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

Stiff Upper Lip, Suck it up, Carry on.

Something that’s recurred for me after our last #DiversityJC discussion about the Orlando shootings as well as other diversity related issues is a question I think about as a relatively quiet/closed off person (and a cis white heterosexual male).

And that is the question of whether white culture is one of silence around, well, almost anything.

It’s rather gauche to discuss money openly, careers, the Catholic Church clergy abuses, the looking the other way on so many things. Depression? Don’t talk about it, you’ll hurt your career & “normal” life.

Diversity? Nope, can’t talk about it directly but we can try to be inclusive– or some of us can, at least (I don’t know if I count myself in that number or not…I hope so, but still really learning). Though it may be that the language to discuss whiteness is simply lacking because it’s a new discussion most of us aren’t used to having.

Change takes time. This American Life had a segment about how there are people that know what the better or right thing to do is, but they don’t actually do it because, well culture gets in the way. In the episode, it’s Wilt Chamberlain giving up his underhanded free throws even though it made him better and he scored more points. But he thought it looked silly.

Chamberlain had a high threshold to change his method, to ignore the culture around him, even if adopting a different method would make him better in his social context.

Similarly, white culture and institutions probably also fail to adopt inclusivity because of the rest of the culture out there.

I wonder if the slow opening up about various topics is also a high bar to clear. I’ve been told over and over (by mostly white people in the culture I’m a part of in the United States) that sensitive topics are off limits in the work place. Politics, religion, and yes, even diversity fall into that category. Talking about it at work, especially, is simply frowned upon and so a lot of us struggle with expressing ourselves in all sorts of ways. It’s considered OK simply to treat each other professionally/with some respect (though even this bar is not cleared in many cases).

It’s a controversial decision I made to be open about my mental health and trials and tribulations with anxiety/depression. People say it’s bold, even, because not many people do it for fear of admitting humanity will limit my career prospects. That may be right.

Maybe other cultures have similar principles of silence around some issues. I don’t really know (one example might be the Orlando shooter and his apparent status as a closeted gay person).

Coming out publicly is a fairly big deal, even in 2016. And I wonder if part of what keeps people from being who they are is the preferred culture of silence is in part to blame (yes, I know, there’s also the strong “you’re different and therefore not acceptable” thing too). I wonder if the silence prevents finding support. Articulating what I think is hard– it takes a lot to get me to tell someone things that are deep-seated in me (I also know there are all too many men out there who have no problem spewing invective against women and URMs, especially on the internet).

Expressing genuine feeling is hard. It’s simply not encouraged in white culture, at least not for me very often. There has to be a remove, a distance. A computer screen can work. But even here, it feels like my natural impulse is to dance around a core feeling, not really expressing anything, at all.

I know I can be empathetic/sensitive…but only with those I’ve really gotten to know well. And maybe that’s OK, but even then, I tend to keep things in.

None of this is too take away from the obstacles URMs face, but it’s to ask if it might be better if white men, specifically, could be more open about more topics, even in the workplace. Or does maintaining our seemingly cold and uncaring government and business institutions require silence and distance from those they are impacting?

Could things be different?

Ian Street (@IHStreet)

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.

 

Re-cap: Why do women leave STEM?

Why do women leave STEM? We asked this question for our Diversity JC discussion on April 22nd.

First, by framing the discussion using this question, we (mostly me– Ian), didn’t really think about the fact that many people who leave the traditional STEM path don’t necessarily go that far– often ending up in STEM-adjacent careers, and still considering themselves a part of STEM. Perhaps we should call it the expanded STEM universe (ESTEMU).

Yet the fact remains that there are real barriers for women in STEM – even the ESTEMU. It’s true in almost all professional careers to one degree or another; as we’ve pointed out before (for example the discussion here), this is a cultural problem broader than just STEM.

