Tag: chilly climate

The Ultimate Guide to Being a Gracious (Non-creeper) Conference Attendee

An important post went up yesterday over at the Tenure, She Wrote blog on the topic of microaggressions towards female scientists at conferences. If you’ve never heard of microaggressions before, a quick overview is available at Wikipedia. These behaviours create a toxic atmosphere, a chilly climate, and drive women and other minorities away in droves. It’s often a long pattern of experiences caused by many different individuals and that is what makes it so hard to call out. The examples provided in the above blog post were very blatant, but no one stepped forward to stop it; not the organizers and not the moderators. In fact, the two women who were the targets of the behaviours banded together in an attempt to support each other through the ordeal. We shouldn’t expect the victims of the behaviours to change them.

Below are a few thoughts that I’ve had over the years of both organizing and attending many conferences over a span of 20 years.

1) Organizing a conference is a lot of work. Be appreciative of the efforts of your hosts. Not everything will be perfect, but most things will not make or break a conference. If you have organizational or safety concerns, bring those to the attention of your hosts in a firm and polite way. Don’t wait until the end of the conference, because at that point the problem often can’t be effectively addressed.

2) Encourage the conferences that you attend to have an official policy on civil, professional, and non-harassing behaviour. The past several years have seen massive exposé stories on a large number of conferences that had systemic problems involving harassing behaviour that might have been avoided had such policies been in place. If you are a big-wig in the community, an effective way to encourage conferences to implement a policy is described by John Scalzi. A recent survey of conferences in the area of Artificial Life done informally in June is interesting in that it shows how few conferences have a policy. Do the conferences that you attend have such a policy? Can you advocate for one?

3) One of the great things about conferences is catching up with friends and seeing what’s new in their professional and personal lives. Thanks for asking about my partner and my kids and how they are doing, I’m happy to share updates and news about my life. I do not however appreciate inquiries about who is looking after my kids so that I can attend the conference (I guess I’m a bad mother and/or a crappy scientist who doesn’t take her work seriously), implied judgements about my spouse’s ability to care for our children (he does not babysit his own children by the way, he PARENTS them!). These lines of questioning make me feel like an outsider who doesn’t belong. When four people ask me this in quick succession it’s demoralizing.

4) Be aware of personal space boundaries. Unless we are besties don’t hug me, don’t greet me with the kisses on both cheeks, don’t rub my back, arms, or shoulders, and sure as hell don’t pull or tweak my hair.

5) Be aware of power dynamics. Use your powers for good, not evil. To believe that the undergraduate who is new to the field has the same influence or power as a senior PI is absurd. Advocate and speak up for those who need it. Be an ally. Actions speak louder than words.

6) You are a professional. Act like one! I have a long memory; what you said or did reflects poorly on you, your department, your colleagues, your institution, and our professional society, especially if you’ve been getting away with it for a while. Don’t use a professional setting as your dating and/or hook-up pool. Hitting on or flirting with students at the poster session is inappropriate. Propositioning post-docs for sex at the conference banquet is harassment. These are not misunderstandings; they are predatory behaviour.

7) Help others network. Remember what it was like to attend your first conference? Introduce people to each other and be kind to everyone. You never know when collaborations and great ideas could spring to life!

8) Take the opportunity to educate others about some of the above issues. Most people will be receptive and invested in making the conference better for all attendees.

Science Moms

There have been some great articles on-line this week talking about the realities of being a female and/or Mom in science and technology.

Meg Duffy tackles the logistics of pumping breast milk at work and sending bottles to daycare in today’s post over at Dynamic Ecology . This is a practical post about an important topic that doesn’t get talked about a lot. I give Meg props for making this work. I found that after my kids started daycare we had to switch to formula during the day due to a lack of supports for pumping/breast feeding on my campus. I just wasn’t willing to pump in a nasty bathroom stall and probably would have gotten bizarre looks if I had asked about a lactation room.

An awesome article posted yesterday by Rebecca Schuman in The Chronicle of Higher Education on how Academe Is a Lousy Family Planner. Rebecca has articulated very well how I felt as a graduate student starting a family. Looking back I’m amazed that I was so strong (or naïve) to start my family during that phase of my career. It was tough, but I have no regrets and the timing worked out exceptionally well for me. Start your family when you are ready; do not let the academy dictate your reproductive choices.

Jessica Valenti has an interview in theguardian with Anita Sarkeesian about GamerGate and how it has changed her life. The comments kind of say it all and illustrate the point of the article quite effectively.

I’m also pleased to have taken part in @EdenHennessey’s display that highlights the challenges faced by women in STEM. The #DistractinglySexist exhibit is on display @LaurierLibrary for the next month.

