Thursday, April 15, 2010

Burnt Out - Help

Below is an e-mail message from a reader. I have responded to the e-mail privately, but I hope some readers can also help with advice or other support.

Dear FSP,

I'm about to quit research because I can't take the sexism anymore. Would you still try and convince me to stay?


I'm recently recovering from a rape assault, and as a result am finding it impossible to cope with sexism in the workplace. I feel like my reaction to this sexism is completely justified, but that I might not have found it so overwhelming had I not been going through this particularly difficult time.


I'm at the point where just going to work is emotionally draining and I am actively considering quitting. The main reason for my choice is sexism, not other difficulties which exist with a career in academia. I fear I may be throwing research away because I'm going through a very difficult time recovering from the rape assault.


In the last year, I've been so upset by this, that the quality of my work has degraded. I'm a postdoc, so one unproductive year is important. Given the sexism and rumors that exist in the workplace, I can't imaging discussing the rape and its effect with anyone at work.


The sexism I'm talking about is both indirect (witnessing patronizing comments about women and porn which is openly accepted at my workplace) and direct (patronizing comments about my gender, sexual advances from PhD adviser, sexual harassment from colleagues at every institution I've been at - in one case it was violent, victimization when I complained).


Thanks for your time and any advice you may have. Feel free to post this letter on your blog (not my email address).


Sincerely, Burnt out astronomy.


PS: Thanks for your amazing (and depressing) blog.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ugh so far I've been lucky that the men in my lab (80% of the group) do not have such unprofessional and creepy behavior but I can see places where it might creep up unintentionally (not an excuse). I have no advice, I just hope to hear it from others. It's hard to find support because how many sexual assault victims are also in the hard sciences? Compared to the rest of the world, very, very few, even if a great percentage of these scientists have been sexually assaulted.

Ambrosia Everlovely said...

There are so many things wrong with this email!!
I can't believe these workplaces still exist.

I personally think you need some time off to recuperate and get your strength back.
I assume you are getting some kind of professional help dealing with the rape too. If not, you really should.
Then go back to work, publish some papers and get a job somewhere far, far away.

Alternatively, if you have the option, work from home as much as you can.

I don't think you should quit research yet, but find a way to make it work for you, and I don't think all of your opportunities are exhausted yet!

Best wishes to you.

Anonymous said...

I feel so sorry for your reader who was a victim of a rape assault. That is something no woman should ever have to experience. I'm no psychiatrist but maybe she is suffering a kind of PTSD. I hope she is receiving counseling, I couldn't imagine dealing with this alone. It could be that she should take a leave of absence (maybe a semester or the summer). Not only might this help her to heal her emotional and psychological scars while she undergoes counseling due to being removed from the environment that triggers her stress-response, but also in my opinion her future career would be less damaged if her CV says "official leave of absence due to personal circumstances" rather than showing her continued uninterrupted employment but with a stark drop in productivity.

It also sounds like her workplace is not only very sexist but also hostile to women. I have not experienced or personally witnessed workplace sexism as bad as what she describes and am disappointed that an academic department of all places would have that culture. I don't know if I could work in that department, and I don't have the baggage of having been a victim of the trauma she went through. Thus, I would strongly recommend that she leave that department and continue her postdoctoral stint at a less female-hostile place. I wish her all the best.

NJA said...

Dear Burnt Out Astronomy,

First, my sympathy. You've been through a difficult ordeal and your workplace is making it harder to recover. Anyone would find that hard to endure.

Both rape and sexism are about power, and it sounds like your sexist work environment, where degradation of women is accepted as the norm, is acting as a trigger for your sexual assault. Constant triggering of a traumatic experience makes it difficult for people to function normally because they're not being given the space and time to put the experience behind them. All of this will take an emotional toll and impact on your energy levels, productivity, and wellbeing.

Both for the sake of your career and the sake of your mental health, it sounds like you need to get away from your current workplace. The good news is that you're a postdoc, so you're not tied to your current workplace as closely as a PhD student or tenure-track professor. Would it be possible to quit your job and find another postdoc position in a different institution? From your description, the sexism in your department is exceptionally severe, so it's unlikely another department would provide quite so awful an environment. Yes, it's unfortunately likely that you'll encounter sexism elsewhere, but this is a product of broader culture and is as likely in a non-academic job as an academic one.

