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1998 WICB / Career Strategy Columns (Archive)

The Tenure Process Viewed From the Top; Martha D. Berliner
  12/01/1998

Previous WICB columns have confronted the issue of tenure from the junior faculty member’s perspective. Clearly, the department chairperson is instrumental in shaping the outcome of tenure applications. However, the tenure process looks quite different from the other side. This view includes additional considerations not directly related to the junior faculty member’s qualifications. The suggestions included in this article are made from the viewpoint of a former Biology Department chairperson and professor, who was awarded tenure twice, denied once, and participated in the tenure decisions of many junior faculty members.

  1. Before considering and/or accepting a tenure-track position, look at the composition of the department. Does it consist of one or two professors, a few associate professors, and many untenured assistant professors and instructors? If so, ask if the university and/or the department has a tenure cap. This is a relatively new way for university budget officials to limit promotions, while legitimately advertising tenure-track positions. It is also important to remember that there is no mandatory retirement age for faculty. Unless attractive early retirement packages are offered to older, tenured faculty, slots for promotion may open up only rarely. The combination of a relatively young tenured faculty and tenure caps may create a situation where obtaining tenure is completely unrealistic.
  2. Learn when the last time was that tenure was granted to an assistant professor in the department, how many tenure requests were denied during that time period, and how many tenure-track positions are being filled at the same time. Many schools hire scientists on the tenure-track in order to keep the money-making basic and service courses staffed, with only occasional teaching responsibilities in specialty courses. However, there usually are not enough permanent positions for all of these scientists. Therefore, if more than two people in the department are waiting for tenure at the same time you are, your chances for obtaining tenure are probably slim.
  3. If you are employed or considering employment at a state institution, find out how much influence the state legislature has over trends in higher education, especially financial trends. Be very cautious if the position for which you are applying is not a budget line item. Without this protection, the position could be cut without any consideration of your qualifications or productivity.
  4. Remember that a department chairperson is responsible to deans and other administrators who have different agendas. While the chairperson may make promises in good faith, there are many external factors over which they have no control, such as budgets and enrollments. These factors may prevent them from fulfilling promises made to their faculty. One way to understand better the external factors influencing personnel decisions is to request appointments on one or two meaningful department and university committees. The seats of power and knowledge are on budget, facilities, future planning and curriculum committees.
  5. Is your current institution a place where you want to spend the rest of your personal and professional life? A person with tenure can become frozen at an institution and community because it is very difficult to compete for faculty positions at higher levels, unless you are willing to become an administrator or to change fields.
  6. Avoid accepting a joint appointment with another department or school with very different standards for tenure and promotion. The result of joint appointments is that neither department gives the joint appointee its full support or considers them a full-fledged member. In addition, the joint appointee is often expected to perform two full-time jobs. Such appointments are often driven by budget problems and cobbled together out of necessity rather than career development. This is a serious conundrum for cell biologists with joint appointments in basic science and clinical departments, where tenure expectations are often incompatible.
  7. The adage “all politics are local” also applies to the tenure process. While e-mail and other forms of telecommunications have eased professional and social isolation, tenure and promotions decisions are made by the small circle of colleagues with whom you interact every day, not by the world outside the university. At the same time, it is very important to become part of the outside community life, and not focus solely on internal politics.
  8. Do not overlook the role of support staff in smoothing the passage to tenure. Secretaries, bookkeepers, lab personnel, maintenance and repair people can be of immense help behind the scenes. Respect their work and get your grades, budgets, proposals and purchase orders in on time and in the format required, no matter how arcane. This advice also applies to other professional personnel such as librarians and computer specialists. This is not a time to cut corners and by-pass established procedures.
  9. Try to do joint research with a well funded, tenured colleague and become a co-PI. Graduate school and postdoctoral fellowships tend to see people as narrow specialists. Now is the time to explore new areas with a knowledgeable colleague who has an established lab, funding sources and graduate students in the pipeline. In return, generously share your experience and networks. Start becoming a mentor, rather than needing a mentor yourself. One of the criteria for tenure is demonstration of intellectual growth and leadership.
  10. Especially if you cannot achieve #9 immediately, it is important to be innovative in your research. One of the worst things to do is to restrict your research

 


Identifying Scientific Careers; Maureen Brandon and Sally Amero
  11/01/1998

Do you love science, but hate what you’re doing? Perhaps you’re on the wrong career path. Many fields are available for people with science degrees at any level. However, identifying a career path outside of academia when everyone you know is an academician can be challenging.

The suggestions offered in this article on searching for a job in science are based partially on those in the book Career Renewal1, and on the authors’ personal experiences.

Identifying your skills is the first step in recognizing the field(s) that will bring you the most satisfaction. The technical skills learned in school or at a previous job are obviously important. However, most scientists also possess excellent analytical, problem solving, and computer skills. Some people also have good human relations or oral and written communication skills. When considering your abilities, it is important to keep an open mind about how scientific skills can be applied in other areas. For example, the person who is the diplomat in a large laboratory, solving the group’s interpersonal problems and facilitating collaborations, possesses excellent leadership skills which are highly valued in managerial positions. Once you have clearly defined your strengths, identify the ones you enjoy most, since a satisfying career is one that utilizes them on a regular basis.

Because of the large number of potential career choices, identifying the one or two most interesting ones usually requires a good deal of research. If no career path is immediately appealing, then the best place to start may be with assessment tests. Some examples of these include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test2, which produces individual personality profiles. The “Self-Directed Search”3, “Introduction to Type and Careers”4, and the book Do What You Are5 are designed to match skills and personality types with different occupations. In addition, there are standardized tests such as the “Life Styles Inventory”6 and the “Personal Effectiveness Inventory”7 that chart individual behavior patterns and thought processes.

Career counseling resources available on-line or in the community library are also excellent means for identifying alternative career paths. The classic What Color Is Your Parachute?8 is updated annually to provide job-hunting tactics. This book also lists reputable career counselors across the country, who will help a candidate define goals and stick to them in a job search. Especially interesting to scientists is Alternative Careers in Science9. This book contains narratives by scientists in many different fields describing their typical day, how they became interested in the field and how they apply their scientific skills to fields as diverse as investment banking and public policy. If you are considering a career change, The Doom Loop System10 is an interesting book, which outlines the predictable stages of career development and constructive ways to master the inevitable plateaus.

Once a career path has been identified, the most important, but also hardest, thing to do is establish a network. In many fields, the best jobs are filled through referrals rather than through advertisements, so networking is vital to a successful job search. In the book Career Renewal1, the authors suggest calling or writing to people in the chosen field simply to collect information about their jobs. Some questions to ask include, “what steps did you take to obtain your present position?” and “what developments do you foresee in your field in the next five years?” When an initial contact is made, ask for names of the contact person’s colleagues who can also provide information. It is important to be clear at this point that you are not asking for a job, only information. The idea is to establish a network of people who know you and will help you look for a job.

It is also important to take advantage of other opportunities for networking. For example, the ASCB Annual Meeting is an excellent venue for networking. Industrial recruiters, salespeople and exhibitors, and representatives from the National Science Foun-dation and the National Institutes of Health are in attendance and accessible. The WICB/EdComm Careers Discussion Lunch also brings together scientists from different scientific positions. Moreover, in large cities, science editors, grants administrators, technology transfer experts and others can be contacted by phone. Also particularly helpful are the recruiting staffs in the professional schools at major universities, who often are willing to meet with enthusiastic candidates to answer questions.

