October 3, 2013

Science and Encouragement

the view

This article made me feel feelings big enough for a blog post rather than a Facebook update.  I’ll start with the relevant pull quote,

“I was dying to ask if my ability to solve the problem meant that I was good enough to make it as a theoretical physicist. But I knew that if I needed to ask, I wasn’t.”

I identify with this strongly enough that it made me squirm in my chair. To be clear, it wasn’t as stark for me. Unlike the author, I did feel supported by my undergraduate professors, and I have received encouragement at critical points: a professor who sensed my uncertainty and helped me visualize a grad program in my field, start to finish; positive feedback from both “rivals” and “strangers” on my early research results.  (I don’t like quotes, but given the tangled socio-professional networks of scientists, neither category strictly applies.)

But I still struggle with that nagging impostor syndrome, and I know other women who do too, women I grab tea with and work on problem sets with and strategize with about competing internship and research offers. While we are succeeding at the business of science – okay except the caffeine-getting, but that’s an important step – we are wringing hands, and then we are made to feel like the act of hand-wringing proves what we are afraid of: that we are not qualified.

There’s a rule of thumb about how many compliments it takes to offset one insult. I think about this when people make me feel crazy for voicing self-doubt. A researcher in the article mentions “’all the little kicks that women get, as opposed to all the responses that men get that make them feel more a part of the party,’” and it makes me want to applaud. After “all the little kicks,” no wonder some women need more encouragement.

This is not to say I’m not motivated or passionate about my work. But I vividly remember the moment, a year and a half after graduating from college, when I understood at that deep gut level that I was qualified to apply to grad programs. It took some introspection (okay an insane amount of introspection, because that’s who I am) and encouragement from several people before I felt strongly enough about my ability and my chances for success.  You could dismiss behavior like that as not “loving it enough,” or not having the confidence required to make it as a researcher, or any number of things. But if we want to advance fields of science, it might be better to recognize that some capable people grow into those confident shoes, and that a person who needs encouragement at crucial junctions is not always code for a person who isn’t going to be successful.

Even writing this, I feel compelled to hedge about how success still requires hard work and diligence and at a certain point you have to own your work and not take crap from others etc. etc. etc. But honestly, when we talk about people who are capable of success but need some pushing, we are not talking about an entire group of people who lack motivation or a willingness to work hard. The same person you encourage to keep going could be the person presenting strong science down the road. Sure, not everyone you cheerlead is going to get that far, but isn’t it better to widen the pool?

I attended a great conference last week for women in academia, and one of the keynote speakers offered advice for moving past obstacles like impostor syndrome and stereotype threat.  Do the thing you want to do, and by doing it, prove to others and to yourself that you’re capable of that task. Once you’ve done it, there’s no longer any doubt about your capabilities.  I was happy to see that the article ends on a similar note. A physics grad student describes this succinctly as, “’success is the best revenge.’”

Of course, it’s not all about encouragement, and academia is a very different landscape from industry careers, and on and on. But I know the encouragement factor can play a role, because it still does for me.


October 3, 2011

Bulgur and Chickpeas Save the Day

Let’s say you’re an omnivorous, not overly cooking-inclined person, who finds herself in the awkward position of cooking food for a vegetarian (or worse! vegan!).  Like, you decide to have a dinner party, but then you realize that someone’s significant other is vegetarian and ohhhhhjeez what do you do?

Here’s what you do.  You make this.  All you have to do is chop an onion (there is actually no other labor involved if you sub canned tomatoes for fresh ones, which is totally fine).  45 minutes later, you look like a savvy host who understands that “vegetarian” doesn’t mean, “I can only consume salads and veggie burgers.”  You’ll become a small celebrity in your social network.

I know the recipe doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually comfort food at its best.  It comes out tasting buttery, tomato-ey but not overpoweringly so, filling, and it works as a meal on its own but could play well with side dishes.  You could dress it up with parsley and maybe even feta but it also doesn’t need those.  I’m willing to bet you could sub in just about any other grain* and adjust the liquid accordingly, and it would also turn out well.  I haven’t tried that myself, so don’t hold me to it.

