Do I trust my gut?

Earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to do some amazing fieldwork in a remote, logistically difficult field site. This opportunity was essentially dropped in my lap, by affiliation with the research center I work in. I was thrilled — this would open new doors, and potentially set up a life’s worth of work. Our outside contact sent some emails introducing himself, and said he was excited to have me on board. We started chatting about an in-person meeting at my campus, since there are a few of us who would be participating in this field expedition. The big obstacle would be getting funding, which the director of my center was confident I could do, because of my early-career status (with his guidance; he has a very successful funding rate). Everything looked perfect.

And then things started getting weird.

I was out of town on a research trip when I got a message on my cell phone from the expedition organizer. I have no idea how he got my number, but in it, he mentioned how he really wanted to get to know me better, since we’d be spending so much time together. This weirded me out initially, because my number is not public, but can be found with some digging. I had away messages on my office phone and email, and so it should have been clear to this guy why I wasn’t returning his messages. I chalked my discomfort up to cultural or generational differences, and decided to ignore the voicemail and continue conversing via email.

A few weeks ago, he visited campus. We spent the entire day together talking logistics and research projects and funding opportunities. I wasn’t really clear why we needed to do this in person, necessarily, but again chalked this up to cultural or generational differences. I was excited about the opportunity, so I made allowances for the guy’s slightly quirky attitude. I brought my grad student into these meetings, as we’d be working on her project.

And then things got a little weirder.

At dinner, he mentioned that at the field station, there would be a lot of military men, and he made some vague, off-color jokes that made me uncomfortable. He talked about “undressing in front of the boys,” or “sleeping all together,” or “having handsome field assistants.” When I asked pointed questions about health, safety, security, or conflict resolution, he made it really clear that he’d never thought very deeply about working with women (and it was revealed that he’d never gone into the field with women before). Then, he expressed displeasure at the fact that the other female professor didn’t want to go on the trip, but wanted to send her male student instead. He made a comment about my being married that made me uncomfortable. Again, I chalked these up to generational and cultural differences, thinking he was just a bit clueless (as a feminist, I tend not to hang around clueless older white men all that often by choice, and I’ve found my colleagues to be pretty savvy about diversity issues).

The meeting ended, and I did a lot of traveling for work in the weeks that followed. I recently met with my grad student and found out that the expedition leader had been contacting her independently (which is weird in and of itself), and invited her to fly out to see him and “meet other members of the expedition” when she was in the region for a work-related event. When she probed for details about who else would be there, he finally revealed it would be just him. She told me about this, and that her interactions with him — friendly enough at first– had been giving her a weird gut feeling. She was visibly relieved when I validated her feelings with my own– she’d been so worries that I wouldn’t take her seriously, because there’s nothing specific to point to and say “This. This is not appropriate.”

It comes down to this: We’d be going into the field in extremely remote conditions (like, the kind where if something happened, the bodies would never, ever be found) with this guy, and both of us agreed that, while he’d given no overt warning signs, our guts were telling us this wasn’t a good idea. We didn’t want to be alone with him, his hypothetical team of scientists, and fifty military guys for two months.

So now I have to decide: do I take advantage of this opportunity to have access to a field site that would be an incredible scientific opportunity? Do we decide to try to get there on our own, some other way and at a later date? Do we just drop this all together? At this point, the scientific and professional allure of going to what would be an amazing place is largely diminished by what my student and I can only describe as a gut feeling. How do we communicate that to him? To my department head? To the colleagues I’ve already announced this opportunity to, before I realized that it wouldn’t be a good idea?

Maybe we’d go, and it would be okay. But what if it did go wrong? I have to think not only of myself, but also my student’s safety, too. As a scientist, it’s challenging to make a decision based on something as nebulous as gut instincts; as a woman, I’ve learned to both trust that instinct, but to constantly question it in the face of public scrutiny. I can tell with near certainty when someone is going to catcall me, or make an unwanted advance, or comment on my appearance. I’m rarely wrong about those men. I shouldn’t be making excuses for this guy’s behavior just because he’s a clueless older white man. Even if this guy is just being clueless, rather than predatory, I’m not sure that I want to add that layer of extra stress on top of the complications of remote, international fieldwork. And, ultimately, I think it’s important to trust ourselves. My gut is a Bayesian; it makes informed predictions based on prior knowledge. I’d rather not test those predictions against empirical evidence.

91 thoughts on “Do I trust my gut?

  1. I am so, so, sorry that you and your graduate student are faced with this situation. Since you both were feeling the same way, independently, I do think that you should trust your gut instinct. It isn’t fair, but you don’t want to get into a situation that you or your student will regret.

  2. Your guts – yours and your student’s – are correct. You would have to have complete trust to travel to such a remote place with this person and obviously this is lacking. Is there a way of making this trip safe for you and your student? Can you bring someone else along? Is it possible for you to gather more information about the site from a credible source (not this man)? With more information, you can make a better assessment of what it would take to make this project safe, or decide that it is not possible.

    • I was thinking exactly the same thing: can you bring other people along that would make the trip safe for you?
      Of course, you shouldn’t have to do that, but if the opportunity is really unique, it may be worth asking a (male, senior, trusted) colleague to join you?

  3. I’m kind of surprised by this post actually. You’ve set out very clear evidence that this man is not trustworthy (he has been caught in a lie), that he has not thought clearly about the safety of the researchers he will be responsible for, and yet the post is still called ‘Do I trust my gut?’. How is this a question about gut instincts (implying you are being unreasonable and also feminising the issue with the correlation of women with instinct rather than reason), when you can in quite a clear conscious trust the evidence before your eyes. (Though of course I would also always say that if you had even less to go on you should still trust gut feelings about someone not being safe to be around).

    I understand the inclination to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but this is potentially a high stakes situation and being polite, nice, kind is not the core concern here. In a way this reminds be of that horrible book ‘he’s just not that into you’ and the way so many women make so many excuses for men’s behaviour rather than being able to recognise straight up that this behaviour is unacceptable.

    If your mentor is so confident of your ability to attract funding why waste it on someone you wouldn’t want as a long term colleague. I’m sure there are other people out there that you’d like to work with, could offer you better opportunities, and the two months you spend together could be about building a supportive, interesting, confident working relationship, rather than feeling unsafe and insecure all the time. So… trust yourself! There will be other offers, other opportunities, other funding schemes. Life’s too short.

    Good luck!

    • Well, it comes down to taking the professional risk of saying no to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity based on just my “gut” feeling. I’m sure if I told my chair about this, he wouldn’t see anything wrong in any of the interactions I had with this guy. I’m also wondering if I’m overreacting, or being melodramatic (and I think women are taught to doubt ourselves this way).

      • The inherent uncertainty of the future means that we’ll never know everything we need to know to make a decision. You can’t know everything that is going to happen, but it seems to me that you do know something very clearly – that you don’t trust this person. If that’s the case then the problem, as you suggest, is actually how do you explain this to other people in a way that they will understand, not whether or not you should still go.

        If you focus on the latter question then could you find some way of making it look like ‘it just didn’t work out’, This is common enough? A scheduling clash can often look relatively benign, or something similar? And then possibly find a way of going later with someone else?

      • I think what Dr B is getting at is that your negative assessment of the situation is empirical, not a “gut feeling” at all.

        The leader of a research expedition told you flat-out that he has not given serious thought to safety issues for you or your grad student. This is unacceptable, not in the sense that “I feel disapproval,” but in the sense that it is not able to be accepted. That’s an instant refusal.

        Anyone with field experience knows to never go into the wilderness with anyone in your group who is less than 100% prepared. The fact that the unprepared party is supposedly the organizer means that this expedition should not happen. At all.

        Male students or researchers should not be sent in your place. The research should not be funded, if this person is the organizer. Plane tickets should not be bought. No one at all should consider taking so much as a day-hike with this organizer; forget about a two-month research stint.