Preparing an attention-grabbing resume is the next step in the job searching process. A generic resume that is mass mailed to human resources departments is not likely to attract attention. Be prepared to revise your resume for each job application so that the skills and experience most relevant to that job are immediately apparent. Career Renewal1 has a particularly good chapter describing how to target a resume for a particular job announcement.

The interviewing techniques described in the October WICB column apply equally to non-academic job interviews. Briefly, these are carefully researching the company prior to the interview and preparing a list of questions designed to probe the work environment. In the business and industrial worlds, it is also important to stress how you can advance the goals of the company. One critical rule of etiquette is the practice of writing a thank you/follow up letter after the interview. This letter can also be used to reiterate your qualifications or discuss a skill that you forgot to mention during the interview. If the job is particularly appealing, then sending the letter by overnight mail may be a good idea. In many interview situations, the person who gets the job is the one who wants it most, so having your thank you letter arrive first may be the only thing that separates you from other qualified candidates.

Landing a job in any field is a combination of skill and luck. Tailoring your job search around these suggestions should put you in control of your scientific future.

—Maureen Brandon, Idaho State University and Sally Amero, the National Institutes of Health, for the Women in Cell Biology Committee.

The authors invite interested readers to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. on this topic.

References
  1. Career Renewal: Tools for Scientists and Technical Professionals. Stephen Rosen and Celia Paul, Academic Press, 1998
  2. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Introduction to Type and Careers. Isabel Briggs Myers, Revised by Linda K. Kirby and Katharine D. Myers, Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc., 3803 E. Bayshore Road, Palo Alto, California 94303
  3. Self-Directed Research, Form R 4th Edition. John L. Holland, Ph.D., Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc., P.O. Box 998, Odessa, Florida 33556; Tel: (800_ 331-TEST
  4. Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type, Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, Little, Brown and Company. ISBN: 0316845221
  5. Human Synergistics: Lifestyles Inventory, Personal Effectiveness Inventory. Center for Applied Research, Inc., 216 Campus Drive, Suite 102, Arlington Heights, IL 60004; (847)-590-0995
  6. What Color Is Your Parachute: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. Richard Nelson Bolles, Ten Speed Press
  7. Alternative Careers in Science: Leaving the Ivory Tower. Ed. Cynthia Robbins-Roth, Academic Press, 1998
  8. The Doom Loop System: A Step-by-Step Guide to Career Mastery. by Dory Hollander, Viking Press

 


The Negative Tenure Decision; Sally Amero and Maureen Brandon
  10/01/1998

It happens — some of us don’t get tenure, few of us discuss not getting it, and nobody is prepared to deal with an unfavorable outcome. Although the reasons vary with each individual, a negative tenure decision can evolve in one of two ways. First, the departmental chairperson or promotions committee may be unwilling to support the application for tenure, particularly if certain aspects are weak in comparison to other tenure packets. Second, the request may be denied by administrative officials or committees after it leaves the department. In either case, the negative decision can present a major stumbling block to your career, or a new beginning — the choice is yours. This article suggests strategies for a new beginning.

  1. Collect Information.
    The first thing a faculty member who learns of a negative tenure decision needs to do is gather reliable information and formulate a course of action. If the outcome is a surprise, explanations should be sought from the departmental chairperson, other senior faculty, and administration officials.
  2. Consider Appeal.
    An appeal with a reversed decision is possible in the year following a negative tenure decision, if the deficits are appropriately addressed. Was the candidate’s funding level comparable to those of other junior faculty? Is the publication record acceptable? Were letters of reference favorable? Do not overlook the value of informal support systems. Senior colleagues in other departments and previous mentors often have additional insight or can speak on the candidate’s behalf. Legal action should be considered only if gross injustice can be documented and if the candidate is willing to see it through.
  3. Set the Tone.
    The candidate denied tenure must function for a while in the system that terminated him or her, and it is best to actively pre-empt potential ill will. Establishing a cordial tone is critical, because this period becomes the springboard to the next, and gossip travels in the scientific community as in any other. Whether or not co-workers are listed as official contacts on job applications, assume they could be contacted. Formulate a noncommittal response to questions, and acknowledge concern and sympathy courteously. Be prepared for allegiances to shift: those who were once trusted may be aloof, while mere acquaintances may rush to “help”. Quite possibly, the candidate’s allies took a beating in his or her defense; on the other hand, misery loves company — it’s easy to become fuel for someone else’s fire.
  4. Download!
    Ironically, the candidate denied tenure is faced with even greater pressure than before the tenure decision because she or he must find a job and also maintain ongoing faculty obligations. Distrac-tions should be minimized: resign from committees, re-assign rotating students, reduce your lecture burden. If another shot at academia is the goal, then manuscript submissions and the grant proposal of a lifetime are essential. A senior lab member can be appointed as field commander; a remote location can be chosen for uninterrupted concentration, and telephone or e-mail messages can pile up temporarily.

    Each person in the candidate’s laboratory also needs an exit plan with defined time lines. New graduate students may switch to other laboratories; senior graduate students may finish ahead of schedule or follow the candidate to another institution; postdocs and technicians may seek employment elsewhere. As difficult as it is to watch a carefully constructed team disintegrate, the faculty member has a responsibility to ensure that damage to the careers of students, post-docs and staff is minimized.
  5. Seek Positive Reinforcement.
    A positive approach is essential to a successful job search, but the candidate denied tenure may well lack self-esteem. Conscious effort must be expended to find creative outlets and fortify one’s self-image. Listing transferable skills is a good place to start. A faculty member must possess excellent problem-solving skills, an ability to prioritize and reach goals, good writing and computer skills, and management experience — all highly valued in the business world. Also, now is the perfect time to resurrect those outside interests that were sacrificed for the faculty position. Join a health club or enroll in an evening class. Outside activities can be deeply rewarding and enhance self-confidence.
  6. Look Before Leaping.
    The candidate denied tenure is entitled to a terminal contract following the decision, barring extenuating circumstances such as gross unethical conduct. A quick departure may be possible if a new position awaits. However, if there was no time (or perceived need) for job searching prior to the decision, the terminal contract can provide twelve to eighteen months to find another. Some great academic positions open up in the spring and summer, but this job market typically peaks in autumn. Thus, the spring semester can be spent preparing for the upcoming application cycle.

    Every academic department has a unique character, so it is advisable to carefully research a new academic position to avoid a similar tenure situation down the road. Before responding to an advertisement, check out the department’s web site to get a sense of the faculty’s interests and activities. Then, prepare an application that highlights your special strengths and matches the needs of that department. Once an interview has been arranged, formulate a set of questions to probe the environment of the department such as: what is its goal? What kind of infrastructure is available to support teaching and/or research activities? What is the tenure success rate of junior faculty? During your visit ask each faculty member these questions and look for similar answers.

    Do not assume that a denial of tenure will be viewed unfavorably by another institution. Every institution has unique tenure requirements, and many are delighted to identify a faculty candidate with proven teaching and/or research skills.

  7. Consider Other Options.
    If academia is no longer attractive, take this time — the terminal contract year — to explore new avenues. In many respects, a negative tenure decision provides opportunities for greater professional freedom than at any other time of your career. If you allow it, the world can truly be your oyster.

