Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I hate fax machines. Am I alone?

Just had to send off a signed something-or-other via fax. Fax machines just...bug me. I've faxed things before, but this never stops me from staring quizzically at the mostly-beige buttons until a kindly secretary pops over and explains to me patiently: the paper goes into the machine and you dial a number. The machine will proceed to make frightening noises and eat the paper. The paper reemerges, both here and *somewhere else in the universe*. The machine then gives birth to a confirmation page and everything's over.

I just don't trust these strange electronic creatures. I like email. I like computers. I've come to tolerate cell-phones (yes, I know, I'm weird, I'm Generation Double-Z or something and we're all supposed to have super-dextrous thumbs from all the txt-msgs we snd 2 r palz lol). I can even handle scanners. I deal with technology every day, and I am actually a pretty intuitive and confident person around things that go beep. But faxes are just barely before my time - I never really saw them in their heydey (did they have a heydey?), but they're still everywhere. And thus they bug me.

My opinion of faxes has not been improved by the fact that the fax machine and I never made it to the confirmation page step in this case. Apparently the fax line is busy, so I get to wait a while and then try again. At least this time I'll be able to push "send" all by myself like the big kids.

I will stop playing on blogger and go do real work now. I swear.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

conservation of good days

Yesterday was absolutely awesome. I finally pitched an exciting idea I've had for a while to my adviser - always a scary process, since it's the point at which said exciting idea usually gets smacked down - and she loved it! I uncovered cool results in some other projects, finished a homework set that WASN'T totally half-assed, and went running. I ate healthy. I got a phone call from my sister and her kids - little squeaky voices shouting "Ewwiiiii! We wuv yooo!" over speakerphone is a surefire way to make any day a good day. I even got industrious and cleaned my apartment.

Today proved my theory of conservation of good days - you can have good days in grad school, but you'll have to pay them back.

It was solidly crappy out, precluding any chance at exercising. Another adviser confirmed that I am nothing but a data robot as far as her project is concerned. A cool opportunity to travel to a conference got squelched because data monkeys don't GO to conferences, no matter how much data they have. I forgot that February has only 28 days so my rent check is going to be late. The Boyfriend was falling asleep when I called him, and does not take very kindly to being disrupted during that process. I found scary-moldy fruit in the back of my fridge that is probably masterminding a revolution in my trash can at this very moment.

And one of my officemates, Captain Hyperactive, seemed to have had some extra Dr. Pepper for breakfast: "Oh I'm just so energetic today! I just can't focus! I've totally lost it! *bounces by my desk on a skateboard* I just do my work so fast! [no he doesn't] It's only Tuesday, can you believe it's only Tuesday? I wonder how they make rubber bands? *shoots rubber band*" Here's the question: if I can prove that it will greatly increase my productivity, do you think one of my advisers can set aside some grant money to get me a stun gun?

I want my own office. A big fancy one with windows and pictures on the walls. And a plant. While we're at it, I want a weather machine. And a puppy. And some new fruit.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Women in Science - The Good Part

This weekend finds me in a rather bleak mood - lots of work that I REALLY WANT to do is coming up against lots of other work that I *have* to do, and fellow grad students who see "no, I don't feel like going out past my bedtime tonight with people I've spent the past five days with and spending $30 to buy myself a hangover" as a deep personal blow. In itself this isn't that unusual but it's coupled with me having a rather generic Discouraged With Academia moment. Reading my blogroll, I realized that it's not exactly cheering material - the overarching impression someone would get lately is that academia is a miserable abusive discipline that treats its employees like dirt, leaving everyone constantly angsting over the politics, poor lifestyle, and lack of job security it mercilessly inflicts.

Come one. We're smart chicks. If this was truly the case we'd all be throwing our hands up, saying "Fuck it!", and leaving to go into industry/finance/basket-weaving. So I'd like to ask you all to drop me a comment - or write a post, perhaps for Scientiae - mentioning what is wonderful about academia, and, if you so desire, what's specifically wonderful about being a woman in academia.

