Two years in

May 10 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

It's been a rough couple of weeks on a number of different levels for yours truly, but I didn't want to let too much time go by without weighing in. Being a new professor, I've found, is like being the parent of a newborn (so I hear): every month is noticeably different from the last. There are major milestones, and there are days when everything seems to regress. Most of the time, you look back and wonder how your child/lab ever used to take the form it did not even all that long ago.  I've now officially survived two full academic years, and I have a few disjointed thoughts I thought I'd share before things morph so much I won't believe I was ever actually in this place, at this moment.

1. Holy shit, I'm going up for tenure in 3 years. I don't even know what to do with this information except to keep doing ALL THE THINGS. Like, every fucking thing I can. To date, I have applied for seven grants of varying denominations (awarded 1, denied 4, still waiting on 2), published one tiny little review with my technician, and created and taught two undergrad courses. I have a fully functioning lab, with a technician, a post-doc, and two grad students, who are all working hard and getting along well. I think this is pretty good, but I know my department would like to see me publish actual research this year. We have a couple of different data sets now that could probably be a couple of small papers, but I keep putting them off to write grants, which have deadlines. This summer, they simply have to get out.

2. I feel like most of my job right now is to be famous. Is that a weird thing to say? Maybe. I said this to my mom and she was like, "why do you want to be famous?" with this disappointment in her voice, like after all these years she was realizing that she had raised a shallow fame whore. But I said, "it's not that I WANT to be famous, it's that I think I kind of HAVE to be famous if I want any chance at having this be my career forever." What I mean by this is that I'm pretty sure a lot of my future success is going to depend on whether people remember my name when they review my grant applications and manuscripts and put together symposia panels. To this end, I am really kicking the networking up a notch. Being brave, talking to the fancy pants people at meetings if I have the opportunity; forging new collaborations, and following up on interactions. So far, I'd say this is going quite well, and for what it's worth, the feeling that I am actively remaining part of a larger scientific community is quite excellent. There's a lot of alone time when you're a new professor, especially in a department that's pretty different from those in which you trained--it's nice to be reminded that the world is not wholly going on without you.

3. The best people you can know are those just slightly ahead of you. I know I just said that thing about talking to fancy pants people, but the reality is that the most useful connections you can make are those with folks who are only moderately senior to you. They are perfect: they have their shit together, but also are not so far removed that they've forgotten what it's like to be in your shoes. They are a magical combination of sympathy and wisdom, and they are better connected than you are. Moreover, they are the ones planning symposia panels. Seek them out, and pay attention to everything they say, seriously.

4. The leaky pipeline (or something) for women is alive and well. I've realized that if I actually crunch the numbers, I can think of exactly three other women in my general field who competed for and accepted TT offers in the last few years, while the number of men is probably at least 3 times that. At the Very Exclusive Conference I attended last December I was happy to find that I knew kind of a lot of people, until I realized that almost all of them were men, and if I joined a group of dudes just standing around talking, there was this weird moment where everyone was like, "OK, I guess we should find something else to talk about besides how much we love our penises. Did you see the latest Deisseroth?"

5. Until you are 65 and donning nitrile gloves four times a day to empty and clean your spouse's nephrostomy bags, do not even begin to think you know the depths of true love.

20 responses so far

  • Ola says:

    'grats on making it this far.

    +1 on your item 3. This is a well known adage in sports. I got it from mountain biking: the way to get better is to ride with people better than you. Sure, you'll be at the back most of the time, but you're improving and that's the aim.

    The fame thing is spot on too. If no-one at study section has heard of you, that's bad news. You can either accomplish this by coming from a big lab ("this here proposal is from famous alpha male's former post0doc") or you can publish a shit ton of papers in a niche area so your name gets associated with that area.

    Re: the M/F attrition rate, that must be field/institution/geography specific. All of the new faculty hired between '05-'09 (no hiring since) by the 2 departments I'm in were women. The study section I'm on is 40% women. Our grad school intake is consistently >50% women. The council of the main scientific society I interact with is just under half women. You're right, guys do sit around talking about their schlongs (and football, boobs, cars, hunting, video games) a lot. We should probably do less of that.

  • odyssey says:

    Embrace the inner shallow fame whore!

    On a somewhat serious note, now is the time to start pumping out the publications. The first couple of years are a kind of honeymoon period in which you can base proposals largely on what you did as a postdoc. After that reviewers are going to want to see evidence of productivity from your own lab. Sounds like you're on track though.

    Re #5: Word.

  • Re 4: Maybe get one of those strap-on dildos next time you go to a conference, just to blend in a bit better? It's kind of sad that this is still the reality.

  • Weird thing: I don't recall talking about things on conferences that I couldn't talk about to women.

  • Bashir says:

    Definitly true on #3. Why do you think I talk to you guys?! 🙂

    #2 is my problem that I've been trying address. I don't think I realized how much being known would be part of the job.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Sweet jeebus, you guys. Do you think I literally meant that I have walked into casual conversations at scientific conferences about penises? No, I have not (yet). But I am trying to convey, through the use of something called HYPERBOLE, the feeling that a woman feels when trying to assimilate into an old boys' club. What I've noticed is that in my field, there are not only old boys' clubs, but new boys' clubs as well. It's awkward sometimes, regardless of what the discussion topic is.