Ideas and reference materials for identifying and landing a job outside of the academic arena will be discussed in the November Women in Cell Biology column.

— Sally Amero and Maureen Brandon for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

The authors invite interested readers, whether they have experienced a negative tenure decision or not, to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 


Juggling Career and Family; Mary Ann Stepp
  09/01/1998

How can a person learn to juggle family life with children, run a research team at a medical school, and teach graduate and medical students? There are ways to learn to handle it all and stay happy, but it takes acknowledging the reality of some not- so simple truths.

Truth 1: Having it all is a fantasy; having enough can be reality. Learn to accept the fact that none of the tasks will be done to the level of perfection that would be possible if there were more hours in a day or fewer responsibilities to manage.

Truth 2: Be prepared to spend all income. Managing family, a category which can include children, house, and aging parents, demands flexibility coupled with enough money to allow the purchase of good support for the family's needs. Good childcare is worth the cost and will allow parents to feel good about their time at work. When children are very young, especially if there is more than one child in the family, childcare costs can exceed one parent's income. Despite this, most scientists would never consider not working. Flexibility in child care arrangements is important since different solutions to the need for quality child care arise in response to the differing needs of the children as they grow. For example, over time, child care arrangements may evolve from a European au pair to a progressive day care center to family day care. In addition, special needs of two-career couples or of the children may dictate a particular arrangement. A child who is chronically ill with ear infections contracted in a day care setting makes it difficult for parents to work consistent hours. A live-in child care provider may be the best solution in this case.

Truth 3: Do not micromanage the family. Many women tend to believe that they have to run the house the way their mothers did: take total responsibility for raising the children and doing all the housework. That model simply does not work. Fathers deserve to play as important a role as mothers do in the lives of the children. If mothers allow this to happen, it will free up their time and build close relationships between children and dad. Take pleasure in knowing that the children and their dad can get along fine when mom has to work extra hours. Many mothers resent spending home time cleaning and cooking, rather than playing with the children and doing school projects and homework. If this is the case, hire a housekeeper (Truth 2 again), learn to be more tolerant of the messes, or both. If there isn't time to cook, order takeout or go out to eat. Homework can be started after the meal has been ordered and before the food arrives at the table.

Truth 4: While the family is young, keep the research focused on one or two central problems and advance those. Realize that laboratory expansion and publication rates will be less than those of colleagues without young children. The challenge while the children are young is to stay active and in the game. The research programs of many scientists often experience dramatic expansions after their children are grown.

Truth 5: Set limits on the number of hours spent on teaching-related activities. In collaboration with a supervisor or chairperson, determine how much time teaching responsibilities should take and stick to that budget. Teaching is often the hardest activity to compartmentalize and juggle successfully. No matter how well prepared a lecture is, there is always another paper to read or a better way to organize and present the lecture material. Also, adult students are demanding, and they require and deserve mentoring. It is hard to close the door and focus on research when actively teaching a course or mentoring a student in the lab. But, just as parents have to learn to let their children grow up, teachers have to learn to let students solve some of their own problems and identify additional resource people.

Teaching assistants and secretaries can handle some of the students' academic and personal questions; let them.

If you keep in mind these not-so-simple truths, you will be able to keep all those balls in the air and stay sane.

-- Mary Ann Stepp, George Washington University, for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

WICB Column on Tenure
The complete, unedited version of the article on tenure that was published in the June, 1998 issue of the ASCB Newsletter by Sara Tobin is available online.

Websites of Interest for Women in Cell Biology

The following websites have been recommended as potentially interesting to women in cell biology:

  • Site One - BioMedNet.com
  • Site Two - Susan Forsburg's website

 


Designing Productive Lab Meetings; Beth Burnside
  08/01/1998

Science is not only about discovery; it is about communicating discovery. Lab meetings are training grounds for both. It is here that young scientists learn about the level of rigor necessary to convince colleagues of their results, and about how to behave and communicate effectively. This is accomplished by instructing students how to evaluate and present results, receive and deliver feedback, think on their feet, and respect the procedural boundaries and ethics of the profession. Ideally they will emerge from this process confident of their skills, but respectful of science and other scientists.

The benefits of lab meetings are myriad. Presentations at lab meetings demand that each lab member step back to review accumulating data and justify their experimental plan. This process alone can produce important shifts in perspective and prioritization. The actual presentation can be even more useful depending on how skillful the lab group is at providing constructive feedback.

Effective criticism is a fine and delicate art; achieving it in lab meetings is challenging. It is crucial that every member of the lab group give honest feedback about the science and share any reservation about the validity or interpretation of data. The lab group is the "home team" who knows most about the subject. It is their job to ensure that the speaker gets a harder time at home than anywhere else. This function is critical to building confidence in a young scientist's presentation skills. Everyone in the group should give and expect to receive this kind of feedback from all other lab members. The content of the criticism should address both the science and the effectiveness of the communication.

How the feedback is given is of paramount importance. Criticism must be directed at procedural or scientific issues. The challenge for lab members is to learn how to expose the weak points in the science and experimental detail without attacking the speaker personally. Sarcasm and condescension have no place in a lab meeting. Even a little of this will cause people to become taciturn and poison the cooperative atmosphere of a laboratory, enormously reducing its effectiveness and productivity. The principal investigator and senior people in the lab group serve as role models for group meeting behavior, setting the standards not only for rigor and ethics but also for manners.

The details of lab meeting organization are variable among labs, although several concepts recur. Food is crucial. Blood sugar and creativity must surely be associated. Attendance at lab meetings by all lab members is usually mandatory (possibly also correlated to food). The time period reserved for lab meetings is generally one to two hours, but some presentations stimulate large group discussions which cause time limits to be ignored. Most lab meetings occur in conference rooms, but some groups meet in the lab. The lab setting allows the speaker to quickly retrieve additional data, demonstrate a unique piece of equipment or experimental arrangement, or view a computer image.

Most principal investigators plan some combination of regular short progress reports and less frequent formal presentations which include literature review, research strategy, and critical evaluation of results. The progress reports keep the group informed of each member's progress, and permit feedback critical to keeping the research strategy on track. Formal presentations provide an opportunity for maturing scientists to hone their speaking skills. Often the formal presentations occur in group meetings shared with another laboratory with similar interests. This permits speakers to practice within a strict time limit in front of a larger group. Some groups alternate these two types of meetings from week to week: one week with data presentation, in which each lab member uses five to fifteen minutes to briefly discuss their successes and failures, followed the next week by a journal club presentation or comprehensive research presentation by one speaker.

For progress report presentations, speakers use prepared overheads or slides to present actual data. If no experiments have been done since the last presentation, the speaker can present future plans, ideas, or hypotheses. Some principal investigators require the speakers to write a summary of the presentation and distribute it to lab members before or at the meeting. This practice stimulates the speaker to organize data for presentation, allows colleagues to consider substance in advance and generates a written record of progress. Other principal investigators require annual or biannual written progress reports, complete with literature review, research progress, discussion, and future plans.

These are reviewed by the principal investigator, revised in response to the critisicms, then collected into a laboratory notebook. These lab presentation notebooks or progress reports are important historical documents for the laboratory as well as helpful starting points for papers or theses.

