If you haven’t seen it yet, go over and read this courageous, important and stunningly written Op-Ed piece by Hope Jahren over at the New York Times.
Her story reflects the unexpressed story of many others. It was written to make us feel, and to make us want things to be different. I feel something like a mixture of fury, gratitude, fear, admiration, and hope. These feelings are amplified by the fact that so many of my colleagues see some kind of reflection of themselves in this piece. In nearly all cases, I have no idea who those colleagues are, just that they are many.
As for making things different, if you haven’t looked over the study by Clancy et al. that was mentioned by Hope Jahren, check that out too.
Here’s the take-home message from Clancy, Nelson, Rutherford, and Hinde:
Policies emphasizing safety, inclusivity, and collegiality have the potential to improve field experiences of a diversity of researchers, especially during early career stages. These include better awareness of mechanisms for direct and oblique reporting of harassment and assault and, the implementation of productive response mechanisms when such behaviors are reported. Principal investigators are particularly well positioned to influence workplace culture at their field sites.
I’d like to requote that last sentence:
Principal investigators are particularly well positioned to influence workplace culture at their field sites.
A change in culture is required. That’s not an easy thing, but it’s critical. As is explained in the paper, it is the PIs that need to take the lead.
That means, fellow PIs, it’s on us.
Our students are counting on us to create an environment that enables their success. Safety always comes first. Safety requires an aware environment and respectful attitude in the workplace. The workplace includes the field. If it’s inappropriate at the university, then it’s also inappropriate in the desert, the forest, the restaurant, the convention center, the hotel, the bar, or the lab porch.
When I read the op-ed I felt, “What can I do? What should I do? How can we fix what needs to be fix and to what degree is it fixable?” And to answer that question, I’m looking at the article by Clancy et al. I also am watching, listening, and I’m open to ideas.
The discussion of Clancy et al tells that the steps we can take include:
- Raise awareness of the presence of hostile work behaviors, discrimination, harassment, and assault (particularly for women)
- Create guidelines for respectful behavior; and adopting independent reporting and enforcement mechanisms.
- Address both horizontal and vertical abuses.
- Adopt principles of community, role-modeling, and embrace the collective action of support and respect.
That’s a great list. If we take it seriously, this can help us take very specific actions. Respectful behavior can be written into our expectations of students in our lab. We can establish and provide multiple avenues for reporting, and be overt when enforcement occurs in a fashion that works to build respect.
Ultimately, what causes a positive change in climate isn’t just a set of written policies. We need to embrace a clear set of values and priorities that guide on-the-spot decisionmaking at critical moments. Our lab members need us to not only set a personal example, but also respond to disrespectful behavior in the lab the moment it happens, and respond immediately and with full concern (and due process) when anecdotal reports come our way.
Hope Jahren’s piece makes us feel. But in my situation, my feelings don’t count for anything. It’s what happens in my lab, and the experiences of the students for whom I am responsible that matter. As PIs, responsible for the culture in our scientific community, our feelings only count if they cause us to act upon them.
I’d really love to have comments. More than anything else, I want to hear what people are doing, what they can do, what I and others might be able to change for the better, and where we go from here.