Monday, April 30, 2007

To stay or go, Part 1: Framing the issues

One of the things I was hoping for as part of my sabbatical was to gain a clearer perspective on whether I wanted to stay here and try to get tenure, or cut my losses and leave for another academic position. It's hard to think when you're completely frazzled, as I have been pre-sabbatical, so I was hoping that the less-frenzied time of sabbatical would bring some clarity and focus.

Sadly, I find myself more confused than ever, and less sure what to do.

The "problem", if you can call it that, is that I don't overwhelmingly hate my job. If I did, the decision would be easy. There are certainly days that I hate my job and fantasize about resigning, where the despair is so deep that I can't see my way out of it. But there are things that I love about my job, too, and days where I do literally pinch myself and dance around my office (with my door closed, of course) because I love my job so much.

There are a few central questions that I find myself coming back to again and again:

1. Do the bad days outweigh the good days, and by how much?
2. How much of the love/hate has to do with the institution/department, and how much with the general parameters of a job as "assistant professor"?
3. Would things really be better somewhere else, or would I feel this way pretty much anywhere? (In other words, do the majority of the problems come from individual institutions or the culture of the field?)

It turns out that these are hard questions to answer.

When I started this post, I thought that it would be a self-contained post. But as I'm writing this, I'm beginning to see that this is definitely a larger topic than a one-shot post warrants. So over the next several days, I'll be addressing my thought process, framed by the questions above, around this issue (for my personal circumstance). Partly to help put my own thoughts into perspective, and partly because I think this is something that women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields deal with frequently. You know, the whole "fit" thing. So I do hope that those of you who have thought about this, recently or otherwise, will chime in in the comments with your stories and how you gained clarity or acceptance or whatever---how you made peace with your own choices on whether to stay or go.

One last thought: I keep coming back to the analogy of a bad relationship when thinking about my current circumstance. Sometimes when you find yourself in a bad relationship, you go into denial, thinking that things really aren't that bad and that if you just do X, Y, or Z then things will improve. You focus on the good and gloss over the bad. Part of my struggle to think about my situation clearly is that I really still can't tell if I'm in a bad relationship here or not, or if this is par for the course. (And this is where this whole blogging community really helps: the whole sharing of stories is one way to help us figure out whether our circumstances are normal or outliers.)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Same campus, different planets

Scene 1: On campus, I run into a male colleague from another department that I haven't seen in months. Small talk ensues.

Jane: Oh, congrats on getting tenure!

Colleague: Thanks! You know, the process was really great overall. Very transparent, you know. My department let me know what was going on every step of the way, ... [prolonged gushing ensues about what an uplifting experience the tenure process was for this person and the joys of working in this particular department]

Colleague stops in mid-sentence after noting the look---of horror? disbelief? despair?---on Jane's face. (Jane has many good qualities; a poker face is not one of them.)

Colleague: [stammering] Um, of course, every department is different and such...and I'm incredibly lucky, I guess... [mumble mumble]

Scene 2: On campus again, at lunch with colleagues from various departments.

Male Colleague #1: [Launches into story about a female colleague's recent bad experience with a disgruntled student who didn't like the grade he received in her class.] ... And of course, the student immediately blamed the bad grade on Female Colleague's teaching.

Jane: Oh, how terrible! Sounds a lot like my experience with Student From Hell a while ago.

MC #1: Yeah. You know, in all my years of teaching, I've never had a student call my teaching into question over a bad grade. Or anything else, for that matter.

Jane: It's not fun when it happens.

MC #1: Not to mention not fair! You know, it really opened my eyes.

Male Colleague #2: Oh, that's happened to me before, too.

Everyone turns to face MC #2.

Jane: It has?

MC #2: Sure! I've had plenty of students ask me to regrade things.

Jane stares at MC #2 incredulously. She wonders if it's possible to anonymously send him this.

MC #1: Er...we're really talking about something completely different here, you know.

MC #2: [Blissfully unaware, launches into a story about regrading, completely missing the point.]

Sometimes I wonder what color the sky is on the planet on which my male colleagues live. And if their campus planet has better food in the vending machines.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Professional nesting

It occurred to me today that perhaps now is not the best time to let days lapse without posting, lest everyone thinks I've gone into labor or something. (I haven't; I'm still here and still sans baby.) I've just been really immersing myself in work lately, that and running around getting all the last-minute baby stuff done. Both have been big time sucks.

Everyone keeps asking me if I've felt the "nesting instinct" yet. (Basically, the urge to clean everything in sight and get everything organized for the baby's arrival.) I *have* experienced the nesting instinct, but for me, it's been completely about my professional life.

