My heroes of science

Now that I've been at this trying-to-run-a-lab business for two years, I want to say thank you to the people that helped me get there. Of course there are my scientific mentors and my parents (my dad still gives me the most valuable advice and now that I am old enough to no longer care what other people think I am proud instead of ashamed of it). But we are so lucky to live in a time where you can get helpful advice and good suggestions from just about anyone. So this shout out is to two ladies who are no longer updating their blogs, it seems, but who were really valuable to me as a postdoc.

You see, as a postdoc everything was going pretty well. I was in a great lab. The atmosphere was good. My experimental life had seen worse times. I took advantage of the career development seminars that were offered on campus (something I find that my current university could do better at) and then... I was slowly starting to realise that there were many more ambitious postdocs out there then jobs on the market. I had worked so hard to get to the top of the pyramid* and now it turned out that there were all these other workers fighting for standing room. WTF?

And so I started reading. I read books (I can really recommend "what color is your parachute" because 1) it helped me realise that yes, this is what I really want to do and so it gave me energy to really fight for that opportunity to get a faculty position and 2) it helped me realise that something that is a seemingly random for just about anybody else can be a priority or a deal breaker for me and that is okay!). But I also read blogs. Especially blogs from female scientists, because as much as we are all equal science-wise, I was slowly starting to realise that men and women are different and the experience of a 6'5" white alpha male is going to be different than that of a 5'5" timid woman.**

I had two super useful blogs on my blogroll.

First, I was an avid reader of FemaleScienceProfessor ( She was in a different field, and she already had tenure, but she was so rational and calm and she made it all seem so possible, while still addressing all of these issues that women in academia encounter. She made it seem like there were mountains to conquer, but at least she made them seen conquerable. She gave me insight and quiet confidence and for that I want to say: thank you.

Second, I devoured YoungFemaleScientist ( She was a little bit ahead of me and so I had to catch up on about 2 years of blogpost when I first starting following her. But that wasn't too much trouble. She addressed everything with more emotion and drama. But boy, did she usually hit the nail on the head! She made me feel like she was out there in the jungle with me, playing scout and forcing our path through the bushes. Every now and then she really struck a cord and I commented on her blogposts. Anonymously. She also made me reflect on the type of environment I was in and liked to be in. None of my experiences were ever as bad as the stuff she described, but she made me super aware and helped me develop feelers for all of the bad stuff that could be lurking out there, in the jungle. For that I also want to say: thank you. And I do hope that she is still going to give us that book she was always talking about.

In the end, these two ladies and fine scientists have helped me strike a healthy balance. One in which I am no longer blissfully unaware, and completely comfortable in calling out the men I work with when I think they are off in their opinion on female scientists. But also one were I am not completely paranoid. Because I am not unique due to the fact that I am a female scientist. I am unique because I am me. And my life is neither of their stories. But I sure am glad that they were there to guide me along the way.

* this is five years ago and little old me was so naive as to think that I was at the top of the pyramid. Haha, a little training-wheels pyramid maybe, blissfully unaware that the climb of Cheops' pyramid was yet about to start.

** I never wanted to believe that at first. I didn't want to believe that until I started reading more about this and while no, this doesn't hold for ALL men or ALL women, I think that on average males are more comfortable playing the (scientific) career game than women. A hunter mentality (scream and pound yourself on the test) is definitely more visible and sometimes, it feels, better appreciated than a more nurturing stance. Oh boy, how do I say this without sounding unfeminist or sexist?

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