My friend, Jacquie, texted me this today:
Super awesome, right?!
So apparently, it was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science! Today is a day that we brilliant women can enthusiastically celebrate the successes of one another. Well, we can actually do that every day, but an international holiday is always welcome 😎. Additionally, today we can remember the struggles of our predecessors against workplace/academic sexism and unconscious bias. We can also realize how much work remains to be done.
This post is about this latter part: our current struggles, which include barriers in the way of true equality in academia. Such barriers include stigmas such as female cattiness. Ironically, women can perpetuate these barriers for themselves. One example occurred while I sought advice on potential members for my thesis advisory committee.
Side note:” the committee” is a group of people who I will report to with progress towards my PhD. I will ultimately defend my thesis against them. I think of them as a hand-picked coaching staff who offer very specific and thorough training, then ultimately turn on me and become the absolute WORST/toughest competitors for a big race.
In this instance, I was counseled by a senior student to not choose two women for my 4-member committee because, “in general, women are more harsh towards other women.” She was expressing concern that I would fall victim to cattiness, which could make committee meetings difficult for me. Her words echoed, and thus perpetuate, the stigma that women make the lives of other women hard because they are catty. Such thinking is toxic because it holds women back from freely seeking advice from other women who could offer sage advice or turn out to be great mentors. The stigma of cattiness could also influence men to second-guess a potential female mentor or colleague. In either case, by avoiding situations to receive advice of women, we may limit our growth in terms of networking and collaborative potential. By limiting our collaborative potential, we slow progress towards our goals.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you see this year’s EMBO Women in Science Award laureate, Sara Linse. Linse is admired by many for her work studying amyloid beta peptides in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. As a recipient of the award, she is acknowledged as a generous colleague and collaborator who enthusiastically and openly shares ideas, materials, and results. I think she exemplifies how a successful woman is revered, and remembered, for her science and her attitude.
Barriers to equality also emerge from excessive self-interest and competition. A little competition is healthy and necessary, I don’t deny that. (I write a blog that is essentially about similarities between racing and pursuing a PhD for Pete’s sake!) However, when we begin to play-dirty, when we rise up the ranks by stepping on others, we hurt all of our chances to reach our full potential because progress is slowed.
I appreciate the model that Sara Linse exemplifies – enthusiastic and open collaboration, sharing ideas, lending resources, and mentoring younger versions of ourselves. Adopting Linse’s model requires an attitude of positivity towards ourselves and others.
As a start, I’ve been working on being more positive with myself so that I am more confident in my own work and presence as a scientist.
My running contributes a hefty amount of positivity (good ole’ endorphins!). 🏃🏻♀️💫💕Directing that positivity towards confidence as a researcher has helped me do small things like asking more questions at seminars and talking more openly about my own research. The confidence I feel has helped me shed previous fears that these exchanges would result in judgement. I’m learning that if I go into one of the aforementioned situations assuming a positive outcome, I usually get just that.
Similarly, if we view other women, and men, in a more positive light, to always assume the best until proven wrong, we can build confidence that perpetuates positivity, and vice-versa. This seems pretty ideal to me!
Positivity>>> toxic stigmas
Here are some pictures of my support system: family, friends, mentors who have been positive influences over the years:
Finally, I would like to give a shout out to my friend, Katie Harvey for making the super cool graphic for my blog page! She’s going to art school, but wears a lot of hats besides an artist beret. She is also a runner, (running hat?), a lab tech ( safety goggles that no one wears??), bhangra dancer (tikka, according to a Google???). OH GOD Why did I keep going with this horrible hat metaphor? Anyhow, thanks Katie!☺️❤️