Also, this recipe is vegan.  Surprise!  You’ll probably try to pry it from the hands of any vegan friends who want to steal the leftovers though, because it is goooood, especially this time of year when the weather suddenly turns colder and your body demands warm filling fatty foods stat.  And this one isn’t even very fatty.  Surprise!  Plus, that “buttery” taste above can be achieved with olive or vegetable oil as your base, no butter needed.


*Whole grains will probably work best, but I’m not gonna be one of those “never put a white grain in your body” people, cause this should also be about what you have in your pantry, and I recognize that bulgur isn’t a staple in every pantry.  Not your fault if your grocery store doesn’t have an epic bulk foods section for all your grainy needs.

August 28, 2011

Here and There

I moved!  It happened!  And now I have a job where I go to an office every day, except I only have to look nice if I feel like it, meetings go something like, “let’s look at this neat rock under a microscope,” and I have some ownership over my schedule.  So far so good.

Today is clean-the-old-apartment day.  A true holiday, if you ask me.  And by “holiday” I mean accidentally bleaching a piece of clothing, shouting about the incredible cleaning powers of baking soda to a more-nervous-and-less-enthusiastic-about-baking-soda Dave, and improvising ways to make a lunch that will maximally use up perishable foods while also cleaning the stove.

I’m thankful that the new Two Cities stage of my life (Dave is still in Rochester, kickin’ grad school butt – when he’s not jet-setting to Paris for conferences) involves one new locale and one place I’m already familiar with.  Although it’s funny to come back to Rochester and realize by contrast the ways I’m still adjusting to Ithaca, I’m also glad that I don’t have to adjust to two new places at one time.

In other words, one year later, I’m still thrilled that I made the DC to Rochester move.  Take that, skeptics.*  Or: life planning!  Who knew it could happen to me?


*No, I didn’t really spend the last year brooding over the offhand remarks others made about my last move.  Don’t worry.

August 10, 2011

Packing: A 14 Step Program

Our new home
Image: one year ago this week.

At T minus 4 days to moving truck, I am hovering between 4 and 5.  I think this is a decent place to be.

  1. Uuugggghhhh.  Maybe you just won’t move.
  2. Mental inventory of stuff, all while sitting on couch.  Conclude that it won’t be that bad.
  3. Go on “donate it” rampage.  The key to piece of mind is less stuff, clearly. Your soul is weightless as you drop those shopping bags off at Goodwill.
  4. Sense of victory fades as you realize that (All Your Stuff) – (Two Shopping Bags) still = A Lot of Stuff.
  5. The dreaded it-will-never-be-done step.  You feel as if your possessions are being packed into tiny squirrel boxes by someone with tiny squirrel hands.  That’s the only explanation for why your apartment looks the same amount of full, or actually more full because now there are boxes accumulating in underused corners.
  6. Repeat step 5.
  8. Important items that are boring, hard to pack, don’t categorize nicely into coherent boxes, or that are used sparingly but are utterly essential.  See: paper shredder, because you inherited that fear of identity theft that your mom has; see also: snow shovel; but see: anything that will fit in a shoe box, hallelujah.
  9. If you never have to consider the utility of a kitchen gadget lodged in the back of the kitchen gadget drawer ever again, you will be a completely happy camper.  Forever and ever, pinky swear.
  10. Applies to multi-party living spaces only: is that your spatula, or mine?  Worse: is that your college swag item, or my identical version?
  11. Cold sweat over fragile items.  Plants?  Musical instruments?  Inherited pottery?  Real art?  You will never again feel sorry for yourself for only shopping at Target, since at least Target items are replaceable.
  12. Hot sweat as you load your moving vehicle.  Realize you packed all your cups.  Show up at convenience store looking like crazy person.  Try to make face that you think conveys, “I’m not a member of a frat, even though I’m buying red Solo cups.”
  13. Convince other people to help you load large furniture.  Vow to never again buy furniture.  Ply your friends with water, the only beverage you have left, in Solo cups.
  14. Drive off into the sunset.  Blissfully ignore the unloading and unpacking that await.  Sing along loudly to the bad radio available in the moving truck.  Dream of all the furniture you will buy to fill up your new space.
August 3, 2011

