Vacation all I ever wanted…

Over spring break, I took a vacation. Not an academic vacation, where I go to a conference and then spend an afternoon wandering around some beautiful city. Not a vacation where I sneak off into the bathroom and check my email. I took a real vacation. One where I was completely disconnected from work, and from the world, really. I’m not very good at not working – I love my job and find it difficult to take a break. I also find that I get anxious about all the work piling up when I’m away and if I can at least check in from time-to-time and clean out emails that I can deal with quickly, I feel a little less anxious.

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Anyway, this past March, I took a real vacation. My husband and I took our kids backpacking in the Grand Canyon for 4 days. Four days in a giant hole in the ground, with no Wi-Fi, no LTE, no contact with the outside world, and no showers. Four days with everything we needed on our backs. Four days where our “home” was a 7 foot by 7 foot space (with no privacy). Four days with only each other, Uno, Phase 10, and a Choose Your Own Adventure book to entertain us. Oh, and the great outdoors – it’s pretty entertaining, too.

It was AMAZING. As soon as we stepped off at the top of the trail, I felt my anxiety begin to melt away. The deeper we got into the canyon, the less anxious I felt. By the time we stopped to set up camp for the first night, I don’t even think I could spell “biostatistics.” Work was the farthest thing from my mind. And watching my children approach a 1600 foot climb with gusto, seeing them work hard to make and break camp, watching them sitting by the water playing cards together was a gift I didn’t know I wanted or needed. DSC_0149I am incredibly proud of my children, who hiked nearly 30 miles over 4 days with heavy packs on, with no showers, sleeping on the ground, eating mostly dehydrated foods, with no whining and complaining, and no arguing, and loving the challenge of the trip.

By the end of the four days, I was more relaxed than I’d been in a long time. After our hike, we had a few days to visit with friends and family in Arizona before heading back to reality (and the beginning of our Spring quarter), and I found that I didn’t have any desire to check my email or reengage with my work. I needed that vacation, more than I knew. When I returned, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated, and ready to get back into the swing of things.

Interestingly, almost 20 years ago when my husband and I were graduate students, some of our friends, also students, suggested a group of 6 of us (3 couples) go backpacking the Grand Canyon. None of us had ever really backpacked before, so we approached this as any good scientists would. We did our research. We spent nearly a year planning. We had weekly meetings to share our research and discuss our plans, and drink some beer. What else would you expect from 2 biostatisticians, 2 physicists, a chemist, and a mechanical engineer? It was an amazing time: we all accomplished goals that we didn’t think we could accomplish, and learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We supported each other through challenges, celebrated our successes, and laughed a lot. Looking back, I don’t remember a lot of specifics of the hike, but I do remember the joy we felt when we reached our goal. In retrospect, this was an amazing metaphor for our PhDs… we did our research, we planned, we worked hard, we drank beer. Things didn’t turn out exactly as we’d expected, but we accomplished our goals. And throughout the rest of our graduate programs, we supported each other through the tough times, celebrated together, and laughed a lot. A lot.

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But we also faced some who didn’t think that we should be taking a week vacation away from our labs, our work. As graduate students. What message are we sending about academic life if we tell graduate students that they should not take vacations? Graduate school was the most flexible time of life for me (and likely is for many graduate students) – if it is going to go downhill from there, why wouldn’t people opt out of academic careers in favor of jobs that allow them the luxury of vacation, family leave, access to on-site daycare, etc…

Some research has suggested that vacations and leisure time may be beneficial to employees, both from a health perspective and from a productivity perspective. Inc. describes 4 “scientific” reasons why vacations are good (although they do not cite their sources, and most of the research out there is correlative, not causative), including: resultant reductions in stress, improvement in health, improved productivity, and better sleep. Other research suggests that higher marital satisfaction and lower stress is associated with more vacation among rural Wisconsin women. But according to some sources, only 25% of Americans take all of their paid vacation days, and 61% of Americans work while on vacation. What’s wrong with us?

It’s hard to find data specifically about the vacation habits of academics (although it is easy to find out which institutions actually offer paid vacation time). Most people have the misconception that professor→summers off. While some faculty do have a break from teaching in the summer, other academic activities continue. Even faculty who are on 9-month contracts often use the summer months to catch up on research, enhance their course materials, or for administrative activities. But besides anecdotal evidence that professors don’t have their summer off, it’s hard to know whether academics take more or less vacations than other folks, and whether those positive effects translate to this unique population.

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Just prior to my vacation, I was at a meeting of the North American Biostatistics Chairs, during which time we talked about why women are getting PhDs in Biostatistics at roughly the same (or higher rates) than men (American Statistical Association data here; AMS data here), but faculty do not reflect this equity at any rank. We discussed what we are currently doing to discourage women from seeking academic careers, and ways we can help change that. One of the things we discussed was modeling better work-life balance “behavior” to our students and junior faculty. The majority of the people in the room have children, at various ages and stages of life. And one of the reasons we love being academics is the great flexibility we have to spend time with our children, to play an active role in their lives. But maybe we don’t talk about this enough with our students? Maybe they don’t understand that the reason I sometimes work at 10:00 at night is because I sometimes leave work at 3:00 so I can be there when my son gets home from school? Modeling good behavior doesn’t mean only going home early to be with my kids, though. Modeling good behavior extends to other ways to balance work and life (like taking vacation). However, it’s not enough for scientific leaders to model good behavior when it comes to work-life integration, it is absolutely our responsibility to do so. As a leader in my field, it is contingent on me to model that work is important, but so is being away from work, and to encourage that among those I lead.

