Things I’m Tired Of: An almost-year-end list

  1. People in higher education gatekeeping by deciding that certain groups aren’t “really” under-represented and/or under-privileged and then needing people to show their suffering before wanting to help them.
  2. Colleagues failing to properly support and mentor junior faculty of color. Did you think that hiring a non-white person into your department was going to mean that they were going to teach just like you but with browner skin and more ‘authenticity’?
  3. People thinking that sexism must be over because there’s X% of women in our field now. THIS ONE IS SO FUNNY.
  4. Tenured, tenure-track, or long-term-contract academics relentlessly complaining about their jobs*
  5. The fact that there are 5 projects listen up on my office white board with little check boxes next to them to keep track of their progress towards publication and I’ve added (checks board)…one check this semester. LOLSOB.*
  6. Academics complaining that it isn’t their job to go our of their way to teach ‘bad’ students, and that they will only work closely with ‘good’ students. 🤯
  7. Institutions doing nothing to properly support minoritized faculty who do the bulk of student mentoring and often end up sacrificing their own mental health in the process.
  8. The fact that NO MATTER how clearly I think I write my assignments, students always seem to find a way to mis-interpret them**
  9. The fact that #MeTooSTEM is a thing. I wish we lived in a world where it wasn’t a thing. It’s a thing. It *should* be a thing. I’m *glad* it’s a thing. I just wish…you know.
  10. My college’s faculty locker-room. Look, I know #4 but seriously y’all, it’s GROSS.

 

*Everyone has a right to complain. I do it (I’m doing it rn people). What kills me are people with REALLY CUSHY jobs winging about crap all day and night. Get over it. You NEVER have to worry about where your health insurance comes from, or for that matter, your printer paper, your free coffee, your ‘book award’. So just stop, it’s embarrassing.

** I want to make clear I am not (I hope) ‘punching down’ here re: my students but complaining about the difficulty of clearly communicating to 50 people with different brains than mine.

 

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#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 

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

survival and activism in academia

Hi all, it’s your favorite sunflowering baddie, and I’m here to quickly let y’all know that activism and survival in academia are not mutually exclusive. It is not necessary to pick one over the other, and the fact that a lot of (old, white, male) folks in academia are insisting that you do so should tell you all you need to know.

I’m talking about this right now, in brief, because of a conversation I had this morning with my advisor about whether or not my significant branding within the institutions I participate in dilutes my science. My advisor argued that I needed to maybe begin toning it down, because what I needed right now is science publications and not Internet notoriety for having loud opinions.

To me, this conversation is wild because the entire reason I had enough clout in the ecological community as a whole to even get into graduate school was because my activism gave me the voice and space I needed to be able to do science. As a first-year student at a PWI, I needed not only to speak up to advocate for myself and my ability to do science; but I also needed allies willing to hear me out and create a space with me. This was the only way I could craft my eventual science persona as a biogeochemist, and the fact that I do advocate for justice in STEM shouldn’t detract from my actual scientific work. Think about it: for what other extracurricular activity could you be shamed for in this way? No one says that someone’s knitting habit detracts from their ability to be an amazing bird ecologist; so why does my social justice activism define my ability to use a thermal conversion elemental analyzer and write about it?

In truth, the reason white women and POC (especially qtWOC) get flak for their activism is because it makes the gatekeepers of power uncomfortable. If we are constantly clamoring for change while tossing around additional weight of our science, it throws into disarray a lot of the dogma that white academia has clung to for so long–namely, that science is an apolitical meritocracy. If URMs point out that our strength in the sciences is in spite of the machinations of an academia made for white men, it forces those white men to reconsider their existence in the system. This is uncomfortable, and it should be. White men have never needed to fight for their humanity in a system meant to exclude them; the idea that they’ve gotten along not just because of their science (stellar or not) but because of a system functionally built to value them (the person) is scary. Which, welcome to the world of URMs–where we constantly juggle the micro and macroaggressions of the people around us just to be able to do the science that should be buying us a seat at the table.

Believe you me, there is nothing I would’ve liked better for me to only talk about my love of carbon cycling and the root-soil interface. I wish every day that I was in a position where my academic life functioned only as a vehicle for my science. Unfortunately, my existence as a queer first gen Latinx means my entire existence in academia is mediated through the intersections of my race, orientation, and class status. Academia does not exist in a vacuum: and is just as affected by the society it exists within as academia affects the society it is part of. The current way academia is run, I have no choice but to to amazing science but also incredible amounts of activism. It the only way I survived to this point. For a lot of URM’s, there comes a point in our lives where simply staying silent endangers us more than making noise does. I lived a lot of my undergraduate years trying to sit silently by, eating the injustices done to me by white academics who constantly discounted my science and my mind because of my ethnicity and gender presentation. All it did was leave me at the end of a jetty at a Famous Biological Lab, debating whether or not I should just leave science or leave this world entirely.

In the end, I am still here in academia because I spoke up: I spoke up about my science, and I spoke up about the injustices done to people of color who just wanted to do science. Through both sets of being active, I was able to find the people I now call my mentors and friends; and the people who ended up writing my letters of rec to get me into graduate school. The day that academia lets URM’s thrive without the constant slam of micro|macro|aggressions and harassment, the day that kids who look like me don’t have to buy their humanity by overworking themselves or hyperactivism; on that day where students of color can go into academia with the same expectations placed on them (and same benefits given to them) as their white peers,

On that day, I will finally shut up about social justice and do nothing but run the thermal combustion elemental analyzer and write about the soil-root interface.

Until then,

-sunflowerqueen

Some problems with that productivity paper

Last month a study was released* by Yana Gellen** of the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at The University of Chicago, “Motherhood and the Gender Productivity Gap.”

Some outlets, like the American Enterprise Institute and Wall Street Journal, have jumped onto the study and claimed this is the reason that working mothers don’t earn as much as men – they aren’t working as much or as productively.  But does the study really show that?  And what does all this mean for working mothers in the academy?

Does this study prove that mothers are less productive?

In short, no.  Digging into the methods – there are some major problems with how this study was done.
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Postdoc-ing While Pregnant

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

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

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

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