Wednesday, November 25, 2009


In the spirit of Thanksgiving and as a reminder in this crazy busy world, I want to say a few things I'm thankful for....

  • I'm thankful that both my husband and I have tenure at our private research university.  It was a long haul, but we made it through.  
  • I'm thankful for a very supportive spouse who shares much of the parenting load with me.
  • I'm thankful for our kiddos who are very cute and remind me that there is more to life than work.
  • I'm thankful for a wonderful school for said kiddos where I am confident they are happy and well stimulated socially and intellectually, allowing me to focus on work.
  • I'm thankful for a wonderful lab tech/manager who is supportive and trustworthy.
  • I'm thankful for my graduate students who are building a wonderful lab spirit in the new iteration of our lab (after the big wave of graduating students) and who are hard working scientists/engineers.
  • I'm thankful for my former grad students who are off doing their own wonderful things now and staying in touch to share the adventures.
  • I'm grateful to have receive some acknowledgement of my service work recently that has let me know that all of those committees I've been on through the years are actually worth something (both in terms of what they do around the university and in terms of my career).  
  • I'm grateful for a wonderful mentor who is so generous with her time and her reflection on challenges that lie ahead.  Her guidance and encouragement to take on new roles has been so key.  
Now back to that grant for next week's deadline!  What are you thankful for?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The leaky pipeline

I've seen a couple of interesting articles about the leaky pipeline lately and how despite the great increases in the number of PhDs, women are choosing not to pursue careers in academia at a higher rate then men in science and engineering.  So we will never get to parity (even with PhD rates for a given field) unless we address the reasons why women are not choosing academia.

Here is one on why so few parents in graduate school?
Another on how to improve this situation.

The second article comments on how by supplementing grant funds to cover the cost of paid maternity leave we can avoid penalizing women (unpaid maternity leave) or PIs (paid maternity leave -they are left without anyone to do the research during this period).  Allowing a supplement for grant for family leave would be a great benefit for both students/post-docs and PIs.  It would also help to fight the stigma that women might be more likely to take leave and therefore a PI might hire a male candidate or a female candidate.  There are still the details of how to hire someone to work on a project for a few months.  Another great solution to this proposed by FSP is extending the duration of grants to allow for the student/postdoc to do the work after their leave (oh and still giving a supplement to allow them to be paid during this time would be great too).

How to be family friendly without compromising grants?  It's a hard question.  I've only had experience with lab tech's in this area and there is at least a little more guidance on FMLA from our university (not necessarily in a good way).  Fortunately we could stretch to find other people in the lab to cover a short leave and get help from the department with some other items (e.g. ordering, etc.).

It's a hard problem.

PS.  Sorry for the radio silence here.  I have taken on some new responsibilities here which are important to the future of my department.  Don't really want to discuss them too much, but they have been occupying much of my mental energy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mentors and advocates

Recently I had lunch with the women faculty in engineering at my university.  Sadly it was a small number of women and currently we have a small number who are on campus (not on sabbatical, etc.).  We were discussing the way that women can easily take on too many service roles.  Key points that emerged were that it is really beneficial to have a senior advocate (male or female) to discuss appropriate service roles with and who can advise you on what committees are not too much work or worth the time investment.  Always respond to a request for service by asking for some time to think about it.  Then discuss the role with your advocate or mentor and determine if it is right for you.  Think about what would make you say yes (relief from another committee or duty, teaching relief, administrative support etc.) and request that as a condition for service.  Other good lines were, is this appropriate for an assistant professor (someone trying to get tenure) or how will this improve my tenure case?  Sometime women have a hard time saying no in the face of pressure from a chair or other powerful figure.  Asking for time to thing can by you time to make a rational decision (not based solely guilt) and help you find a nice way to say no.  I hope it was helpful for the others there.  That said, I did say yes to two major service commitments last week, so maybe I need to consider this advice myself!

Any good tips out there for saying no or balancing service requests?