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!



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,


Moodlog@headspace, @worrywatchapp,


#BlackHistoryMonth & the importance of mentors. #DiversityJC recap


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.

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!





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!

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.