Posts from the ‘Women in science’ Category

The truth is out there

What innocently began as a way to entertain ourselves with Netflix when we ditched our cable TV a few months ago has turned into an epic blast-from-the-past television marathon. Since sometime in April (maybe even the end of March), DH and I have been watching through the entire X-Files series on Netflix–all nine seasons. Right now we’re in the middle of season seven with two and a half seasons yet to go, plus the 2008 feature-length film for completeness, of course.

When I learned that DH had watched a few of the episodes of the show, I thought, oh, well I guess that’s interesting. A show about aliens. I remember some friends in high school being totally obsessed with X-Files, and while I might have tried once or twice to be cool and watch a couple of episodes, I guess I was too busy with other things to get into it (guess I didn’t watch too much TV at that time, either). So I really didn’t have many preconceived notions about the show except I thought it was about aliens and what happened to somebody’s sister. My roommate had two beta fish named Mulder and Scully. I was also aware of some guy who smoked, courtesy of the Barenaked Ladies. I thought I might casually watch an episode with DH if I happened to be around while it was on.

However, after a few episodes I was quite hooked. The show undoubtedly garnered its loyal cult following and popularity because of a complex, overarching plot line, strong characters and their interactions, and a fairly unique concept, at least for TV at the time. Is there really a government conspiracy? Who is telling the truth and who’s not? What will happen between Mulder and Scully? All these questions have you addictedly watching episode after episode in order to find out the answers. After all, the truth is out there, somewhere in all nine seasons of the show (or I presume it to be, as I have yet to finish the entire series).

I was also quite flabbergasted to realize that this show began in 1993. NINETEEN NINETY-THREE! That’s almost twenty years ago!! I was barely in middle school at that time (note statement that makes me feel REALLY OLD). The show was very high-tech for the day, using state-of-the-art technology like The Internet and Cellular Phones. The current season is from 1999/2000, so everything does look more modern than it did starting out when the phones were bricks (a la Zach Morris), shoulder pads were wide, and hair was poofy. And oh my gosh, Gillian Anderson looks about 23 at the beginning of the show (I think she was 30 or so; I seriously had to go look).

One of the interesting things to me about the show is identifying with the characters. One side of me is kind of like Mulder when he’s joking and snarky (I’m sure you’ve never noticed any of that on the blog). However, my predominate internal personality tends to be very much like Scully–reserved, logical, somewhat skeptical, sometimes fighting my emotions and often not letting myself go. However, I don’t let external pressures interfere with my faith, either. I get fed up with goofiness when in a serious situation. I tend to work in a predominately male world. I get protective and sometimes jealous of my closest friends. I have found the numerous similarities interesting and even enlightening.

So, while I am interested in the show, I do confess that it is somewhat interfering with other extracurricular activities I might be doing at home nights and weekends. 😉 However, we are determined to power through to the end as fast as we can to have some closure and to regain our other downtime activities such as playing board games or crafts or house projects. Just one note to self, though–no more getting into very long running, one-hour episode television shows on Netflix!

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What I want to be when I grow up

With the beginning of my thesis writing and the anticipated finale of this significant chapter of my life, I inevitably must now ask the question, what the heck do I do next? Eight years is a fairly long time to get adjusted to a certain lifestyle, and, while I do wish some things were different, I am very comfortable with my daily routine. However, I’m now in the middle of a big reality check that at some point soon this ends and something else begins.

Even if I defend in February or March, I should still technically be a student through May when I graduate. That gives me a little bit of time to coast in my current job, but after that, if I want to stay at my current lab either short or long term, I technically will have to get a post doc position. If I don’t do that, then, well….I just don’t quite know yet.

Initially, I thought that my options were few and simple. I could research, I could teach, or I could do both at a university. However, in the past months I’ve begun to put a new filter on the things I see in passing, and I’ve been surprised to discover that there are way more options than I anticipated. I guess that’s a good thing, but it’s also overwhelming. It’s not like I would be forced to make the decision for the rest of my life; if I don’t like something, I can always choose something else. If I want to try it out, I only commit to short-term. But honing down the options for what to try first can seem a little intimidating.

