Every chemistry department I have studied or worked at has banned the use of contact lenses in teaching and research labs, but lab safety rule sheets and lists of guidelines don't often provide a lot of reasoning for the ban. I've long wondered: is all the caution necessary?Read More
Thoughts on chemistry, general science, and whatever else is banging around in my mind.
Geoff Marcy recently resigned from Berkeley after word got out that he’d been a serial sexual harasser of women in astronomy, that a Berkeley investigation concluded he had violated campus conduct policies, that the university had barely even slapped his wrist for it, and that the women in astrophysics (and the rest of the sciences) were sick of this same old crap.
Okay then. One down, more to go.
Marcy is not the last harasser. His resignation does not mark the eradication of this disease. There are more creeps out there. There are more people making science and unwelcome place. We’re not done.
Hearing about Marcy, his misdeeds, and his shield of privileges and achievements, I was reminded of another creep, one I could have called out, but didn’t. I feel guilty hearing about these cases. I know of sexual harassment in science that has gone unreported. Am I, by staying silent, complicit?
I will tell you the story, but I am not prepared to name names. I am not the victim, and I have no wish to bring her unwanted attention. I wasn’t even present when it happened, but when a person tells you of her harassment, you’d better believe her. It’s been over a year, but that doesn’t make his actions any less wrong.
Last year at a conference I attended, a graduate student, who I’ll call Annie, was groped by a senior professor, who I’ll call Jack. It was the last night of a week-long conference. There was a party, with dancing and booze. Jack was on the dance floor. Annie walked by him, and he grabbed her butt. As Annie’s companions emphasized, this was not a case of “accidentally” bumping into or brushing up against someone. This was a middle-aged man grabbing a young woman in a clearly sexual way. Annie and her companions left the party immediately, unwilling to risk more time in an unwelcome space.
I heard about the incident moments later from Annie and the other junior scientists (grad students & post-docs) who had seen it happen. My initial response was shock: He did what?! My next thought was discouragement and disappointment. It had been a pretty great week: I’d learned about exciting science, had some great conversations, and met some delightful people. But Jack’s inability to keep his hands to himself tarnished my impression of the conference. And – even though it didn’t happen to me, and I hadn’t been in the room – it made me feel unwelcome.
We didn’t report Jack. We talked about it, the group of us. Who would we tell? Jack wasn’t just an attendee; he chaired the conference. The best we could foresee was one of our advisors just saying ‘steer clear.’ So we said nothing. The conference was over, anyway. What was the harm?
The harm is that Annie is almost certainly not the first woman Jack has grabbed. She probably won’t be the last. Annie and Jack are at different institutions in different cities, but we’re all in the same field. We’re likely to cross paths again. Even if those of us who know about his harassment of Annie warn others away, Jack just becomes another open secret.
Jack made our group feel unwelcome at the conference party. Who else is he pushing out? What if Jack is harassing women in his own department? Who is listening to them?
You might say “It’s not so bad. He just grabbed her butt, it’s not like he really did any damage.” Except it is that bad. Someone is getting pushed out every time. And it’s damaging for every single woman. It shouldn’t have to take four women multiple years to get a man to keep his hands to himself.
Jack has a name, and a home department, and a publication list as long as my arm. Jack has a reputation and a position of privilege that far outweighs mine, or Annie’s. I can’t fight that battle right now, even though I feel guilty for letting another creep skate by. So the guilt buzzes in my ear when I hear these stories, and it reminds me that I need to do better next time – and that, sadly, there is likely to be a next time.
Whenever I'm going to teach in a new classroom, I like to scout it out ahead of time. I want to know if it has a chalkboard or a whiteboard so I can bring the right writing implements. I want to make sure it has enough seats for my class because the classroom capacity according to the registrar and the number of chairs actually present in the room may be quite different. I want to get a sense of the room: find out if it has chair desks or tables, whether late arrivals will disrupt class from the front or sneak in the back, and what the projector situation is. I also like to know that I can just plain find the room! If I can, I go inside and just stand in the front, getting used to the size of the space and the arrangement of the chairs. I like to do this for public speaking, too – I can get over whatever anxiety the foreignness of the room might give me and be more at ease in the now-familiar space when the time comes to talk.
Last week I wandered around campus getting to know the buildings and tracking down the classrooms I'm scheduled to teach in. But I didn't just count the chairs, or decide whether I'll need chalk or dry erase markers. I noted which rooms had furniture that could be piled against the door, which way the doors opened, which rooms had windows into the hallway, and which exits to use if I had to protect my students from a gunman.Read More
Back in January, @realscientists (I believe it was @upulie at the time) was talking about nanotechnology and mentioned the growing knowledge about hazards:
For example, it was only some time after we started working with carbon nanotubes that it became apparent that we should introduce protocols for working with them. This is something we should think about for a lot of our research
To which I replied:
It was only some time after we started working with _____ that it became apparent that we should introduce safety protocols.
In that blank, insert whatever amazing new thing (not just chemicals) that is being hailed as a breakthrough. For starters, consider cyanide, arsenic, lead, and radium, materials that were in common use for their wonderful properties, but that turned out to have toxic consequences, as showcased in the recent American Experience episode based on Deborah Blum's The Poisoner's Handbook.Read More