Mirror, mirror

The topic of this month’s Scientiae is “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall”: what we see, what others see, what we want others to see, etc. etc. when we look in the mirror.

I haven’t explicitly thought about my self-image in a while. If we’re talking body image, I’m past most or all of the issues I had as a girl and teen, the issues that most or all teenage girls have with thinking their bodies have problems because they don’t fit the beauty ideal. So physically, I generally like what I see, though everyone has their bad days when they notice all the little imperfections, and I’m no exception to that.

But I do get contemplative about where I’ve come in my career and in my life. Overall I see that being goal-driven has served me well, in that I’ve successfully gotten degrees and obtained a job in academia, which was my goal. I’m pretty happy with those things. I also see the privilege that got me here – being white, being middle class, being able-bodied (a huuuuge privilege in geoscience), being thin, being not model-hot but conventionally not-unattractive. Being pretty smart and a good test-taker, by virtue of genetics and class. So I see a good amount of luck. In general I like what I see, but I try to be conscious of the luck part.

Unrelated to careers, I also see my struggles with having a fulfilling social life. It’s tough to keep that up with all the moving an academic career entails. It takes time to make good friends and build up a local social network, and all the relocation makes it a bit lonely (except for science meetings). That’s something I see that I don’t like so much.

I don’t truly know what others see. I wonder about that. On the work side I expect that being organized and someone who gets things done efficiently is a big part of what people see, because while it takes me as long as the next person to get something published, I can push paper better than most. (It’s actually a little deceptive. When I’m stressed out about the important workload, like writing manuscripts or preparing lessons, I deal with the stress by compulsively checking all the other things off my list. It doesn’t really help me get the big things done, but it feels satisfying. It also creates the unfortunate illusions that I am just far more efficient than most overall, that I’m a good person to dump extra things on, and/or that I must not have much on my plate.) And on the social side I worry about what people see more than a bit, unfortunately.

I’m really curious to see what the rest of this carnival looks like. I feel like I have more self-confidence and a better self-image than a lot of people, especially women (thanks in large part to attending a women’s college) — but maybe not when compared to other successful academics. So I’m waiting to see how I measure up against my more-or-less peers!


This month’s Scientiae topic is “moving forward”: how our lives, work, and science are moving forward.

In my case, this topic is most easily addressed in list form:

  • Designing some new classes and new lessons for old classes for next year
  • Writing a grant proposal to fund a brand new project
  • Working with a new student
  • Trying out new activities to get out of the house in the evenings, be more active, and meet some new people, including dance classes and tennis lessons

Well, that’s a lot, right there. It’s been a huge year in terms of transitions — finishing school and starting up at my faculty job — so it’s hard to narrow down this topic. There’s really very little that I’m holding over from a year ago. Research topics, I suppose, are still related to my grad school specialty. …Yeah, that’s about it.

Taking care of carnivals

I sure did push things to the deadline this month. It’s because I am overcoming challenges, every day! And that’s the topic of this month’s Scientiae: overcoming challenges, and the most firey fire of my academic career.

It’s a hard question to answer because there have been so MANY challenges.  What about deciding halfway through my master’s that I did not want to stay on and do the planned PhD on the same topic, because I had suddenly realized I was doing the wrong thing? Or do I talk about the project from hell that wasn’t even a planned part of my thesis and almost took over, and that left me crying in the lab in the middle of the night by myself several nights a week for over two years? Or maybe the emotional fall-out that made the last year or two pure hell?

The last one is the freshest in my mind. Surviving the end of grad school. Unlike early grad school, with its relentlessly long nights and weekends of classwork and unrewarding research on a project I despised, the second half of the PhD was tough because I was running out of steam. I recovered from the exam burn-out only to have it come right back over the next three years, this time with that long-haul depression that apparently most grad students experience (this is repeating myself, but I note again: THIS IS BROKEN. SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THAT). Regular panic attacks, being unable to get to a doctor covered by my student health plan (NOTE: ALSO BROKEN) in order to get more than emergency help with the suddenly elevated panic disorder (instead I just ended up with some emergency meds prescribed over the phone. Once I stopped hyperventilating), and the massive stress of having to finish under a crazy, very early, and inflexible deadline while simultaneously trying to find gainful employment for the rapidly approaching day when I would get kicked out of school… That was nuts. I am only just starting to cook things that aren’t pasta again. I only just started exercising again. And doing crafts and playing in a music group and even occasionally going out for a drink with friends. I had almost forgotten that those things exist.

