Addressing Entrenched Beliefs: Recap.

In our January Diversity Journal Club, we discussed addressing entrenched beliefs.

While the article discussed talked about the how misconceptions are embraced, spread, and held onto, there have been a few other useful stories out there to look at. One is here:

Biochem Belle shared this post by Hilda Bastian that is also relevant:

Another is this interview with George Lakoff, about making sure any counter-messaging isn’t reinforcing misinformation, the “don’t think of an elephant” principle. It’s about creating a new frame, one that reinforces a narrative of inclusion, science, protections, and public goods.

Another is Will Storr’s book The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science, recently discussed by the 538 science writer’s team on the Sparks podcast. One thing that gets brought up is that misconceptions can be cultural and help people, as they show with the concept of someone in Pakistan being infected with a Djinn..what we in the west would call mental illness. But Djinn framing helps people take care of those afflicted and people are taken care of. It’s worth a listen and describes just how complicated it can be to figure out when it is and isn’t worth attempting to correct misperceptions.

As Doctor PMS points out, there is a difference between uninformed and misinformed. For the former, people are much more likely to be open to new information if they are curious to learn/listen. As a general rule, adopting the curiosity mindset and being humble and honest about what we do and don’t know can help us overcome misinformation. While these require self-reflection and sparking that curiosity may be challenging, the distinction remains critical.

In terms of unwinding misconceptions, either for the mis- or uninformed, Ruthie Birger pointed out that that re-framing things so they are relevant to people’s lives can help people to understand new things, such as expanding on the use of safe spaces, although this comes with a downside:

In addressing entrenched beliefs, it’s also important to remember that even those misinformed often feel they are doing the right thing for the right reasons, something that Will Storr gets at in his book as well. The misinformed are most often good, likeable people:

Finding a way to make things personal and relevant to their lives is also crucial – or as Lakoff might say, use a frame that resonates (i.e. here’s how this affects you and your family, how it affected mine, etc). Humans work through stories. And realize, that especially online, the goal isn’t always to persuade. Allowing everyone see and understand your story also matters.

Despite the challenge, there is hope in addressing entrenched beliefs and misperceptions. Sparking curiosity may be one way (however you do that). In addition, recent research has shown that telling an opponent a story, a lived experience, can change minds. One thing to keep in mind is that once people are moved, the change is often for the longer term. After all, our brains change over time, and there is no going back. The world we live in always has new wrinkles to it as well as echoes of history that remain familiar.

We also need to be aware of our own biases, as Echo Rivera points out. Science works because it can falsify testable hypotheses through observations. We must consistently be recognizing what we don’t know, and the point in which we need to seek out other credible sources, think more, and be humble. Knowledge is power – and sometimes it is someone else who has that knowledge.

Finally, even thought people generally do have good intentions, it is also important to realize some lines can’t be crossed. If a belief is actively harming someone, or is a belief being brought into a context of science when it isn’t science – these need to be addressed, not accepted as opinion.

Thanks to all who contributed and joined our discussion, which can also be seen on storify, thanks to Doctor PMS!

See you next month for our February discussion under #DiversityJC. Share any thoughts in comments or on Twitter under the hashtag, or ping out Twitter account, @Diversity_JC.

Ian (@IHStreet)

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)

Doctor_PMS (@Doctor_PMS)

Your #DiversityJC Post-Election To Do list.


This post was developed from both our discussion of what to do next under #DiversityJC, and from a great list of next steps from Erika Hamden. The point is you don’t need to do all these things. Choose what works for you:

1. Pick your cause and donate your money. This requires the smallest effort and time, but can make a big difference. In particular, sign up for automatic monthly donations of a small amount ($10 helps), as we need to keep support going beyond our current election hangover. Always search for local charities around that cause, but some national ideas below, as well as a great list here.

2. Pick your cause and donate your time. See any of the above organizations and search for ways to get involved or:

3. Get involved at work (yes I said it!): Many if not most scientific institutions, especially academic ones, have diversity initiatives, councils or commissions, and other groups. These groups almost always need volunteers to sit on the councils and be involved. We often assume minority groups will fill these roles – but they take time and effort. Shoulder some of that burden and step up.

  • Volunteer to serve on councils and commissions, attend meetings.
  • Ask your institution or organization about their policies on harassment and bullying, and how they plan on dealing with hate crimes and speech (just asking says you are paying attention to this and they should too).
  • Make social justice more visible by asking leadership what the institution is doing about inclusion there, what the initiatives and goals are.
  • Volunteer with harassment and assault networks on campus.
  • Request diversity training.
  • Go to social justice and diversity events on campus – they are for you, too. Sign up for list serves. Share events with students and colleagues (this alone can be huge for your own education, demonstrating their value to others in your lab and department, and making these more visible).

4. Bother your Congressional representatives. No matter what side of the aisle they are on, call them and tell them what you care about. Call them about bills they need to vote on and how you want them to vote – they represent you. Call them when they vote the way you wanted them to and thank them. Call them more than once. Call them every. single. week. Make it a habit. Here are some incredible resources, including call scripts and phone numbers:

5. Call Republicans. Whether or not you agree with them on other things, many Republicans spoke out against Trump. Tell them you support their decision to do this. Here is a list of Republicans who have spoke out against Trump in the past:

6. Change your habits. If climate change and the environment matter to you, now is the time to make changes. Think about what you eat, drink, use, and waste.

