Thursday, November 6, 2014

Guest blogger: "What is this mentoring thing anyway?"

(It's been a few months since we've posted new content here on BAnDIT. Busy busy busy. Today I'm happy to share a fantastic post about one junior faculty member's search for mentors. Lots of great advice here; hope you enjoy it!


What is this mentoring thing, anyway?

I am the only biological anthropologist (and the only female) in my small program of six full-time anthropologists. Anthropology is within a larger school with faculties of several programs, which means that full-blown faculty meetings include lots of fiery back and forth, tinged with a little zen flavor. I love my school, my program, and my position, though I am usually not completely sure what everyone is arguing about.
  A position like this comes with a few challenges, including, in no particular order: 
1) There isn’t really anyone to ask advice about being tenure-track in my field;
2) No one in my program really has any advice for how I can navigate tenure in my field; 
3) Did I mention that there isn’t anyone senior in my program (or school) who can answer questions about the tenure situation in my field? This became very clear to me when, two years in a row, I received "excellents" on my annual evaluation under the research category. All I had done for research those two years was submit abstracts for the American Association of Physical Anthropologists conference. I knew then that any "trajectory towards national recognition" - as defined for how I would earn tenure - was trajectory towards being nationally recognized for starting abstracts at 8:15 pm EST on September 15.
            Finding myself without a go-to person for advice, I started a search for some magic individual who could answer all my questions. That’s what a mentor is, right? I applied for an official “Mentor” through a program run by our teaching center - and I got one. She and I had coffee once, and talked about how to take attendance in a large class. I came away from that experience with one important realization: there is no one person who is going to be able to answer all of your questions about teaching, research, service, tenure, academic life, non-academic life, and all other aspects of your career about which you might have concerns.
So I decided I needed to do something to help myself. I became more proactive, and started asking people for meetings to ask questions. I met with the biology department chair, and told him that I’d like his help with my tenure committee and tenure packet. I met with the associate dean for research, and asked if he would serve as a reader for a grant writing activity I was becoming involved in. I met with another dean, a woman who had chaired a STEM department, and set up monthly meetings just to go over my research trajectory (and talk about being a woman in science). I meet with the chair of my school regularly to talk about how my teaching is going, and I’m on a committee with someone I ask about service responsibilities. I'm also still in regular contact with my PhD advisors, and ask them an insane range of questions, from dealing with undergraduates, to navigating school politics, to how an external letter writer for a tenure packet interprets a research record in a department with no graduate program. I look for mentoring opportunities every day, and when I see them I take advantage of them. I joined the Physical Anthropology Women’s Mentoring Network to have a community for discussions, and at one of the Mentoring Network events, I went up to a scientist more senior than me and asked her about her experience with having a baby while on the tenure-track.
Don't get me wrong: approaching senior scientists (and deans!) and asking for help is not something I find easy. It's intimidating, and sometimes terrifying. And it feels like work. People don't always have time to help, and it can be a little tough to get a negative response. But I've stopped thinking about having a mentor as some defined relationship, and instead think of mentoring as a process. It starts with determining when I need help or have questions, and continues until I find some advice that helps me in my particular situation. The process can be pretty unpleasant, but I don't feel like I would learn as much if there was one approachable person with the answers to all my questions.
Something that caught me by surprise was learning, through this process, that not every mentor is going to be senior. Peer-mentoring with colleagues starting their careers at other schools has given me a much better perspective on challenges we are all experiencing at about the same time. It's also a lot more fun to hear about stories of people developing new classes or setting up labs or having babies while they are doing it, rather than hearing about these experiences happening 20 years ago.

On any given day, I have a list of at least 6-10 people I consider mentors, each of them playing a different role in my mentoring process. Most of them probably don't know I have them on my list of mentors, though I do try to let people know how much I appreciate their time. For me, the mentoring process is about making connections, building relationships, and finding answers to my questions every day. The associated internal monologue usually goes something like this: "I think super senior intimidating scientist X could really help me with organizing this event/symposium/study I want to do, I should ask him/her for help. Let me play Eye of the Tiger while I get up the nerve to send the email." Or, “I am sitting next to the world’s expert on X, and I really want to know what his/her first grant was about. Let me hum Eye of the Tiger while I make eye contact and work up the nerve to say something.” For me, mentoring is a process that’s never going to stop, and requires constant effort. So next time you have a question about your career, and you have an idea for who has the answer, step outside your comfort zone and ask. And then ask someone else. Just keep asking

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why have Lady Editors? A true story of balanced gender representation.