        If I were organizing this trip and spoke to anyone from the primary investigators on down to the porters and pack-horse caretaker, and that person looked confused and surprised at basic security questions, that person would be off the trip.

        To all those people asking whether this trip can somehow be “made safe,” the answer is NO. Not if the trip contains even one expedition member at any level of authority who does not treat being remote, in nature, and far from help to be anything less than the inherently life-threatening situation it actually is.

        In reality, your “outside contact” is likely a criminal, a charlatan, or someone who works directly with criminals. He is not even presenting a very good imitation of an experienced researcher. He’s fishing for something, and he’ll keep fishing elsewhere if you don’t take the bait.

  4. “When I asked pointed questions about health, safety, security, or conflict resolution, he made it really clear that he’d never thought very deeply about working with women”

    this is not an ambiguous social cue – this is a clear fact this this person has not done their homework and would be completely inadequate as a field trip leader.

    • I agree. He’s obviously done his homework with regard to those things generally, and he has the experience to back that up, but this is a male-dominated field, so it’s not surprising that he hasn’t worked much with women.

    • I agree 100%– As a male professor in my 40s with considerable experience doing (and leading) field studies to remote areas on several continents, there is no way I would go into the field with this person, especially to such a remote place for two months (!). His actions towards you and your grad student are weird enough to raise a red flag in terms of how he views you both (and women in general). But even if he is just “clueless,” you certainly don’t want to rely on him make important decisions that affect your safety and welfare (and the 50 military guys at the site-that only adds another level of complexity). In my opinion, it is a no-brainier to get out. You have to be with people you can trust and depend on to be vigilant in assessing the safety of the group and keeping everyone out of harms way. It is tough to walk away from an exciting opportunity, but there are a lot of great opportunities out there that don’t involve you putting yourself and your students at such obvious risk. Even with careful planning, people die doing this kind of fieldwork–on more than one occasion I have received the terrible news that a friend/ colleague has died on a similar expedition, and it is a constant reminder to err on the side of caution). I don’t think you owe anyone any explanation beyond this–you clearly do not feel confident that the safety of you or your student are going to be adequately addressed. That is reason enough, period.

  5. What you’ve described is super creepy. For what it’s worth, my own gut is screaming, “No! Don’t go!” It may be that “there’s nothing specific to point to and say ‘This. This is not appropriate.'” (though I’m not sure I agree), but there’s a large set of quite dodgy incidents.

  6. Trust your gut, trust your gut, trust your gut!

    You mention in your post that there was no specific event or action that could be definitively labeled “inappropriate”. I’m not sure…I think the expedition leader’s efforts to arrange a visit with your graduate student under false pretenses (meet the team! oops, it’s just me!) qualifies as inappropriate.

    I’m frustrated for you and your graduate student that you might miss out on an incredible opportunity. But it sounds like your personal security and safety might be at risk. I hope you can find some other way to pursue this research.

  7. “…while he’d given no overt warning signs…”

    I disagree, I think the warning signs he has given are very clear. At the very least he is unprepared to safely lead a team of researchers on a remote and potentially dangerous field expedition, as his inadequate answers to your questions about health, safety, and conflict resolution make clear. And on top of that his behavior to you and to your student has been unprofessional and a major red flag. Tracking down your personal phone number? Contacting your student one-on-one and trying to convince her to visit him under misleading pretenses? This is not okay.

    I think what you said in an earlier comment about women being taught to doubt ourselves is absolutely true, and I can see why this is such a wrenching dilemma. But I want to affirm that your concerns are real, major red flags and you are absolutely right to be seriously reconsidering this expedition.

  8. I have been the only woman on field expeditions to remote locations many times. It is difficult enough to negotiate the awkward situations that inevitably arise without this added layer of creepiness thrown in. So yes, trust your gut that this would at best be a very awkward expedition, and at worst… well, I can only imagine.

    However. It infuriates me how few women participate in field work (at no fault of their own), and how male expedition leaders can remain so clueless if not downright sexist and predatory. In this case, if you were not a woman, you would take this opportunity and your career would take tremendous steps forward. Since you are a woman, you might be forced to choose not to take this opportunity for your own safety and the safety of your student. This is a seriously f’ed up situation. It’s not just going to hold YOU back, but also hold your student back (field work is a HUGE career boost for young women), and other female scientists who could participate in future expeditions.

    So don’t back down just yet. Talk to your center director. You’ve already documented the actions that made you feel uncomfortable; ask your student to do the same so you can bring in pieces of paper with dates/times to back up your discomfort. Tell your director that you are about to give up a huge scientific opportunity because you fear for your safety and for the safety of your student. Tell him that this is a very serious situation, not just for you but for your research center– if they are actively collaborating with people who are anti-female, and fail to listen or to help support you, then they are complicit in hindering your career. Your director would be an idiot not to take you seriously. Together, you can brainstorm some solutions that might make the situation safer for you. If your director IS an idiot and/or has somehow managed to NEVER have to deal upfront with sexism and harassment in a workplace (lucky him), then offer to meet with him and your institution’s ombudsman to brainstorm solutions together.

    You may also consider speaking with the supervisor of the expedition leader. This is probably not the first time he has acted inappropriately. It may or may not be the first time his institution is made aware of it. Either way, they need to know.

    You’re clearly not overreacting (and neither is your student). I have had to step forward about grey-area harassment claims before, so I know how uncomfortable this is going to make you feel. The issue isn’t whether *you* should trust your gut, but whether *they* will trust your gut. Who knows. But I truly think we women owe it to each other to speak up when this sh*t happens. They can’t fix what they don’t know about. If we don’t speak up, then we’re complicit in letting it continue unchecked.

    Good luck, and please keep us posted!

    • I find myself agreeing strongly with @scidoctress here, especially that ‘this is a seriously f’ed up situation’ and also in terms of her advice: talk to your center director and/or ombudsman, and the expedition leader’s supervisor and/or someone in a position of authority at the field station or equivalent. As many other commenters have noted, you have hard evidence here, not just a gut feeling.

    • You hit the nail on the head, here. I’m angry about this, too, on multiple levels. This is honestly the first time that I’ve even been in a circumstance like this — I’ve previously always felt very supported by my institutions and advisors.

      This is a department that is very male-dominated (especially older white male at the moment), and I honestly have zero sense as to how supportive my dept. head will be on this. And, sadly, the expedition leader has no supervisor — it’s a third-party, private organization.

      Thanks very much for your comment!

      • He doesn’t have a boss? No HR manager? No CEO? If he seriously represents his entire company, then all the more reason to encourage your university to break ties with it. No wonder he gets away with this bs…

  9. I want to disagree with the other commentators. I think you should do some extra homework to make your graduate student and yourself feel more safe. Determine the particulars of the expedition (who, when where), enroll in a self-defense class, set expectations of behavior (ie, meet in person again and draw the line), etc. Then make a decision based on what you know will be happening. I think you should investigate every avenue around this individual before you close the door on this opportunity. Then, once you have every piece of information you can get, make the decision regarding whether you will continue with the trip. Ultimately only you can decide, but more information will make your decision more clear.

    • Enroll in a self-defense class? *double-take* They are going on a two-month expedition to a remote field location, not walking across a dark parking lot late at night. Moreover, suggesting it is @Acclimatrix’s responsibility to make sure she and her student are not assaulted or harassed, rather than the expedition leader’s responsibility to provide a safe, secure experience, smacks of victim-blaming.

    • moreover, if “he” admits it is the first time he has worked with women in the field, you can tell him that this is a great opportunity to set the best possible rules and procedures for safe and effective working conditions – including separate sleeping arrangements and whatever else you think is appropriate. But if you think he won’t abide by those, then as mentioned above, you need to assess the situation for yourself.

        • No, but it is her job to make sure appropriate conditions are in place for her and her student, if she really wants to go on the expedition. I saw this as a way for two professionals to draw up guidelines, particularly if (as he stated) the other person hasn’t yet got them in place. But these are just opinons, it is only Acclimatrix who can decide.

