I was recently invited to be a "table leader" at a big conference mentoring/career luncheon. I had been
volunteered nominated by a colleague because I have just set up a lab, and one of the topics is "setting up your first lab". Today I was finally filling out the RSVP form, in which you are asked to select all appropriate tables that you could lead. One is "gay and lesbian issues in science". Now, of course this one is relevant to me. And I'm glad to see that the big conference is working in this area.
Here's the weird thing: I am hesitating to check that box. I don't know why, but I'm definitely feeling a little anxiety about volunteering for this one. Now, I'm fully out. Not just here, but IRL. So, why am I scared? I don't know. Maybe part of it is that I would be coming out on such a large scale. My name will be in a program book, and this will be a thing that becomes "searchable" in my professional world. In the future, grant reviewers and the like will run across it if they google me. It is always a little bit of a nervous charge when I come out to a new person. And this would be that x 10^4.
I think I am, deep-down, a little worried this will come back to haunt me. Also, what am I going to say? I don't really know if I have any good advice for other non-heterosexual folks out there that are in this business. In fact, it would be useful for me to talk to someone about this that is a few years ahead of me on the tenure-track. So maybe if I was just there, as an example that some of us queer folk are making it, that would be useful?
This is getting a little rambly (is that a word?). So I'll stop and ask for input. If I'm "out" for penny, should I just bite the bullet and be "out" for a pound*? Do you think I should check the box, or keep my "coming out" on a more person-to-person level? And if I bail, is that dishonest of me?
*ouch. that is rambly and mixing up the metaphors. sorry.
As you all know, one of the things I struggle with A LOT is the fact that I'm not great at saying "no" (but I'm trying). Physioprof has an insightful perspective on how feeling like you can't say "no" is a load of crap. But when your department Chair is sitting in your office maybe you (like me) have a hard time executing the "no".
You are in luck! This webpage, "7 simple ways to say no", is like a cheat-sheet for us "yes-sayers"! Seriously, as soon as I found this I started imagining how things could have been different. I also realized that some of these strategies I had already implemented, naturally. For instance, number 6:
“I’m not the best person to help on this. Why don’t you try X?”
At first, I figured I was throwing X under the bus (it was turnabout, so I was OK w/ it). But maybe I have natural (awesome) tendencies for no-saying that I am not fully realizing?
I know that I, for one, will be practicing these phrases.
In case you are keeping score, I totally said "no" to 2 different requests this week. w00t!
Background info: I played a lot of sports as a youngster, but I was never a cheerleader.
One of the crazy things you have to learn to do when you start up a lab is figure out how to keep people motivated and productive. I am certainly not an expert in this area, and I'm sure that I have made some real mistakes. But, the general approach I have been using is to try to emulate some of the great mentors that I have had. Many of these were not ever my actual lab PI, but they are folks that I have talked to about mentoring and lab management or witnessed vicariously through friends that were in their lab.
So, what did I learn that I am trying to use in my own lab? Well, (obv) everyone is different, so you can't have the same mentoring relationship with all the peeps. But in general, I try to be a cheerleader. This was explicit advice from one of my most-trusted mentoring mentors. I give advice, and try to nudge folks to do what I want. But often I just try to encourage the peeps if they are having difficulty nailing down an experimental result, finishing a fellowship application, or whatever. Because sometimes doing science is hard. It can be discouraging, particularly as a new student. I have good students in my lab. They are smart and work hard. Most of the time I just have to cheer and stay out of the way. This does NOT mean that I am not critical with the folks in my lab. If you fuck up, you'll know. We have discussions on areas in which they need more work. But this is all in the realm of constructive criticism.
I was thinking about this recently because of an interesting interaction I had when I was talking to another Asst. Prof I had called to get a reference for someone that had applied to be a postdoc in my lab. This was the second person I had talked to on the phone about Dr. PD App, and everyone was very enthusiastic. But I was asking open-ended questions and trying to see if there were any red flags (or strengths/weaknesses that I should know about if s/he was in my lab). In the course of this discussion, Asst. Prof mentioned was talking about how independent Dr. PD App was and how s/he had never needed a lot of "cheerleading". This was meant as a compliment to indicate that they were very self-motivated and persistent even when shit didn't go their way. Fair enough-score 1 for Dr. PD App! What was surprising is that Asst. Prof went on to lament about how many of his students did need cheerleading and how this was one of the most exhausting and irritating parts of his new job as the head of a lab.
