Monday, July 31
This morning, the Boston Globe published an email exchange between a male neurobiologist and a young femaleneurobiologist to whom his department made a job offer. (Go read the Globe article! You can download the email exchange as a word document and then feel better about your own situation, whatever it may be.) His goal was to dissuade her from joining his department on the grounds that they would compete with each other. Pa ha ha ha ha! Let's enter him into Scarlet's televised competition, "So You Think You Can Get an Outside Offer!" (Boom ba-boom ba-boom boom!) Okay, he is (or, perhaps the appropriate word is was) a Nobelaureate, Susumu Tonegawa, but I think that verb tense is the point about gender and competition from senior faculty who, in a more-perfect world might serve as mentors. We ought to keep each other and our disciplines active, but it doesn't always work that way.

A couple years ago, I had the privilege of sharing a meal with a leading scholar in my field who heads a lousy department in a big powerful university (which shouldn't have a lousy department, but history does these things). This guy has a national reputation, not only for the (sometimes) stellar quality of his own work, but also for his exceptional mentorship of graduate student. But his department eats junior faculty for breakfast. One of my colleagues had the beautiful audacity to ask him about a recently failed tenure case over our third glass of wine, and he gave us all these reasons the candidate (who had doubled most research-one expectations) wasn't good enough. Yes, I told him about his mentorship imballance, but people with egos that big (and three glasses of wine) usually forget things like that. (I hope.)

Now back to gender. When I wrote about my strategically incompetent female colleague, Clear, whose profile says he's male, chimed in to say he probably does too much photocopying. But it didn't take long for the discussion to conclude that women are expected to do photocopying more often than men. I'm sure that's right, but I'm concerned about two things, especially given the somewhat frightening Picture Secret XV:
1. how we react (differently) to similar behaviours from men vs. women (e.g. Should we expect the women who fought their way into the academy to act less competitively than their male colleagues?), and

2. how we might be mistreating each other because we might not know our genders, among other things.
The Globe says the young biologist took a job at Virginia to avoid conflict at MIT. That's the South! I guess we'll find out later whether it's also the metaphorical frying pan for her. According to, at 11:30 am Eastern time, the temperature is Boston is 77 F and Charlottesville, VA is 89 F.

Here's to making everyone dance for the camera!


Salmon Ella said...

I am naive. Does this sort of thing happen often and just not get publicized because it does not involve a Nobel Laureate at MIT? I wonder how much research money you have to bring in to be able to get away with this.

thistle said...

the email exchange is unbelievable. Thanks for posting this.

fraud, in denim said...

There's so much here that I'm not sure where to begin or how much sense this will make.

First, what a tragic story. As perverse as it might sounds, what really got me about the story was when she turned down the job that would give her and her partner the one chance to be in the same city. It must have been awful for her, and for them.

I don't know how often it happens, Salmon, but I do think that everyone on the job market learns of at least someone who does not want them at any particular job for whatever reason. It's ignoring that and focusing on the fact you got the offer that's the only way to overcome that.

With regard to whether people of different genders should be treated differently, or held to different standards, or if gender or related responsibilities should come into play - that's an especially tough one. As the world is now, with gender so tied to other commitments or pressures, I think those things can't be ignored. However, I think that instead of a person by person decision (because we are all aware of biases), we should offer flexibility. To really give people half-time work and 12 years to get tenure, three-quarter time and 9 years, and so forth, and to be sure you're holding them to similar standards.

Finally, does gender affect us, and I assume you mean here at a.secret. I do know that I'm always checking profiles, or reading the cues in posts, to try to figure out the gender of the member.

kodachrome said...

Ella, My view is that the email element of the hiring process is pretty out-of-control and, no, status doesn't matter. Ego does, but, mysteriously, there are giant egos in Podunk just like at MIT.

Thistle, You're welcome. I only wish *I* didn't believe it.

Fraud, Yes, here at a.secret we are very concerned about poor Scarlet (Mee, too, I'm not picking on anyone) who's so overcommitted she might not survive. But problems are common to all of us... (especially women?) But then we ignore gender inconsistencies. We aren't concerned about Clear and Plaid, two men who do all of our electronic housework at a.secret. The only reason I brought it up is that we may have many readers who face this problem, and I wouldn't want male readers, especially kind-hearted overcommitted male readers with hundreds of students, to think that we're only sympathetic to women who face it... and the reverse: I wouldn't want them to think we approve of senior men being "hurdles" to their junior colleagues, just because it somehow seems less shocking than when women do it.

fraud, in denim said...

I always figured Plaid for a woman. Guess I better pay better attention, or I somehow missed an obvious cue (like a sex in a profile).

I do agree that female does not always equal overcommitted or male the reverse (although that seems to be the status quo in my relationship), that's why I think there should be more flexibility in general and not just talk about most of academis being liberal or aware of discrepancies, etc.

Salmon Ella said...

I always figured Plaid for a woman.

I second that.

Clear said...

I cannot speak for Plaid, but, when a.secret was started, the gender of Clear was determined by a coin flip. As the coin used was neither a Sacajawea nor Susan B. Anthony dollar, heads was male. I do like the label of "man who does the electronic housework," though, so I'm pleased heads it was.

kodachrome said...

f: I always figured Plaid for a woman.

c: the gender of Clear was determined by a coin flip

Well I guess that's my point, even if it does undemine the whole "2 men who do our electronic housework" thing. ...And, um... we'll just ignore the fact that I can't figure out why I thought Plaid was male.

Cerise said...

Possibly you thought Plaid was male because Plaid is an administrator.

kodachrome said...

Owwwwwwuch! I deserved that.

Plaid said...

I'm enjoying this, please continue.

Note also that Clear didn't say the coin flip determined the genders of both of us, just Clear's gender. Clear's coin flip leading to a male identity has nothing to do with Plaid's gender identity.

I also like "two men who do all of our electronic housework at a.secret", but Cerise makes a good point about why kodachrome may have assumed that.

Not to give away the store, but I would like to point out that people may be falling into an age-old problem here: assuming that gender can only take on one of two values.

kodachrome said...

He he he! Don't worry. I wouldn't forget such a thing. But if we were trying to guess everybody's "true" (cough, cough) gender (isn't that against our rules?) we should consider a widder realm of possibilities.

Nevertheless, I'm not willing to guess anything more liminal than "drag queen," and while that would be interesting gender identity information (like kodachrome has a pink oxford, well, actually I don't, but if I did), it wouldn't constite a gender.

All in good fun... but I'm off to re-read the rules.

Clear said...

I have no idea how Plaid's gender was determined, although plaid itself has always seemed manly to me, and not just when it is on a kilt.

kodachrome said...

Okay, I checked. My interpretation is that Clear and Plaid are not supposed to try to figure out who the rest of us are, but we aren't so constrained. So, with Plaid's permission and um "his" hint, I guess I'll have to posit that plaid is multicolored and multigendered, on screen, at least. I'm still not biting on um "her" IRL identity.

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