Thursday, July 29, 2010

Response to comments on last post

This time, when I tried to reply, google said "comment is too large to process".

Ha! Maybe that's why my replies get eaten so often! I am too verbose.

Oh well, at least this way I can spread out and relax... plenty of space to be as large as I want!


I totally get what you're saying. There was a time, when I was a bit younger, when I would have given anything to be surrounded assholes if it meant competition was out in the open and I could be my own assholish self too.

I was just so sick of the gossipy back-stabbing passive-aggressive nonsense.

I wanted the risky, exciting, moving things forward as fast as possible. I didn't care if we were a pack of snarling, barking dogs. I wanted to run with the pack if it was going somewhere. I was tired of waiting for my slothful companions to get off their lazy asses.

But I'm a little older now, and I'm tired. I wasted my youthful energy letting science crush my creativity into minimal publishable units.

I regret it, and no I wouldn't do it over again if I could.

I would do something else if I could go back and be 21 again.

But not now. I'm not going to run off now and join the dog army. I really don't have the energy to fight any more of that kind of fighting.

And I'm not convinced it's the best way to be creative, either. Maybe for a different age group, it works. But I think I grew out of it.

Anon 9:50,

I think you're missing the point. We're not saying it's a conspiracy- that's a different concept.

What we're saying is that it's the sum of accumulated unconscious biases of many individuals.

That it's true that because of these commonly held unconscious biases, men get more help getting their work done, and getting their papers submitted, and have an easier time getting their papers accepted.

We're not saying it's a lot different. We're saying it's a little bit different.

But consistently, it's different.

Even if it's only a tiny bit of help, and a tiny bit easier, those 1% here and 3% there.. those amounts add up to a big advantage when it comes to "well his CV looks better than hers".

Just think, if every time you went to submit a paper, and you were within the 3% range of it getting accepted, and somebody handed you a "3% off free" coupon. How many more papers would you have? If that saved you a round of resubmitting each time? A round of fighting with your advisor about which journal to send it to? Each time?

What would that save you? Six months? A year? Each time?

Over the course of a career, that's going to add up to a whole lot of CV lines.

And nobody seems to really get it at the hiring level that we're talking about apples and oranges. That for us to come up through these ranks is different than it was for him.

That even if nobody means to have these biases, they exist, and it makes it harder than it needs to be.

That when we do have a good CV, we get criticism amounting to the simple doubt that a women couldn't possibly have done that well on her own - AS IF THE MEN EVER DID IT ALL ON THEIR OWN!

Because nobody who gets to that level did all on their own. Everybody had student help, and technical help, and PI's who helped get them fellowships and invitations to give talks and had them lecture for classes. Men get that kind of help and it's considered par for the course.

Why is it unfair if women ever ask get any help at all?

The point is that we're never going to be able to overcome these biases without more help and without forcing people to notice what we've seen. That we're not making it up, it's not imaginary. It's real.

My point is, I know it's a pyramid scheme. I'm just saying that for women it's a tiny bit sharper, just a tiny bit steeper to climb. And maybe that tiny bit makes all the difference when it's barely scalable in the first place.

I read an article this week that said the next big hurdle for equality can only be cleared by getting men on board to help change things.

Denying that there's a problem doesn't help. You, sir, may think that you are not sexist.

But you are not helping.

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At 2:23 PM, Anonymous remote Kea said...

Because nobody who gets to that level did all on their own.

This is a really important point, because I really did do almost everything on my own. The guys in my field have no bloody clue about that, and they would think it was impossible. Just imagine, year after year, walking past offices with guys chatting, passing boys in the corridor being patted on the shoulder, while never being given any mentoring or tuition or constructive help of any kind ... all the while being abused for my poor paper writing skills or my arrogance ... as if my arrogance is anything compared to theirs!!

At 2:38 PM, Anonymous J said...

"But I'm a little older now, and I'm tired. I wasted my youthful energy letting science crush my creativity into minimal publishable units. I regret it, and no I wouldn't do it over again if I could, I would do something else if I could go back and be 21 again. But not now. I really don't have the energy to fight any more of that kind of fighting. And I'm not convinced it's the best way to be creative, either. Maybe for a different age group, it works. But I think I grew out of it. "

I understand, I "wasted" my youthful energy as well, though I don't see it that way, at that time I chose to do what I wanted and that's cool. Money wise & career wise yes it was a terrible choice, yes no-one talked about shit pay, yes no-one talked about moving all the time, yes no-one talks about most TT jobs being in shit places instead of proper cities (you know, like NY, London etc), yes no-one talks about how politics dwarves science when it comes to advancing in science. Yes, had I known what is to come, I would have accepted that medicine offer from an elite uni when I was 18.

