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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Precious, Pressured, Weekend

The negotiations started on Wednesday.

"So, what do we need to do this weekend?"

"Well, I have laundry, bills, and I have to fix the sprinklers again. I also wanted to try to fit 9 holes in- maybe we can all go again like last weekend?"

My husband referred to our creative and moderately successful bid to get 9 holes of (admittedly bad) golf packed into our weekend without a) the expense of a babysitter and b) losing precious time with our 2 kids. Despite the 7am tee time, it worked pretty well; they caught tadpoles and drove the cart when nobody was looking, and a grand time was had by all until it got really hot.

"Yeah," I said, "that would be great. I have to get the groceries, cook, clean out the craft room, and work on a proposal for the Dean. Oh, and J has a birthday party on Sunday- are you taking her?"

"I took her to the last one, so I think it's your turn- sorry..."

"Oh, yeah. Oops! I also have to go get a blood draw for Dr. S. Saturday since the Lab was closed by the time I got there from the office on Wednesday. It really chaps me that they closed 4 minutes before I got there and would not let me in. Who gets to close at 4, after all?"

"Okay, so when can we play golf?"

"Well, I don't know. I'd also like to get over to visit my folks sometime..."

"Well crap. We don't have time to do anything. I wish we had more time on the weekends- it all gets eaten up with minutia."

Another less-than-constructive conversation about packing as much as possible into a weekend. The joys of the 2-full-time working parent household. Weekend time is so precious, yet so pressured with "stuff"- it's hard not to get a little cranky, especially when you start to look forward to the weekend and talk about it, but at the end of a busy, hot, traffic and meeting-filled Wednesday when your feet hurt and you're still behind on your email.

Somehow, this morning, in the cool grey light of the morning, husband and I kept talking about *the plan* for the weekend, and it seemed less onerous. We'll fit the golf in if we can, and if the kids want to go- they are good sports to go, and besides, it's pretty entertaining to watch Mommy's short game. As we laid in bed, whispering to not wake our offspring and remembering how lucky we are to have so much choice in our lives, frankly, it all became okay. In fact, we remembered that the kids have plans for a lemonade stand today- one more thing to do, but today, not a big deal.

Lesson learned? Plan weekends less- we know what we have to do- talking about it only emphasizes the number of items. Regardless of when we negotiate, by the end of the weekend, we'll have gotten most of the "have-tos" done, but not all, and that will be okay because we'll have had some great, lukewarm, lemonade and maybe a decent putt or two if we're lucky.

Enjoy the weekend.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The "F" word...

Today I heard a great lunchtime presentation by a colleague of mine, a History Professor and the Director of our new Women's and Gender Studies program, entitled "Why Feminism Matters". She spoke clearly and eloquently about what Feminism is, what it is not, and why it's not a thing of the past. She told a story about talking to one of her classes about feminism, in which she asked the students to raise their hands if they identified as "Feminist". What do you think happened? You're right- essentially *nobody* raised his/her hand. When my colleague followed up with questions like "How many of you think men and women should have salary equity?" and "How many believe that Men and Women have the same intellectual capacity?", virtually every hand went up. Sounds like feminist thought to me, and when she mentioned this to the class, the responses went something like, "Well, yeah, but I'm not a FEMINIST- I mean, I have choices and can do what I want, and my friends and my Mom have never said they've been discriminated against...".

Wow. When she told that part of the story, my head spun a little bit. How fortunate that these women have not experienced overt discrimination on the basis of gender- if only all of us were so fortunate. The discussion that ensued among my colleague and the audience addressed issues from the current election year to Bratz dolls, but by that point, my mind was grinding away at the realization that, as my colleague said, Feminism is an "F" word, out of vogue for societal reasons for some, and not relevant for others because it seems, on the surface, that choice=success, so why bother?

Connected to this is the fact that in the academy, anyway, "diversity", according to many I've interacted with, does not mean gender anymore, but refers to race, ethnicity, sexuality in some cases, and physical ability. It's not that these are not essential and critical parts of our progress to becoming inclusive, but it's sad that the perception is, as one upper-level administrator told me once, "Well, we hire at least as many women as men, so gender is really not a problem anymore." Whether we identify as Feminists or not, women in academia know that the playing field is not equal as it should be. Although I know there are a number of wonderful institutions that have women in positions of leadership, and good retention, tenure, and promotion rates for females, the fact that national statistics still show that far fewer women get tenure and even fewer get promoted to Full Professor or ascend into positions of leadership shows that we, regardless of whether we identify with the *F* word or not, have a ways to go before we realize the ideals of equal choice=equal success.

Feminism is not a dirty word; it is a responsibility. It is a reponsibility just as our committment to inclusion based on other differences is a reponsibility that we share as a society-Oh, and as insitutions of higher education...