Letters I Wish I Could Send

Dear Restoration Hardware:

I was flattered to receive your spring outdoor and garden look book, even though 1) it is August; 2) my personal spring redecoration event never took place; and 3) I do not have the funds to purchase any items listed.  Example: the only outdoor furniture I have ever purchased included two $7 folding beach chairs from Target, because that is where I am right now, as a life stage.  It was still thoughtful of you to send, especially since I have not purchased anything from you before, not even gifts for loved ones.  That would possibly explain the mix-up described below, but alas, no dice.

I would like to know why the catalog I received at my real, live, grown up street address came addressed to my brother, with whom I have not shared a residence since three addresses ago.  How do you know who my brother is?  Are you trying to hint that he should come visit me?  (I agree!)  I understand that he has a relatively common boy’s first name (because many boys have your standard probably-Biblical first names) but it still seems uncanny that you would have accidentally put together his first name, our shared last name, and my current street address.  In fact, the only other time I have received mail in my brother’s name was that one piece of mail in high school that came addressed to both of us, as if we were a married couple.  At least you did not make that gaffe.

You seem to have several misguided ideas about the consumer living at this address.  I’d like to gently point out that 1) I am not my brother; 2) I may aspire to your level of class, but I am clearly not yet there; and 3) it angers me when furniture collections are named things like Provenance, because that’s a dumb name for furniture.  I don’t care about the origins of a wicker lounge.

In summary: who are you, Restoration Hardware, and what do you know about me?


August 2, 2011

A Love of Locations

the view, day 7

Confession: I find it insanely difficult to drive across Massachusetts without veering off course and parking myself somewhere in Berkshire County and not moving the car ever again. I actually make a sort of whimpering sound when I have to zoom past exits 1 and 2 on the Mass Pike. You’d be wrong if you think that’s a joke, and yes, I understand it’s obnoxious behavior. Oh, and it’s not even limited to when I’m alone in the car. Sorry, and fair warning, potential passengers!

I’m not a person who collects inspirational quotes. Really, the trend where you write some phrase in a cool font so it looks more design-ey and less cross-stitch-ey usually still reads “preachy” to me. But I do happen to have an electronic sticky note on my computer with the following wise words from a Modern Love column from several years ago:

Maybe this is what we get in life, a few great loves: loves that return us to ourselves when we need it most. And maybe some of those loves aren’t people, but places — real and adopted homes — that fill us up with light and energy and hope at moments when we feel especially tired or lost.

Well, Berkshire County, you are one of my great loves, I guess.

The Atlantic Ocean* is another non-person great love, and it was for the sake of the Atlantic (and my sister! and her sig-o!) that I made this spontaneous-for-me** summer pilgrimage across two states this past weekend.

One advantage of the semi-nomadic post-college lifestyle is getting to add places to your Important Locations list. It’s fun to learn the ins-and-outs of a new hometown and to identify with a new place as a local (or an invested visitor, at least). I readily admit that I’m not describing any universal truth here. The new homes process may not be your jam. I happen to thoroughly enjoy learning to be a local, so for me that justifies the scary aspects of the process. I’ve also found so far that I’m flexible about places I’m capable of falling in love with. Or at least that so far I’ve been lucky and have learned to love every place I’ve lived or even done extended travel in.

The clear disadvantage to this model, of course, is that you’re also adding to the list of Places to Miss, as illustrated above. In these cases, you shouldn’t be held responsible for the strange noises that issue from you as a manifestation of your missing.