However, DiversityJC is squarely focused on STEM, and this discussion was on how, perhaps in particular to STEM fields, more women than average leave the traditional academic path of Ph.D. to postdoc to the Tenure Track (compared to other career paths). Though as Melanie pointed out, a key point is that this trend isn’t unique to just the tenure track, and as Needhi elaborated, it was also along more than just gender lines:

The point is, the culture in STEM fields remains narrow, almost always defining success by tenure, grants, and publications (and little else despite all the other things academics do), and the stereotypical scientist is still white and male (until people actually meet some scientists and realize we’re actually not any one thing, other than perhaps universally curious! Check #thisiswhatascientistlookslike). Fitting in to this culture can be very challenging when you don’t reflect conventional expectations or value something outside conventional goals. This especially impacts women – and minorities. There is evidence for hope, particularly in the life sciences where women are half of Ph.D.s and almost half of postdocs now. However, these trends have yet to translate into professorships or other leadership positions, and women are less likely to be tenured and more likely to be in adjunct level positions where they are paid less, and therefore incur more debt, than men – trends that are not changing (these are all, of course, in addition to the cultural problems present at the Ph.D. and postdoc levels, and beyond).

Despite its central place in the traditional definition of success we argue here, the tenure track is becoming less and less likely for the majority of scholars regardless of gender. This is certainly a contributing factor for some women leaving STEM. In addition to fewer positions, smaller pools of money also mean that even for those part of a major discovery early in their careers – CRISPR, say– where success may be more likely, it is still far from assured. Even if you’re a scientist who also contributes to op-eds to the New York Times and writes a book about your time in science, funding is still hard to come by:

Increasingly, successful scientists are also successful at getting money. Yet being “able to compete” often still means those central goals of tenure and publishing – areas where women also experience bias (like this crazy example). The poor economics of academia on top of implicit biases (etc) are a hard combination to deal with throughout ones career.

In addition, like attaining tenure, acquiring money only rewards certain types of success – and negates others, like working for social justice, engaging in outreach, or caring for family members. This tied in with the majority of our conversation: the definition of success in science is too narrow to be inclusive of other life goals and commitments, and in consequence excludes people, including women, from STEM.

What can be done? We must address the disparity in pay and reasons why the greater numbers of women in college aren’t translating to higher paid positions, as well as sexism, harassment, and assault. Support networks are also important and some in our discussion reported having good networks that include more than just their immediate advisors. Even a Twitter network can be a supportive place. Developing, engaging in, and sustaining these networks, across gender lines, can be hugely helpful moving forward.

In addition, from a broad perspective, our discussion collectively revealed a deeper truth: the present values of STEM aren’t broad or inclusive enough, and this does drive women, and minorities, from the field. Our discussion made clear there is a need for an expanded definition of what we value in STEM as a field, and what it means to succeed there. We need to do better at understanding and valuing the intersection of science and humanity – whether that is via interdisciplinary research, outreach and education, or social justice work. We also need to note that it’s not work-life balance, but it rather that scientists have lives. As part of this, it is critical we acknowledge that the previous narrative of the workaholic scientist is outdated – not only because we have lives, but also because it likely meant that scientist had a wife at home to support him.

Finally, as we mentioned and connected to these points, when women do leave STEM graduate schools, postdocs, or professorships, it seems they often don’t go too far– at least not right away. Once a scientist, always a scientist. We need to recognize that leaving the traditional academic track does not actually mean leaving STEM. Especially with fewer tenured jobs and available grants, it’s time we realize there is more we can do with a PhD in the ESTEMU– and beyond.

Join us on May 20, 2pm ET for our discussion. and subscribe to the DiversityJC newsletter to keep up with all of the Diversity JC topics! 

Ian Street (@IHStreet)

Doctor_PMS (@Doctor_PMS)

Emily Klein (@DrEmilySKlein)

 

 

Why do women leave STEM?

Reminder that you can be kept up to date and get #DiversityJC content delivered to you by subscribing to our newsletter that comes out 1-2x each month.

The #DiversityJC discussion will happen on Friday, April 22, from 2-3pm ET.

Last month, we talked about being being an ally.

This month we’re going to discuss a topic that follows on that and discuss why women leave their chosen career paths – in STEM or otherwise, as this is observed and studied beyond science.

Spoiler alert: it may well not be the reason you think. Compensation is a big factor, as it is for men.

Related to unfair compensation is of course, culture. A new study found that our common ideas about science, women, and men may mean we “perceive women as incompatible” with science. The exception to this was when the survey takers were at a women’s college where the bias disappeared. Think Progress has a write up of the study.

