On how to read someone’s intentions on “equality” before engaging…

Yesterday I got involved with a Twitter “discussion” over a commentary published in The Lancet titled Gender bias in publishing.

The commentary is problematic for a lot of reasons, but mainly because the underlying intentions of the authors are clear in the first author’s tweet about the paper…

There are whole threads of people discussing the problems with the idea that “activism and the pursuit of truth are often mutually exclusive”, which ignores the actual definition of the phrase “mutual exclusive” and essentially calls diversity proponents liars, and the problems with the commentary itself.  But, to me, the authors’ motivations are clear in the final paragraph when they write…

In conclusion, we welcome measures that ensure equality of opportunity for both genders.

These sorts of statements tell you exactly the motivation of the people you’re dealing with. Using words like “equality” instead of “diversity” or “opportunity” is coded dog whistle language from people who are really afraid of losing all of the excellent resources they have secured on the basis of their privilege.

You see, I have learned in considering diversity issues that people see the world in two ways that can be summed up in analogy about pie.

There are people who see the world’s pie (ie, resources, accolades, whatever) as finite and divided into slices among people. People who see pie as finite and allocated are worried about “equality” because in order to achieve the goal of giving everyone an equal slice, it means that they have to give away some of their pie. It’s sad to have to share your pie with others.

But then there are other people who are more concerned with diversity, opportunity access and consideration, and fairness in consideration who know that, if you bring together people of different backgrounds and work really hard to see the value in their differences (instead of trying to cram them into a standard rubric), that diverse group of people won’t look at the pie and figure out how to divide it equally. They’ll look at the pie, figure out how to make more pie, and ensure that everyone has enough pie to sate their hunger and still share some pie with people that are new to the pie party. Even the group that was initially worried about losing their pie gets more access to pie. That’s what we should be trying to create.


The word “fair” is an atomic bomb that really means “I don’t want you to take my stuff away.” So, be wary of these “fair and balanced” discussions about “equality” and pie, because they are more often than not a dog whistle intended to distract from the most important, and often ignored, postulate of the entire debate – the pie need not be finite.

The Big Fat Warning Sign of “Hey First Name Lady”…


I was cracking wise on the internet a couple of minutes ago with some long time friends of the blog and Twitterverse, but a moment of reflection made me realize that the wise cracking was around a topic that still chaps my ass. Yesterday, another Tweep posted this…

Grab a strong cocktail if you decide to read the comment thread because (of course) some guy shows up to try to discern intent, context, blah, blah, blah, to make sure that the original poster was interpreting the email correctly.

Oh, silly girls and their silly, irrational girl feelings.

Or maybe it’s that this kind of stuff happens so damned frequently that it goes from being the occasional nuisance to a persistent, festering thorn in the collective backside of lady prof-kind.

Perhaps, by the time one of those lady profs gets frustrated enough to publicly complain about it once, it’s because it took 100 previous occurrences for it to finally put her over the edge and, perhaps, she (ok, maybe me projecting) is tired of having to smile and get over it.


I felt this entire interaction in a visceral way because I have the same damned thing going on today. I’m getting emails from someone as part of an attempt to organize a group and they’re all addressed to “Dear Dr and Prof So-and-So”…except for the one to me. I’m “Hey First Name”.  Sometimes, people still assume that I’m someone’s assistant, or postdoc, or whatever. Or that because I am female, they can be more “friendly” with me.

But, what I’ve learned is that when I get emails like that “Dr., Prof. and First Name”, it means that someone has the deeper assumption that Dr. and Prof. are the Big Names(TM) and I am the one who is actually going to get stuck doing all the work. I’m going to get bugged for every admin thing, I’m approachable. I’m going to be on the hook to get the project finished and I’m going to end up looking like I work for Dr. and Prof.

Not that this is what is happening or will happen to the original poster, but in my tiny neck of the world, these emails are a danger sign. Blaring alarm. Flashing lights. Walk away.


And re-divert energy to the collaborations and projects that are respectful and rewarding.

Addendum: Once upon a time a female colleague of mine who I really respect and admire made a comment, asking that we all just agree to call each other “Dr.” of “Professor”. Some folks objected because, of course, they should be free to make the choice to be called by their first name. But, if this tweet is a tiny little ethnography into the world of gender roles in academia, it says that women are not endowed with a privilege in the same way and, therefore, don’t have the power to choose to disregard it.  So, particularly in light of the gender disparity that still exists in academia, her request makes more and more sense to me each year. Agreeing on a consistent mode of address (either individually or as a group) empowers inclusivity, instead of highlighting privilege disparity.


