Friday, March 20, 2015

Great grandfather walkabout

I think it is time for some lighter fare! This is a blog analysing a letter written by my long-deceased great grandfather, Hector McKenzie. It was recently forwarded to me by my grandmother!



Alison - my cousin June Mayne sent this letter of Pop’s to me. I have copied it for you, and for John, and Marilyn and my kids. I think it contains “the essential Hector”.
[handwriting, blue]
Roz’s writing! MC
5 York Street, Gosford 2250. July 2, 1976.
Dear June and Mae,
It was a considerable thrill to get your letter, June, and very pleasing to know that tree didn’t just disappear under the jungle amongst which it was planted. And it was good to be reminded of the week-end the planting was done. No fish came out of it, but the drive up to Bingleburra, and then up the Allyn to beyond Eccleston was a feast of scenery. And the camp just a few feet from your kitchen verandah, within sound of the old North Coast line, was full of reminders of the days when the beard was black. Like the afternoon in 1929 when Don was off to Stroud for the week-end, so I hitched a ride to a cafe at Dungog. There I ate some steak and eggs, bought a bottle of beer, and at 4pm set off to walk home to East. At each fourth mile peg I walked off the road, lay down flat for 5 minutes on dear old George McDonald’s “J. Hart, West Maitland, Reliance” watch, then back on to the feet and away. A mile before the road crosses the Railway south of Hilldale, enjoying the exercise after roaring over Wallarobba hill, the stars bright as electric lamps, and the night air rushing in and out like a roaring forty, I decided to uncap the beverage. Did this without trouble on a barb on the fence, in the starlight, swigged about a nip and a half, and was into the refreshment rooms opposite the entrance to Paterson Park in even time, 9pm. Had tea and a pie, and into the last 13 miles. Somewhere near where the road swings left to go via Largs and Pitnacree, I quenched the thirst again, and began to realize I was on a walk. By the time I was crossing the Pitnacree Bridge, where Ross had taken his ducking in 1917, and which is no longer there these days, I was certain I had been walking for ever. But just short of East Maitland Station, I finished the flat beer, hid the bottle in Mary Avard’s garden, and really pushed the old feet over the overpass, across the old swamp, round by Talamini’s pub, and up past the gaol. Passing under the Gaol clock, the Tenterfield Mall shot through E.M. station, at 20 to 1. Next day at Gray’s skiting about the walk, and how it taken nothing out of this steel frame with rubber fittings, Win Pender asked how far I had walked. I said 32 miles. Right, said he, come out here. So the mob of us went out into his SIlver Anniversary Stude, ?was it?, and we drove up to the cafe and back along my tracks, and I think we found it was 33. The night I camped in your place I did it all again, and it took even less out of me than the first time.
I should like to plant a couple of Taxodiums up there. There are five of them in the railway park in Gosford, which scatter seedlings every year, some of which I manage to scrounge, to scatter over the land.
Two that we put in at Owlpen were doing well, and a couple at O’Hare’s on the Tops were still alive last time I heard, and one at Rosyln’s may come good. But I think they might be in home ground in your corner, although they are North Americans. From where I sit, there is a beauty straight ahead, half way up the hill opposite, and it is a tall pyramid shape of dull red, or perhaps rust, as it is dropping its tiny leaves.
There is also one next door, where Mrs Prentice used to live and work endlessly in her garden. But we expect within 6 months her great garden will be obliterated, and replaced by 8 or a gaggle or 28 Town Houses. We are sad for the butcher birds and parrots and magpies who have sung their fledglings to sleep in this leafy area for centuries.
Also, a bit, for ourselves and neighbours, who have liked it like it was.
Kitty seems to make out better than most of us. With children and their offspring like she has, it is no great wonder. We saw the snaps from “that Sceptred Isle” (apologies here to old Gaunt, last night), and those little Froggies would cheer up anyone. And What-ho for Cathrine! More Sand-gropers.
Very pleasant to hear from you, and I also remember what a good cook you are.
Best wishes to you both.
Love from Dorothy and Hector

I found this letter extremely interesting. Although I have travelled to Stroud and Dungog a few times during my life, there was little context at a young age to anchor the landscape in both place and time. Fortunately the internet exists, so I decided to unpack some of the detail. According to Google, the walk was indeed 52.1 km, or 32.37 miles, which is longer than a marathon. Australian English often uses 's' in place of 'z', but I was interested that Hector used 'z' in 'realize', perhaps a hangover from his time spent practicing dentistry in Canada in the late 1930s.