7. Get politically involved: It is critical we actually vote in the 2018 mid-term elections this time around, and that we make a difference in our party platform. Encourage someone you know to run for office: Support and get involved with you local Democrat party chapter: and, or your local Republican one:

8. More ways to use your wallet. We’ve all heard about fake news. One way to combat it? Support newspapers and the journalists that spend the time investigating stories that matter (if you don’t believe me on their importance, ask John Oliver). Consider the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, the LA Times, or High Country News (one of my favs for environmental news) and ProPublica. Also give in to the pledge drive and become a sustaining member of NPR and/or PBS.

9. Educate yourself. Even if you understand what privilege is and what microaggressions are, there’s always more to learn. Delve into the scientific research on discrimination or bias, read The Difference and Whistling Vivaldi, or just talk with (read: listen towilling friends, family and acquaintances that don’t look like you about their experiences.

10. Use your wallet, part 2: Support local artists speaking out, whether with words, lyrics, paint, pencil, or other forms of work (I recently purchased American Band by the Drive By Truckers, home of this song). 

11. Use your wallet, part 3: Boycott stores that support Trump and his children. Check out for a list of retailers that do business with them or sell Trump products, along with a list of companies to buy from instead – or buy from local, small-scale business and put your money in your local economy. Feel free to call the big companies and tell them you won’t be purchasing from them and why.

12. Stay engaged: Sign up for newsletters that provide regular action items, then help where you can. These have small actions (<5-10 minutes) you can do regularly to keep engaged in the days ahead. Examples:

13. Be prepared: If you are a woman, buy Plan B and hold on to it. You can order it online or buy at a pharmacy. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Finally, social media and the internet can be used for good. There are incredibly helpful and informative resources out there and support systems available. More ideas about what you can do and additional charities to consider:

Slate: How to Channel Your Post-Election Anger, Sadness, and Fear Into Action
HuffPost: If You’re Overwhelmed By The Election, Here’s What You Can Do Now
Man Repeller: Post Election To-Do List
New York Mag: Citizens, United: What should Democrats in Congress — and Barack Obama, and you — do now?
Books to the rescue [of your hope]! The Chronicle: Weekend Reading: Searching For Hope Edition.

Also make sure to check out the Indivisible Guide, written by former congressional staffers on best practices for getting Congress to listen.

Some additional reading:
The Guardian: What will Trump’s presidency mean for American science policy?
Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman: Why I am committed to fighting oppression in academia
And to how the election hits us personally, too: Infactorium: Using Every Tool.

These spoke the most to me, in terms of my career and career path:

Ayana E. Johnson on National Geographic: Reframing Ocean Conservation in this Post-Election Era
World Ocean Observatory on Medium: The Election is Over. What Now? And How?
Small Pond Science: Write anyway*.

Tweetstorms have also been helpful:

Did we miss anything? Leave your ideas in the comments!

The bottom line from Erika Hamden (aka tl:dr):

“Donate money if you have it, Donate time if you have it. Don’t be complacent. Don’t think that YOU can’t make things better because you can.”


If it’s outdated, it’s still voiced. Speak up: #DiversityJC recap.

This week in Diversity Journal Club, we had a discussion about the importance of addressing outdated comments and attitudes (like this and this). Both had such strong and negative responses – so did that mean we’ve moved on? That they might not really matter?

Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) and Ian (@IHStreet) got us started..

Should we indeed be paying attention to the outdated comments like those of Tim Hunt and Ask Alice? Should we just ignore them, wish they would evolve, or wonder how they didn’t know better? Perhaps we should be able to filter out these wrong opinions, given that it is hard to change, and that they do have deep expertise in some areas (Nobel prize = expertise). But…

Indeed. It can be difficult to filter someone, especially if the comments are not all that blatant. Subtle comments like microaggressions can be hard enough to even identify on their own. When it’s someone you respect and admire, subtle comments can be even more difficult to distinguish and weed out. Moreover, it’s not our responsibility to be someone’s filter – for our own sake or for a larger community, no matter how much you and others respect them. We also discussed this initial idea of it being comments of an “older generation” and if we give them a pass as being from a “different time” (my words). Several took issue with this “older generation” stuff – which is totally correct. Age and generation can mean nothing in these cases, and age is relative. We shouldn’t use age as a blanket clause either, basically. The reason I raised this “older” stuff is because I personally have avoided conversations and used this excuse – I wondered if others had as well, and if there was something to the “well that’s an outdated opinion, it’s not very important, look at the backlash, clearly we’ve come far from there, from that time.

So perhaps it’s not just me who has used this as an excuse?

So maybe I wasn’t the only one. But it is still an excuse. It also brought up an important point:


In the end, we’d more or less agreed age really wasn’t the issue, and learning was a two-way street. We also agreed that, no matter your age, these comments and attitudes do need to be addressed.

Yet these teachable moments can be really challenging.

In addition, as Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) pointed out, change can be tough and painful – and may not be worth our ATP. It may actually be problematic for us, especially as early career scientists, let alone draining. Ian (@IHStreet) reminded us you can’t be sure who is willing to change or be open to the discussion at the onset. On the other hand, as Ruthie (@ruthiepbirger) pointed out, initiating the conversation can be a good litmus test for how ingrained the attitude is, and how open the person is to further dialogue. But back to the first hand, Benjamin Carr (@BenjaminHCCarr) said some people are actively resistant to change.

