Saturday, February 28, 2009


The more I hear about the experiences of other women scientists, the more I feel that I've lucked out in my quest for the PhD and a faculty position. There are a lot of horror stories out there, a lot of pain even, and in comparison mine was a straight shot. I have no shocking revelations regarding sexism, assholism, or anything else. But I guess it's still a story, if not a very exciting one.

I actually started out in a different field, one that I now contribute to through an interdisciplinary subfield of -ology. But when I started out I didn't know that I should be looking into -ology, and so I started somewhere else. My first advisor in that field was less than supportive - she had been burned pretty badly by her own negative graduate school experience working with the biggest (male) name in her field. It was apparently hell, and although she held out and got the degree I still sometimes wonder if it would have been better for her if she had quit instead. She seemed reluctant to encourage students to pursue further studies, which I assume was a direct result of her own experiences. A lack of real support in this first field played a small role in my eventual switch to -ology, where I had a good support network.

I ended up having two great role models in -ology, both tenured men, but both dedicated to undergraduates and encouraging women in science. One directed a program abroad that I attended, while the other was my department chair. I'm still in touch with both of these guys; they've written me letters for grad school and job applications, and my presence at SLAC is probably entirely due to them.

My Masters work was a continuation of this theme - a male tenured professor who was a great mentor and advocate of women in his field. My PhD advisor has been the only female mentor I've ever had - she was a newly hired tenure-track prof at R1U when I decided to go work with her. I think that watching her during the first few years of a Professorship was the best training I could have gotten for my current position. She was, and is, an awesomely supportive mentor, and I never regretted signing on as her student.

The only real question I ask myself regarding my personal experiences is, why have most of my mentors been men, and why have these men been so pro-female scientist? Isn't that supposed to be the rare, sought-after male Prof who doesn't really exist? Or are most Profs actually fairly supportive of women in science, and we just hear about the extravagant assholes who are much more visible? Or maybe my experience is strange - have I just been really lucky?

I think an experience like mine might have convinced me that things aren't so bad in academia; that women are given equal opportunity, if not more so. The blogging community has been a great balance to my own experience: things are obviously not so rosy everywhere.

My own goal, should I be given the opportunity to pursue it, is to provide the same support and encouragement that I had as an undergraduate. It would be nice if a majority of female scientists could have positive College and Graduate experiences - as a product of positive experiences myself, I may be in a better position to make that happen than my first advisor had been. Or at least I can hope so.

Friday, February 27, 2009


I finally got to look at a list of spending on my startup account. There is definitely stuff in there that I did not spend. This is not cool, yo.

Also, why is it that whenever I find out about something I have to deal with, like this, it's usually really late on a Friday? Or right before a holiday? Grrrrr.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

spending that startup funding

I'm not a haggler. I suck at it: even in other countries where I've spent a decent amount of time and know how much things should cost, I always pay too much because I hate arguing over prices with some guy who makes two bucks a week.

Right now I'm looking into purchasing some big-money items using my startup funds. I'm rearranging some of my original plans, reevaluating whether I can use smaller pockets of cash designated for X to buy a really nice Y that I think would be far more useful than X anyway. I'm having stress over my limited pot of money, even though it's a nice pot and I'm not at the bottom of it yet.

This is kinda fun, but also very annoying because I have to talk to salesmen. And all the equipment I'm familiar with was purchased at least five years ago; who knew they'd come up with so many fancy new versions of everything! Do I really need superawesome software package A? Maybe. Probably not. But what if I DO??

Also, even when I think I know exactly what I want, I have no way of knowing whether I'm getting over-sold. I talk to microscope guy, for example, and I say that I want a microscope that does X Y and Z. And he says, ok you want Microscope L. Great. But, really? Maybe microscope J would have done the same shit for $1500 less, but given that nothing is priced and everything has a long list of options for every model, I have no idea whether I could have put together a package that would fit my needs for less money. More importantly, I can't find out without running into a major character flaw: I'm afraid of looking stupid in front of salespeople. I don't know why I have this issue, or why I can't bring myself to just say, look I'm hoping to get a Microscope that does all this amazing stuff for less than Z amount of money. Because I'm afraid I'll get this crazy look and they'll say, look crazy lady, you can't get a microscope like that for less than Z amount of money. What do you think this is, 2003?