Map of Hunter Valley location in Australia.
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Map of the Hunter Valley, home of excellent Australian wine and some of the biggest open cut coal mines on Earth.


Geological context. Eccleston is just south of Barrington Tops National Park, a heavily eroded volcanic remnant. The north-south lineations just north of Stroud are part of the New England fold belt, derived from the Hunter Bowen orogeny during the Permian and Triassic, 250-220 million years ago. 

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Pitnacree-Maitland route (google is slightly confused here - the actual route passes through Pitnacree and then up the road to the right)

The 1929 silver anniversary "Stude" was probably 1929 silver anniversary Buick, pictured below!

The Reliance Watch was sold exclusively in Australia by J. Hart in West Maitland, according to a paragraph in “The Maitland Mercury” dated July 23, 1887.
Mentioned once more in the issue of June 9, 1889, in the context of mechanism improvements and maintenance.
J Hart and Co Jewelers were bought out in 1939.
Their building at 418 High St bears an inscription stating construction in 1855, or possibly 1885.

The watch looked probably very similar to this, a Reliance watch from the same era.

Taxodium is one of three species of swamp cypress native to the American south. Trees in the northern part of its range are deciduous. As far as I know, the one he planted in Mullum (Huonbrook, near Mullumbimby) is still going strong.


Screen grabs along route from street view

Dungog main street
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After turnoff at Dungog road
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Looking down the Wallarobba hill
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Likely place of 'beverage uncapping' (looking north)
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Crossing south of Hilldale (don't turn off here!)
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Paterson Park with war memorial and station in the background.
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Where the road turns off to go via Largs and Pitnacree (to the left)
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Pitnacree bridge was demolished after the Hunter river changed course in 1951.

Fomer site of Pitnacree bridge, from adjacent levee
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Pitnacree main street. I'm unsure which is Mary Avard's garden, but I think it might be the one behind the mower
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Courthouse clock
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Turning onto the home street, with only a few yards to go
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Time for a nap
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Hector "Darpop" McKenzie had a long and extremely interesting life. He left school at 16 to jackaroo during the first world war, went back to school and taught himself Latin in six months, entered dentistry school, practiced dentistry in Gosford (where I was born half a century later), beginning in the Great Depression. Although a lot of the houses of that era no longer survive, the small cottage in which he grew up (with 8 siblings!) in Maitland is still there. Well into old age he was an avid fisherman, motorcyclist, and bushwalker. My father relates an anecdote that during the building of the first family home when I was about -1, Hector (aged ~86) showed up having hiked a few miles from the nearest sealed road, bringing his racing axe and a few sandwiches to help clear the land. He is my mother's mother's father, and he died in 1989, shortly after my brother was born.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Grad school, exploitation, and gender: the discussion continues

Article first published in The California Tech on March 9, 2015

Grad school, exploitation, and gender: the discussion continues

Casey Handmer

After last week's article was published, more women came forward to relate their experiences. Like, Chloe, Cynthia-Rose, Lilly, and Patricia, Jessica* has experienced forms of sexism throughout her time in academia. Learning what is normal and what is acceptable doesn't happen overnight. Jessica relates, "At the first conference I ever went to, when I was a 21-year-old undergraduate, the head of the [experiment], who was engaged and had a newborn, was trying to buy me drinks all night and was saying inappropriate things, like 'Global warming is really the fault of women like you, because you're so hot men will fly anywhere to have sex with you.' It seems dumb now, but I was terrified. I thought it was my fault because I was wearing a dress and heels and as a [naive] undergrad, I didn't know what to do. One of the grad students saw what was going on and rescued me. He told the head of the collaboration, who pulled me aside to ask what had happened. He assured me, saying, 'This is not okay,' and the guy ended up being put into mandatory sexual harassment training. But at 21, I was completely mortified. I never told my [then] adviser because I thought if he knew, he'd think it was my fault and ban me from conferences."

