Name changes should be easy

I renewed my ACS membership today, and, as I have done every year for several years in a row, I tried to update my title through the ACS Membership My Account page. No luck. Only a link to contact customer service.

In previous years I have decided that emailing customer service is too much hassle, and so, year after year, my membership card, mailings, and email newsletters are addressed to Mrs. Haas, rather than Dr. Haas. I have been Dr. Haas for 5 years. It is past time to get this stuff right. It is also way past time for the ACS to get with the 21st century and realize that names change. It's ridiculous to build a system that assumes otherwise.

As I said on Twitter: It's a good bet that any system that makes name changes difficult was designed or chosen by people who have never changed their names. It reflects a lack of diversity among decision-makers.

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Where does it end?

I listened to some of the inaugural episode of "Late Night with Chemjobber" last night. As a whole, I think it was a decent start. There were some technical issues (the audio cut out several times), some glitches (at one point Chemjobber accidentally hung up on the callers), and I get the feeling that nobody involved was practiced at radio or podcasting. All of that was understandable. For the most part, the topics were interesting or amusing, and (after a little dancing about deciding who should respond first) generated good discussions. I have one bone to pick with the show, though, and it's a big one: significant air time was given to a troll. 

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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.

The chemistry Nobel should go to a woman

It's Nobel Prize season, and everyone has their picks for which chemists might get a phone call from Sweden. All the names I've seen are of accomplished people who've done excellent, influential work. There's a problem with all these lists, though: I haven't seen a single woman on any of them. Not a damn one.1 Also notable: a general lack of brown/black people of either gender. What gives? Chemistry is not solely the domain of white and Asian men.

Folks on Twittter have been passing around the Slate article about the 50-year drought of female laureates in physics, but I think it's worth noting that the story is hardly any better in chemistry. I counted four women among the chemistry Nobel laureates: Marie Curie (1911), Irene Joliot-Curie (1935), Dorothy Hodgkin (1964), and Ada Yonath (2009). Did I miss any? I really hope so. Four is a pitiful number.

Are women really not doing Nobel-worthy work? Or do we not recognize their work with the same prestige?

Do we only recognize the super-women? Those who aren't just better, but leagues better, like Curie and Goeppert-Mayer?

When we speak of scientists, do we remember to count the women? Or do they become faceless and forgotten? Do we even listen when they speak?

So, with a few more hours to go, can we think of a few women who should be on the Nobel shortlist?

Update: I missed C&EN's list, but it also doesn't have any women. Still bummed.

1: Admittedly, I didn't check the much longer list of previous predictions from Everyday Science. I may have overlooked somebody.

More on career breaks

I have a few more things to say about how taking a break from science/academia could kill a woman's career.

First, the Executive Director of the Elsevier Foundation wrote a letter to the New York Times about retaining women in STEM (emphasis mine):

The work-life balance challenge faced by working women is particularly difficult for those in STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and math). Taking time off the research track can be a potentially career-ending decision for a woman, as she can lose valuable connections and funding.

Career brakes indeed. This letter prompted me to flip the issue and think about it from another side: what if men took more career breaks? The anecdata I have say that paternity leave (or, parental leave, in more generic terms) is becoming more common. Could we make it an expectation that parents will take breaks?

I have heard of a university (but now can't seem to find the article in which I read about it) that stops the tenure clock for new parents automatically. They have to ask for it not to stop, rather than the other way around. This is to encourage people to use the parental leave they have and make using it less stigmatized. It's a simple enough policy that might actually change academic culture. Parental leave is generally a few months, not multiple years, of course, but if we can change the attitudes about short breaks, I think it's possible to make longer breaks more acceptable, too.

Then there's this post at Chronicle Vitae about the proliferation of "quit lit," the genre of essays about leaving academia. I have read a number of quit lit pieces, but what strikes me about the topic this time around is that academia is a place people leave. Not take a break from, but leave for good. In that sense, it's not just women who might be unwelcome to return after time away, though men aren't likely to be accused of "leaning out" in the process.

