I’m not taking career advice from old white dudes anymore.

Recently, a senior emeritus professor called me out because he hadn’t seen me at a talk in a different department (let’s say it’s Astronomy). “I’ve never seen you at a single Astronomy talk,” he admonished. “You really need to go to those.” I patiently explained that I typically have a teaching conflict, which he brushed off, and repeated his imperative that I really needed “to go to those talks.” He was angry at my laziness in failing to attend these critical seminars in a tangentially related field, and didn’t respect my explanations that 1) I couldn’t, and 2) even if I could, I have to make hard choices and don’t always have the luxury of doing everything I’d like to.

Now, I’m an interdisciplinary scientist– in fact, my position is split between a departmental home and an interdisciplinary institute, which means I go to twice as many faculty meetings and probably four times as many seminars as most of my colleagues do. But the advice of this retiree was that I needed to add yet another seminar to the list, and he wasn’t afraid to scold me about this front of my colleagues. This particular professor is of the opinion that I need to be just like him — or, rather, like his retired incarnation, which has a lot of free time to leisurely enjoy talks — in order to succeed. It’s just a small example of a phenomenon I’m starting to grow tired of, which is this paternalistic attitude some of my senior colleagues — all older, white men — have. They give advice liberally, these silverbacks, from the comfortable position of retirement or full professorship.

And you know what? It’s really, really shitty advice. Continue reading


Reject, revise, accept: Becoming Reviewer #2

Paper reviewing is one of those weird aspects of professional development that academics are rarely taught to do. Most of us are literally tossed into the deep end when we receive our first reviewer invitation. This may be the first time we’ve ever seen a manuscript that isn’t our own or someone in our lab’s. Because of the confidentiality around paper reviewing, we’re not supposed to share the manuscripts we’re reviewing, though many PI’s will start farming reviews out to grad students as “professional development.” While this practive is technically unethical, I was grateful that I had the opportunity to weigh in on a couple of manuscripts before I had to do this myself.

When I reviewed my first paper (as a senior PhD student), I was nervous. I’d dealt with my own reviews which varied widely (and still do) in terms of quality, length, and tone (I’ll get back to that). We often joke ruefully about “Reviewer # 3,” a fictional aggressive reviewer who is so contrary or aggressive that they sink a paper, even when the other two reviewers may be positive. When reading those reviews, it’s impossible not to try to guess who they’re from. Sometimes, the tone is so strident and aggressive that, despite myself, I picture a Silverback — a senior male, close to retirement, delighting in shredding up others’ work with scathing phrases like “leaps of logic” or “laughable” or “woefully inadequate.” Continue reading

Do I trust my gut?

Earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to do some amazing fieldwork in a remote, logistically difficult field site. This opportunity was essentially dropped in my lap, by affiliation with the research center I work in. I was thrilled — this would open new doors, and potentially set up a life’s worth of work. Our outside contact sent some emails introducing himself, and said he was excited to have me on board. We started chatting about an in-person meeting at my campus, since there are a few of us who would be participating in this field expedition. The big obstacle would be getting funding, which the director of my center was confident I could do, because of my early-career status (with his guidance; he has a very successful funding rate). Everything looked perfect.

And then things started getting weird. Continue reading

Conferencing while female

In the past month, I’ve been to 3 different conferences. It’s been exhausting, especially as I’ve noted that I try to be picky about the work travel I do. I felt that all of these meetings would be important for different reasons. One would introduce me to people in a related field in my new state of residence; two others were small meetings with high-level experts in my field, so I’d have a lot of time for networking and discussion, and to make sure these people were familiar with my work.

The ratio of men to women in these different meetings and conferences varied greatly. At the first one I went to (we’ll call this Conference 1), the “new people in a related field” one, I was one of only 2 female speakers (out of 14 total) the day that I attended and gave my talk. To be fair, this is a male-dominated field, but even so, it doesn’t skew *that* male. Not even close. Continue reading

Dealing with sexism from unexpected sources

A while ago, one of our readers asked us to write a bit about dealing with sexism from unexpected sources. I’m going to discuss two sources of sexism I found unexpected in my own life, imposter syndrome and sexism from other women. This is a topic that would benefit greatly from your stories, so please add your own in the comments.

I’m currently reading The Hidden Brain, which is about how much of what we do isn’t as nicely thought out as we’d like it to be. The author includes a particularly nice metaphor that describes how privilege works (excerpted by Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings). The author, an average swimmer, is having a lovely swim in the ocean and is feeling great. He pushes out further and further, but when he turns to go back, he realizes he’s been riding a current and now has to struggle for every inch to return. On the swim out, he was congratulating himself on his improved technique, enjoying his prowess. He never stopped to consider the external circumstances that might be affecting him.

Most of us — men and women — will never consciously experience the undercurrent of sexism that runs through our world. Those who travel with the current will always feel they are good swimmers; those who swim against the current may never realize they are better swimmers than they imagine.

The most unexpected source of sexism in my own life has been imposter syndrome. Continue reading

Hey fucker, let’s talk

ImageThe topic of this post has been covered ad nauseum; nonetheless, I feel it is necessary to bring it up because it continues to be a problem.  I get that people often have strong and passionate opinions on various matters, and it is natural to want to share these opinions.  Discussion and dissent are important, but only when productive.  Too often, disagreements devolve into vitriolic spats with both sides becoming defensive, which defeats the central concept of open dialogue—you know, talking to each other not at each other.

For those of us that aren’t speaking just to hear ourselves speak, communication, particularly in the form of online comments, would be far more productive if people would follow these guidelines when disagreeing with one another.  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