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Recommendations for early career women in science... a running list

I thought it would be useful to share some of the most valuable advice I've received throughout my career as a young woman in ocean science. I've also spent endless hours online reading articles to learn more about how we can encourage young women in science. Some of these recommendations have been developed and discussed by the UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries (IOF) Women and Gender Minority Caucasus, which I co-chair with Dr. Amanda Vincent.

1) Find a mentor early on. This should be someone with a career path you admire based on their priorities (e.g., What is your main goal? Do you want to have a family? Do they portray the work life balance you desire?). For me, this is multiple individuals, a mix of all genders. It is someone that I can go to when I need to: make big career decisions, negotiate a starting salary, get technical advice, or talk through a concept/results I'm trying to wrap my head around. For this reason I have multiple people that I consider to be mentors. I've also learned it is okay to reach out to people you don't know for advice too. Yes, I will happily cold email a researcher on the other side of the world that I've never met for advice. Every time I've done so I have received nothing but pleasant responses.

2) Be a mentor - share your experiences with your peers and those at other stages in their careers. I started mentoring co-op students when I started my first 'real' job. I went through the co-op program at UVIC, and though I only finished 3/4 of my co-op work terms before graduating, I learned more in my co-op work term than I did in an entire year of my undergrad. As I started grad studies, I again became the underdog, and I again found incredible mentors that helped me through my program. So as a PhD candidate I always provide new students with advice and I mentor undergraduate NSERC, co-op, and volunteer students in the laboratory. There are also several external programs you can participate in to provide advice to young early career scientists and even elementary/high school students (e.g., SeaSmart, YWCA mentorship program).

3) Create a living resume document. This one is curtesy of Dr. Amanda Vincent, and is probably one of the most genius recommendations I've received yet. Here, you can record in bullet form all of your new experiences and skills you've gained on a regular basis, make sure you provide as much detail as possible providing examples (no accomplishment is too small). This way when you develop your resume you are not starting at the beginning, which can be incredibly time consuming. Further, reading through this document before you do an interview can help refresh your mind, and relieve some of that imposter syndrome, that we all have.

4) Buy a website domain. These go like hot cakes, and if you're name is less 'unique' they go even quicker. Make sure your domain is something you envision yourself using when you become a world renowned research scientist. Think about what country you want it to be associated with as well (i.e., .ca or .com?).

5) Build a website. There are several different applications that you can use to build your website that are super user friendly (e.g., wix, weebly). As you develop your website be sure to visit other researchers websites to get a feel for what you like and dislike, and for what they include. When I developed my website I did a lot of sleuthing, and found that what I would include under personal/professional experiences on my website compared to some of my male counter parts with equivalent experiences and skills was vastly different. Be sure that you do not undervalue yourself, but also be honest. While this may seem like a huge time commitment, you can start by simply creating a website based off of your resume and then add personal details through time. Remember you don't have to publish your website right away, it is something you can slowly pick away at. It can also be changed many times throughout the course of your career. You'll find that your website stats will show increases in the number of visits when you apply for jobs! So, a website can act as a way for you to portray things to prospective employers that you may forget about mentioning in an interview.

6) Collaborate! I can't recommend this one enough. Collaborate with your fellow students, PDF, RAs, and professors. Make it international or cross-institutional if possible. My favourite projects I've worked on were international and/or multi-institutional collaborations, and I've formed strong working relationships and friendships with those individuals, many of which I consider to be mentors. Since, they've provided advice on my dissertation, finding postdoctoral fellowships, and future employment.

7) Take a writing course. When I took my first writing course in undergrad I got a C+ on my first paper, which I admit I didn't think was warranted. However, I worked hard throughout the course, and felt my writing drastically improved. Scientific writing is different... I learned how to hone in my scientific writing by writing manuscripts. It was the peer-reviewers highlighting my wordiness.

8) Don't work when you're not being productive. Throughout grad school I have truly lived by this rule. If I am having an unproductive day, I choose to do something instead that will make me feel good. This allows me to throw away the guilt of feeling unproductive, because I instead make the most of the days when I am productive. This means that some days I will work 2 hours then go for a hike or ski, and other days I will work 12 hours straight, and it will be the most productive 12 hours I am capable of. For this reason, I have what I call my grad school adventure buddies. You go on a hike or ski when you're unproductive, and you can talk about what you're struggling with while you are in nature. While this might not be a realistic approach later in your career, in grad school it is. Later on in your career you can shift between tasks to improve your productivity. Sometimes you just need to refresh your mind.

9) Regularly look at job postings. This will allow you to be informed about what career paths are out there when you finish your undergrad or grad studies, and what particular skills they are looking for. In some cases it can help you tailor your studies to achieve those skills before you graduate.

10) Find yourself what I call a 'work wife'. This is the person that you go to with all your frustrations. The person that you can first discuss your preliminary findings with, that will always say 'THAT IS SO COOL!'. This person is the most important person to have throughout your graduate studies. They don't necessarily even need to study the same thing as you, be in the same lab as you, or even at the same school as you. They are just someone that will be able to relate to what you are experiencing in real time.

As early career scientists, and even more importantly as women, we need to encourage and support one another. I hope to maintain and continue building on this list as I progress through my career.


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