Academaze: Finding Your Way through the American Research University by Sydney Phlox

Academaze Book Review

I was given an advance free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Blogger Sydney Phlox (academic science blog ) is woman in a (mostly) man’s world – a professor in a physical science field at a major research university in the U.S.

SP is a US university professor, so the book provides us with insight into how things work across the Pond (tenure, funding, teaching, travel for work, etc). Having said that, I think that the principles might be pretty similar elsewhere (UK and Europe at least, I can’t comment on Asia or Australia).

This book is a must read for anybody interested in how the STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) world works, what the life of a scientist/researcher/lecturer is like at an American university, the things they have to do to keep their labs/ research groups going;

  • anybody interested/ thinking of/wanting to work in STEM/ especially, but not exclusively, women;
  • family and friends of the said women or men; undergrads and postgrads wanting to pursue career in academia, career advisors and student advisors, PhD students and post-docs, PIs and mentors;
  • anybody wanting to know what the life of a(n) (academic) researcher is like.

I think this is a fantastic book to prepare you for what to expect of a career in Academia.

I really enjoyed reading Academaze, which is such an appropriate title for it. The book is very easy to read, the chapters and subjects covered flow very well. While I was reading the book, it felt like I was talking to a more experienced, very friendly and professional colleague over a cup of tea. The world of academia would benefit from more Sidney Phloxes!

Academaze is a very inspiring book from a very inspiring person, Sydney Phlox is a role model for women in STEM, or any career. The book is bursting with excellent advice, great humour, a realistic but hopeful ‘can-be-done’ tone. Things are well explained, but not at all patronising, and with funny cartoons galore to illustrate the points. It also makes you contemplate roles within STEM from the perspective of colleagues across an institution’s hierarchy.

She’s covered it all: advice on how to navigate your relationships with your colleagues, supervisors, PIs, mentors, lab/group/ institution and field politics, career advice and job hunting for recent graduates, even mental-health advice (it doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to get done up to an “it’ll do” standard) and coping techniques; from impostor syndrome, writing papers and grant proposals, to balancing family with work, teaching and advising on travel for job/career, even advice for non-native English speakers.

I am a woman in STEM  in the UK and have recently completed my postgrad studies. I wish I had read this book as an undergraduate or just after graduating, as it would have answered a lot of questions I had, and quite a few I didn’t know I had. It also would have saved me a lot of grief and help me make more informed decisions.


My Cup of Beauty / Gratitude in the 2015


I hope you’re all well and settled into the New Year 2016 and that you had a good break over the Christmas and the New Year festivities.

I decided to start this year with a sort of a thankfulness post for all the good things in the year just gone by. It has been a loooong time since a whole year was that positive.

Thank you to all of my ‘old’ and new readers who are still reading my blog. I have been less active on the blog in the second half of the 2015. Thank you for still being here.

I am grateful that I was able to give and be a part of a wonderful volunteer team of lovely people from all walks of life in a local charity shop. It was a wonderfully satisfying and fulfilling experience and I also made fantastic new friends.

Helping old friends and business contacts helped me rebuild my confidence. They have known me for a long time, when I was at the very beginning of my career. They gently guided me, taught and mentored me, believed in me and saw my hidden potential that I myself didn’t believe I had. When after a long time they came to me for help, I was so honoured and proud to have been asked to help them, I did it with such a joy and lightness in my heart. And at the end of it, their many sincere thanks were completely unnecessary, because I was so grateful/thankful to them for uncovering all my long forgotten potential, belief and faith in myself.

It was great seeing my Macedonian friend from Germany when she came up to UK for a brief visit and meeting another lovely lady in London with her.

We finally got to have a holiday after exhausting few years. Slovenia was the chosen destination last year. I revisited places after many years (since ex-YU) and saw things with new eyes. It was a fantastic week. We’d definitely go back there again! I bumped into an old colleague there completely by chance and also met a lovely young couple starting a new life and a better tomorrow far from home.

A trip to Slovenia was like a little test for the Balkans, but very enjoyable and without all the pressures usually present when one travels to one’s home city. I might write a separate post about all beautiful things Slovenian, as those lovely people and places definitely deserve a separate post.

I finally went back to Croatia again after a few years. One of reasons for going was my high school’s 20th reunion. The main reason for going was really to make new, good memories and motivation for more frequent visits. Whenever we went there in the past (three times) we were traumatised for one reason or another, desperate for another holiday just to recover.

It was great making new memories, seeing old friends and acquaintances. After so many years I reconnected with my more distant family and it was great to share old memories with them. I also rekindled old friendships and relationships, people I haven’t seen for at least 20 years. This visit helped me rebuild myself, my life and my future on the solid foundations. It gave me strength to close a few chapters of my life and move on. You have to lay all the old ghosts to rest to be able to move on and be happy.

