Perspectives of the Modern Scientist Interviews

 

My passionate feelings towards the subject of gender bias and sexual harassment in academia have lead to intense conversations with colleagues and superiors, and I found myself becoming extremely self conscious as I realized how difficult it was to articulate my curiosities and intentions. In the real world, gender bias can often be suspected… but difficult to quantify. Discrimination can feel confusing or subjective. It can lead to self-doubt and skepticism. It’s hard to know when you are being harassed or marginalized, and what to do if you suspect you were.

I was recently invited to speak at a symposium entitled “Women in Forest Entomology” at our annual Forest Entomology conference this summer. I was both thrilled and terrified at this invitation. I would be discussing an already polarizing topic, and my audience would predominantly be the very men who inspired me to undertake this independent research study in the first place.  My nerves turned out to be unfounded. My presentation was met with an overall positive response, and many personal accounts validating my frustrations. Best of all, I soon formed a professional bond with symposium organizer, Jessica Hartshorn (University of Arkansas). We both felt it was important to discuss gender issues openly, so we can work together to address common concerns through a unified strategy. We agreed to work together on a collaborative study, with the objective of conducting a series of interviews with a diverse collection of scientists.

Jessica and I designed the study to represent the perspective of the modern scientist, and approached individuals from all backgrounds to talk about the adversity they, or someone they know, have faced in their scientific careers, and discuss how they handled such obstacles. We aim aim to address the lack of diversity in today’s scientific careers with hard data, and use the power of storytelling to inspire others who may be struggling with similar issues. We hope to consolidate these interviews into reports on the current status of diversity in the sciences, and into a collection of anonymous personal stories from the perspective of today’s modern scientist. In this study, we asked individuals to complete a short interview with either Jessica or myself. It was important to us that our volunteers represented a variety of professional and academic backgrounds, ethnicities, and personal histories.

News of our collaboration spread quickly in our tight-niched professional sphere, and Jessica was soon contacted by Debi Sutton, director of the Entomology Society of America’s new diversity initiative committee.  Debi graciously invited us to collaborate with ESA’s Diversity Initiative, and conduct interviews at their central location at the ESA national conference in November. We published an article advertising our interview-based research project was published on the Entomological Society of America website, and distributed to all national members via list serve. We received dozens of responses from a variety of professional scientists, and successfully conducted interviews with individuals with backgrounds as diverse as graduate students, tenured professors and industry professionals.

All of this happened very quickly, and was overall a successful endeavor that I’m excited to continue pursuing. Experimental design did not come without its doubts, however, and I have grown to appreciate the full complexity of responsibly collecting data on such sensitive subject matter.  It was especially important to be mindful of our process because we were collecting data in an interview-based setting. We wanted to ask open-ended questions, and were careful not to use any leading dialogue.  Early on, Dr. Sutton contacted us with criticism she had indirectly received, addressing our experimental conduct with recorded interviews.  The public was wary of our subject matter, and understandably cautious of discussing such sensitive topics. Jessica and I took great care to design an ethically responsible experimental process, if you are interested in our project or receiving a list of the interview questions, click here.

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Future of the University (Required Blog Post #5)

Title IX is a landmark federal civil right in the United States that prohibits sex discrimination in education. In light of the recent Title IX university investigations, we must evaluate the culture and values pervading our professional and academic institutions. While we are aware of sporadic Title IX-related university investigations, more information is needed to document the individual’s experiences regarding gender and sexual identity in the university setting.

Studies involving gender-bias in the US are often conducted in congruence with analyses of socioeconomic and/or racial discrimination. While it is important to understand how economic, social, cultural, and political trends can be expected to affect the role of gender in academia, more research is needed to understand the specific role of gender based discrimination in academia. The prevalence and full consequences of sexual harassment, and gender bias in academia remain unknown. There are no records of how often such discrimination occurs, or how gender-bias is commonly manifested in academia.

Despite there being ample historical evidence of gender inequality in the United States, discussion of gender bias in present-day academia is often met with skepticism. I believe this is partially due to the inherent complexity of aspects intrinsic in achieving educational equality. When assessing the presence of gender bias in academia, we must consider not only access to higher education, but also how the college experience and post collegiate opportunities differ between men and women. More data must be collected to 1.) Raise awareness that gender-based discrimination persists in present day academic institutions and 2.) Determine the areas where gender parity has been reached, and where women are still marginalized in the university setting.  These data would support the need for a nationally institutionalized “safe space” in universities, where students experiencing sexual or gender-related discrimination can confidentially receive counseling and advice.  Information on the topics listed above can easily be collected by promoting dialogue of individual’s experiences involving gender or racial discrimination. The difficult part is changing the perception of the university setting, an creating an environment that promotes open communication of these sensitive subjects.