So what does "professional nesting" look like? It's finishing up projects that have been languishing. Writing up long-forgotten-about results. Getting various pieces of research organized into various conference and journal papers. Revisiting analyses and experiments that some of my past students did but never finished, either because of time constraints or because at the time we thought we'd reached a dead end. (In the latter case, some of them turned out to not be dead ends, as later work showed.) Getting new projects at least sketched out, so that if I have to wait 3-6 months before I can start them, I'll at least have some idea of what I was thinking and what I want to do. Getting lots of inspirations for papers and trying to get those outlined (see previous sentence).

I think I've had this professional nesting instinct because I really don't know what is going to happen when the baby arrives. I have no idea when, realistically, I'll have the time and energy to start picking up a little bit of work again, because I'll be the primary caregiver for a while. In a sense, I'm hedging my bets, preparing for the worst-case scenario, which is that months will go by before I do any sort of substantive research work again. So I'm trying to finish up as much as I can. At the same time, I'm setting things up so that, whenever I do return to work, I can hit the ground running and pick up where I left off, hopefully.

And to me, right now, that's much more important and interesting than scrubbing my house.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

One monkey off my back....

I finally got to update my "projects in progress". Conference Paper #1 is out for review and out of my psyche, at least until the reviews come back. Woo hoo!

The other monkey on my back, the journal article, will be going out next week no matter what.* And then I'll feel like I can relax a bit, because everything else I'm working on is still in the relatively early stages. (With the possible exception of Conference Paper #2---I may try to meet a relatively-soon deadline, just to get it out there.)

But for now, I'm celebrating by taking the afternoon off.

*Well, ok, the one exception will be if Baby Jane arrives before then. In that case, all bets are off.

Monday, April 16, 2007


My heart and thoughts go out to the Virginia Tech community today.

Horrible, horrible, horrible.

Scientiae Carnival #4: Spring Cleaning Edition

Hello everyone, and welcome to Scientiae The Fourth: Spring Cleaning Edition! Ironically, before we could get this out we had to do some spring cleaning of our own at Scientiae, as Blogger had classified the Scientiae blog as spam for some odd reason. But, the good Scientiae name is now cleared, and we can proceed with the good stuff!

Cleaning up cyberspace (of the bullies and jerks)

The big buzz around the blogosphere continues to be the saga of Kathy Sierra and the horrible, horrible cyberbullying she's had to endure. People continue to share stories, their own and others', about being harrassed in cyberspace. tekanji at posts on harrassment and silencing in gaming communities. FeministSF has a thoughtful and powerful response.

One result of this whole situation has been a call for a Blogger Code of Conduct, part of which questions whether anonymity/pseudonymity are leading to the whole toxic culture online. Charlieanders at She's Such a Geek and Bitch, Ph.D. both respond with their takes on why anonymity/psedonymity is necessary, particularly for women to be able to tell their stories online.

Finally, Chris Clarke at Pandagon has some helpful advice for those (particularly men) participating in the larger discussion: how not to be an asshole.

Cleaning up the FOSS (Free/Open Source Software) Communities

There are an appallingly small number of women developers of free and open source software---only 1.5%. Liz Henry and She's Such a Geek discuss a talk given by Angela Byron about the experience of women as FOSS developers. (Liz's post has a link to Angela's slides, too.) Clancy at CultureCat has a long and very informative post on gender and open source (with good background on what FOSS is, for those not familiar with the term or the surrounding culture). Mairin, an open source developer and co-founder of GNOME Women, has a thoughtful response from the trenches.

Reflections and Introspections on STEM Careers

Spring cleaning often means reflecting on where we are in our careers and where we want to be. Lots of good stuff in this category, from women scientists at all stages of the pipeline.

Amelie starts us off with her reflections on her PhD program, one year in. Emma posts on how she discovered that the teaching life was not for her, the very real danger of burnout as a new professor, and how she's starting to find more peace on her current career path as a post-doc.

Motherhood and career is on the minds of a few of us as well. ScienceWoman interviews herself, illuminating her dual challenges as new post-doc and new mom. I've also caught the introspection bug, reflecting on impending motherhood, sabbatical productivity, and how I feel about my department. Geeky Mom talks about why she works, the fulfillment she gets from her job and career, and how she and her family have dealt with the family/career balance over the years.

Annual review time is here for many of us. Female Science Professor shares some of her frustrations with the process, which is often more political than we'd like to admit. (Be sure to stop over and congratulate Female Science Professor on her teaching award!)