Staying in research is not the same as staying in your current job. If you can imagine being enthused about your work, away from your current colleagues, then you should think about pursuing academia in a new environment. It might take a little time to find a new position, but the sooner you start looking, the sooner you can leave. A new environment would also give you a chance to recover from the assault in your own time (though, if you haven't already done so, I would encourage you to seek some counselling help with this part of the process).

I wish you the very best.

BB said...

Anyone recovering from such a trauma needs counseling. I'd urge the person not to make a decision to leave now, but take a leave to try to recover. It will take time.

SC said...

Is there someone (preferably male) who can be relied upon? Relied upon to keep confidences, to not be sexist, to be sensitive to what you need and to raise hell with the rest of them to prevent this stuff (where the being male comes in)?

It strikes me that fighting this kind of battle is very wearing, especially when you've already been a victim, and it sounds like it's too much for you. Is there anyone who could help you?

If not, is there a chance you could transfer to another school, or even take some time out, maybe visiting a far-away observatory, or something, that would at least be useful for you and give you some breathing space?

Anonymous said...

I think that it is easy to feel that a toxic environment is specific to your work environment (acedemia) when you are in a specific bad situation. The reality is that these type of instances described are no less likely to be present in other specific work environments and, in fact, university institutions likely have more resources/policies in place for dealing with these sorts of things than many other work environments.

I am a female engineer working in industry and my opinion is that dealing with a specific toxic environment will not be solved by leaving academia. Specific instances should be reported as appropriate and hopefully professional help can be sought for dealing with the rape

Anonymous said...

I don't want to sound callous but in my opinion it's not much better outside academia. At least in academia your record is yours to own and it can't be interpreted as anything else. In the corporate world that line about who is responsible for the success of a deal, or project, etc seems to be more blurred and creates more opportunity for sexism of a worse kind. One that allows sexism to permeate decisions about the advancement of women to top positions (the good ole boys club has more power outside the ivory tower). Not to mention you have major decisions in some industries made at the bar or on the links, places where women often aren't included.

To be clear, I'm not trying to diminish your concerns or experiences by any means. I have faced discrimination myself such as getting less funding than my male counterparts for the same conferences and it sucks to deal with. I think perhaps your assault is heightening your perception of the sexism you face in your workplace, making it more of a central part of your experience. And I'm not sure that leaving academia will improve that at all, on the contrary it might make it worse for you.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow. Reading this letter, I am shocked, disgusted, and sad all at once. I'm sure my words sound cheap to you, anonymous sufferer, but you have my deepest sympathy. No person should ever have to deal with *one* of the situations you have described, let alone such a toxic combination. You may have complained of becoming less productive as a result of this terrible situation, but the fact that you are functioning at all is a sign of deep personal strength, and for that you have my respect, and you should be proud for carrying on as long as you have in the face of such so many horrors.

My instinct is to ask where you are located so I and my other young female astronomy colleagues can avoid your institution like the plague- but you have suffered enough, so I can't in good conscious ask you to risk outing yourself (and I hope you never feel pressured to do so). I hope eventually that department gets exposed for being the breeding ground of such despicable behavior, and they suffer through being the social and scientific pariahs they so deserve a hundred times over.

I'm sure FSP has many more wise words for you than I, since I am only a grad student, but I will try to add in my two cents. First, most American institutions (I have only been in the US, so if you are abroad someone else in the comments will have to supplement my knowledge) have counseling facilities that are cheap and easily available that will at least give you someone to talk to without repercussion. They can provide you with the mental tools necessary to continue your work, should you choose to do so, without suffering too much more psychologically. I highly recommend you speak to a professional. Second, don't lose all hope- the two astronomy departments I have worked in have never shown me, or any other woman I know, an ounce of sexism. If your experiences have not completely soured your stomach for the field, please know that there are places you can go in the future where you will be treated with the respect you deserve. Third, there is a community for women astronomers through the AAS Committee on the Status of Women (http://www.aas.org/cswa/), and I have seen much sage advice passed through the weekly e-mail list. Lastly, if you can't take it any more, get out of that department asap. You do not deserve to suffer like this, and you *can* have happy success elsewhere or in other careers as necessary.

