Month: May 2022

Invited to Dance

A few months ago, I met up with a former department colleague who had moved to another institution nearly a decade ago. It was really nice to catch up. His significant other is in the same technical field as we are, and she works as a (nonacademic) research scientist. As we chatted, the colleague said how his significant other “expects to be invited to dance” (in the sense that she waits to be offered opportunities or invited to contribute), while men never do. He attributed this expectation of hers to her current dissatisfaction with her professional trajectory.

I have thought about what he said many times since we met. I know exactly what he meant, and I know exactly what he described, and at the same time I feel a deep kinship with the woman scientist and an understanding of what she wants and expects, what she believes is expected of her; most of all, I feel her frustration with being overlooked and ignored.

I also feel exhaustion after two decades of playing by the rules made for someone else, on a playfield meant for someone else, among players who are all very different from me. Recently, I was part of a new collaboration. It started with me and a colleague I know well, and another colleague of said colleague. Then there was another, and another, and another, and all of a sudden there’s this big team (other than me, all men), and everyone is talking all over one other, and people are pulling and pushing in different directions, and it is just a mess. This type of dynamics always makes me want to flee. I don’t enjoy these pissing contests and I have no patience for herding cats. The fact that modern funding mechanisms all seem to favor large collaborations with this type of dynamics is definitely not a great thing in my book.

Collaborations depend on the people in them and can’t just be thrown together haphazardly. I have several long-term collaborators, but I have also had probably 3-4x more that were short term. There has to be enough technical complementarity and mutual respect in order for things to work long-term. Often, one of the ingredients is lacking. Often, the lacking ingredient is the second one.

I think of my former colleague’s partner, and her expectation to be invited to dance. I don’t blame her. I think I expect that, too. We as women in the physical sciences STEM, where 10-15% of us is still the norm, are always entering rooms full of men, conversations full of men, collaborations full of men. We are always being evaluated and devaluated by men. Behavior expectations we have to adhere to are those made for men. There is nothing inviting, nothing welcoming about the whole enterprise of science, because it is made by men and for men, who seem intent on measuring metaphorical d*cks and hazing each other all the way to retirement. We women are among hostile native inhabitants of our professional fields, where we need to play by the rules that are often antithetical to how we were socialized to behave, and many (most?) of our strengths are considered to lie somewhere between a nuisance and an unforgivable weakness. Our judgement and qualifications are questioned at every turn, regardless of how senior or accomplished we are.

It is an exhausting, dispiriting predicament to spend one’s career being told, often obliquely but sometimes less so, that the reason you are not a more successful scientist is that you are not very good at being a male scientist.

May Flowers Make You Sneeze

It’s finals week. I have a mountain of grading.

I decided I would take it easy this week, so I am rested for next week, when I really need to push some papers out in the month before onerous summer obligations start. This planned week of rest involves grading, committee work, and trying to clear out the backlog in my editorial duties, a proposal review, a preproposal review, and two manuscript reviews. Said rest means I will spread them out and not do them all in one day.

My computer at work died. Which is fine, actually, as I’d never moved back into it after the pandemic. My home desktop is still my main desktop.

Once you are 100+ papers into your career, it’s hard to get excited about additional ones going out. They are exciting for graduate students, and necessary to keep the career going, but there’s a definite ‘meh, been there, done that’ aspect to it.

I had such a humongous class this past semester, I think it broke me a little, or a lot. All the accommodations, then makeups for COVID and other stuff like athletic meetings, and finally both COVID and accommodations… I wrote multiple versions of every test. It was a lot.

I still have a million pending grants.

It’s so important to get along with colleagues day-to-day. I don’t think we emphasize that enough, being in a functional department, where disagreements happen, people discuss issues, and then everyone moves on.

We all focus on external recognition and citations and accolades from people who barely know us, when so much of life satisfaction comes from what we do, or don’t do, on a daily basis. I think it’s helpful to remember this.

Given all the stuff I now have to do this summer, I am sad that I won’t have the time to spend on my extracurriculars (Academaze sequel and my novel). I hope at least one of them happens, though, probably the novel, as I’m more excited about that than I am about sifting though the blog archives, if I am being completely honest. But now that I wrote it down, I’m having second thoughts. Maybe the Academaze sequel would be more manageable? Decisions, decisions.

Speaking of the novel, even if I squeeze out 500-1000 words per day, which isn’t too hard, I should have a draft in a few months. Plus I have writer friends on this journey — gourd, that sounds cheesy; but I do have friends who are in the same boat, so facing similar challenges at the same time should be helpful.

I have fallen down the Bridgerton rabbit hole and have yet to find my way out. Season 2 is 🔥🔥🔥!

This post title brought to you by all the sneezing students in today’s exam.

How’s life/end of semester/2022 treating you, blogosphere?