The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club is a 1985 John Hughes film about five high school students who are assigned to a Saturday detention, and who represent different high school cliques: the jock, the nerd, the rebel, the princess, and the outcast. The cast has members of the “Brat Pack” – Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, and Anthony Michael Hall, and IT IS A CLASSIC. It is one of those movies that I know well enough that I can quote much of it. If you haven’t seen it, head on over to YouTube or Netflix or any other streaming service and check it out (after you finish reading this, of course).  Anyway, this group comes together for their detention wary of each other, and each with their perception of the others just based on their appearance. They start off in quite an adversarial way, each rebuking the others. But by the end of the movie, they realize that they are more similar than different, and walk away perhaps not as friends, but at least with a better understanding of their Shermer High School community.


When the American Statistical Association (ASA) Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Assault was brought together, the membership may have felt similarly to the Breakfast Club. We came from all corners of ASA Community, each representing our own interests and experiences. And like in the movie, we started off not really knowing each other nor how we viewed the job in front of us. We each had our perceptions of the others based on what little we knew about them. And maybe some of us felt that being appointed to the Task Force was sort-of like detention (but hopefully not!).

In a previous blog post, I described how the Task Force was born, and while I did publish an update in the Amstat News, I haven’t blogged about our progress since. As we are nearing the end of our duties, I thought it would be good to report what we’ve been up to, and what happens next.

When we set out, we had the following charge:

  • Assess the extent of sexual harassment/assault in the ASA community
    • Review surveys used by other professional organizations to assess the prevalence of sexual harassment/assault;
    • Develop a survey to administer to the ASA membership to assess the frequency, location and kinds of harassment/assault occurring;
    • ASA leadership to distribute the survey to ASA membership
    • Summarize the findings from the survey
  • Review the current best practices of professional organizations and academic institutions with respect to sexual harassment/assault.
  • Consider creation of a resource that allows victims of sexual harassment and assault to anonymously receive support.
  • Make recommendations to the ASA Board of Directors regarding sexual harassment/assault policy changes for the organization.

We naively thought that our work would be fairly straightforward. How many different conduct policies could there be? It turns out, at the time that we were beginning our work, the #MeToo movement moved into high gear in the academic and scientific communities. national academiesAlmost daily, new articles were being written about instances of sexual misconduct and gender discrimination in science, medicine and academics. Organizations rushed to develop conduct policies that far improved upon what they had, some in very proactive ways, others very reactively. As the Task Force tried to collect information about “best practices” for conduct policies, we had a hard time keeping up! Even now, nearly a year later, the amount of information still coming out can be overwhelming.

But we plodded along, learning about what other professional organizations were doing, and borrowing heavily from those we thought got it right. This was not easy – with the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives on the Task Force came diversity about which policies had it right. We spent hours discussing possible additions and deletions to the policy. At one point, we discussed whether to use the word “and” or “or” as a conjunction for over 30 minutes.

By the 2018 Joint Statistical Meetings, we had drafted a revised ASA Activities Conduct Policy and submitted it to the ASA board for initial review. With some back and forth, we finalized a draft revised policy in September and in October made it available for public comment from the ASA community. At the same time, our colleagues at Langer Research Associates emailed the ASA community a link to a questionnaire aimed at understanding the extent of sexual misconduct in the profession. ASA Membership had a month to both comment on the revised conduct policy, and to complete the questionnaire.

With comments in hand, the Task Force sent a final draft of the ASA Activities Conduct Policy to the Board. On November 30, 2018, it was approved and has since been posted on the ASA website . The Task Force is extremely excited to see this concrete product of our efforts completed.

In addition to the Conduct Policy, the Task Force has been working on other recommendations to the Board regarding processes and procedures for complaints of misconduct, mechanisms for adjudicating complaints of misconduct, and recommendations to improve the climate in the field of statistics for all, particularly given the data from the questionnaire. A full report of our activities, including a summary of the data collected from the questionnaire, will be delivered to the ASA membership during the 2019 Joint Statistical Meetings, and we will be available to answer questions and to have open, frank discussions about the activities of our Task Force and their implications during that time.

As we’ve moved ahead in our work, we have come to be a strong team, understanding that the different perspectives we bring are important to ensuring the best product we can. Of course, this realization is nothing new – there is already evidence that having diverse representation leads to more creativity and innovative results (;;… but this was a good reminder that having diverse input can lead to stronger, more innovative results.

