Issue of April 9, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery
This week's issues:
1. Advice for Anon
From: Susan Neff [Susan.G.Neff_at_nasa.gov]
[The 26 Mar 2010 issue of AASWOMEN contained a plea for help from an anonymous victim. She received advice from several concerned readers, but this message was both practical and general. We hope that no one else out there is in Anon’s situation, but if there is, we hope this helps -- Eds.]
>>Disclaimer: I feel offended, disturbed, tired, every time I hear about a situation like this. I believe this is institutionalized bullying, and it won't stop until someone or several someones push back, hard. >>End Disclaimer
Your concerns about being a whistle blower make sense. Often, institutions do "punish the messenger," and the astronomy community still has a very healthy "old-boys network." Although I disagree that speaking up about this kind of garbage will automatically jeopardize your chance to be a scientist, I acknowledge that you do need to be careful about how, when, and to whom to speak.
Your question "How can I have any normal interactions with someone that I now worry is undressing and objectifying me?" is valid. I believe that the answer is "you can't." I suggest that the maybe a better question to work on would be "How can I interact with this person in a way that works for me *and* doesn't rock the boat too much?" Masking yourself ("bubbly and feminine") can work for a while, if you can keep it up. Can you afford diverting the required energy from your work?
Here are a few suggestions for what you can do for yourself. As with any advice, take what works and leave the rest. (NB - I continue to work on following my own advice.)
0) Take care of yourself physically! Get enough sleep, eat healthy food, drink enough water, get some exercise (if that works for you), step away from work every so often, get outside and get some natural light and fresh air, even if it's only 10 or 20 minutes. You probably feel you ought to be, or need to be working all the time ... but being healthy will help you a lot in coping with the other stuff.
1) Find and work with a competent counselor. You need an ally who is *completely* independent of your work environment. Many universities and employers offer free or need-based counseling. Yes, it takes time away from your research work to go to the appointments, but the clarity you gain from working with a counselor on how to cope / useful behaviors / living behind a "mask" / avoiding paralysis, etc. will more than make up for the time loss, by giving you tools to deal with whatever you've got to deal with. You'll work more effectively, and you'll be able to focus better on the science when you're doing it.
2) Keep a journal. Even if you don't want / plan to do anything directly, keep a record of what happens. It will give you an accurate view of the bigger picture, it will let you identify patterns, and it will help you at those times when you think you must be mistaken, or are not sure about something that just happened. If, at some point in the future, you change your mind about speaking up, you'll have the data you'll need. Some people find the process of journaling is a good way to work out problems.
3) Look for allies with some power in your department, in your research specialty, or at your university in another department. You need someone who knows and is successful with "the system" at your institution. It can be tricky - you don't want someone else taking over your problem, or stirring up trouble when you're not ready - but you want someone with political smarts. Maybe your advisor is politically smart and knows how to play the system - that's bad, but not insurmountable ... there are others.
4) If you haven't already, start NOW developing scientific collaborations with other researchers who are more socially advanced. They can help buffer any bad things your advisor might say/do, and they can help you by reminding you that science is exciting and absorbing and fun when it is not weighed down by this kind of, um, stuff. Ideally, find collaborators who share your values.
5) There is power in data - use it (even if you don't want to take any action right now). Get information from those who know about your advisor's "history," or those to whom he's made innuendos. What did other people do? Did anything work? Under what circumstances? How widespread or long-term is the behavior? This networking is useful for remembering that it's not you, it's him, and it can give you an ad-hoc support group. You can talk to the EO office at your place without deciding to file a complaint - if they're good, they may be able help you connect to others.
6) If you use masking (for now), put up something to remind you that your current behavior is an act and you are *choosing* to use this technique. Try to stay detached, and see your behavior from the outside ... detachment is hard, and you need to be clear on who you really are.
7) Try to find some humor somewhere in the situation – laughing at something takes away a lot of its power on you. Can you laugh about this pitiful behavior by your advisor? Geez, what is he so scared of, that leads to this behavior towards women? Keep a mental fantasy list of things that you might like to do (but won't). What could you do to call public attention to his unacceptable behavior without implicating yourself? Have some fun brainstorming about this. If you're angry, acknowledge the anger and tap its energy: exercise, punching bag, yelling underwater...
8) Educate yourself about power - personal, situational, institutional. My favorite books: "Hardball for Women" (Pat Heim), "Games Your Mother Never Taught You" (Betty Harragan), "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" (Suzette Elgin, several variants).
9) Be gentle with yourself. This is hard. You are clearly a strong person - you've stuck it out this far. Celebrate that strength.Back to top.
2. Additional Advice for Anon
From: Elke Roediger [e.roediger_at_jacobs-university.de]
I am really sorry that you have to experience such a situation. I don't have a really smart idea, but what came to my mind is this: It is not unusual for PhD students to visit some other people that work in their field, and such visits could extend to something like a few months or so. Maybe you know some other people (postdocs, professors) you are collaborating with, or would like to collaborate with. You could try to go and visit them, work with them for some time. In this way you could continue working in your field and your project, you would even establish a few new and useful relationships (which can be helpful for future jobs), hopefully with nice people, such visits look very good in your CV, and you would get away from this guy who should be your supervisor. I don't know how things are handled in your place, but as a 3rd year PhD student you should be able to work independently, anyway, so there is no need to see your advisor every week or so. I mean, doing a PhD is proving you can work independently, so if you like that plan, that is one of the arguments you could try if you have to argue for it. If you are receiving some kind of scholarship or so, according to my experience they don't mind such visits.