*Other large bodies of water will do in a pinch, but they ideally should be saline, tidal, and have waves. And I don’t want to get into that argument about how the Pacific is better because I grew up on the Atlantic, so that’s how I roll.

**My version of “spontaneous” involves several days of angst in which I do not plan, but merely consider the possibility of the action, and worry about abstract things that I feel are preventing me from taking said action. The actual planning part is usually quick and painless once I resolve to act. Anything more short-notice*** is usually not my idea. (See: that one genuinely last-minute road trip in college, which was entirely not my idea.)

***WTF, Word? Why are you trying to correct “more short-notice” to “short-noticeer”?! Especially since you correctly identify “noticeer” as not an English word.

July 25, 2011

Things I Learned Last Week, By Topic


  • When it gets above 90, never take the water glass out of your hand.  Just don’t stop.
  • Bananas!  No, really.  It combines two favorite interests of mine: Nutella and nondairy adventures.  (Thanks for the tip, B!)
  • This.  I’m proud of myself, because I was contemplating a blog post about my strategies for feeding myself during a heat wave in the land of zero AC.  And had that post materialized, it would have embodied the very same ethos that Bittman conveys through these recipes.  This is not surprising, since I learned to cook using HTCE.  But I feel like the student has become the master, because I didn’t need Mark to tell me how to do it this time around.  Although I will not begrudge 101 suggestions.

Physical Activity

  • I not so secretly prefer hiking to running.  I have now completed my first speed and hill workouts as part of a new 10k training plan.  I liked the hill workout much better. But what’s a girl in a glacially smoothed over landscape to do?  At least my professional goals line up well with my fitness preferences.  Cause that’s something everyone worries about, I’m sure.
  • Hills are better for walking or running than they are for biking.  Even after you learn how to change the gears on your bicycle — after 12 miles.  Come on hills, what gives?  The incline changes and suddenly your efficient mode of transportation feels woefully inefficient.  I chose to blame the bike, not the legs that power it.

Embarrassing Personal Failings

  • (See also: “Physical Activity” section, above)
  • It’s probably wiser to operate under the assumption that your landlord will show your apartment without letting you know ahead of time, rather than trusting you’ll have at least an hour’s notice to actually put away that laundry, or that pile of sweaty running clothes lurking in the bathroom, or those rows of de-labeled beer bottles in the kitchen.  I gather not everyone jumps to the correct beer brewing conclusion when they see that many empties in one place.
July 16, 2011

A book-related PSA, with a side of improv

My mom and I have a long standing tradition of reading young adult and/or girly book series together.  The books usually have to be at least decent, like solidly good YA fiction or chick lit that doesn’t make your face want to fall off while you’re reading it.

There is a new book in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.  This is the type of thing that only my mom knows about.  And then when she mentions things like this in conversation, I’m always uninformed, and she’s always a bit surprised.  So, point #1, a new book exists.  I was previous unaware.  In my defense, I thought the series had ended, so it’s not like I was keepin’ an eye out.

So clearly she sent me a copy of this latest book in the mail.  It came on Friday.  I spent Friday night on my couch reading this book.

Public service announcement time.  Fair warning!  This book, which I guess is supposed to be for grown-ups, and therefore distinct from the other books in the series, is intense.  If you and your mom also have a girly book club, I advise reading this alone on your couch or bed when no one else is home.  The fact that you’re now old enough to drink whiskey while reading a SoTP book will really not help.  In fact, it might make things worse.

I’ve decided to be okay with spending my Friday night reading intense chick lit, since I spent my Thursday night playing* in [the encore segment of] a Second City show that’s playing in Rochester.  It was fun to rep for Rochester improv, since we have a great scene here, and the Second City people were super nice.  Then the lovely other local improvisers and I went out for drinks and unofficially but maybe officially formed a brand new three woman improv group called Is It a Salad?

So I definitely had no choice but to balance my I-haven’t-had-this-exciting-a-Thursday-since-college** Thursday night with a socially isolated, book laden Friday.