Service on the Task Force has taken an incredible amount of time. We have had calls twice a month for the last year, and between the calls there has been work to ensure that the Task Force is moving forward: policies to review, questionnaires to revise and review, meeting minutes to summarize, reports to write, and more. When I travel to conferences and to visit other departments, conversation often turns to the work of the Task Force, and even with my friends outside of the statistical community, there is much discussion of this work.

My Doctoral advisor always said that being a collaborative statistician allowed him to work in many methodological areas… I have always felt the same way about my statistical career.


From Loop et al (2017), Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes

So far, I have done work on methods for clinical trials, spatial analyses, measurement error, and with my current students, I continue to expand my methodological reach based on the questions arising from my collaborations. However, I never thought that my career would take me in this direction – that I would become an expert in the issues surrounding sexual misconduct.

That said I have been honored to be able to lead this incredibly smart group of people in our work. I’ve learned a ton in this process, both through the research we’ve done, and from the insightful input and experiences of my colleagues. I’ve gained perspective into thoughts, actions, and perceptions – both my own and those of others – that were not always apparent to me before. These discussions have made me examine my own practices, attitudes and beliefs, and think more carefully about what I say and do. I realize now that while I may not perceive myself to be in a position of power, as a Department chair, others view me that way, and it is essential that I am constantly aware of the implications of that.

And while I’m so happy to be at a stage in my career where I can help make the climate better for those around me, particularly the junior folks coming up now, I am also looking forward to getting back to my “real” work. To being asked about my research again, and to having more time to think about science again. And this is really what is at the crux of the issues with sexual misconduct and gender discrimination not only in science, but beyond. The heavy lifting, the bulk of the work to improve the climate, falls on those who are the target of the bad behavior. Who takes the lead in helping to improve the climate for women? Typically women. Who actively works to improve conditions for people of color? Typically people of color. Who leads the charge to create equitable environments for sexual and gender minorities? You guessed it,… And while we are making strides to have a more inclusive community, it isn’t enough. We need everyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation to join the fight and help create fair and equitable communities. It is only when we are working together that we can truly make change happen.



As the work of the Task Force begins to wind down, I think about the all that we have learned from each other, and how like the members of the “Breakfast Club,” we have
begun to see each of us in the others (although maybe, as statisticians, we were all part of the nerd clique in high school). I think about how much of myself I see in each of the Task Force members… in the immortal words of John Hughes: “…each one of us is a brain and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” And now, cue the music


The Art of Mentoring

This past academic year, I played a key role in implementing a new mentoring program in my School. I had begun the process of developing a new mentoring program for my Department, and when my Dean learned what I was doing, she asked that I work with our Associate Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs to broaden my efforts to the School. I am excited and proud to be bringing a formal mentoring program to my School. But  developing mentoring programs is difficult because each of us is different. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and we all have different needs. What works for me may not work for someone else (and likely won’t). In fact, even the reception of the faculty across the school was widely varied. Some faculty wanted our program to be even more intense, with more rigid guidelines, while others were skeptical about even being involved in the program at all (this perspective from both junior faculty and senior faculty). So not an easy task.


Mentoring is an important part of the fabric of academics, and much attention has been paid to the process. Academic publications are filled with articles that describe new mentoring programs, new approaches to mentoring, what makes mentoring effective; while a quick google search shows countless mentoring resources for developing, maintaining and sustaining mentoring relationships. Measuring the success of mentoring programs is difficult, as metrics to describe academic success (e.g. grant dollars, publications, citations, teaching evaluations) cannot be attributed to a single factor. Complicating things further, mentoring programs, if they exist, take a variety of formats across institutions.  And often the same mentoring program has varying levels of success because of varying commitments by different mentor/mentee pairs.

coaching and mentoring quotes Unique 36 best Quotes Inspirational images on PinterestNot all mentoring relationships are created equally. Some are very formal, while others are rather informal. Some are intentional, while others are accidental. Some folks receive mentoring from those “above” them (think Full Professor mentoring an Assistant Professor), while others receive mentoring from their peers, or from those more junior than they are. There is no single approach to mentoring, and most people have some combination of mentors. In fact, often, you may have a mentor that you don’t even realize is mentoring you! Conversely, you may view someone as a mentor who may not view themselves that way.

