It is that time again--Mein Hermitage has sent out an interesting and 100% baby free set of questions for her panelists to answer. I don't know how useful my responses are, but thanks again to Hermie for organizing this!
1. It seems to me that often women don't have as strong professional networks as men - the kind that gets built over shared interests (sports or drinking). People seem to gravitate towards others like them. What specific advice do you have for establishing and maintaining network with men as well as other women?
For me, this hasn't been a major problem. I have many interests that are coded male (like sports, sci-fi, and gaming), so I have happily played fantasy sports, gone to cult sci-fi TV show night, and lost sleep to various games (MMOs and others) with my group mates and colleagues. I am not a really big drinker, but I do enjoy a good beer or wine, so I am not averse to hanging out in a bar (especially now that I am not going to reek like an ashtray!). I find that I don't know that many scientists who want to get stinking drunk (though plenty like to drink), and no one cares if I nurse one drink all night or spend the evening drinking Cokes.
I am not a great networker, but the things that work for me are to be myself, try to spend time talking with people in relaxing settings, and use the "friends of friends" effect to maximum advantage (since I am not really a social butterfly). Attending a lot of meeting also helps, since you can reconnect with people at coffee breaks and other social events.
2. Early on, what was your "Oh @!#$%" moment and how did you recover?
When I was a young grad student, I accidentally crossed some wires and trashed a very expensive piece of equipment that was crucial for my project. This was particularly upsetting, since it played into stereotypes about women's competence in building and fixing things. It made me wonder if I was cut out for this work at all at the time.
What I did in response is 1) find out how to fix the problem (it turns out we could fix it on site, with a somewhat scary procedure that I set up and ran), 2) set up a protocol in my work so I couldn't make the same mistake in the future and 3) trust that everyone makes mistakes, and this wasn't a fatal flaw in me as a scientist (probably the hardest part). For years afterwards, I would get upset in thinking about what a stupid thing that was for me to do, and about how I had ruined my advisor's trust in me (which was only true in my mind).
I admit that I felt slightly empowered later on when a male colleague with a similar level of experience made the same mistake, and I was able to step him through the repair.
3. How do you deal with female health issues (heavy periods and period pain that lasts for a week, heavy migraines that strike suddenly, etc.), when you are in a predominantly male environment?
I guess I just don't give many details about health issues that come up, be they female related or not. If I don't feel well/need to take frequent breaks at work/need some time off, I just take it. I arrange breaks around my teaching schedule now. When I was at National Lab, and needed to call in for sick time or otherwise account for my time, I just said I was feeling under the weather and explained what I needed (time off, breaks every X hours, working form home certain days, etc). Most of the time, it was granted with no further information required (though once I needed a doctor's note).
I dealt with my pregnancy and nursing issues in the same way. I had to pump in my office (luckily, I had one office mate at National Lab). I arranged with him to be alone in the office at the specific times I needed and put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. It probably helped that he had kids himself, but I trust my colleagues to behave like adults, and only give out personal information on a need to know basis.
4. How do you balance "assertiveness" and "bitchiness" - in the sense that it's harder as a female (than a male) to "get away with" being protective of your time, stating your opinion, and so forth?
This is a hard one for me, and it something that I still struggle with at times. I don't know that it is any easier for men on the TT to protect their time. Certainly, my male colleagues all seem to have similar trouble learning to say no to service tasks. In some ways, it seems like a personality thing, although I am well aware that both men and women are socialized to expect women to put their needs below the needs of their group.
I do find that assertiveness on my part is misinterpreted at times in a more negative light. Sometimes, I find it better to have these conversations face to face, where body language can help soften a negative response (though personally that is the most difficult for me). Email is the worst, since there is no tone or nuance at all, and words are always interpreted through the lens of the reader.
With students, I found there was a learning curve. There are classroom management techniques that I just can't do, because I come off as a bitch where an older male colleague comes off as "in charge". I find that simply being aware of this is the first step, since I am finding things that work for my personality that don't alienate my students.