More evidence? Sure. Paige Jarreau recently wrote about how even facts can’t convince people about gender bias, citing a 2015 study that explored comments on Discover Magazine and the New York Times articles on studies demonstrating gender bias. While a majority of comments in the study were positive, those that were negative were really negative, and these, especially from men, simply denied the facts presented or justified the system as was (i.e. women aren’t “built” for science…).

Also recent and related, research has found women are penalized for promoting diversity. For men, it’s of no benefit, but does no harm either. This is yet another example that could well contribute to women leaving STEM. Even if allies exist, they may not be sufficient in a system with a lot of in-built biases as this story about Dr. Nettie Stevens, a 19th-20th century Geneticist shows. Stevens had at least one supportive ally in Thomas Hunt Morgan– a rock star of genetics as we might say today, but nowhere else.

This month on #DiversityJC, we’ll look collectively to this recent research and discuss findings, and ask – why do women leave STEM careers?

If you were a woman in STEM but left the traditional academic career path, what is your story for why/how you left?

How do you feel about it now?

If you are/were a woman in STEM, do the above studies and stories resonate with your experiences?

If you are/were a man working in STEM – do you see evidence, as well? What have you witnessed – and what of the experiences of your friends, colleagues, and significant others?

If facts aren’t sufficient, what else might work to promote inclusion in STEM?

Join us for the discussion on April 22, 2-3pm ET!

@IHStreet

@DrEmilySKlein

@Doctor_PMS

 

Being a better ally: March discussion recap.

If we agree that diversity matters in science, then it’s also important we talk about how to get there. A critical part of that is learning how to be an ally for underrepresented groups – and this was the topic of our March DiversityJC.

What does being an ally really mean? I think a good ally:

  1. Recognizes their own privilege* and takes responsibility for it.
  2. Calls out behavior and issues, speaks up – but never over.
  3. Knows how to listen.
  4. Sees it as a personal responsibility to educate themselves on the issues around the underrepresented group they hope to work with.
  5. Is ok with being wrong, can apologize when that happens, and then move forward.
  6. Knows ‘ally’ is a verb.

In addition, Judy Booth (@BotanoCan) noted a simple way we can act as allies..

…and Ian Street (@IHStreet) reminded us that allies don’t take on that title themselves. It is not a self-proclaimed identity. We can aspire to be allies, we can want to operate in solidarity with, but we don’t get to call ourselves an ally. More on what it means to be an ally available here, here, here, here, and all the resources here.

Ian Street (@IHStreet)  also got to the more nuanced difficulty in identifying situations where we need to call out behavior or language. This can be challenging, as our privilege means those situations don’t affect us and therefore aren’t always visible to us. While it isn’t our ‘fault’ we are less aware, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on the issues and learn to see those situations – either by reading, connecting with others on social media, or talking about them with people in those groups. That is, actually, how having a black friend can make you less racist.

However, it can also be challenging to navigate this if speaking up is difficult for us all by itself, if we’re more introverted. It’s also tough if we’re more junior scientists. Calling out a culture or a senior scientist can have real ramifications. For that reason, we need allies at all institutional levels, who are educated and willing to speak up. In addition, we can think of other ways to act as allies:

Ian also had another idea:

But others disagreed.

Moreover, if we choose to leave a field because it’s not diverse, it’s just as likely another white het/cis person make will take our place – potentially one less educated and ready to enact change. Plus, I really feel the issue is in changing the societal structures within our fields, and the responsibility should be with institutions to 1) recruit deeper applicant pools, and 2) retain and support more diverse employees. If we simply vacate the field, this doesn’t ensure that happens, and it seems (to me) to absolve those institutions of those responsibilities.

What we can do is choose to take our skills and experience to those institutions committed to making change –

 

Finally, it is really vital we know being an ally isn’t going to be warm fuzzies all the time. To be an ally, you also need to understand that you’ll be uncomfortable at times, you will make mistakes and say the wrong thing. Also, people are going to be angry when you move into these spaces – and they often have a right to be. As we know, bias and discrimination can impact not only our personal lives, but also so much of our careers as well, from letters of recommendation to our representation in the field, even in student evaluations. Being aware of the discrimination you face every day, and that it has nothing to do with you skills and talent and everything to do with things you can’t change, is really really frustrating. People get angry.

