The narrative of the “Bitchy Sisterhood”

Last month, the Guardian’s “Academics Anonymous” column talked about the “trouble with the sisterhood in academia”. The underlying narrative is a familiar one, I have heard it often: Women, according to it, complain about gender discrimination, but the shocking truth is women are mean to each other, which makes them their own worst enemy. I call this the “bitchy sisterhood narrative”. Sometimes – as in said column – it goes even further: Because women are so mean and judgy, you can’t even speak out about the problem, because who knows what would happen? “Luckily,” the anonymous author writes, “I’m currently on a flight, 12km above the ground, where I feel safe from the judgments that would confront me were I to exorcise this academic grievance at the coffee station.” This is a rather clever device, at the same time reinforcing the “bitchy sisterhood” image and elegantly pre-empting any critical response.

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Writing advice to a young scientist

Now that I have my own lab, the topic of students writing stuff comes up a lot. It seems like everybody writes to a universal time plan, which is the following: If you have n days to produce a report, or a thesis chapter, or an abstract,  then do absolutely nothing for n-2 days, scramble to produce something on day n-1, send it to your supervisor and ask them to provide feedback within the next hour or so, because after all, the deadline is tomorrow! I know this time plan well, because I have followed it myself for years. But it’s not great. And while I’m at it, let me dispense some other sage writing advice …

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A thousand private Brexits

So, last week, the citizens of the UK voted in favour of Brexit. This is bound to have far-reaching and long-term consequences, but at the moment, it is very hard to see what will happen and even what will happen next. Will there be another referendum about Brexit? Should there be? While the country debates the possibility of another vote, in a way it is already happening. Around the country, thousands of people are facing a second Brexit referendum of their own: Should we stay or should we go?

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The Invisible Woman

It’s International Women’s Day, and like on so many other days, I have been thinking about superpowers (one of my favourite topics). In particular, about invisibility. Because it can be an awesome superpower, and it can also be devastating, and all this has a lot to do with women in science. But let me explain.  Continue reading

What’s in a name?

When I was a postdoc, my university had a biology reading course for undergraduates. It was structured as a small seminar, and any postdoc or faculty member could choose a topic and lead a discussion group, provided enough students showed up. Excited, I wrote up a proposal on one of my favourite topics and handed it in. Time passed. Zero undergraduates signed up. Zero. I talked to the professor overseeing the course about possible reasons. “Maybe,” she said, “you should have chosen a sexier title.” I was astonished. How is “Computational Models in Biology and Biochemistry” not sexy enough?

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Gamifying the PhD

Over the past weeks, I have taken an awesome MOOC called “How to survive your PhD” on EdX (thank you Simone for pointing me to this!) Of course, I did survive my own PhD a while ago, but as I am crossing over to the dark supervisor side of things, I want to learn as much as I can about the general PhD experience and about what we can do to support our students.

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