Recap: Tri-I Women in Science Meet at First Annual Mixer

Last Spring WISeR worked with Weill-Cornell and MSKCC’s women in science groups to throw the first Tri-I women in science mixer.

We had 71 people attend, evenly distributed from each of our women in science groups (25-31% from each group). Over wine, beer, and snacks, we learned more about each other over an icebreaker, as we asked folks to collect the initials or signature of 2 people who could say they:

  • Have a tattoo
  • Have gone skydiving
  • Are a graduate student
  • Are vegetarian

… and many more!

Ali Ehrlich (who is now one of the WISeR board members!) completed this task in the fastest time and won a gift card to Amazon.

We then broke up into teams to compete in relevant trivia. You can test your own skills by seeing if you can match the scientist to her discovery here!

You can follow this link for the answer key.

We want to thank our co-sponsors at Weill-Cornell and MSKCC, Andrea Morris in the Dean’s Office, and one of our members, Veronica Jove, for helping us run this great event! Also thanks to all of you who came and made this event so much fun. See you next year!

Notes & Feedback: May Anti-Harassment Workshop

In May, WISeR and the Dean’s Office co-hosted two Anti-Harassment workshops by Dr. Sherry Marts. The workshop gave trainees a place to learn strategies to get out of uncomfortable, bad, or dangerous situations.

While it’s our job as a community to condemn harassment and to make Rockefeller and science a place where these things don’t happen, the reality is that most women and minorities do report experiencing these situations in science. At Rockefeller, 73 of 255 respondents to our survey responded they’ve witnessed or experienced bias, harassment, or discrimination at Rockefeller. 155 respondents wanted us to host product- and skill-based workshops. In light of these results, and, we wanted to do something to help everyone protect themselves and their friends.

What it was

Each 1.5-hour workshop was a little different, but both started off with introductions and moved into practiced yelling (“HEY!”, a crowd favorite), The rest of the workshop was spent practicing. Sherry would introduce a situation and a ‘script’ for how to deal with it, and then we broke off into pairs to practice. Though these differed between sessions based on participant demand, they included:

  • how to get out of unwanted hugs and touches (great for poster sessions)
  • how to shake hands with a super-gripper without feeling much pain (extend your first finger!)
  • how to respond loudly and forcefully to someone approaching you in a threatening way

While sometimes applicable to academic settings, these latter skills focused more on street-type harassment.

Who was there

We offered two separate workshop times, and 26 people signed up for these events (4 men, 22 women). We had 3 research assistants, 13 students, 6 postdocs, 2 research associates, and 2 other folks sign up. Of these 26 participants, 15 responded to a short survey about the event. Below find a summary of these data we collected from these 15 respondents:

  • 3 of the 4 men responded, and 12/22 women
  • 3/3 research assistants, 6/13 students, 4/6 postdocs, and 1/2 research associates
  • 6 from the morning and 9 from the afternoon session
  • everyone in the morning session thought we should offer this workshop again, while 2 people in the afternoon did not

What we learned for next time

Overall, people were positive about the event. Most (11/15) said it was very (4/15) or somewhat (7/15) useful. Those that found it useful would definitely or probably recommend it to a friend or colleague (10/11) and 13/15 think we should definitely (10/15) or maybe (3/15) host this event again.

However, the most interesting information was contained in the comment sections. We asked three open-ended questions:

  • What was the most useful thing about the workshop for you?
  • What would you change about the workshop?
  • Do you have any additional comments or feedback?

I usually hate to break things down by gender, but since all respondents self-identified and there was a stark contrast in responses, I’ll do so here:

  • All of the men found the workshop useful, would recommend it, and think we should offer it again. One suggested: “…this workshop be given to incoming graduate students/postdocs. One could collaborate with the postdoc association on this. Even for some fee, I think people will attend.”
  • Four individuals noted that they wished something like this were required either for faculty, or for everyone. One noted: “These trainings should be as rigorous as our biosafety, radiation safety, chemical safety courses, with mandatory annual refresher courses.”
  • Five people noted getting out of unwanted touching, including hugs, was the most useful part of the workshop. Others mentioned practicing yelling, and the role-playing (though it is worth noting others complained there was too much role-playing).
  • The most common refrain (10/15) was that they felt the workshop was overly focused on street harassment and not what happens to most people in academia on a regular basis. This point resonated with me as well and definitely warrants further discussion.

