How do you find the $$ for Child Care at Scientific Meetings

Yesterday, between book chapters (and right now you all are probably asking yourselves what the hell I’m doing BLOGGING), I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful seminar given by a scientist whose work was highly influential in my graduate career- and that was really enjoyable. But going to seminar has other great benefits besides hearing someone you totally admire talk about their great science.  Primary among these benefits, of course, is running into colleagues who normally inhabit other parts of campus, that you really really REALLY need to talk to.

I saw one such colleague come into the seminar and was only too happy to have a lengthy conversation with him at the reception after the seminar. Said colleague is trying shamelessly to entice me into coming to a particular meeting later this year (he’s organizing)…and I get the feeling he’s trying to recruit a few other scientists who happen to be young women with children as well. Our conversation took an interesting turn when he mentioned that he would like to be able to set aside resources, and find funding sources, to be able to provide child care for this meeting. We all know that women still provide the majority of child care, and this can be a barrier keeping women with families from attending scientific meetings- right?

Although I have two children, I do not take them to meetings with me. For me this is a purely personal decision, I have difficulty focusing on meeting material when I’m multitasking kids on site, and now they are school age anyway so we can’t just pull them out of school whenever we feel the urge. I emphasize that this is just my personal preference though, for those of you that choose to take your children with you to meetings, I support your decision.  Now, with that said- leaving the kids at home with DrMrA does put a pretty strict lock on his hours while I am away…. and it would be great to get him a few hours of child care support when I am away. This restriction on the other working care giver’s schedule, in addition to just not wanting to be away from the kids too much, limits the amount of traveling that I do in a given year.

As for what I have seen available for child care at meetings, the large society meeting that I attend has a child care option built in, but I haven’t been able to figure out from the preliminary program whether there is an extra fee for this. I don’t recall that any of the smaller meetings that I have attended have offered any child care, or assistance finding child care, or financial assistance to defray the cost of child care.

So here is the question,  if you want to encourage women in science who happen to have kids to participate in scientific meetings, what can you do to address child care issues that might otherwise keep them away? Throwing money at the issue is a good way, I think- it allows women (and yes, whimple, all people with kids- but let’s agree that women are generally disproportionately affected) at least to lower the barrier on this issue. If you were organizing a meeting and providing funds to defray the cost of child care to attendees with children  is your chosen avenue to remedy- how do you come up with the $$ to fund such an effort? Secondly, if you are the organizer of a small meeting- how do you fairly distribute these funds, and how far do you go in setting up child care arrangements (i.e. do you have an organized child care on site, or do you simply provide funds to allow individuals maximum freedom to set up their own arrangements)?

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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!)

Conversation Killer

Does this ever happen to you?  I was at a meeting recently and I was walking around one of those infernal mixer type deals, that they always have at these things, chatting with people.  And for the most part, that was all fine, and I’m usually quite comfortable with the random chit chat and walking up to complete strangers and starting a conversation about projects, or some other mutually interesting topic.

But then I had one of those weird socially awkward moments. I walked up to a good friend (a man), who was standing with a big group of men, senior in my field, that I had not previously been introduced to. My friend was lovely, and he introduced me to all the other men in the group one by one.  Then, all the group conversation totally stopped DEAD. I felt incredibly awkward- it was as if I didn’t know the secret handshake or the men had to use some other language to deal with me. I suppose this incident sticks out in my head because I was the only woman in the group, and junior in the field.

When I think about this incident though, I realize that it isn’t all that rare in my existence. I have a few male colleagues who, when we are together in a ratio of men:women >1, converse amongst themselves. I somehow just can’t seem to get my foot through the door and open up the conversation. The thing that always kind of shocks me when this stuff happens, is that I am one of the more outgoing and socially comfortable people that I know  (not to mention just plain loud– a couple of you regular readers out there who know me have SEEN me in action). I’m left trying to figure out why this happens: Is it specific to the personalities involved? Is it a gender thing- do men in a large group related differently to each other than the do to a woman in the group? Is it a junior career stage thing- that the senior guys talk around your head as though you are not really to be reckoned with? Is it a little of all of that?

This kind of thing might seem like a little, unimportant thing  to you, but I spend, probably 95% of my professional existence in groups where I am the only woman (or one of a very small handful), and it is awful that science conversation comes to a dead halt for me in these situations.

Becoming an Ally

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about a lot of cryin’ on the part of senior male faculty about the rate at which their young female grad students were dropping out of science after finishing  their Ph.D.s., coupled with an inability on the part of said faculty to educate themselves to recognize the reasons behind this phenomenon. In private, I did my best to provide the resources to these potential allies so that they might better understand this leaky pipeline… and on this blog, I implored said faculty to get off their asses and do something about that… think outside the box, become an ALLY. I offered a few suggestions, …. turns out you don’t even have to think very far outside the box.