          • No, it is *not* her job to guarantee basic conditions of safety, except to *reject* the offer when they are in doubt or questionable.

            “Conditions” is a vague word to absolve responsibility from the *actual organizer* of the expedition for women’s safety concerns in an isolated all-male environment.

            Once those are guaranteed then actual *research conditions* can be settled and hashed. Security (as a guest if the expedition!) is not a “term or condition” to be negotiated!

    • A self-defense class? To keep themselves safe from the 50 military guys??

      Besides, if a situation arises in which self-defense is necessary, that’s already an unsafe situation. Harassing or threatening behaviour doesn’t magically become acceptable if the victim knows how to fight off an attacker. A safe environment for her and her student means one where they don’t expect to be attacked at all.

  10. > and invited her to fly out to see him and “meet other members of the expedition” when she was in the region for a work-related event. When she probed for details about who else would be there, he finally revealed it would be just him.

    I’d say there’s nothing “gut” about it. That’s dishonest. Dishonest in a way that explicitly attempts to convey more security and less intimacy. It’s like if a colleague invites you over to their house for a coffee with a bunch of friends and it turns out to just be you. Not cool.

    All the other, very valid, concerns aside. That one alone is an objective reason to send your alert bells into overdrive.

    • Thanks for validating this. I kept feeling like I’d be making a big deal out of nothing, and it’s really, really helpful to have other people (especially guys) agree that this is weird.

      • It is pretty risky for a woman to try to express the reasons for reservations. not so much because we don’t trust ourselves and our perceptions but because we always have in the back of our minds, I suspect, that the OTHER GUYS won’t take us seriously and that we will have to justify more clearly and empirically than someone else would. It is gratifying and a relief when so many people validate the perceptions, although some of us may be a bit miffed that it is that way.

  11. Can you ask for another expedition leader? If not, I wouldn’t go and I would inform his supervisor or equivalent why you have made this decision. He won’t stop otherwise. You are right to trust your instincts and with the responsibility of a student too, I wouldn’t take the chance.

  12. I agree that this person’s dishonesty is, by itself, sufficient reason to either refuse to go or to insist on other leadership for the expedition, leadership fully aware of, and committed to, what it takes to run a safe, healthy mixed-gender team in a remote area. I have known women who had been assaulted during expeditions to remote places in the past: the inability to reach *any* assistance of any kind, and leaders who shrugged off concerns and complaints about inappropriate behavior were always part of the picture. (These were not always scientific pursuits–a few were Peace Corps volunteers, military personnel, employees…etc.) Keeping a remote site safe for a small number of women among many men takes expert, committed leadership, fully aware of the problems involved, and knowledgeable in meeting them with sound, proven interventions–and the personal integrity of the leader. This man has shown none of the qualifications needed to do the job, starting with his stated unfamiliarity with the need for health and safety protocols…and continuing with the rest of it.

    I also agree that your own director should know what your reservations are, in detail. There should be (apparently there is not) a standard set of protocols for dealing with health and safety issues that includes sexual harassment, assault, etc. so that you could refer to it rather than having to worry that your gut feelings (and the evidence) are not enough to explain a refusal to go under the present circumstances.

    I disagree with Dr. T on the topic of making yourself and your student “feel more safe” by, among other things, taking a self-defense class. Though I support all women taking such classes, in a remote location and surrounded by a large number of men whose attitudes you do not know, such a class is virtually useless. When younger I was quite able to defend myself against a single attacker…when healthy, wide awake, and aware of their presence. But that didn’t mean I could sleep safely on a city sidewalk, or when sick, or when someone stealthily stalked and trapped me. Against an all-male team? You would be depending on their good behavior, and men (and women) take their cues from their leader. From what you’ve said, I wouldn’t trust this guy a millimeter. Just having him at the site would be a weak link in your, and your student’s safety.

    What I would want in a remote location: A leader with experience in supervising mixed teams, with proven *success* in providing safe and healthy conditions for both men and women. Someone who would answer questions honestly, provide references, discuss possible problems with personnel freely, describing known protocols for ensuring safety and for handling disputes. In any situation where the military is involved, opportunity to check out that specific military force and learn its understanding of, and commitment to, fair, safe, and healthy standards for including women in a joint endeavor, including both military women and civilian women. I’m a military vet; there are few military organizations I would trust in a remote situation where the only two women were civilians.

    • Thanks very much for your thoughts. This is really helpful in getting me to think not just about the science I’m excited about, but also the logistics, which I’m really trusting this man to take care of if I did go.

      I’m so sorry that you had that experience. And I agree; there would be absolutely zero way that a self-defense course would make me feel at all more safe in this context.

  13. I understand why this is such a tough situation and decision. If he were slightly awkward, you would go anyway and get an awesome new direction started in your research, and lay the groundwork for your and your student’s future careers. And you are wondering if you can still make it work, even if it might be unpleasant. I don’t know how to help you, but in general I love reading your posts and hearing about your life as an academic, and I want you to be safe and doing what is best for your future. I do field work myself so I can share a bit.

    I am a postdoc, and I do field work where I spend 1 month at a time at a place which is an established research facility at a remote site in a developing country. I am often the only female there, and I feel uncomfortable, like I’m in a fish bowl, because the host-country men who staff the site often openly stare at me and flirt, and I feel like I stand out. Host-country women do not work in those types of jobs, and the men are at the site away from their family for a week at a time, so that is why I think they stare. However, my professor I work with, and the other students/postdocs, are aware that I am uncomfortable and accept it and do all they can to make me comfortable. On they whole it is a good experience for me, and I get data that is laying the groundwork for my entire future career.

    What I don’t understand about your situation is how much you will have to work with this man, because I don’t understand how your field work is done, or how collaborative your science is. It really sucks that you have to make a decision like this. But remember that good collaborators can make your career and bad collaborators can break it. And there are other ways someone can be a bad collaborator, such as someone being extremely shady and falsifying data or gossiping behind your back or lying to funding committees or complaining in public about funding committees etc etc etc. So even if this person were not sexist, he still may not be a good person to associate with in some other way. In my field, I have found my collaborations to be extremely extremely important to the direction of my own career, and doing field work with the wrong person could be harmful in other ways.

    Sorry, I hope this helps, they are just my disjointed thoughts on your very tough situation.

    • He’s basically in charge of logistics and has nothing to do with the science. So there would be minimal work with him per se, but we’d be completely isolated together for the duration of the expedition, with no way out if something happened.

  14. Can you talk to the other researcher who chose to send her male student instead of going herself????? That may be illuminating, and moreover, may give you some options for further options to utilise this site with “other people”, maybe in the future.

  15. If you choose not to go ahead with this, i would write him a letter and copy it to whomever else you think is appropriate, detailing the reasons why. Don’t let it slide by saying nothing, that will only mean he will try it on again with others.

    • Thanks. I’m seriously concerned about this kind of a letter, because I don’t know if my chair will have my back. And it’s too easy to just start a series of “but I didn’t mean it that way,” and “but I can assure you everything will be okay,” and “but you hurt my feelings!” and I just am not ready to deal with that.

  16. Oh, I’m sorry, this is a rough situation and I’m sorry you have to go through it. It’s a really hard call to have to choose against what could be a cool opportunity because of potential safety risks. But the way you describe it, it doesn’t sound like you have any other real choice.

    It sounds as much a safety risk as climbing with an unreliable harness. The ‘not having thought deeply about working with women in the field’ isn’t a red flag in itself, as long as he shows sensitivity and evidence that he’s doing what is necessary in the situation. But he isn’t, and there are other things that are downright creepy. The prospect of going into a remote field situation with a substantial number of military personnel, in which the scientific contingent is outnumbered and being led by this guys, is worrisome.

    I wouldn’t go into be led into a field expedition in this kind of remote circumstances unless I had a large amount of trust and confidence in the person leading it. Even if he wasn’t a lech and a liar — which is what you describe — then at the very least he isn’t adequately trustworthy. Even without gender issues, I wouldn’t feel safe going myself. Moreover, let’s say you do go? Presumably that would only lead you to have to work even further with this guy afterwards? Since you won’t want to collaborate or him, then would there be any tangible gain from this anyway?