I totally agree that learning to manage people in the lab can be overwhelming. But..."irritating"? Not so much. I rely on the folks in my lab to be productive so that I can write papers and grants and get tenure. In return, they get an education and a chance to develop as a young scientist. Sure, I didn't have any formal management training before I moved from the bench into the office. It is a lot of work (and pressure), but it is also rewarding. I guess I didn't really mind taking on the role as lab cheerleader.
What do you think - is cheerleading is part of being a good mentor?
Just wanted to say thank you again to all the folks that contributed to Donors Choose during the Blogging Challenge this year. Since the last update, FOUR additional heroes stepped up and contributed to my Giving Page:
YOU ALL ROCK!!!!11!!!!1!!!!
But wait! There's more! This year, according to the Donors Choose Science Bloggers for Students home page, there was over $50K donatedby 696 super-awesome donors. HOLY CRAP, FOLKS! From those donation over 25K students are going to see a difference in their classrooms.
NICE WORK EVERYONE!
And I'm proud to be part of the Scientopia Bloggers team, which raised almost $8K, second only to Freethought Blogs (who raised over 25K! Go atheists!!). And, if you are keeping score (of course I'm not), here are some stats: There were 16 Donors to my Giving Page that gave a total of $285 (avg donation = $17.81). In the Scientopia community, Dr. Becca made an impressive effort to catch DrugMonkey in the all-important #donors stat, but alas fell short.
In the end, the students will be the winners. Yay SCIENCE!
PS: Some of you will get a certificate for your matching donations soon. So keep on eye out and when the email comes in, PLEASE go to Donors Choose and pick a project to spend it on. THIS IS FREE MONEY, folks. Let's make sure the kids see every last penny.
There is only a few hours left in the Donor's Choose challenge. THANK YOU if have already donated.
Here is the Heroes List so far (I left off last names in case of privacy concerns):
The Donors Choose Marketing Team
Dr. Janet S.
Dr. Lizzy M
YAY! I'm sure that only good things will happen to you this weekend. Who knows, perhaps the data fairy will visit????
DON'T BE LEFT OUT! There is still time to be a hero to kids out there by giving their teachers the resources they need to learn SCIENCE! These kids are the future! And if they don't learn science now, I might NEVER get my jetpack. Even more concerning (as brought up by @bam294), WE NEED SCIENCE TO BE PREPARED FOR THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE.
So give. Go now and do it. Or else you only have yourself to blame.
Alright, folks. The Donor's Choose Science Blogging Contest is going to end soon. THANK YOU to everyone that has given through my donor page (see sidebar). But if you haven't gotten around to giving yet, I have some super exciting news. Here is the email I got last night:
The DonorsChoose.org Board of Directors wants to thank you for your hard work, and to encourage readers to give, by matching all donations to Science Bloggers for Students between the first moment of Thursday October 20th and the last moment of Saturday, October 22nd (midnight to midnight Eastern time).
Now you have no excuse. Your $5 donation is now worth $10! What a perfect opportunity to make a real difference in the life of some young scientists. I picked out a bunch of projects for you to choose from, many of which are from very high poverty areas. So head over to my giving page (click link in sidebar) and give!
You all know that this is the last week of Donor's Choose! PLEASE take a minute to support one of the projects on my Donor's Choose Giving Page. I don't have any sway over the various fairies that may be giving you a visit, and I can't invent a cocktail in your honor (though I will drink one on your behalf, if that helps). All I can promise is my never-ending gratitude and a shout-out on the blog and twitter.
I've added some new projects to get you excited. Whether you want to support basic needs, like cleaning supplies for the classroom*, or fun experiments like a Beetle Penny Pull Lab**, there should be something there for you. Any little bit, even just $5, can make a difference. Together we can give the kids today a chance to realize that science is AWESOME.