As I write this, I’m preparing for a 2-week summer vacation. I can’t tell you whether I’ll disconnect completely during that time, but it is highly unlikely that I’ll go two weeks without checking in at work. This time, I won’t be forced to disconnect, as I won’t (intentionally) be in a giant hole in the ground. Hopefully, I’ll choose to disconnect – at least for part of the time – not only for my own sake, but also for the sake of those that follow me.

 

 

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Examining Sexual Misconduct in Statistics: A Task Force is Born

The American Statistical Association (ASA) has recently appointed a Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Assault, and I’ve been asked to lead it. This is the story of how the task force came about, and about an organization that isn’t afraid to tackle a difficult issue.

It all started last October, when I had the opportunity to attend the amazing ASA-sponsored Women in Statistics and Data Science (WSDS) conference in La Jolla, CA. This was the 3rd year the conference was held, but the first that I was able to attend. The conference was great, and gave me the opportunity to catch up with old friends, former students, and colleagues, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years. I met new people who I know I’ll stay in touch with, and who will become those friends, colleagues, and maybe even students down the road! And I met the future of our profession, and I can assure you we’re in good hands.

I have to admit, though, I was a little bit skeptical at first. I’ve pondered the question of whether we really need leadership training programs that are only for women. Short answer – we do; you can find the long answer here! I also wondered whether we needed a conference that was geared towards women. I can now say that the answer to that question is a resounding yes and I’m sorry to have doubted!

The energy at the conference was far different than what I’ve ever experienced in my 20+ years in the field. The scope of topics was wide, with several statistical methods talks, some programming talks, and several sessions on what some people call soft skills (e.g. goal setting, communications, networking, mentoring), but what I think of as hard skills, since they are often the most difficult for statisticians to master. Most statisticians can prove the central limit theorem, but ask them to communicate how to prove the theorem, and they may have more difficulty.

It wasn’t only that those issues were addressed, but the fact that they were addressed in a space in which women could feel free to be honest without wondering if they were being judged based on the length of their skirt was liberating. Discussion felt freer, less inhibited. Speakers seemed more relaxed and less rushed.

And the stories. When I think that maybe we haven’t come as far as I’ve hoped, I go back to what I learned at WSDS. I think about women like Dr. Donna Brogan, who faced sex discrimination throughout her career, but fought it at every step of the way. She fought so that universities would be required to offer the same benefits to women as they do to men. I think about the women who came before me, and how the fights they fought made it possible for me to be where I am today. I hope that the fights I’m fighting will make it better for the women who come next… but I’ll come back to that.

I sat on a panel at WSDS called “Too Young to Lead, but Stepping up Anyway.”  I was so humbled to be on this panel with amazing women who all have leadership responsibilities in their organizations, and who all came into their leadership roles while relatively young. I learned so much from listening to what my peers had to say and hope that what I said helped inspire others to consider their own leadership paths. After our session, some of the other panelists and I spent time talking with a couple of young women who are starting out in the field. I had mentioned this blog during the session, and this group of women came to talk to me about my post from April, 2017 regarding sexual assault in the field. As we discussed the issue of sexual misconduct in statistics, these young women expressed concern that the ASA was not doing all that it could to ensure that the field of statistics was safe and welcoming for everyone. To me, this was horrifying – how could we grow participation in our field by women and underrepresented groups, if we are unable to create a safe and inclusive environment?

One of the things I love about being in a position of leadership is that I have the ability and security to speak up on behalf of those who feel that their voice is not able to be heard. In this case, I volunteered to reach out to the executive director of the ASA to suggest that the association consider convening a task force on sexual assault and harassment in our field. This was after instances of sexual assault/harassment in Hollywood and in journalism had received considerable media attention, and provided an opportunity for the ASA to be a leader in how professional organizations respond to instances of sexual misconduct. I sent an email – both the executive director and the ASA president responded in less than 24 hours pointing me to the meeting code of conduct that the ASA has had in place for some time, and with high enthusiasm for the Task Force, asking that we help draft charges for the group, and that I present the idea to the ASA Board at the November meeting.

These young women I had met, along with and other leaders, helped put together charges for the committee (http://ww2.amstat.org/committees/commdetails.cfm?txtComm=ABTBOD05) in a very short amount of time, and on November 17, 2017, the ASA Board of Directors approved the formation of the Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Assault, with the charge our informal group suggested. I was asked to lead the task force, and the membership was set over the next couple of months, as the ASA President was currently in transition, and the Board felt comfortable that given the meeting conduct policy already in place, these issues could be addressed in a timely, but not necessarily urgent, fashion.

