Tag Archives: HHMI

Thoughts on the first Women in Computational Biology conference

15 Nov

Earlier this week I went to the first Women in Computational Biology conference at Janelia Research Campus. When I got the invite, I said yes immediately, but then I had some doubts. I wondered: why have a conference just for women? And then I worried: would it be only Ivy-league trained white women? Would this conference actually contribute to diversity in our field?

Now the conference has happened and I am back in SF, so I thought I share some thoughts.

1. While the conference was not just Ivy-league trained white women, it was still fairly white and certain groups were clearly underrepresented (e.g., Black and Latina women).

2. The conference was super interesting! I learned about image analysis, cancer genomics and machine learning. I met some great scientists. It got me excited to try new things.

3. If I were in neurobiology or image analysis, I would seriously consider applying for a job at Janelia. It is luxurious and beautiful and they have great food and amazing staff.

4. I very much enjoyed being at a women-only conference. One reason is that normally at conferences, I spend time and energy worrying that the guys in the room will be the only ones asking questions. No worries here! Or, I worry about the guys at the dinner table dominating the conversations. No worries here! Then, when a guy is giving a talk and clearly not giving proper credit to his postdocs, I wonder whether I should say something about it. At many conferences, I worry a lot, and most of that worry was absent at this conference. In addition, it was nice to feel safe to talk about women stuff. Our dinner conversation went from breast pumps to programming languages without skipping a beat. SO COOL! Being part of the majority for once is nice.

5. Being at this conference, and enjoying the safety of being surrounded by women, makes me even more motivated to help create safe spaces for my students and colleagues of color. I already make an effort to send my students to conferences for minority scientists such as SACNAS and ABRCMS. But I also want to try (again) to organize a meeting for people of color in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary biology is still a very white field with a racist history (eugenics). I think it’d be a good idea to organize a regular conference for people of color in our field. A few years ago, I applied for money to do this, but I was not successful. I will try again!

All in all, I think the conference was worth my time and a great way to meet other women in computational biology. IMG_0603


January is for writing

9 Jan

A new month has started and I decided to use it to focus on becoming a better writer. For me, writing is one of the favorite parts of being a scientist. Obviously, writing is also very important for my work, because the written word is one of the main communication tools in science. January is a good month to write. No holidays, no conferences, just four-and-a-half weeks of uninterrupted time to work. So, as I plan to write both a paper and a grant proposal this month, it is the perfect time to “become a better writer.” My goals are simple:

1. Learn to write more convincing and easier to follow texts.
2. Learn to write papers and proposals more efficiently.

In order to do this, I plan to follow other people’s advice.

1. I will watch videos and read blogs on writing papers and proposals.
2. I will read the relevant chapters in the HHMI lab management book. If you don’t own this book already, you should definitely order it. It is useful and free.
3. I will read parts of The Elements of Style book and apply what I learn.

A one page narrative

I already watched one video on writing papers and thought it was pretty good. What I took from it is to write a one page narrative of the contents of a paper before starting to actually write the paper. If you cannot write this one page narrative, you are not ready to write the paper.

I use a similar rule – or rather a set of rules – for presentations. Before even thinking about the slides, I need to have the story ready (usually written out entirely). Before I start to write the entire story, I prepare an informal abstract. And before writing the abstract, I will write a one-sentence take home message. This way, I am sure that I don’t end up with slides but no story. The other way around (a story but no slides) wouldn’t be so bad – but in reality this never happens: as soon as the story is there, the slides can be made in almost no time.

By the way, I used this site from the Purdue Writing Lab to check that my use of commas in this blog post is correct. Commas are complicated, especially in English and German.

If you have tips on how to become a better writer, I would love to hear from you!