#metoo and Power Imbalances in Academia

Hello, Miss. I’m Dr. Monster.

Whew, it’s been a hot minute, what with the quarter starting up, proposals to write, paper reviews to submit, etc… To kick things back off on the blog, let’s start with a very fun and lighthearted topic (not) that’s been on my mind lately: sexual misconduct in academia, particularly in cases where there’s an imbalance of power (e.g., a prof and a student).

The reason that this has been on my mind is that over the past year, there’s been a drama playing out at my former grad school. There was a prof who was put on probation after sexual misconduct claims with his own grad student (inappropriate touching), and later dismissed after discovery of a consensual relationship with another student. This guy was a huge giant in his field. Without him, along with several other recent personnel losses, the department is a shell of itself in that research area.

This incident got me to thinking – how common are these cases? To clarify, I consider a case as consensual or non-consensual interactions between two people of different standing in the same institution (most often a prof and a student). In STEM and academia, these cases generally involve a male prof (age 30-60) interacting with a female grad student (age 30ish)

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How Much Do You Work? An Assistant Prof’s Perspective

Home office. The quote on the wall is The Man in the Arena.

A few months ago, I was inspired by Cait Flanders’ slow work experiment and decided to try one part of her experiment: tracking my work hours. Some professions have time-keeping built into their jobs (e.g., Xin’s billable hours or my friend who works for a defense contractor and has to charge every 6-minute increment to a project 😮 ). However, as a prof, I have a ton of time flexibility: as long as I don’t have in-person meetings or a class to teach, nobody could care less where I am. There aren’t any vacation days or sick days. I could be in Bora Bora 99% of the time, as long as I bring home the bacon (i.e., research funding).

There’s a whole culture of assistant professors working their butts off. There are legendary stories of very successful young profs working day and night, and I can certainly believe it based on their research output. But I also suspect there’s a bit of exaggeration going on too, akin to college students bragging about all-nighters. Philip Guo is one academic blogger who I like, and he’s written about working hours and estimated 45-60 hours per week. So I wanted to see where I stack up. I hypothesized that I would tend more towards the lower end of the workaholic spectrum, as I’ve observed I’m slightly more relaxed about work compared to my peers.

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Two Small Incidents

My Wonder Woman costume at Halloween last year 😉

I guess I’m sort of a feminist. My partner makes fun of me because I like movies/stories with “strong independent female” characters (think Hunger Games, Wonder Woman), which gives you a small idea of my character, ha. I strongly believe that STEM can benefit from and therefore need more diversity (although undecided about the best way to get there). I try my best to support the female-oriented student orgs at my school (we just started a new org this year which is going great, and managed to get funding for a couple of students to travel to a national conference).

Recently, I traveled to an academic conference, and there were two gender-related incidents that I was uncertain about. So I’m writing down some thoughts about them, and turning to the blogosphere to help me interpret them.Read More »

Thoughts on Faculty Diversity Hires

Binders full of men.

I’ve been working at the university for a few years now, and have seen several rounds of faculty hiring, including serving on several search committees. I wanted to share my thoughts and observations on this here. There are all kinds of official stats and blustery words by HR, but what really goes on behind the scenes? In particular, diversity is a topic that’s close to my heart, but it’s not really the kind of thing I feel comfortable talking about with my colleagues, so random Internet strangers/friends will get to hear about this instead 🙂 Note that these opinions are all my own and do not represent any official stance.

For background, I’m a female assistant professor at a research university in a STEM field. I’ve been in this area for the past 10+ years, but started working only a few years ago after finishing grad school. The female faculty representation in my department is 5%, and the national average undergraduate representation is <20%. As you can see, these numbers are pretty horrible!Read More »

Is an Engineering PhD Worth It, Financially?

Annual wages over time during a typical STEM PhD.

Have you ever thought about doing a PhD in STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics), and wondered how much money you make? Having gone through the grind myself, I thought I’d take a look at the numbers. I dug through my old W2s and found my net income during grad school. I wanted to answer the question: Is doing an engineering PhD worth it, financially?

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Thoughts on Being a Female Academic in STEM

My lovely office.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I did my undergraduate and graduate degrees in STEM, and am currently a tenure-track faculty in the same field. So far, I’ve spent a total of 12 years of my life in STEM (basically since high school).

There aren’t many women in STEM. In my particular sub-field, I would estimate 5-10%. How was my experience? I wanted to dedicate this post to sharing some of my observations from the past 12 years.
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