I wish you the best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Dear Burnt Out,
Sounds like you are really in a rough spot. Having gotten this far, I suspect you will be able to tough it out and make a successful research career for yourself, but that it will be harder because of the assault. Is there any way you could just take a leave of absence for a while to give yourself time to heal from the emotional trauma and then return to research afterward -- possibly at a more female-friendly institution? Do you have support from friends and family, and possibly a therapist, to help you get through this? Are you sure there's absolutely no one at work you could confide in -- it would probably be a huge help and comfort if you had a shoulder to cry on in lab, from someone who understands what it's like to work where you do. It's not your job to single-handedly fix sexism in science, but you should not feel like you have to give in to it either. If you really love research, I would try to either take a break or find an institution or position that is a better fit for you, rather than throw in the towel entirely. Of course, if you're not sure that you would really want a research career anyway, then that's another story. You can also look into alternative careers while taking time off.
Good Luck with whatever you decide.

acdalal said...

Is there a trusted mentor (preferably female), either at your current institution or elsewhere, that you feel comfortable talking to about your situation? She can help you see the big picture more clearly and perhaps help you land another post-doc elsewhere, so that at least you can get out of your current situation. I also like the leave of absence idea, if that's at all possible---sometimes just getting a bit of distance from the situation, and allowing yourself some time to heal, can make a huge difference.

Above all else, please please please take care of yourself and put yourself first! Best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

This is also, sadly, the wrong part of the astronomy job-cycle to need to move asap. If you can find a non-sexist collaborator who is willing to host you as a guest at their institution while you continue to work your current projects, perhaps you can hold out long enough to get a new postdoc...

Anonymous said...

Dear Burnt Out Astronomy,

I hope I can add another sliver of light to the situation. I agree with all of the above comments regarding seeking professional help in the form of a psychologist or other trained medical professional. My institution did not offer free counseling for faculty, but my regular health professional did a referral for me when I was working through depression and anxiety disorder, much of it related to work. My situation was nothing like yours, but my psychologist was able to help me rediscover old tools and develop new ones to help me first to cope and now thrive in my work place.

I also want to remind you that taking a leave of absence may be the best thing for you during this period. Mental health issues are legitimate health issues, and are grounds for a medical leave of absence as stipulated by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (12 work weeks of unpaid, job protected leave.) Use the leave time to get yourself back in a position to handle your part of the world, then make the decision about finding another work environment.

Best wishes.

AtmosScientist said...

It's disgusting and sad that these sorts of situations exist anywhere, and to me especially in an academic department. I've never knowingly encountered this sort of blatant sexism myself. As a male in the science field I can only hope that I would confront and oppose such behavior if I did.

As for advice, A leave of absence for 'personal reasons' does look better on a CV than a drop in productivity. It also might give you some time to remember why you chose astronomy in the first place. Go sit under the stars with a telescope for a few hours.

Counseling is definitely a good idea and you should get it free from the institution...automatic sympathetic ear with good advice.

I think getting out of the department and town, as others have suggested, is the best bet if possible. Not easy these days with the economy, and especially if you have other ties to the area. But having now experienced some really bad events you'll know what sorts of questions to ask to best avoid these situations the next place to go.

I'm really sorry to hear about this, and I wish you better times in the future.

hkukbilingualidiot said...

I have left comments before about sexual harrassment at my intership company by my boss two levels up. Though not to the extent of actually being assaulted but the insinuations, actions, emotional distresses were all there. At one point I even considered actually selling my body for a bit of peace. Coming from Chemistry, 80% of the people I work with are men, and being not such a useless women, at least at my level then (undergraduate), more than half were much senior than me and their testosterone levels were of course very high. Though they haven't physically said it to me I know that there was a queue of the men who wanted me. At the front was the one who actually harassed me then it was my direct boss and the rest were just waiting for their turn. Thank God my boss actually did love me and stood up for me at the only moment that counted even if he didn't for the rest of the time.

For 7 months of my placement I lived in fear of what they might do. The hawks were all testing my limit, my weaknesses, my soft spots. Those who failed, they used my humiliation, rumours, embarassments and abuse. Of course I could have left but at the time I had nowhere to go. My home was broken. My parents were going through a divorce, their relationship had never been good and they had lived apart long enough for me to proclaim that I was brought up in a single-parent family. My mother was completely shattered by the secrets that my father had kept from her, including a women and a house somewhere offshore. My brother was caught in the middle of it all and disappeared from home. In addition, my best friend, my unofficial boyfriend was seeing someone else and left me. The only support that I had was from my boss.

