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A moment of peace

The day’s rain could still be heard in the leaves of the trees, softly rustling in the gentle breeze, and plodding off the broken drain pipe onto the slate slab walkway below. The sky, however, had been washed clean. The stars sparkled and the moon’s illumination fell softly upon the night. While the easy rise and fall of the nighttime thrum sang of rest and eternity.

It represented a moment of peace, and in that moment everything was beautiful.

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Her lack of sleep rode shotgun on today’s commute. She had fought sleep then the alarm, to no avail, but she was wide awake now. It was mostly due to anxiety tying her stomach in knots, though honestly the “how” was less than important. As long as self-doubt didn’t run away with her she was sure she could make it though the day. Well, almost.

A quarter. I can remember buying brightly colored LafyTafy squares for a quarter, such a small thing, but I cannot let go of the analogy. How insignificant they seemed unless there were many of them. This is how I am feeling at the moment, like a small thing, and I am not comfortable with it at all.

Why do I liken myself to a bright silly piece of candy? Because I am a women in science, and like that candy I represent about a quarter. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015) women on average make up 23.75% of STEM jobs ranging from 12% in civil engineering to 39% of chemists and material scientists. While this is something that I have always known it has only recently become my daily truth. This is because while women earn around half of the STEM degrees, at the Bachelor level and over 40% of advanced STEM degrees, we do not hold anywhere near 50% of STEM jobs (NSF: Women, Minorities, and Personswith Disabilities in Science and Engineering statistics last updated in 2016). My transition out of academics and into the biotech world has put a very fine point on this fact. I am currently the only woman in the company, granted its a four person company, but I now face that 25% every day.

What I am not saying is that I deserve a larger piece of the pie. What I am saying, however, is that until more women are in the STEM workforce we will continue to feel isolated and small. Part of these feelings are my own self-doubt, I assure you, but the facts are real. I am a quarter. I will carry this number with me as I grow in my career and in this new job. It is a number which will constantly motivate me to reach out and engage other women in STEM. This number will be my battle cry!

Stargazer

She was staring at the sky, childlike. Her head thrown back and eyes open wide, willing each point of light to stand out from the deep dark night. From afar it might have appeared as if she was searching, so intense was her focus. This was not, however, the case. She was found. As overwhelming as the galaxy was, in that moment it did not cause her to lose her nerve. The infinite possibility, instead, seemed a comfort. Welcoming and challenging in equal measure. This moment, the night, and even the possibility was hers for the taking.

Blinking at last, she shook her head. Trying to clear both her mind and her starfilled eyes, but the damage was done. A knowing smile replaced her look of wonder as she turned back to the heavens. Now, now she wouldn’t be satisfied till she reached out and touched one.

Big little decisions

Something unexpected and amazing has happened, and I had to share it. I am currently working as a postdoctoral fellow, but my project is nearing a natural expansion point. So, the decision I was faced with was A) follow the project or B) pass the baton.

I have chosen to pass the baton.

Please do not misunderstand me, the passion and ownership I feel for this project has not waned, it is just time to face another challenge. My decision to move out of my research headspace and into a job hunting headspace, turns out, was actually a series of smaller decisions. These big little choices held a weight which I did not full comprehend at first.

My first big little decision…”I do not have to finish this project.”

As a scientist I know that there is no such thing as a “finished” project, there are always more questions, but I have never been very good at leaving a story half written. Projects I have worked on in the past all resulted in publications. Proof, in my mind, that at least my part of the story was complete. This time the attachment I felt toward the work was different. I no longer felt the need to have top billing when this manuscript goes to press. I just wanted the work to actually become translational, to continue, and grow.

My second big little decision…”I get to ascribe the success in my career.”

I am very much a people pleaser, and though I’m not proud to admit it… I like praise. This means that I often hang on others conception of my achievements, and am therefore held back by others belief that I am not worthy/capable. It was only by giving myself permission to be proud of my work and my progress without external reinforcement that I could start to see my worth. I’m sure this sounds a bit like ego mania, but that’s not my intent. I mean simply, that by finding myself worthy I could now justify looking at my next step. I no longer had to wait for permission to take the next step in my career.

My third big little decision… “I can choose what my focus is.”

I tend to be very goal driven, and in academics the goals are for the most part predetermined. For me this basically amounted to; take GRE, get accepted to PhD program, pass my qualification, write 3+ first author manuscripts, defend, obtain PostDoc, publish in top tier journal, obtain tenure track position. I was on a treadmill. No need to look around, or even up, because I was on “the path”. However, in the last year I started to look around. I started dabbling in science communication and outreach. I joined the committee of a nonProfit. I even started looking at jobs outside of academia. *gasp* This gave me the renewed perspective to ask myself what it was that I wanted most/least out of an academic career. My responses surprised me.

What I had not realized was that in slowly letting go of my academic dream I was becoming more honest with myself. I had finally allowed myself to admit that sidestepping the grant cycle and working without tenure were not failures, they were choices. That I could have all the positives of an academic career (mentoring opportunity, creative license, and a diverse list of collaborations) without the negatives (grant writing nonstop, ego politics, and the lack of appreciation). Could I love my mission statement and feel valued without an R01 at a top 10 university? I had to know the answer. So… I interviewed for a job that would have never been on my radar before. It’s too early to know if this will be my dream job, but by consciously pursuing these new opportunities I feel more certain that it’s within my reach.

As seen on Pixabay

Snow Angel

I am a covered thing.