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Inequity, Perception, and Hope for Women in Academia

Clearly, those of us who have survived, for better or worse, as women in academics, and specifically, in the Sciences, know full well that even though it *should not* be happening according to the statements and policies of out Universities and Professional Societies, inequity and frank discrimination are still a part of our lives. I remember so clearly the meeting in which, as a graduate student, my PhD advisor said once when I disagreed with him, respectfully, about a lab issue, that it must be “that time of the month” for me, since I spoke up for myself. Needless to say, I found another advisor. Then there was the time when I was offered a prestigious postdoc fellowship in a great immunology lab, only to be told by the PI, “Well, we’re glad to have you, but please tell me you’re not going to crap up your career by doing something stupid like getting married and having kids”. Time to move on- again.

I wish these stories were isolated cases, but from my conversations with many colleagues, sadly, they are not. We’ve all know for a long time that the academic pipeline is leakier for women than for men, and even leakier for members of underrepresented minorities. Numerous studies have, over the years, tried to identify the variables that lead to greater loss of women in academic science departments. Inside Higher Ed did a great piece reporting on the findings of a National Academies of Sciences panel formed to examine existing studies in 2006.

Among the panel’s findings:

  • “A series of cognitive and other studies “have not found any significant biological differences between men and women in performing science and mathematics that can account for the lower representation of women in academic faculty and scientific leadership positions in these fields.”
  • Although women fall out of academic science at nearly every stage of the pipeline, women are underrepresented on faculties even in fields in which they have reached relative parity. They make up only 15.4 percent of full professors in the social and behavioral sciences and 14.8 percent in the life sciences, despite having earned more than 30 percent and 20 percent of the doctorates in those fields, respectively, over more than 30 years.
  • Women are “very likely” to face discrimination — sometimes deliberately but often inadvertently — in “every field of science and engineering. (Minority women, the panel notes throughout the report, often face a double whammy.) The discrimination results from a combination of built-in biases that make them less likely to hire a woman than a man with identical accomplishments, of evaluation criteria that “contain arbitrary and subjective components that disadvantage women.” For instance, “characteristics that are often selected for and believed ... to relate to scientific creativity — namely assertiveness and single-mindedness —” are both given greater weight in hiring and promotion than traits such as flexibility, diplomacy and curiosity, and “stereotyped as socially unacceptable traits for women.”

-From Inside Higher Ed, 9/16/2006,

Depressing, huh? I especially think the last part of these excerpts, addressing the fact that traits of assertiveness and single-mindedness, critical in science, are looked down upon in women. This speaks to gender differences in how men and women are socialized to communicate. One book (and now website) that does, in my view, a really nice job of discussing these differences and providing strategies for women seeking to develop stronger communication styles is Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide ( Although I hope things are changing, my experience has always been that assertive men are often viewed as “Strong, decisive, and clear-minded” and assertive women are viewed as “Aggressive, b*tchy, and pushy*. In the close halls of the academy, it only takes a few perceptions of one (male or female, for that matter) as difficult, non-collegial or entitled for some serious damage to be done to one’s ability to get a fair shake in the political world of the University. It does mean one cannot succeed, but if the wrong people get fed up with a junior faculty member, the path to tenure and success can be rockier than it needs to be.

The good news, however, is that I am optimistic that things are looking somewhat brighter in the academy for women than they did when I was a junior faculty member (12 years ago)- more of us have made it through the ranks and are in positions of administration where we may be able to help pave the way and improve climate. Senior academic women and administrators can work to educate our colleagues in the senior ranks and actively and personally support younger women experiencing “learned helplessness". Learned Helplessness is Psychological phenomenon in which lab animals (or people, frankly) learn through direct experience that no matter what they do, their behavior and performance does not translate into the expected or desired outcome, and then, when contingencies change such that those efforts could or would make a difference in outcome, the subject is too tired of trying and failing to try again. Most of us who are female (and male, for that matter) academics have experienced this phenomenon to some degree; our success is only due to being helped up to try again by a senior mentor, and having that renewed effort may off. Sadly, even trying yet again cannot always overcome frank discrimination and inequity, but with the help of some of us who have weathered the storm and have taken positions in Universities that may be able to catalyze some positive change, overcoming learned helplessness in the academic world may be a little easier, and strong women and men can be recognized for their clarity of thought, commitment to science and academics, and their ability to contribute great things to the changing academy.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Cool Site for Busy Moms..

Although it's true that we academic Moms have a whole set of weird stuff we deal with that some other working Moms don't have (tenure clocks, number of peer-reviewed publications, grants), there are lots of things that are the same for working Moms regardless of what we're working on or where we do it. Came across a neat site and blog,, that has lots of good hints and information for working Moms. Check it out when you have time...

