Dusting off ye ol’ blog

I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve taken three steps back from the blogging business for a while now. Although I don’t want to provide an exhaustive list of reasons for why I did this, I do want to offer a brief explanation. The first, and probably most important reason, is that I don’t feel like I had anything urgent to say- and when I don’t have anything to say it is better just to keep my mouth put my keyboard down rather than to splatter some drivel out there.

The second reason is more complex and is something I’m still not sure I’m totally ok with. I began this blog writing under a pseudonym, and that felt comfortable to me. We can have all kinds of tired arguments now about the benefits and drawbacks of pseudonymous blogging- but the bottom line is that writing this way allowed me to have a voice, a relatively strong voice, without being overly self-conscious. Over time, more and more readers in my actual field of work read the blog and linked my pseudonym with  my real life identity.  I would get lots of lovely emails and complements at meetings about the blog, and that was all great. Except that it wasn’t. The fact that I suddenly knew WHO was reading the blog, fundamentally changed things for me and I developed a bit of  performance anxiety. I’ve got a little bit of inner perfectionist (DrMrA would disagree and say I have A LOT of inner perfectionist)…. and I always seem to choke at the most important times and in front of the most important people. So, instead of continuing to blog and second guessing every single word- I just chose to quiet down for a while. I toyed with shutting up this blog, and starting another under a different name. That doesn’t feel right to me either- because pseudonymity is a thin veil and sooner or later the same thing will happen again- better just to get back on the horse and deal on this blog, I think.

Anyway- in the time I’ve been away a lot has happened. I filled my lab, we did lots of work with a great team and I’m now looking forward to advancing in my career taking on a bigger leadership role. There is PLENTY to write about there. There was also a lot of real life stuff- an illness/hospitalization, single-mom-dom for a while, building of a house, a death, minor struggles with my own teenager… experiences that have scarred and shaped me over the past few years. Some of this was joyful, and some was (and still is) terribly difficult, but I’ll feel less alone in my existence as a mid-career scientist married to a scientist + two kids, if I dust off the old blog and write!

Linky Linky…blogging and doing science while female.

I’ve been meaning to write about Science Online 2011 (#scio11), which I found so enjoyable but for some reason more intense than scio10. Anyway- I came across this post today by Kate Clancy on her blog called Context and Variation. This was one amazing post and really sums up some of the perils of blogging and doing science while female. A couple of Kate’s observations from conversations before the panel are things I hear over and over and over:

  • We are all very, very tired of making a point on a blog, on twitter, or in a meeting, being ignored, having a man make the same point, then having that man get all the credit. Very tired.
  • We still can’t be ambitious without being considered a bitch. People will always fall back on that term if they think you are too aggressive, but the same behavior is not criticized in men.

FOR SURE. In fact I’m asking myself if this is ever going to get better? And the observation below from the panel itself-

  • One fantastic young woman talked about how she avoids discussing her blog with her peers for fear of becoming the “soft skills chick.” Doing anything other than the hottest science seems to delegitimize women very quickly; however in some cases men get rewarded for doing the same thing (examples that come to my mind are picking up extra teaching and service, or having offspring, the latter being empirically supported).

Many male scientists that I know that blog are doing so under their own names… (Bjorn Brembs, and Jonathan Eisen – both writers of great blogs that I read regularly), and I never ever ever think of them as less of scientists because they blog about topics sometimes outside of bench work. They why oh why do I always feel like I have to keep my blogging/tweeting on the down low because I may be considered a less ‘serious’ scientist…. I guess I didn’t realize that this was a general feeling among us blogging girl scientists…


In the spirit of constructive opinion sharing…

Many have you have probably noticed the quiet on this blog. I’ve been sort of focused on my real job and on my real life, in addition to sitting back and watching the fallout from Scio10’s civility session which has gotten all mixed up in the Nature Network’s self examination of their potential/possible/likely insularity, and the discussion of their 50,000th comment (BTW, Congrats NN!). On civility, I’ve not wanted to get involved in that discussion much- even though I was at the session in question and I have some very definite thoughts about what happened there. Watching the events unfold on the internet has reminded me how much I dislike drama,  how much I love a good meaty discussion with lots of contrasting viewpoints and opinions, and how people who claim to be listening to each other are sometimes unable or unwilling to put personal feelings aside and really be open to and hear the opposing viewpoint. Not to mention that it was a real live demo in civility and incivility.

