Symposium for Advocates of Women Physician Scientists

Read below for GS1 Muhan Hu’s experience at the women’s advocacy conference hosted in their 3rd year by MUSC. As you will find after reading, the conference was not directed at “women’s” issues, but towards career development for all with an emphasis on identifying and mediating gender, racial, and personality differences in the workplace. Big thanks for Muhan for writing the post and enjoying learning about our experience!

-Paige

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While the name, 3rd Annual Symposium for the Advocates of Women Physician Scientists, is descriptive enough, I wasn’t sure what the conference had in store for us since this is UAB’s first time to be represented at this one-day meeting. Bound by the excitement of the unknown, Alice Weaver (soon-to-be MS3), Paige Souder (MS2), and I (GS1) set off to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Despite traveling on Friday the 13th, the trip was off to a good start as I successfully hailed my first Uber car!

Charleston is a beautiful city—quaint, cute, and definitely not lacking in southern charm. The meeting started bright and early on Saturday morning. There were about 50 or so people (men and women) in attendance. The morning talk started with an exceptional speaker, Dr. Satish Nadig, a transplant surgeon-scientist-entrepreneur who participates in improv sessions to help him become a better communicator. Speaking about balancing life and work in general, he compared the task to Philippe Petit’s World Trade Center tightrope walk. His message was, in a nutshell, 1) plan ahead (network and set the stage for what you may need later), 2) stay focused on your goal, and 3) work efficiently while you’re working and don’t bring work home (not sure how he does it—I’m still struggling with the whole not bringing work home thing).

The morning talk was followed by an interactive session using the Thomas/Kilman questionnaire to see how we handle conflict. If you’re curious, you can click on the link and try it yourself. There are five possible categories: competing, cooperating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. It’s pretty accurate based on our results (which I will not disclose 🙂 ).

The keynote at noon was awesome! Dr. Anna Han is the newly appointed NIH advisor to study biases in the scientific world. A behavioral scientist by training, she talked about the unconscious biases in the workplace. She threw out various interesting statistics. For example, while about 50/50:men/women enter training as physician scientists, the differential gradually enlarges and the ratio becomes 80/20:men/women in higher administrative positions. She also talked about how people with more characteristic African American names tend to get hired less than those with characteristic Caucasian names when the same quality application was submitted. She then discussed how we are bombarded with millions of stimuli at any moment, but can only consciously process a handful of them. Much of the stimuli are processed by our unconscious mind, which can be primed by certain stimuli to create biases that we may not even be aware of. She talked about many other interesting concepts, but the bottom line is to try and be aware of any unconscious bias you may have. One strategy she suggested was before doing something mindlessly, trying to make yourself think about it in a different way. One example she gave was, every time you go grab a chocolate bar, before you eat it, think about eating an apple instead. Even though this may not prevent the action, it will help you be more aware of the action, and hopefully lead to a change one day.

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(Left to Right) Paige Souder, Alice Weaver, and Muhan Hu at MUSC

We wrapped up the afternoon with a talk on the personalities of physicians using the DISC descriptive terms (which I recommend looking at if you’re interested). Not surprisingly, 80% have dominant personalities that are described as outgoing and task oriented), a session on the importance of the biographical sketch (keep up with your accomplishments as you go!), and a panel on either choosing a mentor or finding success in residency and early career.

We spent the evening after the meeting touring downtown Charleston. We walked through the outdoor market, had amazing (and expensive) seafood at Fleet Landing and ended the night with a drink on the rooftop. It was overall a wonderful and productive trip! Lastly, if you don’t want to be surrounded by parties of bachelorettes everywhere, don’t go to Charleston (at least not in May….they were everywhere). Oh, and Uber is awesome! (I know. I’m late to the Uber train.)

Overall, this meeting was great with respect to career development. It was not at all geared only towards women (like the name may suggest), but more towards general principles of success common to everyone. I definitely learned a lot and was forced to think about how I approach things. I would recommend this meeting!

-Muhan

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