Journal clubs are common adjuncts to regular research lab meetings. An analysis of a recent paper provides additional opportunity for young scientists to practice formal presentation. Journal clubs also keep the entire lab current with the relevant literature and provide an opportunity to practice critical evaluation of other scientists' observations and interpretations.

As integral features of the culture of academic science, lab meetings help train young scientists and push each laboratory toward optimal research performance. At the same time, lab meetings set the tone for each laboratory's style of doing science. An emphasis on discovery and constructive feedback in lab meetings can enhance everyone's effectiveness and productivity, and make doing science much more fun.

-Beth Burnside, University of California, Berkeley, for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

WICB Column on Tenure
The complete, unedited version of the article on tenure that was published in the June, 1998 issue of the ASCB Newsletter by Sara Tobin is available.

 


Defining Sexual Harassment; Maureen Brandon
  07/01/1998

Sexual harassment is discussed and experienced in all sectors of our society today. Yet how many people understand the legal basis of Paula Jones’ sexual harassment case against President Clinton and why it was later dismissed? This column is intended to clarify the law as it applies to sexual harassment claims and to provide a perspective for academic settings.

All states and the federal government have adopted civil rights legislation guaranteeing that persons not be treated differently because of circumstances such as race, physical disability, religion or gender.

Laws on sexual harassment were originally based on gender discrimination. There are two forms of sexual harassment. The easier to identify and avoid, but less common, form is known as quid pro quo harassment, in which someone with direct authority over the victim, conditions a benefit or discipline on his or her willingness to grant sexual

favors. These cases are most straightforward when the balance of power between the two parties is extreme, such as a student harassed by an advisor or a junior faculty member harassed by a chairperson. It is much harder to win a quid pro quo case if the aggressor is of an approximately equivalent rank. For example, a colleague may threaten to block a promotion unless the person being considered for promotion agrees to sexual involvement. Since promotion is a committee decision, it is unlikely that the colleague can effectively follow through on the threat, indicating that in this case there is a low probability of passing a direct authority test. If the colleague is on the promotions committee or is in a position to exert influence, then it is possible that a quid pro quo harassment may exist.

The majority of current sexual harassment cases are based on claims of “hostile work environment.” A hostile work environment exists when offensive words and behavior have the effect of substantially interfering with the ability to function at work. These cases are harder in all aspects to win because a hostile work environment is determined on a case- by- case basis. Although the extremes of hostile environment can be articulated, there is a large gray area which can be viewed as hostile by one person, but not another. The conditions should be clear enough that a reasonable person, regardless of gender, would recognize their impact. In addition, there should be external indicators that the environment is hostile, not just one person’s perception. If an employer takes prompt remedial measures once the situation is revealed, then the case is usually not successful in court.

Other elements required to define an environment as hostile include frequent exposure to and direction of the hostile behavior toward a particular person. For example, displays of pornographic artwork may not be sufficient to create a hostile work environment unless it is accompanied by other hostile incidents, such as unwelcome comments about the person’s body, or touching. Harassing body language is usually too subtle to be sufficient evidence in itself, although it can be used to support more concrete evidence of a hostile environment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and various states publish guidelines to help lawyers, judges and employers define a hostile work environment, but these do not have jurisdiction in the courts.

In some cases, even a single incident is enough for a legitimate sexual harassment claim. For example, a male faculty member invites a female undergraduate from his class into his office at the end of the semester, before grades are received. He solicits her for sex. The student refuses and files a sexual harassment claim. Even though the faculty member never threatens the student’s grade, in this actual case, he lost the case and his job because this one act violated his responsibility to the university and to his students.

Virtually all universities have institutional sexual harassment policies which include the basis for authority, procedures to be followed when a sexual harassment claim is filed, and the disciplinary consequences when harassment is found. These policy statements are formulated by the highest level of the institution, such as the board of governors, and tend to be explicit. When a sexual harassment claim is filed, an investigation is carried out by an institutional office charged with this authority. The investigation can take months to complete and involves interviewing faculty, students and staff who may have knowledge of the situation or the individuals involved. Typically, the investigators rule on the validity of the claim and recommend any necessary disciplinary action. Universities generally take prompt remedial action in order to protect the university work environment and avert a financially unfavorable and publicly embarrassing sexual harassment case from being tried in court.

What should you do if you feel you are being sexually harassed? The most important thing you can do is speak up early and clearly. Especially, tell the offending person which of their behaviors is unacceptable to you. If the behavior continues, then speak to your supervisor or chairperson. At this point, institutional policies should be applied.

Sexual harassment investigations have long- term ramifications. For this reason, it is important that the individuals on both sides of a case not treat sexual harassment claims frivolously. While everyone has the right to a work place free of sexual harassment, it is also very difficult for people to recover their reputation once they are accused of sexual harassment, no matter what the facts or the outcome of the case. In addition, a sexual harassment investigation can polarize a department or organization so severely that it can take years for the scars to heal.

--Maureen Brandon, Wayne State University

The assistance of Louis Lessem, Interim Vice President and General Counsel at Wayne State University, is gratefully acknowledged.


Call for Nominations
WICB Career Recognition Awards

The WICB Committee recognizes outstanding achievements in cell biology by presenting two Career Recognition Awards at the ASCB Annual Meeting. The Junior Award is given to a woman in an early stage of her career (assistant professor or equivalent) who has made exceptional scientific contributions to cell biology and exhibits the potential for continuing a high level of scientific endeavor while fostering the career development of young scientists. The Senior Award is given to a woman or man in a later career stage (full professor or equivalent) whose outstanding scientific achievements are coupled with a long-standing record of support for women in science and by mentorship of both men and women in scientific careers.

To submit a nomination for a 1998 Career Recognition Award, send the nominee’s cur-riculum vitae and a minimum of one letter of recommendation to Trina Armstrong at the ASCB National Office: 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814; E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Nominations must be received by August 3.

 

Past recipients of the WICB Career Recognition Awards:
Year Senior Award Junior Award
1997 Elaine Fuchs Lorraine Pillus
1996 Sarah Elgin Susan Forsburg
1995 Virginia Zakian Trina Schroer
1994 Ann Hubbard Julie Theriot
1993 Mina Bissell Cory Abate
1992 Helen Blau Kathy Foltz
1991 Hynda Kleinman Alison Adams
Elizath Taparowsky
1990 Dorothea Wilson
Rosemary Simpson
Sandra Schmid
1989 Dorothy Bainton Jeanne Lawrence
1988 No Awardees Selected
1987 Dorothy M. Skinner Vassie Ware
1986 Mary Clutter Mary Beckerle

 

 


Earning Tenure: Ten Recommendations; Sara L. (Sally) Tobin
  06/01/1998

Tenure has been called, "just a poorly administered personnel policy." Nevertheless, it is a pivotal evaluation in the career of an academic scientist. Tenure can be recognition of achievement that emerges easily from one's scientific successes, or it can be energy-draining, stressful and full of conflicts. Many factors influence the process, some of which the candidate can anticipate in advance; others may emerge unexpectedly but are no less important. On the basis of a broad sampling of tenure histories, ten suggestions are offered to smooth the path of a candidate through the process. Ideally, preparation for tenure begins before arrival on campus.