And, yeah, as Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti) noted, people in leadership and power positions are often people of privilege. As others agreed, they are also the ones with the most control. Over us, over our careers…

I understand these challenges. I know it’s scary. I still think it’s critical. We have to say something. We can’t allow these comments to go unchallenged even when we don’t have twitter ready to back us up. Why? Because other people beyond you are listening. Because if they say it to you, they have said it to others. Because those others might be students, early career scientists, just getting their bearings. They may think statements like that are ok, or are hurt and demeaned by them. When we fail to speak up, we allow those statements to enforce especially unconscious biases and stereotypes of some, and allow others to have their self-worth undermined.



In addition, some listening don’t realize these comments, or their larger experiences, are due to bias and stereotypes and are not personal. Without someone speaking up or calling out, these can be internalized.

So how to go about addressing comments? Moreover, SometimesScienceSux (@SmtimScienceSux) questioned whether correcting someone would really change their mind – which begs the question if you can engage them in further dialogue beyond just the correction. Will they be open to it? Are you be prepared? Perhaps a gentle nudge, as Ian (@IHStreet) suggested, or offering your perspective on the comment, as V. Siva (@DrVidSiva) recommended. Ian (@IHStreet) further noted it’s likely easier if they know you personally, and I agree. I’ve had the most luck with heart-to-heart conversations. In addition, or if you don’t have a personal relationship to draw on, ask people questions, try not to just tell , find out what they think is behind what they’ve said or done. And remember what you learned in elementary school: use “I” statements. Wandering Scientist (@wandsci) also made a great suggestion:

It can be frustrating, especially as we do end up being the ones careful of our words. As Nicole Morgan (@coralnerd) said, for some reason, people can respond really negatively to something as simple and true as “I’m offended by that“, and Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger) reminded us about gaslighting and that we’ll like hear “you’re being too sensitive.” So be prepared. We also talked briefly about the need for a safe space to voice our thoughts – but how this isn’t always available. Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger) and I agreed that we can actually make spaces safer – when we feel comfortable, we should more apt to speak up about diversity, or share our own (like me being out as bi, even though I present as straight) to make spaces safer for others. Wandering Scientist (@wandsci) also noted that they are often taken more seriously when talking about racism, whereas they feel less comfortable talking about sexism. This likely has to do with when you have the privilege in a situation, so take advantage of that. If you don’t feel like you can speak about a subject, like racism if you’re white, simply ask questions about it – what your institution is doing – and raise other voices up to speak. We can also spend a little more time being introspective, and thinking about advice and feedback we get and how we take it. About how the feedback you’d give to would feel (do unto others…). And we should encourage others to do the same…

We still need support in speaking out. We still need a community to back us. It will always be scary, and you never know the impact or backlash that may come of it – there’s a reason we haven’t made as much progress and we should: paradigms are entrenched (that’s why they’re paradigms), old biases die hard. You never know when someone will take offense. We should think carefully about how we address these issues.

I think perhaps a real key is bringing up diversity well before it is a personal issue. Find out if your institution has a diversity statement, and if not why not. Initiate discussions around diversity, unconscious bias, and microaggressions. Talk to leadership about opening up these dialogues, or even bringing in speakers or doing workshops. You certainly don’t need an incident to start this dialogue – look to the increasing body of literature on this as a problem (some here on this blog), or the many, many incidents in the news these days (oh where to start… #BlackLivesMatter, on campus sexual assault..).

Don’t want to start out negative? You don’t need to! There’s also more and more research about how diversity helps us all and why it is critical. You can start talking about diversity as a strength, in terms of so many things from problem solving to attracting new talent. Start there!

No matter your tactic, start before an incident – even if leadership is iffy, I promise you, there is someone, likely many someones, quietly thanking you for your forward thinking. And just imagine the next generation.

Additional links shared by the group included

From Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti): Six Tings You Can Do When People Say Stupid Sexist Shit To You

From Ben Carr (@BenjaminCarr): Stories of sexism in science: ‘sorry about all the women in this laboratory’

Thank you to everyone who participated (as usual in no particular order, and please let us know if someone was missed)!

Ruth Hufbauer ‏(@hufbauer)
Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger)
SometimesScienceSux (@SmtimScienceSux)
Ben Carr (@BenjaminCarr)
V. Siva (@DrVidSiva
Wandering Scientist (@wandsci)
Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti)
Nicole Morgan (@coralnerd)
Cassie (@mosquito_chaser)
Dr. Q (@DrQualls)
Dr. Wrasse (@labroides)

Until next time!

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)
Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS)
Ian (@IHStreet)

How to attract latinas to STEM careers: #DiversityJC recap

Last week we discussed this article on how to attract latinas to STEM careers. It was particularly interesting that our discussion happened the day after the Science Career “advice” not to worry about a male advisor looking down at her chest.

Yes. Good mentors, but also ROLE mentors. At the very least, a good mentor can keep someone going in STEM. A good mentor should able to say ‘here is an e.g. of what i want/don’t want’. In the story for today, it seems like the mentor was a fairly serendipitous connection at first. A critical point is that your mentor *does not* have to be advisor and your advisor shouldn’t be only mentor. In fact, have a diversity of mentors, not everyone can mentor you in everything (nor should). Yet we rarely tell anyone this and focus on advisor being only source of mentoring. While having mentor that looks like you is important, others who can tell their struggles and relate can also be helpful.

