Where the Overrepresented are Underrepresented

Hi everyone! I’m excited to be back at Tenure, She Wrote. I’ve spent my time away from the site using a lot of the advice written here and am very excited to be able to come back to the blog as a new Assistant Professor!

Over the course of my first year in my new job, there have been a lot of opportunities for me to learn more about pedagogy and evidence-based techniques for teaching students in STEM. I went to quite a few of these, since the thought of teaching had me feeling like I’ve been thrown to the wolves. I understand that’s a common experience, especially since many of us spend most of the previous ~decade doing research first as a grad student then as a post doc without learning terribly much on how to effectively teach students.

chairs classroom college desks

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

From the very first one I attended, what really stood out to me was how not-alone I was. In my field, men outnumber women by about 10:1, and I’ve been on experiments where I’m the only woman on the team. The statistics are even worse for minority and marginalized groups, and being a queer and trans woman meant I was it for most of my entire career. But a quick head count at all of these events for new professors revealed the same thing over and over: There’s a far higher percentage of women, people of color, and LGBT people who attend STEM education workshops and conferences than any place within the rest of my field.

Being a scientist, I started with counting the obvious. Using names of attendees to attempt to estimate gender percentages is a very imperfect method, but I started seeing ratios that were 3x, 4x, and higher at these STEM education events than the general population in my field, and even just within my own department. At the most recent event, I was even one of three (!!!) trans professors who attended.

I never thought I’d ask this about something science related, but the question that has been on my mind as I go to each of these is: Where are all the straight white men?

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Postdoc-ing While Pregnant

Everything makes sense when you are in the planning stages. At least when I make plans it does. The problem always seems to be with the execution. When my husband and I sat down to talk about having a baby in my last year of my PhD program everything was going to work seamlessly. I would wrap up my remaining lab work, move home, we’d get pregnant and then I’d spend the duration of my pregnancy writing and defending the PhD and applying for postdocs. Based on what I had heard about the job market it could take a while. So with the downtime of being between jobs I could raise the little Niffler and be ready for work whenever it appeared. And yet, life did not work out that way.

Completing my experiments took longer than planned, writing my dissertation and getting it approved went TERRIBLY and longer than I planned, and conceiving a child took MUCH longer than I planned. All of the extra time it took to accomplish my goals wouldn’t have been a big deal accept the one thing I planned to take time didn’t. I was offered and accepted the first postdoc I applied for. It was a dream job with a great PI that I could not say no to. So now, I find myself a year and a half later only having graduated 2 months ago, 2 months into a postdoc and 7 months pregnant.  I am EXHAUSTED.
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Why is it always my job to fix men?

I was a pretty serious tomboy as a kid. I mostly wore oversized t-shirts, jeans from the boy’s section, converse high tops, and most of my friends were boys. I was also a good student, and a well-behaved kid. Unlike many of the boys I considered my closest friends, I never had to sit on the hard polished wooden bench outside of the Principal’s office.

This dynamic apparently did not go unnoticed by my elementary school. In the 4th grade, my teacher paired me in a classroom with a number of these “troubled” boys. When my mother asked about this, she was told by the (female) teacher that it was because I ‘calmed them down’. My mother was furious. Why was it my job to make these boys behave? Why should my educational needs be potentially compromised or not taken into consideration because these boys needed help that the teacher and the school wasn’t prepared to provide? While she was enraged, I felt a different feeling – a strange sensation of pleasure at being “the one” who could solve all of these boys’ problems just by my mere presence.
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An elephant in the room: how we set ourselves up to be bad at mentoring

If there’s one thing I hope you take away from this post, it is that the most important component of mentorship is self-awareness.

But before we get to that, I want to start out by saying that I have had to provide myself with all of the training that it takes to become, to be honest, an actively good mentor. I think that needing to self-train on mentorship is common, as it is not one of those things that are usually taught as part of grad school. Especially in STEM (which is where I do most of my work) you’re lucky if your program is forward-thinking enough to give you the basic training of how to instruct undergraduates as a TA. Personally? My starting place for my self-training in mentorship has been “Mentees should not experience harm as a result of interacting with or being trained by me”.