This week I received an email from a colleague, it read:

Dear DrdrA:

I am organizing XYZ meeting, and I was wondering if you could help me out. I was looking over the schedules from previous XYZ meetings, and I was struck by the fact that the list of keynote speakers looked like this:

2008   Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2007  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2006  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2005  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2004  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2003  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2002  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2001  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2000  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

1999  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

1998  Great Scientist, Woman, Ph.D.

1997  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

1996  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

I am sure you can appreciate the paucity of women and minority keynote speakers at past XYZ meetings, and that is so obviously wrong.  I wonder if you could help me identify some great women and minority candidates who might be interested in giving the keynote talk at this meeting.

Thanks for all your help!

Senior Faculty Ally.

HOLY COW!! I couldn’t make up that list fast enough.

I’m totally thrilled that this colleague looked at the data, realized the overwhelming bias in favor of white guys (no offense to you white guys), thought about it, and took the next step to try to even out the balance. So, to add to my previous list of all the ways to encourage young women to stay in science… how about choosing EXCELLENT WOMEN SCIENTISTS and EXCELLENT MINORITY SCIENTISTS as your keynote speakers from time to time. And for all you women (and/or) minority scientists out there, how about making a mental or actual list of excellent women and/or minorities in your field that might be keynote speaker candidates… so that when an ally asks for your assistance, you are ready.

I Hate Journal Club

Not really. I just don’t like what journal club has become. It has become a boring recitation of a paper. Period.

Without any general overview of the subject and context from other related literature.

Without any enthusiasm for the subject, or understanding whether or why the topic is important.

Without explanation of important terminology and jargon- indeed sometimes without the understanding of the presenter of what the jargon means.

Without participation and discussion from the non-faculty in the audience.

Without the audience coming prepared by reading the paper… and gosh, we don’t even have to go to the library and photocopy it ourselves anymore.

I’m sick to death of it, and I’m not taking it anymore.

First, for all of you that are making an effort, I applaud you. Seriously. This goes for presenters and active participants alike. It is tough to get up there in front of an audience and present something that maybe isn’t your primary area of interest, give the background, learn the jargon- explain someone else’s work in a coherent and constructively critical way. You are only at the beginning of your training, your business is going include doing some permutation of these tasks every single day of your research career. Good on you for embracing this opportunity.

Second, for those of you that just show up- you have taken the first step and I applaud you for that- but journal club is yours to improve and learn from. You need to take the next steps now- READ the paper and ASK QUESTIONS.  Now don’t even tell me you were too busy to read the paper- you won’t find any sympathy from me on this one. I’ll bet you a million bucks that you and I don’t even measure busy on the same scale, and I read the paper in advance, and I looked up the jargon. This REALLY is not that time consuming, you could probably fit it in between PCR reactions.

Third- there is this issue of participation. I know you all are frightened to look like fools in front of the rest of the audience- but you are going to have to get over this one. Journal club is a fairly friendly, audience restricted venue- if you can’t test your participation skills here- where the hell can you test them?? At a Gordon Conference… or maybe at a Cold Spring Harbor meeting…?  Trust me on this one and test the waters of active participation at journal club at your home institution in a more limited venue.

And what is the absolute worst that can happen if you do participate?? You could get slapped down once or twice?! I KNOW that this is hard, and it feels bad… but I promise you that it is extremely likely that tomorrow no one except you will remember whatever thing you said- and you’ll be one question closer to confidence in this area.

Finally- don’t do this because you ‘have to’ or because I told you to. Show some intellectual curiosity about your chosen field…

Meeting etiquette #1

Just a few short points. You guys probably have some others.

1.  Be social, no matter how hard it is for you- give it a shot, that is what meetings are for- and it gets the networking thing going.

2.  When you walk up to someone you know and they are standing with someone else and chatting- don’t just barge right into the conversation and completely interrupt the person who is speaking.

3.  When you walk up to someone you know, and they are standing with someone else and chatting, address both people- even if you don’t know one of them- stick out your hand and introduce yourself. You might make a new friend!

4.  If you are a speaker- giving a presentation in front of your special subgroup of 200 … don’t forget to cite important people and their contributions to your project and techniques pioneered by others. This is just bad form. You either look like you don’t know the literature, or you look like a jerk for not citing someone who is probably in the audience.

5. Oh, and if you see me at a meeting and you read my blog- I think that’s excellent- but only tell me about it privately, K? Assume that I’ve got a pseudonym for a reason…

You guys- pile on, I’m sure you have some others to add!

p.s. I something no self-respecting French person would do today- I ate a meal walking down the street. I’m supposed to be enjoying the civilized ways of the French- …. hopefully I’ll figure this out.

Drive By Character Assassination

Ambivalent Academic put up a terrific post yesterday on witnessing a public character assassination at a recent meeting she attended. The scenario is basically this, after giving a presentation at a meeting a junior female speaker is called a liar in front of her entire field by an established senior man in the field.  You can dress it up any way you like it- but that’s the nuts and bolts of what happened. Continue reading