Not an easy question. By letting them know they think the mentee belongs in STEM (or could if they so choose)? Instilling confidence for career choices? Mentoring is not equal to just advice. It has to involve listening, creating a good environment, & getting them to see doors to success.

It also has to be everyone’s job, if we only rely on mentors from underrepresented groups they have unequal burden! So the take home message is: BE A GOOD MENTOR!

Thank you all participants, hope to see you next time!

Doctor_PMS, Ian Street, Emily Klein

What’s next and how to get there… or at least get started.

Last week, we took a little diversion from our stated objective of talking diversity in STEM. Doctor PMS and I have been talking and thinking a lot about the next stage in our careers, and about the anxiety and challenge that holds for us. We wanted to see about giving some space to that, especially as community has come up as important in many of our conversations thus far.

Clearly we’re not the only ones struggling with this – as the ensuing conversation (and wrestling that into this recap!) made clear. But we also wanted to hear how others have made it through and reached the other side. We wanted advice, too.

For starters, many of us attempt to figure out what’s next and make ourselves more marketable by taking on extra tasks or responsibilities.

Yet some (myself included) were all too familiar with the struggle to do that, when we have pressure to focus on one:

We likely won’t get recognized for the additional work we’re doing to make our resume stand out, to explore other options, to broaden our skills. We are feeling more pressure to do as many additional things as we can, while often operating within a culture that puts a premium on a single type of output.

Part of this was the fact that many of us are in an academic culture that values specific goals (peer-reviewed publications, tenure) and a specific path (PhD, postdoc, tenure-track faculty). In addition, as biochembelle (@biochembelle) mused, maybe we get too focused on certain titles in academia (e.g. “tenure-track professor”) – ones that we don’t see when/if we leave. Moreover, Luna CM Centifanti ‏(@LunaCentifanti), Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) and Jorden Cummings (@jordenc_phd) brought up that we are often under the impression that if you leave academia – don’t expect to come back. This narrative alone can be harmful and create anxiety, as Amelia Jordan (‏@Robot_Insect) noted, as it makes us feel like we can’t even try something else, even if we’re unhappy or academia doesn’t feel like the right fit.

Being on an Ivy League campus right now, I have heard from graduate students that success is getting tenure at another Ivy. Anything less is failure. But. This doesn’t have to be the case.

In fact, many responded that leaving was not always a one-way street. While it may be difficult for some in some fields, you can absolutely return to academia. Further, I argue the narrative that it can’t be done says far more about academic institutional culture than it does about reality – and this culture is not everywhere. For me, my MS and PhD studies were at an institution that was very different in this regard from where I am now. The University of New Hampshire was very applied – graduate students worked very often with collaborators off-campus and outside academia. The faculty represented a range of backgrounds, as did the grad students themselves. Leaving academia was never frowned upon, it was done regularly. And you could return – there are academic institutions that value and welcome non-academic experience.

See, there is more than an academic path out there. Moreover, we shouldn’t be looking into it just because we’re hearing over and over again how there are too few jobs and too many of us. Academia might also be the wrong fit! There may be something else out there we’re better at.

Yet even if you do get past the narrative and make the decision to test the non-academic waters, doing so is a challenge. Ian Street (@IHStreet), Jessica Catrilli (@jess_carilli) and others noted that translating our skills and experiences can be difficult. Jorden Cummings (@jordenc_phd) and V. Siva (@DrVidSiva) added that you don’t always know what jobs to look for. The problem is, as V. Siva continued, there is often little being done to help prepare us for a job beyond academia. Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) followed up that this is why it’s so tough – how do you know what skills you need, if you don’t know entirely where you’re headed? And I’ll add – how do you know even know which direction to go, if you’re never made fully aware of all the options available to you?

Unfortunately, in addition to all of that, we have to face fact that the job market may be no better outside of academia.

We can’t assume that just by leaving we’ll suddenly be at an advantage, even if we do figure out how to translate our skills and experience, how to update our resume. However, I’ve also been told that you can make your academic experience work for you. If you have an advanced degree, this can signal that you are good at multi-tasking, at starting and completing difficult projects and research, that you can handle challenges and solve problems. Basically, as academics, we tend to completely overlook what it means to have gone through rigorous academic training in the first place. We can translate that into marketable skills.

So. What to be done? How do we try out new fields when we have been told so little about them? How do we move in a non-academic direction with little support in doing so?

First. The big bottom line really is the fact that there are other paths. Most of us are just not used to seeing them after having been in academia our entire careers thus far, and interacting with only other academics.

Viviane Callier (@vcallier) added there’s a clear path in academia, but less so outside it. This alone is “both terrifying and exciting“…!

So how do we see what’s out there, this place with no path? One really helpful way is simply talking to other people who’ve done it.

In addition to learning what’s out there, do some self-reflection.

What do you enjoy most about your current job? What are you good at? What would you like to learn? What about other positions sound intriguing? If you can design your perfect career, what would it look like?
I know these sound kinda silly, but they really are deeply important questions – and don’t limit yourself. Dream big. For example, I’ve been doing a lot of this thinking over the past few months of my postdoc. Yes, I am doing interesting work at a very prestigious lab at a very prestigious university but… I realize I enjoy the connections between research and management far more than theoretical work. I like collaboration – I like connecting people. I am good at running meetings, staying on task, and following up. A career in academia likely isn’t for me – but a job for a non-profit or “boundary group” that connects research and policy, one where I help develop long-term goals and the strategies to get them done? That would be fabulous. I also want a job that pays me to do diversity work – and I want that work explicitly part of long-term goals and strategies.

