But still, (together) we rise

 

“You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may tread me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”- Maya Angelou

When my editor approached us about writing a post for Women’s month, I was caught off guard surprisingly. What would I speak about? It is difficult to write about topics that are close to your heart, sometimes they are triggers, sometimes they get you fired up, sometimes they make you cynical about the world. That was the dilemma I found myself in, there is so much to discuss being a woman, not just in STEM but generally in life, there are so many challenges but at the same time there are so many successes, so much inspiration and ultimately so much resilience.

In a world that is truly designed for men (I mean that in the most literal sense, check out this article by the BBC and this article in The Guardian and prepare to be SHOOK!) it may seem like a constant uphill to carve a space for women. One thing that has helped us, though is our ability to come together and to build communities and support systems. The strength that comes from women uniting for a common cause is something that is truly awe-inspiring, it reminds me of a video I once watched of Army Ants who had held onto each other tightly to form a raft to survive a flood in the Amazon jungle. I use this analogy for a number of reasons, 1) people often think ants are small and insignificant however they are pretty incredible, 2) people underestimate how smart they are and 3) they are strong in numbers, just like the women in science that I know. The world has tried to crush them, but they have prevailed, the system has tried to force them out but they have stood strong.

They continue to rise, like dust

Fire ant raft
Fine ant raft

So, the purpose of my women’s month post is to highlight my own support structure and some of the incredible global initiatives that have provided a space for women to talk, connect, vent, draw strength and reflect on the past, present and future. These organizations are doing the important work of uniting women from all walks of life and providing them with a shared safe space in order to foster much-needed conversations but make no mistake, they are not all talk!

South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS)

Although SAYAS is a platform for PhD candidates (not only women) this year was a special one because the entire team of bloggers and our editor all happen to be women! I have learnt so much from Joyful, Sesetu, Munira and Roula and I am grateful for our meme sharing, motivation and support of each other. Ladies, we have had a beautiful year together and I cannot wait to watch you all dominate your respective fields, it has been a complete privilege to share a platform with you. I look forward to hearing the future voices on here talking about the groundwork we once laid!

Black Women in Science South Africa (BWIS)

2019 has clearly been a fantastic year for me! I am also very honoured and privileged to have been selected as a 2019 BWIS Fellow. Black Women In Science (BWIS) is a registered NPC which aims to deliver capacity development interventions that target young black women scientists and researchers. Black Women In Science develops professional research and science conduct, leadership and mentorship skills for women within all scientific disciplines, in tertiary intuitions and professional environments nationally and internationally. The organisation was founded in 2015 by Ndoni Mcunu (CEO), google her, she is so incredible and there are far too many accomplishments to list!

Women in STEMI

This organization serves as a platform for telling the stories of emerging women in science. The forward was written by one of my icons in science, Prof Himla Soodyall and if this quote doesn’t make your arm hairs stand on edge then I do not know! “As I read through this collection of young women’s stories, marvelling at how their journeys through life have brought them to their current destinations, I am struck by a common theme that emerges through them. It’s a theme linked with sacrifice and passion to overcome challenges and a compelling drive to achieve one’s best, but at the same time to give back to society.” – Prof Himla Soodyall

Umsuka team Lindsay Hunter
Umsuka team – Lindsay Hunter

Association of South African Women in Science and Engineering

The Association of South African Women in Science and Engineering (SA WISE) is a dynamic association for all those who support the idea of strengthening the role of women in science and engineering in South Africa. The website contains profiles, information about funding and links to other important resources. One to keep tabs on.

Inspiring Fifty

InspiringFifty is a non-profit that aims to increase diversity in tech by making female role models in tech more visible. The organization releases an annual call for nominations of inspirational women so keep an eye on their webpage and make sure to nominate the women in your life!

One Million Women in STEM

1MWIS (1 million women in STEM) is a campaign seeking to profile a million women working in STEM disciplines to provide visible role models for the next generation of girls. There is now a significant amount of research showing that visible female role models serve to increase the number of girls pursuing STEM subjects in higher education and of those role models, real women (over celebrities, historical figures etc.) have the most influence.  To date, they have highlighted the work of over 300 women from different fields who are challenging the status quo and driving change. You can follow them on Twitter at @MillionStem

Women in Bioanthro workshop 2018
Women in Bioanthro workshop 2018

500 Women Scientists

500 Women Scientists is a grassroots organization started in America but now has a global network of local ‘pods’ to build communities and foster real change that comes. Local pods allow for a personal experience where members can meet often and in-person in order to exchange ideas. The pods focus on issues that resonate in their local communities but rooted in the larger 500 Women Scientists mission and values.

Quote this Woman+

In South Africa, less than 20% of sources quoted in the news are women and this online database of professionals seeks to change this by providing a resource for local and international journalists who are looking for comments! You can add your name to the database as an expert in your respective field.

In 2018 I was fortunate enough to publish an article through The Female Scientist (I am sure you know about this platform by now because I mention it all the time in my posts) on my experiences as a woman of colour in academia (I cannot speak to everyone’s experience- only my own) titled ‘Ebony in an Ivory Tower’ and my view on the position of women in STEM then was quite bleak. Today,  although the challenges I mention in the article are still ever-present, I am more optimistic because I have met with women, spoken to women and been comforted by women who have fought alongside me, for me at my weakest and against me at my most cynical. That is the beauty of the life raft we have created together, it keeps us afloat, but it helps us to realise that it is always darkest before the dawn.