And then… one woman was brave enough to do what no statistician before her had done. On December 13, 2017, Kristian Lum published a very moving blog post on Medium (“Statistics, we have a problem“) that called out two men for sexual harassment and assault. And without naming their names, she identified them pretty clearly. This very frank #metoo moment turned the world of statistics on its head. Many questions arose about how to deal with issues of sexual assault or harassment at conferences; at academic institutions; in industry. There are few people in the field who haven’t been touched by Kristian’s story. There is broad agreement that this type of behavior is not acceptable, but professional organizations in statistics were scrambling to figure out how to deal with it. We recognize that this is a difficult problem, as it broaches questions of personal vs. professional ethics and whether there should be a difference (https://newrepublic.com/article/146733/scientists-accused-sexual-misconduct-can-still-get-government-grants).

I come back to my ability to fight the fights that will make the field better for those coming after me. I’m proud to be leading a Task Force that will help identify the extent of the problem of sexual misconduct in statistics, and help recommend solutions. I’m confident that the measured fashion in which the Task Force is moving will lead to recommendations that will have long-term implications. I hope that the changes that the Task Force proposes will help to make the field of statistics a safer and more welcoming place for all.

Ready, Set, Goal!

Right around this time of the year, I meet with the faculty and staff in my department to do their annual reviews. Each faculty member is required to record their achievements in research, teaching and service over the past year, as well as assess their progress on their goals from the previous year, and set their goals for the upcoming year. Staff reviews are somewhat different – more task-oriented – but still require assessing progress on goals and developing new goals. Faculty and staff are then evaluated on their achievements and goals and scored. The scores are then translated into merit increases, should we be so lucky as to receive them that year.goals crush them

This process is not unique to my institution. Variations on this theme happen in academic units all around the country. The process ranges from highlighting new entries on your CV to paper forms to electronic data entry, but almost always includes goal setting for the short and long-term. There are plenty of reasons documented as to why it is important to set goals (e.g. Forbes and Harvard have some ideas), with requisite science (correlation, not causation – some entertaining examples here!) supporting the habit.

Most faculty hate this process. It can be painful to try to recall all of your accomplishments from the last year, and some are harder than others to dig up (e.g. how many grants did I collaborate on that never got funded?!). Systems to collect these data can change from year-to-year and can sometimes be glitchy. Finding the time to enter all of this information may not be easy, and meeting with your chair/director/boss may not be pleasant. Plenty of reasons to dislike this process.

I, on the other hand, have always enjoyed this process. It isn’t very often that you get the opportunity to really see what you’ve accomplished in a set period of time all in one place. Plus, I’m pretty good about keeping up my CV, so much of the information already exists and can just be cut and pasted into the form. But more than that, I’ve always welcomed the opportunity for me to review me. This is the one time each year that, in addition to seeing all of my accomplishments in one place, I also get to see my shortcomings. As I review the goals I set for myself, I get the chance to reflect on what I’ve done and what I have yet to do.

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As a Department Chair now, although extremely time consuming to meet with all members of the faculty and staff, this process is even more fun for me. Sure, there are the rare occasions of having to tell someone that they are not meeting the expectations we set for them the previous year, but I also get the chance to help each member of the department celebrate her/his accomplishments. Individually, I get to share in the excitement each person feels in reaching their goals, and help in the important process of setting new goals. I also get to see what my department has accomplished in aggregate over the last year, and how we are moving towards our shared goals and vision. It is quite incredible.

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Getting ready for these meetings, I know that faculty and staff are not always excited about this. I know that they get annoyed about the time it takes to put all of this information together. Some of them are nervous to meet with me. I know, because I have to do it too. This year, putting together my review packet has been more difficult. Specifically, setting my goals has been difficult. As I started to review my goals from the past year, I realized that all my goals were for the Department. Given that I’m a Department chair, maybe this is okay. Maybe I’m overlooking some unwritten goals: success with my grant submissions, progress with my students, and success in the classroom. And certainly I had non-professional goals, like keeping both kids alive through another year (which, (1) I was successful in, and (2) gets WAY easier as they get older). But I’ve always been moving towards something in my career. First, just getting through my PhD and getting a job. Check. Then, there are some goals that your institution sets (e.g. promotion, tenure), which are obvious targets. Check. But I’ve always set goals beyond that. After I became involved in the graduate program, I set my sights on becoming the Graduate Program Director. Check. Next step, Section Head. Check. Then, Department Chair. Check. But this is where my list ends!  So, I find myself asking: what next? This is a strange space for me, I’m a very goal-oriented person, and not moving towards a goal leaves me feeling… uncomfortable.