  1. Find out what the tenure requirements are and plan to meet them.
    After the happy phone call offering you the position, you will receive a letter of appointment from the Dean or other officer. It will specify the terms of appointment, including the year in which you will be considered for tenure. For a typical initial academic appointment, it is probably best to have that time be as long as possible; if work has gone especially well, the timeline can be moved forward. Write a formal response, summarizing the conditions under which the offer is accepted, such as salary, teaching obligations, start-up funds and laboratory renovations with the target date for completion. The tenure clock does not stop if the maintenance crew is delayed by emergency remodeling of the Provost's conference room.

    Request a copy of the faculty manual at this time because it will specify the general requirements, the timing of the process and the potential for flexibility in the tenure clock to accommodate parenthood or family emergencies. In addition to the general procedures outlined in the faculty manual, the department, school and/or college may have additional written tenure policies.

  2. Create a record of productivity long before tenure.
    Write grant applications before you move to the new institution so that they will be in review during the disruption of establishing the new laboratory. Design some "bread-and-butter"approaches that are sure to yield publishable results and will document your ability to complete scientific projects successfully. Do not abandon your scientific standards, but it will not hurt to carry out some lower risk projects also, perhaps with the help of undergraduate students. If all of your projects are high-risk, your chances of obtaining tenure are high-risk. Be aware that even if you are able to pull off a highly significant scientific coup, you will still be vulnerable to the accusation of uneven performance that many tenure committees view disfavorably.
  3. Gain the support of your department chair.
    The support of your chair may be the single most important factor in ensuring a smooth transition through the tenure process. The chair almost always makes a separate tenure recommendation to the school and college and, because he or she is presumed to be familiar with your performance, this evaluation carries significant weight within the department and at higher administrative levels. The chair who hired you often has a stake in promoting your success and values your area of expertise. However, in an unstable department, sometimes there is a transition in chairs before you are considered for tenure. A new chair often has a different vision of the department from that of his or her predecessor, and the prospect of an additional faculty position to be filled with someone in a favorite specialty area can be tempting. Educate your chair and department about your field by inviting well-known scientists for seminars. In some departments, the question of tenure is not presented for a full departmental vote. Instead, a committee (appointed by the chair or elected by the department) makes a recommendation. This can mean that your file is not open to the full department which can work to your disadvantage if your chair is not supportive.

    The moral: make your chair's life easy. Make progress with your science, teach well, do your fair share of work and let your chair know of your successes.

  4. Maintain cordial relationships within your department.
    Ideally, your position will be in a cohesive and pleasant department that will make it easy for you to concentrate on your science while participating in departmental goals. However, this is not always the case and, if schisms develop, you may be pressured to choose sides. Such a no-win situation can be a big problem for support at tenure time whether or not you tactfully avoid allying yourself with a particular party. One assay for such schisms (devised by Betty Craig of the University of Wisconsin) is, when you interview, ask each individual faculty member, "where do you see this department going in the next 5-10 years?"
  5. Recruit mentors.
    Much has been written about the importance of mentors in ensuring a successful career path, especially for members of under-represented minority groups and women. You will need guides to the unfamiliar territory represented by your new position and institution. Some institutions assign mentors because they want their young faculty to do well. Even if you are in such an enlightened atmosphere, recruit other campus mentors so that you have access to a variety of advice. Take them to lunch. Chat. It is a compliment to them that you value their expertise, but be considerate of the other demands on their time. Recruit external mentors in your field of research and draw on their perspectives and experience.
  6. Get to know others on campus.
    You should severely limit participation in campus committees and concentrate on your experiments, but a few selected activities may be helpful because they permit you to get to know people in other departments. Such connections can expand your networking capabilities, enhance the identification of mentors, provide support at tenure time and fulfull the modest consideration of service that is included in a tenure evaluation. Women and minorities need to be especially careful about overload because they will be highly visible and in demand for committee service and often feel a special responsibility to assume a role in shaping institutional policy. Ask your mentors for advice in optimizing choices that will allow you to make a meaningful contribution without jeopardizing the research and teaching activities that are key to your achievement of tenure.
  7. Know the procedures for tenure at your institution.
    Who assembles your file? Do you get to see it? Do you have the opportunity to respond to the evaluation of your file by your chair or departmental committee? Are you requested to be available for information at the time your file is discussed? Who compiles the list from whom letters of recommendation will be requested? Who chooses which ones get included in your dossier? Is there a departmental committee that evaluates your credentials and, if so, is there a mechanism to ensure the accuracy of the information they are given? Confirm verbal understandings in writing. Are you notified as your tenure application is acted upon at each successive administrative level?
  8. Ask for supportive letters.
    As a tenure candidate, you will usually be invited to contribute names of leading scientists in your field who will be able to place your scientific work in context and evaluate its quality. If it is permitted, you should contact these eminent scientists and ask whether they would be willing to write a letter of evaluation in the necessary time frame. Ideally, you are already acquainted with them and they admire your work. Letters about your teaching and service may also be requested from local faculty. This is a chance to draw on your mentors. If you have doubts, it is not inappropriate to ask whether the person feels they can write you a strong letter. Be sure that they are told whether or not their letter will be confidential, and make certain that they will be sent copies of all your papers and manuscripts.
  9. Assemble complete documentation.
    When you walk into your office as a brand-new faculty member, your first official act should be to grab a file folder, label it "Tenure"and put it in the file drawer of your desk (not that filing cabinet across the room). EVERY time you give a talk at the local high school, organize a meeting, serve on a committee or receive an award, make a note on a scrap of paper and throw it into the file. Otherwise, you will never remember the many contributions you have made when you are under pressure to assemble your tenure file five years later. Be aware of your own tendency to be self-effacing. This is the time to highlight your achievements. Include documentation of your papers' citations and a summary of scientific achievements.
  10. Don't be afraid to fight.
    If something goes wrong and you feel that you are not being evaluated equitably, use the institutional appeal processes available to you, as outlined in the faculty manual. Let others in the department know what is going on and you may be surprised at the help and support that you receive. It may also be appropriate to seek legal advice or to apply for positions elsewhere. If the available administrative remedies do not resolve the issue (this may take 1-2 years), you will need to think long and hard about whether to engage in the stress and expense of a protracted legal battle which will affect your family and your science regardless of the outcome.

Tenure is a form of acceptance of one's professional merit and is an important landmark in the life of an academic scientist. It makes sense to prepare for the process so that it will run smoothly and provide a fair evaluation of the successes you have worked so hard to achieve.

-Sara L. (Sally) Tobin, Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics, for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

 


Couples in Cell Biology; Caroline Kane
  05/01/1998

In this article, the authors, who are members of the ASCB Women in Cell Biology Committee, summarize the issues raised by panel and audience members from the WICB panel presentation on this topic at the December 1997 ASCB Annual Meeting. Readers are urged to use this column as a stimulus and framework and to write to the authors about ways to address these problems. Future columns may follow based on response.

A growing number of professional couples pepper the scientific landscape where one or both partners are developing a career based on scientific training. When at least one of the scientists is a woman, there are added pressures on the relationship. Many of the situations that confront couples in cell biology are not unique to scientists, but are shared by couples in any two professional-career relationship in institutions still adjusting to professional women in the workforce. While the couple may be comfortable with geographic decisions, with child-rearing decisions, with time-management decisions, and with financial decisions, the institution may be worrying about the "two body" problem or the consequences of only one getting tenure, if the career advancement of one requires a move across country, or similar complications.

