Winter Ambition: A Reading List for Ballsy Women (and Men)

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As you can guess from the title, this is a winter reading list for the ambitious women (and men) out there reading this blog. This is not a list of business management texts or a “how to make friends and millions of dollars” list touting my own products. Instead, I would like to share with you some books that have allowed me to develop a better understanding of interpersonal interactions as well as our changing relationship with technology and its impact on how we live and interact with one another.

For those of you engaged in, pursuing, or interested in a STEM career (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) be sure to make to the end of the post, I’ve got a whole section of on-line articles just for you.

So without further ado, let’s get to the books I have read and loved (and that you just might love too).

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture – Ariel Levy

Probably not the title you were expecting me to start with, but oh man did this help me make sense of the college experience in the mid aughts. Written in the glory days of “Girls Gone Wild” this book lays out in plain language how many women have embraced the emergence of raunch culture as a form of women’s liberation. Bonus points if, after reading this book, you watch Beyonce at the Grammy awards this year and think about how that performance relates to Levy’s ideas.

(If you like Beyonce, go check out Janelle Monae, she is FANTASTIC.) 


Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth about Women and Rivalry – Susan Shaprio Barash

Another book that I really wish I’d read early in college, it would have demystified many of the unwritten rules of covert female competition. This book not only explains the hows and whys of covert competition and how it came to be in our culture, but how to recognize this behavior and stop perpetuating bad patterns of behavior towards one another. This advice is especially helpful if you want to avoid living in the movie “Mean Girls” for the bulk of your 20’s and 30’s.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

Full disclosure: I am a card-carrying introvert by almost every single measure out there so I’m a bit biased in my love of this book. Whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or in between this is a fantastic book about these different personality traits and how they impact us in work and life. A great read for introverts looking to understand and how to get the most out of themselves  as well as for extroverts looking to understand the introverts in their lives and workplaces.



Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other – Sherry Turkle

I am 27. I do not own a smart phone. I do not have texting enabled on my current phone. As a result I often end up alone in groups of friends as everyone suddenly turns to their phones and I’m stuck there in immediate reality by myself. It is an unsettling feeling that has marred more than one brunch. Turkle’s look at our changing relationship with technology across 30 years is both eye-opening and sobering. Alone Together is a must-read for anyone interested in how smart phones and other digital technologies are changing the way that we relate to one another and with ourselves.


Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness – Neil Postman

While this book is now almost 30 years old my belief is that it is now more relevant than ever. In the battle of George Orwell vs. Aldous Huxley in describing our current cultural situation, it is becoming clear that while Orwell had valid fears regarding government repression and censorship, Huxley was correct in understanding that there would be no need to ban books in a world where they are no longer read due to abundant entertainments. Postman was optimistic in assuming that computers would not surpass the television as a means of entertainment and cultural dissemination, but now it is clear that the internet in all of its forms is playing a larger part in shaping our culture than television ever could. This is a short read and worth every second; you won’t look at your television or computer the same way again.


My Winter Reading List:

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life – William Deresiewicz

As a current PhD student struggling with what I consider to be a lack of “big picture” moments in my education this is the book I’ve been waiting for. The 2008 article “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education”  was the basis for the book and reflected a lot of the issues I have experienced in my own pursuit of an advanced degree in the US. I cannot wait to read this.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains – Nicholas Carr

After reading Alone Together and Amusing Ourselves to Death earlier this year I’m really looking forward to getting The Shallows into my hands this winter.


For the STEM readers: Hyperlinks galore!

While STEM in general is a hot topic and it seems as though every educational venue is saying “We need to train more STEM graduates” the reality is, at least for those of us pursuing an advanced degree and academic careers, that all is not well within the Ivory Tower.

Gender bias persists in academia despite parity in graduation rates, PhDs in the Biomedical sciences are often stuck in a holding pattern for years before being able to head their own labs (the “post-doc treadmill”), and funding for basic research in the United States is so low that it is choking junior, less well funded individuals out of academic research entirely.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to a very well respected senior Principal Investigator who mentioned that for the very first time 3 of his 6 post-doctoral researchers went into industry instead of academic positions and that he was very surprised to see this happen, as traditionally his trainees all went into academic research. What troubled me was not that they went to industry, but that such a senior researcher could be that ignorant regarding the market forces underlying these decisions. As funding for basic research declines in America we will continue to see more and more individuals leave the Ivory Tower to pursue their fortunes outside of academia, especially when faced with the post-doctoral treadmill.

Now I’m one of these PhD candidates trying to figure out my next step: academia, industry, or the ominous OTHER. Academic research is not an impossible path to pursue, but I would be lying to say that an academic career is easy and accessible for everyone; it is not, even if you have lovely credentials and publications. I believe in transparency and that those of us wishing to pursue STEM and academic careers must be aware of the conditions in which we are trying to establish ourselves.

Do you have any books or articles to add to the Bullish Winter Reading List? Share them in the comments section below!

[Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Nathaniel Zumbach, used under Creative Commons license]


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