Which brings me to my first week at ELAM. Without getting into the nitty gritty of the week, much of the time was spent with me getting to know me. Exploring my strengths and weaknesses. Examining what others see as my strengths and weaknesses. I’m definitely a talker, and I love to talk about data, about facts. But talk about how I feel? Talk about feeling uncomfortable… But it was important for me to step outside of my comfort zone and think about how to foster my strengths and how to improve on my weaknesses. And maybe this is the next step to figuring out “what’s next.”

hdt goals quoteOr, maybe this is what’s next. That is to say, maybe I don’t need a next step right now. Maybe I’m doing exactly what I should be doing, and my goals should be to be the best chair I can be. Maybe goals to improve my department are exactly the goals I should be setting. It is definitely rewarding to look back at the past two years and identify changes that have come about in the Department as a result of work I’ve done, so maybe that’s just fine. Maybe in addition to continuing to move the Department forward, I should focus on my personal goals – continue to try to keep my children alive, and perhaps even help them learn to be contributing members of society. Work on strengthening my relationship with my husband. Develop some hobbies (since said husband seems to think that watching Law & Order reruns isn’t a hobby).

I always try to emphasize having fun at work when I meet with the faculty and staff. This should be the ultimate goal – if you’re not having fun at work, you’re not doing it right. As I go through these meetings and try to help the faculty and staff set goals that will make their work more fun, maybe I should practice what I preach. Since I’m really having fun celebrating all the successes of my department, then YAY! I’m accomplishing my goals and perhaps “what’s next” should really just be “what’s now.”

What it Feels Like for a Girl

I am fortunate to have been accepted into the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM®) program, as part of the 2017-18 class – the 23rd cohort. This program is for women in medicine, public health, and dentistry, and to be eligible, it is required that you have held the rank of associate professor for at least 2 years, and that you already have a leadership role in your institution. The group of ELAM alumnae (ELUM) are impressive – with ELAM alumnae holding executive leadership positions at 240 academic health institutions. Among the women who have completed the program, 64 re now Chief Executives/Academic Officers (Presidents/Chief Executive Officers, Executive Directors, Provosts, Chancellors); 26 are Deans: 11 of 28 women Deans of Medical Schools, 6 of the 12 women Deans at Dental Schools, and 2 of the 13 women Deans at Schools of Public Health. Additionally, 7 ELAM graduates are Deans of US graduate schools. Many ELAM alumnae hold other leadership roles, such as Associate Deans, Center Directors or Department Chairs. This amazing group of women are not slackers! Now, this would probably be a good time to mention correlation vs. causation: it is likely that women who are high achieving and have considerable ambition are more likely to apply for and be accepted into ELAM, so I’m not suggesting that participating in ELAM causes someone to become a Dean, but rather only that there is a correlation between participating in this program and future leadership. Anyway, ELAM is a year-long intensive leadership program, requiring 3 week-long residency sessions throughout the year (one in September, one in January, and one in April). And if academic medicine/public health isn’t your thing, but academic technology or engineering is, you should check out the ELATE (Executive Leadership in Academic Technology and Engineering) program, open to women in engineering, computer science math, physics, chemistry, or other high technology fields.

When I tell people that I’m participating in this program, I often am asked one of two questions. The first is “Do you want to be a Dean?” There is a strong history of statisticians ascending into Deanships, including women (e.g. Rebecca Doerge, Montserrat FuentesSally Morton). In fact, at a recent conference, I was talking with a former professor of mine, and he said he was having a conversation with a few others about all the women in our profession who have recently become Deans, and who might be likely to. He said that my name was mentioned among those who might be likely to one day be a Dean. It was very complimentary and flattering, but the truth is, I don’t know if I want to be a Dean. Almost halfway through my term as Chair, I am really enjoying what I’m doing! I have the ability to help set the direction for my Department, the opportunity to impact the growth and development of the faculty and staff in the Department, and have the honor of representing my Department to those within and outside of my institution. Yet, at the same time, I’m able to teach (which you may remember I love to do from previous posts), I get to work with students and post docs, and I have the time to pursue my own research and collaborate with others. It isn’t clear to me what the balance of my time would be like as a Dean, and how much of my time would be truly be my own. One of the reasons I applied to ELAM was to explore what leadership opportunities are available to me beyond Chair, to have a better understanding of what they entail, and to determine what I would need to do to prepare for those roles, should I desire to obtain one.

The second question I’ve been asked more than once when I tell people that I’m participating in ELAM is: “Why do we need leadership training exclusive to women?” or some variation on that theme. In fact, that same former professor, in reference to programs geared at increasing diversity in my field, asked “Is being an academic really that different for women?” You can imagine that I’m not being asked this by other women. But sarcasm aside, this is definitely something I’ve thought about. For years, actually. I once participated in a women’s leadership program for rising leaders in the Jewish community in my old hometown. I thought a lot about the need for leadership training exclusively for women then, and I continue to grapple with the necessity for this. Hopefully one day we won’t need to have leadership programs that are exclusively for women. Hopefully one day, there will be a spectrum of leaders with a spectrum of leadership styles, and we’ll be able to value each individual’s strengths and mold them into leaders. Hopefully one day, the proportion of women in leadership will reflect the proportion of women being led. But right now, the gender make-up of our leaders still doesn’t match the gender make-up of our trainees or our workforce across a variety of fields. Despite the that the US population is 50.9% female (according to 2010 census data), still only 21% of US senators and 20% of our US representatives are female. Women are earning 36% of the MBAs in the US, but only 4.2% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women. Academics isn’t much better, while the proportion of university presidents who are women has been steadily increasing over 20 years, women still only represent 30% of university presidents, despite more women graduating from college than men. ACPS2017-Figure10In my field, biostatistics, approximately 50% of PhDs are awarded to women (and this has been fairly constant over time); however, when I scan the list of Chairs of Biostatistics departments in North America, only 31% are female. The numbers look worse when you consider statistics jointly with biostatistics.

