I am lucky I get there when I do. The room is packed to capacity. Within a few minutes of starting the organizers are turning people away from the panel discussion. The topic is “Addressing Issues Facing Women in the Early Stages of Their Scientific Career” run by the Professional Women’s Nexus (PWN). The support for this topic is inspiring and I’m thrilled to hear what advice they have for me. PWN gathered an impressive panel of a journal editor, an associate director of global medical strategic operations in industry, a department chair, and two professors.
However, I quickly realized the title should be changed. Apart from a comment or two, the topics are all for anxious or self-conscious people. I fully accept that there is a large overlap between females and people who are self-conscious. But almost all of the advice could also be applied to men early in their career. So if you are a male or female, self-conscious or anxious in anyway, I encourage you to keep reading to hear these women’s words of advice.
For those early in their career the panel suggested learning a few key skills. Knowing how to multi-task, yet how to focus on the task at hand. For all scientists it is important to have optimism, resilience, and flexibility. With the ups and downs of science, I’m not sure any of us could get through graduate school let alone a career without those skills.
The most refreshing part of the discussion thought was their honesty. When asked how they deal with stress, each panelist admitted they are still figuring that out. When asked how they maintain a work/life balance one panelist exclaimed “That’s a myth!” Rather then describe how to magically have it all, they each described how they manage the guilt of not having a balance. The panel suggested you forgive yourself and allow yourself to take time for yourself or go on vacation without feeling guilty. Another reminded the audience that your priorities will change day to day, and that’s okay.
The final topic was on working with others. I hope we all know by now that it is important to work with others, get feedback, and exchange ideas. It is how we learn and improve our studies. If you are anything like me though, it is a struggle to take criticism. I often internalize even the smallest suggestions as statements of my failure. Luckily one panelist reminded me none of us are “neuroscience Jesus.” We will not have perfect experiments. It is important to take critiques for what they are, suggestions for improvement, and not personal attacks. Take time to ask yourself if the criticism is justified. There will always be gaps in your research. While the panelists were from a range of careers, they all agreed it is best to acknowledge these gaps up front. Finally, they reminded us that rejection is an opportunity to get better. When asked about pivotal moments in their career, each described a moment they moved on and made a change. So take the rejection as a chance to reevaluate where you are.
This advice clearly isn’t female specific. It is worthwhile nonetheless. For those of you who were turned away, I hope this helps you learn what you missed. For those of you who didn’t know this would apply to you, I hope this filled you in. Most of all, thank you to the scientific community for making this not female-specific. The reason this discussion was focused on anxiety is because of our amazing community. When asked how they handled oppression or sexism, most panelists didn’t have any examples to speak of. In general, their only struggle was their own struggles to speak up, not others putting them down. And for that, I thank our community. While I’m sure there are examples of sexism in our community, I’m grateful they are few and farther apart.
Special thanks to the organizers and panelists: Dr. Courtney Miller, Dr. Merit Cudkowicz, Dr. Michelle Gray, Dr. Meredith LeMasurier, Dr. Stephanie Licata, Dr. Gazaleh Sadri-Vakili and Dr. Linda Porrino. Your insight, advice, and generosity with your time was priceless.