women in science

A couple of days ago at lunch, ObnoxiousColleague (OC) line of thought somehow morphed into saying: Women don’t belong in science at all! In fact, they should stay at home, in the kitchen. they have no place in science. I mean, we shouldn’t have to reference them. Or if we did, maybe in an appendix, in a very small font. This was picked up by some other colleagues, so off they went in this strain for a good 5 minutes. Thinking it was all very funny and not all objectionable. Or if it was, I could react no? I was there, after all.

My only reaction was looking at them with raised eyebrows, and indicating that all I heard was ‘blablabla’. No way was I going to show these idiots that I would really like to hit them and yell at them, saying that maybe they should start working in an environment where this is thought to be hilarious (albeit about males, then, I suppose). If this gets back to woman / girls who are less self-assured, it’s easy to think: see? I’m not worthwhile and I’ll never be, because that’s the kind of jokes they make about woman in science. And then people wonder why I rarely join lunch when I know this combination of colleagues is around. So therefore, sometimes my colleagues are truly dolts who exhibit no sensibility whatsoever.


Currently, happiness is having a participant show up on time for my experiment. A participant who doesn’t mind that things might run a little longer sometimes, or not as expected. Also somebody who can see well, and isn’t colourblind, so I don’t have to send them away.

Happiness is a boyfriend who has dinner ready by the time I make it home when I’m tired from sitting in the lab a whole day, switching between 3 screens to make sure everything is going alright.

Happiness is finding a new connection, a potential new friend, among the participants. Somebody who’s also working on their PhD, and could probably use some support and has funny experiences to exchange.

Happiness is having friends who can make you laugh, despite the fact that you’re nervous and tired and cranky and worried. Who can give you a new outlook on things, and remind you that, at the end of the day, this is also something you will get through.

Happiness is knowing that there’s an opportunity for sleeping in on the weekend!

Recently, one of my colleagues at Company started a story on how his closest friend’s daughter committed suicide. Obviously, very sad, and a tragedy. Then he continued that he blamed her mother because she was always a bit lost in this cloud of feminism, you see. Uhm, no… I don’t?
According to his reasoning, women can either have a career or a family, but not both because, you see, that’s how evolution made them. And men can, because you see, they are biologically different. And then he had the gall to call upon evolutionary psychology to support his theory.

*eyeroll* I told him flat-out he was talking bullshit and wandered out of the coffeecorner, because there was no way I was gonna get pulled into a long drawn-out discussion where he would barely listen to my arguments because he’s made up his mind.

Recently, I found this in my inbox:
Keynote Speakers

CBR’s “girl-power” is well represented by our two high-profile invited
guest speakers:
– Professor Susan Craw, Director of the Research Institute for
Innovation, DEsign And Sustainability (IDEAS) at the Robert Gordon
University, and
– Professor Edwina L. Rissland from the Department of Computer Science
at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Obviously, it isn’t enough that there are high-profile guest speakers. Their status as “girls” has to be emphasized and accentuated. One has to wonder why… Taking a quick look at the previous conferences, apparently there have been female speakers before, although the invited speakers have never been only “women”. Hmpf.

In the spirit of ScienceWoman’s call for June Scientiae, I’ve been thinking about what keeps me moving these days.
One of the things that I’m aware of is that I have a comfort acitivity: I read books when I’m feeling down, uncomfortable or don’t know how to go on from where I’m standing or how I’m feeling. While reading, I try to figure out what’s really bothering me and how I’m going to solve it (books reread are often from Tamora Pierce, Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne MacCaffrey, Jane Austen, Diana Duane, … anybody noticing a trend?).

Sometimes what is bothering me means I have to be ok with not being liked by everybody. Or, yes, I did look stupid, but other people say and do stupid things too. And if I didn’t make mistakes, I would be unable to learn from them. So it’s not so much about trying to achieve perfection, but about moving on, learning from mistakes and others’ mistakes. There are also a couple of slogans hanging around on post-it, for those reasons (from the last lecture, Randy Pausch):

Brick walls are there for a reason.
They let us prove how badly we want things.