This morning I noticed that Drugmonkey answered the following challenge revived  by Steffi Suhr at NN (originally posted some time ago by Martin Fenner, also NN). Steffi says this:

This recent kerfuffle (again, if you’ve missed it, good!) has – for me – just reinforced how important it is to allow different styles and accept and tolerate (blog-)cultural differences. So, in the general spirit of kissing and making up, I invite you to join in and answer these slightly different questions1:

I quite agree, and so I’ll answer the questions posed:

* What made you start blogging?
* Is a sense of community an important part of blogging for you, or do you prefer blogging ‘solo’?
* Are there blogs you never look at? If yes, why (be nice and don’t name names)?
* Who are you blogging for/who are you talking to?
* Do you think you may be getting people exposed to some science through your blog who otherwise wouldn’t be?
* Do you think any non-blogger cares about any of the above things?

So, One at a time then.

* What made you start blogging?

I started blogging for several reasons. First, in talking to lots of people in person about academic careers, I realized that there just wasn’t a lot of mentoring going on for how the system works. I found this especially acute for young women interested in academic careers, young women with kids wanting academic careers, young women with kids and academic track spouses considering academic careers. Those that I talked to just hadn’t been taught how the system works to get an academic job, and then the nitty gritty of what comes afterwards. I’m sure that there is a need for mentoring for young men as well (not to leave you all out), it is just that this wasn’t the first set of needs I encountered. Second, immediately after I started my faculty position I had a constant parade of post docs from other labs come to chat with me about how to get an academic job… what steps EXACTLY to take. I decided to write it all down somewhere that those people (and perhaps others) could get to it, mostly so I could stop repeating myself. Third, by virtue of my femaleness, and more accurately my femaleness with two kids and an academic spouse- I was isolated. I’m an outgoing person- so this isolation was uncomfortable. I wanted community, I wanted to know that I wasn’t the only one going through the things I was going through. Now I know that I’m not, and I’ve made some amazing lifelong friends in similar situations to mine.

* Is a sense of community an important part of blogging for you, or do you prefer blogging ‘solo’?

Hmm, well I do blog ‘solo’ as it were- as no one else but me writes here (yet). But I don’t want to blog without the conversation and discussion that comes with each post, that sense of community is important to me. The other community that I have found and that is important to me is the community of other bloggers, (about science, about careerism, about grantsmanship etc.) that I have come to know and interact with frequently. We might not always agree, but I know that deep down we are all part of the same enterprise.

* Are there blogs you never look at? If yes, why (be nice and don’t name names)?

Yes. There are blogs that I never look at. Those that I find boring, I never look at. Boring comes in several forms- the post material doesn’t interest me at the moment (that doesn’t mean it is not interesting, it is just personal preference), or the post material feels like the same topic over and over again, or the discussion doesn’t feel inclusive, or the discussion is a bunch of people just agreeing with each other.  Those things turn me off.

* Who are you blogging for/who are you talking to?

I blog because I like to write, so that part is for me. But I also blog so others can see some of my hard fought experiences and my experiences, which- let’s face it- are so much more interesting and instructive than my triumphs, and maybe learn something from them.

* Do you think you may be getting people exposed to some science through your blog who otherwise wouldn’t be?

I’ve written almost nothing about the details of what I do in my work. I’ve been rather purposeful about this, but that could change at some point. So, to answer the question- no I haven’t made the effort to expose people to the science that I do- so I don’t think I have attracted that kind of audience, no.

* Do you think any non-blogger cares about any of the above things?

Maybe, maybe not. I am sure I have lots of readers who are NOT bloggers, and I think some of them do come here to see that it is possible to have a tenure track career and have kids. I think actually watching someone go through an experience that you are having too, or considering having,  is very powerful motivation to keep going, to realize you aren’t the only one, and to realize what is possible.

I’ll be back more regularly soon, I promise.

Two Thumbs Up on Science Online 2010!