Does your subject make you dizzy with excitement? Do you like the lack of nine-to-five-ness? Is it the people you interact with? The intellectual stimulation? Is there eventually a level of flexibility not afforded to you in other fields? Are you looking up to someone who has the dream job/life? Do you like traveling to conferences? Teaching? Advising? Being advised?

I'll start. Three wonderful things:
1) I really do love what I work on - this shit is COOL. My subject, Useless Science, is in good company with all of those fantasy jobs eight-year olds list, i.e., "I wanna be a marine biologist/dinosaur digger/astronomer/Indiana Jones when I grow up!" I'm amazed that I can get paid ANYthing to do this stuff all day. And dammit, I'm GOOD at it. I think it's really true that if I became a millionaire I'd still want to be a Useless Scientist.

2) I know this isn't true for everyone, but I LOVE that there's no dress code in academia. I can go to work in jeans, in skirts, in shorts, in tank tops or sweatshirts or old T-shirts, and nobody cares. As a postdoc I might need to upgrade a little, but I will never be forced to wear a business suit, black pants, make-up, or anything remotely resembling a heel on a daily basis. This extends more to a general casual atmosphere - if I don't have class or a meeting I can show up at eight and roll out at 4, show up at 10 and roll out at 4, stay all day, come in for a couple hours and work from home, etc. My friends in industry have much stricter business hours. Obviously this freedom decreases a bit post-grad-school, but it's still a lovely little lifestyle upshot.

3) As a grad student, I have to keep looking up to the professors and researchers I admire and anticipate the "good part". Grad school, while certainly not the unbridled hellride that everyone would like to pretend it is, is NOT as good as it gets. I like seeing scientists who have various projects rolling that they love, classes they like teaching, and most importantly, a functional outside life. I see my adviser with his wife and kids and serious hiking habit, or a researcher I know from anothed department who funnels all of her monetary savings and personal energies into traveling with her girlfriend, also an academic, whenever she can (these ladies are amazing, the sort of late-forties "tough old bird" pair that are in better shape than me and periodically come out with stuff like "oh, that time when we biked through New Zealand carrying nothing but a water bottle, a knife, and a granola bar.") Nobody's life is perfect, but I see people leading versions of the life I'd like to lead someday, and this is encouraging.

Your turn: talk about what you love about academia! What are the good parts? How can the bad parts follow their example? What makes you stick it out? What makes you happy to go to work on the good days, and what gets you out of bed on the bad days? Come on, I've got an abstract and a proposal that I really want to get myself excited about, help me out! :-)


Friday, February 23, 2007

Vegetarian Philosophies

I've got a post in the works for Scientiae, but in the meantime I wanted to try and solicit some feedback on this new topic of mine:

I'm a recent vegetarian - I started on New Years Day (I know, how unoriginal of me - I'm not a fan of New Years Resolutions but it was just such a convenient time to get started), and am currently learning a lot about what this pursuit entails, as well as what reasons other people often site for being vegetarian.

I used to mock vegetarianism, mostly because I saw only the fuzzy-wuzzy "the aminals need our cuddles and love!" types (who were always girls. ALWAYS girls. Sorry, it's true.) that shrieked and sent back their dishes at restaurants when they learned that curry was made with fish oil, and railed against their boyfriends for eating hamburgers as though they were eating babies. I got a kick out of a bumper sticker I saw once that read "If we shouldn't eat animals, then why are they made of meat?" I never saw meat-eating as something humans were doing WRONG - we have sharp teeth for a reason. It also seems very hypocritical in some ways - a girl I talked to recently won't eat mammals because they're "cute" but has no problem chowing down on chicken or taking bites of sausage here and there because "it doesn't count, I like it!" That's not vegetarianism, that's slapping a convenient name on your picky eating (someone is much more likely to bend over backwards accomodating someone who says "I'm a vegetarian" than someone who says "I just don't like red meat...oh, and I don't like onions or spinach either. They're all just icky.")

What I do have a problem with nowadays is the industry. Information like this is extremely trouble to me, both from an environmental standpoint (greenhouse gas emissions) and a conservation standpoint (land and water management - the water resources required to maintain stock are quite debilitating to places like Arizona, New Mexico, or west Texas. I remember driving past stockades in Texas - the animal rights abominations aside, those places are SICKENING. Who would want to eat a cow that has been raised immobilized, head wedged between metal bars, and fed hormone-stuffed goo?

