Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Where are the BAYBZ? Not HERE....

So, I’m a little late to the party.  Let’s just say that five one too many birthday tequilas and a late night early morning 3:30 a.m. conversation with my partner in crime fellow post-doc about the finer points of banging your head against the wall protein expression and PCR sub-cloning made for one hungover groggy Dr. Zeek this weekend.  But, in between preparing the proper bacterial sacrifice for the PCR gods and patiently waiting for my cells to be happy and healthy enough to force them into work-horse mode before going home and curing my slight hangover with a Hawaiian pizza and a Bloody Mary, I thought I would answer the few “sans baby” questions the Hermitage sent us a long time back (yes, I procrastinate).  I have to tell you guys, having these panel discussions without the baby-talk makes me happy.  Very happy.  See, I love babies; I just don’t always like babies but sometimes, just sometimes I want to scream “Just because I have a uterus doesn’t mean I care!” “Please no more baby talk…”

So, without further ado, Dr. Zeek’s slightly warped different perspective of the world of science.  

1. When you were looking for your post-doctoral position, how (if you knew) did you know that your PI would treat you fairly?

This is an interesting question.  I was switching fields when I was applying for post-docs.  Same general heading but drastically different sub-heading.  So my grad school advisor had no idea who these people were and I had no idea what I was getting into.  So what is one to do?  I suppose you could always *cough*standard answer*cough* ask the people working in the lab.  But honestly, my impression of treating someone fairly and someone else’s perception of fair are two completely different things.  And, those perceptions are most likely completely different than your PI’s idea of treating you fairly, which the biggest thing everyone needs to realize.  Fair to your PI may be not requiring you to work on Sunday or having group meeting at 10:00 a.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning (yes, both of these are true stories/comments said to my lab by my boss in grad school).    

I can tell you what I did when my boss did treat me unfairly and how I got a little perspective on someone else’s idea of fair. My grad school adviser mentor slave-driver ungrateful, unfeeling, cyborg boss said something to me once that was, quite frankly unfair.  See, there had been relatively few (n<2) female grad students or post-docs that had gone through his lab prior to my glorious arrival.  I noticed that he rarely raised his voice to me.  The other indentured servants grad students in the lab-oy vei.  He would yell, he would raise his voice, he would call them the scum of the earth worst grad student in the world, he would have little vein things pop out on his forehead.  He was not a happy camper.  And he would make his displeasure with everyone extremely and clearly well known to all the grad students in the lab.  Except for me.  He would calmly and coolly explain that I wasn’t “quite getting it” or I wasn’t “quite working hard enough.”  And the kicker? I was not the incredibly awesome science smacking guru I am now best grad student.  It took a few years for me to get it.  So I would wonder why he was screaming and yelling and raising a fit about all of these people who were working harder than me, and quite frankly, were better technically than me, but not really sharing the love with me.  What the hell?

 About two years in, I finally got my act together, but things still weren’t working with my shitty project in the lab my boss and I were having a conversation about things and I said “but you never yell at me.”  He looked at me point blank and said “I never yell at you because I do not want to see you cry.  I had a female student once that I yelled at and she ran crying from my office.  I swore that I would never yell at another girl again.” 
And honestly, I was pissed.  I didn’t want to get yelled at. Period. But, it’s a weird situation to be in, knowing that you don’t want to get yelled at but also knowing that your boss is holding back his true opinion of you because he doesn’t want to “hurt your feelings.”  All I ever wanted was for him to be honest.  Honest with his impressions of my work.  Honest with his impressions of me as a grad student and so on.  From that point on, he and I had an understanding that he wouldn’t pull any punches but he would also not raise his voice.  As soon as his voice raised a few decibels I had free reign to walk out the door and come back later on with no consequences Haha..Riiiigghhtt.  We learned a little bit about each other’s idea of fair and I have to admit, I never did let him see me cry.  But that is a whole other blog post.  

Now, I am not saying that I got what I wanted.  I did get his honesty, eventually.  And I did get his opinions of me.  They weren’t necessarily right nor fair (and I can say this based on what I have done since getting out of that hell-hole lab), but they were honest. So while I don’t have any idea as to how to you can know if your PI is going to treat you fairly or not, the main thing is to realize when you are being treated unfairly and to try to understand why.  That’s the first part.  Perspective. Until you get the perspective, though, you can ever really change the situation.

2. It seems to me that often women don't have as strong professional networks as men - the kind that gets built over shared interests (sports or drinking). People seem to gravitate towards others like them. What specific advice do you have for establishing and maintaining network with men as well as other women?

