Unit 11: “He Fell in Love with his Grad Student…”

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Seems like we can't go more than a couple of days without a new sexual harassment scandal appearing in the news. In this  essay,  Azeen Ghorayshi asks whether science is a place where women can thrive, after multiple lawsuits, investigations, and resignations associated with sexual harassment surfacing at high-profile institutions.

In many ways, of course, the climate has become more welcoming to young women who want to study science and math. And yet, as recently as 2013 researchers at Yale published a study proving that physicists, chemists and biologists are likely to view a young male scientist more favorably than a woman with the same qualifications. Presented with identical summaries of the accomplishments of two imaginary applicants, professors at six major research institutions were significantly more willing to offer the man a job. If they did hire the woman, they set her salary, on average, nearly $4,000 lower than the man’s.

What's going on here? Is science just another male-dominated field, or is the experience of female scientists unique? How should universities and organizations address this problem, and how can women advocate for each other?

Write your response in a comment to this page.

18 thoughts on “Unit 11: “He Fell in Love with his Grad Student…”

  1. James W.

    Science research at universities is historically dominated by males, just like the military, and to different extents most climates. Unfortunately, a male in a senior position often takes advantage of lower positioned females. There is nothing unique about this for female scientists. Ott handles the interactions with Kleiser far from appropriately. From my point of view, when Ott realizes his feelings for Kleiser, he knows they are inappropriate, and struggles to handle them. He finds what he considers a solution to the problem. Between this individual event, and the struggles all his other students have with him, we can see that he does not do well in a teaching/ leadership role. Ghorayshi hits the nail on the head, “Professors, promoted for their research, may be unequipped to advise students.” Ott’s treatment of his students is not excusable, but perhaps can be explained from his academic success.
    It is no secret, those that are the most successful in science and academia have trouble in other portions of life. Often this shows as a difficulty with communicating, social situations and dealing with the opposite sex. It is an easy presumption that Ott has had difficulty navigating social situations his entire life. Not until he became a tenured professor with students working for him, has it become an issue. Now he has students of both genders willing to work hard for him, and look up to him. I think it is safe to assume that nothing in his life has prepared him for this. Without excusing his actions, perhaps Ott is just doing the best in situations he is ill equipped for.
    We can look to the entertainment industry to see similar situation that is more advanced. A male dominated area, now with dozes of reports of women being abused. I expect that things are going to get worse before they get better for academia as well. As more reports come to light, more women will feel empowered to report their own mistreatment. As long as the universities are firm in handling these cases things will begin to improve. Those men with malicious intent will see that their actions are not acceptable, and punishments harsh. For men like Ott, who are not necessarily out to take advantage of women, but more unable to navigate these social situations; universities that provide further education for them is important. Classes not only to teach them about what is appropriate in a workplace, but how to have appropriate student teacher relationships will go a long way to improve the lives of women in science. Active education and guidance alongside strict expectations will slowly improve the experiences of women in science.

    1. Ryan Hoskins-Chaddon

      Actually, I think he knew exactly what he was doing. Whether it was malicious or not I can’t say. Sociopaths often act in the same manner where they try to achieve something, or someone, through manipulation and react badly if they don’t get it. He then uses this experience to manipulate someone else as a way to exert power over them and regain his confidence and self-image. This kind of behavior, when channeled well and at adversaries in the professional world, leads to many of our best business executives, politicians, and entertainers. When targeted at students under your care, however, it can be quite destructive to everyone involved, as Ott is finding out in this paper. Even if you’re the expert at making people think the status quo is being fulfilled, you still live in a paper house.

      Also, I personally think that it’s already past the “worse before it gets better” part. Before the current environment that women have in STEM education and fields, they had to deal with everything that’s being wrongfully thrown at them today and, in addition, they couldn’t take credit for their work, couldn’t win a Nobel Prize, had titles stripped from them if they dared to be a scientist, were disowned and deemed “not suited for marriage”, and so many more limitations. I’m not saying that women have it easy, quite the opposite, but that period has passed and, barring some cataclysmic disaster, things should continue to get better for everybody. There is still a long way to go yet, though, so everybody should be vigilant to make sure that it continues to get better until everyone is on even footing.