She thought trudging through the snow. I am covered in hats, scarves, and coats, but no, that wasn’t it. It was something more than this. She felt… masked perhaps. The snow had reduced her physical presence down to the rustle of moisture resistant fabrics, the soft crunch of her boots, and the swirling crystals of her breath. It was a sensation that she loved and loathed in equal measure. The quiet lent her false privacy. It made her want to act childish and vibrant, even if no one was watching. However, the weight of the world softly sighing was hard to bear, begging her to shatter the near silence. The crisp white perfection a thing she desperately wanted to mar. The decision wasn’t even a decision. One second she was standing, and the next she was free-falling backwards, arms open wide. Sinking into the snow the thought came again.

I am a covered thing.

Deep breath.

Exhale.

But the thunder still comes, fast and loud, as the storm builds.

Blink.

Straighten your posture.

Uncross your arms.

Breathe again.

More thunder. Heat rising in waves, keeping time like a metronome, setting the pace of my indignation.

I try to get a word in edgewise, to no avail.

I rearrange my expression.

Confusion. Anger. Hurt. Dismay.

Go with confusion.

When the words stop the thunder doesn’t. Though I’ve swallowed the heat of my anger it’s not gone.

Her words stick to me like acid rain eating and burning away at my resolve. Was it me?

We’ll never be friends. Fact. Statement. Promise.

I’m engulfed in fire I don’t care to extinguish, and just as fire tempers steal I can sense a hardening in parts of me.

Blink. Lest the smolder in my eyes flares up.

Breathe. So the thunder can continue its rhythm.

Peace. It’s not mine to fix.

It’s quick, the shift from unknowing to knowing. It happens light switch fast, and is just as blinding as light after dark. Trapped is more than the word can portray. Trapped is knowledge of limits, is the feeling of unbalanced, is the need for air. It widens eyes, harshens sounds, lengthens seconds, and crystalizes thoughts. When the revelation hit… the world shuddered, it suddenly held itself between the blink and the breath, both waiting and poised. The next moment, so critical, was drawn thin to the point of becoming brittle. A crackable thing. Fragile but complete.

Then we both moved.

Up thoughts

Alice in Wonderland all rights to Disney


She stood on tiptoe her nose barely reaching over the edge of the table. The treats were so tempting sitting in their cut crystal bowl screaming “eat me”, but still she wavered. Some small animalistic lobe of the brain alerting her to the danger of too perfect an opportunity. Quickly she glanced side to side, sure she was about to be found out for the uninvited interloper she was, but no one looked or noticed. Quick as a flash tiny hand took tiny treat. The jolt of adrenaline added to the flavor making the sugar complex and wonderful. Wildly she enjoyed the stolen morsel, and having eaten her treasure sank to the floor… deflated. No one had noticed or cared. Emptiness filled her stomach and inch by inch swollowed her, mind and all. Everything now felt sharp and disjointed as if it had become over large or ungainly. She sat with her new feelings and confused by them began searching for explanation. She had gotten what she wanted, right? 

Yes, it had been exquisite in both anticipation and reality. So why did she now feel even smaller? 

The thoughts made her want to wipe her hands off, as if this mindset could be cleared away so easily. 

Maybe, no. Perhaps the real want had not yet been met. 

Immediately her searching switched to scanning. The treats were little, the pleasure they brought had been little, and the motive tiny. She would need something much bigger to make the smallness go away. Ruby and amber flashes winked at her from smoky glass decanters daring her to “drink me”. This, she thought, was no little thing this was big. The big action of a big person who people would notice. Decided she went for the decanter thinking only up thoughts. The flush of success, so newly acquired, slipped away as the liquid passed parted lips. It seared and burned on the way down pulling her after. 

Up it seemed was still out of reach.

I itch between my shoulder blades, the unreachable itch of watchful eyes cast my way. I don’t dare turn to look as the pointless gesture only makes me look guilty, of something… of anything worth watching. Instead I slowly roll my shoulders and stretch my back, even pull a yawn. It is better to appear bored, or better yet tired, tired people aren’t a threat. It’s hard to mobilize when you are beat down by life and lack of sleep. The gaze slips from me to the truely tired business man slumped against the hand rail beside me. He startles noticibly before faining indifference. I keep my smile small and smother the laugh threatening to bubble out, nothing attracts unwanted attention like laughter at tense moments. The urge completely abates with the soft gasp and hushed rustle of fabric that means someone is being “helped” off the train for questioning. 

A heavy silence follows those sounds; filled with dred and inactivity. I cannot blame them the fear we are all mainlining these days, compliments of our government for our own good I’m sure, is a potent drug. 

I check my watch, like I always do, stand and walk towards the back of the train, per usual, shift my bag to the center of my back, in a perfectly normal manner. I am just a commuter. I am just tired. I am “sheepole”. The thoughts drive through me like a steel rod, straightening my back and my resolve, like bolts of lightning, energizing and wild, like the truth which frees.

Impatiently, I wait for the train to stop and the doors to open. I tap my toes, check my watch, and adjust my bag. In an exaggerated motion I crane my neck looking for the conductor who will stand near the open the door waiting to help myself and the pair in front of me disboard. I mumble and “swear to god” under my breath. Everyone has backed away from the door except us three. Our mixed bag of emotions, as repellent as noxious gas, acts as a shield. No one wants to see the fear in the eyes of the man being taken for questioning or the joy in the young recruit’s. I remain impatient and agitated. I shift my bag to my side just as the train lurches to a stop. My perfectly timed fall is unavoidable and undignified. As the locked doors spring open the young recruit, I grabbed for stability, and I fall down the steps in a tangle.

The fearful man, selected for questioning, freezes for only an instant.

We lock eyes.

He nods once, then is gone.

The itchy feeling is back, but at least I no longer have to suffer the dreadful inactive silence. What comes next will have been worth it.

I am civil disobedience, and I will not be ignored.

 

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