I’m on the plane home from Science Online 2010. Can I just say- that meeting was TOTALLY EXCELLENT. I usually attend meetings in my field that are all seriously hardcore science, seriously 24/7.  I mean seriously. So this was a totally different population and a set of subject matter than my usual meeting fare.

What did I love about and learn from #Scio10? Best just to make a list, in no particular order:

1. First, I met such an interesting mix of people. There were science journalists, editors, scientists, bloggers, scientist bloggers (like myself), librarians, programmers and computer geeks (I say that with the utmost affection from one geek to another) and folks that run large blog and publishing networks. I would never encounter such a diverse group with divergent but widely overlapping interests in these areas anywhere else. (and my apologies to anyone who I failed to mention).

2.   Second, electronic media is changing scholarly publishing, peer review will not go away (nor should it) but the speed of things will change where necessary (see Plos Currents beta Influenza), and so will the discussion that comes after an article – incorporating blogs, twitter, friendfeed etc, as will the metrics by which scientific articles and the prestige of scientific journals is evaluated to include the many many new communication methods now available. PloS One  seems to be leading the charge on this one with article level metrics ….and at the risk of being a groupie, I heart Peter Binfield and Jonathan Eisen.  (and the rest of PLoS too, cool visualizations of PLoS ALM data by Mike Chelen to be found here)

3.  Third, electronic media is hitting basic science like a tidal wave.  I’d bet you $100 that I’m the only one that blogs, uses twitter, that sees the utility in Google groups and other fun Google stuff like Google reader, and that uses Facebook in my department (well, that’s actually a lie – one of my close colleagues uses FB as well). BUT my eyes were opened at this meeting to the fact that I am barely scratching the surface of what is already available, and what is possible.  I nearly leapt from my chair during John Hogenesh’s talk about cloud computing and its application to genomic work.  My community of scientists is going to have to deal with their discomfort of new technology and start learning how to swim here-… or they will get left behind on the beach.

4.  Fourth, can I just say- I’ve got a little hero worship thing going on with those PLoS guys.

5.  Fifth- Like I said up there, I’m the only one I know in my current scientific environment that uses twitter- but using hashtags to tweet a meeting… is quite a remarkable thing. Especially when you are doing this with a meeting full of 250 odd people who are totally and completely comfortable with twitter, the sheer volume of tweets was quite incredible. I loved seeing what was going on in sessions that I wasn’t in this way. Go to twitter and search hashtag: #scio10, and you will see just exactly what I mean.  That Janet Stemwedel is a tweeting machine. Out.Of.Control.

6.  Sixth- You know I blog- but most people at my institution don’t and many times we don’t even speak the same language when it comes to electronic communication methods, and sometimes this can be a little isolating. A person can get a lot of shit for blogging while on the tenure track… ’cause, you know, it takes time away from the pursuit of real science, the production of papers and grants (as so hilariously detailed in Dr. Stemwedel’s ignite talk).  But this going to this conference, and meeting many, many of the bloggers whose fine work I read daily (Isis, Pal, Sci, Janet, Zuska, Abel, Sheril and others I’m not sure I can name on blog, but you know who you are), and talking to struggling graduate students, made me realize that not only do people actually read what I write – but maybe from time to time what I write puts something useful out into the blogosphere that others coming behind me might learn from. I think that maybe for the first time I appreciated my own role in the diverse chorus of voices that are out there blogging about similar issues.

7. Seventh- see all those bloggers I list up there- they are awesome as real people as they are in the blogosphere, as are those I did not name. I’m humbled to be part of this community.

8.  Finally, the meeting itself was exquisitely organized, orchestrated, and executed.  Hats off to Bora Zivkovic and Anton Zuiker, and the army of others and volunteers that was undoubtedly helping them out, for accomplishing this Herculean task and labor of love.

I’m sure there is more, but that is all for the moment…

Oh, and,… I did NOT partake of the motherfucking Jameson, although it was being served. Perhaps I’ll have the opportunity in 2011?!

(sorry for the double post, I forgot to add a couple of IMPORTANT links in the first round!)

Anyone familiar with this site: Under the Microscope?

I noticed these guys following me on Twitter- so I followed the links to their site which can be found here.  Their mission is to:

Under the Microscope collects stories from women involved with science, technology, engineering, and math with the goal of publishing a survival guide for young women in science. Under the Microscope also publishes news, tips, interviews and profiles.

