Let’s discuss #mentalhealth in academia – #DiversityJC recap

This month our DiversityJC discussed an important topic: what we can do to improve mental health in academia. We are going to share the main insights here, but you can read the full discussion on our storify. We had special (and courageous) guests that recently shared their own personal experiences:

Although there seem to be a bit more dialogue about #mentalhealth in academia, this is still a difficult topic to discuss, and we still rarely engage it fully. For our August discussion, we first asked our guests what prompted them to share their experiences in their blogs:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some academics may be inclined to share our experiences, but don’t do it for fear of retaliation. Or as @abigailleigh put it “I worried that my colleagues will look at me strangely, assuming I couldn’t do my research b/c of my mental illness.” But our guests also had positive responses:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indeed. While positive our guests had support, it is not always the case – we do need to feel safe discussing those issues openly, with supervisors and colleagues!

 

 

 

 

 

Accepting and understanding mental health is a crucial part of the process. For that to happen, it is important we talk openly about mental health to alleviate its toll, making it more manageable. Speaking about mental health also lets other academics know they can talk about health issues. Academia applies constant pressure, which likely plays a role in the prevalence of anxiety and depression (e.g. in grad students), so it’s also likely many of us are hiding related struggles. Further support can come from our institutions, which need to actively promote mental health by developing and making resources available, accessible, and visible.

Many successful academics and other professionals deal with mental illnesses. They are effective despite it. Being able to put down the weight of depression or cut away the thicket of anxiety would make them even better scientists. Living with mental illness takes strength and treating them means making people more themselves.

Thanks to all that joined/listened to our #DiversityJC. We hope that this discussion encourage others to share their experiences and talk about their mental health issues. We are a community, and we must stand for each other!

@Doctor_PMS
@DrEmilySKlein
@IHStreet

Links:

The human cost of the pressures of postdoctoral research

Mental Health and Conferences: A Practical Guide

Mental health programs in schools – growing body of evidence supports effectiveness

Mental Health resources:

@TWLOHA, @TheMightySite, @healthyminds, @amhc2016, @chron_ac,

Apps:

Moodlog@headspace, @worrywatchapp,

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August #DiversityJC: let’s talk about #mentalhealth in academia

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There’s a big elephant in the halls of academia. Nearly everyone in academia has experienced some mental health problem. Anxiety, stress, perfectionism, burnout, depression. There is so much pressure! Deadlines, grants, publications, failed experiments. You name it. However, although everybody admits to these pressures, it is still tough to openly talk about it with your peers and immediate colleagues about struggling to stay on top of them. Even worse, part of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture creates a sense of shame around mental health.

Lately there has been more discussion and more studies about the subject, especially among Ph.D. students. But mental health problems in academia go beyond that – postdocs and faculty are also deeply affected by it. A recent study with graduate students and postdoc showed that they show moderate to severe anxiety, depression and stress rates of 41%, 39%, and 82%, respectively.

There are great blogposts telling personal experiences of mental health issues, and we are happy to welcome a few of those courageous authors as guests to our next #DiversityJC discussion!

We’re excited that these awesome scientists will be joining us, and hope you will too. We need to change this culture of accepting but don’t discussing mental health issues. What can be done? How can we help? Join our #DiversityJC discussion next Friday, August 18th, 2p.m. EST.

@Doctor_PMS
@DrEmilySKlein
@IHStreet

 

#BlackHistoryMonth & the importance of mentors. #DiversityJC recap

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February was #BlackHistoryMonth, and we decided to celebrate it in our monthly #DiversityJC, along the discussion about the importance of mentors and role models. You can read the complete Storify of our discussion here.

For our discussion, we addressed an article that indicated black science students are more likely to stay in science if they have at least one black professor (a discussion about the results of this study was also published by Inside Higher Ed).

Given that article and that February is Black History Month, we asked:

The point was connecting the research article about how black students stay in school with the point that we all need role models that look like us. This may not be recognized by those of us who see people like us in positions of power and in the people we look up to and go to for assistance.