Maybe that’s a big dream, but it helps me craft what I do now. Who I talk to, what I talk about, even how I frame the papers I’m working on.

To help you think about this, try out new things! Talk to new people! Read stuff! Check out job boards (some of my ideas come from job posts I’m not yet qualified for). You never know what might click.

Another helpful tip: informational interviews – when you interview someone for information, usually about their job and how they got there, as opposed to for a job yourself. These are also a great way to figure out what might fit for you. Look into people writing or doing cool things, look them up online, read about them. If they have a career that sounds intriguing, even if you have no idea how you’d get there… guess what, they might have some insight. Sure, cold-contacting someone is scary, but remember that informational interviews are done widely in other fields (outside academia!) and that people love to talk about themselves!

If you do decide to make a switch, seek out resources that can help you figure out what you need to be successful in that field. Learn what matters in this new career – what skills, experience, and what they value. Start to network, from your informational interviews say. Update your CV/resume – it will not be the same across postings! – and while this will be challenging, it can be done!

But perhaps don’t just go at it haphazardly. As Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) stated, and I agree, make a plan. If I can think through things, the steps I need to take, that makes all the difference in the world. If you don’t know what comes next, or those steps – again, find someone who does! But – keep in mind this plan should be flexible. You never know what’s going to happen next…

In the meantime, remember the importance of taking care of yourself, and of spending time with the people around you. I’ve just added a whole bunch of additional things for you to do – when you’re already pressed for time, stressed, and anxious. This is where your friends and colleagues come in.

Never underestimate the power of community – of a safe space to talk about your worries and your hopes. Where you can share struggles and get advice, be it with one person or many.

This is particularly important much more broadly. Ian Street (@IHStreet) also got us talking about mental health – a HUGE part of this conversation that often gets left out.

There was a lot of conversation about mental health – and for good reason. Graduate school and our early careers are often highly stressful. We are also likely isolated from friends and family – and even from those around us. I think we often hide our anxieties, feelings of not measuring up, depression, from our lab members and advisor. As the conversation made clear, this is a major, major issue – that we don’t often talk about, and are rarely sure where to go for help.

We don’t talk about our struggles very often. We don’t want people to know that we’re having a tough time, or we’re late on that manuscript. We don’t want people to know we’re not sure how to do that analysis, and didn’t understand this paper – yet it can be much more than that. We live in a society that has a tough time with mental illness in all of its forms already – and now we’re in academia where we rely on our brains and competition may mean we don’t want to show any form of “weakness”. This is a systemic problem I’m already getting sidetracked on, so I’ll just say this: having a community you trust, be that one person or many, and talking about issues together in a safe space is key, but hard to come by. Try to find it well before you need it, if you can, and be that space for others. Do not shy away from conversations about mental health – be supportive. If you need help but can’t find it in your lab or advisor, go elsewhere. Even twitter can be a supportive space where you can be anonymous until you’re ready to find people you can trust IRL.

Coming back to our topic, one important aspect of support is having a mentor you trust, someone you can discuss things in a more professional capacity, as being proactive can help ease anxiety. A mentor is also critical for determining your career path and supporting you through it.

I don’t think I can overstate this – the importance of mentoring, either as a mentor working to help your students understand the options available, or as a student looking forward. However. We live under the assumption that you just need the one, and that one is your advisor. This isn’t true. Let me reiterate Alycia Mosely Austin (@AlyciaPhD) by saying you likely need more than your advisor. First, maybe your advisor isn’t very good at mentoring. Find another. Second, one person cannot do all the mentoring things for you. Your advisor may be a great mentor when it comes to your research, but has never left academia. They cannot mentor you as you think about new career options. As Ruth Hufbauer (@hufbauer) pointed out, faculty may not have be able to advise students on career decisions that are new to them, as well.

A good mentor will help you navigate potential avenues available, and can assist with everything from converting your resume to learning the important jargon you’ll need to know (as David Thul pointed out) to network effectively. And this isn’t just for now. You will need to seek out good mentors for various reason throughout your life. This is not something that is given – this takes active work. Learn to do this now.

Finally, Cassie (@mosquito_chaser) brought up an interesting point…

I know a lot of minority groups feel this way – that what we do as individuals reflects on us as a whole. It’s unfair but reality. To this I say – I’ll echo biochem bell (@biochembelle), Sci Curious (@scicurious), and Alycia Mosey Austin (@AlyciaPhD) that we can lead in demonstrating all of the things we can do in our fields, the range of experiences and opportunities out there. There are many ways to be an inspiration!

So. An attempt to sum up: Think about what it is you want to do, and what you’re good at. What makes you tick, what will be fulfilling – but then take steps to make that a reality. Realize you can try something new – but you will have to work at it and seek help. Be proactive – talk with other people about their paths, about other options, network, attend seminars outside your focus, try out an informational interview or two. Plan ahead – but allow plans to be fluid! And, bottom line, pay attention to you in other ways too: watch you stress and anxiety levels, know you can and should talk about mental health – yours and others. Take time when you need it, don’t be afraid to support yourself too!