An alternative to finding two positions in one location is finding two separate positions wherever they may be and setting up a long distance commuting relationship2. Modern communication methods may make this type of cross-country or cross-continent solution to the job search more manageable than 10 or 20 years ago. However, this solution may tax each partner emotionally, and conflict with the time commitment expected of a professional scientist.

Scientists no longer limit themselves to an "academic" career but develop careers in a variety of areas including journalism, government, regulatory agencies, law, business, research, teaching, consulting, editing, environmental work, design & drafting and informatics. However, in all of these professions, long hours and intense working relationships are not only necessary from start to finish but they are also desirable: curiosity and the passion for one's work drives these professions, just as they do bench science.

When only one partner in the couple is in science, communication about what drives this passion and about the time and mental commitment required is essential but can be difficult. For example, the excitement of discovery in the research laboratory may seem opaque to a partner who observes the 12-hour days but is not involved in what happens in those hours. The intense relationships with one's collaborators or junior colleagues can generate anxiety or even jealousy for the partner who is "left out." When both partners are in science and in the throes of professional careers, there are compromises that arise from sharing responsibility for the practical aspects of living as well as determining when and whose scientific priorities need take center stage at different times. If both partners are in research science, there may be issues over the prominence of one partner vs. another or the funding of one partner vs. another.

These problems are accentuated when couples have positions in the same institution or company. If one partner in the couple becomes a Director or Chair with formal oversight over the other partner, then there is the real problem of avoiding making decisions about the other Ð a problem which may be ameliorated by enlisting ad hoc committees to participate in evaluation. To avoid the possibility of nepotism, companies and non-commercial institutions avoid hiring a couple into the same administrative structure. In the past, nepotism rules were used to actively discriminate against scientist wives of scientist husbands, the latter of which were traditionally given the positions. If the couple collaborates scientifically, defined credit for each individual's independent thinking is essential when the collaborative work is used for evaluation of each individual. In addition, the direction of the science or the time for publication or the route for publication need to be discussed because what may seem uncontroversial to one person may be viewed entirely differently by the other. As in any relationship, professional disagreement can strain personal interactions.

In all of the above discussion, "partners in the couple" has been the phraseology. If the partners are unmarried, there are some additional pressures and expectations that arise from fellow professionals or from managerial or administrative personnel. There can be expectations about establishing a legal commitment ("when are you going to get married?"), or unwarranted questions about relationship stability, that can impinge upon the couple and upon the ability to keep the attention focused on career success. If the partners are gay or lesbian, the complexities increase again for advancement and overall collegiality. Further, issues such as domestic partner benefits may impact recruitment. Also, depending upon the community, professional success may not be the primary consideration in promotions or advancement for a partner in an unmarried couple, straight or gay.

And then there are children. If a woman is in a scientific profession, when she and her partner choose to have children is certainly influenced by attitudes toward pregnancy, maternity, and childrearing in the department or the institution. An institution's interest in the professional success of the mother, and the father, if in the same institution, is indicated by availability of parental leave, and extending "clocks" for promotion consideration. Inevitably, problems with juggling responsibilities arise. For example, "planning" for the unexpected when there are deadlines and responsibilities is difficult when the child is sick. Travelling to meetings and other professional scientific commitments may need to be curtailed or completely put on hold for a time. There is certain to be a reduction in ability to serve on committees, or panels, or take on some of the additional responsibilities that can be critical to timely advancement in many professions. When the woman is a single parent, the issues become even more dramatic. Balancing a professional career with the rewards of raising children is not easy, but as more women enter science, establishing a balance is becoming more common. As more women enter leadership positions in their scientific careers, the understanding of and meeting the needs of the professional parent is becoming more acceptable.

In the recent past, models of scientific professional success have been patterned upon the traditional nuclear family, with the intense scientific husband at work, and the wife at home taking care of all the issues involved in life management and childraising. Those women were and still are professionals themselves, whose partners' successes have been absolutely dependent on the wives' skillful abilities to insulate their partners so that full attentions could be directed toward the science. Some women scientists at the same time were making major contributions (while parenting, or not, depending upon their choice or circumstance), and couples in cell biology then, although much less common than today, encountered many of the issues described above. Two-career professional couples are no longer a surprise in the sciences, and both men and women benefit as a result of attention focused on issues relevant to the success of a personal relationship along with the success of the career.

- This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

 


Sharing a Research Position; Yolanda P. Cruz
  04/01/1998

The oversupply of PhD degree holders generates a special problem for couples who intend to pursue individual careers. For these couples, a common trajectory has been to seek positions in geographically proximate areas so that a semblance of a joint household, and even a family, becomes attainable. Depending on the similarity between the research areas represented by a couple, this arrangement is typically set in a large metropolitan area in which employment opportunities in academia, hospitals, and research labs (public or private) are most abundant. An option, however, is for academic couples whose research and teaching areas are identical or sufficiently similar to consider sharing a position.

Shared positions have several advantages. The sharers have a built-in colleague wherever they are located. Sharers do not, by definition, have full-time appointments, but this can provide the opportunity to develop one s career more creatively. For instance, sharers have more flexibility for personal or family time, which is typically in short supply for full-time employees. Sharers can also, of course, fill their extra time with a research project funded by external sources, or another sort of career altogether.

Shared positions have disadvantages, too. Since there is only one position, there is also only one paycheck, and sometimes a reduction in benefits (health and retirement) because of the less-than-full-time status. Persons in shared and therefore part-time positions may be treated differently by their institution and colleagues. For instance, they may be asked to take on more than their share of responsibilities that cannot be easily scaled to half-time, such as student advising and committee service. A sharer also risks being perceived as a filler-in for the other. For instance, during sick or maternity leave, do the sharers remain jointly responsible for performing the duties of their shared position? In the same vein, are sharers expected to occupy the same one-person spaces, if spaces for laboratories and offices are allocated on a per-full-time-equivalent basis? Promotion and evaluation can also be tricky: are sharers to be evaluated jointly or singly? Are they to be hired as separate individuals or as a pair?

Then there are the potentially incendiary and always awkward questions: what happens if the sharers divorce, or if one of them resigns, retires, or dies? There are even political considerations: in voting on departmental issues, do sharers get a half or a full vote?

Many of these complications are due to the novelty of job-sharing, and are not in themselves insoluble. Crafting academic positions to accommodate sharers is rare but not unheard-of. Institutions with small academic programs, for instance, benefit from sharers who may consent to taking on full student advising and research training loads, for the obvious reason that advising and research operate on schedules not concordant with half-time commitments. Moreover, an isolated institution can improve its attraction and retention of faculty by accommodating sharers who are individually desirable but cannot each be employed full-time.

The key to successful job-sharing, for both employer and employee, is the flexibility to address the novel issues that arise from it.

Sharing positions is an improvement over accommodating spouses, the modus operandi a generation ago in academic institutions faced with a two-career couple, whereby it was almost always the wife who accepted a subordinate position, as technician or senior researcher attached to the husband's position. While this has the benefit of producing two paychecks instead of one, it also has the effect of eliminating the option of a serious academic career for a spouse who may have wanted and been qualified for one.

There is a cartoon circulated widely in science labs, depicting two white-coated bench scientists conversing amid a sea of similarly clothed colleagues, busily peering into microscopes, deriving equations, pouring liquids into flasks, and so on. One of the scientists observes of the crowd, this must be because 99% of all scientists that ever lived are alive today!