Zuska presents us with Part 3 in her Life as a Leak series. In this installment, she addresses the question of whether you can call yourself a scientist if you are not actively "doing" science in a research lab---in other words, what makes us scientists, exactly? (And if you're not following Zuska's "online course" on the Joy of Science, you should be! The current discussions revolve around women's access to science, passionate reason and pseudo-passion, and the experiences of international women. Reading summaries are here.)

Finally, Dr. Rosie Redfield, a microbiology professor at the University of British Columbia, and her research group blog about their research. Neat stuff! A great look into the daily lives of women doing science.

Cleaning up perceptions of female ability

Jenny F. Scientist at A Natural Scientist presents us with her lab's latest edition of Sexist Ninny Bingo. In this round: pregnancy, maternity leave, and the "discrimination" against men in the job market. tekanji presents us with Geek Girl Stereotype Bingo, complete with bingo card! You, too, can play along at home, during your next faculty meeting/department meeting/group meeting. Hours of fun!

If your blood pressure hasn't risen yet, my readers respond to the question "what's the dumbest thing someone has said to you recently?"

In the News

Pat at Fairer Science has an update on the Discovery Channel's casting call for a (male) host for a new engineering series. Turns out women are welcome to apply, too. (Gee, how darned refreshing!)

Pat also passes along a call for writers from The WIP. From WIP's site: "The Women’s International Perspective, The WIP, is a comprehensive news website of women contributors that reports world news, opinion, and commentary. Our mission is to provide quality news from the unique perspectives of women that is accessible worldwide and free to our readers." They are especially interested in improving their science and technology coverage.

The big finale: Logo submissions!

The call for Scientiae logos went out, and readers responded! Check out the submissions from FemaleCSGradStudent
and Jokerine. We should probably have a poll for this at some point, but for now, please feel free to leave your logo comments in the comments.

Some final housekeeping: Acknowledgements and the next Scientiae

Special thanks to John Dupuis, Propter Doc, and Rosa Carson for nominating posts for this carnival. And thanks to all of you for continuing to post such thoughtful reflections on gender and race issues in STEM!

The next Scientiae is scheduled for May 1, at Clarity. As always, information on how to submit posts is here. Happy posting, and happy Monday to all!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reminder: Scientiae deadline approaching!

UPDATE: Our problems with Blogger have been fixed, finally! Because of the delay, I will be accepting submissions until Sunday morning, the 15th. Thanks for your patience!

Just a friendly reminder that the deadline for submitting posts for the next Scientiae carnival (Spring Cleaning Edition) is rapidly approaching! The deadline is Friday the 13th (although, to be honest, I'm going to start compiling this on Saturday afternoon, so if you get them to me by Saturday morning you should be fine). Thanks to everyone that's submitted posts already; please keep tagging your own posts (and emailing their links)! You can also nominate posts by email, too. The email address is scientiaecarnival [a] gmail [dt] com.

Here's the call for posts, and instructions for tagging and submitting posts. Also, here are instructions for submitting logo ideas (and thanks to those of you who've submitted logos already---good stuff!).

Happy posting!

Introspection time

I've been in sort of a weird mood lately. I've always done a fair amount of self-reflection, but lately I seem to have taken it to a whole new level. I've been super-introspective, almost to the point of withdrawing---from posting here, from keeping in touch with people, etc. Not that I've exactly become a hermit, and I haven't completely withdrawn or anything crazy like that, but lately I've really just wanted to spend time alone, thinking.

Part of this, I think, is mentally and emotionally preparing myself for the big life change that's about to happen. My due date is approaching. I'm excited, yet terrified. I'm ready, yet not. Almost everything is in place, yet I still feel vastly unprepared for this birth. I came to the realization the other day that I probably never will feel completely prepared for this birth, or for being a mom, and I have to accept that, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me. So a lot of the introspection has been around that.

