Wednesday, February 28, 2007

You Don't Want To Know

In the next couple of weeks, I'll be roaming around giving some more talks on my research, mostly at universities I haven't visited recently, if ever. I am looking forward to the visits, although there is one thing that has been bothering me in a low-level back-of-the-mind kind of way. A few of the universities are in the same region/country where I did my postdoc, and I know I am going to be asked "How did you like being at University A?". Possible answers, all true:

- It was a beautiful city and I met some nice people.
- I really enjoyed starting on some interesting new research projects.
- I was so extremely harassed by male professors, technicians, and grad students that I left after a year, and it was by far the most hostile place for women I have ever encountered, which is saying a lot.

I have heard that University A has changed a lot in the past decade, including hiring several women faculty. The most evil technician was fired (for being unproductive with his work, perhaps because he was spending too much time threatening and humiliating women), the most evil professors retired, and the most loathsome grad student (who liked to tell me that it's too bad that it is becoming socially unacceptable for men to hit 'girls') got his PhD but never got a faculty position.

So, if asked, I will say something noncommittal but not particularly enthusiastic. I can certainly say some positive things about my postdoc supervisor, who is a very nice person, although terminally clueless. (example: "I don't know why you're having so much trouble with Technician Bob, none of my other postdocs -- George, Sam, Harry, and Trevor -- have had any trouble with him.").


gs said...

Good luck with the talks. It sounds like you're giving them from a position of strength.

A rule of thumb for interviews is to never ever say anything negative. Off the top of my head, fwiw: if you're asked an awkward question, maybe you can cap a noncommittal response with a diversionary question.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I've heard horror stories from other women about the joys of working in fields that don't have an overwhelming number of women, but - just, wow. My hat's off to ya.

Anonymous said...

Consider a response that includes some positive words about the city and people you liked, together with "and I'm so glad to see that they're making progress in including women." It's appropriate praise for the current department.

Ms.PhD said...

Oh, god. This all sounds *too* familiar. Could it be that I am still a postdoc in that place you left?

Oh wait, at mine most of the bastards are still there. =(

And I have so little forgiveness for the terminally clueless, like your example and my neverending experience of "But it was okay for Tom, Dick and Hairy to work with Jerry, why can't you work with him?" To me, that level of looking the other way is a very insidious disease.

gs- great advice, I must try to remember that bit about capping a vague response with a distraction. Love it!

I also like the positive spin on 'making progress.' That's what I usually say when people ask me- "It's improved a lot since I was there."