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Women in Cell Biology

A Month to the 2008 ASCB Meeting and Other Comments

I'm not sure how many visitors to this page will be attending the meeting next month in SF. WICB has an excellent program planned for members, so do make it a point to check it out. 

On a separate note, if you have tried to post here and have had problems, please e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. directly and we can try to sort them out. Also, if you feel you have something to say, but are wary about posting it here, e-mail me the thread and if appropriate, I can try to initiate a discussion here without any reference to you. This will safeguard your identity and perhaps bring to light important issues. I say this because I have received a specific comment from a reader, indicating that she would like to make a post but is concerned about how it will affect her job prospects down the road.

So please do not hesitate to send me any suggestions in terms of topics for discussion here. It is clear, from what you all can see, that most posts are getting a number of hits. This means we have readers!

More from the Breakfast Notes

She presented a couple of neat studies where women and men negotiated for themselves or for someone else. Turns out women negotiate better for others - much better! Check this url for some interesting statistics: http://www.womendontask.com/stats.html.

So why is it that women don't negotiate for themselves? Linda provides a host of reasons for that, and while she does place a caveat that her sampling was only in the west, I am confident that the findings will hold good most socio-cultural settings. Incidentally, her studies, not surprisingly revealed that women who negotiate are viewed as aggressive and perceived negatively - which may well be one reason why women are diffident when considering negotiating.

Towards the end of her talk she discussed strategies for negotiating, which I understand she has covered in depth in her second book - Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Briefly though, she suggests some obvious and not so obvious points. A key point was attitude/emotion when going in to a negotiation: since attitudes are contagious, go in with a positive one. Most importantly, since women are socialized into being good negotiators for others, and if you are more comfortable negotiating for someone else rather than yourself, pretend you are doing this for someone else! She had a neat slide where she said you should do a six week run at the "negotiation gym". Start easy and step it up until you start hearing a "no" - if you don't hear a no it means you aren't asking for enough! Fear of hearing a no is what stops us from asking. In fact if you hear a no, she recommends rather than walking away, ask why the answer is a no. Oh and the negotiation gym trick - well, practice it in situations outside the one you are really working towards!


Notes from a Breakfast with Linda Babcock

Author of "Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide."

Linda started the talk with telling us how she got involved in this area in the first place. A few female grad. students had complained to her the their male peers got all the plum teaching assignments - teaching classes, as opposed to being TAs. After some investigation, she learnt that the male students had gone out and requested the concerned faculty powers that they would like to teach a class rather than be TAs as that would help their prospects when job-hunting. When she told the women students this finding, their response was that they would have asked too had they known that was an option! I am fairly certain this will resonate with many readers! She gave some other examples from studies she had conducted and said that in the final analysis, small disparities in early stages of ones career simply get magnified ("molehills turn into mountains" was one of the slide titles!), so that by the time you retire the reduced income can be staggering. Consequently, the negotiations for your first job are often pivotal in everything downstream!

She also talked about the difference in negotiation approaches and styles and considered the reasons for them. Her demographic for her studies thus far has been the West, in order to reduce cultural variables.

I will update this later.

Potential or is dU=delQ-delW all that we will see?

With the US presidential election behind us, one hears people saying they can now focus on "stuff" that had been neglected for months on end. I don't think that is possible, even if the time interval between said neglect and promised focus is very small. I am not trying to get into any philosophical or existentialist discussions here at all. The change that has been the promise of Obama's campaign is something one is waiting for with bated breath. What change are we going to see in science funding? Are we going to see more women in decision making positions? Is the salary gap between women and men going to be a faint memory? Are we going to see extraordinary women who are stuck in the super-postdoc trenches being given their due? But before we move to that realm of discussion, I think it is important to take a moment to think about what change actually means in the context of this most recent ballot process. If the US voter was being more open to change as demonstrated by the election outcome, how is it that one of the most liberal states, California, ended up banning same sex marriages? It does not compute, does it? It tells us that bigotry is rife. That it is breathing easily even as Obama swept the polls. Which makes one want to look at all this even more closely - ratio of popular votes (which is basically every vote cast, and therefore opinion, being counted) Obama:McCain::1.1:1; ratio of electoral votes 2.2:1. So what does that indicate? Hmmm...? You could interpret the popular vote data and say well, change is just infintesimal. And how will that affect the addressing of gender related issues mentioned above?

Choice - of Words

Over the years, I have noticed that more often than not, people use the word "aggressive" when in fact they mean "assertive" when talking about a woman who is confident and has her wits about her. I think it is important to point this out to "labellers" because the two words indeed convey very different qualities (see below). I have encountered many young women who tend to use these words interchangeably, and it is only when the difference is pointed out that they realise the subtext of what they are saying. While this may seem trivial, I believe it contributes to how women are viewed in the workplace - particularly women who might be in decision-making positions: I think everyone has a story or knows of a situation where a confident and decisive woman is viewed as being aggressive and even hostile; while a man who is confident and decisive is considered capable, qualified, "on the ball", competent etc. Here are the words defined at the Oxford Reference site - links to the site are provided:

Assertive (adj) : having or showing a confident and forceful personality: the job may call for assertive behaviour.

Aggressive (adj): ready or likely to attack or confront; characterized by or resulting from aggression: he's very uncooperative and aggressive. • behaving or done in a determined and forceful way: we needed more growth to pursue our aggressive acquisition strategy.

Moles and Moles of Well....Molecules

Did you know that today is observed as Mole Day in the US and Canada? No, no, not a member of the Talpidae family, but the good old fashioned mole of molecular fame! Back in 1991, the National Mole Day Foundation was founded- my link is to the wiki for this, since sadly, on this Mole Day, the link to their site is down. So, in keeping with the Mole theme, here are some silly mole jokes to brighten an otherwise dreary day!

Q: What happens when you take 6.023 X10^23 molecules of sugar and squish them?
A: You get moleasses!
Q: Why was there only one Avogadro?

A: When they made him, they broke the Moled
Q: What did Avogadro teach his students in maths?
A: Moletiplication
Q: What kind of fruit did Avogadro eat in the summer?
A: Watermolens
Q: How much does Avogadro exaggerate?
A: He makes mountains out of mole hills
Q: What did Avogadro get when he made an intoxicating blend of chocolate, chiles, garlic, onions and nuts?
A: The best mole that side of Mexico.
Q: What are 6.023 X10^23 bivalves called?
A: Mole-luscs