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On Balancing A Blog, Career, and Motherhood

1 Oct

Lately a lot of readers have been asking why I’m not posting here as often. The truth is, a lot has changed professionally and personally since I began in 2006. I’m working hard to strike a balance between career obligations, family, and life on- and offline.

When I composed my first blog post, I was living as a policy staffer in DC. Hours on the Hill were long, but I enjoyed getting my thoughts about the convergence of science, policy, and culture down at the end of each day. Blogging felt cathartic and I did my best writing very late into the night–the same schedule I kept while composing my thesis during grad school. Sure I had a full-time job, but I was single, living in the city, with boundless energy and relatively few commitments.

By the following year, I started taking my role in the science online community more seriously. I joined Chris Mooney at Scienceblogs where we posted every day. There were far fewer science bloggers at the time and we all knew–or knew of–each other, participating in a kind of ongoing conversation. My online contributions not only helped me organize my thoughts, but also provided an informal education about journalism, leading to books about the role of science in our culture. I started writing regular articles and giving talks, while trying to include some sort of social life along the way.

By early 2012, I was traveling every week–sometimes for weeks at a time–and wading into my newest role as director of the Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin. I’m also married now, with a newborn baby boy.

In other words, we grow and change. Being at the helm of university project takes a lot of planning, analysis, and time. And as for those late-nights writing until 4am? These days, motherhood has me ready for bed by 9pm. I still continue to travel regularly for book talks and job obligations. In fact, with our upcoming energy poll release focused on voting behavior, it will continue to be a whirlwind up to the election. So right now I’m working hard at balancing career, parenting, and contributing to the online science community.

We hear a lot about whether women can–or should try to–”have it all.” I suspect the answer is quite nuanced. We can do different things very well at different times in our lives as we change. With every passing year, I’m learning more about myself and figuring out what works for me.

Be assured Culture of Science will continue. This blog has been through five incarnations at various networks over six years. You might even say I’m a veteran in the community at this point. So yes, I will keep posting when I have meaningful ideas to contribute. And always know I’m glad to have you along on the journey.

Innovation: A Video Interview By Springbox

17 Feb

For the third chapter in Springbox’s Innovation in Austin series, they invited me in to chat about science, sustainability, and innovation.

More from Springbox’s Innovation in Austin series here →


23 Jan

In this message posted on her website, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords announces plans to step down from Congress. I hope she continues to make great strides in her recovery and will look forward to her return to public service.

Defining The Role Of Women In The Tech Industry

13 Jan

The BBC’s Matt Danzico has an excellent story about the scantily-clad “booth babes” hired by tech companies to promote their stalls at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show going on now in Las Vegas. Do you think these women serve as an “effective marketing strategy” or do they reflect genuine cultural attitudes about gender roles in technology?

“Sometimes it is a little old school, but it does work. People are naturally want to go toward what they consider pretty. Your effort to get a story…is cute, but frankly irrelevant in my view.”

~ Gary Shapiro, Consumer Electronics Association

“Being here at these conferences and seeing women in their booth babe attire, I’m not sure if it’s degrading so much as it is uncomfortable, or its’ just confusing because its sending this message of about what my sex is here to do and I obviously don’t feel that way since I’d rather be learning about the products.”

- Molly McHugh, Technology Writer, Digital Trends

Watch and weigh in..

Why Public Life Is Dominated By Men

5 Dec

Over at The Guardian, Kira Cochrane asks “Why is British public life dominated by men?”

In a typical month,78% of newspaper articles are written by men, 72% of Question Time contributors are men and 84% of reporters and guests on Radio 4′s Today show are men. Where are all the women?

This is a topic I’ve explored extensively over the years. Most American pundits are men as well, and it’s not surprising that they compose 97% of OpEds in the Wall Street Journal. A great deal of the disparity is due to a strong hesitancy for many women to express our opinions in the public arena. Yet prominent female voices in our culture matter tremendously because they help to define our place in society.

So what’s going on? Well, if men get cast into the spotlight, you might say that women are examined under the microscope. As an author, blogger, researcher, and former Hill staffer, I regularly observe problems with the status quo across arenas. Rather then help women find their voices, we tend to send those testing the waters of public punditry dashing back out of focus.

As I’ve written before:

In my profession today I work closely with many talented men.  We write on related topics and speak to similar audiences. Yet, I’m regularly reminded that I face many challenges they don’t have to deal with. No one jokingly whispers about their receptivity to sex during conferences just loud enough to overhear. No one questions whether they were hired so the boss could to get some “tail.” These kinds of experiences are common for women in and out of the ivory towers. We rarely complain for fear of being considered troublemakers or worse. We work hard and don’t want special treatment or penalization, so we turn a deaf ear, aware that some will never see past what’s on the surface. We stop speaking up and a negative feedback loop continues to reinforce gender roles over time.

Just consider the political arena: While candidates should never be chosen based on a number of X chromosomes, it would benefit everyone if women became more involved in the decision-making process given we represent about 50% of the population. But watching the way Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were each cast as stereotypes, ogled, and photo-shopped by the media during their 2008 campaigns, I often wondered to myself why any little girl would dream of being in that position someday?

More here..

