Wednesday, July 6th 2016

Take the damn rollback

Dear junior faculty with aging parents, impending adoptions or pregnancies, medical issues or research setbacks,

Take the damn rollback (or stop your tenure clock, or whatever you call it at your institution). Stop worrying, stop losing sleep, stop hemming and hawing. Stop ruminating on Professor Crustypants and whether he’ll have a problem with your rollback. Stop wondering if you will be denied a promotion.

Here’s the thing. If you are a person of color, identify as female or a non-cis gender identity, or have any number of other identities that stray from Albert Einstein’s*, there are plenty of ways through the course of your career in which you will be discriminated against. It will happen. So rather than let that crap seep into your personal life and make it hard for you to choose elder care/bear a child/whatever, take the damn rollback. It’s not that your fears may not be real, it’s that you can’t let them affect every decision you make.

Play the long game. Play the game that means, in ten years, you’ll have the healthy relationships and thriving lab that you always dreamed of. Play the game in a way where your institution is the institution it should be rather than the one that it is. If the institution turns out to fail you, it would have failed you at some other point – better to know now and figure out how to deal with it.

Play the game so that you can be asking the questions you care about, doing the research that is important to you, over the next several decades. If this means a dip in productivity right now, so be it. Good institutions recognize human reproductive life cycles as a normal part of the life span of a good worker.

Play the game so that the people who come after you, the students you mentor and postdocs you chat with in the line for the bathroom at conferences, will have a better work climate. Be one of the people who makes things better, rather than tells her mentees to suck it up because that’s how it is.

Just take the damn rollback.

Love and kisses,


*If you will look like Albert Einstein when you’re old or you look like him now, be a good ally and not only take the rollback, but don’t be like these dudes and actually use it for its intended purpose. Don’t mess this one up for us.

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Monday, April 20th 2015

Gaslighting STEM

Gaslighting Duo Ceci and Williams are at it again. They’ve published another piece saying there is nothing to worry about in STEM in terms of institutional climate that might be limiting women’s careers or progress. Rather than link to their own op-ed or not-exactly-hard-hitting pieces in mainstream media, I’ll point my readers to dissenting perspectives offered by several smart colleagues:

The Myth About Women in Science? Bias in the study of gender inequality in STEM by Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos at Other Sociology

Be careful saying “The Myth About Women in Science” is solved by Dr. Marie-Claire Shanahan at Boundary Vision

“A Surprisingly Welcome Atmosphere” by Dr. Matthew R. Francis at Slate

#StillaProblem II: academic science is (still) sexist, Storify curated by Dr. Karen E. James


Wednesday, October 1st 2014

Ninety minutes


I’m going to share some vignettes from this week, because I am feeling disjointed. Each of them only took ninety minutes.

  1. I’m in a lunch meeting with fellow faculty who have won a prestigious campus award for our research. When we begin to discuss what we excellent researchers should do as a group, the administrator in attendance says that our job should really be to produce “grateful alumni.” He means donors, of course. And when I push him on this, and say I am uncomfortable with the idea that my research should ever be in the service of producing grateful alumni, he backtracks and claims that he meant our teaching. But this is a meeting about research, about researchers who have won awards for research excellence. This backtracking does not go unnoticed in the room. This uncomfortable lunch takes ninety minutes.
  2. I was a panelist at the Academic Freedom Forum on Monday. I am one of several people who share that, because of their identities as a woman or underrepresented minority or both, that their experience of this university and its supposed protections of academic freedom are quite different from the white men in the room. The concept that there are two (at least) Universities of Illinois starts to emerge – north and south of Green, but also the differences among male and female, black and white. Humanities versus the sciences. Tenured versus not. Of course they have always been there. But I’ve never been so clear on my place in the hierarchy as I was in the ninety minutes I was on that panel. I knew exactly where my identities and political positions put me, and I think everyone else was feeling it too. I knew who was in my posse… and who wasn’t.
  3. A mental toughness coach was scheduled to visit the University of Illinois, and I contacted him to see if he would meet with our roller derby league and offer his perspective. He gave us ninety minutes of his time, after we expected someone so famous to only be able to give us twenty to thirty. He says a lot of things that resonate with me, about leading a mission-driven life and being loyal to your own mission. He talks about finding success when letting go of an achievement-oriented perspective. Towards the end, he says (and I’m paraphrasing as closely as I can): “People say the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but the grass is greener where you water it.” And I was swept up in that moment by a number of intense emotions.

I have been trying to water the grass, but this grass needs a lot of water. It needs a whole fucking irrigation system, and the people who have the resources to build that system are exactly the ones diverting the water. They look over the fence at our peer institutions and think their way must be better, so they mimic them, never once looking at those of us creating a human chain of buckets, desperately trying to water the grass they have been neglecting. I feel community among my bucket brigade, but I also feel faintly ridiculous. We are tending the lawn as those in power are discussing whether to re-landscape the whole thing. I wonder what it would take to tend this grass properly and help it flourish. I wonder if we could ever get those in power to see what we see.

Do we keep watering?

Do we build our own irrigation system with whatever resources we can muster?

Do we find our own patch?

I don’t know. I don’t know.