Monday, July 17, 2006

Maybe we need a phrasebook (?)

RE-UPDATED

Reading the comments about other women's experiences with being mistaken for non-professors is entertaining in a quasi-sick way. I think it's best if we stay entertained by the events to some extent, though, rather than letting it get us down.

Maybe we should all get together and construct a booklet with questions and answers related to these situations, much like one would use a guide with handy phrases when traveling in a place where we don't know the language. In this case, we do know the 'language', but it might be useful to have some suggestions of handy phrases to use in certain situations. My tendency is to respond with sarcasm and an attempt at humor, but a really versatile booklet could contain a range of responses: sarcastic (heavy/light), angry, polite, insane..

Example:

Question: What grade are you in? (said to me during the first 15 years or so after I graduated from high school)
Answer: 21st (or whatever the number is, with n > 16)

Question: Will you give this to Professor X?

Answer: No... (pause for effect) .. You just gave it to her.
Answer from FemaleCSGradStudent: Sure! [Take it from them, and in an exaggerated fashion, hand it from your left hand to your right.] Done!


What are some good answers to this perennial comment? (thanks to Dr. Shellie for the suggestion):

Question: So they had to hire a woman..? (some of my favorites are below - thanks to all for the comments)

from FemaleCSGradStudent:
Q: So they had to hire a woman...
A: Yeah, they needed somebody to make up for the fact that they hired you.

from zuska:

Q: So they had to hire a woman...
A. It was inevitable. Eventually they were bound to run out of mediocre men, and now the qualified women are finally getting a chance.

* Here's a stunningly primitive question that a professor asked me when I was in grad school:

Q. So you're doing a Ph.D.? Couldn't you find anyone to marry you?

Fantasy Answer 1: Nope, they just don't make wives like they used to.
Fantasy Answer 2: I've already been married 6 times. I'm taking a break.

27 comments:

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

Q: Will you give this to professor X?
A: Sure! [Take it from them, and in an exagerrated fashion, hand it from your left hand to your right.] Done!

psychgrad said...

What do you do to convince yourself that you are the teacher. I'm in my 9th year of university and still feel like I'm the student and have limited potential as an educator?

Alex said...

: )

Anonymous said...

See I always suck at witty comebacks. Which is why I seem to end up explaining very patiently that Yes, I am a professor. Yes I teach AND do research. Yes I am old enough to do this. I'd love a phrasebook because it would save me a lot of hassle. (But I'd prefer not to make people look like dumbasses all the time.... I *DO* look young for what I am doing

Dr. Shellie said...

This is a fantastic idea. It can easily be expanded to all sorts of other annoying situations, too. Such as: responses to offhand remarks about women who got faculty jobs only because of affirmative action, men who comment on how beautiful you look in professional settings, or "how you are too beautiful to be a scientist..."

gambler1650 said...

Great blog. Passed this on to some friends of mine in the science world (male and female both).

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

I guess my problem is that I'm way too quick for my own good, and the witty comments practically launch out of my face. My favorite was the time I'd convinced some guy that Noam Chomsky was my uncle (since that's the only possible way I could know who that is).

See more snark here and here.

skookumchick said...

I'm not a professor yet, but I'd like to contribute to the "you can't possibly be in engineering/science" part of the phrasebook.

Some comments to consider:
"Wow, you're in engineering? That must be hard."

"I guess girls can be engineers now."

"You're in engineering? I always hated math."

Any others?

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

Q: So they had to hire a woman...
A: Yeah, all the men kept looking at their shoes during the interview.

*

Q: So they had to hire a woman...
A: Yeah, they needed somebody to make up for the fact that they hired you.

Propter Doc said...

Q. Oh, you're a chemist? I hated chemistry in high school, the bunsen burners and stuff. I couldn't do it to save my life.

A. I guess I'm better at it than you were.

Q. So I was wondering why they were letting undergraduates chair sessions (at conference)?

A. And I was wondering why they were letting idiots be professors.

zuska said...