The purpose of this post is not to provide a template for mentorship, but to first point out some underlying assumptions that allow us mentors—usually inadvertently!—harm our mentees. And then to provide a few examples of what toxic behaviors can be, and what non-toxic alternatives are.
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Leveling up: does sexism get worse as you advance?

Editor’s note: Tenure, She Wrote is back! If you’re just joining us, we were a pretty happenin’ blog space a few years back. I started this collaborative blog with Dr. Mellivora the summer before we both started faculty positions. Then pre-tenure life caught up, we all got busy, and TSW went dark, except for an occasional post. There was a part of me that thought that maybe we didn’t need this space anymore, too. That we had made strides towards gender equality in academia, and things were on the uptick, and that we’d outgrown the need for this content.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, #MeToo, the National Academy’s failure to address convicted sexual predators in its own ranks, and heck, my own lived experience, I’ve realized that I was so, so wrong. We need these spaces — outspoken, intersectional, unapologetically feminist spaces — more than ever. So I’m excited to announce that we’re back, with a mix of fresh voices and seasoned (salty?) veterans. Stay tuned for their posts in the coming weeks. 

Anniversaries are always good times to reflect. Our first post, on July 1st, 2013, was about mentoring — I was just starting to think seriously about what it would mean to lead my own lab. This was before I’d even stepped foot on campus; before I’d met many of my colleagues, before I’d really seen my lab space, ordered equipment, or even met one of my chairs. Five years later, I’m in the last push before tenure; I’ll submit my package later this year. So much has happened since I wrote that first post: students have defended, papers have been published, grants have been acquired, classes developed and taught. I’m really confident in my performance, despite a lot of hardships — some of which I’ve written about here, and many things I haven’t yet been able to write about.

It’s really striking, though, to think of who I am, and my relationship to this job, as I approach tenure, in comparison to who I was when I started this blog. One of the biggest things is that sexism and harassment in STEM were largely intellectual ideas for me, then. I’d experienced micro-aggressions, sure. But the worst offenses were ones I’d seen my friends and colleagues go through, not me. And while I’ve still been spared some of the worst experiences, my experience of sexism in academia as institutional, rather than personal (i.e., something that has affected me personally), has changed.  Continue reading

First Ladies of the Academy

The last presidential election cycle in the United States raised many, many questions. One of them was: “is the role of the first lady outdated?”  When the incoming First Lady didn’t do exactly as her predecessors had, or as many had decided was traditional, many thinkpieces were written and hot takes had.** While it can seem like a laughably lighthearted question, the kind of thing relegated to the lifestyle section of national newspapers, I’d argue it’s more important than ever – and incredibly relevant to academia.

Cultural norms are often only visible after they are broken, and this has been true for the perceived (in)actions of the current first lady.  Consider this passage from a Huffington Post piece: Continue reading

To my colleagues, on the death of their students’ grandmother(s)

It’s entirely possible that I’m just not cool enough to enjoy this “humorous,” “fictional” take on the the phenomena of students manufacturing dead grandmothers during finals week. Maybe it’s because my own grandmother died while I was in college, my grandfather died while I was in grad school, or another grandmother died in while I was in grad school  (are you keeping track? That’s two grandmothers). I missed her funeral to go to a postdoc interview, which is what she would have wanted (I got the job). As the child of divorced, remarried parents, I had four grandmothers, so if I was so unlucky as to have more than one die during the course of your class, then, gee, I guess I’d be in a pickle!

But seriously, I do not get the mentality of seeing your students as adversaries. I don’t get the need to dehumanize them with your disdain, to the point where you need to mock them in aggregate in public. There is a time and a place for venting your frustrations with students being dishonest to get a little extra time on the final (even though it never seems to actually bring their grades up, so seriously, let it go). I get that finals week is stressful for faculty, too (even though your future is pretty certain and you have a job, so it’s not like everything is riding on this one grade). But this idea that we need to single out even fictional students for daring to have a life experience that interferes with your routine?

Acclimatrix is not having any of that, thank-you-very-much. Continue reading