For the time being, this has motivated me to go fully vegetarian - no meat at all. I'm still learning about where exactly to draw the line given this stance - I have a lot of trouble swearing off curry because of four drops of fish oil, but quitting gelatin-based marshmallows seems reasonable (it helps that I never liked them much anyway). Aside from the environmental issues of the red meat and chicken industry, fish aquaculture is a difficult issue as well - I'm an organic junkie, and the increased levels of toxins in farmed fish and environmental influences are troublesome.

However, I've had many people (including The Boyfriend, who has expressed his lack of faith in my ability to stay meat-free) point out that an alternative solution is to go free-range and organic instead. One male friend pointed out (ad nauseum) that eggs and milk come from chickens and cows raised in similarly harmful environments. I know myself and I just don't have the wherewithall to go vegan, but buying organic/free-range/cage-free dairy products looks to be a good solution. Ostensibly I could apply this to my meat consumption as well. The main difficulties here deal with social situations - I have no problem being the little snot at a restaurant who asks "is your chicken free-range?" before ordering, but it becomes more complicated when I go over to a friend's house and they've made chicken enchiladas. They've seen me bringing my free-range-turkey sandwich to work, and point out "You're not a vegetarian. Why is our food not good enough for you?" I personally wouldn't feel comfortable going on a free-range rant. Some might call it consciousness-raising, but I call it being a self-righteous brat. (come on, how much power and paper do we all waste every day in academia? Even if you're conscientious about it.)

A benefit of this: the hardest part of going completely vegetarian, for me, was giving up seafood. I LOVE seafood. Having always lived in close proximity to the ocean, eating local seafood goes a long way towards supporting the little guy (one of my neighbors growing up was a lobster fisherman). And you can tell me anything about karma and being reincarnated as the prawn that I'm eating - it doesn't make the little sucker any less tasty. And a quick search has not revealed much about the environmental influence of, say, calamari (anyone with a resource is welcome to share!) A free-range diet would re-open the beautiful world of wild salmon, wild oysters, etc. Mmmmmm.

A downside of this: going vegetarian is already difficult as a poor grad student - going free-range would be VERY expensive. I already shop organic a lot of the time and it puts me at the limit of my tiny little food budget (side note: I freaking love Amy's.) Meat makes any grocery basket more expensive, and organic meat is just out of control.

Mostly, for the time being, going vegetarian just seems to be more challenging but less high-maintenance - I just can't bring myself to ever support the big-business meat industry again. Since it's an industry concern rather than a "save-the-bunnies" concern, I'm prepared to believe that this might not be a permanent condition, but it might take a little work before I arrive at another solution that I'm truly comfortable with?

Advice? Suggestions? Insults?

Carnival post coming next...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Propter Doc recently pointed to this crowd: Academics with Long Distance Partners. It's an issue that hits close to home, so I look forward to seeing what sort of subjects get discussed on here.

How's that whole "woman-in-a-male-dominated-field" working out for you?

Update: now with a shiny new tag:

I'm sure many women in science/engineering get asked this, quite often, by near-strangers, and here is why I think it should stop:

#1: "How many girls are there in your program?"

People I don't even know that well have no problem polling me on my gender experience and, in particular, asking me how many males and females there are in my program/department/classes. You realize that, normally, whenever I am in a social situation I keep a careful running tabulation of the male and female population in the room as I sit there basking in my utter Woman Specialness, but often in these conversations, the figures somehow slip my mind.

In the first place, what exactly do they plan to do with this information? Congratulate me on continuing to go to class despite still having girl parts? (see #2) Ask me how I can possibly cope with the plethora of penises in the department? (see #3) It's especially potent when I bother to count up and come out with "Oh there's six girls and three guys in my class right now." or "Actually, most of my adviser's have been female." The turnaround in gender blows people's mind.