In these days of fewer jobs, more PhDs, and no mandatory retirement, it is wise to investigate options for starting or maintaining a career. Shared positions may be one of those options.

Yolanda P. Cruz for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

 


Research at a Small Institution: Not as Different as You Think; Dianna Bourke
  03/01/1998

What do you mean research at a small institution? Isn t that an oxymoron? They only teach at small schools, don t they? Rest assured you won t be the only one asking these questions. But a research career at a small institution can become a career alternative that isn t really, well... all that alternative.

Why Choose a Smaller Institution?
What would possess someone who had spent a decade in training to actively choose to work at a smaller institution? The general consensus of the small institution faculty contacted for this article cite these critical factors: 1) they enjoy teaching; 2) they like the job security and the fact that their salaries are derived from 100% hard money, and/or 3) they prefer the reduced pressure to publish at smaller institutions, but rejoice in the opportunity to maintain a research program.

The faculty contacted for this article considered their teaching ability a strength and couldn t imagine not having daily student contact. They also felt that teaching was taken more seriously at smaller institutions and rewarded more appropriately. I get jazzed from teaching says Yolanda Cruz of Oberlin College and ASCB WICB Committee member. When I was looking for a job, I applied to several different kinds of institutions because I wasn t quite sure what I wanted to do. Cruz received several job offers including one from the NIH. During my interview at the NIH I was assured that if I took this job, I would never have to teach again, as though this were a great perk. This really upset me because I like to teach! Elisa Konieczko, a newly-appointed Assistant Professor at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, indicated that, although I was happy doing research as a postdoc at Yale, it became very clear to me that only doing research would not be enough. I had to get back to teaching.

Job stability was often cited as an attraction to smaller schools. This is based on the assumption that it is easier to get tenure at a smaller place because of decreased publishing demands. Though tenure is beginning to be more of a moving target in some cases, this is often the case. Cruz recalls that when I asked in the NIH interview what would happen after the initial six-year appointment, I was given the vague answer that hopefully another position would open up. I didn t really want to be searching for a new job at the age of 41. Kathryn Loesser-Casey of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, had other concerns: when I was looking for a job, my husband said, I will follow you wherever you choose, but plan to make it permanent because that will be where I set up my medical practice. All the faculty interviewed agreed that not having to derive any of their salary from grant monies was an attraction. Limited travel support from the institution for scholarly endeavors was even included in some recruitment offers.

Research at a Smaller Institution
What about research at smaller schools? Faculty agreed that research publishing requirements for tenure and promotion at their institutions are considerably more modest in numbers of papers than in the schools where they had trained. But all cautioned that quality of work was still an important issue in tenure review. After having witnessed the daily routine of their advisors and colleagues, most indicated that they had actively chosen a place where research occurred at a different pace. At the same time they accepted that effective research in a small school environment can be a challenge. It is critical to keep in mind the main focus of your school to avoid frustration when, for example, students don t work as intensely as university graduate students or when the school refuses to buy equipment.

Support
An increasing number of small institutions are beginning to set aside realistic funds to support space, equipment and faculty-release time. While this transition is positive, it also ironically increases pressure to meet newly intensified research requirements on the most junior faculty members. Echoing concerns typical at research-intensive institutions, some indicate that this is resulting in unrealistic tenure expectations.

The level of support for such things as facilities, equipment and money for consumables varies widely from school to school. The more exclusive liberal arts colleges have more money. It s the cash-strapped privates and the old teachers colleges or branch campuses that have these sorts of [funding] issues, observes Deborah Cook of Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. Of the faculty polled, start-up funds were reported from high four-figure amounts to a comparatively generous $50,000. Continuing funds are often obtained by intramural competitive proposals for small amounts of $1,000 to as much as the low five figures. Clearly, very little in the way of equipment can be bought for such amounts while still allowing anything left over for experiments, so obtaining equipment is often left as a complicated dance with administration. When I first arrived, my Director of Academic Affairs was a historian, and the figures I quoted for laboratory equipment boggled his mind. Faculty at smaller institutions are caught in a frustrating cycle when competing for external support: reviewers often respond to such requests by indicating that the item should be provided by one s institution. But the institution depends on me to get my equipment by writing grants! , notes Cynthia Galloway of Texas A&M s Kingsville campus. Fortunately, more grants for smaller institutions are being offered both by the NIH and the NSF. An old standby for obtaining equipment is to write a grant for educational purposes and use it during non-class time for your research.

Personnel
If you like hands-on science, small colleges may be the perfect opportunity because usually there is no one else around to do the work. Unless you manage to get a major grant with money for a technician, the most consistent workforce for the lab is undergraduate students. Some places may have master s degree programs, but the majority do not. You need to pick [undergraduates] out early and grow them up, half-jokes Cruz. Of course it takes a lot of time to train and supervise undergraduates; often just when they become productive, they move on. Many institutions have student stipends to support research during the school year or over the summer. A consistent comment was that research must be divided into small, discrete, do-able units that the students can handle within the school calendar. Despite the difficulties, working with undergraduates can prove invigorating.

Isolation and Alienation
So when are you going to get a real job? You aren t planning on staying there, are you? These questions are familiar to small-school faculty. How does the ego handle the perception by some colleagues that taking a job at a small institution is opting out of science, failing, or even worse? The answer is sometimes not very well, but it is hoped that this perception will soon change. Several faculty interviewed expressed feelings not of alienation from their research colleagues, but more of isolation and feeling left out of mainstream research. They fear that they will be perceived as doing minor league science.

A few years ago at a Keystone Symposium I found myself standing in the middle of a sea of posters where all kinds of interesting experiments were being presented, but I had no poster of my own. I had the most profound feeling that I would never be able to do this kind of work again. I had to flee to my hotel room to have a good cry. Donald Kimmel of Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, who made the transition from Brown to Davidson in 1971, commented, I had to change my research completely when I came to Davidson, to adjust to what was available and to what the students could do.

Lack of name recognition can also lead to a feeling of isolation. At a national meeting, after a quick look at my badge, the first question that I am usually asked is, Hazleton, where is that? I have developed a sense of humor and learned to carry a map. Karen Lee from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown is frequently asked, is that where they had the flood? I get sympathy, she comments, but that is not what I am after. Most colleagues are respectful, but it is awful to see the dreaded tell-tale glaze of disinterest in their eyes.

A problem that many scientists face is discipline isolation. In a four-person department, one colleague might be a marine biologist, one an environmental biologist, another an invertebrate physiologist and another a biomedically-oriented cell biologist. You just have to make your own rules, notes Cruz. A mentor may not be as near as the next office, but as near as the Internet instead.

Many departments have never dealt with bench-type cell biologists before and all are having to make adjustments. Many of the older faculty at smaller schools were field biologists who gathered their data in the summer and crunched it for the rest of the year. This is assuming they did any research at all; many did not. This dichotomy may inevitably lead to tension between modern and traditional scientists in the same department.

Finding a New Collegiality
How does one make research in a small school work? Adapt to your environment, find a way to change what must be changed, compromise where possible, ask for help, have extreme patience... and win the lottery. Asking for help is possibly the most critical advice, but it is often the most difficult thing to do. Reviving old research ties can open doors ranging from full-scale collaborations to simply borrowing equipment. Try to make new contacts with people you admire. Sometimes it is difficult not to feel like a poor relation at a holiday dinner, but pride will get you nowhere. It is surprising how receptive people can be to ideas as long as you know your science and pull your weight. A good scientist shouldn t care where you work as long as your work is creative and good.