There is hope!

I tried to grab all the articles and resources shared during this conversation, but please add more in the comments!

Post-academic Ph.D. Careers: a Spectrum of Alternatives
Finding your career path: A list of articles and resources from @biochembelle
The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life
Advice for PhD Students: Tips From Professors, Startup Founders, and Industry Professionals
PhD to University Administration: A post on Dr. Alycia Mosley Austin’s (@AlyciaPhD) career path.
A Scientist’s Guide to Citizen Science from Megan McCuller (@mccullermi).
biochembelle‘s posts on Changing Course, Part 1 and Part 2.
An Interview with Professional Development Consultant Marquita M. Qualls, PhD
From @SciCurious: Tips for getting out and The ‘system’ failed me. It should have failed me sooner.
Things to do and not do for your future – not former – self.
“In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times.”
How Uncertainty Fuels Anxiety

Consider following:
Science Careers: @sciencecareers
The National Postdoctoral Association at nationalpostdoc: @nationalpostdoc
SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science): @sacnas
AAAS MassMedia Fellowship: @AAASMassMedia
MySciCareer: @MySciCareer

Thank you to everyone who participated! In no particular order (and let me know if I missed anyone):

Jorden Cummings ‏@jordenc_phd
Megan McCuller @mccullermi
Luna CM Centifanti ‏@LunaCentifanti
Ian Street ‏@IHStreet
V. Siva ‏@DrVidSiva
Cassie ‏@mosquito_chaser
Alycia Mosley Austin ‏@AlyciaPhD
Amelia Jordan ‏@Robot_Insect
Gary McDowell ‏@BiophysicalFrog
biochem belle ‏@biochembelle
Melissa WilsonSayres ‏@mwilsonsayres
Viviane Callier ‏@vcallier
Bill Hooker ‏@sennoma
Terry McGlynn ‏@hormiga
Corey Welch ‏@CoreyWelch_STEM
Wandering Scientist ‏@wandsci
David Thul ‏@David_J_Thul
Ruth Hufbauer ‏@hufbauer
Starving Scientist ‏@starvingphd
Bill Price ‏@pdiff1
Marissa Berlin ‏@stiricide
Sci Curious @scicurious
Jessica Carilli ‏@jess_carilli
NatC @SciTriGrrl
InBabyAttachMode ‏@BabyAttachMode
Alberto Roca ‏@MinorityPostdoc
SJ Mentch ‏@sjmentch

Please feel free to continue the discussion in the comments and post additional resources I missed! And don’t forget to check out our two guests post that came about as a result of this conversation:

HIRING SUCCESS STORY guest post by @AlyciaPhD
Tips for Handling Career Anxiety guest post by @wandsci

Til next time!

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)

Tips for Handling Career Anxiety guest post by @wandsci

Last week’s Diversity Journal Club was about handling anxiety, and not surprisingly, there was a lot of talk about career uncertainty, career change, and the anxiety these things can produce.

I tweeted a few things that have helped me handle my anxiety in this regard, and the journal club organizers asked if I’d be willing to expand on them in a guest post.

Before I get started, I want to note that I am making my comments as someone who does not have an anxiety disorder or depression. People with those sorts of diseases will surely have additional challenges in handling anxiety, which I am not at all qualified to address. However, even as someone whose only chronic illness is asthma, I have used counseling services several times in my past, and have always found them to be extremely useful. If you are struggling with anxiety for whatever reason, please do consider seeking some professional advice and support.

I’ve recently undertaken a rather large career change myself: I quit my full time job and set up shop as an independent contractor and consultant. Working as a contractor is going reasonably well, but it is full of sources of uncertainty- the most obvious being where I will find my next contract. I’m also trying to use some of the time freed up by this change to bootstrap a company that makes things for people who love to learn. That is going according to my plan, but that plan was to go really slowly, at least at first.  In a climate that celebrates venture-backed start ups, it is easy to start feeling like my company is failing before it has even really gotten started, even though I made a conscious decision to do things differently.

If you’d like to see where I’m at, here is my company website. I am actually a little further along than shown on the website. I decided that my first area of focus would be publishing short ebooks (you can also read more about that decision if you’d like), and have one book under contract at out with an editor right now and am close to signing a contract on another book.

There is A LOT of uncertainty and anxiety around the products aspect of my company. I would be lying if I said that all of this uncertainty and the anxiety it produces don’t occasionally make me wonder if I’m doing the wrong thing with my life. My husband can attest that I sometimes have a beer or two or three and whine about it all.

But I also know that I am unbelievably lucky to have the chance to try this out, and I don’t want anxiety to keep me from giving it my best shot. That means I have to keep my anxiety under control. Here’s how I do it.


I remind myself about how much time I have.

I am 42. I plan to work in some capacity until I’m at least 65, assuming my health holds and I don’t strike it so rich that “travel the world living a life of adventure” becomes an actual option. I got my PhD and entered the workforce 15 years ago. I expect to work for 23 more years or longer. I’m not even halfway done yet! So I have plenty of time left, and I can afford to take a few years to try to make my current plan work. If it doesn’t work, I have plenty of time to do something different.

Yes, this ignores the very real problem of age discrimination, but as someone who’s spent her entire career dealing with the very real problem of gender discrimination my approach is to acknowledge it exists and assume that I will find a way to do interesting things, anyway.