Another of the most difficult things is that acting in solidarity with does not means there may be LGBTQ+ or POC or women-only spaces that are less welcoming to you, even when you’re an excellent ally. We must understand that, until we are actually in the post-racial, post-patriarchal, post-homophobia, post-etc society, those spaces need to exist, and not  take it personally when we are, for once, excluded.

As an example of how this shouldn’t happen, in the year before I arrived, some female grad students at Princeton decided to have a women in science sleepover, women only. The male grad students were very hurt they weren’t invited, and responded with anger. As a result, at almost every meeting on women in science I attended at Princeton, someone always asked “what about the men?

The reason these spaces are tough is because as white, cis-gendered, heterosexual people, we have been allowed in and felt safe in every space we want to access. When we are first excluded, it can feel hurtful or insulting. We need to learn it is neither, and that other groups feel that way regularly – it’s a white, male, cis/het world, people.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the ally discussion or followed along! Feel free to add thoughts in the comments!

 

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)
Ian (@IHStreet)
Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS)

 

* Important! Privilege means you won’t experience something (racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamaphobia, etc, and how they translate into our daily lives) usually because of something you have no control over – your skin, gender, sexual orientation – but also things you do but should be your choice – your religion or wealth. It does not mean you’ve had it easy, or haven’t experienced discrimination in another way.

 

 

March Topic: Let’s talk being an ally.

Sometimes it’s important to get back to basics.

Talking about diversity in STEM is critical, but it also involves educating yourself – especially if we want that discussion to turn into action. For that reason, our first topic of 2016 was diversity itself (my take two here).

If we want discussion on diversity to make change, in addition to understanding what we mean when we talk about diversity, and that it can be problematic, we also need to understand what it means to be an ally. Because, the thing is, simply saying we want to increase diversity, in all its forms, is not a good enough answer.

 

Anne Bishop defines allies as:

Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on.

Nadirah Adeye offers another view:

I, personally, think of allies as people who do the work to examine and question their own privilege. To understand who they are internally, but also how their external appearance or membership in certain groups impacts their societal powers. Being an ally means willing to be uncomfortable, being willing to be wrong (and, unfortunately, doing that ish frequently) and trying again, over and over. It’s not so much about being right as it is about being unwilling to allow wrongs to persist unchallenged.

Again, we aren’t going to talk about studies or journal articles for this Diversity Journal Club twitter chat, but we do want  to explore what ‘ally’ means – are we allies if we talk about diversity? If that’s not enough, do we want to be allies? If so, for whom? And how do we go about that?

A serious mistake is assuming we know how to do this work. Wanting diversity and talking about it aren’t enough – are we non or anti? – but we don’t wake up knowing how to make change. We have to learn that.

To get us thinking, please read up on some of the advice for allies out there in the interwebs. Check the video and links below. Find some resources on your own that speak to you. Have a thought about Ian’s post and his ideas about what he can do. Do we leave STEM if we’re over-represented? Are our abilities to cause change limited? In speaking up, do we silence others, so is it better to stay quiet? How do we know when to speak out, when to listen, and how do we amplify?

 

So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know

How To Be A Better Ally: An Open Letter To White Folks

6 ways allies still marginalize people of color — and what to do instead

8 Steps to Being a Good Ally [for the LGBTQ community]

Anne Bishop’s website, Becoming an Ally

And Nadirah Adeye’s excellent post Being an Ally versus Being a Nice Person

 

We hope you will join us Friday 18 March at 2pm ET on twitter under #DiversityJC!

Emily
Doctor PMS
Ian Street

PS: The DiversityJC now has a newsletter that you can subscribe to. It will come out once a month and include the post introducing that month’s discussion topic, other blog posts we write as well as other diversity relevant links from around the web. Link to subscribe is here.

#DiversityJC discussions on Twitter happen the 3rd week of each month on Fridays from 2-3pm ET.

On support.

On March 18, 2pm Eastern, #DiversityJC will discuss allies and being a person in STEM supportive of inclusion and diversity for its own sake. Look for Emily’s post introducing the discussion later this week. In this post, I’m going to offer my reflections on being a supportive of inclusivity/diversity.

