WICB Blog - Women In Cell Biology
Greetings fellow Cell Biologists! We have created this electronic space in response to the suggestions and requests we received in the most recent annual meeting. This will be a moderated space as currently we feel that is probably the best format. This is a work in progress so I hope you will be patient as I serve the role as moderator of this space. Ideas on development and direction are always welcome.
With the US presidential election behind us, one hears people saying they can now focus on "stuff" that had been neglected for months on end. I don't think that is possible, even if the time interval between said neglect and promised focus is very small. I am not trying to get into any philosophical or existentialist discussions here at all. The change that has been the promise of Obama's campaign is something one is waiting for with bated breath. What change are we going to see in science funding? Are we going to see more women in decision making positions? Is the salary gap between women and men going to be a faint memory? Are we going to see extraordinary women who are stuck in the super-postdoc trenches being given their due? But before we move to that realm of discussion, I think it is important to take a moment to think about what change actually means in the context of this most recent ballot process. If the US voter was being more open to change as demonstrated by the election outcome, how is it that one of the most liberal states, California, ended up banning same sex marriages? It does not compute, does it? It tells us that bigotry is rife. That it is breathing easily even as Obama swept the polls. Which makes one want to look at all this even more closely - ratio of popular votes (which is basically every vote cast, and therefore opinion, being counted) Obama:McCain::1.1:1; ratio of electoral votes 2.2:1. So what does that indicate? Hmmm...? You could interpret the popular vote data and say well, change is just infintesimal. And how will that affect the addressing of gender related issues mentioned above?
Over the years, I have noticed that more often than not, people use the word "aggressive" when in fact they mean "assertive" when talking about a woman who is confident and has her wits about her. I think it is important to point this out to "labellers" because the two words indeed convey very different qualities (see below). I have encountered many young women who tend to use these words interchangeably, and it is only when the difference is pointed out that they realise the subtext of what they are saying. While this may seem trivial, I believe it contributes to how women are viewed in the workplace - particularly women who might be in decision-making positions: I think everyone has a story or knows of a situation where a confident and decisive woman is viewed as being aggressive and even hostile; while a man who is confident and decisive is considered capable, qualified, "on the ball", competent etc. Here are the words defined at the Oxford Reference site - links to the site are provided:
Assertive (adj) : having or showing a confident and forceful personality: the job may call for assertive behaviour.
Aggressive (adj): ready or likely to attack or confront; characterized by or resulting from aggression: he's very uncooperative and aggressive. • behaving or done in a determined and forceful way: we needed more growth to pursue our aggressive acquisition strategy.
Did you know that today is observed as Mole Day in the US and Canada? No, no, not a member of the Talpidae family, but the good old fashioned mole of molecular fame! Back in 1991, the National Mole Day Foundation was founded- my link is to the wiki for this, since sadly, on this Mole Day, the link to their site is down. So, in keeping with the Mole theme, here are some silly mole jokes to brighten an otherwise dreary day!
Q: What happens when you take 6.023 X10^23 molecules of sugar and squish them?
A: You get moleasses!
Q: Why was there only one Avogadro?
A: When they made him, they broke the Moled
Q: What did Avogadro teach his students in maths?
Q: What kind of fruit did Avogadro eat in the summer?
Q: How much does Avogadro exaggerate?
A: He makes mountains out of mole hills
Q: What did Avogadro get when he made an intoxicating blend of chocolate, chiles, garlic, onions and nuts?
A: The best mole that side of Mexico.
Q: What are 6.023 X10^23 bivalves called?
If you are a woman scientist in the US, this should be of interest to you! The candidates were given seven questions regarding key issues facing women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. AWIS has posted the answers, with a side-by-side comparison.
Much has been written about salary gaps between equivalently qualified women and men - well, more like chasms than gaps in many instances. While employers are entrenched in formulaic rationale for paying women lower salaries than they do men, I think we should all try to improve our negotiating skills. I certainly need to equip myself better in that department. More often than not, a woman will believe she is negotiating, when in fact she is actually succumbing to pressure. We have a Women Faculty Forum at my university and it will be hosting Linda Babcock as a guest speaker later this month. She has co-authored a widely acclaimed book on negotiation and the gender divide and I am looking forward to hearing what she has to say...particularly since I simply haven't had the time to read her book!
Has anyone noticed the distinct likeness when you look at drawings of people done by 2 to 4 year old kids, and text book representations of phospholipid molecules? One typically diagrams a phospholipid molecule with a circle to show the glycerol backbone and head group, with two squiggles/lines attached to the bottom, to represent the two fatty acyl chains, right? Now look at a child's drawing of a "person" - see a likeness? If you haven't seen such a drawing, just do a google search on "children's drawings" under the images tab and you will see what I'm talking about. I find it absolutely fascinating, perhaps because I spent my early years toiling over purifying all kinds of phospholipids from egg yolks, ad nauseum!To a child, human beings are simply phospholipid molecules....when I have made such a remark to non-lipidophiles - I have received the oddest looks! Doesn't anyone else see the likeness?!!
I am not sure how many people who visit this blog read The Chronicle of Higher Education - if you don't I recommend you visit it occasionally. An article from the most recent issue (September 30, 2008) struck me as one that might interest readers of this blog - here's the link: http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/2008/09/2008093001c.htm. Over the years I have met several "Constances". I think the piece highlights key issues that are often not considered and I hope that it will stimulate a discussion here.
The Sunday New York Times had an article about partners/spouses being deal-breakers for some job candidates - did anyone see it [click here for article]? There is a passing mention about the issue in the context of academia. The writer seems to suggest that academia tries to take a politically correct position and does not even feign interest in what a spouse does, or for that matter if there is a spouse. I'm not sure this is really accurate. I think it would be interesting to actually find out how people have dealt with veiled questions from search committees, or even potential mentors, regarding their lives outside the workplace.
Greetings all! We've been "live" for a few months now and as you have probably noticed, all the posts are getting a good number of hits. This is fantastic! Thank you all for reading. Please consider posting: they don't need to be new posts, comments are excellent too. I have heard from a couple of people that it was not clear where/how to comment, so this is what you'd do if you wanted to comment -
Click on "Print", for the article that you'd like to comment on, or on the title of the post, and you will be taken to a screen where you can post your comments. Also, please note that when you want to post an article, you need to select "WICB Blog" as the category on the right hand side bar; the default is e-Journal Club. Please e-mail me if you have any questions. Or just post them here!
In the context of the metaphor of glass ceilings receiving much press currently in US politics, I was reminded of an interesting article I read a few years ago - "Exploring the Color of Glass: Letters of Recommendation for Female and Male Medical Faculty." The article by Frances Trix and Carolyn Psenka from Wayne Sate University can be found at http://das.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/14/2/191. After reviewing "300 letters of recommendation for medical faculty at a large American medical school in the mid-1990s", the authors provide evidence for language disparity in recommendation letters, which can influence decision makers. I think this is useful reading for those who are seeking recommendation letters, those who write recommendation letters as well as those who review recommendation letters.