Q. Will you give this to professor X?
A. Why?

Q. Wow, you're in engineering? That must be hard!
A. What exactly do you mean?

Q. You're in engineering? I always hated math.
A. I don't do math. I design solutions to problems we face in society, trying to make this world a little nicer, easier, more fun place to live.


Q. So they had to hire a woman.
A. It was inevitable. Eventually they were bound to run out of mediocre men, and now the qualified women are finally getting a chance.

Q. Oh, you're a chemist? I hated chemistry in high school.
A. That's sad. Chemistry is beautiful, and so integral for development of new medicines, understanding how to keep the environment clean, and a million other wonderful things. Have you ever heard of Roald Hoffman? He's a Nobel Prize winner, a chemist with a poet's soul who wrote this nifty book called The Same and Not the Same. I bet if you read a few chapters in it, you might see some of the beauty I see in chemistry, even if you didn't decide to run out and become a chemist.

Q. So I was wondering why they are letting undergraduates chair sessions.
A. Are they? How neat. I'd like to meet some of them. Can you introduce me? They must be pretty precocious to chair sessions as undergraduates.

Q. I guess girls can be engineers now.
A. No kidding? Where did you hear that? Are they letting boys be engineers, too? I thought you had to be an adult with a B.S. degree before you could even take the FE.

Q. I guess women can be engineers now, too.
A. Yes, more and more women these days are willing to work alongside men. I guess the pay's just too good to pass up.

Q. Why do we need a women in engineering program?
A. You know, that's a good question. Women don't need special help to do engineering; they just need special help to deal with the hostile environment that shuts women out. So really, we ought to be doing more to try to change the engineering culture. What suggestions do you have?

A. Why not?

Q. My, Debbie, you are looking beautiful today.
A. Pardon me - that's DOCTOR Debbie to you, if you don't mind.

Q. My, Debbie, you are looking beautiful today.
A. I must have misheard you - surely you didn't just comment on my appearance in a professional setting?

Q. My, Debbie, you are looking beautiful today.
A. Could you repeat that?
(if stupid enough to repeat) That's what I thought you said, but I just couldn't believe you were commenting on my appearance in a professional setting.

Q. My, Debbie, you are looking beautiful today.
A. That kind of remark makes me mildly uncomfortable. I'm sure you meant well, but in the future, I hope you'll refrain from remarking on my appearance in a professional setting. (Then, go home, write down the conversation, document date and time, list any witnesses. Someday, sadly, that information may come in handy.)

Q. My, Debbie, you're looking beautiful today. (lays hand on ass.)
A. Please take your hand off my ass and don't ever touch me anywhere on my body again. That kind of contact is extremely unwelcome. (go home, write down conversation and touching, document, etc. etc.)

Q. You know So-and-So was an affirmative action hire.
A. Hah! That reminds me - have you ever heard Debra Rolison's talk, "Isn't a Millenium of Affirmative Action for White Men Sufficient?" That's some good stuff.

Q. You know So-and-so was an affirmative action hire.
A. That's a shame. Everyone else here in our university is just one publication away from a Nobel, but this is going to tank the whole place. (said with utmost seriousness, sad face, head shaking, walking off in gloomy air.)

Q. You know so-and-so was an affirmative action hire.
A. Really? Which impotent male let that one get by?

Q. You know so-and-so was an affirmative action hire.
A. Well, there goes the neighborhood. What? I'm just joking! But seriously - do you know where they're moving in? Come on! Just joking! Weren't you?

Q. You look too beautiful to be a scientist.
A. I know, it's unfair, isn't it? I'm beautiful AND brilliant.

A. I know, it's unfair, isn't it? Especially since most male scientists are so damn ugly; I really stand out around here.

A. Do you think you might be overly preoccupied with how people look?

A. How beautiful are scientists allowed to be? I missed that part of orientation.

A. Did NIH/NSF/other funding agency just issue new beauty limits for their RO1 (or other proposal jargon) guidelines? Shit. I am going to have to find me a really ugly collaborator pronto.