I know that’s a pretty standard fire – the fire of getting the goddamn PhD – but it was pretty damn firey. And it’s still very fresh – I’m not quite healed from it yet. But I suppose it made me stronger. Where “stronger” = “done.”

Woman role models

I’m struggling with how to contribute to carnivals on the topic of role models or important individuals in our lives, while still maintaining my pseudonymity. I work in a pretty narrow and specialized field of science, and maintaining anonymity on the web is very much in my best interest as a young, non-tenured female scientist. But I want to give credit to role models who have been very important to me, and I also want to contribute to carnivals. I’m not sure how to walk this line.

I suppose that this month, I will have to be satisfied with an anonymous tribute. I wil say that I have had one (and only one) female mentor in my career, and I am grateful to this day that I had the opportunity to work with her. While I talked the talk about diversity and really believed in it, having never had a woman mentor, I didn’t actually know what a difference it would make. I didn’t really think closely about the fact that I had only ever worked directly with men, that my undergraduate classes with female faculty had been few and on topics that weren’t of direct interest to me, and that in grad school, I was always the only woman in my committee meetings and usually one of at MOST two women in department seminars. I noticed those things and felt it was unjust, but I didn’t think about the personal impact they might be having on ME.

Then I visited a woman scientist and worked in her lab. It was like a magical breath of fresh air to work with a supervisor who, well, kind of gets it innately. Who looked a little more like me and had had a few more similar experiences to share than the men ever did. It reinspired me not to quit grad school after all, it got me over my burn-out and renewed all of my vigor for my degree, and it just gave me hope again, so that I could return to my all-male home world for another 3 years.

It makes a difference. There aren’t even really words to describe how big of one. I’ll just leave it at that.

February Scientiae

Okay, so at least the Scientiae posts mean I have to write about SOMETHING every month! (I promise I have another weighty post in the works, but I need to think about it some more.)

This month’s Carnival topic is about what a better, more equitable society should look like, my dreams for my life and others, and whether or not those dreams are achievable. It’s a weighty topic! Also, it’s so closely related to almost everything I read on blogs these days that I don’t really know where to start. There are just so MANY things that seem to need improvement. But it’s good to get back to the big picture and think about this question.

I feel like my vision of a perfect, truly equal society is a fairyland. It’s a necessary goal, but something we may never really attain, and certaily not in my lifetime. But a better society, well, that might be doable. I hope it is. Hell, it has to be. In the context of science, I would like to see, for example, frank and open discussions among faculty of all genders and colors and backgrounds and shapes and sizes, about how to (for instance) make sure we are being sensitive to the needs of all groups, without anyone getting defensive over their own privilege. In fact, I’d like to see that everywhere. In my magical fairyworld, of course, there would be no inequity, so privilege wouldn’t exist. But in the real world, it would feel like a grand step forward if people would simply recognize their own privilege, so that we could stop arguing about it. It’s something I need to work on myself. So does everyone else.

So that’s a dream of mine for a more equitable society, particularly in science. Is it achievable? Not really – it’s kind of an impossible end goal, too. But it’s something we have to work towards nonetheless. Because even incremental improvement is real improvement, and it can really impact people’s lives in positive ways.

January Scientiae

This month‘s Scientiae, hosted by acmegirl, is about the opening and closing of doors within the past year. An excellent New Years topic!

I opened and closed a lot of really obvious doors this past year. I am literally just formalities away from having my PhD right now. I left my PhD home and moved to a new state, far away from my significant other, to take a faculty job ABD (soon to be with D). (My job is great!) Said significant other moved far away to leave academia and take an industry job, and then we parted ways. I got a paper published early in the year, and I wrapped up one whole chapter of labwork. I moved closer to my family. Did I mention finishing my PhD and starting a new job? So yeah, this was a big year.

I also started a blog! What could be more important! :)