Nobody wins microaggression Bingo

I was recently at a workshop where I was one of two women (out of ten).  I’ve generally had a really great experience in working groups, but this once quickly morphed into a Bingo card of sexist microaggressions. With the plethora of recent articles on how there is no sexism problem in science, and how talking about microaggressions is the greatest threat to our universities (and not, say, funding or the adjunct crisis), I think it’s worth sharing this experience.

This workshop had it all. My female colleague and I were routinely interrupted, talked over, and ignored. One senior male participant stood up and gave a spontaneous presentation on something that “he’s never seen anyone mention before,” despite the fact that I had just shown the exact slide and mentioned the very point he did, not ten minutes before. Participants in very different fields mansplained our research to both of us, or in some cases dismissed our entire fields outright. They responded with hostility or patronizing tones to our questions or contrary points, but accepted the same criticisms with good nature from their male colleagues. The men asked one another questions that the women were better-suited to answer based on what we do, but we were talked over. During meals and coffee breaks, the men clustered together in groups and didn’t socialize with us.  Continue reading


Overcoming My Impostor Syndrome

For most of the time since I started on my academic career path, I’ve been dealing with the feeling that no matter what I was doing, it was somehow never going to be either “good enough” or “real enough” to the point where I would one day be a Real Scientist. I’ve had impostor syndrome for quite a long time, although I’ve recently been discovering that it’s been deeply lessened within just the past couple of years somewhat by accident. Continue reading

Guest Post: Tales from the “other”

Today’s guest blogger NotYourOther is a doctoral candidate at a large public university in the Midwest.

As a multiracial woman I have always been an “other”. From childhood on I have struggled with what box to check to identify my racial heritage. Then there was that ever annoying “other” option that further disenfranchised my developing racial identity. My racial ambiguity was never really an issue for me, but always seemed to perplex others, particularly my peers, who often asked the dreaded “so what are you?” question. It seemed as I moved into adulthood and started my career the focus on my race was slightly diminished. I consciously chose to work in agencies where people of color were not always the minority [in number] and my brown skin did not indicate an “otherness”. I contently existed in this fabricated environment for several years until I decided to return to school and pursue my PhD in Social Work.

I am the first to admit that I was desperately naïve in believing that my return to academia would be a utopian experience. I assumed that there would be a higher level of consciousness and self-actualization among faculty and peers. I mean we are social workers, right? Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Early on feelings of “otherness” began and have resurfaced periodically since my first year in the program. I fight with all my self-esteem to keep them at bay and to pack away the subtle microagressions I encounter. I move forward by focusing on my goals and using self-affirmations to get me through the inevitable next set of “other” remarks. I have acquired these coping strategies to survive in an environment that sometimes does not feel ready for me. Such coping mechanisms also keep me guarded and distant from those whose “other” remarks have attempted to damage my spirit whether consciously or not. But eventually, each new encounter adds a little more weight to my load, making it too heavy and I succumb, self doubt creeping in. 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

Guest post: Acknowledging and overcoming self-hindrance

As a graduate student nearing the end of my degree, I have started thinking a lot about what I plan to do when I graduate. Thinking about the future inevitably leads me to think about confidence – am I confident in my abilities as a scientist? Do I think I have what it takes to “make it” in academia? Through conversations with female graduate students and postdocs, I’ve realized that this lack of self-confidence is pervasive (I’ve written about this more here), but in what ways does this materialize, particularly in early career stages?

There is a lot of discussion on gender biases and stereotype threat and how these (often implicit) biases hinder women from staying in academia. Some biases are commonly talked about (i.e. imposter syndrome – here and here), while others are rarely acknowledged. Continue reading

Mental Health in Academia

The academic life is a never-ending stream of new challenges that can trigger or exacerbate anxiety and depression. We’ve talked about some of those stresses here at TSW, from dealing with toxic mentors, to the job hunt (which could trigger Job Market PTSD), to the timing of starting a family, to feeling like you are falling behind even once you have your dream job. Mental health issues seem to be rising in academia and can seriously affect academics’ productivity and success – an insidious negative feedback loop.

The only way to break a ‘hidden epidemic’ out into the open is to talk about our experiences and acknowledge the pervasiveness of the problem. We are starting to talk more openly about mental illness in academia – even if there is a culture of acceptance around those issues. I’m not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or any other kind of doctor trained in diagnosing or treating mental health issues, but I can talk about my experiences as a way to continue the conversation. Continue reading