However, I didn't know all that back then, so I'm happy I sticked to my choice, even if it was the wrong one. I could have done what mummy wanted and become a doctor, and while she was right (mummy always is I guess), I take pride in making my own life path.

If you feel tired, take a 1-2 month break and change your career. You don't feel tired because you are old, I mean unless you're 60 there's no such thing as tired. You feel tired because you have nothing to drain energy from, you see lobotomized people, a work environment where you can't express yourself and probably all this doesn't have a good impact on your social life as well.

You feel tired because you need more from your life, not because you are physically tired as you claim. Get your 2 months off, think about prospective careers, prepare for interviews and apply. There's a whole world out there besides miserable labs and it tends to pay better.

Yes aholes are there as well, yes it can become boring as well, yes you may be exploited as well. However, you will have your own money, house, car, commodities you need.

Also if you want to switch jobs, you won;t be needing a reference at the age of 30+ (lol), at least in the two job-fields I applied to, they treated you as an independent person, not your supervisor's servant.

At 2:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks YFS for your reply to my comment. However guesstimated, you have tried to put a number on it so I now at least understand how big you think the sexism is. 3%...doesnt sound that bad...most polls we see have a 3% margin of error. I am happy you think its only 3%.

So, let's assume a man has a 3% higher chance of getting a paper published than a woman. That means, if a man and a woman of equal ability submit 20 papers each (i.e. put in equal effort), the man will get 3% of 20, i.e., 0.6 papers more than the woman.

Do you really think that 0.6 extra will add a whole lot of lines to the CV? And just like biases are real, so is affirmative action. And it seems likely to me that affirmative action would easily wipe out the 0.6 paper difference between the two candidates.

I just wanted to give you an idea of the magnitudes involved in your guesstimate.

To make a significant difference, it seems to me there would have to be at least a 3 paper difference. Using the base of 20 submitted papers, that translates into a staggering 15% margin for men.

"How much" is 15%? Obama beat McCain by a margin of about 8% in the popular vote, back when "everyone" was for Obama, remember?

At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And maybe I should add: I am not trying to insult you. Postdocs have it hard. I know. I am one.

I like to believe that I am genuinely not sexist. I couldnt care less if the person who is hired instead of me is a man or a woman. This is not a team sport, but an individual one.

What is shocking to me is how my female colleagues say openly to my face: "we cant do this...we cant get that...because we are women". And since we are professional equals and she has just declared that I had it easier, it seems I am supposed to bow my head and humbly admit that I am inferior to her.

I dont understand. I bust my butt as hard as the next guy or girl. And I fail to see how being told that whatever precious little I have achieved is all because of my gender is not sexist...

At 6:55 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


My point is that to get over that last hurdle and get the jobs we wanted, we couldn't do it on our own. Somebody would have had to help us.


Thanks but you're oversimplifying, not knowing anything about me IRL, but I know it comes from good intentions, so I'll take it as such.


No I don't actually think it's 3%. I've cited studies in previous posts (as have others, like Dr. Isis and FSP) that show that a woman typically has to have 3x more publications than men to be hired for the same job.

I'm not making that up. There's actual data to support it. Your female colleagues are not just whining. They're actually trying to educate you about a real problem.

So let me explain again, since I think you missed the point about CUMULATIVE.

So what I'm saying is, it's not 3% of 20 but more like 3% each time, times 20.

Then it's (.97)^20 = 0.54


1^20 = 1

So really, over the course of a career, if I'm being docked 3% just for being female, it's going to show up as an almost 2-fold difference in the end.

Roughly speaking.

Of course it's not that simple, and it's not 3%.

In my case, there were all kinds of factors. My boss was biased, my colleagues were buddies, and they all put each other on papers whether they did anything or not, but they didn't offer to put me on or they pushed me down the author list even when I was nice enough to put them on mine.

I had problems with editors, and problems with meeting organizers, all of which basically came down to the same old shit.

