Tag Archives: women

Bad things will happen. Strategies on how to deal with them.

7 Jan

By Pleuni Pennings & Gina Baucom

Yesterday I was talking to two students from my CS class. I asked how they were doing and they said: Not good, we are stuck and frustrated. So, I talked to them about how being stuck is a normal part of coding and that they need to find strategies for themselves to deal with being stuck. I shared some of my own strategies. Two of my favorites are (1) taking a break to walk over to the other building to buy coffee and (2) taking a piece of paper and writing down what I am working on to get my thoughts organized.

Just like I know that students who are learning Python will get stuck, I know that all of us will have to deal with all kinds of shit that will happen during our career. This is especially true for those who are underrepresented, like women, people of color and LGBTQ folks (and most of all, those who intersect these categories).

You may not get accepted in a PhD program. Your paper may get rejected, or take forever to be accepted. You are overlooked for a prize. You may not get the job, the grant, the raise, the sabbatical you applied for. Worse: someone else who is less qualified will get those jobs and grants and raises. Then, if you do get the job or the prize, someone may say that you only got it because you’re a woman / person of color — you name it. You may not get invited to be part of collaborations, even when you are obviously the right person for it. People may say nasty things about you. You may be bullied or harassed. You may be asked to do more work than your colleagues, and the work you do will not be recognized.

One hears: “Rejection is part of the job. Better deal with it.” But how? How do we deal with the shit that happens? 

Even if rejection and disappointment are part of our job, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. Discrimination and unfairness should not be part of anyone’s job so that hurts double.

It’d be good if we learned strategies on how to deal with the bad things that happen. Of course, if something happens that needs reporting to police or the Title IX office – that should happen. But in this case I am thinking about things that are not illegal, but still really bad. How do you process super unfair (or maybe just shitty) things so that you can move forward? 

I brought this up with Gina, we talked about it, and thought it might be helpful to write a blog post about general strategies that we developed for dealing with really bad or annoying shit during our careers thus far. So, here are some of our strategies.

It’s OK to be angry

Know that it is OK to be angry and sad. When bad news arrives, often by email, you may want to take the day off, call a friend, cry, eat ice cream or walk along the beach. The last time I (Pleuni) did this was when I didn’t get a job that I had applied for. For me, job rejections are the hardest, because when I write that application letter, I not only imagine myself in a new department and with new colleagues, but I imagine myself in a new city, with a new life. To write a convincing letter, I need to imagine that new life, but when I get the rejection, I lose that imagined future.

Know why you are here & remind yourself of this

We think it is useful to try and create an inner compass by writing a personal statement for yourself. For example, you may write that you enjoy science, discovery and working in the lab, and that your goal is to make discoveries and share the joy of lab work. Now, if your paper is unreasonably rejected, go back and read why you are doing what you are doing, and schedule some of that science / discovery / lab work in your near future. It’ll remind you that the paper is only a part of why you are there. Beronda Montgomery has written about related things such as creating your own tenure rules. 


Even if rejection is part of the game, you can still fight rejection – at least in some cases. Paper rejections are a clear example of when you can fight the decision. Sometimes grant rejections and tenure rejections can be appealed too. Editors can change their mind and rebuttals are sometimes successful. No need to just roll over. Also, if you decide to go for another journal, consider making your paper bolder and aim for a more prestigious journal. 

Take time for your life outside of science.

Your hobbies, your family, your friends. Read a book, go for a hike, talk to a friend. 

Find your people in academia

Twitter and Facebook are good places to find your people, and there are groups on campus that may help you find your people as well. I (Gina) moved quite a bit when growing up, and from that experience, developed a theory that it takes at least 2 years once in a new place to *really* find your people – by that I mean the people that get you, celebrate with you, will be honest with you, and will forgive you when you screw up, i.e. real friends. Don’t give up trying to strike up friendships. It is true that it becomes more difficult to make friends as you get older, but it is so important that you have people that check in with you, and people that you check in on. 

Talk to a therapist

Speaks for itself. Therapists, counselors, coaches and others can help us deal with things! 

Be inspired by heroes

I (Pleuni) find that reading about others who overcame adversity is truly inspiring. Nelson Mandela was in prison for 30 years and he didn’t give up! Closer to home, when my work on soft sweeps was harshly criticized, it was nice to read that the original and now classic work on selective sweeps by Haigh and Maynard-Smith was also criticized in published papers.