Book Review: I Know How She Does It, Laura Vanderkam, 2015

I’m a regular reader of Laura’s blog and have read several of her other books and was therefore looking forward to reading her newest book I Know How She Does It .

The book is essentially an analysis of time logs of successful women and a discussion of successful strategies for living a fulfilling life. Time tracking is a very effective way of seeing where your time goes; during the day you record what you did with your time in 30 minute blocks. Laura defined successful women as those who earned over $100,000/year and had at least one child under 18 living at home with them. The book is therefore ideally geared towards women in this particular situation, but several of the insights are applicable to everyone. We are definitely talking about first-world problems here.

The target audience for this book is women like me who are driven in their careers and who also have a family life. Many of us want “to have it all” and are frustrated by the old scripts that tell us that “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”, that you can be a good mother or a good employee, but not both, or that you should maintain strict separation between home and work life if you want to succeed. These narratives aren’t helpful and perhaps aren’t really true. They also induce a lot of guilt in women that doesn’t seem to be a hang-up that men have.

One of the take away messages from reading Laura’s book that I liked was that instead of talking about work-life balance or work-life blend, Laura is using the metaphor of a mosaic for how you spend your time. I really like this way of thinking about time because it allows you to see that fitting in the pieces of your life is like solving a puzzle, but it is a puzzle that is flexible and allows you to come up with your own final image and way of fitting the tiles of your life together. I think that these ideas of flexibility and autonomy are really key realizations to take away from this book. Many women I think get stuck in a false narrative that work happens from 9-5 p.m. and that the rest of your life has to be squeezed into the margins. This really isn’t sustainable or realistic, especially if you are a knowledge worker. She also spends some time debunking the myth that going part-time or “leaning out” always relieves these pressures.

Another thing that was fascinating about the book was that you get to see how other successful women are spending their time. Looking at other women’s time logs is rather voyeuristic, but can lead to the generation of new ideas or strategies to try out in your own life. I also like Laura’s approach to thinking about time on the scale of 168 hours (1 week) as opposed to getting bogged down in the daily crunch. While particular days may be work heavy, others are full of time spent with family; if we were only to look at things on a daily basis we would have a very skewed view of reality. We live in a society that brags about overwork and sees it as a badge of honour, but the average hours worked per week by the women in Laura’s sample was 35.

In Chapter 3 Laura discusses some strategies that successful women use in order to live full lives. These include split shifts, telecommuting, planning based on weeks not days, and retooling weekends. While these are ideas that have been bandied about before, Laura provides examples of how real women use each of these strategies effectively to make their lives easier.

Chapter 4 is focused on strategies that can be used to consciously design a better work life. These include obvious things like planning ahead, focusing on real work with maximal payoffs rather than merely keeping active with “busy work”, surrounding yourself with good people, and building in slack to your schedule. Laura also recognizes that some workplaces are still suck in the mentality that if a worker is burning the midnight oil then they must be a loyal, committed, hard worker. In my experience this often means that the worker doesn’t manage their time or projects effectively and has been slacking off during some of their work hours by using social media, web surfing, or playing MineSweeper. She makes the argument to be “strategically seen” at work given these preconceived notions of what it means to be a hard worker (i.e. face time is all important).

In Chapter 5, Laura offers some tips on the home front, with a focus on parenting and encouragement to re-examine mornings, evenings, family meals, and to take time to play and really be present when you are spending time with your kids. The section on outsourcing was incredibly funny to read. Several women in the study had hired housekeeping services, but then would frantically pre-clean before the cleaning crew arrived. She also makes the important point that child-care is not one size fits all and that what works for your co-workers may not work for your situation.

Often the thing that falls by the wayside during this work/life two step is self-care. Encouragingly, Laura found that during the course of a week, most women were getting enough sleep and were pretty good about exercising. Sometimes finding “extra” time is all about really examining how you are currently spending your 168 hours per week. Blinding browsing Pinterest or checking email represents “found time” that you could get back if you became more conscious of these automatic habits that have no real payoff.

Chapter 9 is all about mastering the tiles of the mosaic and offers recommendations like learning to better estimate how long things will actually take you to do, using travel time, multitasking when possible, taking advantage of unexpected free time, and taking a step back every once and a while to look at the whole picture.

There is a lot of creativity on display here in the tips and tricks that have been gleaned from other women’s schedules and there are a lot of practical things for you to try in your own work/family/personal life. I especially liked Laura’s focus on flexibility, breaking outdated rules and ways of thinking about work and home life, and the metaphor of the mosaic. The book will be most useful and will speak to working moms with children at home, but is a valuable read for anyone looking to fit all of the pieces of their life together in a format that makes them happy and fulfilled.

