“Every Other Thursday: Stories and Strategies from Successful Women Scientists”

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Last Thursday in the Science Center, Ellen Daniels ’69 gave a very interesting lecture about a support group for women in the sciences that she is a part of. Daniels was a chemistry major here at Swarthmore and received her Ph.D. from the University of California at San Diego. She went on to do her post doctorate work at Cold Spring Harbor before becoming a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, where she was the first woman in her department.

The group, referred to by Daniels as “Group”, has been meeting every other Thursday since its founding in 1977. Group is a safe, confidential space in which all members feel like they can discuss any issues they are having in their professional lives or even their personal lives. Issues that the group deals with range from short term problems, such as having to get started on a paper but lacking the organization and motivation to do so, to long term problems, such as how to be sensitive to other people’s needs without letting them take advantage of you.

Group meetings are very structured and they follow a very similar format each week. Each member comes prepared to discuss something that is of some importance to her and shares it with the group. The feedback that she gets is always honest and together they can identify problems and come up with strategies for solving them. One particularly interesting thing that the group does is identifying “pigs”. Pigs are any kind of negative self perceptions that a person might hold. They usually include such phrases as “I am..”, “always,” and “never”. For ecample, one pig that was identified was one in which a member who had been listening to lecturers all day at a conference felt like she was incompetent in comparison to them all. She felt like she was playing no part by being there. Meetings usually end with members giving each other “storks”, compliments that must be accepted and not denied.

Daniels’s book, “Every Other Thursday,” comes back to several key themes which are present in the group discussions. For one thing, she stresses appreciating yourself and being able to take credit for the work you have done without feeling guilty. Another important theme is making choices. Change is something stressful even when it is something you have been hoping for. And finally, the book provides strategies on how to work with other women in the field. Daniels says that it can be hard to be considered a role model for women scientists when she, along with her fellow group mates, did not have a role model of their own.

The group is a very special part of the lives of Daniels and her fellow group members. She said that the support and emotional strength the group provided her got her through very tough times, such as being denied tenure at UC Berkeley, and some very stressful times, like retirement and writing her book. The group provides practical emotional support, a sense of relief that others are going through similiar experiences, and a sense that everyone in the group is on your side. Finally, the group has a sense of humor which, according to Daniels, is essential for getting through tough times.

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