An open letter to a dying department.

Hello, Department. I am ostensibly part of you, except you’d never know that unless I told you. I get it, though; we interact with one another so little to avoid conflict, that it’s no surprise that you don’t know that I or most of the 20+ first year graduate students exist. This lack of interaction-even between people who have offices on the same floor of the same building- is probably why we still haven’t convened to find a new department head, or have good strategies to help grad students who run out of outside funding. But I digress, because even though we barely acknowledge one another, we should have A Talk, Department. A heart to heart before we go back to ignoring one another, if you will–like the casual partners we are.

Department, I heard the gossip–we are getting Changed. We’re under duress, friend–we have a little over a month to come up with A Plan to either prove we should exist to the College or we will be scrambled up into a clustermug of faculty from disparate departments. I hear that some of you are saying Truly Wild things, Department. That you’ll leave your tenure package behind and jump ship if this “doesn’t go your way”. That some of your fresher faculty are even saying that it’s better not to get tenure, in case this goes sideways. The few grad students who know about this (because, you’ve kept it privy like a party secret) are terrified of this merger-or-survive, since they don’t know if they’ll have a faculty adviser come next fall or even a stipend on which to live.

Department, there are a lot of things that could go wrong, here–its true. But let’s think of all the things that could go right. Let’s shoot for the moon, even. Think about it. In its storied history, this department and indeed, our entire institution, has been the poster child for the traditional academic. We’re majority made of white male faculty, with a sprinkle of white women; in fact, we only have four tenured faculty of color in a department of 47 tenure or tenure-track professors. Our professors openly tell one another and students not to rock the boat, to stay away from science communication, and that the most important thing to do is publish. The grad student body is not much different: with the majority of students either being white students from the upper class of the South or being international pay-to-play students who largely assimilate into even the most toxic facets of academia. We’ve gone nearly 70 years with our noses to our desks, venturing out of the ivory tower only long enough to go to conferences or to make sure our study sites still do, in fact, exist. We’ve done everything right, according to our current model of academia.

Even with all this, our department has still been picked for dissolution. We have a month to compile a report which pleads our case, to justify our very existence to the school. Is this not the time for radical action, Department? Is this not the moment to look at all the data, to stare into one another’s faces instead of into our computer monitors, and swerve to avoid catastrophe by admitting we must adapt to survive?

The people on this committee that dictates how we will move forward as a Department should not be the old guard of professors. It shouldn’t even be made up of the endowed professors of the department–their positions are safe within the College even if the Department is dissolved. It should consist of mid-and early career faculty and graduate students, because we are the people who actually have to live with who the Department is going to be in the near future. There can be token full faculty–we should respect our elders–but we should’t have the entire committee be made up of their thoughts. Their recalcitrance to the changes in the academic landscape are what led to our current predicament.

We also should redirect and reimagine ourselves. Instead of staying entombed in the ivory tower, we should reward faculty and staff who reach out to the communities they work in. We should reward researchers who have real-time solutions for land managers, as well as basic researchers toiling away in labs and on grants. We can become the leading age for the coming age of academia, one that teaches grad students that we can be the total package: a good researcher, a good communicator, and a good colleague.

What I am trying to say, beloved Department, is that this is our last chance. We can either maintain the status quo, the very one which is now dangling the guillotine above our heads and scaring away the fresh perspectives of junior faculty and students; or, we can run in the opposite direction and set up the infrastructure needed to become a modern and successful place to do science.

What I am trying to say, Department, is that I want us to be together in life, and not just in the silent aftermath of our dissolution. What I am trying to say, beloved Department, is that at this point we have nothing to lose from becoming radicals. The worst thing that could happen to us, is already happening to us.

#MeTooSTEM and what you shouldn’t say to students

Hi all, its me again with a fresh new beef to toss onto the grill. This one requires some context.

Lately, #MeToo,  the movement started over a decade ago by Tarana Burke, has been absorbed into academic discourse. In the sciences, this has manifested into #MeTooSTEM and #MeTooPhD–with very vocal femmes and men in science taking to Twitter and other venues to throw their voices into the fray. Much of the discourse revolves around whether men who have been accused and found guilty of sexual harassment should lose funding or be barred from receiving funding from agencies like the NSF and NIH.  There is also the larger practice now of broadcasting the whisper network–where noted Twitter personalities post the collected accusations and investigations of predators in STEM. For an example, on Twitter, Jonathan Eisen posted a thread of all the accusations and investigations against theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss in response to Krauss’s announcement of “retirement” from ASU.  There is also the list by @GeoEdResearch which compiles data on all known harassers in STEM from publicly available data.


While I was initially heartened by these conversations in the digital space, I am now shocked by the cadence in which male professors talk about female students. Whenever #MeTooSTEM comes out around (male) faculty, I get 2 responses. The first is to turn #MeToo into a misogynistic joke that revolves around the idea that men in general should avoid hanging out with women to avoid giving said women fodder for an accusation. It’s a joke that often comes from white “ally” men in private with me, because they think they’ve earned the right to be problematic through their public advocacy (or personal connection).

The second reaction I get from men is that they need to be wary of women of all times, because a single accusation in the current era will destroy their careers–even if that accusation is proved to be false. Don’t get it twisted and think some troglodyte born in 1950 said this to me; instead, it was a junior faculty usually labelled as a “progressive” who said this in response to a question about how male faculty  should behave in these “changing times”.