  17. Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go!!!

    This man has given you numerous reasons not to trust him already!

    I once ended up on a similarly remote, geographically-challenging, international expedition – but fortunately only for two weeks – with a local official who decided that I must be his ‘girlfriend’ for the week. It was horrible and there was NO WAY OUT because we had walked for days into the jungle. I wasn’t physically assaulted, but the social dynamics were extremely uncomfortable. Since this fellow has already made it clear that he’s creepy, at best thoughtless and at worst dangerous, protect the sanity and integrity of yourself and your grad student and look for another opportunity.

  18. 1. Trust your gut.

    2. Read _The Gift of Fear_, by Gavin Becker:

    3. Sorry about the whole mess. Guys like this creep make me wish we lived in Robert A. Heinlein’s _Beyond This Horizon_, in which scummy guys got weeded out by losing duels.

    4. Trust your gut.

    5. The reason I am repeating myself is that I’ll really hate it if you ignore my advice (or listen to Dr. T.), and a year from now, I read a blog post from you about getting gang-raped in the Third World. So TRUST YOUR GODDAMN GUT, GOD. DAMN. IT.

  19. I agree with others who say that you have good evidence that this man cannot be trusted to run a good expedition, that he is dishonest, that he is over-eager in gathering personal information and seeking meetings with two younger female colleagues. I would advise you to steer well clear of him.

    You suggest that your head of department wouldn’t see anything wrong in this man’s behaviour. I’d be very surprised. As a dean, I would be concerned if any department head in my faculty were so insensitive to the safety and well-being of their staff.

    • I’ve had personal experiences where men are very blind to the everyday experiences of sexism experienced by their female colleagues. I’m seriously concerned that bringing this up to my dept head could compromise my career, branding me as a “trouble-maker.”

      • This is a real and valid concern. Some men in positions of authority will be understanding, concerned, and helpful. Some men will question your experiences to the point of gaslighting ( you, and will always give the other man the benefit of the doubt (“but maybe he just asked the secretary for your number and she knew you were out of town so just gave your cell. But maybe he originally planned for other expedition members to meet the grad student but then they had to drop out at the last minute.”) It is a very very tricky situation to bring these concerns to a person in a position of authority over you, because you do not know in advance which way he will go. If he goes the questioning way, you might start crying and he may lose professional respect for you. Seriously, it is a very risky thing to bring these situations of sexism up, if you don’t know in advance how the male authority figure might react. The squeaky wheel may get the blame. He may shoot the messenger. Etc. Hopefully he won’t, but it’s a real risk and I wanted to validate your concern. Of course, I hope you CAN bring it up and he IS okay about it. But it will take careful planning, to be prepared for the contingency situation.

      • Acclimatrix,
        Even though it is totally unfair, I think your concerns about bringing this up to your dept head are well-founded. You have to pick your battles, and this battle may be one that you don’t want to tackle as a young female faculty. That’s the lesson that I’ve learned. It’s not fair, but I think we have to choose carefully the circumstances in which we stick our neck out and report inappropriate behavior.

      • I think there are two problems that are being mixed. One is the issue of your safety in the expedition and the other is your bringing your concerns to your head. I think you need to separate these two in your head. If your safety is really a concern, then talking to your head shouldn’t be! I don’t mean to minimize the problem of talking to your head, it is big. But, you shouldn’t make a decision involving your safety based on what your head would think. And if you don’t separate these two issues, you risk doing that…

        • That was a bad choice of words head/head. The second “head” means “mind”, the other “head” means the chair.

        • I’m sorry if it came across that way — that wasn’t my intention. I certainly have no intention of going on an expedition because I’m afraid my chair would be angry at me. It’s more a matter of telling the truth as to why I wouldn’t go, versus coming up with some other reason.

          • You don’t have to apologize for anything here. I was just trying to read between the lines here and if anything, I’m the one who should apologize if I was reading too much.

  20. I think a lot of people have already raised good points. I wanted to ask a question/make a suggestion. I don’t do field work so I was wondering who is funding the field work. It would never have occurred to me to bring a funding agency into a situation dealing with “women in science” until a recent experience of a colleague. So infuriated by her situation, one of her funding agencies has actually stepped in to participate in discussions about solutions/repercussions, etc.. If I held the purse strings I would be livid if I found out that the science I am attempting to fund is being compromised because of some idiot/predator/”whatever he is” (I would be livid for other reasons too)

    • This isn’t funded yet — I’d need to come up with my own funding to attend, presumably from a federal source. You do bring up a good point, but I don’t have that leverage right now.

  21. I am concerned and uncomfortable that you do not feel as though you can talk to anyone in your Dept about it. I know it is tricky, but i really think you should make some tentative moves to inform someone that you are uncomfortable, and see how the discussion goes. You can then decide to say more, or nothing more. You might be surprised, there might be someone willing to go in and bat for you …. just because many of them are male and older, doesn’t mean they all are stereotypes of this yukky guy you are dealing with. I strongly feel that he will continue to go on being yukky unless someone pulls him up; or at least makes a start to tell others that he makes inappropriate conversation with women when he is in a one-on-one supposedly professional situation. (At the very least, he is being unprofessional – notwithstanding any fears you have for behaviour in the field). If it were a younger woman on campus who was being harassed or stalked, you would encourage them to report it, wouldn’t you? If so, you should do the same and tell someone – what about counsellors, they may act as a third party and sound out your chair or someone else in your Dept.

    • I’m new; I’m in a vulnerable position, and I’m still feeling things out in my mostly male department. The expedition leader is not affiliated with the university, so there’s no real reason for me to inform anyone here. I could easily tell my chair that I’m deciding it’s not worth the time or effort, or we’ve decided to pursue other options.

      I would never push someone to report an assault. I would support them, but I’d never, ever push them out of their comfort zone. I think that would be wrong.

      • I agree with you, no pushing but to be fair I only said ‘encourage’. I hope that is all I’m doing here. But the more you say about this situation, the scarier you are making me – from a distance of miles, time, years and culture. I’m glad you are finding it useful to have the conversation and get things clear in your mind – you are the only one to be able to make the various decisions. But if you are making someone like me scared by your descriptions, it *could* mean that you are scared, and i am reacting to that. Anyway, if you go ahead, I hope it all works out well and the science is amazing. If not, I hope you do find a way to call this guy out, somehow – somewhere – even if around your networks. For the “public good”.

  22. I am concerned that by bringing this up in a publicly accessible blog, you could be endangering yourself and your student if you choose to go into the field with this man.

    (Does your student know you shared what she told you?)

    If the man tracked down your private cell number, he may be reading your entries in this blog. He has already demonstrated poor judgement (at best); I wouldn’t want to publicly provoke someone like that.

    (I think it is easy to figure out who you are, no?)

    • My pseudonym is not known to the general public or my colleagues (or my student), so I’m not that concerned. I didn’t use any specific identifiers, and I left things vague/altered enough that it wouldn’t necessarily be obvious to anyone that it’s me. The person I’m talking about would have no way of knowing that I even have this blog. If I thought I was in danger because of something I wrote here from a man who lives in another time zone, I’d have called the authorities. Having this conversation was important to me.

      • Acclimatrix:

        I agree that this conversation is important for you. However, you should be careful about what you think will remain confidential/secret on the internet. I’ve been amazed at how easily google has put together all the pieces of my different internet identities. It’s taken a few years, but they’ve pretty much finished the job. I’ve given up on compartmentalizing myself for any reason other than to keep myself organized.

        On another note, if you’re looking for a colleague in your department to advise you on this and other issues, be aware that older men can often be good advisers because they have daughters or, less often, wives who’ve encountered subtle sexism and/or harassment in their careers. A father whose daughter has experienced these kinds of things and discussed them with him can be golden. So, even if you choose not to discuss this particular situation with anyone, keep you ear to the ground as you get to know your colleagues. Carefully and subtly sound them out on their families and you might find a gem who can help you out.