If I have this many things to pick from, it seems like the first thing to ask myself is, what do I really want to do? Do I love research and want to continue exactly what I’m doing? Do I love research but am tired of my current topic and want to challenge myself in a different field? What if I feel like I actually don’t love research and want to try something else? What if I don’t love it because I’m just tired of the pressure of getting a PhD and want to try it as a post doc where the only thing required of you is maybe a journal paper along the way?

Or, even more frightening–what if I don’t love science enough to keep doing it for the rest of my life? Even though it sort of feels like a waste of eight of the best years of my life, is it okay to just move on to something else entirely?

Equally important appears to be asking myself, where do I really want to live? This was some of the best advice I got when picking a graduate school in the first place–apply to a good school, but also make sure it’s somewhere you want to live, because you will be there for a while. Colorado has turned out to be an amazing choice for somewhere to live, but we have to put a lot of thought into whether it’s somewhere to live long-term. Could I get a career job where I am now? Am I willing to find another job here if I can’t, just to stay here? Would we be able to have our preferred lifestyle (i.e. owning a bit of land, not living in a suburban neighborhood) in the Front Range? Do we want to move back home, or closer to home, to be near family, and are there satisfying career choices there where research opportunities are less? What if I wanted to do a post doc somewhere totally different for a few years and then find another place to settle? And what if God calls us to somewhere completely different to do something completely different?

Moreover, this next step is not just about me; DH and I will be taking it together. I felt it incredibly important to ask him what he wants to do next. If he might like to go back to school now that I’m done, then his choice of research institution might dictate a physical move. If he stays with his current job for which he telecommutes, we could literally move anywhere that has an internet connection. Maybe he gets an amazing opportunity one day; will I be flexible with my career to accommodate his calling?

Furthermore, all of this might not be just about DH and me, either. What if we want to start a family sometime? Are we going to make career decisions based upon our desired location and lifestyle of raising a family? Or are we going to pick something now and make it adjust to fit if that ever comes around? I refuse to be someone who waits and waits and waits for the perfect time in life to start a family, only to realize one day that I’ve waited too long. It seemed reasonable to wait through graduate school, but after that’s over, I don’t want intimidation by a career to make that kind of decision for me.

Last week, DH and I had a lengthy discussion about all of this. It was great to hear one another’s perspectives and desires, and while I didn’t figure out the answer to where I should start my career, I think we came to a couple of realizations that will affect other actions and decisions in the short- and long-term. Those couple of decisions and realizations have actually felt quite freeing and encouraging.

So, while I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, I at least find myself developing the right attitude at the right time for trying to figure it out. I also assume that I won’t feel comfortable making a bunch of career and life decisions right in the middle of the defense whirlwind, but I may find that it’s not so stressful to do both at the same time. Even if I don’t, I do have a few months until my regular tenure is over to at least find some stop gap, if not a final solution. Regardless, I can’t just shove my head into my thesis and ignore it all, but thankfully the glimmer of a light at the end of this fiber is motivating and exhilarating!

Britney Spears’ Guide to Semiconductor Physics

I have spent the last three days slogging my way through the basics of semiconductor physics and the operation of semiconductor photodiodes, such as those I have been using in my research. I’ve actually gotten about three thesis pages written on it, and that doesn’t include the diagrams I’ve made to illustrate these structures. More importantly, however, I really feel like I’ve absorbed the information and have a good physical understanding of the model and how it works. That was the point, after all!

However, I can’t BELIEVE that I forgot about Britney Spears’ Guide to Semiconductor Physics! I had stumbled onto this page a long, long time ago, but it just came up again as I was searching around the internet for information. I suppose that, in an effort to make learning about p-n junctions and donor atoms more fun, the author of said website decided to integrate pictures of a young Britney Spears into his (or her?) explanation of various aspects of semiconductors.

Maybe it’s the pictures of Brit, or maybe it’s just the fact that I like to corroborate information from many different sources, but I absolutely intend to read through this website! Oops, I learned it again??

