Books you should read as a scientist

Ben Horowitz: The Hard Things About Hard Things

“If you book_thehardthingsabouthardthingshave to eat shit, don´t nibble.” Advice for running a company when the sun is not shining, when there are no good solutions, when you have to choose between catastrophic and cataclysmic.

Leadership books tend to be written by MBA graduates who write about successful people sailing through to success. Ben Horowitz calls this peacetime leaders, which is but one side of the medal when running a company or taking any other responsible position in an organisation. However, things don´t go smooth all the time, and that´s when wartime leaders come in. Ben Horowitz was CEO of a tech company during the dotcom crash and had to go public in order to avoid bankruptcy- at a time when “tech company” was synonymous to “syphilis” on the stock markets.  In other words he´s got his fair share of wartime leadership experience. Politeness and positive activation of your staff´s creative side are peacetime techniques. In wartime, they get replaced by deliberately used swearwords and sometimes even threats, a wartime technique for setting clear aims: “I don´t give a fuck how well trained you are. If you don´t bring me five hundred thousand dollars a quarter, I am putting a bullet in your head”- to quote Mark Cranney, his treasured Head of Sales.
The author thereby creates clarity in the book itself as well, which conventional textbooks could not yield: Delivering criticism should for instance not be done by using the “shit sandwich” of the well-known triad of positive-negative-positive points you raise, but plain and simple. Hard to find a crib that´s easier to remember.
An eye-opening and thoroughly readable book on how to lead in difficult situations.
Susan Pinker: The Sexual Paradox
Is it possible to write a book which is very firmly based on sociological data but still happens to be a real page-turner? Susan Pinker manages to do just that.
Why is it that women, who tend to do at least as well as men at university, still seem to be stuck when it comes to reach the highest levels of organisational hierarchies? Considering a plethora of gender-specific aspects of our workplaces, the book boils down to a reason deeply entrenched within women and/or our working cultures: whereas men tend to get happier as they move up the ladder, women don´t. This can in principle have two reasons. On the one hand, women have broader aims in life, being less inclined to push private interests and obligations aside in order to reach the top levels. On the other hand, women didn´t “sit on the table” 200 years ago, when the ground rules of our modern work culture have been set, which gave men a head start ever since.
Susan Pinker concludes with an important point to policymakers, which is often forgotten in the highly emotional debate about gender topics on the labour market: equality of opportunity does not lead to equality of outcome. The aim can and should not be to have a 50/50 gender distribution in all subjects from engineering to nursing, these inequalities can be signs of an enlightened society, in which individuals can make their own decisions. So, the page-turner is also a real eye-opener.


Books_ the sexual paradox

Mom the chemistry professor: personal accounts and advice from chemistry professors who are mothers

‘I was told, I was rarer than a giant panda,’ shares Lesley Yellowlees, professor at the University of Edinburgh and past president of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Whoever told her this, the content of the message was clear: female chemistry professors or heads of school are still difficult to find. Do females struggle to see how to combine a career in academia with bearing and rearing children, is that why they leak from the pipeline? In Mom the chemistry professor, 16 female chemists aim to inspire female students to stay in science by sharing how they combined pregnancies and raising their descendants with their scientific or teaching career. Except for one lady, who happens to be a single mum, they all have one thing in common: a very suppMom the Chemistry Professorortive husband who understands the demands of a career in science, and is willing to either make strong concessions in his own career or at least welcomes a nanny. If you found Mr Perfect, have an unproblematic pregnancy and get healthy offspring, the wide range of tips in the book can help you succeed in your career. Or at least the book shows that it is thinkable to aim high in academia and be an amazing mum at the same time. It is not always easy, but it is rewarding and possible. Most of the stories are interesting, showing that there are ‘normal’, warm-hearted human beings with typical worries behind the professor title, and almost all encourage others to follow the academic route. However, after reading six personal accounts, which are similar in setup and take-home message, you might think ‘…another ten to go?’ The last chapter finally highlights a different aspect that pregnant and nursing chemists face: the known and unknown hazards for the foetus and baby during pregnancy. How to continue a career in an environment where one is naturally exposed to toxins? In other words, how does the giant panda survive during times it is not able to harvest its own bamboo? I would recommend this book, not just to students but also to policy makers who would like to see more females pursuing a career in higher education. Reading about their motivations and thoughts at different stages in their career might give a better understanding of why some decide to leave.

Karin Bodewits

This review was originally published in Chemistry World.

Karin Bodewits, Andrea Hauk und Philipp Gramlich: Career guide for female Natural Scientists

Karin Bodewits, Andrea Hauk und Philipp Gramlich: Career guide for female Natural Scientists

Sorry ladies! Our book is only available in German. Visit the German website to get a long text about our book (written by the publisher Wiley).

Our book includes sections on: career choice, perfect application, in the job, job and family, plus extra sections on labour law