I was talking to a colleague today who talked about a job search at a major research university.

Colleague: “They interviewed 12 people for 6 positions and only one was a woman”.

Me: “That’s Bullshit”.

I said this without hesitation. Because it is. No job search in 2016 has any excuse to be that skewed. The chair of the search was apparently female too (not that that fact alone precludes bias).

I don’t know if this counts as being supportive. But I guess it signals something of my frustration that it is obviously an unfair system.

My saying that doesn’t change any facts about that major research university and its faculty search. And no, I’m not going to name the institution; I don’t have permission from my colleague to say more. I’m sure it’s not the only such skewed job search happening.

The best way I’ve found to be supportive is mostly to get out of the way and point to voices from underrepresented/marginalized groups speaking up about inclusion. That means a fair bit of listening too. Listening is not just in person, but also paying attention to the Twitter conversations surrounding diversity, to blog posts on the topic, and even op-eds in the New York Times (this one by Hope Jahren on Sexual harassment in academia and it’s pervasiveness and effects on women in STEM).

The term ‘ally’ is a loaded one. Proclaiming yourself supportive of underrepresented groups in science is often not a sign that someone is. So I tend not to refer to myself that way and prefer to be as quietly supportive as I can be.

At the AAAS meeting the organizers seemed to do a good job of balancing the panels, speakers, etc, at least in terms of gender. No doubt a reflection of AAAS President Geraldine Richmond’s leadership (though they may have done OK on this in year’s past– this was my first time at the conference, so I don’t know what their track record is). So it is possible to achieve some level of equal representation.

I had a button from the AWIS booth at the AAAS meeting that I wore around the conference and a few people stopped to ask if I was really supportive of women in science. It was a rare instance of me (I’m a cis, white male, if you don’t know) apparently encountering some part of what women must face– questions about their commitment to something (there’s more to it, I know).

Again, though, it’s not clear to me that wearing a pin around is making a huge difference.

I’m a moderator/writer here at DiversityJC. But I still feel like I’m learning even though I’ve been contributing for a year.

Though my route there was different, I do think I understand the isolated feeling so many under-represented groups and women talk about feeling at times. I’ve experienced it because of depression. The feeling that there doesn’t seem to be anything that will make the situation better and the feeling of aloneness is crushing and getting out is the only option. So perhaps I understand the mental space if not the route there.

For senior academics that have some influence over the system, it’s a lot more obvious what they can do to support inclusion: challenge bias when you see it (even in themselves), ensure a diverse pool of talent for any hiring/funding/conference panel, listen to under-represented colleagues for things that will help them, and if it needs to be stated, don’t attempt to intiate romantic relationships/contact with those junior to you, period. Those things will and do make a difference.

As a postdoc, it’s less clear what I can do. I can call out bias (that I don’t see often except on the internet sometimes), I can listen, and I can work on projecting a welcome environment, but my influence is still minor in terms of changing the system– I don’t make decisions that can affect the entire population of STEM workers.

That’s not quite true. There is one thing I can do– leave STEM. At least leave the traditional academic path (My current career goal is what I like to call “science adjacent”). That might be hard for some who’ve been pursuing that academic job their entire lives, but with a limited number of faculty jobs available each year, reducing the majority population seeking them might well increase the number of women and underrepresented groups getting faculty jobs. It’s not a guarantee of course, but it’s something that might help, especially in a field like life sciences where there really is a large pool of talent there to promote.

It will also take cultural change amongst hiring committees, but that seems more and more feasible as there really have been some gains in under-represented groups in STEM in the last 40 years and that influence is being felt (of course, it’s not all solved as my initial anecdote notes).

Part of being supportive is also to note social progress. Because it is happening (you, underrepresented groups are being heard by at least some of us). Taking women in professional life as examples: Geraldine Richmond as President of AAAS, Hilary Clinton running for president with a real shot at winning the election, and Jennifer Doudna being hailed as one of the key innovators behind CRISPR. It’s just not that exceptional to see successful (even moderately successful) women anymore– and that normalization is a good thing (this is not meant to diminish lived experience, it just means being treated as a scientist when talking to another scientist independent of how they identify because, in the moment of discussing science, it does not matter). There are still a lot of people that don’t get the recognition they should, of course, but examples are coming to light more and more, both contemporary and historic.

