Thursday, April 29, 2010

Just Be Meaner?

Big Famous Dude (my old post-doc adviser) had a chance to meet my lab members yesterday. He gave them helpful advice, some of which I had previously given to them, on their projects. My students later told me, "Oh, Big Famous Dude is smart and confident! He told me to do X, Y, and Z, and I'm going to go try them." But, but, but the little voice in my head says, "I asked you to do that two months ago, and you never did."

I find this is a recurring situation. I give my students advice on their projects, they choose to ignore it, and then when someone else (male and/or famous) gives them the same advice, the students go try it as if it were new information. My students don't believe in my abilities as a scientist...

Today, I met another Famous Visiting Professor and mentioned to him how my students reacted to Big Famous Dude. Famous Visiting Professor said, "It's because you're female." He said that his female colleagues all had the same problem, and then he listed off the name of some of the female colleagues - all of whom were respected successful professors and scientists. So if it isn't me, then it's just my gender? Famous Visiting Professor advised me that the these women had taken the strategy of lowering their voice during discussions and being mean. Interesting approach. Must gather data.

14 comments:

Jen said...

Something similar happened to me as a grad student. I was talking to my PI about which direction to take in my project, and I proposed to do experiment X, giving him my rationale. My PI said no, do Y instead because X won't tell me anything useful. After much back and forth, I agreed to do Y (and did X secretly). At my next committee meeting, I presented results for Y (experiment X was still in progress), and my big-wig committee member asked me why I wasn't doing X, since that would be a more direct strategy. My PI said, "you know, that's not a bad idea. Why don't you do X?" Gah. The only redeeming thing about this is that my PI has awful short-term memory, so I am sure he really did forget about our conversation. But still....

HGGirl said...

Let that little voice speak out loud! My advice is to call out your students, and say: "Yes, those are good ideas. We discussed those experiments in lab meeting two months ago...have you not completed them yet?" Refuse to not be heard. :)

Micro Dr. O said...

I've had the same problem as a postdoc toward male postdocs/grad students in our lab. It seems if I say a control should be attempted, or that doing the experiment a different way might improve the results, they don't listen at all. But once our advisor (big famous science d00d) mentions it, it gets done immediately. Never used the low mean voice since they aren't my own students/postdocs, but I'll have to try it out once my funding/job depends on it. Let us know how it works for you!

Anonymous said...

My grad students treat me the same way. They don't trust that I know what I'm doing, despite tons of evidence that I do. I think it's because I'm female, but also because I'm junior faculty. It is maddening, and really starting to drain on me and my enthusiasm for mentoring.

Anonymous said...

I face this kind of discrimination - I am a female young faculty just like you JP.
Luckily, my students haven't done this type of thing yet. It is other students in the class I teach or other students in my dept. who simply seem to respect and listen to the male faculty much more than me. Being petite and female makes it worse for me. I am getting sick and tired of this!

grumpy said...

its probably just because we've been together for so long and I'm ready to graduate, but my relationship with my PI is the opposite.

He suggests things and I assume that, since my modeling suggests otherwise, he's not up to date with the literature, and hasn't turned a knob in the lab in 5 years, that it's not worth trying.

But when a visiting postdoc or junior faculty member from my same sub-field stops by and suggests the same thing, then now I'm considering it more carefully.

I could totally see how there is sexism going on in your case though--there are old-fashioned (but still relevant) mommy-and-daddy issues at play here.

JaneB said...

Happens to me All. The. Time.

And I have quite a deep voice for a woman.

Sigh.

Anonymous said...

A low mean voice is very effective with my toddler. I haven't tried it with my PhD students yet, but maybe I should.

Anonymous said...

Well, my advisers are both guys, and both have told me that students always believe an outside source more readily. I don't think they've bothered with a remedy for it.

Anonymous said...

happens to me to - as a junior female PI. but my students have gradually learned that i know what i am talking about. 4 years later, the worst offender now listens to what i say carefully!

Anonymous said...

Same exact thing happens to me with some of my (all male) research students at the PUI I'm at. One student actually told me a couple of weeks ago about something he'd learned from a male professor that he idolizes. My jaw was on the floor because I'd taught him the same information a few months ago. He just does not hear/trust anything I have to say.

Anonymous said...

I'm a junior female prof and ran into this with some of my students in the beginning. It seemed particularly common with male international students who come from countries with very few women in science, but I think all of my students (male and female, US and international) had a bit of this problem in the beginning. I adopted a no-nonsense policy and called them on it every time. If I feel a particular experiment is important, now I don't ask for them to be done - I demand that they be done by a specific date. I also use a tone that I consider slightly aggressive compared to my normal voice. Once our first manuscripts came out and my group saw me receiving praise from well known senior faculty, now all is fine and they follow my suggestions.

ScienceGirl said...

I had a similar experience mentoring undergrads (I am still a grad student), and was given the same advice. I am a bit dismayed that I have to change my personality just to be heard...

geekmommyprof said...

I can guarantee that the advice you got from visiting scientist is solid: being stern, perhaps mean, and unaccommodating is the road to being taken more seriously. [Getting older and heavier also helps with authority! :)]

Behaving matter-of-factly with students and demanding rather than asking that things be done (as an earlier comment stated) does come more naturally once you have more years under your belt (and have had your patience tried A LOT by students). As your self-confidence grows, so does that of your students in you. Students are a bit like wild animals that way -- they can smell fear in a novice professor and can be brutal.

I can happily report that my incoming grad students are failry scared of me, which is not necessarily bad. They relax eventually, but by that time they have been taught how to work efficiently, which is what you want anyways.