Not much to say lately--life has been very busy. We are about to send out my lab's first solo publication (i.e. just me and my student as authors). This is the first really significant piece of science to come out of my lab, and is something I have dreamed of since I first started thinking of getting back into academia. All my writing energy has been going there, and now it is just about time for the payoff (hopefully the first of many). Woo hoo!
I am sure this sounds really stupid now, but before I switched to an academic position, I never really thought about how much better I would be at speaking in public after doing a semester's worth of lectures to 150+ three times a week. While teaching a class is definitely not the same thing as giving a talk, I find that I am much more at ease in front of crowds (large and otherwise) after spending so much time in front of a lecture hall. There is a confidence in the familiarity of being in front of a crowd that I never had before.
That's not to say that I don't get nervous before giving a talk--I definitely do. My PhD advisor said he still gets nervous even after a lifetime in science. I find that some nerves give my talks an energy and an edge that I like. But I don't feel paralyzed or intimidated in the same way that I used to, especially at high stakes talks. It would have taken me many years to get to this point if I had stayed at National Lab, and that is yet another originally unanticipated benefit to switching to the TT.
Over the years, I have taught myself to overcome my introvert tendencies and talk to new people at conferences (which is the one of the most important reasons to go). I've become somewhat of a decent networker, and have met many people I later worked with later on.
My real weakness these days is in the follow-up. In my head, I know it is important to follow up with the people I met in order to capitalize on the connections I made at the meeting. But once I am home, away from the thrill of the moment, I find it easy to procrastinate and indulge my introvert tendencies. It is easy when someone has asked for a reprint or preprint, but much harder when there is no compelling reason to contact someone. This is definitely something I need to work on, since each step in my career has only strengthened my understanding of how important networking is to any human endeavor.
I will admit that it is really tempting to use this blog as a venting space, especially for the little things that grate that non-academics wouldn't understand and I can't complain about to colleagues. In order to balance out some of the negativity, here are 5 advantages I've found from personal experience to attending conferences as woman in a male dominated field:
1. No bathroom lines. Bonus: During short coffee breaks, there is sometimes a line for the men's room, so you get to enjoy that little role-reversal.
2. When you present, people remember you more easily, as in "I enjoyed your talk--you were the woman who presented this morning. Can I ask you a few questions?"
3. If you present at a small conference while hugely pregnant, people will remember you for many years, even with only minor interactions at the meeting.
4. You are easier to find in the crowd, so it is easier to run into old friends and colleagues at coffee breaks without necessarily prearranging things.
5. Vendors in the exposition will sometimes break out the good swag and/or give you multiple valuable samples (but getting hit on by the vendors is otherwise annoying).
This summer is the first time my students will be giving talks at conferences. Last year, they gave several poster presentations, and they give talks a few times a year in multi-professor group meetings for practice. As a student, I didn't have a lot of opportunities to attend conferences, so I feel strongly about giving the opportunity to my own students. I have discovered that the process is seriously stressful and not just on the students!
It is really hard to watch my students talk sometimes--I am sitting there thinking "don't say THAT!" and "remember to say this". I think I am more nervous for them sometimes than they are. It feels like watching my kids running off to do stuff independently! And just like kids, I have to let them go or they will never grow into independent scientists.
It is also hard to let my students (who of course, deserve this opportunity for their hard work) go and be the first to talk about the exciting new results from our lab. As a new PI coming from outside academia, the invited talks don't fall from the sky like rain, so we are all doing contributed talks. This year, we have some awesome results that are about to be submitted. I am just a little bummed that I won't get to talk about them this summer. Both because I find it exciting to be the first to present new results, and also because I feel (given that I have many, many more years of experience giving conference talks) that I would likely do a better job presenting the new data. This is just one more thing I am giving up in the transition from bench scientist to PI.
That's not to say that my students aren't doing a good job--they are! I was so proud to see the practice talks this week, since they have grown and matured so much since joining my group. The data is exciting, the slides look great and the presentation is clear. I just never appreciated before how hard it can be to watch.