Yesterday I taught a scientific-presentations workshop up at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve for the summer interns. Many of the interns do an independent research project, usually in small groups, and this is the second year in a row I’ve gone up there to help them with preparing their presentations for the end-of-summer symposium. (and a brief shameless plug: I’m starting to put some of the resource sheets and such up here, too, in the Science Communication pages)
It’s also the second year I’ve biked up to Cedar Creek (40-some miles each way). I don’t go up there very often, and usually when I do I’m hauling samples, equipment, or undergrads, or whatever I’m going up there for starts bright and early. So this is my one opportunity when I need only to slip my thumb drive and my remote into my pocket and go on two wheels! That makes it my favorite commute of the whole year.
Last week I biked the Red Ribbon Ride, a 300mi/4day ride to raise funds and awareness for eight Minnesota HIV/AIDS service and advocacy organizations — and I’ve been a bit in biking withdrawl since. It felt rather odd to bike all day without a couple hundred other amazing cyclists (I saw only a handful of other cyclists all day), but good to just go and go and go! The part of the route up through Blaine is nothing special, but north of there it’s on really pretty rural roads. I took a slightly longer route on the way home for a change of scenery, and if you add in my short hop to campus in the morning, it was an 89mi day. The weather forecast had called for 7-10mph winds from the west….and instead I got what I’d estimate as 20+mph winds from the NW, which made for a stiff headwind the Whole Way there. The winds died down in the evening as I was heading home, but even a bit of a breeze at my back was a verrrry welcome change.
“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” — Wernher von Braun
Yep, it’s been one of those days with novel mistakes and general fumbling-about-ness. I can’t even claim that I was doing anything new and exciting — ti should have been routine but wasn’t. Ah well, that’s science.
The quote from von Braun sometimes feels like my theme song for grad school. It’s a good reminder that I’m no more incompetent than the next researcher. So much of my research is using techniques that my lab isn’t familiar with or set up well for, protocols I have to alter significantly for my needs, and quite frankly stuff I’m making up as I go along. There’s a fair bit of feeling stupid involved. I’m just glad it’s mostly the sort of stupid that comes because I’m venturing into unknown territory.
One of the other professors on my floor has been looking for space to put a visiting grad student who’ll be working with his lab for the next two and a half months. Our office is a bit deeper than the others on the floor, since we’re at the center of the outward-curved wall, so even though we’ve already got four grad students in the office the Powers that Be decreed that we make room for the visitor.
I said no. Repeatedly. I don’t want our office to get crowded. But the prof put his foot down and, quite simply, I lost that territory battle.
Here’s a guest post from my friend and (un-indicted) co-conspirator, Moose, as part of the Diversity in Science PRIDE Carnival:
I’m not really sure what topic to cover for the Diversity in Science PRIDE carnival, but I’m writing this anyways. My visibility is more important than my what-do-I-say silence, so count me in and I’ll tell you a bit about my experiences. Another queer STEM graduate student, working to make STEM fields a more welcoming place (and trying to do kick-ass research, that too). On a linguistic note, I’m going to use “queer” and “LGBTQ” interchangeably here. I intend for all identities to be encompassed by these terms.
I’ve been able to be cautiously out for much of my undergraduate and graduate school experience. From where I sit, life doesn’t have enough LGBTQ people in STEM but it’s still pretty good. I hope (let’s make this the hypothesis) that STEM fields, academia, and broader culture in the United States are all becoming more welcoming and safer for members of the LGBTQ community. National press coverage of trans and queer issues in high schools post-dates my high school career, but I’m still on the younger end of the academic track and I’ve had pretty good experiences as a queer student in STEM. Continue reading
Among GLBTQ scientists, we often talk about when is best to come out in the job search. Opinions range widely, from the first in-person interview to the post-offer negotiations. We need to come out at some point, maybe because we’re trying to assess the climate in our potential new department, maybe because it’s time to negotiate support for a trailing partner. But we fear possible biases and bigotries, and we try to minimize the risk by managing who knows what when.
If you stop and think about it for a minute, that entire conversation is built on a paradigm that being gay can only be a negative thing. If you’re lucky, they’ll be neutral and it won’t be relevant; if not, you won’t even get an interview. That’s a pretty defeatist attitude to take. In moments like this we’re still basically apologizing for being gay and asking people not to hate us for it.
What would it look like if, instead, we saw being queer as one of the selling points in our application package? Continue reading
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard from my fellow scientists (and others) something along the lines of, “It shouldn’t be any more important that I’m a lesbian than that I have brown eyes.” The cultural norm seems to be to downplay being gay, to try to make it not relevant, not an issue, let’s move on please, ok? So when I’ve been networking and advocating and what-have-you for queer science issues, I often get asked why I care? Why does this matter so much to me? And it’s been hard for me to put that into words. But with a few years’ insights and hindsights, I’m beginning to articulate what I find at the tension between being queer and being a scientist.
To start with, there’s the simple fact that, as a grad student, science is much more a part of my identity than any job has ever been. Though previously I’d studied science and worked in science, though I’ve been the one with a science background in a multidisciplinary crowd, this is the first time that I feel fully justified in claiming the label: “I’m a scientist.” And it’s as much a statement of who I am, not just a job I do. It’s not just a suit I put on for 9-to-5 and then go back to my real life. To undertake – much less complete – a Ph.D. demands a deep motivation and commitment. I’ve thrown my heart and soul into this work, damnit, and it’s drawn plenty of blood, sweat, and tears along the way. I don’t know how to do that halfway, to give that much of myself and yet be only partly present. I can’t keep part of me tucked away in some little box and only let it out after working hours. Continue reading
I’m looking ahead two years to graduation — I have plans to get the shiny new Ph.D. in May 2014. And as of right now, I have absolutely no idea what comes next. One way I’m exploring the wide world of possibilities is by looking at my passions. I automatically put “science” down first, and it seems blog-worthy to tease apart what that actually means. So let’s step into that stream of consciousness… Continue reading