I’m in a statistics graduate program. I specialize in statistical graphics and data visualization. Today, a fellow grad student asked me a question about how to show some model results in a different way. I made a few suggestions, to which he replied, “That’s actually a really good idea.” The bone I have to pick here is with the word “actually.” Why qualify “That’s a really good idea” with “actually”? It just diminishes my good idea (in a field I’m almost an expert in) and makes it seem surprising that it came from my brain! I like this other student, and I don’t think he was actively trying to diminish me and my ideas. However, this is a microaggression that I face frequently in academia and I find it extremely frustrating. I’m tired of my colleagues sounding so surprised when I have a good idea!
I have been working on the same project with my (male) advisor for over a year and there have been many setbacks. I was blamed for being slow and making mistakes, when in fact, I was the one who would bring up his mistakes but it seems like he never remembers this. He brought in a male grad student to help me, and of course, no progress is made for months. The male grad student likes to sit in meetings, and engage in math-speak with my advisor while I sit in silence, because I am cut off mid sentence every time I try to say something. When the grad student and I are to collaborate, he wants to go for walks or get coffee rather than actually doing the work. He is curious about my life story, whether I “like” anyone, what I like to cook, etc.
Irritated, I decided to avoid the grad student, took a breather, and ended up fixing up the code for the project and got decent results. My advisor’s response was “See? I told you [grad student’s name here] is useful.” I can’t shake this feeling of resentment, and regret. Why is it so hard to believe that I am not an idiot? I feel like I cannot escape from this stupid box that I’ve been put in, completely undermining everything I do.
A word to professors who have genuine intentions to mentor. We look up to you, so please care, and try to notice how hard we work and all the substantial contributions we make.
In my first year of university, I was in a lab in which you had to do the experiment and turn in answer questions at the end. Every week, my lab partner (who was just taking the class for credit) would copy my answers and each week he would somehow get 10% more than me on every assignment. One day, I was finally over it and when I didn’t let him he called me a b*****. The next lab we had, I was really frazzled because my lab partner was being rude (as he wasn’t over last week) and when the lab coordinator came over, he saw me and said “Sweetheart, why don’t you sit this lab out.”
In the mid to late 80’s, when I was a graduate students machine shops routinely had posters and calendars of half naked women posted in the foreman’s office. During a neutron scattering run at Brookhaven National Lab, I walked into the machine shop to request a part for a sample holder, only to see pictures of female genitalia. It was embarrassing in ways that I could not explain to all my male colleagues-in fact it was too embarrassing for me to even bring up!!!!
AND I had to go back time and time again to make sure th part was right.
I am currently an Assistant Professor at a great university in a large coastal cosmopolitan city in the US. But before this, I was at a smaller university in a rainy part of the country, and I was harassed and bullied terribly by one faculty in my dept. I was so naive, because I was 34 years old, and I didn’t think women at that age could be harassed. I know, it sounds ridiculous. But the typical scenario is a 50 yo male harassing 20 year olds, so it never even occurred to me that I could be a target. I had also just gotten married, and its a small dept, so everyone knew I was married. And again I know this sounds so naive, but I just didn’t think anyone would be making those advances and acting that way to someone who was clearly married.
It was without a doubt the worst experience of my professional life. It prompted me to leave the department, and it took some time before I could think clearly, and come out from the fog of depression.
One of my older male coworkers routinely calls me “young lady” and constantly interrupts me wanting to chat while I am working, including when I have headphones in and am clearly busy (were not even on the same project). Today, said coworker who I have repeatedly told I have a pending deadline came in 45 minutes early to instant message me to ask to talk.
Him: “You’ve been cold with me, very short, have I done something wrong?”
Me thinking: Cupcake, it’s not my job to make you feel special and be ‘warm’ towards you, I’m here to work and I have a deadline
Me: “Oh no, I just get in the zone and I have a tough time getting back in when I’m interrupted.
I am so frustrated that, as a woman in engineering, my coworker attempts to guilt trip me into not doing my job to stroke his fragile ego.
A fax came for you
Six years ago, in 2010, I was doing my third internship of my computer engineering program. I had actually been recruited due to excellent performance on my previous internship (with a different group in the same organization), but the man who recruited me had unfortunately changed jobs before my start date. So I didn’t meet my new supervisor until the first day. Let’s call him Alan.
It’s also worth mentioning here that out of the entire team of 30 or so people there was only one other woman, a technical writer. I was the only female in the engineering side of the group.
Anyway, Alan and I didn’t really get along (we were certainly not “friends”) but I just tried to stay professional and do my work. Well, one day Alan came over to my cubicle and said, “Hey, a fax came for you,” and handed me a piece of paper. I was a bit confused (why would anyone send me a fax?) but I took the paper, and he just walked away chuckling with some colleagues. I looked down at the page and saw that it was an advertisement for a professional development opportunity for administrative assistants…
Talk about rage. After that I knew I was never going to be taken seriously by that team. And since then I’ve still struggled to find my place in the tech world.
Three weeks ago I was chatting with my department head in the hall. When I mentioned how tiring it is for a single father to work full-time and raise three kids, he joked: “You have it easy. I have three kids AND a wife!”
This man, the face of our department, makes all hiring decisions. Wonder why we have very few women in our department….
This link struck a chord with me because, like one of the women described, my advisor would say things to make me feel worthless and less than the guys in the group who were at the same stage in their careers as me. It was the implication that, “He is good, he will go far. You,.. no expectations.” He even showed his lack of confidence in me by, at the last minute, taking away resources I needed to complete my thesis. At the time, I interpreted/used the criticism as a sort of a shot to get fired up and get the job done, but now, in retrospect, I see it as abuse that my male colleagues never got, abuse which gradually wore me down to the point that after leaving his group and successfully completing 2 independent projects, I quit academic work entirely, even though there was a path forwards and even though I could see that, looking back, I had been smarter than those guys I had been competing with and feeling lesser than. My work was objectively better. My advisors never encouraged me to feel that way though and when my faith in the value of the work waned, I had no ego reserves to bring it back.
I am a senior chemistry major, and I was asked to do summer research part time with the physics and engineering department at my undergrad college. My chemistry professor/mentor told me to look at it like I’m doing them a favor, because I’m already working with her on chemistry research, and I’m not even sure if I’m going to be able to get paid for the engineering research. I am working with physics and engineering students, who are all male. I’m the only woman in the group. I may be imagining this, but I feel like they all talk down to me, and don’t think that I’m very intelligent. It frustrates me so much. It’s like they have their own boys club, and no one tells me anything, like what time group meetings are, so I miss them or I’m late.