Dressing for Success in Science as a Woman

When I was a little girl I apparently wore dresses; there are pictures in the photo album to prove it. As I got older I ditched the dresses and it was mostly about comfort. I hate nylon pantyhose and tights passionately and in the late 70’s/early 80’s the fashion rules of the day dictated that bare legs with dresses or skirts were a fashion faux pas. Maybe it’s because I’ve only worn cheap versions of these monstrosities, but the itching and pulling is enough to drive me insane. Once in the lab I cut up a pair of pantyhose to serve as a makeshift filtration device; it was immensely satisfying! From that point on I was firmly in the pants camp. Pants are also considerably warmer and you don’t need to worry about accidently flashing people when you wear them (take note Britney Spears ). You can easily run wild throughout the neighbourhood catching crayfish, tadpoles, and avoiding snapping turtles while wearing pants. The only time that I wear a dress or a skirt these days are at weddings or fancy dinners. From this perspective wearing pants was a personal choice. Since starting my scientific career it’s also been a practical and necessary one.

When I first started working in a lab, it didn’t make sense to wear skirts or dresses (or shorts for that matter) from a health and safety perspective. All of the labs that I’ve worked in have required the use of personal protective gear including a lab coat. That lab coat is there to protect you, but it can only do so much. If you have bare legs exposed underneath your lab coat due to wearing a dress, skirt, or shorts you are placing yourself at risk. Don’t think that it can happen to you? I have a co-worker who used to think that way until she accidentally spilled phenol on herself in the lab. Many of the experiments that I do are messy and it doesn’t make financial sense to destroy “nice” clothes if it can be avoided. The same goes for shoes. We aren’t allowed to wear open toed shoes or sandals in the lab for the same reason. When running around doing experiments I’ll go with a pair of sneakers or loafers every time. This is also a keen survival strategy for when the zombie apocalypse occurs and making a speedy get-away will be important. That being said, I’m sure that Dr. Isis will hold her own regardless of what fabulous shoes she happens to be wearing that day!

In addition to the practical reasons that inform my clothing choices, there are larger societal and cultural factors that influence my professional wardrobe. I was reminded about this topic by today’s post on Tenure, She Wrote. And here we get to the sticky point; the double standard when it comes to how female and male scientists dress for work and how they are perceived based on what they are wearing. It’s a tricky tight rope to walk and for me personally takes up way too much of my mental energy most mornings as I decide what to wear to work. Judging by previous blog posts on the topic, I’m not alone. A quick Google search on the topic turned up a pretty amusing article from 1998 on the ScienceCareers website about a graduate student looking for a professional outfit. More recently the topic has been covered by a super post by My Laser Boyfriend  which outlines some great fashion options that are realistic and tasteful. Neurotic Physiology also had a good post about the double standards of dress for men and women and how to deal with long hair in the lab. The Singular Scientist discusses how female scientists are portrayed on TV and in film  and on difficult conversations that she’s had to have with trainees about inappropriate clothing choices. A more academic analysis of this double standard can be found in this Tenure, She Wrote post.

It would be great to live in a world where your fashion choices didn’t influence what people think about your competence or abilities as a scientist, but as some of the posts above can attest, we do not live in that world. At each stage of my career I have made a conscious effort to dress more professionally based on the adage to “dress for the job you want” and I feel that so far it has served me well. I’m at the point in my career where I’m feeling comfortable and secure enough in my position that I can start to make some bolder fashion choices. Up until now my professional clothing choices have been very conservative. This past year I made the revolutionary decision to add scarves into my outfit rotations! With that in mind, here are some links to websites that I’ve found useful for getting some ideas about what components are useful to have in a professional wardrobe:

1) Corporette

2) Capitol Hill Style

3) Franish

4) Does my bum look 40 in this?

Some people may think that having an interest in fashion, dressing stylishly, and being a successful female scientist are mutually exclusive. They are not. I count as role models several strong women who are excellent scientists as well as very snazzy dressers. There may be hope for me yet…

A Modest Proposal to Conference Organizers

Most of the academic conferences that I attend take place during the summer months from May to August. This means that many people are hard at work during the upcoming months putting together conference programmes. Having organized a conference myself I know how much work this requires and I have the utmost respect for these volunteers who work tirelessly so that we can have a valuable experience. This task includes organizing events that are research related such as symposia, keynotes, plenary sessions, etc. It also involves organizing events that are more social in nature that allow for networking and the development of new acquaintances and the renewal of long-standing friendships. My overall experiences at conferences have been mostly positive, but over the years I have witnessed or been privy to inappropriate and unprofessional behaviours and when these occur they diminish my enjoyment of meetings. In the past I was often silent about these incidents as there were large power differentials at play and I felt I was at a vulnerable stage of my academic career. Now when I see these things happen I point them out. In some cases this involves challenging the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours of colleagues and in other cases it involves speaking directly to organizing committee members or society representatives in order to effect changes that remove systemic bias. I have been attending academic conferences since 1998 and present my biggest pet-peeves below. Wherever possible I offer solutions to these challenges.