In the second place, such a question implies that it is an instrinsic part of my job to perpetually monitor the status of Teh Wimmin. I forget where I remember reading this, but it has been pointed out that women much more than men are expected to serve on committee's, contribute to studies, etc. etc.. Perhaps this is because of the stereotype that we have a natural bent towards community service, but I also sometimes get the sense that I owe it to Womanhood to go to the "women's lunch" in my department or serve on committees* that carefully monitor how many males and females we accept each year - i.e., "you are here because of these committees, so don't go do your research or study, come sit and pontificate with us" (there's shades of "you got in because you're a girl" in there as well, which is a post for another day!)

In short, it is my job to monitor these things because I am a woman. The Boyfriend (TB) has never been asked about the gender ratio in his engineering class. Ever. He is a white male, and thus the standard normal engineer. Not only is gender ratio not his personal problem, there is an assumption that he should never even need to CARE.

*these committees are fantastic and have been extremely useful throughout the years, and I am quite grateful to anyone who has served on them. However, I am not prodded to serve on professional committees or admissions committees with nearly the same frequency.

#2: "Good for you for being a woman in science!"

Why thank you. That's why I went into this field, after all. Of course, this comment is usually quite friendly and well-intentioned, so whenever I hear it there's this combined wriggle of pride and squirm of discomfort ("go me!"). But I don't WANT to be a "woman" in science, or a "woman" scientist, I want to be a scientist. Nice as this comment usually is, it nevertheless reduces the recipient to being first a foremost a gender, to being an exception or a special case. And again, it's promoting the idea that gender really matters - that all of my troubles and struggles in academia doubtlessly spring from being a woman (see #4).

#3: "Isn't it hard being surrounded by so many men?"

There's a lot of issues to get into here (a la "Women will vote for Hillary because they're women!"), but at its heart I mostly find this discouraging to men. My most valuable mentor and role model in my field is an older male from the hardcore "Old Boys' Club" era. I admire his scientific accomplishments, his integrity, his personal accomplishments, his family life (he and his wife are both in the same field at the same institution and are raising a family), everything about him. Yet this question implies that his presence as a male makes my work more difficult - or, worse, implies that he'd be more of an asset to the field if he were only female.

I've gotten a definite, if relatively small, dose of sexism in my field, but I have also met many scientists, many of them male, who are wonderfully encouraging, who have been my advocates and teachers and mentors. This question implies that they are detrimental to my success just by BEING there; or that being around men is Scary. Of course, this isn't entirely wrong - being the only twenty-two-year-old female in a room of backslapping guys in their fifties is never exactly comfortable, and a lot has been written on how social dynamics can shift when there is one male, one female, or a fifty-fifty split present...but to be blunt, I think a lot of the solutions in these cases can be boiled down to "get over it". The hoarde of fifty-year-old men may be scary (and some of them may indeed be assholes), but buck up and pipe up - they might even hear you! Plenty of younger guys are intimidated by the older men in their field as well (and, thinking of particular examples in my department, by the older women!); intidimation is a key aspect of academic interaction, and it shouldn't be seen as merely a gendered problem.

#4: Finally, the implication that, to me, is really at the heart of the issue - the idea that my troubles in academia probably come from nothing more than an excess of males. At the moment, I am becoming disillusioned with academia (well, less enamored with it, anyway) on many levels, none of which have anything to do with my gender. I do not like the lack of choice I am being faced with in my future - I want to have some control over where I eventually live, who I eventually live with (issues of the two-body problem are, again, a totally seperate post), what I choose to do with my time away from my job, etc. Bitch, Ph.D. often puts it well by pointing out that "we are not brains on sticks". Academia does not treat PEOPLE, male or female, particularly well in some areas, and this often drives us away.

What bugs me is that, if I decide in five or eight or ten years that I am through with academia and decide to quit in pursuit of happiness in another career, I will not only be "a failure", I will be "a woman failure", yet another statistic of how women either aren't cut out for academia or how academia is particularly hostile towards women, when in reality the issues I have the most difficulty with are not gender-specific at all. And as long as the problems of academia are narrowed and cast as "women's problems", they will not ever be earnestly addressed and remedied by the scientific community as a whole.

(I've just now discovered Am I a woman scientist? so from the title alone I suspect I might just be repeating what others have said but hey - hopefully there's something fresh in here!)

