Having coffee with a trainee this week, he told me he was struggling to try and figure out which mentor to ask for a letter of recommendation.

I suggested he ask the one that knew his science and capabilities best.

Apparently they both did.

I then suggested he ask the one who actually liked him and could convey his humanity as well as his science.

He paused and said, “They both like me. But one is like my mom and the other is more superficial.”

Oh yes, he did. I smiled and politely explained that I don’t take it as a compliment when someone says I’m ‘like a mom’. It’s happened a lot.

I love moms. I have one. She’s small and shops too much and is much nicer to my children than she is to me.

Here’s the thing…..women in STEM aren’t looking to pick up kids who are 25 years old. And we sure don’t need to fit into a ‘mom box’ to be both compassionate and get crap done.

I recognize that the world has so few women in positions of power that the nicest thing a trainees often can think to say about a female mentor they like is  that she ‘is like your mom’. The thing is, she is NOT like your mom. I am not like your mom. Your female mentor and colleagues won’t wipe your ass, she won’t think your macaroni art is cute, and she wants you go get some damn data. Just like your male mentors.

Everyone in my lab calls me Boss. Not BethAnn, not Squirrel (but I’d be okay with that) not Dr. McLaughlin. I’m Boss. And I’ve called all my bosses Boss (male and female; as a sign of respect). Because I’m not friends with my bosses. I don’t want to be and you shouldn’t either. Ideally you’re friendly. But with my trainees, I’m in a relationship where I’m getting money and training people and we are getting really awesome science done.

I would lay in traffic for my trainees, but don’t call me mom and really don’t call my senior trainees ‘lab moms’. I’ve seen this far too often as shorthand for the person who gets everything done for everyone else and I don’t like it.

Like all the women in my lab, I when I’m at work, I am a scientist. I am the Boss and I am a concerned mentor. Maybe my concern runs deeper and encompasses more aspects of your development than what you get from male mentors (which is why, I guess there aren’t ‘lab dads’ out there). That’s probably true.

But no one wants to be called your lab mom. Moms are taken for granted; it’s part of the ‘being a mom’ gig.

And here’s the thing, I’ve had to go thru enough to get this job that those folks who ‘mom’ you just need to move out their outdated ideas of women in power. I didn’t sleep with your dad to make my lab happen.  Calling women in STEM ‘lab moms’ disrespects the hard work that we have put in to get to our positions. Start calling people out on it.

The next time you’re looking to compliment your female Boss, say “she is deeply concerned for many aspects of your well being and professional development.” Then ask why male mentors don’t step up their game to be on par with the high bar that women in STEM set.

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