  23. The fact that he was dishonest and creepy with both you and your grad student suggests to me that he has been creepy and inappropriate with other women colleagues before now. If you say nothing, he just gets away with it again. Telling your grad student he wanted her to ‘meet the team’ when really it was only him … speaks volumes, and is clearly crossing the line. Where does he get his funding? Do they know he behaves like this, tarnishing their good name?

    • If you say nothing, he just gets away with it again.

      The situation isn’t really like that, for reasons I can’t go into. Suffice to say, though, that my saying something to him directly would likely have very little impact on him, and put me more at risk. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet, but please know that it’s not helpful to be made to feel guilty or responsible for the wellbeing of hypothetical future women. I know that’s not your intent, but it’s what the “if you don’t report it, he’ll do it again” language does.

  24. In the field, you’re ultimately responsible for your own safety. That’s even more true for women. The vast majority of women I know have conducted their fieldwork safely, even if they may have had to deflect unwanted flirtations by locals with different cultural norms. In some cases, colleagues have had awkward or logistically challenging issues arise when they refused the advances of men in their field site. Some have had to abandon projects.

    But other colleagues have had even more serious problems. I know one woman personally, and three others by one degree of separation, who were raped, or attacked with the intent to rape, while in the field to do their work. In some cases, the men were locals (most were protected by their community; one was arrested). In one case, the perpetrator was a professor who, before the incident, had had a reputation for making passes at younger female researchers. Apparently, no one reported the incident to the PI’s university in his home country, and he continues to work, advise students, etc.. In situations like these, there’s always the possibility that something more serious has happened and gone unreported. In the absence of female references for your collaborator’s expeditions, there’s really no way to be reassured.

    While I’ve sometimes been the only woman, or sometimes the only foreigner, at a field site, and had good experiences, the places I’ve gone are ones where PIs have established relationships with local staff, where I’m not the first woman to have worked there, where the research relationships provide long-term, good-paying, local jobs, and where staff are held accountable for maintaining professional standards. It’s not a guarantee of safety, but those factors help–and most of those factors are missing in the situation you describe.

    Ultimately, I don’t think this is a “great” research opportunity if it’s already consuming emotional time and energy that should be devoted to science. You only have so much time, and you should be selective about where you allocate it. Given that there’s not even funding, I personally wouldn’t want to work so hard applying for money, in order to place myself and my student in a situation that’s stressful and full of personal distractions at best, and dangerous at worst.

    I’d take the time you would have spent applying for funds for this project, and devote it to another grant instead. Passing on this fraught “opportunity” leaves you open to other exciting, healthier collaborations that are sure to come, and that will be ultimately be more fruitful for enabling you to focus your full attention on the science, rather than consuming your energy with issues like this.

  25. Thank you for the supportive comments, everyone. I appreciate the validation that I’m not imagining things, and that I should listen to my gut.

    To be clear, I’m not scared for my safety at home. This person is several time zones away and has no direct say over my career. I can simply walk away, but the question at this point is whether to also take the opportunity to explain to him and to my dept. head why I’m walking away. I am pre-tenure and new, and I don’t have a good handle on how my colleagues at my new institution would react. I don’t know that my saying something would make a difference anyway, other than to out myself (including potentially on this blog) and put myself at risk of being perceived as a “trouble-maker.” I’m in a vulnerable position, career-wise.

    Also, while I appreciate where you all are coming from, I just want to take this moment to reiterate that if you encourage someone to report something and they aren’t comfortable, please leave it at that. There are lots of reasons why reporting something can put someone at greater risk. I know your hearts are in the right place, and I’m already considering that — I don’t need a reminder that he could “do it again” if I don’t say something to him. All that serves is to make me feel guilty at this point if I don’t say something because I’m putting my student and my (career) security first.

  26. You make a really good and important point. It’s bad enough that you’ve been put in this position, and you don’t need to shoulder responsibility for all women when you’re deciding what to do. Regardless of whether you decide to be upfront with your chair, I think it might be helpful to speak with someone in the university’s ombuds office, diversity office, or similar. Those conversations are kept confidential so you won’t need to worry about how you’re perceived in your department. They may know the culture of the university/center better than you do (since you are new), and they may even know the personalities and culture in your center/department and could give you very informed and direct perspectives.

  27. I agree with other commenters that you shouldn’t go. This is not just because you should ‘trust your gut’ or because you are a woman. If you are climbing Mt. Everest, the person who is your climbing partner is the difference between life and death. This is true of any expedition. This person is not a good climbing partner. You have tangible evidence that he has not thought about your safety, or maybe even his own, and is either not capable or willing to prepare for the trip in a way that will keep the team safe. What happens if you break your leg? Have a medical emergency? Are robbed of all your field equipment? This is not a trustworthy person to work with in a remote environment. If your chair asks, you can just tell him that. You were excited about the opportunity, but not comfortable with the arrangements that were being made to ensure your safety, the safety of the team and the integrity of the scientific work. Unfortunately, you will have to take a pass on this particular field opportunity, but know you will have future opportunities with more prepared team leaders. Live to research another day.

  28. I agree with everyone else here that this is an “opportunity” that you should decline. I echo the earlier advice to read “The Gift of Fear”. The scenario that you’ve described has echoes of several examples given in the book about trusting your gut or instincts and why it is important. This guy is setting off alarm bells for a reason. He’s already been testing the boundaries of what you and your graduate student are willing to tolerate; I can guarantee you that the creepy interactions will continue to escalate in intensity should you continue to interact with him. I’d send a polite and firm email to him (cc your research centre director) thanking him for the opportunity, but that you and your student are unable to participate due to a scheduling conflict, change in research direction, or other plausible reason, and that you wish him all the best. When he predictably responds to your professional email with a reply that is sulky, offended, or one in which he tries to cajole you to change your mind, you’ll have written confirmation that you made the right choice. Early in your career you need to pick your battles. This is a situation where there is no shame in a hasty retreat in order to live to fight another day.

  29. So, if you decide to talk to your chair, I would coach the discussion in terms of ‘safety’. This *should* be a gender neutral discussion point and would set the ground work for your department to be leery of associations with this person. Additionally, if you are applying for federal funds, I’m assuming that you would have to have some sort of SOP for field work safety, etc.. Could you write a basic one to pinpoint exactly what is lacking from this dude’s plan (or lack of plan-more accurately)? What I’m saying is that it might be an easier subject to broach from a purely business standpoint, than from a *feelings* standpoint.

    If that still doesn’t sit right with you–then it would be enough to simply say, “This opportunity wasn’t quite what I thought it was. I going to explore X, Y and Z as other options.”. And then if asked about what an awesome opportunity it seemed, you can use that as your opener to discuss your concerns, starting with the basic lack of safety plans, etc..

    I also thought of contacting the PI who is sending her male grad student–BUT I would only call her on the phone (so that there’s no paper trail) looking for an honest assessment of what it is like working with this dude in the field. Think of it as gathering a reference. Don’t lead the discussion, but certainly sees where it goes. You can approach it as ‘due diligence’, because, let’s face it, you would be entrusting your entire person and that of your student’s in this guys’ hands (yikes!)–so it would be weirder to NOT look into this guy a bit more (his obvious misbehavior aside).

    Good luck!!

    PS- I also suggest reading “The Gift of Fear”……

  30. Pingback: Friday links: sea pigs, the challenge of reproducibility, and more | Dynamic Ecology

  31. Since you seem to be getting very one-sided advice here, I’ll offer a counterpoint for your consideration. I offer this only as something to think about, as my general position would be to trust your gut as well, however, based on what you’ve written I think it’s possible that your gut is applying biased filters:

    Perhaps there is absolutely nothing weird about the interaction at all, other than that you’re predisposed to consider older white guys to be clueless and creepy, and that what appears to be a chip on your shoulder regarding your interactions with males, is telegraphed in your interactions.

