Ageism Goes Both Ways

I recently got into an argument with a friend and former colleague about ageism in academia. I insisted that young women professors experience regular, persistent, and pervasive ageism in the workplace. I couched this claim in my usual “the personal is political” mode and emphasized my own recent experiences with what I would call ageism. My friend shot back that ageism, like racism, can only go one way. Young people are the privileged workers of the academy. At the time I capitulated. Was I advocating reverse ageism? How embarrassing! But recent experiences have caused me to return to the question.

I do not in any way want to argue that academia is more or most discriminatory towards young faculty. Given the well-documented discrimination against older faculty who remain in temporary and adjunct positions with little chance of a full-time hire,  it would be ridiculous for me to participate in a discrimination competition. Robert Mckee has a great piece on this exact topic. I do want to argue that ageism is a complex and nasty monster that intersects with gender, race, class, sexuality, and other axes of oppression to close doors and make the workplace uncomfortable if not downright hostile to young women faculty.

Let me give you some recent examples from my daily work routine. Continue reading

Guest Post: The burden of representing a demographic

I am incredibly proud to be a woman in science, to be a role model for other women and girls, and to hopefully push some of the barriers that still exist for women advancing in academia. But sometimes this can feel like an incredible amount of pressure to succeed, to show the world that I, one woman, can be great, somehow demonstrating that all women can be too. Let’s be honest – I’m not always great.

When I was interviewing for postdoc positions I had a particular experience where I really discovered this feeling. This interview was two days long and on the first day I gave my research talk. I dressed in a skirt suit and tried to be very professional. I am generally a good speaker and was confident about my talk. But part way through, a young man about my age asked a question that threw me off my game. It was a really simple question that I should have been able to answer easily. But I didn’t know. I gave a bunch of related information that led to an indirect answer, but it was clear that I should have had a direct answer to the question. The question-asker and other attendees talked a little more about this issue without pushing too hard. But I felt stupid. It made me hyper-aware of everything else in the rest of my talk, from the words that I said to the way I was presenting myself. Continue reading

Dress for Success

Ever since I started going to conferences, I’ve been at a loss for what to wear. The men in my field pride themselves in the aloof state of their dress when presenting their results, and it’s not uncommon to see them presenting in jeans, a t-shirt, and flip flops. But for women, there is an unspoken rule that to be taken seriously, jeans and a t-shirt just aren’t going to cut it. Continue reading

I can haz job? Tips and tricks for the academic interview

The job season is in full swing, which means those of you on the job market are probably anxiously checking and re-checking your email for an update about your applications. If you’ve done the work of putting together a really compelling application package, and you’ve pitched yourself appropriately, and you’re a good fit for the jobs you’ve applied for (yes, it’s a real thing), you can probably expect to get an interview at some point in your job-hunting future. I’ve had a bit of success with interviews and been on a couple of search committees (if you haven’t done this yet, I urge you to do so! It’s really valuable!). Given that the interview season is just starting up, I wanted to share my thoughts as a recent hire with the folks still in the trenches. Some of this will vary by discipline, so I’ve tried to keep this as broad as possible. Also, as a blog by and about women in academia, we’re often writing for a particular audience, but most of this post is really relevant to folks regardless of gender.  Continue reading

Fem(me)inity in the field

On the left: Ask me about my research! Photo: Betsy Hartley. On the right: Ask me about my shoes! Photo.

I asked my (male) PhD adviser how I should dress/pack before our first conference together, expecting a response along the lines of “casual” or “business casual,” and he was confused by my question. “Just wear clothes,” he said. Which, I have to admit, is sound advice, but really wasn’t very helpful. [gilly, writing here]

A (frequently white, male) scientist will usually tell you that you can wear whatever you want as a scientist. That it’s not about what you wear, but how comfortable you feel. After all, as objective scientists, we’re more interested in your data than your fashion sense. Just listen to Dr. Zen:1

My experience is that scientists are almost immune to snappy outfits. This is more true in some fields than others, though. … Field biologists tend to be blue jeans kind of people. I’m not going to claim nobody cares, because some do, but most scientists are all about the ideas and data you have, and forget how you’re dressed about 10 second in.

So dressing like you just rolled in from a week long camping trip should be equivalent to dressing like the only dirt you’re at risk of encountering is under 3 inches of sidewalk.

Continue reading

Dressing for Academia

One appealing aspect of academia for many of us is the lack of a dress code. As a graduate student and a postdoc both women and men gravitate towards casual clothes – it’s not uncommon to see hooded sweatshirts, printed tees, short skirts, and old ripped jeans on the average pre-faculty academic.

It would be nice to think that as teachers our appearances don’t matter, and that students are more concerned with our grasp of the material and ability to teach it to them. However I’ve heard stories that have given me second thoughts: the junior faculty member whose evaluations focused on her clothing instead of her teaching – “she looks like she cares too much about her clothes, she wore a different dress every day!” or the female graduate student who dressed for West Coast weather in East Coast winters – “all the male students really liked class!” These stories, and others, are making me think about how much attention I need to be paying to my appearance as I navigate life as a new faculty member. And not only on days that I teach – at a smaller school who knows when you will run into the provost or dean!

I recently sat in on a lecture by a professor whose work focuses on gender issues in communication. Continue reading