EVIDENCE THAT SCIENCE IS AWESOME.
*It breaks my heart that teachers actually have to ask for this
**ZOMG so fucking cool! I might buy one of these for myself after the kids get theirs!
Guess what?? I SAID NO TO BEING ON A COMMITTEE!!!! It would have been a really time-consuming service activity and a lot of work. I told my chair that I really needed to focus on my research and writing grants so I couldn't do it. AND IT TOTALLY WORKED! And then, later I told a grad student that I couldn't be on their committee. YAY me!
You may recall that I have a problem with saying NO. Even though I know that I have to be more selfish with my time. A comment by johnhawks on Kate Clancy's super awesome post about the being a radical scholar that she wrote after the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women probably says it best:
1. Your need to have publications is an unlimited license to say no. Everyone in your profession understands that. You need no further excuse. You don’t even have to be nice about it. Just say no.
4. If anyone (your chair, your colleagues) think they have a valid exception to number 1, ask your chair if she would put it in writing that it will enhance your tenure package. Seriously. This should remind everyone of number 1.
5. I hear everyone gasping at number 4. You’ve spent three years being nice. Your chair’s worst fear is that she will have to write a letter supporting your tenure case without enough publications. See number 1.
I wish I could do this! I'm trying to get there. I printed this up and stuck it on the wall by my desk. And then today my Chair walks into my office and asks me to be on the grad student admission committee. I tried to say no, but I am afraid that he didn't hear me. As in, I said "I don't know if this is a good idea, blah blah blah" and he said "oh it's almost no work and we will make sure that everything happens after your R01 deadline". sigh.
But still, I think I'm making progress. right?
That's right, we have made it to another Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day. This is a day to for us non-hetero folks to tell everyone that we are...whatever we are. Me, I'm a lesbian. I've written about that before here and here and here.
If you are LGBT (or non-hetero however you are), and there are people that you can safely tell this to, please do so! In general, it is harder to demonize (or vote to take the rights away from) people that you know and respect.
I would also like to take a minute to thanks the straight allies that are out there. Because today I learned that my daughter has already had to start coming out about our family in her own way. Here is the conversation that we had this morning about something that happened at her pre-school:
Mini: Mommy, come quick! Look at the cats!
Me: what are they doing?
Mini: They were standing right next to each other, like they were going to get married!
Me: do cats get married??
Mini: No, I was just tricking you [she is really into "tricking"]
Me: Oh. OK.
Mini: Yesterday in music class one of the friends said that girls can't marry girls.
Me: Huh. Is that right?
Mini: No, because you and Momma are married and you are both girls.
Me: Did you tell the friend that he was wrong?
Mini: No, because the music teacher told him. So now he knows.
THANK YOU Music teacher that stepped in and made sure that my daughter's family was validated. And thanks to everyone else out there that helps make it a safe place to be out. Thanks even to Ke$ha, who I just discovered has joined up with HRC to make a T-shirt for National Coming Out Day.
When I was a kid, I did all sorts of infuriating things. I caught small critters and tried to store them in shoe boxes in my room. I took apart the telephones (yep, plural) but couldn't quite get them put back together. I rigged a set up with pullies and levers in order to be able to turn my bedroom lights on and off without leaving my bed (some drywall may have been harmed in the construction of this apparatus). When I look back now, it seems to me that all of these "adventures" were my way of "doing science". Lucky for me, I never outgrew the desire to play like this. And the odds are fairly good if you are reading this blog that you haven't stopped loving science either.
I don't really know when kids start loving science. But it seems to me that a lot of kids start deciding that they don't like school some time in the grades 3-5 range (based on random experiences talking to kids). Which brings me to the point: PLEASE visit my Donors Choose giving page and help fund some of the projects you find there. If you are not familiar with Donors Choose, this is an organization where teachers request materials for their classrooms and you choose projects that you like and can give money to help the teachers get what they need. Every donation, no matter how small, helps. I picked a few projects that I think could be great to keep kids interested in playing with science.
Please head over there and donate a couple of dollars to help these teachers out. Let's all help give these kids a chance to stay enamored with science. Thanks!