If shit tends to come from one particular direction, see if you can avoid that place. I (Pleuni) know of someone who moved to a different floor in their building to avoid certain people. It helped! Maybe it helps to work in a different lab, slightly change the topic you work on, choose a different journal you submit to? And if you decide that you need to leave the academic world, that’s OK too. There are fun and important jobs in many places. No guarantee that there is less shit to deal with, but it may be easier for you to deal with. A friend left academia to go work for the police. She prefers the shit she encounters in this openly macho world to the polite shit she had to deal with in the academic world.  

Use your anger

Some of the best things come out of anger. I (Gina) & Meg Duffy started the Diversify EEB list (this type of list now exists in many fields) to do something with the annoyance of often seeing a low number of white women and persons of color winning awards in ecology and evolution. It does seem like this trend is changing/has changed (at least for gender). 

Help someone else

When I (Pleuni) was a postdoc at Harvard and my papers were getting rejected it made me very angry. Of course, I knew that I was in a privileged situation, working at Harvard with a super friendly advisor. But the paper rejections were frustrating nevertheless, and maybe even more so at Harvard where it felt like everyone was so successful. One of the things that helped me feel better was a volunteer job I did for a little bit. I helped adults prepare for their GEDs (high school equivalent for adults). The students were mostly young black men who had spent their high school years in jail, but who were now working hard to learn math. I enjoyed the teaching, it made me forget my own struggles, and the students inspired me to not give up (they were not giving up, so why would I?)

Final note

On a final note, we want to be clear that the above examples of bad things that happen – especially bad behavior that falls under sexual harassment, discrimination, or bullying – is not ever your fault. We’re not suggesting that if you are targeted with this type of behavior that you should just ‘suck it up and deal’, but instead, and depending on your circumstances, you should report to a trusted advisor or administrator. However, when bad things like that happen, similar to other bad things like grant and paper rejections, we still have to process it so that we can move forward. The above suggestions are the ways in which we have learned to process a range of bad experiences, some of which are common to every scientist and others that are largely experienced by white women, persons of color, and other minorities (those marginalized by racism, sexism, homophobia). We hope that you find these tips helpful, and if you have other solutions, we’d love to hear them. 

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


Wu and Watterson’s Theta*?

10 Feb

If you are doing population genetics, you probably heard of Watterson’s theta.
The paper where Watterson introduced theta is a classic. It is cited more that 3000 times.

Even if Watterson (1975) was a single-author paper, Watterson wasn’t working alone on this project. In the acknowledgments he says “I thank Mrs. M. Wu for help with the numerical work, and in particular for computing Table I.” In a similar situation in 2019, she would have likely gotten co-authorship on this paper and a PhD after a few papers. We would all have known the paper as Wu and Watterson (1975).

Screenshot 2019-02-10 16.04.53

I only know this story because a group of researchers from SF State and Brown University, including my amazing friend and office neighbor Dr Rori Rohlfs, did a study on “Acknowledged Programmers.”

Professor Margaret Wu

Margaret Wu was a programmer in the 70s, at a time when programming was often a job for women. She didn’t get authorship on Watterson (1975) and other papers she worked on, but much later, she did get a PhD and became a very successful professor.

If you would like to learn more about Margaret Wu, have a look at this insightful interview: http://genestogenomes.org/margaret-wu/.

Here is a video with her about the PISA rankings for countries’ educational systems: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Br93GTTnWr8 .

Paper and video on acknowledged programmers in theoretical population genetics

If you’d like to read more on acknowledged programmers in theoretical population genetics, have a look at the paper by Rori Rohlfs, Emilia Huerta-Sanchez and their students Samantha Dung, Andrea López, Ezequiel Lopez-Barragan, Rochelle-Jan Reyes, Ricky Thu, Edgar Castellanos and Francisca Catalan.

Plus!!! They made a really neat video about their project:


Here is a picture with most of the authors of the Genetics paper.


Authors of the paper in Genetics on Acknowledged Programmers: Illuminating Women’s Hidden Contribution to Historical Theoretical Population Genetics, Dung et al 2019.


* “Wu and Watterson’s Theta” was suggested by Tim Downing in a tweet.

Scientist spotlight : Jazlyn Mooney, PhD student UCLA

25 Jan

jazlynmooneyJazlyn Mooney grew up in Albuquerque New Mexico. She went to high school and college there too (Eldorado High School and University of New Mexico).

Sketching science created a lasting interest

I became interested in science in middle school. I had a science teacher, Mr. Pecknik, who made us draw everything we learned about (from central dogma to phylogenies) for class. So we kept a sketch book for our science class and I thought it was super cool.”

Not “cut out for MD/PhD” ?