I’m following up on my previous post, to address this question left by an anonymous commenter: 

‘How to square the (thoroughly justified) criticism of a mostly male workshop with the evident pride taken in the production of an "all-woman edited, largely woman-authored" book?’

This is a really good question and I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my comments about Building Babies, the book I co-edited with Kate Clancy and Katie Hinde. To begin, we have to have a reasonable estimate of what we’re shooting for. Fifty/fifty isn’t always representative  for a given discipline. In the case of Building Babies, it is a challenge to estimate what the gender composition “should” have been given that we approached scholars from several disciplines, as our primary goal was to be interdisciplinary. That said, the explicit themes of the book were mothers, pregnancy, infants, breastfeeding, and parent-offspring behavior, subject matter that historically draws female scholars. Further, we drew predominantly from anthropology and psychology, disciplines that in recent years have awarded more PhDs to women than men, approximately 60-70%. Drawing an even finer point on it, from within two already female-dominant fields, many of our scholars self-identified as primatologists, a subdiscipline that historically is female-rich. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that there “should” have been a large female skew to Building Babies.  Another way to get at this is through the analysis of Lynne Isbell, Truman Young, and Alexander Harcourt, who reported that by 2012 women contributed 67% (as first authors) of all primatology-themed presentations at the American Association of Physical Anthropology conference. This is not an exact science, but given the history of the disciplines we tapped, coupled with the fact that many of our authors were recent PhDs or even still ABD and thus hewed closely to the recent statistics indicated above, we should expect that the female:male breakdown in Building Babies is somewhere around 2:1 (perhaps 67-70% vs. 30-33%)

I crunched the numbers for Building Babies, and am pleased to report that the gender breakdown of our total roster of 34 authors across 22 chapters was 68% female, 32% male.  When it comes to just the first authors (which is maybe – but see below - more comparable to being an individual invited to participate in a special workshop), I considered 20 of the 22 chapters because two were equally co-authored by male-female pairs. Of those 20 chapters, the breakdown of first authors was 75% women, 25% men. For at least one of those female-first-authored chapters, the scholar we initially approached was a man, and he invited two of his female trainees to be co-authors, one of whom took on the role of first author. If he had remained first author as invited, the numbers would have been 70% women to 30% men. BOOM!

How does this compare to the Evolutionary Aspects of Child Development and Health Workshop? We have the same challenges we faced estimating the gender breakdown “should” have been. Again, fifty/fifty isn’t necessarily an appropriate measure of accurate representation. While none of the speakers at the workshop are primatologists, they are anthropologists, physiologists, and evolutionary biologists, fields that in recent years have awarded at least 50% of their PhDs to women. With those numbers (and with an assumption that organizers pay attention to gender equity), it would be reasonable to expect at least a fifty/fifty breakdown of speakers. Instead, there are only 2 women out of a slate of 14 speakers, or 14% women, 86% men. That’s six times as many men as women from fields in which the distribution is likely at least equivalent. 

Similarly, Isbell et al. found that when primatological symposia were organized by men, women were underrepresented. Remember that in the context of primatology, a representative sample of women would be about 67%, and when women organized symposia, that’s exactly what Isbell and colleagues saw. In stark contrast, when men organized symposia, only 29% of the first-author presenters were women. Not even fifty/fifty. But at least it’s 29%, not 14%. How does that happen? I don’t believe it is a conscious campaign of omission. Rather it is a very unfortunate oversight, brought to you by the power of implicit bias.

But here’s another thing: It is difficult to equate a publication with an invitation to be a featured speaker. The former is generally highly collaborative, and the first author position is often determined alphabetically because the team deems the contributions to be equally valuable. Indeed, that is how the order of the names of the editors of Building Babies was established.  Even when there is a very clear division of labor, everybody still gets some credit. Every author gets to put it on a CV. Everybody gets to claim a little piece toward tenure and promotion, toward a scholarly profile. To be a featured speaker means that ONE person is being recognized in an important – and individual – way. Certainly that speaker may mention his or her mentors, students, and collaborators in their presentation, but it is solely that person who received the invitation, who was paid the honorarium, who was compensated for their travel and lodging, who gets to include that speaking engagement on their CV, who benefits from networking at the event, and who gains recognition from those contacts and any press that may be there. And collectively, that builds into the kind of profile that can lead to grants, publications, endowed chairs, and major awards. These are the collateral benefits of featured speaking engagements, making the continued benign negligence on the part of conference/ symposia/ plenary/ keynote/ competition organizers so problematic and stifling. It is a kind of gatekeeping, and it’s not all that subtle.