    Different individuals’ approaches to dealing with, or broaching stress-inducing or difficult subjects vary /widely/, and people with different coping mechanisms tend to segregate themselves by personality type, such that others like them “feel normal”, and outsiders with different strategies feel “weird”. Yours appears to be clinical and detached, and I have to assume that you’d prefer a straightforward factual introduction of the possible issues of remote-site life with a bunch of military men, etc. If the person you’re dealing with has a different style, and worse, perceives that your preferences don’t match what he’s comfortable dealing with, he’s going to have a very, very difficult time trying to figure out how to bring the subjects up with you, in a fashion that’s not uncomfortable to _both_of_you_.

    The mantra “they shouldn’t be making me feel uncomfortable” goes both ways. I have /tremendous/ difficulty dealing with non-clinical, personality/emotion-driven people, but there are at least as many of them in the research world as there are clinical/detached/facts people. They’re not bad, creepy, or clueless, they’re simply different, and they find dealing with the clinically detached, just as uncomfortable as we find dealing with them. Sometimes developing a productive relationship means meeting half-way, out of _both_ of your comfort zones.

    It’s entirely possible that you’re right, the guy’s a weirdo, and that you should run far, far away. However, from what you’ve written, it’s not at all clear that this is the case. A person with a “feelings before facts” approach to dealing with others, with all the of the most positive intentions and wishes for engaging you in a career-making opportunity, and hoping to get you and your student’s personal, enthusiastic buy-in, despite what he perceives to be a difficult social situation for you, could produce /exactly/ the same set of interactions and behaviors that you’re describing.

    Anyway – I wish you luck, and I don’t have an answer, but, perhaps, just perhaps, you should try a few different sets of starting assumptions when analyzing what’s happened, and see if you reach the same conclusions.

    • Thanks for your comment. I definitely agree with you that there are a number of personality differences that can lead to interpersonal conflicts. However, I do want to push back on some of your statements. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about older white males that lead to a set of starting assumptions. I have a long accumulation of my lived, everyday experiences, and I don’t always have the mental or emotional energy to push those aside to give someone a chance who hasn’t earned it. Especially right now, when there’s been so much high-profile misogyny in my various communities. In this case, the onus is on the older white males to be self-educated, thoughtful, and up front about their social justice awareness and sensitivity.

      • Whether you care to call it a chip on your shoulder or not…

        I won’t for a moment suggest that you don’t have every right to be exhausted over, fed up with, or unwilling to try to meet in the middle in areas of gender sensitivity. While I am someone who you’d undoubtedly categorize as a clueless creepy old white male, and so have only an outsider’s insight into the the female experience, I’ve spent a lifetime fighting against other bigotries that have left me hyper-sensitized to other issues for my own personal reasons.

        One of the things that I have learned, and it still takes quite a lot of effort to make use of this knowledge rather than to understand it academically yet be uninfluenced by it emotionally, is that I bring much of my frustration with other’s insensitivity upon myself, by seeing, expecting, and projecting intentions into other’s actions where there literally was none, or, even where there was a good intention to address my sensitivities that failed to align /perfectly/ with my preferences for the interaction.

        Whether it is a chip, or a long accumulation of experiences and lack of energy to give someone a chance, the people you interact with can read that in your communications, and, it colors their interactions with you in fashions that are not to your advantage. In some cases, it almost certainly makes some of them seem like clueless creepy old white males, regardless of whether they are, or are not.

        (I should emphasize that I bring these points up not to say that you are wrong, but because you seem to be hearing from many voices with what appear to be similar confirmatory biases. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get “outside my own head” in analyzing my interactions with others, and I have learned that it is often valuable to consider challenging perspectives on these interactions to arrive at an actually useful interpretation — And if you knew me and how poorly I usually put this into practice, right now you’d be rolling on the floor laughing at the idea that I was trying to give someone advice about taking a broader perspective on people’s intentions…)

        And, with respect to the onus being on the older white males – I have to question whether you really believe what you’ve written. Distilled of specifics, you’re suggesting that because of the stereotypical behavior of a class of individuals, that any individual from that class must make you comfortable in their interactions with you, regardless of their own personal comfort level, before they can be considered to be dealing honestly and fairly. Despite being the safe fallback when out of options or energy, this does not seem like a particular appealing base for daily operation.

        • It sounds like you’re saying the reason I’m discriminated against by older white men is because older white men sense that I’m irritated at them. Is that what you’re saying? Because that’s 1) a derail of the purview of this post, 2) it’s not true — you have no idea how I interact with people in my day-to-day life, and you can’t get that sense whatsoever from what I wrote in this. I don’t see people as “clueless white males” until proven innocent; rather, I stop associating with people who prove themselves to be “clueless white males” after repeated attempts to educate them. 3) Your statement takes the responsibility away from guys to be decent human beings and places it on my shoulders to be more accommodating, which is messed up. What I’m doing is not the equivalent of discrimination (a la racism), because I’m in a disadvantaged group. I respect that you’ve had your personal struggles, but please don’t assume that you have any idea what I’m going through and why I have to make the decisions I do to protect my personal safety and that of my students.

          • No, no, not at all – that is not what I’m trying to say – and I truly apologize for having given you the impression that I’m questioning the validity of your actions or reactions – that was not my intent.

            I’m simply suggesting that if this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it may be worth careful consideration of how and why these specific interactions occurred as they did, and whether there are alternative, equally plausible explanations that are innocuous. Communication is difficult, misunderstanding is easy. A confirmatory tide of opinion from those who communicate, and think similarly to you, about the intent and content of communication from someone who may not communicate with similar modalities (regardless of intent) does not a well-reasoned conclusion make.

          • This guy is projecting his concerns about empathy with good intention (he’s focused on self-improvement), but it’s not relevant to your case here.

          • Mansplain much?
            William Ray knows best that women should give a man the benefit of the doubt! If this man makes off-color jokes about “’undressing in front of the boys,’ or ‘sleeping all together, or ‘having handsome field assistants'” and makes it clear that he has not considered the logistics of having a minority of women at a field site full of men, it just might be because he doesn’t communicate with the same modality as you! Lots of women agreeing that there may be a serious issue here is just a *tide of opinion*! And hey, calm down! I don’t know why you have the “impression” that he’s “questioning the validity of your actions or reactions.” What part of telling you you have a “chip on your shoulder” would imply that!!?

            Seriously though, all I can offer is empathy. I can certainly understand why going to your department is mostly a risk with little possibility of help. They can’t do anything about this outside person, anyway. Someone made the suggestion of talking to the other female scientist who sent a male grad student instead. She seems like one of the few people you might be able to safely approach non-annonymously to get more specific information that might help you better assess the risk.

          • I apologize – I’m really, really sorry I tried to help, however, you’re proving my point beautifully.

            If a female had made the very same suggestions that some introspection about starting assumptions and interpretation was in order, you’d be seriously considering whether there were alternative conclusions. A male makes those suggestions and you read ill intent and subtext into communication where none was present or intended.

            It would be truly sad if you convinced Acclimatrix that passing up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was the best choice, based on prejudice rather than careful analysis of the situation.

            I’ll give you a hint, and then I’m done:

            Off-color jokes are some people’s way of broaching sensitive subjects, when they have no idea what an acceptable introduction would be, for the listening party. People who use this tactic don’t agree with, believe, or think that the off-color joke is acceptable. Instead they think that the off-color joke is so outrageously inappropriate that it displays them as being in opposition to the topic, and “on the side” of the listener. Is it a great tactic? Perhaps not, but, it’s a very common one. And before you say “well, I don’t want to associate with people like that”, I’d suggest a bit more introspection, because this tactic appears almost universal – it’s just a matter of where a person’s threshold for articulately dealing with difficult subjects lies. Some people tip over into inappropriate humor much earlier than others, but, pretty much everybody gets there.