  2. Ryan Hoskins-Chaddon

    Unfortunately the situation that Christian Ott put Kleiser and Gossan through isn’t unique to him or the scientific community. In every level of every professional hierarchy sexism and harassment are an issue that can dissuade people from stepping into that field. Sometimes it’s not so obvious, sometimes it’s pay disparity and sometimes women are laughed out of a classroom before they even had a chance to show their unique talents and proficiencies in the field. This can be discouraging, not just to the women who are targeted like this but to young girls who want to be an astronomer, be a physics researcher, or just play with bugs when they grow up. Kleiser hit the nail on the head when she said that the women may feel like they don’t have a place in an environment that ignores this kind of behavior (pg. 235).

    It’s difficult to say how specifically women can advocate for each other. This isn’t a problem that is only up to them to solve or defend against. Men should be just as insulted when women are harassed and displays of sexism are shown. Sure, one woman backing another woman’s play is always a good move when this kind of aggression shows itself. However, it becomes much easier to prevent these instances when everyone else is involved in shooting the offender down. Employees can share their pay info to so that everyone knows how much they should be making for a position and experience in it. Otherwise, have a zero tolerance attitude and back up the person being harassed and implement zero tolerance policies in all work places. Just as important, though, the policies must be rigorously enforced.

    “But others question why, despite warning signs, no action was taken until Gossan came forward last June.” (pg. 236) The why is fairly simple; they could be sued. Should any actions be taken against Ott he could have sued with complaints such as wrongful termination, wrongful suspension, predatory policies, along with many others. The University could not act, even investigate, until there was proper probable cause to do so. If they had, they could have a lawsuit on their hands for invading his privacy or, like above, predatory or discriminatory policies and practices. By coming forward, Gossan allowed the university to act by giving them probable cause. We can’t just investigate every odd person that acts differently from other people, elsewise Einstein would have been under constant investigation and his good reputation ruined. That still doesn’t explain why they didn’t bring his tenure up for review considering the student flow and success rate under him.

    1. Scott Chaddon Jr

      I agree that sharing the knowledge of one’s pay could help iron out many wage discrepancies and that policies should be enforced. The problem comes down to when a company doesn’t want to fully punish an offender because they are more valuable than others. In the case of Ott, his research was valuable to Caltech. If it had been another instructor on the opposite side of the tenure line playing the same games, the University would have likely terminated that person’s employment to demonstrate an actual zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy.

  3. Scott Chaddon Jr

    “Many said that Ott’s erratic behavior created a hostile and demanding work environment where bullying was the norm.” (pg 239)

    What’s going on in the article is a man being manipulative and making power plays against those around him. He knows that he’s too good of a researcher for Caltech to want to get rid of. He knows he’s valuable so he knows he can get away with things that, if he were anyone else, would have gotten him fired in an instant, not simply put on leave. The university claimed a zero-tolerance stand, but they are tolerating his actions simply because they don’t want to lose an asset. It’s disgusting.
    Scientific studies have historically been very male-centric. men more often than not taking credit for the discoveries of their fellow female scientists and intellectuals actually made. There should not be such a thing as a gender-dominated field. Women should not be undermined in the scientific fields, just as men shouldn’t be undermined in the fields of early childhood education (a historically equivalent female-centric profession). In both cases, however, each gender have to act carefully to retain respect and gain equality. Women have to push harder and men have to tread lighter respectively. It’s not right in either case, especially when they have wonderful credentials and qualifications.
    In the case of universities, or any workplace, handling gender inequality and harassment, they should put a stop to it. It is simple enough to set up a program comparing qualifications, experience, pay, and benefits. This simple solution would help to show where people, due to race or sex or orientation, are being financially snubbed. For handling harassment, every workplace I’ve seen claims a zero-tolerance policy, so they should treat harassment with zero-tolerance. No exceptions. No excuses. If it means losing a valuable asset, make sure that the offender (not the victim) pays for that loss either through professional reputation and/or through financial means.
    When it comes to professional treatment, our nation is still learning how to step out of that male-dominated world and into one of equality. What makes it more difficult is that most of our politicians and leaders still have a pre-1970’s mindset, when sexual discrimination was the norm and accepted in most places. As time goes on it does seem like we are getting better though. It’s not perfect by any means, but gradual progress is visible.
    I was raised in the 90’s and the entire culture I was raised by was one that taught that all people, regardless of sex or race, should be treated with equal respect. I feel that as time progresses, the newer generations of political leaders will help make law out of what we consider to be common courtesy.

