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........