And, as the research from Dr. Price demonstrates, it’s not just mentors and role models. It’s the people we see working in science every day that also matter.


This impacts all of us
, not just minority scientists. We are all trained that the people we look to for mentors and role models should be white, male, cis-gendered, straight, and able bodied. Whether we realize it or not, not only does leaving scientists out that don’t fit that bill marginalize them and their work, it also tells the the rest of us what a scientist should look like.
So – what can we do about this?

We can do better at both highlighting minority scientists of the past, and amplifying those currently working. We can assess our own internal biases and address our own internal ideas about what a scientist looks like. We can let go of the notion that groundbreaking science was done by a lone white man, and acknowledge instead is usually done by teams of scientists working together. We can encourage our institutions to hire diverse faculty and staff, and demand conference planners to ensure diverse speakers and panelists. Essentially, the importance of role models and seeing ourselves in the jobs we aspire to is another critical reason diversity and inclusion matter.

From Dr. Price’s work, critical piece of this is addressing those communities most marginalized. While Dr. Price found black students stay in STEM with at least one black professor, the same was not found for female students, suggesting they already felt more “normal” in the scientific community. While this does not negate the importance of more women in STEM and leadership positions, it does speak to the fact that communities of color may be more marginalized.
Another point made by the discussion looked the other direction at our topic:

That is, systemic bias and resulting conscious or unconscious stereotypes alone may overtly discourage underrepresented minority scientists from attaining leadership or mentoring positions. This stress can potentially cut both ways…

These points come back again to the importance of inclusion, and ensuring our institutions not only want to become more diverse, but also be more welcoming. In so doing, that they actively work to address internal the internal culture.

 

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the Diversity Journal Club this month! Please check out the entire conversation on Dr. PMS’s Storify, and the Role Models we shared over the month. In addition, some important links shared during the discussion to check out:

George Washington Carver, Planter of Productive Farmers

Percy Julian, Natural Products Chemist

Til next month!

Doctor PMS
Emily Klein
Ian Street

Don’t forget to give our twitter account a follow at Diversity_JC!

It’s the imposter syndrome… or is it?

I learned one of the most important things from graduate school in my first semester. A senior, tenured, well-respected and highly published faculty member told us something along the following lines:

“You will go through periods where you feel like you know everything, and then you will go through periods where you feel like you know absolutely nothing, and you’re just hoping no one notices. The important thing to remember is that everyone, from graduate student to tenured academic at the top of their field, everyone goes through both of these periods regularly. Prepare for this pattern to happen throughout your career.”

I actually remember what it was like to not really know what she was talking about. As a fresh-faced first year, I had yet to even experience the Imposter Syndrome.  Of course, since then I’ve come back to this message many, many times. It’s been a helpful reminder that the Imposter Syndrome is real, and more importantly, it’s normal.

 

But… what if it’s not just the Imposter Syndrome?

 

I know women who started out their academic careers believing sexism was dead, feminism had won. While, sure, some fields are lagging behind a bit, overall woman are earning well over 50% of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in STEM fields, and are closing the gap on PhDs. The evidence speaks for itself…. right?

In this assumed post-patriarchy, there is no sexism to explain what we experience – we look inward when our confidence is undermined. We tell ourselves it’s the Imposter Syndrome rearing it’s ugly head, that we need to just believe in ourselves and know these feelings are normal…. right?

 

What if they aren’t?

 

For June, the Diversity Journal Club will delve into the Imposter Syndrome and how it intersects with diversity and inclusion. We will be discussing Alexis Hancock’s

How The Rhetoric of Imposter Syndrome Is Used to Gaslight Women in Tech

While this was written for an audience in tech fields, it applies pretty similarly to those in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) more broadly. Do we use the Imposter Syndrome to explain away how microaggressions make us feel, how stereotype threat undermines our confidence? To help us ignore real reasons for our struggles that may not actually be fixed by believing in ourselves, or working harder?

