as an important member of my department's faculty.

2. Pick a supportive Chairman, especially if you are moving to support your husband's career. Never take a position where the Chairman doesn't feel it necessary to have face time with you to talk about your work and how it will fit/help the department. You need a Chairman who can "think outside the box" and find a way to use your expertise to build and expand his department strengths. I remember reading "The Door in the Dream: Conversations with eminent women in science" by Elga Wasserman. It's a collection of personal stories about how they succeeded in their careers. One of the messages I took away was the importance of having a Chairman who is open-minded, interested, and supportive.

In all fairness, we did make a mutual decision early on in our relationship that his career would take priority and the reasons for that, both professional and personal, were solid and good. But within that framework, the decisions need to be made carefully and wisely. Which is why, given my previous experiences, I'm surprised I made some of the same mistakes in Recruitment Scenario 3 that were made in Scenario 1. But I did and now the next step is to try to find ways, in this sparse time of funding, to work my way back to a position of respect from a position of weakness, if that's even possible. I don't know if it is......

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Horn in the Woods

I have to end the year/start the new one doing something which quite frankly I'm terrible at doing - blowing my own horn. Remember this is Rule #2 of my Rules for Success. I've been working on this relatively new technique and trying to see if we might use it to answer some important questions in the cancer-field. After a year of working on it, part-time as I am, I am happy that an abstract I submitted to an International meeting was accepted for an oral presentation. I realize this is not a big deal on the scientific scale of things....but for me it's a small validation of what I've been trying to succeed at, under not so perfect circumstances.

The only negative came when I decided to email my department chairman with the progress I have been making, to let him know that I would be representing the Institution with a presentation at this International meeting. The next day, the departmental secretary came to me in the lab and said the Chairman wanted to speak with me. I thought "Great, he received my email, is interested (something new), and wants to have a brief chat". I was, at the time she came to see me, in the middle of a seven hour experimental marathon, which had to stay on schedule because my husband was out of town and I had to get the kids before the preschool closed. I told the assistant I couldn't stop to chat now but I would talk to him the next morning.

The next morning I called to say I was free to come over and speak with the Chairman. The response? "Oh he doesn't need to speak with you today. Yesterday he just wanted to know when your husband was going to be back in town." Hmmm, last I looked my husband had an assistant.

I know that this technique will not itself become a major grant. But it will most likely result in manuscripts, and it will most likely land me on some grants, which hopefully will bring in some of my salary. These are the things I think are necessary for me to continue to survive in the vast unknown called "Part time academic science position".

So good for me for getting my abstract accepted for an oral presentation.....toot toot! Now if a horn blows in the woods.............