In addition to contending with trouble at conferences and not trusting her adviser to back her up, Jessica's work environment was also compromised by a grad student who shared the same adviser and was peripherally related to her research. "[My soon-to-be-ex] boyfriend moved [permanently] to Massachusetts. Every single weekly pub trip after my ex had left, this grad student [in my lab] was coming onto me, and not gently: he was putting his hand on my leg. I brushed him off every week. [The morning after the yearly Christmas party, I received] an email from him. I must have told him to [go away in no uncertain terms], because it said 'You would be nowhere without me. Who do you think you are? You know nothing. You can't do research without other people.'" As though, even if that were true, Jessica would somehow owe them anything. Nevertheless, in the cold light of dawn, "I apologized, 'You know I'm sorry if I offended you in some way,' and he responded, 'I now have more respect for you.' I never told anyone about it, especially not our shared adviser, because I thought it would be my word against his. I was still super naive, and thought it was somehow my fault. Maybe I should have gone along with it? How messed up is it, that as a 21-year-old I'm debating sleeping with quasi-collaborators so they don't verbally harass me."

Jessica's experience with such blatantly coercive behavior has shaped the way she approached grad school where, like Cynthia-Rose, the sexism she experienced has predominantly taken the form of marginalization, mocking, and erasure. It is clear that experiences fall along a continuum from illegal to unethical to relatively banal, but all manifestations of gender discrimination cause harm and are indicative of serious structural issues in the workplace that negatively affect people of all genders.

It is important to note that these experiences are not universal, nor even particularly common, at Caltech. Two of the women with whom I spoke had never experienced sexism in the workplace and were highly complimentary of Caltech's relatively progressive culture. Beca, who left the Ph.D. program after two years, said, "Most of the issue for me personally was that academic research, especially in my field, wasn't a good fit for me from the beginning, and it took me a very long time to consciously realize it. My [technical] parents encouraged me to go into a technical field, and my mother in particular is extremely passionate about encouraging young women to go into math and physics [and] I think that's wonderful. At Caltech, my motivation just plummeted. I felt like I absolutely didn't belong there, and I started having severe anxiety just from being in classes. I felt like I was stuck in this competitive, workaholic environment. I wondered if it was related to the group I was in, so I changed groups. That didn't help. Long story short, I happily left grad school. I don't blame Caltech for my early departure at all. Academic research was not something I wanted to be doing, and I'm happy I realized that before spending more than two years there." Beca's disillusionment with academia was not related to a gendered experience, though imposter syndrome, a relentless anxiety derived from personal denial of admission legitimacy, generally seems to affect women more than men.

Stacie, who completed her studies and now has an excellent job in industry, said, "I had no problems with all the gender stuff at Caltech. I felt supported, non-discriminated, and honestly content about that stuff the whole time. [That said,] imposter syndrome is completely real. I think every single one of my friends at Caltech (minus a few) was seeing a psychologist while attending. I, too, felt like I constantly didn't belong and now I wonder if it is manifested into my current position in industry. [I'm] not quite sure if it will ever go away. I wouldn't have traded my experience at Caltech for the world. I truly enjoyed all the people, mentors, students, and professors who I interacted with. They are some of the kindest, most intelligent people I've ever met."