My Building Babies co-editors and I have had many career opportunities. We all have tenure-track jobs at well-respected research universities, and have benefited from speaking engagements, collaborations, and funding. However, our individual successes remain embedded in general patterns of restricted access. As successful academics with a fair amount of professional privilege, it’s our responsibility to say something when we see something. And it’s important not to pull the ladder up with us. My intention in this follow-up post is to address specifically the explicit and implicit questions posed in the comment. Some of us saw something and we said something about it, we got a response, we are moving forward. But it is important to point out that there is a systemic problem of implicit bias in academia (and pretty much everywhere else) that hits non-male, non-white, non-straight (and more!) people pretty hard. 

So yes, anonymous commenter, we are extremely proud that Building Babies was largely woman-authored, and we embrace the fact that it was edited completely by women because that may not so coincidentally be why it is so well balanced along gender lines for the disciplines we targeted. (Of course, one could argue that we shouldn’t be so chuffed up over doing plain old due diligence.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Saw something, said something: the personal and political collide

Not long ago I had the great privilege to be the keynote speaker at the Indiana University Anthropology Graduate Student Association Research Symposium. The theme of this terrific event was "Breaking Down Barriers" so in my address I talked about various barriers researchers face at multiple levels. This included talking some truth about the barrier that gender still is to full inclusion in science. I talked about the unfortunate image Elsevier used of white men to depict "reputable science." I talked about the very public boycott of a major chemistry conference because the list of invited conference speakers contained the names of men only. I talked about the landmark 2012 paper by Isbell et al. on the disturbing persistence of gender disparities in AAPA conference symposia: even though women make up about 60% of attendees at AAPA conferences, when men organize symposia 70% of the speakers are also men. When women and men co-organize symposia, the distribution moves but still overrepresents men. When women organize symposia, the breakdown is representative of the actual membership, i.e. 60% women, 40% men. 

My take-home message for these students - for our future colleagues and future mentors of the next generation of scholars in our field - was if you see this kind of disparity, you need to speak out about it. Because it ain't right, people. You cannot pretend that you don't see women or people of color. You cannot pretend that we are not here doing our science thing RIGHT. NEXT. TO. YOU. You cannot pretend that excluding people is merely an accident. At best, it's just ignoring your privilege and not examining your biases. At worst, well, it really really sucks and I don't have the energy to tell you what you already know what "at worst" means.  

Fast forward to recent days. A good friend and colleague Pablo Nepomnaschy asked me to promote a workshop he organized for this coming June at Simon Fraser University called Evolutionary Aspects of Child Development and Health. I like Pablo, I respect his work, he has been incredibly supportive of my career and of BANDIT, so of course I earmarked that email as something I would get back to and post widely. When I opened it (after my colleague Kate Clancy, whom he also asked to promote it, pointed it out to me and then wrote this great post about it), I could not believe what I was seeing. Out of a list of 14 perfectly respectable, expected, eminently qualified speakers - some of whom are former mentors and current collaborators - only TWO were women. My reaction was like this but with far more nausea and profanity. Just as in the Isbell et al. paper, a symposium organized by men completely overrepresented men, in a field that is rich with major innovations and paradigmatic shifts produced by women. Only now, it's super personal. 

One simply cannot make a compelling argument that women aren't making substantial contributions to the fields of evo-devo and evolutionary medicine. The all-woman edited, largely woman-authored book Building Babies eliminates the argument (yep, I went against type and self-cited). And Pablo and the rest of the men who organized the workshop or agreed to speak in it are NOT explicitly making that argument. But the thing we all have to understand is that there is intent, and there is message. This lineup sends a very strong message to me and my colleagues - women AND men - about the inroads women must NOT be making to not have been invited to speak.  (I checked with Pablo, who knows I am writing this post - this list is very much a reflection of who was invited, not the leftovers after all the polite declinations came in.) Being invited to speak at these kinds of workshops and symposia and working meetings is an honor, a recognition. Not seeing a representative number of women honored this way is a punch to the gut and there really isn't a good way to sugar coat that. And even if there were, I don't think I'd want to. Because I'm tired. So very tired

I saw something. It was time to say something, just like I told those grad students at IU. EEEK. Me and my big mouth. So, I wrote Pablo last night and told him how dismayed and disappointed I was, how shocking this was, how I couldn't promote this on my blog without pointing out the jarring disparity. It wasn't an easy email to write because I had no idea how he would respond, what the fallout for either of us might be. And you know what? Pablo took it like a champ, meaning he issued a heartfelt, horrified apology. He manned up: he wasn't defensive, he didn't try to "calm me down", he didn't tell me I was overreacting, he didn't make this my problem. He agreed that he had failed to see his own implicit gender bias. He said he was sorry. He let me know he was supportive of my need to write this post. Had he expressed a lack of support and understanding and deep sorrow, I still would not have kept quiet, but I can't tell you how hopeful it made me feel that men and women can have these conversations and really listen and learn. 