            To draw a conclusion regarding whether the expedition organizer actually has a dangerous attitude towards women, or whether they simply are tremendously uncomfortable with broaching logistics questions that they’ve never had to deal with before, with someone who they expect to be equally uncomfortable, requires stepping far enough back from both the discussion, and your prejudices to examine them in detail, and to understand _why_ the off-color jokes occurred, and what the person actually _meant_.

            Is it worth the introspection in day-to-day life, when you’re balancing the satisfaction of just being pissed at the jerk for violating your sensibilities, with the possible reward of discovering a decent person under the hood? Maybe not. Righteous indignation is pretty darned satisfying. If a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity hangs in the balance? That’s your call.

        • William Ray: Oh, sooooo wrong. This is gaslighting. You probably don’t even realize just how wrong you are, but it boils down to: it’s not her responsibility to be accommodating. It’s his responsibility not to go over professional boundaries.

          Acclimatrix, you are right to make decisions based on the facts of *this* person’s inappropriate behavior:
          1) He lied about the visit / invitation to your grad student.
          2) He pushed past the professional boundaries MULTIPLE times – the phone number, the jokes, the references to your marriage.

          I’m an MBA with 20+ years experience in various businesses, from Fortune 100 to start-ups, and all of those things are inappropriate for a business contact. They are *barely* appropriate for someone on the 5th date (or so). If someone is willing to push boundaries like this before the trip, then you can not know how far over the boundaries he will push when you are isolated.

          It is VERY clear you have specific concerns with *this* person, that you accommodated him because you were trying to be sensitive to possible differences in culture. William Ray’s questioning of this is total gaslighting. Total.

          re: Bringing this up within your department:
          1) If you decide to go, you must bring it up, well before the trip and in writing.
          2) ANY time you choose to address a problem, include suggested solutions, like bringing a protector (husbands and brothers) or having an escape route available independent of the logistics person. I don’t actually see any way to make this situation safe, but I’m putting this in to be thorough. I hate that you would *need* a protector, and that they would need to be male and closely related to you. I do not think a trusted male from the department would be enough. (This is why so many women use ‘I have a boyfriend’ even if they just want to say ‘no’.)
          3) If you do not decide to go, you should think through cost / benefit of being honest.
          Is there any plus side to being honest? (think very long term here – what if this kind of thing comes up again?)
          What are your school’s / department’s harassment policies? (and definitely ask around other female faculty about their departments and institutional support – the attitude comes from the top down, and input from other departments is relevant)

          Personally, I would give the ‘X wasn’t the right fit, so I’m pursuing A, B, C – they’ll be better because of (some benefit to the department, like ‘I will be more available to teach’)’ explanation. Being positive about new opportunities, especially in ways that help your employer, is a distraction that can help your profile.

          Also, this kind of brainstorming is a good way to think through the issues and come up with positive options.

          Best of luck to you and your student.

  32. See, Andrew D. from up above, THIS is why she might not be able to report it to her dept head. You see how William R. is putting the onus on Acclimatrix to get along with this guy, just in case he might be okay. And he’s calling her names for being careful in her interactions due to a lifetime of experience at the receiving end of sexism. William R., you just posted a passive-aggressive “apology” in this space that shows you are not actually here to root for Acclimatrix. Please read some feminism 101 sites to educate yourself, you are way way way behind the times on feminism.

    • I’m sorry, I was going to leave this, but this just goes a few steps too far:

      Based on the assorted comments, I suspect I’m just about the /only/ person here rooting for Acclimatrix. Everyone else seems perfectly happy to suggest that she avoid the opportunity that has presented itself, based on generalities and prejudices about the class of people to which the expedition leader belongs. That’s not rooting for Acclimatrix – that’s rooting for a cause.

      Nowhere have I suggested that the onus is on her to get along with the guy (nor have I anywhere “called her names”). I have suggested, and will again suggest, that if a career hangs in the balance, examining him _as_an_individual_ would be appropriate, before making decisions regarding whether he’s someone that she wants to get along with.

      I will reiterate – I have /no idea/ whether this person is someone that Acclimatrix can, or should trust. And neither do any of the other commenters here, based on the information provided so far. What I do know is that making career-changing decisions, based on class-based generalities and “a lifetime of experience” with people who _aren’t_the_individual_in_question_, rather than based on a careful examination of the specific situation, is a route to significant regrets later in one’s career.

      And yes – the onus to _make_that_examination_ is on Acclimatrix. You can’t do it. I can’t do it. The expedition leader undoubtedly has many other people to whom he could offer the opportunity, so he’s not going to do it.

      Maybe it comes up “he’s a jerk”. Maybe it’s obvious from the context and delivery of the off-color jokes, that he actually thinks such things are funny, rather than awkwardly inappropriate ice-breakers for difficult subjects. Maybe the other incidents were clearly malicious. Or maybe not – Maybe there are alternative explanations that are innocent and well-intended, and the guy is somewhere between unlucky and inept at this kind of interaction. Maybe he’s a decent person who can provide Acclimatrix a spectacular career opportunity.

      Acclimatrix will never know, if the only opinions she hears are “he’s a clueless older white male, and they’re all evil, so screw that – maybe even charge him with harassment”. From the tone of most of the comments, it seems most of the posters would be happy to have her avoid the opportunity _even_if_closer_inspection_showed_it_was_safe_and_beneficial_ just because “that’ll show him!”. It won’t.

      The _only_ person who gets hurt by following all of this class-based-generaltiy advice is Acclimatrix.

      On the other hand, who exactly is it who gets hurt if she follows my advice that “clueless older white male”, or _any_ class-based derogatory generalization, doesn’t belong in one’s lexicon, if one wants to make a careful, non-prejudiced evaluation of the opportunity?

  33. To be fair, most of the commenters are only ‘rooting for’ Acclimatrix in the context of encouraging her to trust her gut – not to advise her whether or not to proceed with the expedition. Are you, W.R. telling her she shouldn’t trust her gut? You rightly say she was the only one there, and she is the only one to decide (as also many of the commenters above have also said). She got an icky feeling. That is not a good start to a 2 month isolated expedition. She was asking if this was reasonable or not, to have this icky feeling. I think most of us are saying “if you think it quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, sounds like a duck then trust your instinct that it may well be a duck”. Of course only she will make the final decision. I don’t think that is the nub of the issue.

    As an aside, I would never, ever feel comfortable if a male colleague of any age or status made comments like that to me during a professional discussion. It would certainly make me feel icky. I don’t care if he finds it a way to broach an embarrassing subject, he should be adult and professional enough to make sure he doesn’t make others feel embarrassed by his lack of manners (at the very least, it is bad manners).

    • No, I’m not /necessarily/ saying that she shouldn’t trust her gut – in general I think gut reactions are quite frequently the right reaction – but I do think that she needs to examine why her gut is saying what it is, before acting on that feeling.

      To circle back to where I started, I think that if this is potentially a life-changing opportunity, spending a bit of time to find out whether the gut reaction was warranted, is a small investment to make compared to the potential payoff. This is /especially/ true if one is predisposed to expect the worst of the interaction. If you go through life expecting to see the bad in people, you’ll see it – often even when it’s not there.

      Based on Acclimatrix’s writing, however one chooses to describe how she expresses her ire at older white males, it seems /very/ probable that she is primed to expect the worst from her interactions with them. Protestations aside, one does not keep class-based derogatory generalities in one’s lexicon without having those patterns affect how one sees others, and sadly, intended or not, how they react.

      I spend a lot of time studying this, in myself and in others. Because of my own personal situation, it’s kind of a sad hobby for me. I continuously see in others, (and quite frequently myself, even though I’m sensitized to the pattern), situations where someone’s “gut” reaction to a situation turns out to be wrong, because they expected something, and their subconscious adapted its interpretation of the situation to fit their expectation. They get an “icky feeling” because they expected one, not because it was warranted. It’s only later, in calmer retrospect and thought, that it becomes apparent that that immediate reaction wasn’t quite on target.

