Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Emory Blog Update

It looks like Emory has called off its dogs with respect to Dr. Doug Bremner and his blog. I'm relieved to hear that the whole thing was a "misunderstanding."

Hat-tip to Abel Pharmboy for bringing this to my attention.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Supporting Women in Science

During my blog hiatus, I was nominated for my program's Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant. Six students from the neuroscience program are nominated each year (as long as NIGMS keeps renewing our grant!). The funds provided by this grant will support me for the next academic year, providing my stipend (taking the financial burden off Emory) and fees (taking the financial burden off me) as well as funds for travel, research equipment, and hosting a guest speaker.

I'm thrilled to have been nominated for this grant, and I look forward to all of the exciting opportunities it has created for me. With these travel funds and my NextBio travel grant, along with support from my mentor, I will be attending the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in the fall. Some classmates and I are registering for the conference and booking our hotel rooms today. We're psyched!

I've also been searching for a guest speaker to invite to our program seminar. My mentor made some suggestions based on people whose research would interest the department and who are known for giving engaging talks. I looked up the people on her list and did some searching on my own to narrow things down to a few candidates. And, during the course of my search, I decided that I want to invite a female speaker.

My graduate program, like most in the life sciences, has a predominantly female student body. It also has noticeably fewer female faculty (again, like most life science programs). While our seminar series has done a good job of bringing diverse guest speakers to Emory in the past, I felt that this was a rare opportunity for me to have direct influence on the gender balance of faculty who will interact with our students. Numerous research studies have shown that even people who strive for fairness when selecting candidates from a mixed gender pool will often bias themselves toward men. (See Prof. Virginia Valian's excellent slideshow tutorial on gender schemas, especially the bit in Tutorial #1 on gender bias in peer review, which begins at slide 15.) This is true whether men or women are evaluating the candidates.

To avoid this pitfall, I made a conscious effort to create a pool consisting entirely of female candidates. I joked about my "blatant sexism" with my adviser, but it's something that I take seriously. It did feel a bit strange and arbitrary to me as I removed speakers from my list simply because they are male, but I don't think a single missed opportunity to speak at our seminar series will have a large impact on their professional success. (All of the male speakers I was considering have already achieved professional success in the form of full professorship, selection by HHMI or NAS, etc.) I'm also sure that some other students on the training grant will end up inviting male speakers. But choosing to bring a female professor into my program for a talk could have a significant benefit, especially if students and postdocs who attend the talk are seeking a mentor for the next stage of their scientific training. Female role models in the sciences can be few and far between, so I think it's worth something to expose my classmates to more of them.

This is, ultimately, a small thing. But many small efforts can add up to larger achievements. When I was elected to a position within my program's executive committee, a classmate emailed to congratulate me. She also wrote, "I hope you plan on using your feminist powers for good." When I made this decision, I was thinking of her, and of the other amazing female graduate students who make my program great. (Our male graduate students are also great, I should add, but they don't often engage me about my feminist powers.) I'm doing what I can.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I've Been Away

It seems that this blog has been on the back burner for over a month. Sorry about that! It's been a busy time for me -- I finished my last rotation, visited friends and relatives out of state, moved to a new apartment, and joined the lab where I will conduct my dissertation research. Things are going well for me, but I haven't had much time for blogging.

Also during my blogging hiatus, this happened. I find it worrisome, to say the least, and I've been thinking a lot about my decision to write under my real name without hiding my university affiliation. Perhaps it would be wiser to avoid the hornet's nest of new media at my university for the time being. But that doesn't feel right to me. If someone from my institution has a problem with what I write, they are free to contact me to discuss it. If I'm ordered to obscure my school's name (which doesn't really accomplish anything, given that interested parties are free to Google me...) I will comply. Until then, I will continue writing about my experiences practicing the science that I love, and hope that my university comes to a more sensible position on honest, open lines of communication between researchers and the blog-reading public.