More specifically:

Because women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineeringand math, the goals of the Women Writing Science project are:

  • To increase for young women and the general public the visibility of women working in scientific fields and engineering.
  • To raise awareness about how women enter scientific careers inside and outside traditional pathways.
  • To provide young women with role models, images and accounts of women working in STEM fields.
  • To provide young women with widespread access to essential STEM concepts in especially interesting and socially-relevant ways.
  • To help parents and teachers use their influential positions and wisdom to encourage young women to pursue STEM fields.

Go on over there and have a look around if you have a minute!

No it’s not the history, it’s the missed opportunity…(Updated)

I haven’t stepped out into many blog controversies lately, but looking through all the stuff in my Google reader this morning I found this really excellent post from Tara at Aetiology, further commenting on this post by Dr. Hgg, and yet a third post from Sheril on her blog.

All this text is about a new book out ‘The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing‘…ala Dawkins, and the current subject of all of these fine posts is that out of the 83 excerpts in the book- only 3 are written (actually 2 are written and 1 is co-written) by women. Hmmmm, surely there are a few more fine science writers out there who are women…. and why are they missing?!

Well, one can always say that the contents of this book are the top choices reflect the preferences of one individual, one very learned and powerful individual, one individual that would be excellent to have as an *active* advocate for women in science, Sir Richard Dawkins. Dr. Dawkins actually responded to a comment by Ed Yong on Sheril’s post:

“There is certainly no shortage of excellent female science writers to choose from. One of them writes this blog. Others are linked to in this very post. Olivia Judson, Deborah Mackenzie, Virginia Hughes, Natasha Loder, Linda Geddes, I could go on. Their skill is equal to and often superior to their male peers. . . . You’d be insane to argue that the 83 pieces in this tome are the best 83 articles written in 2008.” (Yong)

2008? Who said anything about 2008? This anthology goes back a hundred years, and not a single contribution is as recent as 2008. It is not an anthology of “science writing”, such as would indeed include Olivia Judson and the other admirable science writers whom you list. It is a collection of writing by good scientists, many of them dead and very distinguished. I am not one of those who thinks men are genetically better equipped than women to become distinguished scientists. Presumably for other reasons, it is a regrettable fact that the great majority of distinguished scientists of the past 100 years, as measured by Nobel Prizes, Fellowships of the Royal Society, numbers of science publications, etc, have been male. That imbalance, and not an imbalance in my preference or my choice, is what is reflected in the anthology. (Dawkins)

Dr. Dawkins-…let’s not focus on the past. Let’s focus on that lost opportunity, however big or small, to actively and positively influence the future of the other 50% of the population to participate in academic science and participate at a high level.  That, in my humble opinion, is what everyone is so upset about. You see, I’m a young(ish) female scientist- and there is a high probability that your book will cross the threshold into my house, like so many of your other fine books. I’m going to read your book, and I’m going to see that great science writers don’t include people like me, hardly at all. Then I’m going to re-read your – hey, sorry,-it’s-not-my-fault-history-is-what-it-is comment up there- and I’m going to have the reaction I’m having right now…. which is- yes, duh- I know you can’t change history- but you CAN influence the future SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

See, I hope the power of this little controversy will be to highlight fact that the future for scientists who happen to be women, and science writers who happen to be women can be different but it *requires* the active advocacy of powerful people.  I’m sure you must have noticed the paucity of women on your list when you were putting your book together (at least I hope you did). If you truly are as you say:

I am not one of those who thinks men are genetically better equipped than women to become distinguished scientists

Then I respectfully challenge you to put the ‘history is what it is’ bit aside and figure out what active role you might be able to play in the future to even out the gigantic gender disparity on display in your book.

p.s. I *truly* and deeply appreciate that much of your time is spent fighting creationism… for which, as a biologist, I’m very grateful… but I suggest that advocacy for scientists who are women (and steppin’ in to advocate with women like these achieve these goals)  is a similarly worthy cause.

**Update** p.p.s Both Drugmonkey and Greg Laden have written their own posts since this morning, and there is also discussion over at Miranda’s blog