Sex In The Blogosphere And Beyond

8 Nov

Laurie Penny has brought up an important subject at The Guardian: Anonymous trolls who regularly threaten female writers with rape. Having co-hosted a blog with a male colleague for four years, I am certain the blogosphere is not a level playing field for men and women. Men are more commonly criticized for their arguments, while women receive something altogether different. Some are ridiculed over their appearance and others are praised for being “sexy bloggers.” That’s not why we’re here. At least, that’s not why I’m here.

I’ve written extensively on this topic in the past having experienced an unfair share of it over the years. Comments roll in referencing sexual violence, female inferiority, objectification, and worse. As a result, I police every submission and some are never published.

Penny writes that “the time for silence is over.” I agree that silence is the enemy and we must continue speaking up about these issues. However, I also expect that everyone will forget about this in a few days. They always do because the Internet has no memory. Every couple of months another woman brings attention to related issues and bloggers and journalists call for change. And soon all of the hullabaloo fades away.

That said, there are things we can and should do. Foremost, male bloggers must support us. When references to sexual violence appear on their threads, they should be removed. Period. This is a cultural problem, not a “female problem.”

The Guardian quotes Susie Orbach, a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst:

“The threat of sexual violence is a violence itself, it’s a complete violation and it’s meant to shut the people up. It’s hateful and it raises the question, what do these men, or the people who are doing this, find so threatening? Is it that they feel attacked in their own masculinity and therefore sexuality in this violent form becomes the way that they establish a means to cover up their fragility by bringing their own vulnerability onto these women?”

Do Women “Lack Self-Confidence” At Work?

20 Oct

Jenna of NBC's "30 Rock" does not lack self-confidence.

A new article on the Harvard Business Review Blog examines why the primary criticism men have about female colleagues (based on performance assessments) is that women exhibit low self-confidence. Authors Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath, and Mary Davis Holt have gone over more than 1000 such assessments and are interested in the same question I am: Why are men perceiving women in the workplace this way?

Our gut says that this may partly be a perception issue — we’ve observed that men sometimes interpret (or misinterpret) an inclination in women to share credit or defer judgment as a lack of confidence. Still, perception or not, there is some research to suggest that women themselves feel less self-assured at work than men.

They go on to cite a 2011 study by Europe’s Institute of Leadership and Management:

  • Men were more confident across all age groups, with 70% of males having high or very high levels of self-confidence, compared to 50% of the women surveyed.
  • Half of women managers admitted to feelings of self-doubt about their performance and career, but only 31% of men reported the same.
  • The study also found that this lack of confidence extends to a more cautious approach to applying for jobs and promotions: 20% of men said they would apply for a role despite only partially meeting its job description, compared to 14% of women.

Flynn, Heath, and Holt name four specific low-confidence behaviors cited by managers including:

1) Being overly modest
2)Failing to step up and apply for promotion
3) Blending in to avoid attention
4) Failing to speak up and express themselves.

They conclude women hold ourselves back because of the way we think and act, rather than because we lack specific job skills or talent. While I’m sure that doesn’t tell the entire story, I can certainly agree that cultural norms influence how both men and women behave in social settings – which undoubtedly trickles up to workplace performance.

Okay, we’ve diagnosed a problem. So how do we encourage women to act differently, without then being labeled as “overbearing” or “bitch?”

Miss Representation

18 Oct

Why are women outnumbered in science, technology, engineering, math, government, publishing, writing, and on and on? Why aren’t there more of us contributing to new innovation and ideas in the public forum?

“There is no appreciation for women intellectuals. It’s all about the body, not about the brain.”

“The fact that media are so limiting and so derogatory to the most powerful women in the country, than what does it say about media’s ability to take any woman seriously?”

Do Our Brains Really Turn Women Into Objects?

11 Oct

Scientific American has a new article up about “the well-known tension between seeing someone as, and appreciating them for, a body as opposed to a mind.” I’ve only skimmed the research involved, but the conclusion troubles me:

Objectification might not lead to perceptions of women as inanimate objects but as different kinds of humans—ones that are capable of feeling but not thinking.

According to this new study by Kurt Gray and colleagues in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

As the sexual suggestiveness of [images of individuals] increased, perceptions of [her ability to think critically] decreased and perceptions of [her ability to feel] increased accordingly.

I have not explored the methods yet, so do not know if the research participants where mainly college students and how much culture (i.e. experiences, country of origin, etc.) may have played a role in their responses.

What interests me most is that the SciAm piece brings up politics–with regard to our perceptions of candidates. I’m often frustrated by the way that women are held to very different standards than men along the campaign trail. For example, before the 2008 election, both Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were cast as stereotypes, ogled, and photo-shopped by the media. So does science suggest this behavior is inevitable?

I certainly hope not.

For Women in Science: 21st Century Policy & Politics

10 Nov

Video is now available from the L’Oreal USA/Discover Magazine Congressional briefing I moderated in September. I’ve posted part 1 of 4 below and you can watch the entire event here.


  • Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary, Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education
  • Dr. Shirley Malcom, Head of Education and Human Resources, American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • Pr. Joan Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University
  • Pr. Sara Seager, Ellen Swallow Richards, Professor of Planetary Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Sheril Kirshenbaum, Research Associate at University of Texas at Austin’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, Author, and Blogger for (Moderator)