So go to the workshop. It will be great. But if you go to this workshop, or others like it, and you look up at the dais and notice a whopping discrepancy between the faces of the speakers and those of the people sitting in the audience, from the one you see in the mirror, from the one you see sitting across the lab bench from you, contact the organizers. Tell them they missed a fantastic opportunity to set an example and that they can do better next time. Maybe they'll listen. Pablo did. At the very least, they will have to stop pretending they don't see what's going on. We all have to stop pretending. And it's time to say something about it. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What if 40/40/20 is really 40/40/40? (Or, why do more service than you’re asked to, even if it gets you in trouble?)

Guest Bandit Blogger Dr. Christopher Dana Lynn shares his experiences with the slipperiest part of your professional portfolio, service:

I first experienced this one summer during grad school when my department paid me a modest sum to overhaul their website. In doing so, I had to introduce myself to every member of the faculty to update their bios & get new photos. This interaction was integral to my success in the department, as everyone came to know me & support me. I learned about shared research interests I had with faculty doing widely disparate things that weren’t otherwise apparent. This taught me firsthand the value of networking thru service.

Me & my clan circa grad school 
(yes, I'm including this for the gratuitous "cute" factor).
The first significant service outside my department for which I wasn’t also being paid was as a program officer for the first NorthEastern Evolution Psychology Society (NEEPS) conference. This offshoot of the Human Behavior & Evolution Society had started up at SUNY New Paltz, 15 minutes from my house. How could I not get involved? That led, in part, to meeting other faculty at New Paltz, though I was a grad student at the University at Albany, & offers of lecturer positions at two institutions & a position on the executive committee of the newly formed Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program at New Paltz. These gigs helped me make $, refine my abilities, & learn admin skills.

However, one of the reasons I got hired at the University of Alabama in 2009 was because I had developed breadth into evolutionary psychology thru the NEEPS & EvoS service. When I arrived at UA, I jumped into involvement with a group of like-minded faculty called the Evolution Working Group, which hosts an evolution-oriented lecture series. In conjunction with this group, we started our own EvoS program at the University of Alabama.  The program involves a minor, which I co-direct, & a student-run club, for which I am faculty mentor.  For the minor to work, I developed & teach several classes over my expected teaching load of 2/2 (two courses per semester) & help the students organize & host an annual Darwin Day event.

TMSE kids doing a forensics activity as 
part of our anthro outreach course
In addition to the EvoS program, I run a research group every week that I modeled on the evolutionary psychology lab I was part of as a grad student.  At this point, it is mostly undergrads & my few grad students, but we meet for 3 hours every week to collaborate on research, which amounts essentially to teaching another course. Finally, when my kids were in 3rd grade, their PTA asked me to teach a semester-long anthropology course as part of the partnership their school has with the University of Alabama. By this point, my dean had echoed my grad school adviser several times, stating in my annual recommendation for retention that my service load is too extensive & varied for someone at my career stage & that I should scale back. However, as a chairperson of another department & parent of one of my children’s classmates pointed out, our children grow up fast & won’t give us this opportunity with them again. Although I swore I would only teach the class the first year, it was very successful—who learns anthropology in elementary school?! How could I not continue to teach that?

Last year, I figured out how truly important all this extra work has been for me. I began the process of applying for a National Science Foundation CAREER grant, which requires integration of teaching innovation. I realized that all the service I have been doing was exactly what I needed for developing a “career trajectory.” Thru it, I had developed substantial collaborations throughout my university, indicating my willingness & ability to work across disciplines & with teams. I have met scholars throughout the world by organizing their lectures here who have expressed willingness to vouch for me at tenure time. When I go to conferences, I know far more people than I otherwise would & feel a sense of mission in promoting these programs we’ve developed.

So, what’s the take-home message? Do service willy nilly? Not hardly. But don’t shy away from it either. Everyone is busy, but your willingness to take on just a little more will be greatly appreciated &, to invoke some of my favorite evo theory, it is a costly honest signal of your willingness to cooperate that will reward you with unforeseen dividends!

Christopher D. Lynn, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Co-director of Evolutionary Studies program
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487

Follow me on Twitter: @Chris_Ly