How to deal with gender bias in academia?

My honest first answer before this session was ‘I don’t know’. Similar as Atsuko put it in this live session, I am not living in my home country for many years and it is hard to tell what is about me being a women and what is a cultural thing I don’t understand. But there is this almost painful awareness of having to justify my existence all the time. This constant feeling of having to proof that I deserve to be here.

The most important thing I learned in this session was that this will never stop. And accepting that this is something which will always be part of my professional life also brings some kind of relief with it. I am not alone and I am just as much part of the solution as everybody else.

I am very grateful for the insightful and genuine discussion with my colleagues and friends Asli Ozyurek, Yoed Kenett, Emily Coderre, and Atsuko Takashima. I learned a lot and I recommend everybody to watch the discussion. Instead of trying to summarize the contents I give you the content overview with minutes and topics we discussed so you can listen to what is most relevant to you.

3:39 Different career stages, different problems
13:45 Role models and leadership styles
22:19 Coaching women how to survive in a male dominant culture
33:55 Networking strategies
46:30 The struggles of being a parent in acdemia
1:03:20 Realistic applications and making a change for the individual as well as for the system

Feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk about more!

How to deal with rejection & frustration

Being able to deal with rejection and frustration is a key academic skill. The earlier you learn it, the better. Whether you get roasted in a Q&A session, have to deal with constant cynical remarks from peers, get a series of papers or grant proposals rejected, or deal with the endless frustration of university bureaucracy and interpersonal conflicts – negativity lures around every corner. It’s time to pick your weapons.

With my friends Dr Molly Berenhaus and Dr Christina Bergmann, I chatted today about our strategies to deal with the everyday rejection and frustration in academia. In the session we talked about First Aid as well as Long Term Prevention strategies. You can rewatch the discussion here (most important take home messages below):

  1. Understand that this is part of your job. Your experience is not unique to you -everybody deals with the same shit. Promised.
  2. It is also rarely personal.
  3. Never, NEVER act in the heat of the moment. Buy yourself some time and try to keep the situation under control.
  4. No public rants about your failures, unfair treatment, or colleagues. There is a time and place for the much needed venting, but this is not on social media and not in public.
  5. Take it as a lesson to become better as a researcher, as a writer, as a reviewer, as a teacher or supervisor, as a colleague, as a recruiter.
  6. Try to localize the problem and be open to change.
  7. Internalize the constructive message, not the negative feedback.
  8. Reach out for help. Avoid getting isolated at all costs.
  9. Protect yourself from negativity by keeping a lot of work in the pipeline. Don’t put everything on one project.
  10. Celebrate each success.

How to manage your supervisor

Today I talked about the relationship with your supervisor. The role of your supervisor is to provide you with an environment suitable to develop your academic skills in order to become independent and to finish your thesis in a reasonable time. In turn, your supervisor expects from you commitment, involvement, and accountability. It is important to understand that your supervisor is also a person with strengths, shortcomings and an own agenda. Luckily, it is usually in your supervisors best interest if you succeed because your success is also their’s. In order to have a functional relationship with them it is crucial to build on strengths and develop strategies to deal with difficulties. You are just as responsible to nurture your relationship with your supervisor as they are. In the live session, I discussed different types of supervisors sand how to deal with them:

Most supervisors are a combination of the different types and you will have to figure out TOGETHER what works and what not. Keep in mind that academics usually never receive any training for supervising. They depend on your feedback and openness to try different strategies.

There are a few general rules which will help your relationship with all of them:

#1 Talk open about expectations, communication, and concerns. Most catastrophic supervisor-student relations I have seen are the result of not talking about problem for too long and some cases so long that it was too late to fix it. This is always sad and frustrating for everybody involved, first and foremost because it is so unnecessary. If you run into trouble or feel something does not work out for, schedule a meeting and talk immediately!

#2 Their job is to help you get independent, so do not expect to get pampered or to do your work. As hard and painful as their feedback can be, make the most out of it. And always keep in mind that this is not personal and well meant.