But these are “just” statistics. Perhaps fewer women are in leadership because fewer women desire leadership roles. Then it is time to stop and ask why that is? What image are we portraying as leaders that makes these roles undesirable to other women? Does it appear that in order to lead an organization, you have to sacrifice having a family? Or sacrifice spending time with your family? Does leadership have to be all-consuming, leaving little time for hobbies and leisure? Does being a leader mean that you have to be cold and unfeeling? Do you have to buy a whole new wardrobe in order to lead? And what about the shoes!? These are questions that everyone considering leadership has to ask themselves, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation… regardless of who they are. But the perceived answers differ according to each of our experiences, and it is impossible to separate our experiences from who we are. I am a woman, who has experienced sexual assault and discrimination based on my gender. Who has been talked over and ignored in meetings. Who has been asked, repeatedly, whether I’m a little young to do the job that I’m very ably doing; whereas my male colleagues have not. All of this shapes who I am, my desire to lead, and how I lead. And these experiences are not unique to me, but are shared by many other women. We_Can_Do_It!I have female colleagues who have been told that they should stop coloring their hair, as they’ll be taken more seriously if they let their gray show. Others who have been told not to wear what is comfortable to them, if they want to be taken seriously. Until my male colleagues are told that they should stop wearing jeans to work if they want to be taken seriously, until their input is repeatedly minimized in meetings (even if they ae the expert in the room), until they are treated in the same way women are, we will continue to need leadership programs exclusively for women. Or, when I’m not being cynical, when women in leadership stop being perceived differently than men in leadership, only then we will no longer need leadership programs exclusively for women.

As I begin this year-long journey, I have a lot of different emotions. I’m extremely excited to engage with an amazing group of women leaders, my 2017-18 ELAM cohort, from whom I will learn and with whom I will learn. I’m excited, and a little nervous, to learn more about me, about how to use my strengths and compensate for my weaknesses to become a better leader. I’m worried about packing for a week. I’m a statistician, in a school of public health, and this is a program geared towards women in academic medicine – what if I stand out clearly as the statistician in the room based solely on my wardrobe? I’m nervous about the huge amount of time I’ve committed to invest in this program – in addition to the residency weeks, there is a tremendous amount of time required for readings, developing and carrying out an institutional project, and having meetings with the leadership in my home institution. I’m sad about being away from my family for a week, missing soccer games and back to school night, and who knows what else. Despite enjoying travel, a full week is a long time to be gone. However, I’m confident that the rewards will make it worth it. Even if I never become a Dean or a University President or the US President or anything more than what I am now, the skills I’m going to learn will help me be a better me. And what more can any of us ask for?

Sexual assault and harassment in STEM: we can no longer afford to be silent

Last summer, I wrote a blog post about my 20th anniversary of attending the Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM) for the first time, in which I alluded to the fact that I had been sexually assaulted during the meeting. I made the comment in passing, but didn’t give it much attention. Until now. I share my story, in hopes that it will prompt others to do so. Without knowing the depth of the problem, we cannot solve it.

Before I tell my story, I want to provide some definitions, so we’re on the same page. Sexual harassment, as defined by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, includes “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”  The Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient,” although legal definitions may vary by state and are subject to interpretation.

During my first JSM, one of the sessions I attended was presentations by students who had won travel awards. As I was currently a student, I was interested in how I could eventually win one of those awards. So after the talks ended, I went and spoke to the session organizer, who happened to be a very well known statistician, who I’ll call “Dr. X.” Dr. X was very kind and told me about the process by which the student travel award winners were chosen – we had a nice conversation about recognizing student work at the meetings, and I left and went to the next set of talks (likely about statistics in sports). And that was that. Throughout the rest of the day, I kept running into Dr. X around the conference – not surprising since it a relatively small conference.

Later that day, I went to the conference Expo, a collection of agencies, companies and publishers who are interested in advertising to the attendees at the conference. I had a goal – I was interested in learning about summer internships at the CDC. I spent a while speaking with the guys at the CDC table about what opportunities they had available, how you apply, and other details about what a CDC internship would entail. It was exciting and I was all ready to apply!

Each year at the JSM, there is a dance. I always try to attend it, initially because it was quite entertaining to watch a bunch of old white guys trying to dance, but more recently because there are a lot more young folks who come to dance and it’s fun! This being my first JSM, I had no idea what to expect at the dance, but my classmates and I attended. During the course of the evening, I happened to run into the guys from the CDC, who happened to be talking to Dr. X. I said hello, and stood and listened to their discussions. Apparently, Dr. X was coming to give a short course at the CDC, and they were discussing the details.