Q. [insert any sexist, racist, clasist, homophobic joke here.]
A. I'm sorry, I didn't get it. Can you explain it to me? [I used this once on a professor who told a Jewish joke to me and his graduate student - a Jewish woman. He actually started to explain the joke to me. When he realized, mid-explanation, that he had to state out loud the racist belief that made the joke funny, he stopped short, turned red, turned around, and walked away. It was a beautiful, beautiful moment. And he couldn't hold it against either of us because I played sooooo dumb. And everybody knows, women are dumb.]

Well, I'll stop now. That was so much fun!

ScienceWoman said...

Wonderful! I think my absolute favorite so far has got to come from FemaleCSGradStudent "Q: So they had to hire a woman...
A: Yeah, they needed somebody to make up for the fact that they hired you."

My contribution:
Comment: "You're probably getting so many interviews because they need to hire a woman."
Reply: "Places that would interview me "solely" because I'm a woman are exactly the places that won't hire me regardless of qualitifcations, "just" because I'm a woman.

It's not funny, I know. But I've had to give that explanation several times. But I'd love to hear a snarky reply that I can use the next go-around.

inki said...

Good idea the phrasebook! I needed a good one when I started as post-doctoral fellow.

Q: so heard you signed a nine month post-doc contract [wink wink], when is the baby-shower?

I could only smile, to keep me from hitting this professor on the head. Any good ones?

gambler1650 said...

The 'phrasebook' responses to comments are mostly entertaining. I would like to point out though that some of the incidents reported in the blog are not gender specific (obviously the ones like "They're letting girls into engineering now?" are.

But recounting a story from my graduate student days (in which I WOULD have been old enough to be at least a post doc, possibly an Assistant Professor if everything had gone right)...

I worked in my advisor's office once in awhile and at least twice had people who had never met or known much about my advisor (ie, they weren't aware of his publication list) asked me to take a message for him without asking "Dr. [name]?" ie, they assumed I wasn't him. Obviously I wasn't offended since I _wasn't_ a PhD (still am not), but I could have been.

I knew one other actual professor who said he rather often got mistaken for a graduate student or post doc at best because of his youthful appearance. I'm not saying the situation's not more common for the women in the field, and obviously some of the comments given by colleagues are gender specific, but the 'misidentified as a student' happens to both genders. :)

If it helps, the youthful PhD referenced above's stock response was a simple: "Oh. Thank you for implying that I look young enough to be a student, but I'm Dr. [name]." :)

MissPrism said...

"So, you're a graduate student?"
"No, I just use a good moisturiser."

Zuska said...

Why, oh why, oh why, just when you get rolling with the good stuff, does somebody come along and explain how something really isn't about gender after all?

I don't care if the same thing happens to a million pimply new male professors. It has a differential impact when it happens to female professors. The male professor has this happen, shrugs it off, and thinks, "hey, I still look young." Eventually, this stops happening to him as he gets older. The female professor has this happen, but it's the eighteen millionth time something like this has happened, and she knows it's just as much about her gender as it is about her youth. And it does not STOP happening to her as she ages. I still got this crap at age 40. "What's your major" I got asked, as if I were a frickin' UNDERGRADUATE, EVEN THOUGH I WAS AT AN EVENING EVENT WHERE ONLY UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATORS WERE IN ATTENDANCE AND I WAS A DIRECTOR OF A PROGRAM. But, I was the only female administrator in the roomful of engineers. So, I must have been an undergraduate student, right? With a nametag. Boobs = lower status than lowest status male in room.

What would help would be not to try to explain away gender as an issue at play, but instead try to become more aware of how gender issues are ALWAYS at play. Always. Their degree of importance varies from situation to situation but you cannot escape them. I can never walk into a room and not be immediately identified as a woman - with all the attendant assumptions and stereotypes that follow - before I've even spoken a word.

