Scientific Sisterhood: Q&A with author Ellen Daniell

Credit: COURTESY OF YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS On every other Thursday evening, Ellen Daniell and six San Francisco Bay Area scientists come together to talk about managing their careers. In addition to all being successful, they are all women. In 1977, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, formed the original gathering, simply referred to as "Group."

By | April 1, 2006

<figcaption> Credit: COURTESY OF YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS</figcaption>
Credit: COURTESY OF YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS

On every other Thursday evening, Ellen Daniell and six San Francisco Bay Area scientists come together to talk about managing their careers. In addition to all being successful, they are all women. In 1977, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, formed the original gathering, simply referred to as "Group." Its members have been giving each other practical and emotional support on everything from being a good mentor and getting published to safeguarding their time and knowing how to navigate through workplace issues.

In her book Every Other Thursday: Stories and Strategies from Successful Women Scientists (Yale University Press, March 2006), Daniell documents the lessons these women have learned in the past three decades. She recently answered questions from The Scientist about experiences with the group.

Q: When the group was started, it included both men and women, but since 1980 it has evolved to be exclusively female. Why?

A: When I joined the group, it seemed important that it not be an all women's group. One of the things that men contributed was to realize how similar the problems are. On the other hand, I think we've probably benefited from a real close intimacy in the years since we've been only women. We didn't decide to exclude men either; it happened over the years. And we didn't anticipate that the intimacy that we've achieved would be a function of our being all women.

It has not been the total focus of our group to be dealing with gender issues, but there have been some: for example, the person who discovered how very much less she was being paid than her male counterparts of the same stature. We helped her figure out how to deal with that, which steps she was willing to take, and which ones she wasn't.

Q: What are some strategies for women scientists to use to get ahead?

A: Pause frequently to assess what is and is not working in your professional and personal life. Devise solutions to problems before you reach crisis mode. Recognize your achievements and don't fail to communicate them to others. The self-image we maintain from acknowledging our own accomplishments is most important, but the image we present to others is also critical to job satisfaction and advancement. Also, find kindred spirits, with a variety of perspectives and opinions, who are willing to engage in dialogue about practical strategies for success. Form a group.

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