I was in denial for a long time, thought it was just me, thought I was doing something wrong.

Then I realized questions were asked JUST BECAUSE I WAS FEMALE that would never have been asked about my work or my abilities if I were a guy.

I know because nobody ever treated MrPhD this way, even though we were in similar environments doing similar things similar ways.

So over time, I did the math, and realized that it all adds up. Each resubmission of a paper in my field is 6 months to a year of additional work. Over the course of a career, fuck yeah, that's a lot more papers I could have published. Maybe twice as many, if things had gone smoothly.

Of course, absolutely, maybe I still wouldn't have gotten a job. But I think I would have had a better shot as a guy than I did as a girl.

And affirmative action, my ass. I've never seen any gender-based affirmative action at the junior faculty level and I doubt I ever will. The only women I've seen hired as junior faculty were wives of men who were recruited, or they were rockstars. I never saw any women get hired who didn't know what they were doing. I saw them get interviews they didn't deserve, but that's just a stupid EEOC requirement that never helped anybody.

And I would never say you only got your job because you were a guy. There's too much luck, too many intangibles involved. And i know plenty of women who never encountered any sexism until much later in their careers. So it didn't prevent them from getting hired.

What I'm saying is, in my case, I know it was a factor starting sometime during grad school and it only continued to get worse the further I went along.

At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh dear!

Oh dear!

"3% each time leads to a two fold difference"? Really?



Consider a slightly biased coin, one in which the chance of getting a head is 3% more than the chance of getting a tail. That means... a 51.5% chance of a head and a 48.5 % chance of a tail.

You think that if you toss this coin over and over again, you will get roughly twice as many heads as tails?

Oh dear!

You made my legs tremble in horror. You need immediate math coaching... immediate. I am not joking. This is the kind of basic misunderstanding of math I have to deal with on a daily basis when I teach undergrads. I never imagined a seasoned scientist would make an error so elementary.

At 10:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, here is some related data. It is from Sweden but I doubt that the situation is better in the US. It is worth reading.

At 8:30 AM, Anonymous Thinkerbell said...

I try to think of shaping my data into minimal publishable units as a very creative process! Of course, 'minimal' is still broad depending on where you draw the line. I actually think its worse if you work for someone who always wants the story to get bigger and bigger and bigger and.... --> byebye output.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 10:29,

Point taken, since I thought about doing it that way.

But nobody really believes you have a 50-50 chance of getting a paper in, or getting a job, do they?

Do you?

My point is that it is CUMULATIVE which is DIFFERENT from a coin toss, WHICH IS NOT CUMULATIVE.

A coin toss, as you well know, STARTS OVER EACH TIME.

Oh dear, indeed.

Anon 10:37, Thanks, yes, exactly. Glad I have some industrious readers who are willing to fill in links I am too lazy to dig up for my readers who are even lazier than me!


To be honest, my advisors were all bigger-bigger types. Which meant byebye output.

But in order to survive as junior faculty, were I a "seasoned scientist" as anon above implied (I'm not, I'm an unemployed former wannabe scientist!), I would need to focus on MPUs in order to get grants. And I would want my students to have MPUs. But students are often focused on bigger-bigger papers, too. I have one friend who is going to get scooped if she doesn't wake up and realize her one postdoc paper might go poof! if she doesn't get it out soon. Either way, you're stuck in the middle of a nasty system that isn't doing nearly as much good as it could.

At 3:28 PM, Anonymous remote Kea said...

Oh, dear. So anon is just one of those 'here, darling, let me teach you some high school maths' doods. Well, I'm not surprised. Anyway, I doubt he is about to read the data and turn to the side of the truth.

At 9:11 AM, Anonymous app said...

Anon has apparently never been introduced to the concept of compound interest.

Oh dear indeed indeed!

It's basic high school material, Anon. Been dozing off during your maths/econ classes? Never mind, its never too late -- here comes Wikipedia to the rescue for you :)

You might want to think twice next time before deciding to give the poor little girlies a maths lesson. LMFAO

(For the info of those without basic high school maths skills: MsPhD's calculation (0.97)^20 = 0.54 is completely correct for calculating the cumulative effect of 20 instances of a disadvantage of 3%.)

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

app, thank you. I was totally losing little girly sleep over that one.


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