Oh my gosh;  looking at these pictures of Britney Spears makes me feel so old!!

Family versus career?

I have been loath to bring up the subject so far, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how it is affecting my thoughts and attitudes and even my motivation for what I’m doing and why. This subject, of course, is women in science.

I’ve always rolled my eyes at the people who panic at the disparity between numbers of men and women in the sciences, particularly physics. While we should definitely encourage everyone with interest and aptitude in math and sciences to consider studying in the field, I guess I personally feel that, for the most part, anyone who wants to do it will. And there has definitely been improvement over the years in numbers of women and other minorities who are now getting involved. I won’t go into a big diatribe about this entire subject, but I think I’ve been slowly experiencing and appreciating one aspect of why women in particular are reticent in regards to the commitment of a career–in any field, really, but particularly in sciences.

As a professional woman, it seems that one day you have to make a choice: have a career or have a family. I’ve seen a lot of women, many of my own friends and colleagues, struggle with this issue, and as I look to my future as a scientist, I struggle with it as well. If you take time off of your career for either a few years or permanently, it could be perceived that you have wasted all that effort in cramming your head full of knowledge just to end up a “mere” housewife. Conversely, if you choose to drop your kid off at a daycare with some stranger for ten hours a day for the entirety of their formative years, you could be perceived as being an unconcerned parent letting someone else raising your child while you are selfishly pursuing a career.

Now, these perceptions, as I have brashly stated them, are exaggerated of course, but can you honestly deny that some people don’t think these things? Not that your decisions about family should be based at all on what other people think, but these statements do raise important questions that must be carefully considered. If one chooses to start a family and pursue a career in raising them, what’s the point in going through all of this effort of PhD-getting? I suppose the answer is that one isn’t raising her children forever, and one day she can return to the field in whatever area is interesting to her at the time. And there is also the possibility of gainful half-time employment that allows a connection to the field without a huge time commitment. Actually, it’s probably good for mom and kids to get out of the house and away from each other for a little while! And let me just add that I don’t think being a housewife and a mother is in any way a marginal occupation. On the contrary, I think it’s wonderful and even the best option for a family situation that allows for it. And, let’s be honest…managing your nest and your little ones is still a full-time job regardless of where you are 9 to 5!

The other side is the woman who chooses to keep a full-time career, therefore requiring some sort of child care during the hours of her employment and spending the majority of time with her kids at night and during the weekends. Some are fortunate enough to have family or close friends near enough to watch their kids for them, but, for the majority of families, finding a random stranger or daycare that you trust to watch your child is overwhelming; I know this from many of my friends who have described the process to me. But the good news is that, while you do have to carefully weed out the sketchy places, quality caretakers can be found. And while I might fret about all the horrible things my child might be taught in the care of a stranger (like blowing bubbles in their milk with straw, heaven forbid!! ;)), I’m sure I am just being way too paranoid. Of course, it’s also worth noting that quality child care isn’t cheap, either, especially if you have multiple children. I often wonder what the point of both parents working is if the daycare bill is equal to the monthly paycheck of one parent!

Obviously, the answer is that it’s not just about working for money. It’s about having a career that is satisfying on many different levels, however that works out to be for each person. I guess my mental struggle is that I would find both careers very satisfying, and I hate feeling so torn between the two, like I somehow have to choose. At least I don’t have to worry about this for a while yet, but after all this effort I’m putting in right now, I greatly desire to feel that it’s all been worth it. I really think this is one of a multitude of reasons we find women to be hesitant to enter the sciences as well as other specialized careers, and I don’t think there’s a real good, broad answer for it. It has to come down to each individual woman and her decision for how she wants life to take her, or even how she makes decisions on what life brings her regardless of her desires. And since there are plenty of mothers with careers out there, it’s obviously possible to make it work in a satisfying way.

I realize there’s a lot more that could be said on this subject as well as women in sciences in general, and I certainly won’t opine on all aspects of it here. Feel free to leave your own thoughts for all of us to consider. I’m definitely interested in hearing different perspectives as I formulate my own.