The article I had written ended like this: “We need our voices to bellow through the ivory tower, until the vibrations of our collective pain, anguish, and ultimately hope, rattle the foundations and bring it to the ground. Because we love a science field that never loved us and instead of hiding in the shadows of this unhealthy power dynamic, we stand in the sun and demand a day when science acknowledges who we are.”

Ladies, thank you for standing in the sun with me.

A first for everything

I recently had a nerve-wracking experience, my very first manuscript was finally ready to be submitted to a journal but when it came time to press the “submit” button, I froze. I had been working on this manuscript since my honours year in 2015, it has been 4 years, there have been countless drafts, my co-authors (my supervisors) were happy with it and they were ready to let it go. I think I reread the final draft 87 times, checking if I had dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s, I found myself making excuses to not submit, it wasn’t ready (after 4 years it really REALLY was though!), I wasn’t ready and, frankly, I was TERRIFIED. This would be my introduction into the ‘real world’ of research, the very first piece of writing I put out to my research community for them to critique and read.

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So, what did this millennial do before pressing submit? Naturally, I went to Twitter and told my online support system that my impostor syndrome had crippled me. I was overwhelmed at the response, many people offered advice, words of encouragement and some even offered to press submit for me, it helped me feel less afraid. Many researchers shared their feelings about their first submission and their first rejections. It has now been just over a month since I submitted, I am still anxious and check the submission status constantly but I feel more confident now, even if the paper is rejected, my online support helped me realise that it is not the end of the world, it is simply a hurdle that I will overcome.

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So, in honour of my first baby, my first paper, I thought I should put together a post that helps guide other first-timers in the world of publication! There are many fantastic detailed guides online, one of my favourites is from Dr Melanie Seiler on the blog The Female Scientist. This is a good guideline for writing a paper, outlining what is expected in each section and how to go about writing your first paper. Also check out this guideline on Enago, How to Write a Research Paper. These are REALLY helpful to start your writing process! Below I detail a few of my own tips, the last one being my favourite. My editor, Prof Inglesi- Lotz, has also contributed to this area of interest in a SAYAS blog post which is worth the read before going into a panic about publishing your first paper.

  • Find a good support system

I was fortunate enough to attend a publication workshop early last year hosted by The Centre of Excellence in Paleosciences at WITS University and led by the phenomenal publishing machine that is Dr Jennifer Fitchett. Dr Fitchett covered the publication process, she explained things like H-indexes and choosing journals and navigating this scary space. If your institution offers writing support like this, I encourage you to attend, it is great to work through problems in groups and to bounce your ideas off researchers that could be in a completely different field in order to test the clarity of your work.

Your support system can also consist of your co-authors, your supervisors and your peers. They are probably familiar with your work and if you ask, would be happy to provide feedback. If you love Twitter, like I do, then an online community can also help you navigate through your fears.

  • Choose your journal wisely

Most journals have an outline of the research work they publish and often a guideline for authors. Make sure to check your prospective journals’ homepage and learn about their format, submission and review processes. This will help you decide if it is the right journal for your work and assist in preparing your manuscript. Another way to decide if a journal is a good fit for you is to look at your own reference list and the journals you frequently cite, this could be an indicator of the right type of journal for your research work. Aim high and even if you are rejected, chances are you will receive some feedback that can be helpful in revising your paper. If that is not for you though, try to pick a suitable journal based on the research at hand, this requires an honest look at your work.

  • Get a second, third or fourth opinion

It is okay to feel unsure! It is great to bounce your ideas off other people whose opinions and input you value. The manuscript can be circulated (confidentially) for you to get some constructive feedback. This is also why conferences and seminars are so important, they offer an opportunity to present to an audience who can provide feedback and act as a room of reviewers. Discussing your work with others may encourage new ideas and insights and take you out of your mental bubble.

  • Stop that impostor syndrome

ff8827a44ceb7590b70c0fe0f5e63bbe.jpgMy wonderful SAYAS editor also reminded me that just a few weeks before my panic, I had written a blog post on Impostor Syndrome and my dealings with it, she reminded me that I was capable and that my voice, my research and my perspective mattered. Sometimes that is all you need. It is going to be difficult and your fears are valid, but you cannot let that stop you from sharing your research work. You matter!

  • Press SUBMIT!

This is probably the hardest part, once you press submit, your work is out there to be judged. Reviewer 2 is real, and they will probably have feedback but that can all assist you in presenting the best possible work. If you need a gentle nudge, you could always ask someone you trust to press the button for you. I promise once it is done you will feel a sense of relief! Sometimes it is about changing your perspective, although it is nerve-wracking, think of the feedback and how it will help you improve your work.

  • Don’t let the fear of rejection stop you

If your paper comes back with revisions, or it is rejected, do not let that stop you. Take a moment, maybe more, reflect on the feedback, dust yourself off and TRY AGAIN. There are many reasons why manuscripts are rejected and take the feedback and rework it, change your approach, change the journal possibly but do not give up.

  • Congratulate yourself

I pressed submit before 11AM on a Monday and you know what? I had a glass of wine and didn’t feel an ounce of guilt. Celebrate that you were brave enough to do it, you deserve it!Instagram-Simple-as-that-6a4430