It’s not you, it’s your environment

I recently had a conversation with a male friend at another institution. While he is successfully advising graduate students of all genders, he was concerned because two women students had quit after their first year and he’s not had a man quit. My friend told me that they had good reasons for quitting, unrelated to his advising, but he just didn’t like that pattern and feared that maybe he was also doing something wrong that made it harder for women to succeed in his lab.

Having watched my friend in professional settings and knowing that he’s pretty plugged and conscientious about issues of women in science, I don’t think my friend isn’t doing anything egregious. In fact, I’d like to believe that he’s one of the men exemplifying how our society is changing for the better. Nonetheless, it probably wouldn’t hurt my friend to review Acclimatrix’s “Don’t be that dude: Handy tips for the male academic” to up his game.

But knowing my friend and knowing his institution (having spent a few years there myself), my response to my friend’s fears was “It’s probably not you, but it might be your environment. Look around at the climate for women in your department and university.”  Even if my friend is running a great, supportive research group and doing a superb job mentoring students of all genders, that won’t completely counteract a male-dominated, sexist broader environment. Continue reading

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IT IS TIME: My personal journey from harassee to guardian

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Rebecca Rogers Ackermann, a biological anthropologist at the University of Cape Town. Dr. Ackermann’s story accompanies this article, out today in Science.

When I was 15, my high school history teacher asked me out on a date (I declined). In first year as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I had a graduate student tutor invite me to a party at his flat, and when I (fortunately, and to the tutor’s surprise) showed up with a friend there was no one else there. When I was near graduation the Dean ‘joked’ about how he had assumed I was just there for an “MRS degree”. In second year graduate school at University of Arizona, I went to the office hours of a professor I was taking a course from. He asked me to close the door, then aggressively propositioned me. That same year, my supervisor at that institution grabbed my ass at a conference event. I moved to Washington University in St Louis for my PhD, where I was lucky to have really great, completely professional relationships with my advisors. Then I went into the field. For the very first time I had the pleasure of handling and studying hominin fossils. When photographing a famous one, the professor responsible for access starting photographing me from behind, and commenting on the “light streaming through my golden hair.” As I quickly gathered my things to leave, he blocked the doorway and gave me a juicy ‘goodbye’ kiss. Back in St Louis, a peer of mine told me that at a bar the previous night one of the evolutionary biology professors had engaged in a conversation with the other (male) graduate students about whether they would have sex with me if my husband were watching. Just a few years ago at a conference, a senior male colleague told me out of the blue that I was “too good looking for my own good.” This is just a sampling of the things that have happened to me in my post-pubescent life that might be construed as sexually inappropriate or sexual harassment. I am certain many people in my field can make a comparable list of their own.

Why didn’t I report any of these incidents? Or confront the deliverers? I have been thinking about this a lot these days in the wake of all of the revelations in science, and given that this question is frequently posed to me and others. Continue reading

Self confidence and the publication cycle

The publication cycle in my field is slow. Very slow. “Fast” journals proud themselves on 3-month rounds of reviews. An average round takes 6-9 months, with 12 months not being unheard of. Papers almost always go through 2, occasionally 3, rounds of review before acceptance.* On top of that, an additional 1 year can easily go by between acceptance and publication. This means that the papers I’ve had in press this year are ones that I did the work for and presented at conferences around 2010-2011, as a shiny new graduate student.

I’ve been thinking recently about how this delayed feedback loop has affected my self-confidence as an early career researcher. These days I am starting my second year as a postdoc, in a place where I am pretty much left on my own. I started a few new projects when I got here, and have been writing up some results over the summer. It’ll soon be time to finalize a couple of papers and decide where to submit them. I’ve been able to present this work locally and get some feedback from colleagues, but my schedule has made it impossible for me to travel to present the work at conferences. This means that I am going to be submitting this work semi-blind, and that’s made me wonder: how do I know if it’s any good? I don’t even have feedback yet on the work leading up to this research, aka my dissertation research, because of how slow the publication cycle is.

So, where do I go from here? Continue reading

Beginnings

Each year we welcome new faculty to campus. Some are beginning the tenure process, some are visiting (including postdocs, adjuncts and folks on sabbatical) while others are making a mid-career transition. Hopefully when you arrive, orientation helps you understand the culture of the place. The topics tell you what is important to the institution. Hopefully you can start to get a sense of what is expected of you by many different constituencies – the administration, the faculty, your department (and chair), the staff, your students (both in courses and those whose research you supervise) and your advisees.   Orientation also can help you understand what kind of support you can expect from these same people.

So what do you do if your institution does not have support structures in place that you think you might find helpful? Most institutions have someone designated to mentor faculty development.   It could be a vice-provost, dean, associate dean or head of a teaching and learning center. It might make sense to check in with this person and ask what is possible. Would you like a mentor outside your department? Would you like to set up weekly lunches with a group of junior faculty? Would you like to have a writing group that helps keep each other on task and productive?

Here are a couple of suggestions to start the teaching year, especially for those on the job market or tenure-track: (1) set up some peer observations and (2) make plans for formative assessment. Continue reading

Are you supporting your pre-tenure faculty?

When I got my job, I asked as many folks as I could for advice about the first few years on the tenure track. One thing that struck me was that most people said that, at the end of the day, my university would want me to succeed. As nervous as I was about getting out papers, bringing in students, starting a research program, and negotiating the socio-political landscape at my new position, I knew I’d have people rooting for me.

Lately, I’m just not feeling it. It’s not that I’m sensing any disappointment or hostility (my Year 2 review was glowing), but I’m just not feeling that support I was promised. People are nice, and I’m well-liked (to my knowledge!), but I don’t really need nice. I need to feel like I’m valued. Here are some examples that might illustrate what I mean: Continue reading

Becoming a Manager

While I was a grad student, I spent all of my time inside the details of my Ph.D. research program, focused almost exclusively on what the problem-of-the week was and trying to solve it. During my time as a post doc, I’ve found that not only do I need to continue solving the problem-of-the-week, but I also have to oversee a number of students and help them to solve their own problems-of-the week and provide projects for them that are appropriate to their skill levels that also challenge them intellectually. In essence, I’ve become middle management for our lab. Continue reading

Guest Post: Women In Science at Evolution 2014

This is the third consecutive year that the Evolution Meeting has had a workshop and networking lunch focused on Women in Science. This year’s focus was on implicit bias in the workplace. The event was organized by Jenny Boughman (Michigan State University) and Michele Dudash (University of Maryland) and led by Joan Herbers (Ohio State University), past president of the Association for Women in Science. During the workshop, which was attended by about 45 women and 1 man, participants were asked to share instances in academic settings in which they felt they had been disadvantaged due to implicit bias. Continue reading