I've been putting off these decisions, but I can't do it anymore. I have two years to spend my cash, and year one is drawing to an end in the near future. Also, it'd be nice to have some of my equipment ready to go in the fall. I think I'll end up erring in favor of slightly nicer/more expensive versions when I'm in doubt, if only because, hell, I'd rather not end up with a useless very expensive item. However, I've already had to cross a few things off my list of shit I wanted to buy - in part because in reality my research plans here won't really need them, and in part because I wanted to upgrade other items. This has been a lesson in appropriately budgeting for a startup package. And I think I wouldn't be so worried if it wasn't completely impossible to get basic equipment through grants.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

creating a monster

This weekend I noticed something - I had some free time yesterday, in the sense that I could spend a few hours doing something non-work-related without paying for it almost immediately. Yet I felt listless and tired and didn't really feel like doing anything at all. I considered doing some grading, but then a voice inside my head said, "Don't bother, you don't need to hand those papers back until Monday!" And I realized that working in academia is already turning me into the very person who always drove me crazy, the one who never met deadlines or did anything ahead of schedule --- I'm becoming someone who only works when there's an immediate and pressing need to do so!


How did this happen!? I was so good, at least during the last year and a half or so of my PhD, at working regularly without the motivation of a looming deadline. People who put me off until the last minute drove me crazy. I liked being done ahead of schedule. And now I have an extra day to get ahead, maybe to work on a few future lectures or get some writing done, and instead my first thought is, "I have over 24 hours until this actually becomes essential! I don't have to do jack shit today!"

This will require a change in mindset. I refuse to become that person.

Monday, February 16, 2009


To my student: stop calling me "Ms." in every email you send me, even when I reply with my first name.

To my class: having a paper due today does not mean you get to skip class without missing out on participation points.

To my body: thanks for that weird headache-and-fatigue thing you had all weekend, causing me to miss out on the majority of this month's social activities.

To my coworker: stop being weird.

To conference organizers: why do you hold the most specific conference in my subfield in the most out-of-the-way and random places, causing me to spend way too much money on travel?

To the squirrels: I can't believe you chewed through the rope holding up my bird feeder. Little bastards. Partner is going to be using chain this time, so do your worst!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Scientae coming soon

I'll be hosting the March edition of the Scientiae Carnival here, which just happens to be the Anniversary Edition. Go Scientiae!

March also happens to be Women's History Month, when we tend to sit around and think about all the dead people who made important contributions to our world, our lives, and our work, often overcoming incredible obstacles in order to do so. And to them I say well done, but for next month's Scientiae I'm more interested in the here-and-now. I want to know: who inspires us today? Whom do we look to as our role models? Maybe it really was Marie Curie, Rachel Carson or Jane Goodall who led you to your field, but I suspect that for many of us we're getting our motivation from our more immediate mentors, our peers, our fellow bloggers, or maybe even our students. WE are women making history, after all, which means that our role models may end up inspiring the world.

Submit your posts by midnight on Saturday, February 28th and I'll be posting the carnival on March 1st. Happy blogging!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

suddenly, a blogging spree!

I don't know why I suddenly feel like blogging every day, when during the first part of this month I didn't think I had anything to say.

But! I spent my evening cooking and cooking - potentially more cooking than I've ever done after work on a weekday! I don't know what's gotten into me. I made a valentine's day dessert, a dessert for an upcoming potluck, and a side dish for said potluck. In between we dealt with more sink issues, which make me sad. Stupid garage roof, I wish I could spend that money on my kitchen, which is slowly falling apart.

In other news, we've been buying extraneous items ever since Partner got his new job, even though he hasn't even gotten a check yet. He had to put up a decent amount of cash for work supplies (boots) and some maintenance on his car pre-commuting (tires) before he even started, so this is particularly dumb of us. To date, superfluous purchased items include:

- travel guidebook to New Country, where I'll be working this summer for the first time
- DVD of a documentary I really liked and wanted to show to my class
- language CDs for Partner to use during his long commutes (I can't think of anything better to do with three extra hours in a car every day!)
- birdfeeder and seed (we are attempting to entertain EvilKitty - too bad no birds have shown up yet)
- a Netflix upgrade from 2-at-a-time to 3-at-a-time (More HBO shows for me!)

Today I vastly overestimated the amount of time my lab activity would take, resulting in class ending about an hour early. Shit. I guess that ain't so bad if it only happens every once in a while.


Happy Darwin Day! I'll be partying this weekend, since Thursday is not a great day for me to be celebrating any kind of birthday, much less such a momentous one. But, even without my cupcakes, I plan to make today a little bit more productive and exciting than the rest of the week. We'll see how that goes - so far, since all I've accomplished by 10 am is yoga and breakfast, I'm off to a slow start...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


It had to happen eventually, and finally, here it is: it's not all happy rainbows and science at SLAC! I'm starting to run into the variety of problems I shall face trying to do research at a small college.