The majority of cases of adviser-student relationships hurting women come down to either sexist attitudes prevalent in older advisers, or well-intentioned people inadvertently pushing all the wrong buttons. For many advisers, their only model student-advisor relationships comes from their own, often highly dysfunctional, academic history. How can we clear the roadblocks to help advisers help their students? Chloe suggested, "It's hard [to adversarially confront professors] because they're indestructible. They cannot be threatened except with shame. I don't think it exists, but we could all benefit from lessons for faculty on management of groups and people. How [do you] make sure a working environment is a comfortable, happy and productive place? Advisers in academia get zero management training. Eventually, they learn, but being alone makes for plenty of mistakes [and] undue harm."

One final key roadblock that women face in STEM is perceptions regarding family, which becomes a bigger concern as students enter their late 20s. What surprised me during my conversations was not a recognition that family life and academia are broadly incompatible, but that that was just the way things were. The Nordic countries have highly progressive family-leave regulations, and have seen vastly improved gender equality in the workplace. Those laws are not present in California, and thus compliance at Caltech, even if it were a nice idea, is not required. I know of a case where a Caltech professor, expecting x units of labor per grad student stipend, stonewalled female students who had had children until they were forced to switch labs to make room for new, more productive students.

Beca, who left the Ph.D. program for non-family reasons, nonetheless recognized family as a major challenge to an academic career. "The experience of being in grad school and getting a peek into academia just reinforced my decision to leave. I originally thought I'd like to become a professor, and I realized over time how tough that path must be on relationships. You move every few years for postdocs and having to deal with a two-body problem sounded like a special kind of hell. Add to that the idea of trying to achieve enough to secure tenure when you're at the age where you might like to start a family. It's simply not the lifestyle I want. I highly prioritize work-life balance and relationships over career ambition, and I didn't see that as compatible with academia."

Lilly added, "Many marriages end at Caltech. I personally know two men whose wives left them. Families have been around for a while, but there's an official family policy now, as of 2012, in compliance with federal law on family leave."

In these instances, academia's male-centric, traditional inflexibility with regard to family life continues to harm people of all genders. As a small, well-funded and leading institution, Caltech has a golden opportunity to lead by example, to show how science should be done in the 21st century, without waiting for eventual but inevitable legal compulsion.

For the women I spoke with, academia seemed a fixed constant. You either adapt or you leave. Cynthia-Rose and Patricia agreed that women are socially conditioned to be polite and to not rock the boat. Cynthia-Rose said, "I knew I wasn't going to be a professor. I knew I didn't have the drive, didn't enjoy coming up with big scientific questions, figuring out ways to solve questions, writing grants. Sexism is extant in academia and it's not going away anytime soon. Grad students are seen as slave labor; they don't have a union. We'll be taken advantage of until there are no more grad students."

Patricia, whose office mate eventually became aware of these issues, said, "It's not my personality to be confrontational [but] people can tell I'm pissed off, even if I don't like talking about it. Since everyone's going to know, I need to say something. What people said or thought, or their intentions, doesn't matter; what matters is how I feel about it. Don't make it about them; it's about how it's experienced. Sexism is an experienced, felt thing [and] it's more constructive to talk about it. You can be careful about how you say it, but you're okay to feel that; no one can tell you that it's wrong or bad. If you feel bad, say something about it. It's part of participating in a shared workplace. You shouldn't have to grit your teeth and deal with it. Even if the gender ratio is 50-50, if women hate being there it doesn't solve the problem."

All my interlocutors were happy to recount their experiences, but most were more comfortable with blaming themselves than being assertive about blaming others, even when that blame was obviously warranted. Perhaps, given the lack of empowerment to do much about extrinsic gender-specific challenges, internalizing the struggle is a survival strategy. Chloe, who has flourished at Caltech in spite of enduring the most overt harassment of any of the women with whom I spoke, ended our conversation with "Maybe there's something wrong with me."

*All names have been changed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Women offer honest perspectives on grad school - The California Tech

Article originally appeared in The California Tech on Monday March 2, 2015.