Weirdly, the introspection has also spilled over into my work life. I've done a lot of reflecting on what I've chosen to work on during my sabbatical, what I've accomplished, and how that's been very different from what I set out to accomplish. The introspection, oddly, has also fueled this incredible burst of creativity in my work. The creativity burst is helping me find the energy to finish up some things and get them out for review. Today the creativity burst inspired an idea for another conference paper, which in turn can be combined with two recent conference papers for a journal article (which, unlike the journal article I'm currently struggling to get out, will not require a ton of work to put together, I think), which means that I could potentially have 4 things in the review pipeline at once. But the creative burst has a downside, too: there is so much I want to do in my research, and I know that my time is limited, and it's frustrating to not be able to get to all of it. Which I know is ridiculous: it's not like I'll never have time to do research again once my sabbatical is over. But I'm impatient. I see all these connections and paths in my work, and it's frustrating to not be able to follow them all at once. I don't want to prioritize; I want to clone myself and get it all done! :)

I've also been reflecting a bit on my department, taking advantage of my distance from the day-to-day happenings to think about things like department dynamics, what I want my role to be when I return, and department leadership. One thing I've realized is that I'm deeply unhappy with many aspects of our department's leadership. I've been trying to think creatively about how I'm going to deal with that when I return from sabbatical and maternity leave: whether it's better to work around it, with it, or confront it head-on and contribute to improving it. I don't have any good answers yet.

So that's where my mind's been lately.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Pregnancy by the numbers

Five recent food cravings/fetishes:
1. Ice cold (or really hot) drinks. It has to be one temperature extreme or the other.
2. Fruit juice.
3. Fruit in general, particularly tropical fruits like guava, pineapple, papaya.
4. All things dairy.
5. Chocolate.

Four things I really miss:
1. Wine.
2. Sushi.
3. Having a waist.
4. Running.

Three things I can no longer do:
1. Put on socks.
2. Get through a workout without having to use the bathroom.
3. Prepare or eat a meal without breaking something, burning myself, or spilling something. Usually, all three.

Two words I thought I'd never say or hear in a conversation with colleagues:
"nipple confusion"

One thing you should never, ever say to a pregnant woman in her third trimester:
"Wow! You're huge!"

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Revising fun


My plans for today were to spend the morning doing penultimate revisions on the conference paper that's due mid-month (but that I'd like to get out by early next week, just to get it off my desk), and then spend the afternoon working on an entirely different project. This, of course, was assuming that the conference paper was in pretty-close-to-finished format already, and that the revisions would be fairly minor: clarifying arguments, filling in details or missing citations, beefing up the discussion section, etc.

I just finished reading through the draft, and it is a MESS! I'm not sure why I remember this paper being so close to being finished, because frankly it is just all over the map. The good nuggets are in there, and I think the paper even has a point in there somewhere, but the organization is UGLY and makes absolutely no sense. Plus, there's a lot of extraneous stuff that was obviously pasted from other papers and doesn't belong. And did I mention that the paper is about 5 pages too long?

So now I'll be spending this afternoon doing some major surgery on this paper. After reading through it, I still don't have a crystal-clear idea of how it should be organized, but I have one possible way that I will try. (Any organization is better than what's there now!) At least the results section is halfway decent; most of the major work will be on the motivation and algorithm sections, which are the weakest and the worst right now.

I think I can still get it out by early next week, though. So that's the one bright spot this morning.

Isn't revising fun???

Monday, April 02, 2007

Time for a bit of levity (and a poll, of sorts)

It's Monday. It's been a long, slow day. I think it's time to lighten things up a bit around here. So, dear readers, I pose a question to you:

What's the dumbest or most bizarre thing someone has said to you recently?

Here's mine, courtesy of my mother-in-law. Who is a really lovely person, but comes out with the most off-the-wall things from time to time.

Scene: Mr. Jane and I are talking with his parents. Somehow, the topic of Mr. Jane's childhood obsession with Legos comes up.

Mother-in-law: Mr. Jane should take up that hobby again!

Jane: (laughing) I have a feeling Mr. Jane won't have much time for hobbies, at least not for the next few years!

MIL: He will if it's a girl.

Jane: (totally not following) Huh?

MIL: Well, if it's a girl, then he won't have to play with her! Because girls play with dolls and such, not Legos and blocks.

(You will be happy to know that I resisted the urge to bring out the Clue Stick. Mr. Jane, bless his heart, jumped in with the appropriate comment at that point. What that was, exactly, I don't know, because I was too busy shaking my head and saying "no, no, no!")

OK, now it's your turn!

Scientiae Carnival #3 is up!

Head on over to Lab Cat's for the goods. As always, lots of thought-provoking and interesting posts to fuel your Monday procrastination!

The next Scientiae will! On April 15. Get your taxes done early (those of you in the US) so that you can get those thoughtful posts on women and science written and submitted on or before April 13.

Here are the instructions for submitting entries to the carnival. (Note that you need to tag your post AND email the link, too!) And, if you need a reminder as to what this is all about or if you've never submitted before, here is a quick synopsis of what the carnival is all about.