- I've already run into copyright limits for the year on recent articles from the primary research journal I use. This means I have to pay, drive to another university library (1.5 hours away), or beg for articles from my peers until 2010, unless I come up with a good reason why my students also need particular volumes of journals. Elsevier, you suck ass with your super expensive publications.

- I'm in a slightly awkward situation wherein the person who had my job last year and did not get the t-t position is still here teaching temporarily as a visiting prof. This person is nice enough, but is using my newly-supplied lab for a class they (and yes, I'm using the non-gendered "they" here just because) are teaching. I am continually nervous about them doing so, because they have used equipment inappropriately more than once, and now they're starting to break shit (not expensive shit, but still, I still have to buy another $20 worth of stuff they've broken). This pisses me off, as I haven't even gotten to use my lab for my own work yet, but moreso it pisses me off because this person is only breaking things because they are using them inappropriately - it's not even students doing the breaking! And I don't feel comfortable telling them off because I think that will reflect poorly on me, and because they are largely nice and friendly, just not all that great in the lab. If they break something worth more than $20, I will definitely not be quiet about it, but for now I just get to sit and stew.

Real life isn't being any kinder, unfortunately, as we discover more and more of the slimy things the previous owners did here to cover up their crap and sell their house.

- Our garage roof is leaking, severely, and will require a new roof this year instead of "sometime soon." So there goes the tax return that I had hoped would pay for a wedding. Our inspector had straight-out asked the previous owner whether they had any issues with the roof, which looked old, and they said no. However, I highly doubt that this is a new issue.

- We had a bit of a snafu with our existing sink, and are now down to half a sink and waiting for the day when we can replace the kitchen counters and get shit fixed (it's an old house with a lot of "custom" = weirdly sized stuff in it. Therefore we can't put in a normal sink without replacing the counter). This will probably not happen this year, but as my kitchen drives me a little crazy with its dirty oldness, it will hopefully happen in 2010 at the latest. But again, more cash that we get to toss at some contractor at some point.

It doesn't help that I wanted to make cupcakes to celebrate Darwin Day and yet we are out of vanilla. Darwin Day, you better treat me right, because I need a happy Thursday.

Monday, February 9, 2009

it's the little things that drive you up the wall

I'm thinking I'm going to have eighteen billion Seniors requesting independent studies with me before the end of the year. All because I'm teaching that software package course but am only offering intro this year, and several of them want to keep going. And that's cool, but I'm already kinda swamped. Yikes.

I finally got around to emailing the editor of the journal that I submitted an article to back in August. You'd think I would have gotten at least one status update before now, but I ain't heard shit and the status on the author page hasn't changed. Grrr.

Other article is in press. Hooray!

So stuff is off my plate but I haven't really been writing recently. That's bad, and I should fix it. But I'm tempted to wait for this summer's field seasons before I try to outline papers that may or may not end up being written the way I think I want to write them. Blah. If only this stupid submission would come back and give me something to edit...

Friday, February 6, 2009

it figures

Today Partner is off at the new job, learning the ropes, officially "trained." So of course today is the day that I get an email stating that SLAC is now looking to hire someone for a job that Partner is eminently qualified to do. A job that we had kinda hoped might show up at SLAC, so that Partner could have a decent job in town.

Oh universe. Why do you mock us so.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I hate software updates

I teach a class on a particular computer software package. Right now I'm teaching intro, so it's not all that complicated or difficult, but I still run into random data issues and computer snafus every once in a while. Today, in the middle of lab, I discovered that the newest version of Microsoft Office has left out some of the necessary functionality that I had written in to the lab activity. I'm running the previous version of Office on my laptop, and never thought to check that Office would still have the same basic functions in the 2007 version. I still can't quite blame myself for that one, though - friggin Microsoft!

So I spent maybe 10 minutes trying to come up with a work-around for the lab before giving up, telling the students to send me their data so I could do the step in the lab on my own computer, and then sending the data back to them. This was a huge headache and I managed to screw up a few of their datasets along the way. Plus, we get to repeat the exercise next week because it's still something they have to know how to do...just as soon as I can figure out how it's supposed to be accomplished in Office 2007.....

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

couch potato

Partner is out of town training for his new JOB (yay!), which leaves me alone with EvilKitty. While EvilKitty tries to get my attention by destroying the carpeting, I'm watching horrible non-cable programing and writing lecture on the couch. Not my usual arrangement, but I'm less than motivated today. I dug myself out from underneath a pile of grading over the weekend, and today I was more in the mood to clean the bathroom and do the laundry (so at least I accomplished something!).

I get to give my very first F this week, and recommend that the student withdraw. Not looking forward to that conversation.

I'm remembering why I never watch television; commercials suck! Well, so do the non-commercials. Hooray for Netflix!