Women offer honest perspectives on grad school

Casey Handmer

"I expected grad school to be awful, and it was. In hindsight I think shouldn't have come to Caltech or pursued a Ph.D." We all know grad school is one of the most challenging career paths available. Long hours, low pay, little external recognition and, if you're lucky, a postdoc when it's all over. Yet the excitement of science will lure most Caltech undergraduates to apply to grad school, a career path about which they know almost nothing.

One challenging aspect of science as a career is highlighted by the universal deficit of women in senior positions. Attaining a senior position in academia is a long, difficult road, so even small but consistent gender biases at each step can result in a large disparity at the end. This "leaky pipeline" is understood to begin in elementary school, but a large proportion of prospective scientists leave academia during or after grad school. To assess the extent to which this exodus contributes to the leaky pipeline at Caltech, I sat down with a number of my female colleagues to hear firsthand what grad school is really like.

This article differs somewhat from a regular news snippet in that it deals primarily with inherently subjective perceptions rather than objective fact. However, when it comes to intelligently engineering a working environment that is welcoming and supportive for everyone, perceptions are what count. Caltech is a community of smart, well-intentioned people. A culture that unintentionally harms a segment of the population often harms the lot. My purpose is to help facilitate the ongoing conversation.

Aubrey* is a first year grad student whose parents are both academics. "I knew precisely what I was getting into. A lot of first years aim too high and try problems that are too difficult. It helps to be humble." Aubrey recognises that her level of foreknowledge is unusual, but her level of confidence is not. In grad school, many students experience what Caltech undergraduates know well - they are no longer very big fish in a very small pond - which can lead to imposter syndrome. Cynthia-Rose recently completed her Ph.D. "Many grad students come in thinking that they know everything. They think 'I was accepted to Caltech and my undergrad research project went well, so Nature will be mine.' It's a little naive."

Getting reliable information during prospective visits can be difficult. Cynthia-Rose added, "I don't think I'll be invited back to talk to the prospectives. My friends even came with popcorn. I tried to scare off as many as possible. The panel was three first years and me, who was the only one who had passed candidacy. Don't listen to the noobs, they just don't know what they're talking about. They still think their PI is their friend. They haven't been screwed out of any publications!" Cynthia-Rose also has advice for women during prospective visits. "You have to be careful when joining a lab. How many people are like me? How does my prospective boss interact with them? Before you join a lab, go to group meetings. Any male talking over a female group member is a huge red flag. It's happened to me many times. You also need to establish what your backup is in the event of project failure. How many other things is this lab doing that I can do? How well-funded is this lab? [To get the truth] I always recommend talking to grad students and doing it off campus, without strings. At the bar, with the department paying for the beer, is not good enough."

How does this play out once you're in grad school and committed to the long haul? Several women I talked to emphasized the importance of cultivating a supportive group of friends. Patricia, who is nearing the end of her Ph.D., emphasized that her fellow students and postdocs were overwhelmingly not misogynists, but were nevertheless mostly clueless about the experience of women in academia. This is one of the tougher cases, wherein people who bear no ill will toward women in STEM (often the contrary) inadvertently contribute to discrimination.

Patricia shares an office with Bumper, a male grad student who has gradually become much more aware of the issues. "I had a meeting with a renowned [non-Caltech] professor on Skype. My [overcommitted] advisor couldn't make the meeting, so she sent Bumper, who works on an unrelated project, to be on the call to supervise me. [Afterwards,] I confronted my advisor, and was told I had misunderstood her intentions. I wanted to talk to renowned professors, but it was handled in a last minute, disempowering, dismissive way. It feeds imposter syndrome, if I feel my advisor thinks I can't meet with collaborators by myself. [Bumper] was mostly unaware of the squashing. It's unintentional, but still harmful. There is poor insight on part of other students."

Things eventually took a turn for the better. "A few months later at a conference, a senior professor in the field approached me and said a sexist thing right in front of Bumper and another professor. I was floored. Bumper stood up for me. I was glad, but [he] just walked away without apologizing. The fact that I had talked about my experiences and was open about it helped him realize. He started being more of an advocate after that, but it's [terrible] that a fellow grad student has to be an advocate. [I] felt that I have to call other people out and make a scene to be heard. I have to be impolite to get noticed. I would like to give my lab mates credit, as their view of me has not been negatively tainted by my confrontation. Now they come and engage more, and the situation has normalized. I was not expecting to have to do this myself when I came to grad school."

