are you my mother? (answer: no. definitively not.)

I should be working.  Instead I am stress posting.  I didn’t get much done yesterday when working at home, and today has yet again been filled with interruptions from my lab’s two rotation students.  I was an interrupting student at one point in my life, and my friend Jen (not her real name) had the patience of a saint with me.  I do not have the patience of a saint.  I am a big proponent of kicking students out of the nest as soon as possible, which I firmly believe fosters good research skills.

I need these two baby birds to be able to answer the question “what question were you asking with this?” BEFORE they ask me what their result means.  I need them to not intersperse the words “like”, “whatever”, “ummm, I don’t know”, and “kinda” between every two words in their sentences.  Sometimes you don’t know, and that’s fine.  The sentence “So I like, took the sequences, and, I don’t know, aligned them or whatever, and this is kinda what I got back.” makes my brain hurt and I can’t focus on what you are telling me.  They are both smart, both dedicated, and both deeply insecure and unsure about their projects and scientific knowledge.  This is the correct stage for them to be in, but it’s hard to relate to.   

Interacting with them has exposed me to several of my inherent biases about scientists, and women in science.  One is irrepressibly girly in both dress and demeanor, which I have had to scold myself into ignoring.  My head: “you can’t dress like that in LAB!  You can’t dress like that and expect to be taken seriously!  Science is not about fashion!”  My post-reflection-about-biases head: “WHY can’t she be taken seriously if she wears stilettos and off-the-shoulder sweaters and lacy dresses in lab?  She’s not doing any lab work, there’s no safety requirement for long pants and closed-toe shoes.  Why does she have to fit the male archetype of the serious scientist for you to take her seriously?”   I don’t want to live within these biases.  I don’t want the old white male mien that pervades the sciences and academia in general to persist.  Perhaps by dressing down, avoiding pink and frills, eschewing the trappings of femininity, I am perpetuating this.  However, even if I wasn’t in academia, I wouldn’t dress in pink or frills or pantyhose or makeup, so I’m torn between a wish to express a viable alternative for women in science and the adage ‘to thine own self be true’. 

I need to remember how long it took me to learn to think critically and to not be intimidated by my boss (though, in fairness, my current boss is much more intimidating than any other supervisor I have had, so they have a harder starting point).  I need to remember that seeing the bigger picture, or the question at hand, or the story that is taking shape is a research skill as much as being able to design and run an experiment.  I need to remember that I have eight (almost nine) years of experience beyond what they do, and be more lenient.  

Hence I am posting this here to get rid of this irritation.  I am resolving to provide guidance and encourage critical thinking, but not hold their hands.  Even if it exposes weaknesses in their understanding which then spirals them into self-doubt and tears (this… this, I don’t understand… of course you don’t know everything, therefore why is it the end of the world when you didn’t know that?).  There’s no crying in science, except for those times when it makes you cry, and I will just try to remember how that feels the next time one of them is weeping at my desk over a poorly defined research question.

Summary: I need them to grow spines, and I need to grow more leaves on my empathy tree.

lab book update: I ovulated!  For sure!  Unsure which day (Monday or Wednesday), but onwards to the decidedly less stressful waiting time (as there is nothing I can do at this point, and can’t “miss” anything important, I can just relax).  I am sure in a few more trials, this side of the wait will get more stressful, but as it stands, I can handle uncertainty about an experiment’s success much better than I can handle the uncertainty in experimental design.


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