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

There’s also some serious thinking going on about the future. My PhD contract/funding runs out, and I need to find another job. So, what do I want to do with my life? I would like to see whether I can make it in academia, instead of on the cusp of academia and industry (as I am now). I want influence on educational programs (or program, to start with), especially in psychology and/or human-technology interaction. I want to be able to teach in those fields as well, and preferably on a college/university level. Last but not least, I would also like to be able to do some research in the field. As a child, I wanted to make a real difference in how education was organized and done, not only on a high-level, but also on a low-level, standing before the class, interacting with students kind of thing. I wanted to be a minister of education. I still do, come to think of it.

Since post-doc grants are usually given out for research, it would be logical to start from there, and see what I can get done. Preferably a post-doc away from the country I’m in now, to learn How Things Are Done at other universities. So, while my slogan reminds me that the experience I will get is probably not what I wanted, it will still be experience, and I will come out as a (probably) different person. Getting a grant or a post-doc is my second brick wall at the moment. The first brick wall is getting the last experiments set up, and this PhD thesis all written out. For now, that’s what’s keeping me moving.

Not too long ago, somebody took stock of the way things are going for PhDs in VCR. Turns out, nobody’s ever done anything on that before, let alone kept track of whether anybody actually gets their PhD after being here for 4 years. Or being on lone from a university. Very interesting situation, to say the least. It also dawned on some of us that there is a very real need for representation of post-docs & PhDs. There’s quite a lot of us, but we’re also quite scattered, meaning that as a whole it’s difficult to find us.

Additionally, there are no guidelines for managers from VCR on how to judge us, or use us. This brings some very skewed experiences and expectations from both sides. Mind, managers are usually not supervisors, and might not have a very firm grasp on what exactly you’re doing (content-wise). All of them have gotten their own PhD, but that doesn’t mean that it’s in your area.

While all this was going on, the crisis hit, and so were our salaries. When I started (in 2005), I was promised a steady increase in gross salary every year, and now this wasn’t going to happen. This wasn’t communicated very properly, so quite some people were upset. Upset enough to take action, so now we have a committee / community set up, and a letter sent to the HR department with some of the issues that people mailed us.

One of the very real issues is orphanage. A typical PhD lasts about 4 years, but a lot of projects in VCR only last for about 2 – how do you deal with that? What if you didn’t see it coming? What if your supervisor took a new job and now you need to get a new supervisor, but this person isn’t involved in the project? All these are very valid questions, but they’re dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and unless you happen to have some personal experience it’s rather hard to come by information on how to handle this situation. One of the things the committee aims to do is making sure managers have some sort of guideline on how to deal with this. Not only managers, also (prospective) supervisors, and obviously the newly minted PhDs and post-docs.

Now I’m wondering, which other kind of information should be in guidelines for wannabee supervisors of PhDs?

A couple of days ago saw me quaking in my shoes somewhat because I had a meeting with UniversitySupervisor but didn’t feel particularly prepared. However, she was very enthousiastic about the results obtained, and managed to cheer me upĀ  completely.

It’s lovely when UniversitySupervisor does this to me, since it gives me some much-needed confidence again that my research is worthwhile and useful. While on average I think so too, sometimes it feels like I should do research that is maybe more life-saving.

Also, the current students are so much better to work with. S2 lately felt himself drowning in the theory, but hopefully after our conversation he’s feeling better and more able to support his head to breath while swimming the literature/theory river.

s1, who was off to a different continent for three months, has shown up again. Because of other bullshit he pulled in the past, I insisted that UniversitySupervisor also be present. We had a nice, brief (mercifully!) conversation, in which we cleared up that he should look at the data of his experiment, get them clear in his head and then come to us and talk about them. We’ll see whether he manages to do. Right now, my hopes aren’t very high though, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to surpass them.

Next Page »