One surprisingly common aspect of Patricia's experience is that workplace sexism was perpetrated or enabled by other, more senior women in the workplace. Cynthia-Rose came under pressure from a senior (non-tenure-track) female scientist in her lab. "She was trying to help, but she was hurtful and judgmental. She intimated that science is hard enough without being different or pursuing other hobbies. Pressure to shape up, to conform, is very common. I don't talk or act or dress 'like a scientist,' and that's seen as not appropriate for a woman in science. It is important to act like man, to play down being female. I feel I should be able to be judged for my competency without being judged on my clothes. Inside and outside the ivory tower there's an expectation of a 'scientific' personality that doesn't reflect reality, and it affects women more."

Cynthia-Rose takes pride in her unusually excellent sense of fashion, but is always attired appropriately for the work. On another occasion, Cynthia-Rose was involved in an audit, where funders came to check that equipment she had personally assembled was being used properly. "I asked my professor what I needed to do for the audit. He replied 'Oh nothing. You can charm them, if you'd like, and be there, but I'll handle it.' It was most definitely intended as a joke. It was not intended as a sexist remark. But I felt a judgment on me as a woman, as a scientist, about how I expressed myself in clothing. I always dressed safely, but his comment revealed a lot about his personal opinions and attitudes. And in the end the professor wasn't even available, so I took the auditors into the lab, and answered their [hyper specific] questions that only I knew the answer to."

One of the most challenging aspects of grad school is managing an advisor-student relationship. At its beginning, the student will often need more direction. By the end, the relationship will have reversed, with the student overtly more knowledgeable about their topic. A successful Ph.D. or adviser-student relationship is longer than the average marriage and, being work-centered, involves a much greater investment of time and personal energy.

Grad students tend to begin with an expectation of professionalism, and a place like Caltech is rightly known the world over for the quality of its faculty, who enjoy a great deal of professional autonomy. Professors rarely consider spoon-feeding students to be part of their job description, but few would intentionally victimize minorities. Despite that, we've already seen a few instances where, for a variety of reasons, research groups became hostile places for women.

Chloe's field sees her making frequent trips to conferences and other universities. "One [issue is] older married men in my field explicitly asking me to have an affair with them. These people have power over me. When I was an undergrad [at another prestigious university], I had one direct supervisor, a married postdoc with children, who asked me to have an affair with him. I said no, but it became an ongoing, repeated discussion. I've had slightly less explicit propositions from men also working in my field at other institutions when we were at conferences together, for example. They have no direct power over me, but they're working on the same kind of stuff. You can't just blow these people off, aggressively. There was one instance where we were at a bar and had had a couple of drinks, but otherwise these were totally sober discussions."

As an adult, Chloe enjoys going out for drinks with colleagues and professors after the day's work, especially at conferences. It's a great way to meet people, unwind, and network. "I frequently drink with professors and it's fine. I think it's not inappropriate for faculty to go have a drink with their students, to have the ability to have a personal discussion with them, to talk about imposter syndrome, career, etc. I think those discussions are appropriate if it's the student working through something emotional that has to do with work and the senior person is offering solicited advice."

A student-adviser relationship can be much more fraught if it strays too far from the professional model. A substantial minority of students, including Chloe, switch advisers during grad school. "Having the senior person solicit advice from the student for their personal emotional problems becomes more tricky. Particularly when that's tied up with the senior person's feelings, not necessarily romantic, about the student. There was an emotional weight to the relationship with my ex-advisor because he was very personally and emotionally invested in my relationship with him that was beyond 'being there' professionally. I think that was what made me uncomfortable. To be clear, he never sexually harassed me, but he was very emotionally involved, to what I felt was an inappropriate extent. We would have these very personal discussions about his psychology toward dealing with students and how he takes things personally. I can't help but play the therapist to these grown men who should have these things figured out, or should be seeking professional help, instead of talking to their students about their problems. That's been my biggest issue, not sexual but emotional harassment. I sincerely doubt it's happened between him and male students."

