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.

 

Advertisements

Birthing a Degree and a Baby… How my identity impacts my life experiences in similar ways

Intersectionality has become a hot topic in the last few years. At its core it gives life to the nuance of navigating multiple marginalized identities. As a black woman, I understand that often I will deal with the impact of both racism and sexism. I know I’m likely to in just about every aspect of life in the U.S. and there is plenty of data to back this up. But for some reason, in my mind, that never extended to pregnancy and labor; despite my experiences with doctors my entire life. So, when stories about black mothers and infants having an abysmally high mortality rate in U.S. started coming out around when I became pregnant, I felt blindsided and anxious.  I spent the majority of my pregnancy reading about how my baby and I were more likely to die and/or be mistreated during labor. Now desperate for a low intervention birth, I went into the hospital to have my child on edge.

I spent the majority of my time at the hospital on pins and needles. The dismal numbers on black maternity outcomes running in the back of mind pushing, no demanding me to strike a balance between arguing over stupid hospital policies (That I’m positive contributed to my stalled labor and ultimately my unplanned C-section) and not pissing off the nursing staff too much to where it impacted my care. I knew they were likely to carry biases already and I wanted my child to enter this world in as safe a situation as possible. The consequences of this decisions to placate the nursing staff to ensure mine and my child’s survival lead me to be a much less vocal advocate for myself than I am in daily life. I accepted some policies and procedure despite all the research I had done that indicated they were not the best for having a natural, low intervention child birth as a bargaining chip for our lives. Any and all confidence and knowledge I had in respect to evidence-based birth was replaced with a primal fear and desire to survive.

While I didn’t see it in the moment, quiet reflection has made me realize that my experience in the hospital was incredibly similar to my experiences in my PhD program. I spent so much time while obtaining my degree shrinking myself in order to ensure that I graduated. I did not advocate for myself as much as I should have because I was afraid of pushing my advisors to write me off or push me out of the program. While they didn’t have the power to influence whether I live or die in the physical sense, ever dependent on that “Good” recommendation letter, they did (and still do somewhat) have control over the life of my career. While giving birth to my dissertation and ultimately my degree, I swallowed microaggressions, suffered from isolation, incivility and treatment akin to neglect for nearly 5 years in the name of survival because the power differential was too great.  The consequences of being too loud, too pushy and too angry could have had an infinite impact on my life going forward. I felt cornered, trapped. At one point I went to my department and demanded to be mastered out of the program because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I saw the effects of this play out in my health both mentally and physically. I would argue that interactions with my Ph.D. advisor to this day bring me as much and maybe more anxiety than I felt while I was in the hospital being prepped for surgery. How can interaction with someone who was/is supposed to help and guide me for a large portion of my career make me MORE anxious than being cut open on an operating table? Why am I essentially stuck interacting with and depending on this person for the next 5-10 years of my life on top of the 5 that have already passed?

I survived my Ph.D. on what little mentorship I could find outside of the lab, my friendships with a few people in my department, the most magnificent group of black women friends I could ask for and two mantras: “Nothing lasts forever” and “No one was going take the degree away from me”. I survived labor with the support of my husband, my mother, a great OB and two mantras: “Nothing lasts forever” and “Your baby is waiting for you.”

I made it out of grad school with my Ph.D. just like I made it out of the hospital with my adorable, healthy baby. So, I know that I am fortunate, blessed even. I just wish that the birth of both my dissertation and my baby,  which are difficult in and of themselves, did not require bearing the additional weight of surviving while black and female.

#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 

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

What do students really get out of REU’s?

Hello. I’m a freshly pressed Bachelor’s in A Hard Science and I’m new here to Tenure, She Wrote. I’m here to provide some fresh perspective from the smol side of academia–namely, how my experiences in undergrad have shown me what we need to change in Everyday Academia.

I’m here to share some stories about everyone’s favorite Thing That Looks CV Impressive–the REU.

 

REU’s (Research Experience for Undergrads) are typically touted as these absolutely amazing internships–the Rolls Royces of summer research. Us students supposedly get good (for students) salary, amazing mentorship, and the chance to come into our own as researchers by doing our own projects away from a home institution.

As someone who has been through two REU’s and an international exchange, let me tell you how much that isn’t true. Continue reading

Where the Overrepresented are Underrepresented

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

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

chairs classroom college desks

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

Continue reading

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.
Continue reading