This one is tough for me since I have a tendency to be “one of the guys” more often than not.  In fact, I sometimes prefer the company of males to females (and yes, Mr. Dr. Zeek is cool with this).  While I do enjoy more manly sports and drinking (which, by the way why in the hell are these consider “shared” interests for just men?  I mean I know plenty men who hate football and quite a few women who love it-but I digress).  It really comes down to being yourself and being confident.  Now I have a secret.  I get incredibly intimated when I meet the higher ups in my field.  While I am not intimidated because they are men, I have to admit that about 80% of them are men.  And they are smart.  And I think in my brain “What the hell, Dr. Zeek, do you think you are doing? Don’t make eye contact, don’t smile, and don’t say anything stupid. Wait, just don’t say anything.” Then I push those thoughts aside and fake it.  I smile.  I look directly in their eyes when they are talking.  I give them a firm handshake.  There is nothing more important in establishing a new connection/collaboration then exuding the confidence that you may not have yet, but should have soon.  

While faking confidence is one thing, don’t bullshit.  I mean, we have all bullshitted in our careers, but sometimes it can end up backfiring.  If some smart dude/dudette starts pontificating on how Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback ever or the widget machine from so-and-so is superior from whose-its and asks for your opinion, don’t try to pull shit out of your ass.  There is no quicker way to put a screeching halt to a budding collaboration than to basically try “lying” your way through something. Even if it is totally unimportant. They won’t trust your opinions and maybe won’t trust your science again.

3. Early on, what was your "Oh Fuck" moment, how did you recover?

There are so many ways that this can be taken.  I have “oh fuck” moments daily.  Those are the little ones, like “oh fuck, I added 10% instead of 1% glycerol…” or “oh fuck, this is never going to end” or “oh fuck, the grant application is due in two weeks?  What the hell?”, but my favorite is the “oh fuck, this might actually work….”

I am assuming that this is more of a major “Oh Fuck” moment.  Like “I broke and NMR tube in the NMR,” or “I sucked some a lot of pyridine into the vacuum pump,” or “I broke the vac lines,” or “I forgot to turn the shaker back on while your super important bacteria was growing,” or “I shattered some bottles in the centrifuge and made a huge mess.” (Yes, these are all true examples of things that have happened to me or I have done.)

So, what to do?  First own up to it.  Similar to what I said above.  No lies, no excuses, no bullshit.  Yes, I fucked up.  In fact, seek out the person who can help (or who is going to be the most pissed off that you screwed something up) and tell them.  Immediately.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect 200$.  Do not go to lunch and avoid the lab for a week.  Tell them, apologize and then help fix the situation.  

Listen, we all make mistakes.  We all have accidents, but I have a lot more respect for my undergrads who royally screw things and admit to screwing them up than I do for those who have every excuse under the sun for why they did.  It sucks, and you’ll probably be in the dog house for a bit, but it is tons better than not admitting to your mistakes or making up excuse after excuse.  Not only do you piss people off, but you lose their respect.  And that is probably the hardest thing to ever get back.

4. For those of us who like things like pink, skirts, baking, sewing, knitting, heels, makeup, and other things girlie, how important is it to not do / wear / talk about these things lest we be seen as fluffy girls who can't do Science?

I was “anti-pink” for the longest time because I seriously thought that it made people think I was less into science, or not as good or a fluffy wittle girl who can’t hold a pipette the right way.  I got over that not too long ago.  You have to keep saying in your head over and over.  If you are doing everything you should be, your science will speak for itself.  I was pretty pissed when my boss told me he put that I was “always cheerful” in my rec letter (trust me there was a lot more impressive stuff in there, but that line totally stood out to me.  Would he have put that in there if I wasn’t a girl? Probably not, but it is also a comment on how well I play with others. The main thing is you are who you are.  I have tattoos, a nose ring and listen to heavy metal in the lab.  I have a pink laptop.  I bring my boss leftover lasagna when I cook way more than Mr. Dr. Zeek and I could ever eat.  I do kick ass science.  I am who I am.  I work my ass off in the lab.  I get stupid shit done and do pretty fucking cool science.  People will see and notice what they want.  And if someone wants to ignore the awesome science and hard work and think that I am some fluffy girl who doesn’t know what to do with the business end of a pipette man, then screw them.  

So, again, my slightly warped view of my place in the world of science.  I leave you with the words of Stuart Smalley, because sometimes, we all need a boost.    

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