When I think back on my own mentoring experiences, I start with my relationship with my Doctoral advisor, who was probably also my first real academic mentor. He mentored me not only in statistical methods research, but also in how to effectively collaborate with clinicians, grant writing, directing clinical trials coordinating centers – I learned an enormous number of academic skills from him! He also took the time to know me as a person, encouraged me to pursue my hobbies outside of school, and supported me when my husband and I decided that Graduate School was the right time to start our family. I learned a lot from him, and not just about how to mentor a doctoral student to successfully defend their dissertation, but also about the human side of mentoring. My Doctoral advisor didn’t exactly have a reputation for being warm and fuzzy, but that’s okay – his gruffness didn’t keep him from showing genuine concern for my success (and for the success of his other students). For me, this was extremely important; however, others may not care so much about the non-academic side of mentoring.

mentor quote2

As I was finishing my PhD, I interviewed at several academic institutions. I’ve written about the job search before, there are a lot of opportunities during interviews to meet with a lot of different people. I always tell my mentees not to burn any bridges when they interview, as the folks you meet now will pop up in a variety of ways during your career. In fact, some of the folks I met during my interviews have turned into trusted mentors for me (two are now fellow Chairs, who I can rely on for good advice whenever I ask). I’ll come back to this.

At my first academic institution, there was no formal mentoring program. In fact, those in leadership were somewhat skeptical of formal mentoring, and I was left to my own devices to figure out how to obtain the mentoring I needed. Because of my personality, this was not an issue for me – I was able to seek out mentoring from those who I thought could answer my questions. However, this is not true for all junior faculty, and it is presumptuous to assume that everyone will be successful if left to their own devices. During this time, I was lucky to have some colleagues who were just a few years ahead of me, and who could advise me and help point me down the right path. I had one mentor with whom I had substantial overlap in my research, and he really became my de facto mentor, absent a formal mentoring program. It helped that he understood my goals and my personality, but I was extremely lucky that I was successful despite (or maybe in spite of?) the lack of formal mentoring, and that I had colleagues who were truly concerned with my success. In reality, there was no academic incentive for them to mentor me, nor did they get any “credit” for my success.

Post-tenure, my mentoring needs changed, and I struggled to find mentors. I sought out and found mentoring where I could. People helped me who I’m sure did not consider themselves my mentor. I settled for insightful conversations with a colleague while sharing a cab to the airport, or walking between meetings at a conference. I set up calls with colleagues who I thought might have had similar paths, and from whom I could benefit from mentor quote4their experiences. The attitude of the leaders in my institution (particularly after I was promoted to full professor) was that I was now the mentor, and so why did I need mentoring? I would argue that everyone needs mentorship at every phase of their career, and that mentoring needs change as your roles change, but my argument was met with opposition. It’s hard for me to understand the lack of support for mentoring – seeking out a mentor isn’t a sign of weakness or inability, but rather a recognition that we all need help being successful. We all need folks to help us figure out how to complement our weaknesses, and who can help us emphasize our strengths. I was fortunate that my paths had crossed with people across the country who were happy to give me advice here or there. And while I never had a formal mentor, I again had a lot of resources that I could cobble together to make sure my needs were met.

It was at that stage that I also found the most amazing peer mentoring group. I was invited to be on a School-wide committee charged with evaluating the direction of the school, and my hope was that the free lunch that it provided monthly would at least make the time worth it. However, I was pleasantly surprised to get to know two colleagues of mine from other Departments in my school, who were also miserably enduring this committee (for what it’s worth, the lunches weren’t even mentor quote5that good). Both were at about the same stage as I, and both were struggling with figuring out next steps, like me. We started meeting monthly for breakfast, finding new places to eat around town, and helping each other see the opportunities and HUMOR in our jobs and in our lives. We laughed so much during those breakfasts, even when we shouldn’t have been laughing, and I believe that without these two colleagues, two friends, I wouldn’t have made it to where I am today. Incidentally, each of us went on to become a Department Chair, and I have no doubt that at some point in the future I’ll see these two again – at Dean’s meetings.