Becoming a researcher didn’t always seem possible for Jazlyn. One summer, when she was an undergrad, she participated in an MD/PhD prep program. At the end of the summer, her summer advisor told her that she wasn’t cut out to be MD or PhD! Fortunately, she didn’t listen to him but instead listened to her other undergrad advisor, her family and herself and decided to continue her path to become a scientist! She did research as an undergraduate and then applied to PhD programs.

The history of Latin American populations

Jazlyn is now a PhD student at UCLA in the lab of Dr. Kirk Lohmueller and works to better understand the history of human populations using genetic data. She recently published a paper entitled: “Understanding the Hidden Complexity of Latin American Population Isolates.” In this paper she showed how Costa Rican and Colombian people are descended mostly from European males and Amerindian females, and a small number of African individuals.

The field that uses genetic data to understand the history of populations is called “population genetics”. Jazlyn got interested in population genetics when she was an undergrad and got an opportunity to do research with Dr Jeff Long.

Learning new things and presenting at meetings

Jazlyn loves learning new things and her favorite part of being a researcher is that it allows her to learn new things and create new knowledge. Jazlyn has presented her work at many conferences including : University of Chicago Research Forum, the meeting of the American Society for Human Genetics, the Bay Area Population Genomics meeting at UC Santa Cruz in 2018.


Link to paper about the history of people in Costa Rica and Colombia

Link to a free “preprint” version of the same paper

Tacos, R and Twitter

Jazlyn’s favorite coding language: R

Jazlyn’s favorite food: Tacos

Jazlyn’s Twitter handle: @Jazlyn_Mooney

Breaking the glass ceiling with a mandolin

5 May

This weekend my husband and I went to see a show of the bluegrass band Della Mae.
This band consists of five amazingly talented and inspiring young musicians, singers and songwriters. Their previous album was nominated for a Grammy award and Rolling Stone says they are among 10 new bands you should know in 2015.

It was so much fun to go out and hear them play!

What’s special about this bluegrass band is that it is an all-female band.

(In addition, for me, personally, what is special is that two of the members of this band were my teachers when I lived in Cambridge, Mass. I was learning to play honky-tonk music. Such a fun class!)

Only men play the banjo?

As scientists, we may sometimes think we are the only ones fighting against sexism and trying to break glass ceilings. Of course, this is not true. For example, the world of bluegrass is also dominated by men. Many bluegrass bands are all male, possibly with a female singer. I did a quick google search for images of bluegrass bands and you can see the result here.

Only men play the banjo?

Only men play the banjo?

So a few years ago the women of Della Mae decided to form an all-female band, which is probably more fun than each of them being the only woman in an otherwise male band.

Della Mae does a great job of shattering stereotypes while delivering great show! Thank you, Della Mae!

Five computational evolution meetings in a row with just one female speaker

28 Nov

Annoyed by the announcement of yet another mostly male meeting, and inspired by Jonathan Eisen’s recent posts about male-biased meetings, I decided to look at the series of meetings in France on Mathematical and Computational Evolutionary Biology of which the recently announced meeting is a part. Mathematical and computational evolutionary biology is exactly my field and the meetings take place in lovely places in the south of France, so initially, I was interested. But then I looked at the lists of invited speakers and found that in the last five instances of the meeting, there was exactly one female speaker each year. Wow. How sad!

Here are a few suggestions for the organizers to invite more women. This list is obviously far from complete, just women PIs who I happen to know and who came to my mind immediately: Sally Otto, Katia Koelle, Hanna Kokko, Doris Bachtrog, Katrina Lythgoe, Emilia Huerta, Sarah Cobey, Melissa Wilson-Sayres, Joanna Masel, Anna-Sophie Fiston-Lavier, Mercedes Pascual, Pardis Sabeti, Kate Hertweck, Amy Williams, Sohini Ramachandran, Angela McLean, Lindi Wahl, Maria Servidio, Hua Tang, Sally Blower. This list doesn’t include the many female postdocs in the field. Also doesn’t include the women who were invited by the MCEB organizers.

[Also Florence Débarre, Deborah Charlesworth, Maria Orive, Paulien Hogeweg, Charlotte Hemelrijk.]