Incredibly but hardly uniquely, Chloe errs on the side of introspection and self-blame. "It's hard not to blame myself. I tend to try to talk people through their issues even if they directly supervise me. I find myself in an advisory position," a clear reversal of the professional relationship.

Patricia is quick to point out that creating a positive, inclusive atmosphere doesn't mean treating women with kid gloves. "One of my colleagues has the view that it's okay to make mistakes [i.e., inadvertent sexism], and that doesn't make you a bad person. But you're a bad person if you continue to do so, or if you don't make an effort."

Chloe finds that actions speak louder than words. "Some of the people who are most conscientious about making my department a more welcoming place for women are in practice the worst for students. I've seen advising relationships, especially for women, go horribly with them. I think it comes down to the idea that you need to treat women in a special way. I think some professors do, in some sense, view female students differently, even if it's just a ramped up anxiety over doing something wrong. The professors I get on with best are the ones that don't talk about it, they just treat male and female students the same - treat them all like people. Advisers need to be human beings and realize that hardship is not gender specific. You don't need to say that women need you to be more sensitive; people of all genders benefit from reasonable advisers. I don't think gender is a reason to be treated differently. The situations in which I've been most comfortable are the ones in which it did not matter what gender I was."

Chloe's experience of an adviser-student relationship becoming too personal is not uncommon, but dealing with it is highly non-trivial. "It wasn't clear for me how to address this because it wasn't a situation where I was being solicited for sexual favours, which I know how to reject. I met with (Graduate Dean) Fecilia Hunt, and she gave me all the harassment policy literature. Those are designed to deal with sexual harassment [for Title IX compliance], or where it's very clear that this person is discriminating based on gender, or is asking for a [sexual favor] in return for something. It's a lot less specific or helpful if someone is being abusive in an emotional rather than sexual way. I don't know if my being female had something to do with my treatment. It may have had something to do with my willingness to sit down and try to work through those problems."

As Chloe points out, Caltech's harassment policy would benefit from revision to cover instances of non-sexual harassment. While this is not explicitly required by law, it is clear that fostering non-threatening workplaces is in everyone's best interest.

Caltech's policy ( begins "It is the policy of Caltech to provide a work and academic environment free of unlawful harassment ("harassment") and retaliation. Harassment is the creation of a hostile or intimidating environment in which inappropriate conduct, because of its severity and/or persistence, is likely to interfere significantly with an individual's work or education, or affect adversely an individual's living conditions." Chloe experienced an intimidating environment due to inappropriate conduct that forced her to change advisors. But the remainder of the document provides examples relevant to race, gender, disability, etc. without making it clear that advisors bear responsibility for preserving the professional nature of their relationship with students.

Cynthia-Rose was faced with a choice when she was subjected to sexist behavior. "I felt I should call HR right away, but I wanted to graduate more than I wanted my dignity. The [complaint] process is annoying and time consuming. I wasn't worried about reprisals, I simply did not have time for the distraction."

Lilly, whose quote opened this article, was at one point involved in an advocacy group on campus. "There are certain professors that are extremely sexist and have harassed female students, but they're protected if they're famous or bring in lots of money. In one severe case, a student was subjected to gender-specific verbal abuse in front of other several other faculty members and no one said anything." This story highlights perceived student powerlessness against relatively rare but institutionally enabled instances of sexist behavior. "Officially, HR has a policy in compliance with Title IX. Unofficially, HR will be unable to protect you against a faculty member. [The] only approach is to leave the program or change advisers."

It's not all bad news. In the issue next week, we examine what Caltech is doing right and unpack some of the cultural obstacles facing workplace equality.

*All names have been changed.