Did Grandma Ever Get to Try Her New Underwear?

I really was having a run of the mill day. I was lamenting my “not discussed” grant, while also trying to strategize aims for the next cycle. I met with my students, and I was trying to solve the great cable debacle of 2018. We recently started a new project in our hospital’s NICU, monitoring some vital signs and trying to create some models of clinical outcomes. The problem is, we need to use the babies’ own instrumentation and feed the signals in to our monitoring equipment.

I had sent one of the instruments to the company that makes our equipment with the hope that they could come up with some sort of interface, but was disappointed when they called to tell me they weren’t interested in helping. I asked them to send our instruments back and thought this was the end of the story…

Imagine my surprise today when the envelope of cables arrived? My student came to my office to pick them up. I opened the envelope and found so much more than just the cables tucked inside…

In addition to the instrument and cable, there were four other strange and seemingly unconnected items. There was the employee’s business card, a copy of the sports page from the Prescott, AZ Daily Courier dated 12-7-2013, a blank graduation card, and a postcard from someone’s grandmother send in January of 1995.

IMG_1150.jpgNow, the business card and the graduation card are useful items. I may call on this company again, and as a college professor I am always in the market for graduation cards (although it is presumptuous to assume that I would include money). The sports page has me baffled. The company is in Utah. Why would they have sent a sports page from Arizona? And why 2013? And what of Grandma’s note? Would Grandma be happy knowing that some random woman in Iowa received her postcard about her new underwear? And did she ever get the chance to try them out? Where is Grandma now?  Could I find her and find out about the underwear? And what of the refrain? She’s glad the recipient doesn’t live in Cal? The recipient doesn’t appear to be the person who sent me that package, but I used to live in Cal and I’m glad I don’t live there too!!! Thanks Grandma?

This may truly be the strangest thing I have received in the mail. But what does it all mean? Is is a simple mixup of seemingly unrelated objects or is someone at Utah Medical trying to send me a message with these carefully planted clues??

A Brief, Open Note to the National Academy of Sciences

Dear NAS Members,

Over the last few weeks scientist, activist, and all-around-concerned citizen @McLNeuro has put together a fantastic campaign to voice to concerns of so many of us – there is no mechanism to remove a member from the academy for outright malfeasance, including sexual harassment and misconduct.  In fact, there are well-known harassers in the membership. This is important. Very important.

So, how does an organization define a harasser? How do you find them? That question yielded these tweets, including a response from your president:

Not guilty until proven innocent, Marcia. Guilty when proven guilty, and required to disclose. McLNeuro suggests requiring a letter from a university confirming that the applicant has not been found guilty of a Title IX violation. My solution is much simpler. When we apply for employment in the United States, most of us check whether we have ever been convicted of a felony and many of us are subjected to criminal background checks. That’s the status quo. A similar system could be used here. Require an applicant to check whether they have ever been convicted of a Title IX violation (yes or no) and follow up with the university to confirm.

It’s not un-American to require your membership to meet certain behavioral standards. In fact, my own institution recently renamed an institute after its primary donor was accused of gross sexual misconduct.

It’s perfectly acceptable to take the stance that science is important, but not as important as the people who *do* the science.

Give it a try…



Brief thoughts on parenting and how children will stab you in the f*cking heart…

I’m realizing this month that it’s the 10th anniversary of my foray into the blogosphere. I started to write a sweet little post about the topic that really started it all. My children. I had so many sweet, lovely things to say about my love for them and the amazing experience of watching them grow over the last ten years…

..and then I got an email from TD’s teacher that she’s in trouble because she and some other children buried another kid’s hat during recess. I can’t even wrap my mind around what she was thinking.

What the hell? What the bloody hell?

To be continued

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On that personal statement…

I wanted to get a chance to get back to the blog all weekend, but was distracted by mothering and wife-ing. Twitter was a flitter at the end of last week with discussion of what faculty look for in a personal statement. At the beginning of it all seems to be this tweet…

…quickly followed by another lamenting the number of personal statements a senior faculty member reads about dying grandmothers.