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Graying the Boundaries

I've been going through one of those periods when it feels like there are just not enough hours in the day. Maybe you know the feeling- one minute it's a bright, clean morning and you're setting out the tasks for the day and suddenly you look up at the clock and it's time to hightail it home to make dinner and take on the Mom Mantle. It's frankly always a relief to come home, even if kids are arguing, husband is at a late meeting, dog has eaten a sandal, and I forgot to thaw the fish for dinner; being home is so grounding after a day spent in the Dean's office dealing with angry faculty members and students who have missed well-publicized deadlines- it reminds me of why I do all the work I do, and connects me with the people (and dog) I care about most.

Having said all that, re-entry into the home environment means, ideally, leaving the work world at work. That was my promise to myself a while back, designed to reduce the stress of work by compartmentalizing it completely. In theory, this is a great black-and-white approach, but the reality is that it does not work for me. Balance in this case is defined by the trade-offs I've chosen to make to get what I need at work and at home. A caveat here is that the world was much easier when I was "just a faculty member" because I truly controlled much of my own schedule. As an Associate Dean, however, I have far fewer degrees of freedom in my daily schedule; there are numerous "thou shalt attend" meetings, retreats, task forces, reports with tight deadlines, and committee meetings that are non-negotiable. Given all that, I've grayed my thinking and, frankly, learned to get it all done with less stress.

For example:

Ideal World: When I am home, I never do email or work- I am fully engaged with my family at all times when at home.

Real World Need: My husband and I feel strongly that our kids be home in the afternoons with one of us. To make this happen, I need to get home in time to pick my kids up from school at 3:20 on Tuesdays and Thursdays (My husband does Monday and Wednesday and we trade off alternate Fridays).

"Thinking Gray" Compromise: On Tuesday and Thursday, my husband takes my kids to school, and I get into the office by 7am. That lets me leave by 2:45 to get the kids, and then I log in and catch up on email for an hour when I get home. Then I stop working, make dinner, have dinner with my family, spend some time hanging out with my kids and husband, putting kids to bed, and then I log back in and work for another couple of hours (usually less than that) before I go to bed.

This actually works really well. and on my husband's pick up days I let him get out early. It's not perfect, and we refer to it as a "house of cards" because when one variable changes, we have to regroup and make it work. After 10 years of this, however, we've pretty much got it down, and it always seems to work out.

The older I get, the more flexible I become (Thank God) about what is enough, what is "have to", and what is worth getting my dander up about. Thinking gray about partitioning my time, while still making sure I *do* get time to just be a Mom, a wife, a daughter, and a Professor, has made me much happier and less self-critical. All that helps me work more effectively at the University and be a more patient, engaged, and present participant in all parts of my life, even when the house of cards tilts and part of it falls apart- sooner or later we find a way to put the cards back together.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Stupidity or Insight? Hmmmm....

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”- J. R. R. Tolkien

I read a great post today on “Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde” about feeling stupid doing science:
What a great post. I’m writing in response to that post with the, perhaps, delusional approach I’ve taken to this problem. I’ve reframed this feeling of stupidity such that I now think of it, and work with my students to think of it, as using unexpected events to provide opportunities for insight that drives our science.

To summarize, here’s how I’ve created this process for myself and my lab using the example of my UG thesis:

Case Study:
•My 1988 undergraduate thesis project: Effects of Food Type on Body Composition in Rats
•Early data: Looked great, but preliminary…
•Submitted abstract for regional meeting: selected for an oral presentation!
•Final dataset: YIKES!!! No statistical significance!

•Unexpected events cause stress
•With some effort, it’s possible to find equally unexpected value in what has happened
•This “reframing” of the event can have short and long-term benefits…

Short-Term Response: Making Lemonade out of Lemons…
•I reframed the study as a pilot study because is was small
•I talked about the statistical limitations of my study
•I suggested alternative hypotheses
•I presented some next steps for other studies

Long-Term: Growing a Different View of Research
•I learned cognitive flexibility
•I started to anticipate “the unexpected”
•I began to develop the ability to reframe and re-approach problems
•I learned not to panic J

All this helped me learn that taking advantage of the unexpected outcome provides an opportunity for insight, perhaps by necessity, as when it doesn’t go as I expect, although I may feel stupid at first, I have to take the time to step back, think, and as a result, move forward.

Why is insight important? Insight occurs when people recognize relationships or make associations between objects and actions that can help them solve new problems.

To be insightful, you must…
•Be expectant of change
•Be prepared to be flexible
•Be eager to reframe

Thus my favorite quotation: "Chance favors the prepared mind." - Louis Pasteur
A Prepared Mind…
Observes. What IS, not what may be
Reasons. Moves from the known to the undetermined
Imagines. Envisions the possibilities
Decides. Chooses a path with consequences in mind
Learns. Keeps a developmental mindset
Reflects. Looks backward, forward, and inward

- from The Prepared Mind of a Leader, by Bill Welter and Jean Egmon

All this flexibility, seeming failure, reframing, insight, and forward motion creates the The “gestalt” of a research career. As in other parts of life, things expected and unexpected combine to create a career in research greater than the mere sum of the experiences themselves.

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