I keep my eye on my own definition of success.

I spent far too much of my 20s and early 30s chasing someone else’s definition of success. I have finally learned to at least try to judge myself only by my own metrics. This can be hard to do: I am not immune to the effects of peer pressure. But when I feel myself worrying that I’m “failing,” I try to take a step back and ask if that is really true, or if I’m just aiming for a different prize.

I also find it helpful to remind myself that the only thing I actually must do with my career is make enough money to support myself and my family. All other aspects of success are up to me to define.

It is natural for us to absorb the definition of success that is common in the environment in which we work- but we don’t really have to accept that definition. We can choose a different definition, more in line with our own goals. If you choose to aim for a different goal, though, don’t be surprised if some of the people around you are not supportive. Watching a friend make a large change in goals can cause people to question their own choices, and that can be uncomfortable. Some people will lash out at the person whose new direction initiated the confusion. Just remember that your choices and goals are not actually a commentary on their choices and goals, and try not to let them derail you.

I try to understand the root of my anxiety and work to mitigate that.

I can feel anxious for a lot of different reasons. A few years ago, I had a tremendous bout of anxiety that I eventually tracked back to a feeling that my technical skills were getting stale, which would limit my career options. I decided to start working on a personal side project to alleviate that feeling, and that led me to launch Tungsten Hippo, a website about short ebooks. I have done everything on that website myself, and seeing it take shape reminded me that I am perfectly capable of learning new technical skills when I need them, and quieted that particular bout of anxiety.

More recently, I’ve been stressing about money. My husband and I checked our budget before I decided to quit my full time job, and we can accommodate a less predictable income. There is no rational reason for me to be stressing about money, but there is also no denying that I was stressing about money. When I examined my anxiety a bit more, I realized that what I actually need to stop worrying is a reliable income that covers a certain percentage of our monthly expenses. That amount is a small fraction of the amount I actually bring in each month, but it is apparently really important to me. Therefore, I recently signed on to do some work that pays much less than my usual sort of work, but is reliable and can flex around my other commitments. This makes it worth doing, even though by a straight analysis of the hourly rate, it might not be.

This example also feeds back into the point about knowing what success means to me. By most objective measures, the contract I just signed is a “step down” from my usual work. Some people might consider that an indication of failure. But in fact, it is allowing me to continue to pursue my larger goals, so to me, it is part of my attempt to succeed.

Everyone has their own definition of success and their own anxiety triggers. It can be hard to see those through the fog of society’s expectations for us, though. Perhaps the first step towards combating career-related anxiety is to spend some time learning about what really matters to you. This has been an iterative process for me, and it is ongoing. However, as I learn more about what matters to me, my enjoyment of my own life continues to grow. So I think it is worth the effort.

HIRING SUCCESS STORY guest post by @AlyciaPhD

I knew pretty early on in graduate school that I wanted to pursue a career in academic administration. When I was a second-year Ph.D. student a friend who was the Graduate Student Association representative for our program suggested that I serve on a University-wide committee, since I am “the kind of person who has opinions about things.” I joined the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women. The main benefit of this experience was exposure to all of the different constituencies that make a university run. It is a common experience for graduate students to be isolated within the environment of their individual departments or programs, such that they have no idea what provosts, vice chancellors and the like actually do, or why they should care. Serving on this committee gave me a view into the other side, beyond research and teaching, and I found it really fascinating to see the nuts and bolts of how the administration tries, sometimes unsuccessfully, to serve it’s students, faculty and staff. At about the same time I joined the newly formed Diversity Recruitment Committee for my program, and participated in the diversity recruitment efforts of the Office of Graduate Studies.

My first Ph.D. advisor was not a good match as a mentor, and my research project was languishing as a result, so it was important for me to find avenues outside of the lab where I felt competent and that I was making a contribution. In addition to my committee service, I acted as a mentor for an undergraduate summer program, and did as much informal science outreach as I could. Eventually I got to the point where I found more personal fulfillment out of my “extracurricular” activities than my research, so I tried to find models for how other people had turned these types of interests into a career.

During graduate school I went to every panel discussion on non-academic/non-traditional careers for scientists available to me both on my campus, and at any conference that I attended. My main goal was to identify how people who have successfully moved away from the bench got their start. It was very frustrating to find out that there was no real answer, and that there were no pre-existing models that I could follow.

At first it seemed like most of these folks found their positions by sheer luck. They would say, “well I was doing my post-doc and someone called up and said would you like to do this other thing” and they accepted the offer. Take-home message: stay on the academic path and wait for someone to call you out of the blue. This was not the advice that I was hoping to find. In retrospect I think the answer is that luck favors the prepared, or that if you take the effort to build a broad base of skills, and make sure that a wide spectrum of people know about you and your skills, you will be in the position to create opportunities for yourself. Fortunately I was already doing just that. I didn’t seek these experiences out with a plan that they would help my career, but in the end it worked out to be a tremendous advantage.

The institution where I went to graduate school was approximately 3000 miles away from where my husband and I grew up, so I knew that I wanted to find a job closer to our families. I had a very small and very specific geographic location in mind, and my goal was get a non-faculty job at a university. Consequently there was a very short list of universities that I targeted in my job search. For years I had been searching job listings just to get an idea of what types of positions I could possibly do, and I started getting in touch with contacts at those universities in 2009, about a year before I planned to defend my dissertation. By this time I had a new advisor and a new research project, which was going very well with his guidance. He was not only supportive of my research, but also of my plans to pursue a non-research career.