We hope to expand this conversation to explore the difference between individual and systemic problems – or if that assessment is even important. Is it something I personally need to do differently or work at – or is it systemic bias?

 

Please  join us on Twitter under #DiversityJC on Friday 19 August at 2pm Eastern Time for the discussion!

Emily Klein, Ian Street, and Doctor PMS

Orlando matters: Social identities and science.

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Image from Denis Carrier, Nature News: http://www.nature.com/news/diversity-pride-in-science-1.15924

 

How does the Orlando shooting intersect with our lives as scientists? Should it?

 

Certainly, we could have a had friends at Pulse. We could have been at Pulse. In case I haven’t been clear about this, I identify as bisexual. I have frequented gay bars and been a regular at women-only tea dances. Yes, it could have been me.


But while it could have been me seems somewhat superficial – it’s not. There are deep implications of this statement. As Ian Street pointed out in an email on this topic, yes we are scientists – but we’re also people doing science. And as people, our social identities actually do matter. They do impact where we go, and how productive we can be.

First, let’s talk about how ‘out’ LGBTQ+ scientists really are.

I can attest to this. When I first arrived at Princeton, we had not a single staff or faculty who publicly identified as LGBTQ+ in my department. This had directly impacted students, several of whom told me they didn’t feel comfortable being out as a result.

Who we see in our communities matters if we are to feel safe, both personally and professionally, in addition to being critical for finding mentors, feeling inspired, and that you belong. Further, we feel less valued if critical aspects of our identity must be hidden or removed in order for us to function within a scientific community.

But the tragedy in Orlando also drives home the point on our personal safety. That this is beyond bias in the workplace. It can actually be about life and death (we could have been at Pulse) – and  whether we feel safe has direct implications for science itself:

Several people commented on how this affects how and where they seek jobs – which absolutely impacts the quality of scientists an institution and a community can attract. How events and sentiment within our culture translates to personal safety is also clearly evident in violence against black men and women in the US, xenophobia and Brexit last week, and Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants. For the LGBTQ+ community globally, being out and gay translates to personal harm. It can literally be a death sentence.

 

If you do not feel safe in your communities, how can you do your best work? How can you feel valued? The fact that the violence and the rhetoric happens out there does not matter.

 

In fact, how much or how little such an act of hate matters within a scientific community is important, too. It says something  about how that community values LGBTQ+ identified students, faculty, and staff. Pretending these acts and comments are irrelevant, that they do not require even a dialogue, a check-in… this, to use an overwhelmingly underwhelming but somehow appropriate analogy, is to add insult to injury.

 

Yes, immediately after Orlando there was an outpouring of support in the US and globally. This needs to translate into long-term and institutional change that doesn’t “accept” or “tolerate” social identities – but understands the importance of embracing them. It can’t be lipservice paid in the face of tragedy – and it can’t just be out there, beyond lab and office walls, either.

 

There are further implications for the community at large, including allies. Orlando matters in how we mentor students, and how do we provide safe spaces, for graduate students, for faculty, and for staff.

 

We can no longer pretend our social identities as LGBTQ+, as black, as latina, as immigrant, as Muslim, are divorced from our identities as scientists when people are literally being gunned down for those social identities, in addition to the fact that science itself is consistently demonstrating we are still paid less, hired less, and given fewer opportunities as a result of those social identities. The evidence is overwhelming, my scientist friends: Our social identities matter.

But in understanding this, and embracing it – this is also how we revolutionize our institutions. It can fundamentally alter the discussions we have, the spaces we create, the people we embrace, the way we address structural and systemic bias at multiple levels – understanding that we do not perform science in a vacuum, that we are all people doing science. Science only stands to benefit from safe, fully flourishing scientists who are their true selves, who feel safe and valued, and focus on the science they do best.

This is why Orlando matters, to us as scientists, to science itself.

 

Resources (etc) shared:

Mentoring Program for LGBTQ+ students from The National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists & Technical Professionals, Inc.