Anyways, here are the data:

MCEB 2015 1 woman, 6 men (14%)

[Note added: the announcement says that this list is preliminary]

David Bryant (University of Otago, NZ)
Jukka Corander (Bayesian Statistics Group, University of Helsinki, FI)
Asger Hobolth (Bioinformatics Research Center (BiRC), Aarhus University, DK)
Philippe Lemey (Rega Institute, Clinical and Epidemiological Virology, BE)
Bernard Moret (Laboratory for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, EPFL, CH)
Ludovic Orlando (Center for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, DK)
Molly Przeworski (Columbia University, New york, USA)

MCEB 2014 1 woman, 7 men (13%)

Rampal Etienne (University of Groningen, NL)
Daniel Huson (Center for Bioinformatics (ZBIT), Department of Computer Science, Tuebingen University, DE)
Nicolas Lartillot (Laboratoire de Biologie et Biométrie Évolutive, Lyon, FR)
Arne Mooers (Simon Fraser University, CA)
Hélène Morlon (Ecole polytechnique, FR)
Rasmus Nielsen (University of California, Berkeley, US)
Adam Siepel (University of California, Santa Cruz, US)
Mike Steel (University of Canterbury, NZ)

MCEB 2013 1 woman, 9 men (10%)

Sebastian Bonhoeffer (ETH Zürich, CH).
Bastien Boussau (University of California, Berkeley, US).
Alexei Drummond (University of Auckland, NZ).
Ian Holmes (University of California, Berkeley, US).
Steven Kelk (Maastricht University, NL).
Darren Martin (University of Cape Town, SA).
Erick Matsen (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, US).
Tanja Stadler (ETH Zürich, CH).
Niko Beerenwinkel (ETH Zürich, CH).
Gil McVean (University of Oxford, UK).

MCEB 2012 1 woman, 10 men (9%)

Cécile Ané (University of Wisconsin, US).
Michael Blum (CNRS – TIMC, FR).
Oliver Eulenstein (Iowa State University, US).
Arnaud Estoup (INRA – CBGP, FR).
Asger Hobolth (Aarhus University, DK).
Vincent Moulton (University of East Anglia, UK).
Noah Rosenberg (University of Michigan, US).
Alexandros Stamatakis (Heidelberg, DE).
Mike Steel (University of Canterbury, NZ).
Edward Susko (Dalhousie University, CA).
Asger Hobolth (Aarhus University, DK).

(2010 meeting link is broken)

2008 1 woman, 15 men (6%)

Elisabeth Allman: University of Alaska, US.
Vincent Berry: CNRS, FR.
David Bryant: University of Auckland, NZ.
Frantz Depaulis: CNRS, FR.
Laurent Duret: CNRS, FR.
Nicolas Galtier: CNRS, FR.
Olivier Gascuel: CNRS, FR, chair.
Junhyong Kim: University of Pennsylvania, US.
Mike Hendy: Massey University, NZ.
Daniel Huson: University of Tübingen, DE.
Vincent Moulton: University of East Anglia, UK.
David Posada: Universidad de Vigo, ES.
Allen Rodrigo: University of Auckland, NZ, co-chair.
Noah Rosenberg: University of Michigan, US.
Charles Semple: University of Canterbury, NZ.
Mike Steel: University of Canterbury, NZ.

2005 3 women, 12 men (20%)

Walter FITCH, University of California at Irvine, USA.
Anne BERGERON, Université du Québec, Montréal, Canada.
David BRYANT, Mc Gill University, Montréal, Canada.
Nicolas GALTIER, CNRS-Université Montpellier II, France.
Ziheng YANG, University College London, UK.
Susan HOLMES, Stanford University, USA.
Mark PAGEL, University of Reading, UK.
David SANKOFF, Université de Montréal, Canada.
Li-San WANG, Austin University, USA.
Nadia EL-MABROUK, Université de Montréal.
Bernard MORET, University of New Mexico, USA.
Mike HENDY, Massey University, New-Zealand.
Vincent MOULTON, The Linnaeus Centre for Bioinformatics, Uppsala University .
Mike STEEL, University of Canterbury, New-Zealand.

2003 4 women, 17 men (19%)

Hugues Roest Crollius, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris
Laurent Excoffier, University of Bern
Allen Rodrigo, University of Auckland
Joe Felsenstein, University of Washington
Rose Hoberman, Carnegie Mellon University
Matthew Spencer, Dalhousie University
Nicolas Salamin, University of Washington
Elizabeth Allman, University of Southern Maine
Vincent Daubin, Université de Lyon
Mike Steel, University of Christchurch
Carolin Kosiol, European Bioinformatics Institute
Vivek Gowri-Shankar, University of Manchester
Emmanuel Douzery, Université de Montpellier
Arne Mooers, Simon Fraser University
Bret Larget, University of Wisconsin
Dan Gusfield, University of California Davis
Cecile Ané, University of Wisconsin
Michaël Blum, Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, Grenoble
Eric Bapteste, Dalhousie University
Charles Semple, University of Christchurch
Daniel Huson, University of Tuebingen