The emergence of highly trained cell biologists with extensive training who have established their research careers at smaller schools is creating a new breed of cell biologist, with needs and concerns that are different from their peers at research-intensive universities or from those at schools that require no research at all. A note to university-based investigators: ads for jobs at smaller institutions outnumber those at high profile institutions by a considerable margin, so treat this new breed of scientists with the respect they deserve. They are coming out of your labs!

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., WICB Committee Member and Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, Hazleton

 


Taking Full Advantage of Scientific Meetings: Enhancing Personal and Professional Skills; Sally Amero, Caroline M. Kane, Mary Ann Stepp, Sue Wick
01/01/1998

The ASCB Annual Meeting allows members to share the latest scientific results and debate the newest hypotheses, both of which are primary reasons for attending scientific meetings. In addition, at ASCB and other large meetings, companies display their wares to allow attendees to learn about the myriad types of equipment and supplies that are available to assist in developing experimental approaches rapidly. Many cell biologists also attend these meetings to expand personal horizons, meet new people, make new contacts, set up new collaborations, and share experiences on scientific and career development.

Common interests and concerns draw attendees to the scientific sessions. The ASCB also makes certain that there are relevant non-research sessions where the audiences are small and approachable, and where the subject matter is important for personal development as well as for career development and addressing issues important for the Society as a whole. Taking advantage of these sessions provides an excellent opportunity to explore personal issues. WICB Committee members agreed to report on some of these policy and career sessions where issues were addressed that had special relevance for professional women at all stages of career development. It comes as no surprise that most of these issues are also important concerns for men in cell biology.

The survey to evaluate the status of the field of cell biology and how ASCB members are progressing toward career goals conducted by the Education Committee was reported by Committee Chair Frank Solomon and ASCB Executive Director Elizabeth Marincola. The data are extensive: 65% of over 3600 randomly-selected ASCB members returned questionnaires. Members at all stages of their careers responded, which will allow the Education Committee and the Society to make substantive, data-based observations about training pathways, time to degrees, employment and satisfaction, funding opportunities for those in research careers, and other career-based issues relevant to individuals and to the Society as it works to serve its membership. I was particularly impressed that among those who received their doctorate before 1970, 20% are women, but 50% of those who received their PhDs in the 1990s are women. The meeting closed after two hours of public discussion with additional discussions continuing in doorways and halls. Many new introductions were made as Society members found the implications of the survey's results relevant to themselves, persons they knew, or their own trainees.

Nearly 350 people took part in the Careers Options and Issues lunch sponsored by the Women in Cell Biology and Education Committees. The event began with presentation of the WICB Junior and Senior Career Recognition Awards to Lorraine Pillus and Elaine Fuchs, respectively. As befitting the setting of the lunch, the contributions made by both awardees to the mentoring of younger scientists were emphasized. The majority of the lunch time was devoted to discussion of career choices and issues, with participants seated at tables with others of similar interests and guided by one or two table leaders with expertise in the area.

Clearly students and postdocs are exploring other options besides that of university teaching and research, traditionally the topic that has garnered the largest amount of interest: this year the industry/biotech option had the largest number of participants, with a strong following also for teaching in primarily undergraduate institutions. Among the issues that were most popular, obtaining a good postdoc position led the field. An expanded feature for the lunch this year was the increased emphasis on networking. Each participant received a copy of the names, addresses and e-mail addresses of all the participants who had registered in the same discussion topic, to help further contact and communication throughout the year.

One of the major career issues that concerns women is balancing a challenging career with that of her partner, and balancing both when the couple chooses to have children. This topic too was addressed in an evening session, "Couples in Cell Biology," sponsored by the Women in Cell Biology Committee. Three couples on the panel fielded questions from the audience in a wide-ranging, honest and blunt discussion that covered the delights and the compromises in the personal relationship, in the two-career job search, in scientific collaboration, in being taken seriously in the face of children's needs, in sharing parenting, and a variety of other issues. A full WICB column will be devoted to Two-Career Couples later this spring, but many of the men and women in attendance clearly identified with many issues and were sometimes surprised at the responses of the panelists. The issues touched on places that many scientists share, but that are seldom discussed in public. Common interests were exposed that are not directly scientific but that impact the ability to be a professional using one's science.

Gender issues played a prominent role in the management workshop "What They Never Taught You in Graduate School: Leadership Skills for Scientists", which was conducted for the second year by Carl Cohen and Alice Sapienza. Prior to the workshop, participants were mailed a set of hypothetical scenarios involving conflicts in the workplace and asked to compute their individual style of conflict resolution. Nearly all participants were surprised to discover their heavy reliance on ineffective strategies of conflict resolution, such as avoidance or forcing, as opposed to more effective strategies, such as problem solving or negotiation. At the workshop, participants were divided into man/woman dyads for the purpose of role-playing. In one lively exercise, each woman in a dyad was asked to role-play as a departmental chair denying a request from a male assistant professor for additional space in the department. Resolutions of this conflict ranged from delegation of the problem to the Space Committee, to an assignment of space in the basement--yet none of the participants felt that gender was a significant factor in this negotiation (although many women felt empowered by the exercise).

Another role-playing exercise focused on resolving a dispute between two postdoctoral fellows over authorship on a ÒCover of CellÓ article; in this instance, seniority--rather than gender--seemed the more important issue. Discussion then ensued about gender-related issues, producing several interesting themes: 1) gender issues are less relevant to younger scientists than to more established scientists, but some young women feel strongly compromised by the "Old Boys Network", 2) crying in a negotiation or conflict resolution is not a gender-specific tactic but is nearly always ineffective, and 3) in a negotiation where gender bias may emerge, adherence to issues at hand, rather than digression into a personal attack, is important.

Why would the American Society for Cell Biology support numerous sessions that some might consider distractions from the business at hand, the scientific frontiers? The Society and its participant committees recognize that good science results when scientists can accommodate issues outside the lab or the office. In addition, it is in smaller venues within the larger meetings that important personal realizations sometimes occur. Often the smaller venues allow the introduction of information or experiences from others that provide opportunities for personal growth. Taking best advantage of professional meetings includes learning much more than the latest scientific excitement. Attention to the variety of other arenas at these meetings can enrich not only one's science, but also one's ability to conduct that science in the manner best suited to one's interests and lifestyle.

Contributors to this article from the Women in Cell Biology Committee include:

  • Sally Amero, Loyola University Medical Center
  • Caroline M. Kane, University of California at Berkeley
  • Mary Ann Stepp, George Washington University
  • Sue Wick, University of Minnesota

The Women in Cell Biology Committee seeks a volunteer editor for the widely-acclaimed WICB column that appears monthly in the ASCB Newsletter. This is an excellent way to use a cell biology background if you are interested in editing as a career. The WICB column editor is a member of the WICB Committee. The job largely requires the recruitment of articles for each monthly issue.

For additional information, contact WICB Chair Zena Werb, Newsletter Editor Elizabeth Marincola (301) 530-7153 or Committee Coordinator Dot Doyle (301) 530-7153.

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