As I started to look at Chair positions, and eventually negotiate the terms of my Chairpersonship, I once again cobbled together my resources to help guide me through the process. I was lucky that I had peers who had recently become chairs and others who had been long-serving chairs that I could rely on to help me navigate the process and negotiate my offer. One of these colleagues was someone I had originally met when I was interviewing right after graduate school. I am eternally grateful that so many people have been so generous sharing their time with me.

mentoring-is-a-mutuality-that-requires-more-than-meeting-the-right-teacher-the-teacher-must-meet-quote-1And that hasn’t ended now that I’m a Department Chair. A colleague of mine, who was once a Chair and is now a Dean (trained as a statistician) recently asked me about my career goals. She mentioned that she has had the opportunity to help mentor others who are considering applying to Dean positions, and that she’d be happy to mentor me similarly. I emailed her and told her that I’d like to take her up on her offer, and she replied asking me to provide her with a statement of my career goals, as well as my CV. While I am struggling to articulate my career goals (I really love my current job, and am not sure that I’m ready to think about what’s next), I am excited to have the opportunity to have a new mentor, and also to start to explore what future possibilities might be available to me.

My own experiences with mentoring have instilled in me a very strong mentoring philosophy. First of all, I’m a firm believer that mentoring is absolutely essential for all faculty at all stages of our careers. While our needs from a mentor may change as we progress through our careers, fundamentally, none of us is ever beyond the need for a mentor. We may call these folks different things at different times: maybe advisor, or confidante, or colleague, but often their roles are the same.

Also, I rarely pass up the opportunity to serve as a mentor when asked. I’ve been extremely successful mentoring doctoral students and post-docs – I was honored to receive an award for my outstanding mentoring. Beyond that, I’ve worked with several junior faculty as part of their mentoring committees for successful K01 award submissions (and some unsuccessful ones). But what I enjoy most is mentoring those who are trying to find the right path for them:  students who think that an academic career may not be for them, but who might be convinced otherwise; mid-career faculty who are struggling with finding the right next steps to promotion; full professors who are contemplating the leap to Department Chair, or are looking for other opportunities in research and collaboration. It is my honor and pleasure to listen to them, and to talk with them, in addition to it being my responsibility. I suspect that not all of these folks see me as a mentor per se, and that’s okay – if I can help, I don’t care what we call it.

myinspirationAnd as much as I love mentoring, and while I feel responsible for success for all faculty in my Department, I also know that I am not necessarily the best person to mentor everyone. So part of what I negotiated when I started as Chair includes money earmarked for mentoring resources for the faculty in my Department. This money is not restricted to junior faculty, but is available for all faculty should the need arise. Every year when I meet with faculty to discuss their progress, I again offer to help them find mentors (both internal and external), and to provide resources to help foster the mentoring relationship.

I think that there is a perception in academia that as mentors, we are trying to mold the next generation of faculty to be just like us. I’ve never been able to accept that my job as a mentor is to create the next StatGirl (in fact, there can only be one StatGirl!). My job as a mentor is to help my mentee become the best _______ they can be. Fill in the blank. Maybe the best Professor? Maybe the best Department Chair? But just as likely, I’m helping them learn to become the best pharmaceutical statistician they can be. Or the best FDA statistician. My job is to help provide my mentees with the skillset they need to be successful at what they want to do, not what I want them do. And I take this responsibility very seriously – maybe even more so than others because I’ve struggled to find mentors who view the process in this way.

Maybe my mentoring philosophy arises from my strong belief that our goal should be to diversify our field, rather than to continue to perpetuate more of the same. That means mentoring people to do what they enjoy and are good at, and then celebrating their successes. That means creating a culture in which we accept that success is defined in a variety of ways, rather than how it has always been. That means working to ensure that promotion and tenure is not limited only to faculty who do what I did. That means mentoring people to navigate the academic hierarchy successfully, even if their path does not mirror yours. In thinking about this, it seems like a catch-22: if we don’t broaden our definition of success in academics, we’ll never have the motivation to broaden our approach to mentoring. However, if we don’t broaden our approach to mentoring, we will never have the diversity we need to broaden our definitions of success.

As time passes, I hope that we will come to see the need for diverse approachmentor1es to mentoring, and that we will work to ensure all faculty receive the mentoring they need. I hope we will come to understand how we all need a team of mentors to support our success, and that we will all learn to make mentoring a priority. If you are mentoring someone, learn what their goals are, and get to know what they need from a mentor. Help them meet their goals, not yours. If you’re looking for a mentor, don’t be afraid to ask! People genuinely want to help others be successful, and if they tell you no, you don’t want them as a mentor anyway. In the meantime, I will keep doing what I can to help others be successful, and feel extremely fortunate that others are willing to continue do the same for me.

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.


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.


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.


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.



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 ( 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 (

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.



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.

hockey goals
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,