      I see many, many commenters here, recommending that Acclimatrix “trust her icky feeling”, not because they know anything about the situation, but rather because _they_ are predisposed to have an icky feeling about the interaction. Someone back there thought it was horribly offensive, and possibly actionable, that the expedition leader had tracked down Acclimatrix’s cell phone and called her. That’s preconceived notions at work. I /much/much/much/ prefer email to phone conversations, but, I am also aware that I have colleagues who think that email is rude, and if they had something important that they thought I’d want to discuss, who would think it the height of impropriety to _not_ track down my cell number and call me directly. Would I rather they didn’t do that? Yes, much. Am I going to throw away career opportunities because they called rather than emailing? Definitely not. They think emailing is rude, I think phones are intrusive – you know what? We can meet in the middle and just live with the fact that no-one gets what they want all the time, and communication goes on. Anyone trying to interpret the phone call to Acclimatrix with no more information than she wrote, is projecting their own biases into the situation, and they’re not helping. Helping, requires figuring out why _that_ particular phone call was made, and how _that_ particular individual felt about it. Rooting for Acclimatrix to trust _their_ guts, again, isn’t rooting for Acclimatrix.

      I see Acclimatrix’s situation as primed for this type of mis-interpreted communication, and with a large number of voices with clearly similar predispositions regarding interpreting the situation, there is a /significant/ risk of her reaching a damaging consensus conclusion without her actually having stepped back and examined how her biases and filters might have colored her interpretation of the events.

      I’m rooting for Acclimatrix to make the _right_ informed decision, regardless of what that decision is. To arrive at the right decision, I think she needs to examine the situation, and figure out how and why her gut arrived at the conclusions it has – and that examination necessarily includes an examination of the biases/predispositions/prejudices that her gut applies.

      And, to follow up on the aside – I don’t think we know what variety of comments were made, and I’m not sure there was /any/ safe way to broach the subjects. Again, clearly, if the guy literally, frat-boy style, thought the topic was funny, then I’d probably be out the door before you were (whether you care to believe it or not, I’ve been offended at, and pushing back against sexism and discrimination longer than likely most any two of the other commenters here put together).

      On the other hand, If his group has never taken a female into the field with them, and they have open showers/etc, and he’s never thought about the mixed gender logistics before it’s mentioned at dinner, how exactly does he broach this without it being offensive to /some/ interpretation? Does he assume that Acclimatrix will, as many women would, want separate-but-equal accommodations created for her and her student? Reading from her demeanor that she’s a feminist, and with a largely male dominated field, him having little experience with this, does he assume that she’d be offended at the idea of being treated differently by being given separate accommodations and that she’d expect to be showering with the boys? Is he concerned that his people, or the co-located military folks (who probably haven’t had diversity training) are going to make separate-but-equal accommodations for the women a point of contention – and likewise that not creating separate accommodations would also raise issues? As all of this flashes through his head, does he chuckle uncomfortably, and with an already sensitized gut primed to see sexism in the interaction, does that chuckle get interpreted as a joke? Does he use bad humor, to try to make it clear that he sees this as an inextricably messy subject with no elegant introduction?

      I’m not “making excuses” for his behavior, because I don’t know what his behavior was. I am suggesting that there are _possibly_ explanations for an action that might be interpreted as offensively “joking about showering together”, that are /not/ good reasons to throw away a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity. There are, of course, plenty of explanations that /are/ a good reason to pass up the expedition, but, with a gut primed towards seeing the worst, it would be easy to fit many events that are essentially innocuous, into evidence that he’s someone to avoid.

      With respect to the humor stress response being bad manners, I think that’s a different subject, but, I’m not sure it’s a healthy attitude (despite it being overwhelmingly the norm) to consider physiological stress responses to be “bad manners”. I suspect that as a society we create a lot of messed-up psyches, by trying to tell people to obfuscate physiological responses that millions of years of evolution have honed as an effective way to deal with reality.

      That aside, I’m even more sure that passing up a career-making opportunity because the person offering it to you is awkward, or has bad manners, is a course that should only be taken after very, very careful consideration…

      • Ok, dude, you need to stop. You are projecting your own issues, which are not relevant to this discussion. You are being patronizing when you lecture my on how to handle my own experiences, repeatedly dismissing what I’ve said as my just having a chip on my shoulder that is unfairly coloring my perspective. Stop saying I’m primed to “see the worst and hold yourself and your fellow men accountable for their behavior; sometimes, it is the worst.

        This person is not “just” awkward. This person is unprofessional. Until you have lived with the same risks as I have, you don’t get to lecture me about my instincts being valid or not. And of you think I’m not giving this careful consideration, you are not paying attention.

        You need to stop and think about your privilege, and how it is influencing your perspective here. And trust that I am making a thoughtful, rational, and informed decision.

        • Ah, sorry, clearly I should have read some more comments before I jumped in with mine.
          Yes, you are making a thoughtful, rational, and informed decision.

          William, try reading up some on gaslighting, and look at her post again without your lens of defensiveness. Acclimatrix has real and specific instances of unprofessional behavior from this person that demonstrate a pattern. It is a rational thing to base decisions on these examples.

  34. Acclimatrix, I am so sorry to hear that this has happened. You are correct that dealing with this saps your energy and hurts your career in very real ways that you should not have to accept.

    First of all, I one hundred percent agree that you should not go into the field with this man as things stand. It is not just a ‘gut’ feeling, although those are valuable, too. As many others have said, you have any number of comments and situations that you can point to as red flags that this expedition is unsafe.

    Second of all, I encourage you to think outside the box in terms of ways that you could make it safer. Could you try to contact the other PI who backed out and see if she would be interested in sharing costs on extra security personnel? Get together a large enough scientific team that you are not totally outnumbered by the military guys? Find someone else with access to lead the expedition instead? If it is such a great opportunity, I hate for you to miss out because of logistics.

    Third, if you decide not to go, I encourage you to explain something to your Chair, other than just ‘scheduling conflict.’ Ideally, you want to leave him (and everyone else in your field) with the feeling that you would ‘LOVE to take an opportunity like this, but logistically this expedition was unsafe.’ That way, you won’t be passed over for future opportunities. Concentrate on the safety concerns, maybe mention that the particular leader made you uncomfortable by failing to respect professional boundaries. Your chair might even have ideas about how to make the expedition safer.

    Finally, omsbudspeople can be great resources, so definitely reach out to someone at your university for more advice on climate and how to address your Chair.

  35. I still think this person that spoke to Acclimatrix (from her relating of several conversations) was guilty of bad manners – at the very least. It may have been worse than this, it is for Acclimatrix to decide. But for everyone’s info, I have found some definitions of “bad manners” (my personal defn is “behaviour that makes others uncomfortable”). But don’t take my word, here are others from some online dictionaries:
    – lack of polite or well-bred social behaviour. (Oxford English)
    – impoliteness resulting from ignorance. ill-breeding · impoliteness – a discourteous manner that ignores accepted social usage (thefreedictionary)
    – The treatment of other people in an impolite or discourteous way, or incorrect behaviour in public (wordnik)

    I think that he was bad mannered, by any of these criteria. Even if nothing else.

  36. I am male, 58, and a recent past chair of a highly-ranked US physical sciences dept (and still a long-tenured prof). Your story (which I found via a link from Slate) totally creeped me out. If I was your dept’s chair, and you came to me with it, I would phone up and closely question this guy: on his safety protocols, how he got your private number (if one of the dept’s staff gave it to him, I need to know), etc., and probably advise you not to go. And make sure that this is fully documented in your file and fully explained to senior faculty deciding on your tenure/promotions. And inform the science Dean (who would back me up). Every faculty member deserves (and should expect) this level of support.

  37. Pingback: Sexual harassment and rape in field sciences, part II | Dynamic Ecology

  38. Pingback: The problem with “otherizing” perpetrators of sexual assault in STEM | Ambika Kamath

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