    1. James W.

      I think you hit the nail on the head. In business or departments that now have younger generations of the population as the leadership, we are seeing dramatic changes in the way that these issues are handled. However, the higher we go in the corporate and government ladder, the older the leadership is, and the slower moving their policies. It is unfortunate, but I think this is a slow battle. As long as the younger generations are raised in this environment, the policies of business and government will develop with them.

    2. Chelsea Barnett

      I completely agree with you that every workplace should have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and that that workplace should follow that policy, unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. I think that situations like this are not at all that rare and I think that a lot of him not being fired was that the university didn’t want to publicize the harassment.

  4. Chelsea Barnett

    “At this point it’s not isolated incidents, it’s a statistic” (pg. 239)
    I think that this quote really stuck out to me because I think that now, more than ever, people are starting to realize that it is not rare for someone to be sexually harassed. This realization of how prevalent sexual harassment is is what has made people start to question institutions and ask for change.

    Unfortunately, situations similar to the ones in this chapter are not rare and are not confined to just the scientific community. As a woman, I believe that I am more aware of this issue. Almost every woman I know can recall at least one time in which she was harassed or made to feel unsafe in some way because of her gender. This is a problem that needs to be addressed now.

    Many women do not feel safe sharing their experiences of sexual harassment because institutions rarely take these accusations seriously and find a way to blame the victim for the harassment. To be able to create an environment in which women feel safe sharing their experiences in which they were sexually harassed, institutions need to prove that they will take serious actions on dealing with this issue. In Ott’s situation, in which he had tenure, the college did not respond well. I think that in cases of sexual harassment, professors should be fired no matter if they have tenure or not. Cases of sexual harassment need to be treated more seriously with more drastic consequences so that people in positions of authority are not allowed to continually harass women and become predators.

    Women can continue to advocate for each other by sharing their own personal stories so that the world can see how many people have been harassed. Movements like the Me Too movement have started to show how prevalent sexual harassment and abuse against women are. I believe that as more people share these stories, sexual harassment will no longer be able to be done secretly with no repercussions for the harasser.

    1. Justin Baugh

      It is sad that men take advantage of women because they cannot control their urges. Even though women do it with their male subordinates, but it is quite more rare than what a man does to their female subordinates. And most people in the science community now can see that just because a scientist is a female it does not mean they are lesser beings. As times go on modern society will move the older generations out and the way of thought they brought with them.

  5. Justin Baugh

    Science is currently a male-dominated field due to the fact more than 60 years ago women were traditionally homemakers. And as roles change we are going to see more females start to make certain career field women dominated. Most men in power can control urges or feeling that would negatively impact their careers or of their students. Women should speak up about what they are being told if they don’t feel its right or it comes unjustly. If everyone just spoke their minds, then we would not be having these cases that come up 40 years after the fact. Yes, it might be embarrassing to the person and it might deter them from reporting it, but the victim needs to feel like they can be safe by reporting sexual harassment or an Equal Opportunity issue.

    1. Christian Michael Williams

      Yeah, I really agree with victims needing to feel safe in letting people know what happened to them. That’s probably why so much is not reported. Erasing the stigma of being a victim should be a top priority since it’s very difficult to rid the world of evil people, which is how I see those who take advantage of others.

  6. Christian Williams

    Men and women are very different and those differences compliment each other very well. It used to be thought that those differences meant that women should be in the home with the children while men were out and about being providers. Men worked hard outside the home and women worked hard in the home. That being said, we now live in a world where vice versa can be 100% feasible and accepted. Women are clearly just as capable of men to be the provider rather than a caretaker of the home. I think problems with the work environment now arise from a lack of respect for the opposite gender. If young men, I say young men because we hear mainly cases of men taking advantage of women, aren’t taught and later held accountable for their actions, then they’ll never learn to have respect for their counterparts. I would say most men wouldn’t ever sexually harass a woman, but that group of most men has to do better at holding their gender accountable. You can’t let other guys slide for bad behavior.

