Tuesday, February 26, 2008

C is for Confrontation

Last week, one of the staff members in the department, a woman about my age with whom I've had a friendly relationship, sent an email around to the other women staff members plus me, inviting us all to participate in a "Women of XYZ Department" bake sale to raise money for a doodleybob for the department.

Ignoring the complexities of fundraising in this way (like, where will the money actually GO? I suspect it will have to route through the fundraising arm of the university as a donation, and from whom, and how would we ensure it actually was used for a doodleybob, and who made the decision that we needed a doodleybob, etc. etc.) the idea of "Women of XYZ" + bake sale was mildly unsettling to me, because it sort of perpetuates certain gender stereotypes (namely: it's a woman's role to bake things for the benefit of others) that I normally try to eschew.

So I mulled this over for a while, and finally decided to diplomatically reply to the email with my concern.

Largely unbeknownst to me, there was some backstory involved that made her already defensive about said bake sale. The woman responded to my email to note that I was not really included in Women of XYZ, it was just certain undergraduate students that she'd been talking to, that she wasn't forcing me to participate, and that I must be some kind of sexist to think there are any gender stereotypes in that activity since after all plenty of women enjoy baking and there is nothing wrong with that.

I should have just left it there, but I was so rattled by her response that I reworded my concern in a reply, you know, just in case it was a misunderstanding (which I should have known it wasn't). The situation quickly devolved: me trying to reroute the discussion to explain my viewpoint while letting her know I wasn't attacking her or the doodleybob or the general concept of a bake sale, and her telling me it was none of my business and I shouldn't pick apart somebody else's idea and by the way if I'm so smart why don't I take on some projects of my own and not waste her time with my narrow-minded issues.


I do have to have a functioning working relationship with this woman, so I'd like some resolution towards that, and while I think that we can't resolve the situation just the two of us (certainly not via email and probably not face-t0-face either) I'd be willing to engage the university ombusdman to meet with us and help us put this behind us. But that seems like a lot of effort to go through over some brownies and whatnot. Yes? No?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

People who are not my problem.

A senior member of my department is keen on bringing in students and postdocs from developing countries and the like. He's passionate about international development issues in our discipline, and he's really supportive of nondomestic students and scientists. At any time, he has a LOT of students and visiting researchers in his group, many of them through collaborative programs designed to provide educational and training opportunities to scientists/technologists from certain countries.

But he's also reeeeeeeeally busy with some administrative responsibilities and other work things. I get the vibe that he doesn't really have as much time to devote to these students and guest researchers as he thinks he does.

He has a particular postdoc that he brought in on some semi-open funding (that is, the funding was for the person and not for a particular research project) where they then had to brainstorm a research project for the postdoc to work on. The project they came up with requires using some complex software that I use in some of my research - software that, in order to figure out, I attended an 80-hour short course on AND spent many hours fiddling with myself, and still I am not completely fluent in it.

Last semester the postdoc asked if he could borrow my copy of the software. I immediately worried that I was going to get sucked into teaching him how to use it, which I don't have the time (or expertise, really) to do. But I loaned him my software to try out, and then the Sr. guy bought him a copy to use himself once they decided to go forward.

The other day the postdoc sent me an email saying he was "having some problems with the software" and could we meet to discuss. Again . . . I think the guy is kind of in over his head and I don't want him to think I can (or should) teach him to use it, but, I'm a nice person and I like to help people out when I can, so I said sure, let's talk about it.

He came by my office. This is what he said, "I need to know how to make it go."


So, I said, "Your installation CD came with the instruction manual, have you looked at that?"

He said, "What? Oh. No. I haven't looked at it."


So, I said, "Ah, you should probably look at it. It gives you some details on how to run the software. Also, last time, I gave you some of the exercises that we went through in the training session I attended. Did you try any of them?"

He said, "What? Oh. No. I haven't looked at them."


Okay, look. I would like to be helpful. I don't want to be that person, who won't help out a fellow researcher because they're too busy or think too highly of themselves or anything, and I certainly don't want to annoy the senior researcher.

But, this guy is not my postdoc and so I don't want to invest a huge amount of time giving him the background, to be able to do a project that, given his current LACK of background on this particular point, I would have advised against, if anybody had asked me. And I don't get the sense that I can be all that helpful by investing a small amount of time.

Blah. :(

Friday, February 08, 2008

I . . . but . . .

A recent survey by the NIH paints a pretty bleak picture for women in academia. Among my numerous responses to that article was a great feeling of relief that my disciplinary research and the NIH don't really have any common ground.

But this was disturbing:

"Women are going to have a harder time than men succeeding" at every stage of the tenure-track academic career [according to Phoebe Leboy, president-elect of the Association of Women in Science]. Leboy points to data made available by the NIH that showed women lagging behind men in terms of grants per investigator, dollars per grant, success in getting grants renewed, and responsibility for big budget center grants. And because success is so closely tied to funding, particularly in academic health centers, says Leboy, all of these things mean that women are having a harder time achieving tenure than men.


Let me first say that from my limited knowledge of my colleagues' work (from their vitae and from personal communication), my own stats are very much in line with my guy counterparts ( . . . well, now I think they are. . . I know two years ago I wouldn't have said that, but it was because two years ago I was still deep in the midst of assistant professor angst).

I don't think this makes me unusual in any way. I also don't actually personally know ANY women who haven't gotten tenure, though I know some men that haven't (but of course I know way more men that have gotten tenure than women that have, because I just know more men in the first place). So even though I keep seeing reports like these, I've never seen it or felt it in my own life so it always seems really bizarre.

Am I blind?

Is my own (average) success with papers and grants and dollars actually extraordinary?


Is there something wrong with NIH-related disciplines that isn't wrong with mine?