(this post just sprang out of news of the upcoming Nameless Carnival; in retrospect, maybe I should have saved it, but I need to not have this be another two-post-and-then-it-died blog!)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Getting to know Elli...

Because I'm avoiding writing my first real post and finished what I wanted to get done before lunch and the road into work is closed leaving me alone in my apartment watching Animal Planet. Snatched from Propter Doc.

A- Available or Single?
B- Best Friend? The Boyfriend or ChemGirl, a friend who's still out east in one of the Cold States getting HER Ph.D.
C- Cake or Pie? cake! chocolate cake!
D- Drink of Choice? green tea. The addiction is getting frightening.
E- Essential Item? my passport
F- Favorite Color? green
G- Gummi Bears or Worms? bears! (except has anyone else noticed that they look a lot more like evil killer lizards than bears?)
H- Hometown? city in a tiny eastern Cold State
I- Indulgence? really dark chocolate
J- January or February? January - more days.
K- Kids and names? none? Older Sister has two very cute kids that successfully satisfy my baby-desires for the time being.
L- Life is incomplete without…? carbon?
M- Marriage Date? none here
N- Number of Siblings? one, Older Sister
O- Oranges or Apples? oranges, god I love oranges
P- Phobias/Fears? none are really coming to mind, although I have friends who are scared of flowers, dogs, vomiting, and heights to a severely debilitating extent (she doesn't even like being on the second floor of malls that have open centers. seriously.) I'm not a huge fan of cats, but they don't really scare me - I just try to make sure and avoid their scratchy little claws.
Q- Favorite Quote? "Well-behaved women rarely make history."
R- Reasons to smile? my state is NOT being buried by snow, unlike the states of many people I know. I finished most of my major work for the week. We have Monday off.
S- Season? I've always loved autumn in the East.
T- Tag 3 people? huh? This might be blogspeak I don't understand yet
U- Unknown Fact About Me? Okay, since I'm brand-new pretty much anything would qualify...I suppose most people that know me now have no idea that I'm actually a pretty good singer - I was big in my high school's musicals and even dabbled in college for a bit.
V- Vegetable You Hate? okay, green beans? No. Just no.
X- Xrays You’ve Had? chest for pneumonia, my foot when I broke the four small toes and two bones in it, my ribs a couple times when I've cracked/broken them, and a bunch of dentist-office tooth xrays that keep confirming, yes, I don't have any wisdom teeth.
Y- Your Favorite Foods? fresh mozzarella, pesto, spinach, and tomato sandwich (I love the coffeeshop up the street), avocados (also good in sandwiches), really fresh strawberries, ridiculously gooey milkshakes that involve peanut butter, and anything chocolatey (as The Boyfriend pointed out on his last visit: "You don't like ice cream. You like chocolate, which just happens to come in ice cream form.")
Z - Zodiac? Leo - roarrrr.


Hey all - this is hopefully my first lasting incarnation in the blogosphere.

Cards on the table: I'm an environmentalist feminist newly-vegetarian travel-obsessed bisexual student who recently moved from Cold State to Hot State for a PhD in Useless Science. One of my current interests is further cultivating my writing, and a blog seems like a good way to start. Expect public-sphere posts on topics such as feminism, conservation, issues in academia, GLBT rights, lots of nerd news, and miscellanous raves/rants. Personal posts will probably focus on the ups and downs of the long-distance relationship currently being maintained with The Boyfriend, the self-obsessed trials of being a pre-Ph.D. student, and the random misadventures that come with being most of the things listed above.

At the moment I'll probably be posting lots of "late to the game" news, since my inspiration for starting this has been reading some of the excellent feminist and academic blogs out there (Feministe, Feministing, Bitch Ph.D., Jenny F. Scientist, I mean you!) and wanting to take part in the discussion with these wonderfully well-spoken women!

Now the only challenge is to coax readers over here (which admittedly will be easier once I've actually, you know, WRITTEN something). I'd offer cookies, but I'm a famously hapless cook. I'll start with this general offer, which will extend until enough people guess right. I'll award...something (I dunno, a hearty congratulations?) anyone who knows the origin of my blog's title!

Hopefully this project has staying power - I'll be back again soon!