I appreciate your attempt at empathy, but empathy that denies the original description of the situation is not really empathy, is it?

Anonymous said...

These are fantastic.

Q. So I was wondering why they were letting undergraduates chair sessions (at conference)?

A. Oh, they are? Which session was that?

Q: so heard you signed a nine month post-doc contract [wink wink], when is the baby-shower?

A. We're gestating a Nature paper. What I figure out which gifts are appropriate for that, I'll let you know.

Anonymous said...

From ScienceWoman:

Comment: "You're probably getting so many interviews because they need to hire a woman."

Reply: "Places that would interview me "solely" because I'm a woman are exactly the places that won't hire me regardless of qualitifcations, "just" because I'm a woman.


It's not funny, I know. But I've had to give that explanation several times. But I'd love to hear a snarky reply that I can use the next go-around.

-----

Reply: (sarcastically) Yeah, it must be that, it couldn't possibly be that I'm highly qualified, with a long string of publications and a glowing research record.

gambler1650 said...

You will note that I referred to one very specific instance. The only thing I know about "Female Science Professor" is that she's a professor, married and has a child. I read her "I am not a student!" post very carefully and I note she says it happens less and less as she gets older, and she specifically points out that one of the reasons why was she doesn't "look old enough" (along with the "male enough" comment).

It was to this VERY specific comment and circumstance that I was referring to, not the whole blog or all the issues that affect women in science (which I agree _are_ relevant and important issues that need to be brought up).

So, based on this comment I was specifically thinking of a woman at work who is married, has a child and who I would very likely mistake for a student if I saw on the street just because she looks a like an undergraduate (while she's old enough to be just starting out as a professor). If I saw a male who looked the same age, I would think the same thing about him.

Personally I tend to think of anyone 30+ in appearance in a university or research setting as likely a PhD (this after mistaking my current boss, a male PhD, for having a Master's level degree).

Additionally, I've been lucky to have a female PhD as a strong influence and one of my committee members in grad school, as well as knowing a few PhDs where I currently work, so my own 'expectations' are likely different than the 'old guard'.

My intent was NOT to offend, or state that the problems facing women in science are overblown (the automatic assumption that the author of this blog was a student when giving a talk that she was lead author on was very annoying, and I'm sure a relatively common thing from what I've heard; as was the review of a male candidate who assumed that the author was a student in spite of - I assume - knowing that it was a meeting with all faculty).

If you want a serious suggestion from me for any situation in which someone mistakes a PhD woman for a student, just say. "I'm sorry. I have a PhD and am a [job title] here." Don't worry about humiliating us males. If we have too fragile an emotional state to be humiliated by the facts, well, then we deserve it. :)

gambler1650 said...

Just thought I'd also give a bit of reference as to my personal experiences with women as PhDs. As mentioned above, I had a female committee member who was incredibly smart, supportive (especially when my advisor was unavailable for long periods of time for various reasons) and just one of the best people I've ever known.

Since graduating with my Masters I've entered a job where there are a few female PhDs although still in nowhere near equal numbers to their male colleagues.

On a personal level, other than my bosses (each a male PhD), I've interacted far more with female Post Docs or PhD students than I have male ones, and every single one has struck me as strongly motivated, incredibly smart, highly competent, and consummately professional in their work. They've also convinced me that being a PhD is not for me. :) I can't really compare them to male PostDocs and PhD students because, well, I don't know any currently and never really interacted with any during my college years except briefly.

Perhaps my impressions are colored by my experiences (I'd be surprised if they weren't), but personally I'd have no problems having a female PhD as my boss or seeing one in charge of a department or any other position of authority.

While there is an obvious imbalance in the number of PhDs who are female, I _hope_ that the situation is changing. My own experiences may be highly unusual, but it feels like there are ever more women in the sciences as Doctoral Candidates, Post Docs and bona fide Professors.