1) Our goal should be to have a professional conference. Knowing that people sometimes act unprofessionally despite this fact, a written, clear, code of conduct and repercussions for unprofessional conduct should be generated, made widely available, and enforced. This includes mechanisms for the safe reporting of unprofessional conduct and transparency of these processes and the outcomes. Conferences should have a zero tolerance policy for harassing, threatening, or disruptive behaviour. This provides a means of addressing overly aggressive questioners/hecklers to addressing incidents of sexual harassment and ensures that conferences are safe spaces for everyone.

 2) Child-care, elder-care, and accompanying persons should not be an afterthought or receive only lip service. People have complex lives; do the best that you can to recognize and accommodate this fact. At the very least, do not put up additional barriers that have to be overcome in order for scientists to attend and fully participate. For example, does your venue have a lactation room? If you have ever had to breastfeed your child or pump milk in a filthy toilet stall you will understand why this is important.

 3) When picking your venues for events, please think about safety and accessibility. Are you forcing people to choose between networking and personal safety? I especially dread the late night walks in unfamiliar surroundings from the pub back to the hotel that seem to be a staple of academic conferences. Can everyone fully participate in all of your events if they wanted to? Are you using older buildings that lack ramps or elevators? That networking session in the loud bar is a nightmare for anyone who has a hearing impairment. Does your venue have gender-neutral washrooms or washrooms that can accommodate those who require assistance from an attendant? Are your food and beverage options meeting the dietary needs of your participants?

 4) Ask yourself if the speakers/presenters at your conference are reflective of the diversity of your profession and professional society. If they aren’t then you need to try harder. You’re a scientist; use your creative problem solving abilities to fix it.

5) Are your registration and accommodation costs reasonable and varied? Can you offer discounts in exchange for volunteering? Please make an effort to remove financial barriers to attendance. This is especially important for student and post-doc participation.

6) Do you have any hazing rituals that are disguised as “hallowed traditions”? Perhaps it’s well past time to rethink those and end them.

 

The Hidden Curriculum: Sexist Shirts have no place in Science (or anywhere else for that matter)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the hidden curriculum in university science departments. This is the idea that what and how we teach our students imparts information in addition to the content that we are delivering.
My parents both completed high school and then directly entered the workforce. I was the first person in my immediate family to go to university. As an undergraduate student I spent a significant amount of time working out the expectations that faculty members had and how that translated into the marks that I earned in my courses. When I started doing a fourth year research thesis in the lab I discovered that I had a new bunch of expectations that I first had to figure out before I could even dream about meeting or exceeding them. I am not talking here about learning content or scientific concepts; I am talking about uncovering the unvoiced and not obvious rules of how to be a successful scientist. This professionalization process is fraught with challenge and danger for many of us. In some cases it is because our very presence in the academy challenges what was formerly the status quo. We will therefore find it difficult to plug in to a network of people who can help us to navigate what are to us uncharted waters. I often found it difficult to know what questions I should even be asking, let alone how to go about finding the answers. As educators it is well worth asking ourselves not only what content we are delivering, but whether we are intentionally or unintentionally delivering other messages as well.

As a topical example, a cool topic in today’s news is the Rosetta mission which represents a significant scientific achievement. This represents the first time that a probe has been landed on a comet. A series of YouTube videos are available on the topic. One of these is produced by Nature. It’s an exciting news story and is certainly cause for celebration as it’s been 10 years in the making. The money shot in the video pertaining to the hidden curriculum starts at 1 minute 24 seconds. This is when the interviewer starts talking to Matt Taylor who is a Rosetta Project Scientist. At first it’s kind of cool because Matt is showing off his awesome tattoo of the landing module and Rosetta. That’s pretty awesome because that tells me that scientists are just like anybody else and we can have tattoos and be successful and gainfully employed. Unfortunately, his shirt sends another message. I can’t listen to his content (what I’m guessing he’s trying to teach me) because I’m too blindsided by the other message he’s delivering. His sexist attire that is objectifying women tells me that I wouldn’t be welcomed as a member of his team or that I wouldn’t be taken seriously or respected.

I don’t need a Rosetta stone to translate that message, it’s coming through loud and clear.