How it came to be

A little backstory on how this workshop happened: Dr. Sherry Marts came highly recommended from colleagues at AMNH and Columbia. Everyone noted her flexibility and knowledge, so I was personally really excited to meet and host her, though I found writing up a description of a completely flexible and interactive event challenging. I wrote an email to everyone describing what I thought and hoped the event would contain, and the truth is that I missed the mark.

In the end, I personally came away feeling like it was a great event, just not the one I expected.

Many people in academia experience bias, harassment, and discrimination of all kinds. Some incidents seem subtle, because of the casualness of the execution and frequency of occurrence, but are extremely damaging. At the workshop, many of us shared similar stories of unwanted hugs, comments, and daily reminders that we aren’t just scientists, we are also women. There are many ways this plays out, but a deeper discussion on how to deal with these things when they come from people you can’t afford to upset (like PIs), and how to better set boundaries with co-workers you may have to see every day would be useful for the trainees who attended.

In short, I want you to know that we heard you. We have funds for another similar event this fiscal year (July 2016 – July 2017). We will incorporate your comments and come up with an even-better event (or events!) that tackle(s) more science-related problems.

Also, special thanks to Andrea Morris for sharing her budget with us on continuing these important conversations. Also thanks to everyone who attended and especially those who responded to the survey. Please let us know if you have additional thoughts either through the comments here, chatting with a board member, or emailing the WISeR email account (wiserrockefeller.edu)

Enough is Enough? Title IX at Rockefeller and Beyond

Rockefeller recently hosted a presentation and panel discussion centered on the Title IX and “Enough Is Enough” laws. The panel included Rockefeller’s Title IX officer, Thomas Sakmar, Director of Security, James Rogers, and Assistant Director of Security, Michael Murphy.

**update February 11, 2016: Rockefeller’s Title IX officer is now Virginia Huffman, HR.

So first, a few definitions to orient us. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits all forms of discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded educational programs or activities. Title IX’s reach extends to all students on campus, including prospective and visiting students. “Enough Is Enough” specifically deals with sexual misconduct and assault—which includes verbal and physical harassment, domestic abuse, stalking and rape. Namely, the law states that you have the right to report an incident to campus security or law enforcement. Because New York State is an affirmative consent state, any unwanted sexual advances without an explicit, verbal “Yes” qualify as a reportable incident, regardless of whether force was used.

The presentation focused on sexual misconduct and harassment, as they are the most easily identified and actionable offenses. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that Title IX covers all manners of discrimination. Reportable instances include the exclusion of women from groups like journal clubs, prejudicial comments about, say, the place of women in science, and awarding academic honors disproportionately by sex. Basically, any act that contributes to an environment that favors one gender over the other may be reported to our Title IX officer. Of course, this is far easier said than done, as many forms of bias are implicit and ingrained within academic culture at large.

We certainly need more of a discussion on the insidiousness of unconscious bias and how we can use Title IX and similar measures to begin addressing these deep-seated issues. For now, I encourage you to ponder the need for a cultural shift with this piece by Claire Pomeroy in Scientific American. In the meantime, back to our Title IX presentation.

So what happens once a complaint has been filed? As Title IX officer, Dr. Sakmar will launch an investigation, maintaining the highest level of confidentiality possible, keeping in mind the safety of the claimant, which may include switching housing or lab assignments. Here, it becomes rather complicated. One of Rockefeller’s most attractive strengths is how uniquely a community it is. Many students, postdocs, and professors are not only employed by the university, but also live here and send their children to school here. Consequently, Rockefeller acts for many of us as an employer, a landlord, and a childcare provider, a point thoughtfully raised by a fellow graduate student. While this unique position provides a great deal of leeway in terms of complaint resolution, this triple role may act as a barrier for filing a report in the first place, as claimants may jeopardize their role within the community.

Furthermore, we must remember that students have likely invested a great deal of time and energy into their work. This is by no means exclusive to Rockefeller; it goes hand in hand with what it is to be a graduate student, devoting years of your life to research. So there is a great deal of pressure not to report an incident that could jeopardize that work by, for instance, requiring that you switch labs. It is imperative, therefore, that every measure possible is taken not only to protect the claimant’s safety, but also their career. Striking this balance is extremely tricky, but it is also crucial to upholding an environment in which a student feels comfortable filing a complaint.

Incidents covered by the statutes of Title IX and “Enough Is Enough” are delicate by nature, as these laws have been put in place specifically to ensure an open and unbiased academic environment. While the panelists provided thoughtful answers to attendees questions, follow-up presentations would benefit greatly from going through specific scenarios illustrating how exactly incidents will be handled with special attention on how the student’s personal and professional safety will be maintained.

What do you think?

let us know in the comments and participate in the poll below!


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