Wimminz in Academia, now with 100% Fewer Babies: FSP's answers

Aug 21 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

1. It seems to me that often women don't have as strong professional networks as men - the kind that gets built over shared interests (sports or drinking). People seem to gravitate towards others like them. What specific advice do you have for establishing and maintaining network with men as well as other women?

Certainly I have felt excluded from various “networks” at times, but it is not difficult to establish important and interesting connections with men and women over shared professional interests.

Some people start developing networks in graduate school. Although advisors can help jump-start your networking, they are not essential for this (at least, not in my experience). Some of my fellow graduate students, however, have remained important contacts and collaborators over the years, so I definitely started building a network of colleagues in grad school.

These connections can start within a particular research group, department, or other academic unit, but what helps them continue over time is a shared interest and/or style of working. I think these aspects are more important than personality (for example: quiet vs. talkative), shared hobbies, or cultural background.

Most of my long-time collaborators are men, and my closest colleagues are not from the US. We work well together because we have complementary (but distinct) interests and expertise and similar intense interests in particular research questions. It doesn’t matter that some of them are sports fanatics and that I have zero interest in sports, or that we are from different countries/cultures.

My advice: Find people with similar (but not exactly the same) interests, and work on maintaining those connections: write proposals together and organize conferences or conference sessions together. If there is no one at your institution who is compatible, make connections elsewhere. Visit and give talks at each other’s universities, and co-advise students or serve on student committees. At conferences, introduce yourself to people whose work you admire and start a conversation about mutual interests. Even if you don’t become a collaborator of that person, perhaps you will make a connection and raise your visibility; this can lead to important opportunities for research and/or for meeting other people.

You don’t have to be an extrovert to do this, but you do have to be able to communicate in some way. I am a dramatic example of how a quiet, socially unskilled, sports-ignorant person can nevertheless develop a strong, extensive network of colleagues.


2. Early on, what was your "Oh @!#$%" moment and how did you recover?

I don’t know what this means, so maybe I didn’t have such a moment, or perhaps I had one and never recovered.


3. How do you deal with female health issues when you are in a predominantly male environment?



4. How do you balance "assertiveness" and "bitchiness" - in the sense that it's harder as a female (than a male) to "get away with" being protective of your time, stating your opinion, and so forth?

I am rather soft-spoken, and have had more of a problem being heard than in seeming to be too aggressive. I can, however, be quite assertive (in my own way) when I want/need to be, and this has been an important skill to learn and develop over time. I think it is important to choose your battles, and to learn how to construct and calmly deploy devastating, fact-based arguments when making a case or stating an opinion in a debate. Humor helps as well. Also: getting older.

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