Professional Code of Ethics (Required Post # 4)

I chose to research the Entomological Society of America’s Code of Conduct for the national meeting held in Minneapolis that I recently attended in November, 2015.  These meetings have historically been a hotbed for a to a long list of sexual harassment complaints, many of which I or witnessed or experienced myself. Understandably, I am curious to see in writing exactly where these discrepancies occurred and what officially qualifies as sexual discrimination and harassment. It is important for individuals to know exactly what they can do if they think they have been wronged in one of these ways, and to understand they have power as a victim in these situations.

The Code of Conduct states “by attending ENTOMOLOGY 2015, you agree voluntarily to abide by our ethics policy.”  The policy starts by describing the parameters of authorship, and states that “all authors connected to a presentation and/or abstract must agree on all information contained in the presentation. Failure of an author to agree to the presentation format will lead to the presentation being withdrawn from the conference.”

Next, the policy provides a “Harassment and Safety” section, which is written as follows: “ESA is dedicated to providing a safe, hospitable, and productive environment for everyone attending our events, regardless of ethnicity, religion, disability, physical appearance, gender, or sexual orientation. It is important to remember that a community where people feel uncomfortable or threatened is neither healthy nor productive. Accordingly, ESA prohibits intimidating, threatening, or harassing conduct during our conferences. This policy applies to speakers, staff, volunteers, and attendees. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference, at the discretion of ESA leadership.  The policy continues by describing what qualifies as harassment, including “offensive gestures or verbal comments related to ethnicity, religion, disability, physical appearance, gender, or sexual orientation in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome attention.”

The content of this policy is surprisingly thorough, and written in a professional tone that communicates a no-tolerance policy.  My only complaint is that there is no mention of repercussions for harassment outside the conference setting (ie: bars, city streets, hotels, etc.). Most of the personal accounts I have heard either occurred in darkened bar corners, or on the walk back to their hotel rooms.  ESA members (faculty and students alike) were the offenders in these situations, and the victims were left scared, confused and feeling utterly powerless.

Noteably, the policy stresses to the reader that ” If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please do not hesitate to contact ESA staff who can work with appropriate ESA leadership to resolve the situation… ESA staff will be happy to help participants contact convention center/hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, and otherwise assist those experiencing harassment, to enable them to feel safe for the duration of the conference. We value your attendance, and want to make your experience as productive and professionally stimulating as possible.”  This quote was followed by the contact information for ESA’s complaints department. In my opinion, this is written in a supportive and stern tone, with the hope that the victim feels they can contact help without repercussions.

This policy was far more thorough then I was expecting, but I still believe measures like this are just the beginning of a long road to gender equality.  Fortunately, I was asked to collaborate with ESA’s Diversity Committee , for a series of interviews I am conducting with a colleague in a side-project called Perspectives of the Modern Scientist. I feel that progress towards diversity and gender equality will be made at a rapid pace in the coming years.  We are in an era of heightened social-consciousness, and I am encouraged by the lightning-fast progress of the Gay Movement over the past five years.

 

Open Access Journal (Required Post #2)

Journal of Insect Science:

Find the journal here: http://jinsectscience.oxfordjournals.org/

The Journal of Insect Science is an “international, open-access, peer-reviewed journal” that publishes papers on the biology and cultural impacts of insects and other arthropods.The Journal of Insect Science was founded with support from the University of Arizona library in 2001 by Dr. Henry Hagedorn, who served as editor-in-chief until his death in January, 2014. The Entomological Society of America then added the Journal of Insect Science to its publishing portfolio in 2014. This journal is currently published by the Entomological Society of America, one of the primary authorities of entomological research, both domestically and internationally.

I found this open access journal through the Entomological Society of America website, one of the most popular news sites in our discipline. The Journal of Insect Science is an international, open-access, peer-reviewed journal that publishes papers on all aspects of insects and arthropods. Specifically, this journal features entomological research relating to conservation biology, agriculture and medical practices.

This journal aims to disseminate their publications as widely as possible.  The scope as advertised is wide; and covers subjects related to biology (molecular-ecological), as well as insect-related agricultural and medical research.