The tone of the conversation changed when Dr. X started asking about which strip clubs they would be visiting during his trip to Atlanta. Never one to keep my opinion to myself, I quickly spoke up and suggested that maybe that wasn’t an appropriate conversation to be having. Dr. X smiled at me, patted me on my ass, and walked away. I was stunned… I had no idea how to react, what to say. The guys from the CDC were astonished. “How do you know Dr. X?” they asked me. “I just met him this afternoon,” I replied, still stunned. And that was that. I knew I wasn’t going to apply to their group for an internship at the CDC. I knew that they were judging me based on the actions of Dr. X. Even though I didn’t ask for it. Even though I didn’t invite it. Even though I was just being curious and thoughtful. I was being judged by his actions. And I was lucky – I’ve now worked over 20 years in a field in which I am sometimes still the only woman in the room, and this is the only time that I’d experienced that kind of unwanted physical interaction. It could have been so much worse, and for many women it is.

The ramifications of that seemingly minor incident were broad. I was on guard the rest of the conference, skulking away if Dr. X approached, afraid of appearing as if I were inviting him to treat me as he had. I ruled out applying to a very good PhD program because he was on faculty at that institution. Statistics is a very small world, though, and other occasions to encounter Dr. X would arise. In fact, when I did start my PhD the following year, Dr. X came to give a seminar. At my request, several of my classmates and I staged a quiet boycott and did not attend his talk; however, I never told any one with any influence what had happened. I know of others who have encountered similar sexual assault, seemingly minor yet having major impact. All seemed to be in situations where the man had power over us – Professor/Student types of dynamics. We all felt that we were helpless, and that any action we took could result in repercussions in our career.

These feelings are not unusual among women in science who experience sexual harassment or assault, and reports of sexual harassment in science are rampant. An Atlantic article quotes one source that indicates 1 in 3 women science professors report being sexually harassed. In another article, over a quarter of women who responded to a survey regarding sexual assault and harassment during field experiences reported being sexually assaulted, and this occurred much more frequently among female trainees than faculty. While there are clear limitations to this research, it does speak to the problem of the mistreatment of women in STEM fields, particularly when the women is in a subordinate role to the man. A recent sexual harassment case at UC Berkeley has shined even more light on this issue, highlighted in an NPR story which also reinforces the idea that women, especially students and trainees, are afraid to report these instances of harassment and assault because of fear of career repercussions, fear of retribution, fear of being labeled. A quick Google search shows numerous articles that tell the same story – women are afraid to report harassment and assault because of jeopardizing their careers. The same reasons I was silent.

What can we do to improve the situation for women in STEM fields? First of all, we must no longer be silent. We all have a responsibility to report harassment and assault, to stand up for those who are vulnerable. We must have a zero tolerance policy for these actions. No matter how impressive their research, we cannot continue to allow people who harass and assault others to remain in their positions, particularly if they are in positions of power. We must train faculty in appropriate workplace conduct, and insist that they uphold our standards. Finally, we must insist that people with influence – Department Chairs, Deans – take allegations of sexual misconduct seriously, and take swift and appropriate actions.

In retrospect, it’s hard for me to believe that this actually happened to me. I like to think of myself as a strong, independent woman. I like to believe that I think quickly, and all these years later, I’m still disappointed that I didn’t react. I hope that in the future, should I be in a similar situation, I’m able to react in some way, either verbally or through a physical response (e.g. a swift kick to the balls). My lack of reaction or response could have signaled to Dr. X that it was okay to behave in this fashion, and encouraged him to act this way towards others. I think I was just so caught off guard that a prominent person in my field would think to treat me like that, and to do so in the presence of others. As I my presence and reputation grow in my field, I hope that I am never perceived as taking advantage of my position of power over another person, and I hope that I’m able to use my position to protect others from these types of interactions.

Many stories of sexual harassment and assault among women scientists end with: “And that is why I am no longer in my STEM field.” That could have been me. I could have dropped out of my program, or decided not to pursue my PhD. I could currently be blissfully planning weddings for bridezillas, or teaching math to moody high school students. And what a shame that would be – I love what I do, and would have missed the opportunity to positively influence others in my field. But as long as we allow sexual misconduct to continue in the sciences, we will continue to lose our future leaders.

If you’ve been the victim of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 or chat online at online.rainn.org,

Play the Game – Part 2

In my last blog post, I talked about my experience searching for my first assistant professor job, and talked about being on a search committee. I left off describing how the process was like a game, except that as a candidate, you don’t get to play the whole game. All of that changes as Department Chair.

As Department Chair, I now get to play the game from start to finish, and the game looks REALLY different. The game has seemingly different instructions and is far more stressful than it ever was before. So here’s what the whole game looks like, from the seat I now sit in.

