My Experiences With Sexism in Science

I think I have finally had it. I am sick of women being told to “put up with” sexist behavior because to speak up would be career suicide. I am sick of the defenders of academics who prey on students. I am sick of seemingly smart people spouting stereotypes that portray women as somehow different and less capable than men, from the President of Harvard’s 2005 comments that women are innately less capable in science to a Nobel prize winner’s 2015 comments that, among other things, women and men should be segregated. And, if being a woman in science is bad enough – the situation is even worse for people of color who are actively discouraged from careers in STEM. Most importantly, I am sick of people claiming that we are in a post-sexist, or post-racist, society when we clearly are not post anything. Many people simply do not know what women (or people of color, or people with disabilities, or any people who are different from the perceived majority) experience in their daily lives, including at work.

I have decided to speak my experience as a woman in science. I doubt I remember every gendered and sexist moment in my life, but here are some highlights from my career. I won’t bore you with the everyday sexism I experience out in the world – these are things that happened to me while I was out in the field WORKING, at conferences while I was WORKING, or in a university building while I was WORKING. From inappropriate comments to outright groping, here are three examples each from grad school, pre-tenure, and post-tenure life. Trust me, tenure does not make you immune:

As a Graduate Student:

1. The male graduate student who told me I only passed my oral exams because I am a woman.

2. The senior scholar who propositioned me in the field, verbally and physically.

3. The student evaluations that discussed my smile, body, and attractiveness rather than my teaching ability.

As a Pre-Tenure Faculty Member:

1. The senior female faculty member who asked me if I was going to quit my job when I told her I was pregnant.

2. The senior female faculty member who told me women shouldn’t have children until after tenure. She looked a little shocked when I reminded her that I had a toddler.

3. The junior faculty member who openly ogled my chest and talked about my “Magic Planets”. (Look up Magic Planet – it’s a real thing, and not at all related to my chest).

As a Post-Tenure Faculty Member:

1. The senior faculty member who asked me about my sex life and encouraged me to have a good one. Perhaps with him.

2. The department chair who told me funding was easy for me to get because I am a woman and work in an easy field.

3. The senior emeritus faculty who…this is a hard one to put delicately…Came up behind me at an on-campus retirement party, dropped his knees, and pushed himself up against me several times. Trust me – I had NO idea how to react, and recovering from that violation took me about 6 months.

That’s my reality of sexism in science. I can’t possibly be alone.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN SCIENCE

SCIENCE magazine retracted the June 1, 2015 ASK ALICE column because of the incredibly bad advice given to a young postdoc facing sexual harassment from her adviser. You can read the original column here, and SCIENCE’s retraction statement here.

I just sent a letter to the SCIENCE Career Editor. I hope SCIENCE recognizes that this young postdoc still needs help with her very real problem. My letter:

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FUNDING: How many proposals should you submit?

I have been in my current position for nine years. I submitted plenty of research proposals before I came to MSU, but I have now established a long-ish record of proposal writing and grantsmanship at one institution. I did a quick search through our proposal database and figured out that I submitted, either as PI or co-PI, at least 68 proposals between August 2006 and December 2014. That is an average of about 8.5 proposals per year. Here is a nifty graph of submitted proposals from 2006-2014 contrasted with the number of those proposals that were actually funded:

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Of the 68 proposals shown in the graph, 13 were funded. This is a 19% funding rate. I was pretty intrigued to see that this rate is on par with the overall EHR funding rate – most of my funding runs through EHR. In 2013-14, EHR funding rates were 17-18%! [Note: To my colleagues in geoscience who claim that I am in a field where it is “easy to get funding” – um, no. For the 2006-2014 time frame, EHR’s highest funding rate was 29%. GEO had a whopping high of 45%. That’s an almost 50-50 chance of getting funded! ].

So, how many proposals should you submit? If you are like me, you need to pay attention to the programs you submit to and submit based on the funding rate. At this time, I can hope to be funded once for every five proposals I submit to EHR. What are the funding rates like in your field?

EDIT: June 1, 2015

My colleague, Titus Brown, was nice enough to offer his proposal acceptance and funding rates to add to this conversation. Titus works at the intersection between bioscience and computer science. Between 2008 and 2014, Titus submitted 43 proposals. Of these, 11 were funded; that’s a 25% funding rate. Here is his nifty graph – looks similar to mine:

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New Paper on Social Capital and Diversity in Science

The Geocognition Research Lab is pleased to announce a new publication on the role of social capital in the development of diverse scientists:

Using the Lens of Social Capital to Understand Diversity in the Earth System Sciences Workforce

This manuscript is a collaboration between researchers (Caitlin Callahan, Julie Libarkin) at Michigan State University, Carmen McCallum at Buffalo State University, and Chris Atchison at University of Cincinnati.

Spring 2015 Edition: Earthquakes…And tornadoes…And floods…

Geocognition research into how people make decisions about the planet could save lives. Although many people may not realize it, the geosciences are vitally important to our society – for examples, geoscientists find the precious metals that we need for modern technology, find clean water and identify sources of water contamination, predict the impacts of climate change from coastal communities to the high mountains, and investigate the myriad natural hazards that exist on the planet. If only the geosciences were a bigger part of our high school curriculum…perhaps people would have a better understanding of what to do during and after an earthquake, a tornado, or a flash flood. These natural hazards can be dangerous, but good decision-making can make the difference between life and death.

Undergraduate Kyler Stanley wins award!

Kyler Stanley was the lucky recipient of the MSU Geological Sciences Alumni Field Camp Award for 2014-15. In the department’s language: “This fellowship is made possible by a generous gift from the Department of Geological Sciences Endowment and is intended to recognize and encourage students who have demonstrated the capacity to achieve educational and professional goals, the motivation to achieve these goals and the initiative to seek opportunities to further their progress.”

Congratulations, Kyler, and enjoy field camp!