Wednesday, June 19th 2013

Canopy Meg: Fancy Title, But Does She Still Have Authority?

A quick update on the Nature Research Center “reassignment” of Dr. Meg Lowman, AKA Canopy Meg. Jonathan Pishney, NRC Museum Communications Director, wrote me this morning:

Hello Kate,

After reading your Scientific American blog post Why Has Canopy Meg Been Ousted? I thought I should offer you some updated information that was not available when the News & Observer article came out. Dr. Meg Lowman’s Director, Nature Research Center title is becoming, effective July 1, Senior Scientist and Director, Academic Partnerships and Global Initiatives, which is a position of wider responsibility and prominence for the entire North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Meg has not been ousted. Rather, she has been elevated to a position of Museum-wide prominence to do what she does so well – thrive as a scientist, a communicator and a female leader.

A continuing member of the Museum’s management team, Meg’s new responsibility prominently recognizes her research and ambassadorial acumen, her oversight of our prestigious joint research and teaching appointments with three NC universities, as well as her appetite to continue to advance understanding of tree canopy environments with innovative citizen participation opportunities – regionally, nationally and internationally. Meg’s expanded responsibilities include her continuing to be a mentor to the Nature Research Center lab directors. And with a Museum-wide platform, Meg’s passion and skill to be a role model to girls and women in science will certainly also continue.

Meg sent me the following statement from a workshop she was conducting in Kansas in early June, after the N&O article came out:

The opportunity to be at the helm of the Museum’s Nature Research Center throughout its launch and inaugural year was an exceptionally rewarding personal and professional experience. Our board and new director, Dr. Emlyn Koster, have determined that other Museum components deserve equal prominence – through emphasis of a “one-Museum” strategy. We will therefore take the innovations of the NRC – the expertise, the engaging activities, university partnerships, and expansive reach – and leverage their benefit for the entire Museum. I have been asked to extend my NRC leadership into a Museum-wide position. I value Emlyn’s leadership and experience in the science museum field … I will be shifting gears, with optimism and enthusiasm as always, into this new professional challenge.

I hope that helps clarify Meg’s new role. But please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. As I understand it, Meg is on vacation until July 1, but I’m sure she would welcome a discussion with you upon her return.

There are a few things that upset me about this email. First, and I am so used to this form of sexism that I didn’t even register it until it was pointed out by a colleague, Mr. Pishney calls me “Kate” rather than “Dr. Clancy,” which is the much more common form of address in research circles when you don’t know someone. Especially when said female scientist just wrote a blog post about the treatment of another female scientist.

Second, this “reassignment” doesn’t appear to come with any new authority, no new people working under her, and certainly not a clear job description. Here is the most telltale sentence, to my mind:

“Meg’s expanded responsibilities include her continuing to be a mentor to the Nature Research Center lab directors.”

So her “expanded responsibilities” are that she is… doing what she did before? Except that mentorship is a pretty loose term. Are these lab directors reporting to her, or is she just taking them out for the occasional cup of coffee?

I responded to Mr. Pishney’s email requesting further clarification of how Canopy Meg will have any authority or people who report to her, and also asked what will happen to the several women who used to work for her. I’ll report back when I hear more.

Added 6/19/2013 3:20pm Central:

Mr. Pishney responded to my request for more detail on Dr. Lowman’s job description by saying he can get that to me after she returns from vacation. Which is July 1st. Which seems like an attempt to diffuse the situation by hoping it goes away in the intervening weeks. Here are both emails.


Dear Mr. Pishney,

Thanks for writing. I was aware of the new title, but your email still doesn’t provide me with any specifics. I would love to hear from any and all of you more precise wording of Dr. Lowman’s new job description, the authority she will hold there and who will report to her, and the fate of the several women who worked under her. When you can provide that, I can even post it to my blog.

Dr. Clancy

Mr. Pishney’s:

Understood. Sounds like we should be able to get back to you upon Meg’s return from vacation.

As for the scientists under Meg at the NRC, I can tell you their roles and employment here haven’t changed.


This still doesn’t tell me who the scientists will be reporting to who once worked for Dr. Lowman.

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