Friday, August 1, 2008

Role Models

A few days ago Isis mentioned that like many young, female academics, she worshiped at the alter of FemaleScienceProfessor. Something about her statement brought to mind a phenomenon I often experience when at scientific meetings, which General Disarray swears happens at every time. One minute he will see me walking across a room towards him and the next I'll have disappeared behind a wall of women who have taken the opportunity of finding me alone to come ask a bewildering array of questions regarding being a woman in science. General Disarray says this is a sign that I am doing something right as they wouldn't be coming to ask a complete loser for advice, but I have always felt a little sadness about it because surely these women can find a better source of information - someone further in their career who has actually figured somethings out and isn't blundering around in the dark just like them.

Until Isis's comment, that is as far as my thought process had gone on this topic. Something about her statement made me realize that with respect to FemaleScienceProfessor, I was like the women at those meetings...except instead of rushing towards her at a meeting, I rush to my google reader every morning. And then I realized that she was filling a role model void that I have had for a long time - the happy, female, scientist, tenured professor, with children. This realization made me think a little more about the importance of role models.

I do not have a role model, I have lots of role models....kinda like the Catholics have patron saints for all sorts of different things, I have role models for different occasions. For example, I have Saint Professor Mentor who is my role model for being a scientist. I have Saint Female-Scientist-with-Kids-but-no-permanent-position, who I go to when I want to know more on balancing kids and science career demands like frequent traveling. However, in my pantheon of saints, I have been missing a Saint Happy-Full-Professor-Female Scientist...someone who walked the path I am walking, dealt with the issues I am dealing with, and still loves what they do. Too many of the senior female professors in my field seem to have lost that joy somewhere along the way...or they have become tough in a way that is simply not me. I feel like FemaleScienceProfessor fills that niche for me and my guess is I'm not alone in that.

While some may prefer to take a more monotheistic approach to their role models, I have always felt like what are odds that one person will incapsulate everything I want to be? (And even if they did, would that be a little creepy?) And this, to me, is an important reason why we need diversity in science. Afterall, we all need role models, people we look up to that help us calibrate our internal compasses when times get hard and confusing. Finding the right role models for you becomes a lot easier if there's a diversity of people to choose from. Which is what's so great about the blogosphere. I've been exposed to a diversity of people that I have not found in my own world...who knew some of my role models would end up being a female scientist in the physical sciences (St. FSP), an NIH-funded biomedical research scientist (St. DrugMonkey), and a slightly profane basic science faculty member at a private medical school (uh...St PhysioProf?) ? How cool.

8 comments:

DamnGoodTechnician said...

Smart commentary! I'm sure there's some saint-demon joke lurking for St PhysioProf, but I just can't seem to figure out how it should best be phrased..

Anonymous said...

I totally agree about diversifying role models and mentors. I have a mentor who gives me tough love - he doesn't pull punches, but sheez, he gives it to me all right. There's also a woman with kids up for tenure this year who's just one of the nicest people evah! And then my advisor who amazes me with how well he handles everything and his herd of children (at lab and home). And the blogger folks are amazing for sharing their stories. For people like me who try to improve themselves and are always reflecting on something, the topics on any random day usually do hit a nerve or spark something in me.

PhysioProf said...

slightly profane

Slightly? I have obviously been falling down on the fucking job! I will try harder; I promise!

Isis the Scientist said...

Thanks for the shout-out, River. I am glad one of my posts gave you something to think about!

Professor in Training said...

Nicely put. I've never really had a strong female role model as my advisors and mentors have all been male. It's going to be interesting moving to my new gig as it will be 100% female faculty and my new dept chair seems to be FSP in the flesh.

Drugmonkey said...

thanks for including me in such company but geez...not worthy.

at any rate, agree with your main point which is that integrating little bits from multiple mentors is a great idea and a way to think about being mentored. It is most certainly not necessary to agree with everything about a given mentor. I've had several role models where I have about equally fervent "I'm doing that!" and "Not going there ever!" responses to different things they do or try to teach me..

PhysioProf said...

I've had several role models where I have about equally fervent "I'm doing that!" and "Not going there ever!" responses to different things they do or try to teach me.

Amen to that!

Anfa said...

One of the review items I must address in my new job is to choose a mentor. I have hesitated; my first choice just relocated far away, choice #2 is going out on a maternity leave and going part-time, so I will hit some flak. I discussed my choices with a new hire faced with the same dilemma. I realized that I call G when I have issues of ethics, D when I have a legal dilemma, P when I am in need of operational advice...Apparently I am applying a Catholic patron saint method of appointing mentors by field of expertise. Now if only I can get Mr Boss to accept this as a choice!