Category Archives: Women in science

I am a woman in science, and I am actively engaged in understanding when and why women leave science at a greater rate than men. In addition to building mentoring ladders, organizing workshops, and discussing the topic openly, I am also a firm believer that good data is the best way to incite change. I will therefore highlight new studies on gender bias in science as they are published.

To share or not to share

I love blogging, and twitter, and emailing, and even the occasional Facebook check. I’ve always accepted that much of my life is open to the public, and I think hard before I tweet or post about anything too personal. I try to keep my public-facing persona professional and science-focused most of the time (with the occasional whinge about work-life balance or expression of delight regarding the rare Cornish sun) and actually even enjoy managing my online profile*. That is why this particular dilemma has caught me off guard.

I recently (i.e. six weeks ago) had a baby. A perfect, all-consuming bundle of delight. This did not come as a surprise. In fact, I had over nine months to prepare for this particular wrench in the works. I submitted all of the manuscripts I’d been working on – except one; sorry coauthors! – and finished painting rooms in the house and putting up wallpaper. I tried to get ahead as much as I could, preparing for this great conference I am co-organizing on emerging plant pests and pathogens (see you there?), wrapping up experiments, and helping my group so they could get along without me for a few weeks**. I felt more than ready when she came along 12 days late.

The one thing I hadn’t prepared myself for was the decision regarding whether or not I was going to make her presence part of my public-facing persona. Suddenly even Facebook, which I restrict to only friends and family, felt too public to reveal anything about this new aspect of my life. I really enjoy online discussion of women in science issues and the difficulties in balancing work and family life, but suddenly felt uncomfortable with the idea that the discussion would be specifically about me and my experiences.

And then there was the decision about the auto-reply on my emails. I am running really far behind on emails. I mean really far – 4+ weeks behind in some important cases***. I knew this would happen to some extent, but I wasn’t prepared to employ an auto-reply in part because I generally hate them (I’m so happy for you that you are off gallivanting in Timbuktu, thanks for sharing) but more importantly because I didn’t like the idea of everyone who wrote to me knowing that I was away on maternity leave. This just felt too private to share. And surely I would be able to get back to most people within a reasonable enough timeframe, right? (Answer: wrong)

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to equilibrate and think about how to move forward (and now that I am getting much much better at typing with one hand) I’ve decided it’s time to begin sharing. I still will not add an auto-reply to my email and I will probably not post pictures of the F1 any time soon, if at all. But I am finally ready, and indeed excited, to become part of the #maternityleavescience crew. So far I am happy to say that my productivity has dropped – but not perished. The work I am able to do, I am finding that I can do with more focus and even with renewed insight (baby brain, schmaybe brain). I am thoroughly enjoying bearing witness to the amazing role of basic human instinct and to watching a new human being discover the world. I am also enjoying the challenge of rebalancing my life and reprioritizing what I need to do (NSF full proposal, here I come!) And I also look forward to sharing this new adventure – but not too much.

*Probably not something I should admit – nearly as bad as admitting you like to stare at yourself in the mirror. Honestly, I don’t.

**Turns out they do this very well. Almost too well. #askingforafriend

***If you haven’t heard from me, please accept my sincere apologies!

Your data needed….

Friday night antics. I just recently convinced my husband to try drinking upside down to cure his hiccups. He laughed at me and said, “if that worked, surely everyone would know about it by now.”

So, my first question to you, my replicate samples wonderful readers, is:

Have you ever heard of curing hiccups by drinking upside down? (i.e., top of cup to top lip, lean forward, gulp, swallow).

(Poll now closed)

If so, and only if so, did it work?

(Poll now closed)

Thank you for your help in moving the important field of hiccup-prevention forward.

UPDATE (20 January 2013): Of the 27 participants who took the poll, 21 had tried the treatment. The study revealed that 62% of readers who had tried this method were able to cure their hiccups by drinking upside down. Unfortunately, I was not able to include a placebo group. Indeed, I am very thankful that the results of this study fell out in favor of the treatment working – as I am quite sure the high personal effectiveness of the treatment has a lot to do with my believing that it will work. I still do. 

On a separate note, I came across (via http://nothinginbiology.org) this amazing site where you can see for yourself how publication rates in academia are correlated with gender:

http://www.eigenfactor.org/gender/

Earlier today, after reading “Self-confidence of women in science and a camel” I started thinking about why women publish less than men. My best guess is that, among other things, women are less likely to be included in large collaborative networks and may have smaller group sizes (postdocs and PhDs) – therefore they are less likely to be in senior authorship positions. Of course, this is going to be confounded with the fact that there is a clear sex * age interaction for gender bias in science, and so we would need to do the appropriate statistics to answer this properly. However, if you use the site to examine authorship in Ecology and Evolution post-1990, the trend is quite clear:

women as first authors

I did not run statistics on this data, partially because I would feel uncomfortable doing so without controlling for career stage, but in line with my hypothesis, women are more likely to be first authors (i.e., they did the work themselves) and very unlikely to be last authors.

The same pattern holds for Molecular and Cell

women as first authors 2I would like to thank the developers of the site and the University of Washington for developing such an insightful and useful tool!