And in trying to solace you and give you some hope: Most male astronomers are not like that. So if you make it through this difficult period, it is very likely to become better!
I hope that helps a bit. If I can do something else, feel free to contact me, and I can try.Back to top.
3. Turning Women into Scientists
From: John Leibacher [jleibach_at_ias.u-psud.fr]
This Letter to the Editor was published March 28, 2010 in the New York Times. It concerned, “Bias Called Persistent Hurdle for Women in Sciences” (news article, March 22):
I was not surprised to read that “any suggestion of advantage based on sex affects results” on tests given by researchers. I have always believed that the suggestion that girls were not as good as boys in math was detrimental to the self-confidence of many of my female friends in high school, and a factor for some of them who chose college majors with limited math requirements.
I decided to inoculate my daughter against this cultural stereotype by mentioning casually every now and then that I thought girls were naturally better at math. She is now pursuing a Ph.D. in applied math at Brown.
As a statistics major, I realize that a sample size of one does not prove that a “reverse stereotype” will solve this difficult problem. But I encourage parents of young girls to try to collect some more data points.
For more, please see:Back to top.
4. Accidental Mentoring
From: Caroline Simpson_at_Women in Astronomy Blog, March 31, 2010
So, we all know the importance of mentoring, especially for underrepresented minorities. What we may not realize is that mentoring can take many forms. Sometimes, we "mentor" unknowingly...
Recently, I received email from a former undergraduate student (whom I will call Hypatia) who is now a graduate student elsewhere. While she was an undergraduate in our (physics) department, I interacted with her very little -- I didn't teach any of her courses, and she was interested in nanotechnology, not astronomy. However, she told me in this email that I had started her down the path she was now on, and she wanted to thank me! I was stunned, to say the least. I hadn't had any long talks with her about her future or given her any advice about much of anything. We'd pretty much just said "hello" to each other when we passed in the hallway. So what happened that she felt that she owed me a "huge debt of gratitude?"
Read more at:Back to top.
5. How to Stand Out in a Large Collaboration
From: Joannah_at_Women in Astronomy Blog, March 25, 2010
Collaborations in astronomy seem to be getting larger and larger. The quantity and quality of data needed to push the boundaries of our science are becoming ever greater, and many of us find ourselves part of projects that have dozens of colleagues from all over the globe. This makes sense for the health of the project: we can combine specialists at every wavelength and experts on every science subtopic and theorists with every type of technique at their disposal and create massive onslaughts against the challenges and issues of our field. These types of collaborations can be exciting and enriching, but how do you stay involved in such projects as a young female scientist, say at the postdoc level, without becoming lost in the pack?
Read more at:Back to top.
6. Why Women Leave the Engineering Field
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
An article in Time magazine by Barbara Kiviat examines the reasons women leave engineering.
For years, researchers have struggled to understand why so many women leave careers in science and engineering. Theories run the gamut, from family-unfriendly work schedules to innate differences between the genders. A new paper by McGill University economist Jennifer Hunt offers another explanation: women leave such jobs when they feel disgruntled about pay and the chance of promotion. In other words, they leave for the same reasons men do.
To reach that conclusion, Hunt combed through data collected by the National Science Foundation in 1993 and 2003 on some 200,000 college graduates. Her first finding was that women actually don't leave jobs in science at an above average rate. The difference, Hunt found, comes from the engineering sector. (See a special report on the state of the American woman.)
That's not simply because women are exiting the workforce to raise families: even women who continue to work leave engineering at a higher than expected rate.
Read more at:Back to top.
7. Spacewomen Power
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
Marcia Dunn of the Associated Press tells us that space is about to have a female population explosion: 4 women in orbit at same time
One woman already is circling Earth in a Russian capsule, bound for the International Space Station. Early Monday morning, NASA will attempt to launch three more women to the orbiting outpost — along with four men — aboard shuttle Discovery.
It will be the most women in space at the same time.
Men still will outnumber the women by more than 2-to-1 aboard the shuttle and station, but that won't take away from the remarkable achievement, coming 27 years after America's first female astronaut, Sally Ride, rocketed into space.
A former schoolteacher is among the four female astronauts about to make history, as well as a chemist who once worked as an electrician, and two aerospace engineers. Three are American; one is Japanese.
For more, please see:Back to top.
8. Blewett Scholarship for Women in Physics
From: WIPHYS April 8, 2010
Applications are due June 4, 2010 for the M. Hildred Blewett Scholarship for Women in Physics. The scholarship consists of an award of up to $45,000 to enable women to return to physics research careers after having had to interrupt those careers for family reasons. Details on the scholarship and how to apply can be found at:Back to top.
9. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN
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10. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN
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