The game starts when you have to write the job posting. Well, that is, after you’ve received approval from the Dean to have the search, who in turn received approval from the Provost. Who probably asked God’s permission… The job posting has to sound appealing to applicants and must differentiate your position from the possibly hundreds of others out there. I’ve always felt fortunate when interviewing to be in a field in which there are still so many job opportunities, but now I just see it as more competition for good candidates! If we’re interviewing good people, the competition is also interviewing these folks… and what if other institutions started earlier? What if they have more money available to attract top candidates? Might they snatch up our candidate before we even get a chance to interview him/her? What if they take our “perfect fit”?

Perfection-Board-Game

Next, you have to choose a search committee. This is the group of faculty (and sometimes staff and students) who you are entrusting to make important decisions on behalf of the Department in a timely fashion. They put in a lot of time reviewing CVs, publications, letters of reference, and personal statements, and from a lot of candidates. They are the first line of defense, often having the first contact with the candidates. It is not a trivial commitment of time or effort. The search committee must represent the diversity of the department in every sense of the word. I am currently in a department that comprises two disciplines, so the difficulty in finding the right balance of faculty is compounded.

 
After the search committee reviews all of the applications, the committee then typically does 30 minute Skype/phone pre-interviews with a subset of the applicants – sometimes as many as 20, which can help narrow down the pool to thoroulettese that have real interest in our Department, who have good communication skills, and who ask well thought out questions. Based on these initial contacts, the committee then determines who will be invited for an on-campus interview.

On-campus interviews are a time-intensive endeavor for the departmental faculty: there are meals to be had, individual meetings to be had, seminars to attend. Also, someone has to organize the troops and make sure all travel, scheduling and room arrangements are made (shout out to the BEST STAFF EVER). As the Department Chair, I spend a lot of time with each candidate. I try to see the candidate at the beginning of their visit, so that I can provide them with the context they need to appropriately evaluate us. I give them a guided tour of their itinerary, so that they have a good knowledge of who everyone is and how they fit into the Department. I go to their 20-questionsseminar, and I have to pay better attention than I’ve ever had to pay during a talk before. I want to be able to really evaluate their ability to explain their research, but even more, I want to be able to evaluate their ability to answer questions (which means I have to be able to formulate an intelligent question). The seminar is extremely important – not only does it give us some indication of the candidate’s research abilities, it also give us some idea of how they would be in the classroom. I also like to meet with the candidates at the end of the day to recap their visit, answer any lingering questions they may have, and let them know our timeline and next steps as best I can. Because I spend so much time with them, I get to know them quite well.

And then it gets even more difficult. We have to make a decision. If we’re lucky, we’ve had several outstanding candidates visit, and now we have to try to figure out who has the highest chance of being successful in our Department. The search committee collects feedback, makes a recommendation to me, and it is my responsibility to decide who uno-cardsreceives our first offer. This is tricky – we may be competing with other department for the same candidates. Some already have offers pending by the time they receive our offer. Also, I have to reconcile the recommendations of the search committee with my opinions, which may or may not coincide. We have a shared goal of moving the Department forward and bringing in faculty who we think will be successful, but we may have different views on who could best contribute to our mission. I don’t want to do wrong by Department, and I feel like a have a great responsibility to them, but I also don’t want to do wrong by the candidates. I want to ensure we’re hiring a candidate who has a high probability of being successful in our Department.

The hardest part of this process for me is telling candidates that we are NOT going to offer them a job. I know, and I hope the candidates know, that just because we’re not offering them a job doesn’t mean that they weren’t outstanding. Because I spend a lot of time with the candidates, I get to know them and often become quite fond of them, and so I want to see them all be successful. And while I recognize that it is strictly a business transaction, the lines between business and friendship can be blurred. This is especially true in my field, which is a very small world, and often friends are applying to positions in my Department. I know I will see the candidates again at conferences and will encounter them in other venues, so I want to be sure that I build bridges regardless of whether I hire them.

All of that being said, it is definitely exciting to be able to make a job offer to someone At the same time, it is scary! What if they don’t like us enough, what if we don’t offer enough money, what if they “swipe left”? There are so many different emotions at play. When I get on the phone with a candidate I’ve just made an offer to, I’m guessing that I’m just as nervous as they are! Is the candidate going to tell me that they have another offer – a better offer? Are there unknowns that I hadn’t thought of? Maybe there are collaborators I should have introduced them to around the University that would have made our Department more attractive? If they’re a senior recruit, we need to determine whether they are eligible for tenure at our institution, a whole process in and of itself. Maybe they also have a two-body problem? Perhaps they’re worried about finding good schools for their children? What if the Provost doesn’t approve the offer we want to make? While I’m hoping that we find a new faculty member that we can help grow and succeed, I have to remember that each faculty candidate has their own definition of fit, and we may not be it.

And then… game ogame overver, because our candidate has accepted our offer. Or is it? If the first offer doesn’t work out, it’s back to the drawing board. Again, hopefully we’ve interviewed several outstanding candidates. If we’re fortunate, the next outstanding candidate on our list has not yet accepted another position. So the game starts again. What will this candidate need to be successful? Will we be able to attract him or her? Will the Provost approve this letter? So many things to think about, so many rules to the game, and they are always changing.

