As I sit peeing

Thoughts that originally came to my mind in the bathroom of the physics department on a beautiful autumn day.

As I sit peeing

I am staring incredulously at the picture of a book called “Writing Science”

There used to be a sign encouraging us to use the brush if necessary. It has been replaced by a plastic holder displaying the monthly recommendation of the Science Library. Today, as I sit peeing, I am staring incredulously at the picture of a book called “Writing Science”. Staring incredulously, in fact, at the subtitle: “how to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded”.


I can picture the conversation:
“Have you seen this book they advertise in the bathroom?”
Yeah, finally, something useful!”
I’m becoming paranoid.

It is purely and simply heartbreaking to have my own library advertise such a book without any critical analysis. In the bathroom, damn it, right under my nose while I pee! This is how far it goes, now! I cannot even pee in peace without being reminded of the golden rule: publish or perish. Call me peaky, but I take this as nothing less than a violation of my private space.

As you understand, I am rather reluctant to productivity-boosting pep-talk invading my intimacy. Yet to be fair, I would not mind that much being recommended a book called, say, “A historical and political analysis of scientific publication practices in European universities”. This might be the lady’s room, but we are in a university, damn it! Wasn’t the library recommending something about Landau‘s course in physics last month? That was perfectly fine. I also remember one about Mind and Matter. I should have read this already”, I thought then. “What am I waiting for?” Time, perhaps, but mostly peace of mind. For this is really getting on my nerves. Call me a snob, but I expect from the Science Library to recommend me scientific1 books.

But “proposals that get funded” – what is wrong, you might argue, with getting proposals funded? Nothing indeed. And I don’t really have anything about that damn book, which is probably full of useful advice, and which I have not read. What is at stake here is not the book itself, it is the fact that university as an institution – and in this particular case, my Science Library – is not questioning the context that makes this book useful. What is wrong is having to write proposals in the first place. This would have been worth reminding.

Peeing done. Back to work. I have a paper to get published. I hope people will read it. Er, sorry, cite it.

1 Of course I mean “scientific” in a broad sense here. This includes natural, social and human sciences.

“Nothing” Can Only Mean Three Things.

Nothing”, I kept answering.
The end of my postdoc was approaching dangerously and the future of my career as a physicist came up more and more frequently.

So, what are you going to do now?”, my colleagues asked.
“Nothing.” – an answer that was invariably interpreted as a discreet figure of speech suggesting that I had not yet chosen between the three available alternatives: looking for another postdoc, applying for a permanent academic position or getting a job in industry.
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Being (a girl) in physics

girl's entrance sign

Girl’s entrance of école de Vielle-Adour (Hautes-Pyrénées, France)
By Florent Pécassou (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It must be difficult”, one the professors told me sympathetically, “to be a girl in physics”.

 A couple of years ago, freshly hired as a young postdoctoral researcher in a foreign country, I was sitting at diner with my – mostly male – colleagues. I am uncomfortable with casual conversations in professional diners, the insincerity and superficiality of which I find paralyzing. Unable to come up with the required concise, thoughtful yet humorous answer, I mumbled something too long. ”The fact never escaped me”, I said, ”that there are very few girls in physics, yet I have never felt that being one ever put me at a disadvantage”. The conversation switched to another subject. It always seems to do so, in these circumstances, as soon as it could start to be interesting. As far as I am concerned, I would have liked to explain, the difficulty is not “being a girl”. It is “being in physics”. Continue reading