    • I was aware of that 😀 The choice of words is still pretty weird and I have no idea how this is a usefull metaphore or whatever to describe conversations between male scientists at conferences. Believe me, every feminist would be totally on the fence if I wrote something like that about the girls' clubs in certain fields.

      However, my comment was supposed to mean that I don't get how conversations at conferences appear boy-clubbish.

  • anonymous postdoc says:

    The dude thing is awkward. And its awkward that its awkward. I was talking to my wonderful PI about this kind of stuff not so long ago, and she was saying that the bad thing is it only gets worse - the awkwardness of starting a conversation with a man you don't know very well because it's not clear how he is going to take it, the feeling of uncertainty regarding whether someone is interested in you as a colleague because you are smart and productive, or because they happen to think you are hot, things like that. Anyway, the leaky pipeline makes it worse because from here on out there are fewer and fewer of us to interact with, increasing the novelty of an attractive woman.

    I should say that most of my male colleagues are awesome and are not a factor here, which makes me appreciate them even more, and even not all the ones that *are* obviously interested in me are totally creepy about it (though it is still a problem), but the few awkward situations really leave a bad taste in your mouth because they are so unpredictable.

    • Okay, I can see that. I don't think it HAS to be perceived as awkward, though.

      • Dr Becca says:

        Dennis, the fact that you are seeing this as a matter of "perception" on the part of the woman is exactly the problem. Just because *you* don't think you and your male friends are actively doing anything to make a woman feel uncomfortable doesn't mean you aren't.

        • I didn't say it's not real. Whatever it is, it seems to make you feel uncomfortable and this is completely real.

          But feeling uncomfortable is an emotion that you have because of your perception of the situation. And the way you are argumenting it sounds like you infer some intention behind it, that the men are not aware of (what?). You say the only way to not feel awkward is for the men to behave different, not for you to think about how you perceive things. But both is part of the whole emotion thing.

          I am not saying men are angels and that there aren't any things that need changing! I am also not saying people don't behave different towards different people.

          But, my experience is (and that is not only the case for women, men feel that, too) that sometimes people think they are being treated differently when they actually aren't. Especially 'newcomers' that enter a new social environment.

          I think it hurts women more than it helps, when everything is interpreted as a gender issue when sometimes or even often(?) it actually isn't.

          • Just realized, two lines of discussion are becoming confused here. My last post was about awkwardness and feeling uncomfortable in the professional conference setting.

            Now about the flirting/attraction based awkwardness:

            I totally see that it can feel awkward if there is some personal attraction involved.

            However, I do have some experience with attraction at the work place (non-mutual but in both directions!!! *gasp*) and I don't feel awkward when a woman seems to like me at work and tries to get my attention all the time (yes, you do that). It took me until I got 30 but I guess I am adult enough now to not feel awkward about it, anymore. So I don't perceive it as awkward. That's why I wrote the perception comment.

  • Zuska says:

    I fully concur on #5.

  • Zuska says:

    Also: the new boys clubs are the new boys learning How To Be A Scientist (While Male) and the old boys are teaching them. Thus patriarchy ever gives birth to itself, year after year. Stop thinking "progress" will fix things. Only collective action and institutional transformation have a chance.

  • Psycgirl says:

    I really agree with your comment that the best people are slightly ahead of you. I'm just finishing up Year 3 on the tenure track and my best and most productive collaborators are just ahead if me in terms if career. Since we're all somewhat in the same boat, we have the same goals. But they've been on the road long enough to settle into it. I'm finding at the end of Year 3 I am finally feeling settled ( a bit) myself.

  • Ewan says:

    As others have said: congrats, and watch out :).

    [I'm at the other end of the Asst Prof track, currently pondering the offer I got yesterday to take a year off the tenure-track by dropping to a non-tt title... but with no actual guarantee in either case that I will actually be renewed contractually to the point where tenure consideration is mandatory, despite the fact that my folder has now been sitting on the provost's desk for two years. A tad embittered by the process, but the past couple of years when the lab has gained expertise and is functioning smoothly have been *great*!]

  • Tinkering Theorist says:

    That's funny, two conferences ago me and another woman were chatting about childbirth (I don't remember why, probably because she had given birth since the last time I had seen her) and a man came by. (Also this particular man doesn't have any kids.) So to explain the strange pause that happened, we were like, ok, I guess we should stop talking about our birth stories now! Then he joked about leaving and we talked about science and everyone was happy.

    Actually I'm not averse to talking about children or childbirth with anyone, it's not such a big deal, but sometimes people, especially men without kids, make it seem like it's a strange thing to talk about and I don't want to make them feel uncomfortable.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Yes to all of the above. It's tough to get those papers out, particularly when you are busy writing other things--Good luck!

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    Just wanted to say that this is a good post.

  • cackleofrad says:

    Hah! So true. And you crack me up. What about that writing club idea that I floated a while back and didn't follow up on?

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