Now, I have to confess the dirty little secret that I have had the same feelings of “why” while reading personal statements. That said, my discomfort doesn’t come from a place of contempt for these young people’s experiences. It comes from the uncomfortable repetition that comes from reading these statements and realizing that students feel obligated or expected to convince faculty that they are promising young scientists because of early life experiences.  That they have to convince us that their passion comes from the traumatic or formative experiences they’ve had from cradle. This expectation is coming from somewhere and I think we all owe it to our students (PhD and professional school candidates) to communicate that they are not obligated to tell us about these experiences.

crying mariahIt puts pressure on people of color and underrepresented scientists, in particular, to create a competitive trauma narrative – to create a story of overcoming the odds. It’s cruel to ask people who already experience discrimination to put on a performance of their trauma for the purpose of joining a club.  Beyond that, it puts the evaluator in an unfortunate place. Was my experience important, meaningful, or traumatic enough to convince someone that I want to dedicate my life to this? As an evaluator, I am absolutely, completely unqualified to determine this and I don’t want to be in the position to compare trauma. This is particularly important when the group doing the evaluating is fairly homogeneous. How do you judge the impact of trauma from people whose lives you don’t really understand?

And what if your drive to attend graduate or professional school wasn’t informed by an early life or trauma experience? As I have written about before, I was raised in East Los Angeles in a very impoverished neighborhood, lived with my immigrant grandparents for a spell, and my mother was a drug addict who died right after I went to college. This may have influenced who I became as a person, but no part of that experience influenced my desire to attend graduate school. This is my personal history and I am under no obligation to share it with people who are giving it only the most superficial attention.  I went to graduate school because I was living with my soon-to-be husband and he wanted to go to graduate school. I was working as a clinical researcher for a pharmaceutical company and figured if I got a PhD, I could advance in the industry. I thought I could make a little more money and further my career. Am I a terrible person because I didn’t want to selflessly find the cure for drug addiction or study the social challenges that Latino immigrants face? Do I lack motivation?

I remember, when I was a girl, my grandmother would sometimes get a “feeling” and that feeling was not to be ignored. In her spirit, I’ll preface this next bit by saying that admissions to graduate school are still largely determined by people who get a “feeling” about an applicant.

What do I look for in personal statements? I want to know what people have been doing in the most recent few years. Using scientist as an example, how have you figured out what a scientist really does? Have you really done some career discernment? Maybe you worked in a lab, but maybe not. If you didn’t, how do you know what you’re getting yourself in to? It’s good to follow your dreams, but would it still be a dream if you knew that it frequently means wading through shit? How have you used your recent experiences to your advantage? What did you learn from them? What skills did you get that you think are applicable to your future career? Did you do something and stick with it in a meaningful way?  Finally, how did you make something better? I was once so tickled by a student who told me a story about how she was doing volunteer work in a facility and realized that she could decrease the distance patients had to travel if they moved the wheelchair station.**  The facility implemented that change. I liked the fact that she wasn’t satisfied to be a cog in a machine or clock volunteer hours. She wanted to improve.

But, the best thing that a student can do when applying is to show their statements to as many people as possible. In some ways, the interactions on Twitter were a blessing because they were a window into the conversations that faculty are having behind closed doors. It might not feel good, and it may be offensive, but it means that there are people who feel this way and they are still the gatekeepers. Show your statement to as many faculty as will agree to read it and ask their opinion. Don’t try to convince them of why your statement is good. Just listen. The response you’ll get is likely the response you’d get if you were submitting your application to them. At the end of the day, the meritocracy is still really a club and gaining admission to the club means knowing the members.

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**Not the real details of the story, of course.

These May Be Dark Times, But There Are Still Puppies…

I feel as though my previous post may have been a bit dark, although these have been a particularly dark few months for issues that are important to professional women. I want to stand on the top of the highest point of my great state (which admittedly would not be a feat to climb) and yell, “Now to you see what we’ve been telling you?!?!”

Problem is, I don’t see these issues as tremendously complicated at all. For years (a decade in a few months) I’ve been saying, best bet is to leave the women who work for you, that you mentor, or that you serve in some way, alone. If you’re shocked by all of these recent allegations or surprised by the number of #metoo stories popping up in your feeds, where have you been? Problem is, people (and by people, I mean mostly some members of 50% of the population) can’t just sit and be still. They can’t just sit and listen. And of course, we have to hear about the poor men, and I damned near lost my mind when I woke up to find someone drawing a comparison between Roy Moore and poor Jerry Lee Lewis and his wrecked career…

Jerry Lee Lewis?!?! Fifteen hours later and I am still salty that someone thinks that Jerry Lee Lewis suffered any kind of real consequence of marrying a 13 year old child. He went through an unpopular spell, but seven wives, $15 million, and an induction into the hall of fame later, that guy’s just fine. He was a tremendously popular country music star in the ’70s and the south welcomed him right back. Why am I so bent over Jerry Lee Lewis? Because it’s laughable to insinuate that powerful men suffer any kind of real, long-lasting consequence of their action. Not that I am wishing suffering on anyone, mind you. I’d be ok if we could all just communally pink swear to knock it off. Chasing teenage girls is predator behavior, even for Elvis.