Hearing a faculty member say this to me was devastating, because it proved to me that if anything, even supposedly progressive faculty believe that #MeToo is something aimed or able to hurt men; and not as a tool for social justice and progress. The idea that women have enough power to destroy the careers of men with false accusations is wildly out of tune with current realities of the power dynamics between men and women, both in society and in academia.  #MeTooSTEM is only scary to (certain) men because they’re never actually taken the time to actually interrogate which behaviors they’ve gotten away with because of the patriarchal underpinnings of society, and which ones are actually accepted by the people around them. Trust me, if multiple allegations against Florian Jaeger did not take him down and led to other faculty leaving in protest, then a false accusation against white men in academia is even less likely to ruin any man’s career.

The truth of the matter is that these reactions to #MeTooSTEM are rooted in misogynistic views held about women, their bodies, and the role of women and femme-coded people in society at large. If we protest harassment and the men who perpetrate it, we are shrews and stuck up b*tches looking to ruin the career of men who don’t deserve to have their “genius” derailed. If we stay quiet, and take the abuse or run from it, we get blamed for the damage done to our careers because we didn’t endanger ourselves by coming forward. Being a women in STEM is playing the ultimate game of 4D chess, with the advance knowledge that a single wrong move could end our careers.

Somehow, despite the fact that men in STEM have overwhelmingly gotten away with predatory behavior and harassment, it’s still women who have to deal with and work against every bit of fallout from it. Truthfully, if you are a man in STEM who sincerely believes that  female students-especially ones in your lab-are a potential liability for you, then you shouldn’t have female students, period. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be in any role where you have to advise anyone within a hierarchical power structure, because these kinds of beliefs and behaviors show that you are critically incapable of understanding power structures and how to participate within them without hurting other people.

If we are going to actually stop the rampant sexual harassment and predatory behavior that permeates academia, then men need to start getting serious about interrogating the power structures that they dominate and their own maneuvering through social spheres. This starts by not giving into misogynistic fears about women and our motivations, and also by taking accountability for the times that boundaries are overstepped. Things are changing, the train towards equity is moving; and if you don’t want to get to a place where women are free to participate in academia without having to fight for survival everyday, then leave.

signing off,

one of those stuck up b*tches 

Picking the Wrong Place

It’s me again, your favorite shouty princess. Or you know, the thing that shouts back when you shout into the void on the internet. Regardless, I’m here to talk to you today about a very sore topic: how to figure out that you’ve picked the wrong place for yourself. I am going to focus on graduate school because I’m a grad student, but I hope this will be pretty uniform across life history stages.

To preface this, I started graduate school with really high hopes. I thought from how I remembered my interview process with my department at (insert big R1), that things would be okay. I was sure that graduate school courses would be rigorous, that the literature would envelop me in new ideas, and that my project-presented to me as already on solid ground, with the only thing needed was a willing pair of hands-would proceed smoothly.

Instead, I have an advisor who volunteers me to present places without telling me, who I constantly fight with, and who tells me that I am not fulfilling my job as a student. Continue reading

How to Survive in Academia

Hello all,

I’ve been casually strolling through my first semester in grad school, and I think I’ve found a few surefire ways to survive academia.

  1. Profess no values. Obviously, I don’t mean profess NO values. I just mean that the person you are in the office with students must be someone completely different from the you who befriends certain students* from the person you are in a classroom or in a departmental meeting. If no one in power can pinpoint who you really are in a negative way, then you can never be held accountable.
  2. Become the king/queen/nonbinary overarching despot of networking. The good thing about having literally unclockable values is that it makes you ripe for becoming one of the networking elite. It doesn’t even necessarily matter if the schmoozing makes sense within the department–just entrench yourself so deeply within the departmental psyche that you’re on everyone’s lips and thus no one can get rid of you. Even if you do something wrong, like argue in bad faith or something.
  3. Continuously play 4 dimensional chess, with everyone. This one is related to 1&2. Basically, don’t ever let the opportunity for an interaction go by–cause if you’re slick enough to break into academia, you’ll also be maximizing every interaction you do have to your benefit. If you stay ahead of the competition or latest departmental politic, you’ll be out of the reach of accountability while also cementing your reputation in the department. Who is going to check you when you’ve already perfectly manicured every situation since day 1?
  4. Subscribe to the fractal theory of relationships. What I mean by this is: be double minded, if not double hearted. Academia doesn’t care about your Deeply Held Morals–it cares solely about your ability to churn out intellectual paraphernalia that your university itself didn’t have to pay for. This will put you in the tricky position of knowing you need to performatively help those beneath you, but without actually changing the status quo in any functional way. Separate your relationships into  non-overlapping spheres to prevent people below you from colluding with those above you. This way, you can LOOK like you’re doing the most and the rumors of your allyship will generate social capital for you; when really you are just buying into majoritarianism at your power level and higher. Do the most to protect your working, high-return relationships; do the least in all others.

In case it was lost on you, I am clearly being caustically sarcastic. Continue reading

Performative allyship isn’t what I need from you, white men.

Hi all, your favorite sunflower is here with a quick reminder: performative allyship is not what we need from you. I am mostly directing this at white men in academia, because in my experience a lot of y’all are into allyship, just not principally because it is a good thing to do. What you want is the cookies associated with good allyship: namely, that it looks really good in your tenure packet and on grants when you serve on committees or perform other soft-skill heavy community actions on behalf of the university, for the sake of “diversity”. Additionally, a lot of you use performative allyship as a honeypot to attract underrepresented students, regardless of whether or not you are actually capable of mentoring these students. Unfortunately, underrepresented minorities in the sciences are not bakeries and our lives don’t exist to dispense you ego cookies–we exist regardless of whether or not it dawns on you that service towards URMs is good for your pretenure review packet. Continue reading