Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why I Wasn't One of the 275 at the NPA Meeting

So, YoungFemaleScientist remarked on the perceived low turnout at the National Postdoctoral Association's 2010 Annual Meeting, and Isis the Scientist responded with, "well, duh, they need to serve booze!" Okay, so it was actually more nuanced than that, it was more about lack of resources in general, but you should go read her blog yourself.

Anyway, as a postdoc who knew about the meeting, applied for funding, even won a partial grant, but still didn't go, I felt I should comment on this.

Firstly, I should note that I did attend the Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate held just before the NPA meeting, but still didn't stick around for the main meeting. I attended the Summit as a representative of the American Astronomical Society's (AAS) Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA). So there I had sufficient funding and motivation to justify going to the meeting. I'm posting a summary of the meeting over at the Women in Astronomy Blog, in case you want to read my take on the Summit.

So why didn't I just stay the few extra nights in Philly for the NPA Meeting? The primary reason was that I didn't see what I would get out of it personally. Right now, I need to be focusing on getting my research done and publishing papers so that I can land my next job. Spending my time at a meeting that is not research related is a net loss to me. Going for the Summit to begin with was already a big drain on my time and energy. I have precious little else to spare.

What could I have gotten out of the meeting? Possibly some career development skills from workshops. But I've been to some excellent career development workshops in the past, so this was insufficient motivation for me. Possibly some networking. But given that the vast majority of postdocs in this country are bioscientists and not astrophysicists, this was of limited utility to me. It's interesting because the NPA was making a special effort to bring more physical scientists to the meeting, and yet they still failed to grab me.

My impression of what the NPA is setting out to do is to encourage the establishment of PDAs and PDOs. From what I've learned about about those types of organizations, it sounds like they can do a lot to help postdocs. But getting these things going takes a lot of work, work that doesn't necessarily look favorably on your CV. Heck, I've already been told repeatedly that I should avoid doing any public outreach work because it would take time away from my research. How less relevant to my research career would community organizing be?

Lastly, I want to respond directly to Isis's argument about the lack of booze: many funding organizations specifically prohibit the purchase of booze for meetings, like NSF and pretty much all other federal and state government agencies. So that wasn't necessarily the NPA's fault. And personally, I don't drink much to begin with, so lack of booze is not necessarily a fault in my book.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Last weekend, I judged a science fair. It was my first time being on this side of a science fair, although honestly, the only time I entered in a science fair was in 7th grade with a project on antacids that even at the time I thought was embarassingly dumb. Despite not ever competing in a science fair from 8th through 12th grade, I still managed to eventually get a science PhD. I have no idea what moral to take away from this anecdote.

Anyway! There I was, assigned as a Physics category judge. There were about 15 of us, and I was the only woman. I didn't have a chance to actually tally the numbers of other judges, but I did get the definite impression that our category had the poorest representation of women among the judges. I was also definitely on the younger side. On the bright side, I didn't see gender playing an obvious role in any of the judging. After all, our category winner was a pair of girls who went on to be selected to go to the International Science and Engineering Fair. I did gently chide one of my fellow judges when he made a comment about "our guys" in reference to our shared alma mater, but he took it with good grace.

I was a bit nervous going into this, afraid that the projects would be way above my head and I wouldn't be able to fairly judge projects because I didn't understand them. Imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head, that sort of thing. But as it turned out, the projects spanned a huge range, from "we got the equations off the internet" to "this calculation is completely theoretical" and everything in between. It was only the theoretical computation that I wasn't able to understand, but neither could any of the other judges. And I would say that all of us had physics bachelor's degrees, and at least half of us had PhDs in a science-related field.

All in all, it was an interesting and fun experience. I would definitely go back to do it again if I have the opportunity.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I'm judging a high school science fair this weekend. You would not believe the amount of Imposter Syndrome symptoms this has triggered in me. Okay, maybe you would. Still, it's stressing me out more than it should.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Ides of March

I spent last week in Boston and Philly. Before I left, there were still a few sad piles of snow left from our snowstorms back in February (aka "Snowmaggedon"), enough that finding a clear parking space at the airport was a challenge. By the time I got back, most of the snow was gone. Except for this, which I encountered this morning:
From Twinkle twinkle YSO

Yesterday was Pi Day, so I made chicken pot pi(e) for dinner, and pumpkin pi(e) for dessert.

I now have a backup employment plan for next year, in the event that a faculty job doesn't come through! Not as good as a real job offer, but it certainly takes a load off my mind.

I'm about out of random updates now.