One contact was a woman I met at a conference in 2007. She let me know that she had left for maternity leave and decided not to come back. Her position had not yet been posted, and had been unfilled for some time, but they were interested in eventually hiring a replacement. As luck would have it, I was going to be in the area for a wedding, so I took the proactive step of sending a resume and cover letter and letting them know the dates that I would be available if they wanted to meet with me. Even though there was no job ad. I knew they needed someone who could recruit and provide support to underrepresented Ph.D. students in STEM fields, so I tailored my document to show that I had those skills.

My CV highlights my research experience and doesn’t mention any of my administrative or outreach activities. In contrast, my resume puts my university service at the forefront, to show that I was familiar with the process of graduate student recruitment and professional development, and that I was comfortable working with students, faculty, and senior academic administrators. I included several bullets points for each item so that it was clear exactly what I had accomplished and what skills I had developed. For example, if I had just listed the names of the committees that I served on, the people reading my resume could think I had just gone to a bunch of on-campus meetings and was not an active participant. It was important to use my resume convey to that I also helped to shape university policy, plan and implement events, and travel to national conferences to recruit students.

For the cover letter I chose to take this idea further by structuring it around three experiences that I had in university service, and describing the skills that I developed in each that would prove valuable in this position. I also made a point of giving a specific example of my contribution to a successful outcome, in this case planning a focus group with the founder of MentorNet. This example allowed me to show that I was able to take action on information that I gained by directly engaging with a university administrator, showing my ability to identify a problem and work with various campus constituents to implement a solution.

As I mentioned, when I contacted them the job had not yet been posted. I sent them my resume and cover letter in May of 2009, and they responded immediately to let me know that they had not yet updated the position description but that they intended to hire someone and would keep me in mind. Within a few weeks they got back to me to schedule an interview in June on one of the dates I had suggested in my letter. I found as much information as I could about the university by searching Google, and went into the interview with a plan to explain to them that I had all of the skills and experience that they were looking for, even if they didn’t yet know what they wanted.

All of the interviewers that I spoke with that day asked the same question, which was why I wanted to do this job when I was in a position to have a successful research career. Because I had been thinking about this for several years at that point, I had a very well crafted answer that called back to all of the experiences that I mentioned in my cover letter and resume. The interview went very well, and they kept me informed as they went through the process of getting the job approved by Human Resources so that they could officially open the search. It was not until August 31, over two months later, that I actually saw the job description. I will let you the reader decide if there were any similarities between what was posted and what I listed on my resume. They interviewed a few additional candidates in October, and I also had phone interviews with members of the search committee that I had not met in June. I don’t remember how long it was until they offered me the position, but I think it was late November or early December. It is a union position so the salary range is fixed, but I negotiated to get the maximum, plus an allowance for moving expenses.

My mentors were very supportive of my decision to pursue this career path, but they were confused as to why I would choose a university that was not in the same tier of prestige as any other institution in my background. I felt that this position provided me with an opportunity to make a real contribution to an effort towards institutional change, which was very exciting. If I had gone to a more elite university I think it would be harder to feel as if I were having an impact, being a little fish in a big pond. It was also a work-life balance decision, since I was planning on starting a family.

Once in the position I was thrilled to be able to use both my administrative and research skills to help recruit a more diverse pool of graduate students. Similar to my volunteer experiences in graduate school, I now travel nationally to recruit prospective students, represent the Graduate School on various university committees, and advise faculty and staff on best practices in recruitment and diversity. My academic background comes in handy when I must collect and analyze data on graduate admissions and enrollment, or give presentations for audiences as diverse as the Council of Deans, or groups of undergraduates thinking about applying graduate school. One of the things that I like most about working on the administrative side of the university is that I get to interact with both students and faculty from a variety of disciplines, rather than remain isolated in a sub-niche of a my chosen field.

Another great benefit of my position is that I get the chance to demystify graduate school for so many people struggling like I did with the fact that there are so many unwritten rules of academia. I tell them that it is important not to ignore all of the networking advice that is out there. My trajectory shows that it works. I never would have known about this position if I hadn’t sent a random email to a woman I’d met at a conference two years prior. Make contacts before you know you need them. Even if you don’t end up going to someone for help, you may be in a position to help them one day, which is just as important. I also tell my students something that I mentioned earlier, which is to make sure your network has contacts that can vouch for your non-research skills. Many students look to their advisors and committee members to serve as references for academic jobs, but if you are looking for a non-traditional career that may not be sufficient. In addition to my advisor, I obtained letters of recommendation from a faculty member that I worked closely with on two committees over the course of four years, and from the coordinator of the mentoring program that I worked with for two summers. They were able to speak to aspects of my character that were relevant to my desired position, but may not have been obvious to my research collaborators because they knew me in a different context.

A final piece of advice is to be open to all possibilities, and to be proactive about finding them. Don’t wait for a job to find you. Many jobs that go to newly minted PhDs never get posted at all, so if you are not out there asking questions, you have already missed out.

Alycia Mosley Austin

Ph.D., Neuroscience, 2010

Director of Graduate Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives at University of Rhode Island