Mostly, I try to follow the platinum rule: treat people as they want to be treated. I also strive to follow the Finkbeiner rule in my writing. And listen. Treating a person as a person, giving them what I can when I can (sadly, I’m not always unlimitedly available and I hope no one expects me to be). There are still a lot of things for me to learn. I don’t really know the reporting structure at my institution for harassment cases (my first instinct: refer them to the ombudsperson who does deal with these cases off the record). I don’t know if conferences I attend have extensive anti-harassment policies (they all have something, I’m sure– just may not be sufficient).

And last, I’ve written this entire post on being supportive of inclusivity/diversity and I don’t expect to get any praise for it. It’s almost like an etiquette column: it’s what everyone should do and it’s not that hard (except the changing career paths; that is not easy, but something I want to do and just need to make happen).

What thoughts do you have on being supportive/inclusive of others in STEM (or anywhere)?

Ian Street (@IHStreet).

 

 

 

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).

 

 

Recap: What is Diversity?

On Friday, The DiversityJC had our January discussion on Twitter (see #DiversityJC on Twitter for the entire discussion) and it was a topic worth reflecting on, for everyone, I think.

Just what is Diversity? And how can the implementation of policies help inclusiveness? How is diversity measured?

On one level, backed up by population genetics, there is only the human race.

From population genetics studies it’s clear that there is only one “race” of Homo sapiens: The human race. And if we could all treat each other as members of one group, rather than othering, diversity.inclusivity might be an easier problem to solve.

The discussion started off with a point that there don’t tend to be many conservatives in STEM and how stereotype threat can affect Christians into underperforming on tests of reason due to views that exist in the US that Christianity and science don’t mix well.

However, it’s not that there aren’t religious people that are scientists. They’re common. It’s only a very few versions of Christianity  (that are loud and are given voice by present political leaders) that fly in the face of strong consensus views of science. Evolution happens. And if you can be OK with that and maintain your faith, you are more than welcome in STEM.

Less religious, but no less pernicious is the Republican party of the US’s denial of climate change (I don’t blame voters for this entirely; it seems to have become an identifying feature of the current leaders of the party). Again, science can back up that climate change happens. There are even a few conservative climate scientists that accept this consensus. And they’re not excluded from STEM beause of their conservative viewpoints.

The Point is religious background or political views are not really high barriers to making it in STEM.

More to the point, diversity is not just any difference:

Diversity of views should exist, but if STEM has already covered an area thoroughly and come to an agreement and you’re coming in saying “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”, that will ensure a chilly reception amongst colleagues in science.

Stereotype threat is real and one problem to overcome with achieving inclusiveness in STEM. And one way to combat it is by building a pool of talent, enabling people to see someone like them doing something they might be interested in. It’s getting to a point where just seeing a person of any background or social identity doing something becomes routine, boring, and simply not extraordinary to an onlooker. It’s a human doing a job, working on a team, living their full life. The one human race working toward its goals.

Biochem Belle shared a few links during the discussion that are worth reading:

And of course, the issue of intersectionality came up. We’re all complex in one way or another. Though a person is not diverse, only a group of people can be.

We also discussed why diversity matters and leapt instantly to the idea “because it increases success of an organization. Which makes diversity seem like a means to a specific end.

 

Which makes diversity seem like a means to a specific end, which is problematic.

I think we ended up with a view that increasing diversity needs to focus on building a pool of talent (e.g. the BBC policy of having at least one woman/panel show) through actively casting a broad net– seeking out those who might apply for a position from marginalized/URM groups and getting them seen more and more often, letting them do their work.

The goal of inclusion and diversity should be to be amazed by the work someone does and not the person doing it. And of course, making clear to anyone feeling marginalized that 1. It can get better and 2. they too can pursue things they naturally gravitate towards doing, without threat of bias. Just being a part of humanity, being treated how they want to be treated, feeling included.

Ian Street (@IHStreet)

Emily S. Klein (@DrEmilySKlein)

Doctor_PMS (@Doctor_PMS)