I have to wonder how much of this attitude is related to the priesthood of science (and academia in general) and the ridiculous notion that "dedicated" scientists are single-minded in the pursuit of their work to the exclusion of other interests or obligations. I'm not sure and have no data to back it up, but I suspect they are linked.

Lastly, here are a few thoughts about working parents, moms in particular.

From an interview with Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo.:

I don't think women can have it all. I just don't think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you. We co-opted our families to help us. We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I'm not sure they will say that I've been a good mom. I'm not sure. And I try all kinds of coping mechanisms.

She says "you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother," but is her husband also presented with the same decisions about being a husband or a father? Maybe, but maybe not.

I also feel the need to invoke the Finkbeiner test on her interviewer, even though she's not a scientist.1 Until men are asked in equal proportion about how they balance family with work, we have got to stop interrogating women about it.

Finally, go read this post by dinahere about being the daughter of a working mother.

For the first 12 years of my life I don’t remember my father being there for my birthdays or attending a school play. He was busy saving lives in the OR, earning his share of the money and my mother was there for all of those occasions. So, why didn’t his absence count while hers did? Why were her absences so glaring while her presence so fading?

You know why. Women will never be able to have it all because what we think ‘all’ refers to has been pre-determined by a society that will always be stacked against us.

We can't keep blaming women when they don't measure up to an unachievable standard. The culture has got to change.

1: I'll just leave this right here, in case you haven't seen it yet.

Career brakes

From SciLogs:

When Adam Spencer asked if female scientists should consider taking an extended break of two or three years, the answer was a resounding “No.” “Science is really a fast-moving world,” [Suzanne] Cory said. “If you get out, even for three years, it becomes very difficult to get back in.

I have heard that position many times from both men and women, and I find it repugnant. It’s a “that’s the way it is” kind of attitude.

My grandmother was a music teacher before she was a mother. She’s told me if she could do it again, she would have become an accountant, but that’s not something girls did in those days. Girls could become teachers, nurses or secretaries. And then they could become mothers. Boys could become accountants or scientists or doctors or lawyers or whatever else they wanted. “That’s the way it is.”

Well that’s not the way it is now, and thank goodness. Thank goodness that somebody stepped up and said “This is what I want to do, and my gender doesn’t matter.” Thank goodness for the women who took the hard path – and the men who helped them – so that I could become a scientist. So that I could be treated as an equal.

Does my expertise have an expiration date? Does leaving the lab for more than a month make me forget how to be a scientist? Will my PhD turn into a pumpkin after midnight? No.

But “science is a fast-moving world” they insist. So what? We all had to learn how to get into that world once, so why can’t someone do it a second time? People also change fields and get into new topics they haven’t studied before. How is that any different from “getting into” the world of science after time away? No, the “fast-moving” argument strikes me as justification to leave things as they are and not bother to make it better.

It galls me to think that women are told that if they leaves, they will not be welcome back—that a career break soon becomes a career brake.

The panel in the article was discussing “possible solutions to fixing this leaky pipeline.” Their conclusion appears to be that women shouldn’t leave in the first place.1 But why on earth don’t we do something to support the women who want to come back?

1: Suzanne Cory:

“You are at a crucial age now. Don’t drop off.”

The panelists also said that women need more confidence. Tell me just how much confidence I’ll have after I’ve been told time and again that it’s damn hard to be a woman in science and you can’t leave because then you’ll have let down Womanhood and leaked out of the pipeline, and if you do go you won’t be welcome back because Reasons. And how far will that confidence get me when my words are ignored until spoken by a man? How confident do I need to be to get men to stop patting me on my head? How much confidence will I need to muster to get a seat at the table and be able to keep it?

I have sworn off Women in Science luncheons because I’m sick being told that the solution for the leaky pipeline is “Believe in yourself,” like if I just close my eyes and click my heels together, that will just fix everything.