Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What Were They Thinking, Episode 5489

This week I was perusing a research statement by someone from another university. The statement lists important people who have 'given input' or 'expressed interest' in the research described, including a research proposal that may be submitted in the near future. This was interesting to me because I was sent this research proposal a year or so ago by the applicant's postdoc supervisor (the PI), asking if I would be a co-PI on the proposal. I said no (for various reasons, although I respect and like the PI), but offered to help with the project informally as needed. I sent back detailed comments on the proposal, including helping write part of a section that related to my expertise. The PI wrote back thanking me very much for my input.

If you are a regular reader of this blog or if you are a female scientist, you can probably tell where this post is headed, and therefore it will not surprise you to find that I am not listed as one of the people who has given input for that project. When I read the statement, I assumed the non-listing of my name was because the person writing the statement wasn't totally clued in to the PI's activities related to the proposal, and that was fine. Just as I was thinking about this, however, one of the famous people who is listed called me, and I took the opportunity to ask him what his role had been in that project and the proposed proposal. He said he had no role. He'd been asked to be a co-PI as well, but had said no and didn't even read the proposal. He had never met the person who wrote the research statement, and was surprised his name was being used to indicate that the proposal had merit.

In fact, I don't think either of our names should be listed. I would be happy to read a research statement that focused entirely on the research, and didn't include any real or manufactured endorsement of the work by famous men. I think the 'list of random famous men who in theory might be interested in my research' approach perpetuates some aspects of the culture that should be eliminated for the benefit of all.


prof j said...

I typically only see these kind of informal research statements in job applications. This kind of name-dropping would immediately make me suspicious. Finding out that someone was listed who had made no contribution is unethical and would be a big black mark. The sheer stupidity of not including someone at my institution who helped on the proposal would probably kill the person's chances at the position. I can't help thinking there is correlation between the sexism this person displays and their overall unethical behavior. I know unethical people who are not sexist, but can't think of any sexists who are ethical in all other matters.

Female Science Professor said...

Yes, exactly. I don't want to read 'too much' into this person's lapse in judgment, but at the same time.. What were they thinking?

prof j said...

I don't want to read 'too much' into this person's lapse in judgment

I can't help thinking that a parade of people doing precisely this is what leads to sexist jerks in power.

Female Science Professor said...

Yes, exactly again, and that's why I struggle with the issue. I always hope that early-career people can be shown a better way, but who is going to show them, and how? If I reject this person's application, will they know why? Would it be better if they had more experiences working with senior women colleagues, therefore making it less likely that their fixation with famous men would continue?

Zed said...

I wonder if there is a way you can communicate this to the person who wrote the research proposal. Maybe with some veiled threat that some of the information he has provided does not check out (re. the other person's interest). I don't know if there is a tactful way of handling this. If this was a lapse in judgment it needs to be corrected. Repeated lack of judgment = bias.

Ms.PhD said...

Wow. This is classic. We're all lucky that you even saw it and found out. Imagine how often this happens when no one even knows? I'd like to think most people would be like prof j, very suspicious about name-dropping, but I think it's the reverse. On the other hand, the networky types tend to call each other and talk, so if they saw the name of a contact on there, you'd hope they would call and ask directly (as you did)?

re: what were they thinking, maybe they were mad that you didn't want to be on it. I don't quite understand how this works in your field, where the PI is asking for input from other PIs, but then the postdoc gets to use it as his/her own 'independent' proposal??? My stuff is MY stuff, my PIs haven't helped, and if they had done that much they would claim it as their own and I wouldn't get any credit for my part at all. This all seems backwards to me.

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