They shared a wealth of experience with the audience over an hour and a half session. Today I wanted to share eight quotes from the session that I found to be particularly interesting, surprising, funny, and informative.
1. Shirley Tilghman on what to do in the face of gender bias. “I did different things at different stages of my career. When I was younger I thought 'I don't have time for this'. I'm not in any position to do anything about it, so I'm just going to plow ahead. I didn't intervene, rightly or wrongly. As I became more senior in the profession, I then took the blinders off and I began to see things that I hadn't even seen as a graduate student or a post-doc. I'll just give you one example where the intervention was extremely effective. In the early 1990s, Joan Steitz from Yale and I found ourselves at a development meeting at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. We discovered that of the sixty speakers, we were the only two women— and this was for development of all fields. So, we sat down with the president of the HHMI. We took to him a very long list of female scientists that we thought should be Howard Hughes Investigators. The first step was to look at who was choosing Hughes Investigators and how they are chosen. At the time, they were being nominated by deans [of universities]. We thought that this was a recipe to ensure that you had as few women as possible. So we suggested that they allow people to apply to be Hughes Investigators. Also, we said, 'Until you have more women on the Hughes selection committee, you will not have more women Investigators.' This caused radical change at Hughes. I think the reason Joan and my intervention was so successful was because we came to him, not whining, but with solutions.”
2. Mary Mullins on sharing responsibilities with your partner. “You really need to resist doing it all and [instead] let your partner take on certain tasks. And if they don't do it perfectly— it's ok! They will get better. Resist from managing the entire situation, because otherwise your career is really going to suffer. And they may even do [a particular task] better than you and find new, interesting ways to do it.”
3. Marisa Bartolomei on the 'two body' problem. “This is the hardest thing. I'm not a great role model for the two body problem. I was lucky that my husband and I moved into the same house two weeks before the first kid was born. We lived apart for about eight years between grad school and having the first baby. At first, we thought our careers were equal [in importance], but all of the sudden we both thought our own career was more important. And so it changes and evolves and it's not easy to work it out. We were lucky that by sticking with it, it finally worked out. It isn't going to be simple. But, it doesn't mean you need to give up on a relationship— we didn't.”
4. Celeste Simon on finding the right post-doc for you. (In response to questions during a job interview about your plans to have children.) “Don't go there. [I would say,] I think I'm done with this interview. Honestly, there are so many great laboratories to work in, with people who are going to be very supportive and will support you not just as a budding scientist but as a person. You don't need that. If you feel like you are being evaluated on that level, it's highly inappropriate.”
5. Shirley Tilghman on what institutions can do to help women succeed. “Most respectable universities have a gender-neutral policy of [increasing] the tenure clock one year per child. (Read more about this policy here.) We discovered at Princeton, when we put that policy in place, that men were taking advantage of it more than women. So, we made it automatic. You automatically get that extra year, you don't have to ask for it. [Before this was put in place] the men were saying, 'Oh, this is great!' The women were saying, 'Oh, well they think I'm on the mummy track.'”
6. Maya Capelson on having children during your post-doc. Dr. Capelson has two kids, both born during her post-doc. “The disadvantages [of having your children during your post-doc] come in two flavors: financial and logistical. Essentially most of what you earn does end up going to child care. And that's not a huge exaggeration. So financially, that can create a pretty strained situation, especially if it goes on for years without guarantee of a successful outcome. You start to think, 'This doesn't make financial sense.' The other problem is just the nature of the work. I feel like 90% of what you do as a post-doc is bench work and it's hard to integrate a child into that. As a faculty member, I can do a number of things from home— while they are sleeping, playing. [Having children while a post-doc] forces you to work less hours than you would otherwise work. The major advantage [to having children earlier] is that you have them! Then you don't have to worry anymore about not being able to have them later. And that's a huge advantage. I don't want to underestimate the psychological aspect of it. If having children is important to you, it's a big deal. I didn't want to wait until after tenure, because by the time I get it, I will be 43 or 44. That's a bit too late.”
7. Celeste Simon on delegating your work load. “By delegating [the workload] as an assistant professor or senior post-doc or senior graduate student, you're giving everyone what you had, which is the chance to take that first step. We all have to start somewhere— if things don't go smoothly the first time, maybe they will go better the next time.”
8. Shelley Berger on changing roles throughout your career. “Early in your career, you know more techniques. You have just finished your post-doc and graduate work, so you are more able to teach others directly one-on-one. So the delegation would be via your direct instruction. And then later in your career, you're more severed from the work— so you have to delegate. You have to have [the chain of knowledge] working. That's the key, I've found in my own lab.