The situation won't change overnight unfortunately, but those like myself who interact with these women in college and later in their careers, won't find the concept as alien as some of the 'old guard' still seems to. In no way am I advocating a passive 'wait and see' approach. Education, persistence and even appropriate humiliation of those who deserve to be humiliated are all necessary.

So, while my commentary may at times seem naive (and I will note that I didn't clarify enough that I don't think that the vast majority of cases of "So you're a student" mistaken identities are age related), keep in mind that:

A) I'm not a female PhD. :)
B) I'm one of those people who just don't 'get' the mindset that leads to the situations described.

JoAnne said...

You're at a conference with 800 attendees. It's coffee break and you're standing amongst a circle of colleagues. Some guy walks up to your circle, turns to you and asks:

Q: We're out of coffee. Can you refill it please?

A: I'm giving a talk in 20 minutes, perhaps you should find a secretary.

Sandra Porter said...

It can be worse if people know you do something related to computers. I always seem to get old guys asking me to fix their LCD projectors!

Marjorie said...

I'm a female about-to-be grad student entering a social sciences department. Many eons ago, my now-best-friend entered my first senior-level poli sci program wielding a briefcase, and none of us in the class bothered to even look at him as we carried on our animated conversations. Imagine our bewilderment when we realized that he was our professor.

He was a newly minted Ph.D. at 27 and looked extremely young for his age. He continued to be mistaken for an undergrad for years, until he eventually went into administration.

Zuska, I don't mean to discount the discrimination that women academics face; I'm sure I'll confront my share when I finish my doctoral program. When it comes to age, however, I do believe it's true that, in many cases, it's less a matter of sex than it is of youthful looks. While in grad school as an M.A. student, we had a couple of fiftysomething doctoral students (one female, one male) who were constantly mistaken for actual professors.

Call me vain, but I wouldn't mind being mistaken for an undergrad when I'm a fiftysomething prof, but I have doubts that that will actually happen.

Cheers,
Marjorie

Ms.PhD said...

I'm with Zuska on this one, though maybe not so shrill, since I am without official training in feministic studies.

But it's true. Gender ALWAYS colors people's assumptions. You can't get rid of it. You can play it down, but it never really goes away.

(aside: That said, a friend was telling me recently about a new book about a woman who spent a year masquerading as a man.)

This goes back to something in another post about how the thesis commitee just couldn't 'see' the female student as a professor yet.

Among the factors working against us, looking young is one of them.

We don't seem authoritative in a traditionally accepted Western way because we're shorter, our voices are high-pitched, and we look pretty damn hot in an evening dress (Zuska, you have to admit you must have looked pretty good for them to assume you were an undergrad!). ;-)

blop said...

All these are very funny. But I think that the most appropriate answer in most of these situations is "F**k off!"

But that's my aggressive-male bias :-)

Mel said...

Q. Oh, you're a [blank]? I hated [blank] in high school.

I always stare at people when they say things like this--I mean, why do they think I care that they hated my life's work in some high school class 20 years ago?

I also get "Oh, you're studying geology? Math is so hard [for women!" Um, hi, science != math. Geology in particular. And math is difficult for most people, not just women.

BTW, this may just be me, but I've never met a department secretary in the sciences who made coffee for other people--kept the coffee and tea stash from running out, yeah, but it was always assumed that we were big boys and girls who could pour hot water ourselves. I have nothing but the utmost respect for department secretaries--science would collapse without them.

Anthea said...

I love this one:

"Q. So you're doing a Ph.D.? Couldn't you find anyone to marry you?

Fantasy Answer 1: Nope, they just don't make wives like they used to.
Fantasy Answer 2: I've already been married 6 times. I'm taking a break."

Why? I've been asked it numerous times and when I've pointed out that I didn't thnk that it was an appropriate question ...the look of shock and horror is incredible. I wonder what on earth possesses people - guys - (it's only men who ask this question) to ask it? Are we in the 21st century? Aren't there lots of women around with PhDs?