    Science shouldn’t be just another male-dominated field anymore because women have just as great of ideas. Scientists and future scientists have to realize this. I say, future scientists, I mean kids anywhere from elementary school to college students. If we can teach kids now that everyone deserves a chance to thrive and feel safe in the work environment and a scientific environment then we can slowly alleviate the problems that come from older generations that had vastly different power dynamics between genders. How can we change now though? I don’t know. Evil exists, mental illnesses exist, and some people just don’t care and will do what they want to get what they want. What we can do after bad things happen can for sure be improved. There is so much victim-blaming that happens and so many victims don’t feel safe coming forward, so what really needs to happen are improvements in caring for victims.

    1. Kimberly Ulery

      There is still quite a bit of victim blaming which I find so disgusting. I am hoping that since this is a view we have on the issue that it’ll eventually begin resolving with the education and awareness being brought to the situation in general.

  7. Marissa King

    Well science is a male dominated field just like engineering or construction. Very rarely do you see girl scientist or girls who work construction and that is because this has become our reality. I think it is not fair and is a major issue today that women will be paid a lower wage simply because she is not a man. You would think that they would at least start of being paid the same. Yes they are two different people but a women should never be disregarded because of her/his gender. Woman can advocate for each other by actually coming out and speaking or saying how they truly feel. Good ways to change this is by advocating this to the younger generations and making little girls feel just as important as the guys. It is going to take a long time for their to be equality within the science department or construction but you have to start somewhere and by sharing this to children and kids in high school is the first step.

    1. Ruby

      I agree that change begins with the younger generations. I think women scientist and construction is more popular than one might think though because those are such vast fields there is bound to be lots, the thing is is that they aren’t publicized as often as the men are or their ideas are accredited to their male counterparts. Really women should make the same as men for being in the same profession, I agree that gender should not determine your wage.

  8. Kimberly Ulery

    Science has previously been a male-dominated field, but I believe women have made a huge impact on changing that. Women are slowly changing the male-domination, and while there are obstacles in the way like professors and sexual harassment, it isn’t stopping many from reaching their potential. Some women though do take the harassment quite profoundly, like in the case of Kleiser and Ott, because it was so obscene to her and confusing that she truly thought the problem was her. ” … she felt like an outcast, she said, uncertain of her place at Caltech or as a scientist.” (Page 238)

    As of right now I believe most universities are addressing the issue of sexual harassment. There have been many more campaigns and training regarding this issue and it is no longer something women have to feel ashamed about, like they did previously. The sad part is some do fall through the cracks, and the only way to end this is by massive amounts of education and making it known to women that it is not okay. More women are speaking up to this day now, though, so that is a large difference being made.

    Women can advocate for each other by supporting each other, and letting it be known that they have been victimized but should not let this deter their education and their future.

  9. Ruby

    I believe that the field of science, as with many other career fields and fields of study, are male dominated. I think that it could perhaps get better, we have seen many situations now in which women are speaking up and standing up against the abuses they face in the workplace.I understand where the male domination perspective is coming from, this generation is derived from many generations of beliefs that women are here to basically serve men and to be seen as equals is a different concept because with that mindset women can’t be equals; their softer, weaker, daintier. . . even if they are doing the same job it couldn’t possibly be the same level of expertise as a man. . . We have been seeing this change.
    In this essay, as with cases seen in public reports, one of the issues of male-domination is the advantage they take over those they should be mentoring or influencing. This leaves women feeling like as the essay states, “outcasts”. They question their abilities in their career, are they really good at their job or are they just good looking? This is a serious problem women face.
    As we change our view on women, as roles change, this is when the male-domination can come to an end and fields such as science can really advance. How many minds or paths have been hindered because of the confidence issues and belittlement of male-domination? The changes begin at home, in the roles we teach our children. Every thing is influential.

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