Ultimately, we all hope to win the game. To me, a win means that not only did we hire someone, we hired someone who will be an asset to the Department, and to whom the Department will be an asset. The process is long, expensive, and exhausting. It is a lot of fun, but also fraught with emotion. But like with any game, you can’t win if you don’t play!

 

Play the Game – Part 1

In Pennsylvania, deer hunting season opens in October. This is a big deal if you’re a hunter (I’m not), something you’ve looked forward to all year. It’s also a big deal if you’re a hiker (I am) – you’d better be careful to wear your hunter orange when you go for a walk in the woods, you don’t want to get mistaken for a buck.

hunter-orange-shirt

In academics, around the same time, recruiting seasons opens. This is the time when bright-eyed and bushy tailed graduate students and post-docs look for their dream job, and where departments seek to fill a coveted tenure-track position. It’s a little bit of a hunt, a little bit like match-making, a little bit of a game, and a lot of stress. I’ve gone through the process as a job candidate, a search committee member, and now as a Department chair, and I can tell you that this academic match making, this process of finding a perfect fit, of finding a 10-point buck looks very different depending on where you sit.

gameoflifeOnce upon a time, there was a younger, wiser version of me. In my late 20s, I’d been in school for a very long time, and on the verge of finally graduating for my last time. My husband and I had a baby about 10 months before we defended our dissertations, and I was ready to get out of school, find a real job, and be able to afford to feed my child. So I started my first academic job search. I applied for 5 positions, all tenure track. One was close to family and an alma mater, so I had emotional ties to the area. Another was also an alma mater, again emotionally appealing. All were different: one was in a Department of Preventive Medicine, two were in a medical schools, and two were in Departments of Biostatistics, in Schools of Public Health. It was good that they were different as it allowed me to try to determine where the right “fit” was. Fit. That elusive, indescribable thing we’re all trying to find in jobs and in life. For me, it was important to find an environment in which I could be successful – a place that values the skills I excelled at. It was also important for me to find a place in which I was comfortable socially. I knew I’d be spending a lot of time at work and wanted to be in a place where I’d have fun.

clue-cover-banner-1I was invited for on-campus interviews at 4 of the 5 places I applied. The first place I went was the one closest to my family, which was helpful since I was exclusively nursing my 4-month-old daughter at the time. It ended up being a good practice round for me – a good way to learn the rules of the game. They didn’t offer me a job, and it is probably for the best. I likely would have accepted it mainly because of location, and not for the other aspects of fit I was looking for.

Overall, I found the interview process to very different from what I’d expected. I thought it would be extremely stressful, and well… it was definitely stressful. I was still nursing my daughter for 2 of my other interviews, so needed to ask for breaks in my schedule for pumping. My doctoral advisor (a man in his 60s) told me that I wouldn’t want to work somewhere that wasn’t willing to accommodate me – maybe some of the most important advice he gave me during my job search. And while everyone was accommodating, it did add stress to an already stressful process.

But I was surprised by how much fun I had interviewing. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people, to learn about different departments and their values. I was interested to hear who felt that there was work/life balance at the institution (often getting conflicting answers within the same institution), and what research was going on where. cranium-boxI learned a lot from the interview process, lessons that I’ve carried forward with me throughout my career, such as how to answer questions with poise even when I had no idea what the person was asking. I learned how small a world biostatistics is, and how people are just people, no matter how many books they’ve written, how many theorems are named after them, or how much black they wear.

And in the end, just like every game, you win some and you lose some. I was fortunate to have been offered jobs from 3 of the 4 places I interviewed, and even more fortunate that one of the offers came from somewhere that felt like the best fit.

The next stage of the game: negotiation. I was terrible at this part of the game. I didn’t know what to ask for and didn’t know that practically everything is negotiable. And really, after nearly 9 years in graduate school, any real salary felt like a million bucks! Luckily, my pay-day
new chair was fair to me, and my offer contained a very competitive salary, relative to the other offers I received. This is extremely important, because salary increases are typically based on a % of your current salary, so if you start low, it is difficult to make it up over time.

So I accepted the offer and marched off into the sunset, right? If only life was so easy. You see, I have a two-body problem – my husband also needed to find an academic position. However, we got extremely lucky. We won the game! He found a position at the same institution, and so off we rode, into the sunset.
Fast forward a few years, and now Assistant Professor StatGirl is on a pizza-mathsearch committee. What a different process! Now, it was my job to help decide who would come visit our department and make recommendations about to whom we should off
er the position. I got to help court the candidates. Again, it was fun for me, for many of the same reasons as when I was interviewing. I learned some interesting new statistical methods. I got to eat dinner at some of the best restaurants in town. And when it was done, the committee made our recommendations, and it was out of our hands. I met some really interesting people, many of whom took other jobs, but people I still call my colleagues and friends – the ones who got away!

And that was that. I didn’t think about what came before the search committee. I didn’t think about what would happen if no one accepted our offer. Because I didn’t understand the entire process. I didn’t get the chance to play the whole game. Stay tuned for part 2 – in which I tell you about the rest of the game.