I had an opportunity to have lunch with the speaker of the distinguished female faculty lecture with several other graduate students on the topic of women in science. Below were some of the interesting discussion points that our speaker shared with the group:
- Finding your voice as a female graduate student. A student shared that she received some well intended advice that she needed to speak more confidently during presentations – however, she actually felt quite confident speaking so it came across as “stop talking like a woman and talk more like a man.” The speaker shared that being professional doesn’t mean you need to speak and act in a traditionally masculine way. It’s hard to say what is truly related to confidence and what expectations are result from implicit bias. It’s important to point out this isn’t a “male” or “female” issue – anyone who appears to lack “masculinity” in their speaking style can be perceived as “less effective.” In short, to continue to hone your presentation skills and style, but success does not require that you “talk like a man.”
- Being comfortable in your own skin. Continuing from the last point, the idea of being a professional woman doesn’t mean you have to dress and act like a man. It’s important to be comfortable in your own skin and pick an environment that allows you to do so.
- Bringing up the topic of work-life balance. Work life balance is of particular importance to males and females who are interested in starting a family when picking their research or post-doc advisor. How to you bring such a topic up? Rather than talking directly about the issue (e.g. nobody really should ask if you’re trying to have a kid at a job interview), rather one can bring up the issues of family time or by asking other members of the group about their experiences or others with people around them.
- Reporting sexual harassment. There has been a lot of press on this topic lately. It’s also important to identify a male or female faculty member to whom you can discuss such an issue if it were to arise. However, it might be too intimidating to talk to a faculty member, so establishing a peer-to-peer support network at your university could be another avenue. This allows students who want to bring up issues to have a safe place to discuss what happened and learn about their resources.
- Being interdisciplinary in practice, not just in name. Some universities have coursework where students from different disciplines are placed in a group to find solutions to problems, often yielding some fascinating research that has led to publications!
If these issues interest you, I highly recommend Women in Science: Meeting Career Challenges , a collection of essays edited by by Angela M. Pattatucci.