#3 Always be proactive and prepared. Don’t wait for your supervisor to manage you. Scheduling meetings, planning projects, making deadlines, finding relevant training etc. is your job. Their job is to advice you on your work and projects, not to manage it.

Last but not least, if there are irreconcilable differences and you cannot make it work together, this is not the end of the world. Most institutes have procedures (and mediators) in place to deal with this. Contact your graduate school for more information!

Time and energy management: My take on work-life-balance

Today I talked about how I try to optimize my energy to work at my best as often as I can. You can rewatch the session here and read a brief summary below:

  1. A perfectly balanced day to day life is a lie! Stop reading internet posts like ‘These are 10 everyday habits among the most successful achievers’. These super successful people might do all of these things on their best days, but trust me: Nobody has their best day everyday. The sooner you accept that there will be more and less productive times, the better. It will save you a lot of frustration and feeling like a failure.
  2. The good news is: You CAN have a perfectly balanced life on a larger time scale. There will be busy times where you will have to pull these extra hours. But there will be slow times, where you can go home early (or take off for some days) and should not feel guilty about it. The best advice I ever got: Work hard when it goes well. And when it doesn’t, do the most necessary things and take care of yourself.
  3. A happy and healthy academic is a productive academic. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to take a day off. When you are exhausted, you cannot work your best. Stop wasting your time being tired in the office without getting important work done.
  4. Sufficient daily sleep, reasonably healthy and regular meals, and regular exercise are the basis of being a functional human being. These 3 things are non-negotiable. You cannot go even a few days neglecting them without taking a hit in your productivity. If you want to be productive, these 3 things are your highest priority!
  5. Positive energy in, more productivity out. Downtime and relaxation are important, but make sure your private life is also filled with other activities which give you energy, purpose, confidence, and a social life outside of work. This is crucial for me to stay sane and keep in touch with reality.
  6. Don’t fall for the failure trap! If you take your projects too personal and things go wrong (and I promise they will eventually), you easily fall into the failure trap (failure trap = your project sucks >> your work sucks >> you suck as a researcher >> you suck). Having your self-value not solely dependent on your work success will prevent you from falling for this negative thinking and help you find solutions faster.
  7. If something worries you and distracts you from your work constantly, take care of it. NOW. If there is something draining your energy, get it out of the way.
  8. Forget the haters. There will always be people who think that being an academic means to be a cynical and miserable and they will make it their priority to remind everybody how much their job sucks, how underpaid they are, how desperate your future is, and how you should feel guilty for being a functional human being outside your job. Keep them on distance. Your job is to be the best person you can be. This will also make you a better researcher.
  9. Stop telling #youshouldbewriting jokes.

 

How to juggle multiple projects

In the first Academic Crisis Line session, I talked about tips and tools which help organizing your work time efficiently so that you can manage multiple projects without getting overwhelmed. You can rewatch the video here:

Here is a mini summary:

  1. Day to day business (microlevel managing)
    • Tools: timetable, calendars, planners, spreadsheets, post its, Google Tasks, Trello,…
    • Make a week overview with all the regular events to see which blocks of time you have available to work on your projects. Don’t forget to insert private events to see which evening you can realistically work longer and which not.
    • Your week will now be chunked up into smaller and bigger time windows. Try to get two entire days of uninterrupted work without meetings, lecture series or other obligations (1 full + 2 half days will do, too). These are the days on which you can work on more challenging or demanding tasks or for writing, developing new ideas etc. Protect these days! This is where you get the important work done!
    • Use all the smaller chunks for smaller tasks which can be divided into small units easily like admin, emails, meetings with students.
    • Don’t waste your time. Do things when they are fresh and you are on top of things (e.g. write up your analysis and results during or after analyzing). When you have to go back to things weeks after you did them it costs you much more time to do it.
    • Review your progress weekly and reassess tasks and important next steps. Make a plan for the coming weeks!
    • Avoid micromanaging! It feels productive, but don’t let it fool you. Organizing should save you time, not eat it up!
    • Procrastinate efficiently: Ask yourself why you are procrastinating (Overwhelmed? Waiting for feedback? Unclear were to start? Too much of the same type of work for too long?). Take immediate action to find a solution (Ask for a meeting with adviser. Look for help online. Send the email.). If your problem cannot be solved immediately (Yay Google! Someone had exactly this problem and wrote about it!), leave this problem for now and work on something else. Most importantly: Don’t allow yourself to get stuck!
  2. Organizing multiple projects over months (and years)
    • Tools: progress charts, calendars, spreadsheets, OSF, Trello,… (whatever you do, stay consistent!).
    • Be clear about your role and workload in each of your projects. Plan realistically how much work it will be (plan buffer and downtime!!!) and when work intense periods will occur (e.g. data acquisition, deadlines for conferences).
    • Avoid having too many projects in the same progress stage. Ask yourself which tasks can go in parallel and which not. Plan some downtime after each step in a project to allow yourself to reflect about it before moving forward. In addition, plan some buffer time for certain phases in the projects where things can go wrong (e.g. data acquisition taking longer than expected, technical hiccups, etc…).
    • Take a few minutes to write up new ideas and store them in a central location for when you have time o start a new project.
    • Regularly rethink priorities and project progress (what are the consequences if a task does not finish on time) and adapt your plan if something changes. Even with the best planning, things can go wrong and you have to be flexible in finding a solution.
    • Accept that you cannot every variable which can influence project progress and that you won’t be able to give 100% at all times. Talk about it with people involved in the project and try to redefine priorities and find solutions.
  3. Don’t loose track of your big plan (macro managing to achieve your career goals)
    • Tools: 5 year plan, 10 year plan, annual goals
    • Take sometime at least once per year (Christmas break?) to reflect upon where you are in your career, where you want to be, and how you can achieve this.
    • Write down what you want to achieve this year (publish this paper, submit these other two, apply for this grant, learn a new analysis technique) and keep this list visible. This will help you decide on priorities.
    • Make time in your schedule once in a while to learn new things, keep up with the literature, reflect on research lines and brainstorm new ideas.

If you have questions, please send them to me or comment underneath. I will answer but want to keep all in one place.

UPDATE: I now upgraded my project planning to a digital online based method allowing direct collaboration. Have a look: Upgrade to digital project planning. A follow up on ‘how to juggle multiple projects’.

Live saving archiving and documentation strategies.

What are the best practices in documentation, archiving, publishing of code, data, and other materials? How to keep your file structure organized on your own computers?

This series featured two awesome guests from University of Pennsylvania:

Steven Weissberg (https://stevenmweisberg.com/) from the Chatlab at Upenn (http://ccn.upenn.edu/chatterjee/) talked about OSF and how to use it for open science and archiving (from 5:14).

Giulia Frazetta (https://github.com/gfrazzetta) from Geoffrey Aguirre’s lab at UPenn ( https://github.com/gkaguirrelab) talked about versioning and how to make the best use of github (from 11:39).

 

Quick summary of the most important points:

  1. Always keep future you in mind. And with future, we don’t mean the next few weeks, but the next few years.
  2. Keep your files on your computer tidy. Organize things which you are likely to recycle (e.g. slides, writing, graphics) together. Organize your research material (e.g. data, analysis files, stimuli) in project folders and stay consistent with folder structure and naming.
  3. Don’t panic-save everything. Archive data files at the most important steps in a separate folder (raw, preprocessed, analysis#1, analysis#2, wide format) and use the  copies in your analysis directory for ongoing analyses and trying out things. Overwrite old files when moving on (Don’t panic, you have that safety copy).
  4. Write up the documentation of your study directly into a manuscript file which will later be the basis of a published paper. Writing up the experiment protocols, materials and methods descriptions, analysis steps, and the results right away will save you a lot of time and frustration.
  5. Use OSF (https://osf.io) to archive your materials and data. This is also great for working with multiple people on one project. Keep this as tidy as possible. As soon as you make it public eventually (which we recommend for most projects) this should be the best reflection of your work as a scientist with highest standards.
  6. If your work entails any kind of coding or writing analysis scripts, github is a great way to keep version control and publish your code.
  7. Always work as if a stranger would have to pick up your project at any time and finish it for you.