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Lady Scientist

Lady Scientist is the pseudonym of Amanda, a (hopefully) soon-to-be finished biochemistry graduate student. Growing up in a smallish, southernish town she struggles to prove that you can be both a lady and scientist. Follow her adventures as she navigates her two-body problem, science, and life.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

One day when I was, oh, about six I was at church with my family. After the service, we had donuts and the kids could play on the playground. There was this boy who kept bugging me about things he could do that I could not. Those were things like hang upside down on the monkey bars (I had on a dress and had reached that point of modesty) and reach the really high bar to do pull ups (I was short). Eventually, I got pissed off and told him that I could spell a long word-- a word longer than he could spell (honestly, I can’t remember the word, but it would make a much better story if I did). A fight ensued.* Our parents broke up the argument and I was chastised for bragging (more than fighting), as (and I quote) “Young lady. Good girls do not brag.”

This was a message that was repeated over and over again. I always seemed to brag, even when I didn’t mean to do so. But inadvertently bragging was so easy! A classmate could glance at my test and see I scored higher than s/he did. Or I could tell my parents that I got an A on a my report card in front of someone else. Or I could mention that I was planning on going to college in the fall. Any of those things seemed to constitute bragging. So, I stopped mentioning things I did well and I learned to preface good things that happened with things like “Well, I’m lucky” or “Who can tell how these things work?”.

Now, I’m interviewing for a postdoc position this weekend. Part of this particular interview-- and I think most interviews-- is preparing a presentation about your work. So, I’ve been working on this for the past week or so. The other day I presented my talk to Advisor and Advisor’s Colleague. After my presentation, Advisor had me go through the slides so, he could, well, advise me on each one. We got to a part of the presentation where I switched model organisms (from prokaryote to eukaryote, even) and Advisor told me that I should emphasize that I was the first person in his lab to do use this model organism. I sort of stared at him and asked if that didn’t constitute bragging.

And that’s when he told me, “If you don’t bang your own drum, no one else will.” He continued to tell me that everyone in the room has a job and I do not. If I don’t tell them what I’ve done, how will they know? It’s a good point. But it’s a hard one, too. I’ve spent most of my life trying not to tell anyone about the (good) things I’ve done. And now I’m supposed to tell everyone how awesome I am? I think more revising of the definition of a lady is in order.

*I should note that we became good friends as we grew up. And he’s a very nice guy.

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Dr Becca, Ph.D.
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YES!! This is so important. Just last weekend, in fact, I was having beers and oysters with a couple of fellow bloggers, one of whom is a PI. PI described his work in a way that made the other two of us go "ooooohh.." even though we don't really know his field at all. He said, "this is how you HAVE to talk about your work, every single time. It is your job to make yourself sound awesome, any time you talk to anyone." Wise words! Now, go get 'em!!

Genomic Repairman
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I wholly agree with Becca, you have to play to your strengths and if you strength is being one of the first to do something or use a particular model. Do it! No one is going to advocate for how badass you are and what type of kickass science you are doing but yourself.

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Might I suggest that, if you haven't done so already, you 'brag' in your Cv and or cover letter. I found that doing so allows you to, as required, 'big up yourself' as the kids would say or down play your accomplishments if the interviewer/s do not rate what you have done as highly as the should. But as your advisor said no one is going to be able to sell your work as well as you can, so you might as well!

Kelly Oakes
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I'm the same, always feel like i'm being smug and bragging if i tell people about stuff that I've done or that I'm good at.... I'm getting better at it though. I think it is a bit of a gender thing too - boys always seem a lot more willing to "brag" about themselves and what they've done in my experience!

Lady Scientist
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Dr. Becca: Yep. New Prof (who also helped me prepare my talk) told me that it isn't bragging to tell them what I've done or to emphasize the awesome parts. Zie said it was just adding interest. That helped me to think of it as adding interest to my talk and not bragging.
Genomic Repairman: What also helped is that by giving my talk I realized how much I've done and that I have done some kickass science. And it was fun to tell other people about it.
jimtheevo: That's a good idea (and a good way to ease into talking about myself). I'm going to have to implement in the future. This interview was a bit different because the Potential-PI asked me to come and talk, so I never submitted a cover letter.
Kelly Oakes: That's probably true. Now, that I think about it my brother never got in trouble for bragging-- only me!
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