It was great meeting wonderful new people – my new friends <a href="" onclick="__gaTracker('send', 'event', 'outbound-article', 'http://bitchydust find more’, ‘Bitchy’);” target=”_blank”>Bitchy and Zuba (which had started as a ‘virtual’/online friendship ), and Tanja et al. from the 4 City Windows.

Lisa Eldridge’s book Face Paint was finally published and I pre-ordered it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to London, to have it signed and see her in person. I can’t wait to start reading it properly when I cross a few more things from my ‘work’ list. For now, I’m just dipping in occasionally and enjoy all the gorgeous photos (practically salivating over them) and a few paragraphs at a time.

I did, however go to Brian Blessed’s book signing! He happily thundered around our Cathedral for a while and then he patiently signed his book for a tonne of people until stupid o’clock that evening. I also bought an extra pre-signed copy for my mother-in-law and an audio book CD, so I can read his book, and actually hear his voice! Really great treat!

I (almost) closed another career chapter and completed a challenging thesis write-up. I say almost because the viva still needs to be crossed off the list.

You know that amazing feeling when you have completed a very challenging project, met the deadline and a giant weight has been lifted off your shoulders? I earned a giant/ roaring woo(p) of joy (pun intended) and I walked into a MAC store on the way home and treated myself with a fabulous red lipstick. Because I love myself. And then I strutted proudly and confidently out of the store wearing a satisfied lingering Ruby Woo red smile and boarded the train home exhausted, but so happy because I finally succeeded and won, despite every obstacle thrown my way in the past 5 years. And I sent a virtual kiss to all my cheerleaders who were a significant part of my journey.

Thank you to lovely Louise for giving me something to look forward upon the completion of my work: a day in London at the V&A. We thoroughly enjoyed exhibitions of Indian textiles and painful shoes. It was great thinking about and doing something different (= not hard-core science) and relaxing. Seeing fabrics and textiles and different footwear really makes you think about all aspects of life, past, present and future. It makes you think about life, processing of everyday objects that we take for granted most of the time. About different countries, natural resources, cultures, classes; about yourself and your place in this life and all the changes throughout history that brought us to the life as it is now.

Wishing you all the best in the New 2016!

Is there anything that you were especially grateful/thankful for in 2015?

International Women’s Day

International_Womens_Day_2015It’s always been hard to be a woman. In the past and in any place in the world. Things got better in some places. And not in others. It took a lot of women and a lot of sacrifice over a long time. But, I’m not going to write about it here. Instead, I’ll write about what I know and what’s in my heart.

I was a girl born on the in SFRJ. A girl/woman on the Balkans. Looking back, I don’t think female offspring was appreciated as much as it should have been. Now, I realise the same is still true in many parts of the world today.

On the 8th March we did little handmade cards at school as children for our mothers or grandmothers and were taught to show our love for the crucial women in our lives. It’s a really nice thing to do as a kid. It’s a good attempt to teach children about the role and position of women in history, and also how we should treat our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, etc. It would have been great if that idea had a better footing in the society as a whole.

I was often called a boy, because of my short hair and trousers. When my mother was a young girl, she had been told that red lipstick and red nail polish were for only suitable for prostitutes.

When a woman applied for a job, she was asked if she was married, how old she was and if she had any children. Because she’ll need time off for maternity leave, and then more sick leave for her child. If a young woman was offering child-minding services, it was often thought she would be game for anything else required.

When young women or teenage girls complained that adult males twice their age in positions of ‘power’; (teachers, vicars, psychologists, etc.); behaved inappropriately (to say the least) – they were told that it was normal. Often, no support was offered best slimming pills. The word that should have been used is commonplace, not normal. It was also normal that a young good-looking woman would often be patronised or flirted with by a bored male employee of a shop or a bus company. It was also very normal that a woman would be asked by the priest in a confession if she was using contraception while having sex with her boyfriend/ husband.

It was also normal to ask any teenage and young woman if she has a boyfriend and, if not, what she’s waiting for? And if she didn’t have a boyfriend yet, then something must clearly be wrong with her. Something must be wrong with her if she’d rather read books, not cake tonnes of slap on her face and not follow fashion blindly. Surely, something must be wrong with that (young) woman, because her role in life is to get married, have children before she is 25 years old. Because, women’s only role in life is to get married and have children. I write this with heavy sarcasm. What about their wishes, their talents, their passions, their interests, etc?

In some parts of the world women’s rights are better than they have been in the past. Or should I say haven’t been, as mainly they were non- existent. Yet, despite this, there were and are women who have set examples to their daughters, sons and husbands, that it’s not OK to be treated like this. They have succeeded despite all the obstacles, and have followed their dreams. They have turned those NOs into a lot of moving ONs. They bravely faced the odds stacked against them and pursued their dreams. These women have become successful in their careers and become role models for younger generations.

One thing has become clear to me:  education is the way out. The way out for every woman. When I say education, not just the education of self, in schools and universities, but for our own futures, and that of our daughters, we should educate the world to give women their rightful place in society. Because, otherwise, nothing will change and people will still not know or think any differently.

Happy International Women’s Day!