I’ve been a bit engrossed by things, but in the last month, there have also been happy happenings in the Strange household. Right around the time that Strange Mom got sick, I started to get the fever. I got the fever for the first time about twelve years ago and, nine months later, Little I showed up. I got the fever again seven years ago and Tiny Diva arrived. A few months ago I started to get the fever again, but I looked at Strange and I and realized, we’re too damned old to be feverish. If we had a Strange Tot , Strange would have to work until he died and my dusty gonads are not in the prime condition they were when I started blogging a decade ago. There is no logical reason for us to make people, other than the fever. So, I got an IUD and tried to shut down the fever.

But, the fever didn’t quit and I didn’t know what was coming over me.  Everything in my head and most things in my heart told me that giving in to the fever would be a horrible idea and that it would not make me happy in the long-term. I think it came from feelings that Strange and I will never share that part of our lives. It was sort of a faux fever. Thankfully, Strange’s son gave me a diversion when he started talking about a dog. He’s a kid who plays his cards very, very close to his chest but in July we visited my aunt and her family. My aunt has four dogs and Strange’s son looked like he was in heaven. He started talking again recently about how his “life-long dream” has been to have a dog.

When he started talking about dogs again, I started having dreams about a Jack Russell Powter1Terrier that we had before Little I was born. He had been my brother’s dog and my father wanted to get rid of him when my brother went to college. My brother freaked out and we got a dog. By all objective criteria, this dog was the world’s worst dog, but I loved him. One night, after a particularly vivid dream about this dog, I googled Jack Russell and that pretty much sealed my fate. The google algorithm had my number and Jack Russells started showing up on every web page I clicked. Then google went too far and petfinder images started showing up in ad spaces, including an ad for a tiny Jack Russell named Powter. To cut to the chase, Powter is not a google star any longer. She’s now living the dream in the middle of the corn and playing regular games of fetch with Tiny Diva.

And, I have to tell you, I am nuts about this dog. Local friends ask about the dog and all I can say is “Dude.” Just “dude,” over and over. I only took a couple of weeks of maternity leave for each of the I-kids, but I might need at least a year off for this dog. She’s a five to nine year old rescue from Missouri. She had a little sob story about how her former owners kept getting arrested for selling drugs and she’d end up roaming the mean streets, evading the long arm of the law. The funny thing is, I took a friend with us when we met her. Not to judge the dog, but to judge Strange’s reaction to the dog. I wanted to make sure he was really alright with getting a dog and that I wasn’t setting myself up on the path toward divorce #2. By that point, his son and I had already joined Team Dog and I had lost all objectivity.

She’s been good for us. She’s sweet and playful and good with the kids. Powter came with a little note from her “foster home” that said she didn’t particularly like men.  It must be that she didn’t like the men where she was because, although I was the captain of Team Dog, the dog prefers Strange. She follows him around, waits for him at the door, and sits next to him at night. The foster people said she’d likely attach to whoever feeds her. Fifty bowls or kibbles ‘n bits later, I can tell you that’s not true.  This dog has bonded with IMG_3416Strange in a serious way.

Judging from the evidence, I think it might be mutual.


On the End of 2017…

The end of 2017 has been the weirdest stretch of time I have ever experienced. Nothing constant. Just ups and downs. Strange’s mother had her stroke, went on hospice and died five days later. His condo in his former town has an offer on it, so we may be able to think about buying our own home together someday.  We made plans to meet his father and stepmother in a nearby city, and then his father ended up in the hospital with a flare of his COPD.  He was treated, ended up leaving the hospital, but when we got home Strange developed new afib and was cardioverted in the middle of the night in the emergency room.

I just can’t remember a time in my life when the world felt so unsettled and at odds with itself. This week I’ve heard several of the organizations I am affiliated with professionally say that they are committed to increasing the diversity of their membership, but I’m also watching the women around me struggle toward tenure. Women who have all of the accolades and accomplishments their male colleagues have, except for one long, dangly one. My closest friend here was easily wooed away to industry.  In so many ways, there are as many barriers today as there ever were before.

And I’m struck by how, at nearly 40, it is so much  more difficult to make female friends than it used to be.  There just aren’t as many of us around, compared to 20 or 30 year old women, unless you venture out beyond the ivory tower.