LGBT STEM aims to increase the visibility of LGBTQ+ scientists in STEM, with accompanying interviews from scientists, alongside other resources. You can fill in “Tell Your Story” to be included in the network!

Take the Queer in STEM 2.0 survey! Open until Fall 2016.

Links shared:

The (not-so-fabulous) life of gay academics  and Where are Canada’s queer scientists? from The Lab & Field

The Objectivity Myth in Research from Feminist Reflections

 

** Note: The Diversity Journal Club will take our summer break in July. We’ll be back with a new topic in August.

 

Is there a time when someone’s ability overrides their behavior? #DiversityJC

I believe everybody read the news about the professor at University of Chicago that resigned after sexual misconduct. His behavior is totally unacceptable, however, it was not something new in his life. Despite having received information stating that the professor had faced allegations of sexual harassment at previous jobs, the hiring committee voted unanimously to hire him.

An important point to add is that the professor has received millions of dollars in federal grants and currently holds three R01s! Really? Is it all about the money now? In these times of scarce funds for research, of course being funded makes a huge difference when a professor is being hired. But that’s not all that matters! (Or at least, it shouldn’t be, right?). Alright, on top of doing great research and being able to get his research funded, it seems that the professor was also an amazing teacher.

So now it seems obvious that hiring the professor despite the allegations against him was a terrible mistake, but how do we measure the success of aspiring professors? By numbers. The number of publications, the number of grants funded, the number of classes taught. Numbers, numbers, numbers – they are all in our CV’s. But what about the non-quantitative requirements. How to know that the person is a decent human being and not an assh**e? Being a professor and a PI means interacting in an influential way with students, postdocs, technicians and other professors. Being able to mentor properly is super important, and it’s also a big responsibility. How do we know that a person with such amazing credentials and incredible record of publications and grants is going to be a good professor and mentor?

We want to discuss those topics and hear what you have to say! Join us in our next #DiversityJC on February 19th 2pm EST.

B.o.B says the Earth is flat…

By now you may be aware that hip-hop artist/rapper (I honestly don’t know if those are one and the same thing) had a long series of tweets about how the Earth is flat, citing “flat Earther” sources.

Neil Tyson, as he often does, stepped in to tell B.o.B that he was wrong about this particular issue.

And let me back up Tyson on this point: B.o.B is wrong. The Earth is round. So are the other planets (perhaps easier to confirm with another planet. Have B.o.B track the Galilean moons as they disappear and re-appear periodically as they orbit Jupiter…indicative of spherical nature of the planet itself– and planets generally).

However, I’d like to ask why B.o.B might feel that way, what makes him so suspicious of science (at least this science)?

In his tweets and his “Flatline” track he released today, there is a strong bent of conspiratorial thinking as well as invoking the idea that scientific knowledge is just another authority hiding the truth of the world.

I don’t know B.o.B.’s biography or his thoughts, but can imagine he faced a lot of bias, rationally learned not to trust authority, and did not feel welcome in the world of academia, seeing it as just another part of a racist/flawed society. So even if he were in school, hearing about science may have made him tune out the knowledge because he saw it as a questionable source.

This post may be reading too much into B.o.B.’s flat Earth beliefs, but may be indicative of why STEM has a diversity problem. It may be seen by those that might have entered it as just another institution where they are not welcome (as well as the fact that there aren’t many URM astronomers out there, Dr. Tyson aside). Admittedly B.o.B. has taken it a step further to also stating that no real knowledge can come from such an institution. Though, perhaps he is demonstrating some curiosity about the world and has incomplete information.

It’s sad that STEM seems to have failed– this is partly why inclusiveness and diversity matter. And though I’m sure B.o.B. has plenty to write about in his songs, it also seems like he’s limiting himself too. Unable to see the deep and wide universe from his flat Earth. He also may be unaware of times when science really can and does challenge authority. He might be interested in those stories.

Ian Street (@IHStreet).