The Journal of Insect Science does not elaborate on open access on its website, but the publication company, Oxford University Press claims support “sustainable open access business models and regularly report on our findings, both to our partners and the wider academic community.” The Oxford University Press website also claims that they were the first publisher to transition a mature journal to the open access format. Today, they publish nine fully open access journals.

I often refer to this source to stay up to date with the latest insect-related news.  It’s a credible source with a wide reach, a sure sign of the numerous benefits of the open-access model.

Scholarly Integrity (Required Post #3)

Case: Hao Wang

This case describes the ORI’s action against a Hao Wang, the former Associate Professor of Surgery and Pathology, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, Canada.  Dr. Wang has engaged in research misconduct by falsifying data in an abstract and poster presentation for the “2011 American Transplant Congress”.

The ORI found that Dr. Wang falsely claimed that two monkeys successfully received kidney transplants.  He went on say that they animals went on to live long lives and experienced no adverse effects from the transplants.  In actuality, the transplant was a total failure and each monkey survived only because their kidney’s were left intact. These falsifications went so far as to be included in Dr. Wang’s lab notes, progress reports and data analyses.  He lied to his principle investigators, as well as his colleagues before presenting this false data publicly. To me, this proves further offense, since he compromised the names of his co-authors as well.

Dr. Wang’s punishment involved a Voluntary Settlement Agreement for a three year probation period.  The stipulations of the agreement include the supervision of all Dr. Wang’s research, removing himself from any advisory position and submitting documentation for ORI certification through any work related publications.

Honestly, I’m surprised at the degree of leniency the ORI shows in this case. Three years seems negligible, and hardly enough time to make a lasting impression on the questionable character of the offender.  To me, permitting an individual to publish without some sort of mark on their reputation or record is a dangerous allowance. Dr. Wang’s falsifications occurred on a large scale, across many platforms, and demonstrates his unwavering commitment to his lies. Is this someone we should trust to conduct sound, potentially medical-related research in the near future?

Mission Accomplished?

I chose to assess the mission statements of two universities that had the most influence in my personal and professional development (aside from Virginia Tech, of course). These schools offered me a  diversity of experiences that allowed me to refine my interests and expand my skill set in two exciting and challenging environments.

In 2008, I was lucky enough to spend a year abroad studying at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand while working toward my B.S. in Wildlife Science at Virginia Tech. The University of Canterbury is not a research university, I don’t believe they categorize their institutions of higher learning in NZ as they do here in the US.  The mission is three-fold, and speaks to the influence this university has locally, globally and culturally. In my experience, academics in New Zealand were keenly interested in contributing to the advancement of knowledge on an international level while still making contributions locally. I imagine this is due to the large percentage of international and exchange students that are enrolled in UC. This is keenly reflected in the mission statement, which is lengthy and specific in it’s endeavors. New Zealand also honors the heritage of it’s native people (the Maori) with great intention and purpose. All road signs are bilingual, and Maori history and language classes are required for all students. This aspect is also carefully outlined in the mission statement.

Conversely, the University of Colorado’s mission statement is short and sparse. When comparing the two statements, I am struck by how “American” and business-oriented the verbiage is.  The statement seems clinical, and uninspired and leaves little for me to consider. This is most likely due to this university being a well-known research institution, and must reflect the ideals of a well regulated and prestigious institution.

University of Canterbury (Christchurch, New Zealand)

Mission:  The University of Canterbury comprises its staff, students, graduates and alumni. The University of Canterbury Act 1961 describes the purpose of the University as existing “for the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination and maintenance thereof by teaching and research.” This is carried through to the Education Act 1989 and informs the mission of the University.

  • Our purpose within the international community of scholars is to advance knowledge by research; to maintain and disseminate this knowledge through teaching, publications and critical debate; to confirm outcomes through the awarding and conferring of degrees, diplomas and certificates; to serve as a repository of knowledge and expertise; and to act as critic and conscience of society.
  • Our purpose within the New Zealand tertiary sector is to contribute to a tertiary education system that is characterised by excellence, relevance, academic freedom and improved access for all; to work with others to enrich intellectual discourse, educational quality and research activity; and to contribute to the intellectual, cultural, social and economic life and well-being of our city, region and nation.
  • Our purpose as a university of Aotearoa New Zealand, acknowledging the Treaty of Waitangi in all our activities, is to respond and contribute to the educational, research and development needs and aspirations of Mäori, as tangata whenua.

 University of Colorado (Boulder, Colorado)

The University of Colorado is a public research university with multiple campuses serving Colorado, the nation, and the world through leadership in high-quality education and professional training, public service, advancing research and knowledge, and state-of-the-art health care.