Okay, so the book isn’t traumatizing or anything, don’t worry.  Not like that time in high school when I decided to read Native Son while alone in my sister’s apartment in Manhattan at night during the summer.  Now that was a traumatic reading experience.


*”Playing” is the comical improviser word for participating in a show, since we don’t like to say “acting.”  It’s actually funny when you’re talking to improvisers and they earnestly say things like, “I’m so happy to be playing tonight” or “Great playing with you!” or “We’ll just get out there and play.”  Playing is a very serious word to improvisers, and they usually aren’t trying to be ironic when they talk about it.  One of the true secrets of improv is that improvisers are serious about what they do, and many are not Funny People in real life.

**FRR, I thought of you.  I pretty much always will on Thursdays.

July 14, 2011

Soy Milk 101: For the Nervous or Newly Lactose Intolerant

all kinds of brown

After years of having cereal make me nauseous,* I self-diagnosed mild lactose intolerance.  In fact, my sister independently arrived at the same conclusion at around the same time, and ya know, genes, so clearly we are both correct.  My awesome former roommate is also an adult soy milk convert.  Since our combined degrees in subjects like library science, women’s studies, and earth science make us extremely qualified to make medical decisions, you should trust our advice.

It wasn’t until about a year ago that I went all-out and stopped using milk in almost everything, including tea, which is a pretty big step for me.  Part of the reason it took that long is because milk alternatives (I will not forgive myself for writing the words “milk alternatives” in a public space) are pretty foreign.  My guess is that if you are an American grownup in 2011, you weren’t raised with soy milk or its nondairy friends unless your upbringing was, like, way hippie.  And my upbringing was a little bit hippie (see: that Country Joe and the Fish album cover my dad claims to be on), but mostly just involved copious tote bags.  There was no soy milk.

So after a year of hard work, I have some basic rules of thumb for buying and consuming soy milk.  And because you did not ask, I am sharing them with you.  Who knows, maybe if breakfast makes you nauseous too, I will have done a good deed.  I promise it’s not too scary.

No, really, everything after the jump is about soy milk.  I’m sorry if you were expecting something more exciting.  If you like cow milk, I’m down with that.  The rest of this post is probably not for you. Continue reading

July 13, 2011

There’s Clearly No Such Thing as Business Lunch in the Academe

Overheard on my run yesterday

Professorial Man #1: Wanna go next week?

Professorial Man #2: [Stops pushing baby stroller, cocks head to the side, stares into the middle distance, and then finally] Define… next week.

I don’t know, dude.  I feel like on Tuesdays it’s relatively unambiguous what “next week” means.  It’s not like on Sunday, when someone asks you what you’re doing “next week” and you have to fumble with, “Well, this coming week, starting tomorrow… but the following week, so not this Monday but the next one….”  Usually the other person takes this response to mean that coffee should wait until a time in the future when days of the week don’t make you sweat.

Now, you may think that it’s unfair of me to describe both people as “professorial” since I was running (slowly) past them.  But Rochester is a college town.*  And if there’s one demographic of person I should be good at identifying, it’s academics.  Besides, who else wears khaki shorts with slightly too big t-shirts and stands on the sidewalk in the summer with assorted baby accoutrements while also having differently scruffy head/facial hair/glasses combos and questions the meaning of time?  No one else, that’s who.

Which brings me to the deepest level of analysis of this interaction.  Because you’d better believe I came up with all of this on my run, and am merely transcribing it now into blog format.  Two important questions come to light:

  1. Why am I voluntarily returning to a world where a perfectly acceptable response to “Wanna do something at a generalized future time?” is “What is time?”
  2. Could I ever, realistically, have escaped this world?  Or is academia (and all of its trappings) just my fate?

These last questions are too big for me to answer.  We may never know.  But if we had to guess, the answers would probably be “Because the corporate world weirded me out.”  and “No (to part A).  Yes (to part B).” respectively.


*This was the Park Ave. neighborhood.  So, this part of Rochester is a college town.


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