Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Yesterday evening I went to a Dunedin AWIS meeting at which three scientists spoke about their careers. One of the things they had been asked to do was comment on things they like and things they dislike about their jobs. Listening to their remarks set me thinking about what were the things I liked and disliked about working in women in SET. So here they are:

Likes (in no particular order)
  • The occasions when someone told me, either via a feedback form or in person, that an event I had facilitated made a difference to her life.
  • The chance to meet some amazing women. Not just the high-fliers; some of the women with less stellar careers have inspirational stories of courage and persistence.
  • The intellectual challenge. Understanding the issues for women in SET involves thinking about interacting people which is a much more difficult problem than the interacting electrons I was accustomed to. However, extracting signal from noise is a problem both activities have in common and there are interesting experimental data and explanatory frameworks in women in SET, see, for example, Virgina Valian’s ‘Why so slow? The advancement of women?
  • The variety and opportunity to develop a wide range of skills: I could be facilitating a personal development course one day, analysing data the next and representing the University at a meeting the following day.
  • Being a Springboard trainer.
  • Believing that the ultimate aim of what I was doing was to make the University a place where women have an equal opportunity with men to fulfil their potential in SET, even if they also choose to live with a partner and have children. (I also believe that many of the measures that are required for this to happen would make the University a better place for everyone.)

Dislikes (in no particular order)
  • The fact that progress happens in very small incremental steps. This is true in science as well but at least you can package your small incremental step in a paper.
  • A preference in administration for structure and process over function and outcome.
  • A general tendency to keep starting again from scratch instead of learning from and building on what has gone before. In science you usually do a literature search to see what is already known before you start designing experiments. In women in SET it seems to be more normal not just to re-invent the wheel but to re-invent heptagonal wheels.
  • The difficulty of obtaining relevant data.
  • People who ignore or misinterpret data.
  • Poorly defined requests for data or requests that were framed in ways that may have made sense to the requester but certainly didn’t to me.
  • Zombie arguments – arguments that continue to surface no matter how many times they are rebutted. (See, for example, Isis on John Tierney.]
  • Action Plans. As far as I can tell, the appearance of an action in an ‘Action Plan’ is pretty much a guarantee that it won’t happen. (Reports on action plans become exercises in presenting the things that did happen as though they were the things that were planned to happen - No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main strength (Helmuth von Moltke the Elder).)
  • A variant of the Snark syndrome in which if women’s lived experience conflicts with prevailing wisdom on issues for women in SET it is the women’s experience that is discounted.

I have listed more dislikes than likes. That does not reflect my actual experience. I recently read The CEO and the Monk: One Company’s Journey to Profit and Purpose by Robert B. Catell (the CEO), Kenny Moore (the Monk) and Glenn Rifkin (business journalist) (Wiley, 2004). Moore describes sending a note of encouragement to someone who wanted to do something unusual with the quote
‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.’
(according to Wikipedia this quote is attributed to Howard Thurman).

Working in women in SET made me come alive.

No comments:

Post a Comment