Still, with nowhere to go, nowhere to hide and no-one to back me up I sealed up every bit of my emotions and decided to fight back. My mental state was fragile I was suffering from PTSD but I still fought on, because back home I have a mother to look after, a brother to find and my future to protect.

For those few months I shut the world from me I focused on my research project, I ignored everybody that tried to hurt me, test me. I became emotionless, brutal even to stage where I used the thing the brought my troubles as a weapon to get what I wanted to make sure that my work would be the best that they will ever see. Though it was hard and mentally draining I pushed on. I can't break and I couldn't let them ruin my life, I still got my mother and brother to protect.

The day of my presentation came and as promised I delivered the best work ever. I've even completely negated the hypothesis that the very person who abused me developed. Although I hated myself for using the very thing that gold-diggers use to catch their prey, but in that world that was the only thing that guaranteed that I got support from bosses 4 levels up and so I can draw the line between me and those who wished to cross it.

It was the most difficult route that I had taken but it gave me the courage walk out of the situation. Human are animals, they can smell prey and if you remain a victim for the rest of your life you will be a victim the rest of your life. In order to deal with emotional burden you need to face it head-on, fight back then when you can see the light you will know that you have finally reached the bottom of the PTSD hole. The only outcome from then on will be recovery. At this point, if your decision is to move somewhere else it will be easier to face similar situations at different locations as the hardest battle had already been fought and won.

hkukbilingualidiot said...

...cont.

I won't admit that this could be easily done as it isn't, and of course my experience is nowhere as bad as you, but I had fought similar battles and I have the stories to prove it. To this day I still feel scared when I work for men or in male dominated workplaces. The same things still happens but because I had dealt with the worst head-on I don't feel as scared and so I can spend enough time with each person to know the hierarchy and so who to manipulate to guarantee my safety. When I feel tired mentally, I find a quiet and completely isolated location to work. I filter out the rest of the world so that I can recover. Slowly, the short time I spend with each person of trust gets longer and longer until I was able to return back to the world as a fully recovered PTSD sufferer. I don't claim that I had fully recovered yet but I'm close.

Once you've noticed that the second time round was easier to deal with than the first you will know that you have won the battle and it's just a case of the scars healing. As a fellow sufferer I wish you all the best but remember running away does not solve problems. Prey will always be prey if they don't fight back, defend or draw the line. Maybe you will disagree with my method but of late I have already firmly established my grouds and I no longer need to use my 'weapon' in order to protect myself and my armour are gradually being made redundant. So please, be brave. If you don't deal with it it will follow you everywhere you go. The more you hide from it the easier it will find you.

I guess all that I could say now is good luck.

Anonymous said...

Dear Burnt Out Astronomy,

I was so sad to read your post. It is incredible to read that you have gone through such horrible situations. Here is my story. I hope it will serve as some small comfort to you.

I am a PhD engineer in academia. Several years ago I was in a serious relationship that was abusive -- physically, verbally, and at times sexually. Although is is a very different situation than yours, this kind of experience also leaves you with a lot of anger and mistrust of men. Luckily, in college I was able to connect with two other women who were in science and had also been/were in similar relationships. One provided a lot of support to me in ending the relationship and encouragement in seeking counseling.

I went on to get my PhD and then an academic position, and now I am married with kids and tenured. On the way up I encountered a lot of sexism, some overt and some not. One of the other faculty in my current department made some serious sexual advances to me when he joined the dept. I struggle with the anger and sadness that inevitably comes with these types of interactions. I have gone through periods where every day I thought of quitting.

And yet I would say that I am happy now. I don't have the greatest work environment, but I'm very proud of what I have accomplished personally and professionally. I love my science, I love my husband, and I love my kids.

I share all this to let you know that you can go make it through. Amazingly, the other two women I referred to who were also in abusive relationships also went on to complete their PhDs in science/engineering. They are both in successful careers now.

Getting counseling was a tremendous help for me and was key in helping me get on with my life. I would really encourage you to do this if you have not already. And if your current therapist is not helping you, try someone else. So many strong women think that they should just be able to handle these things themselves, but it is not wrong or weak to ask for help.

The other key for me has been finding supportive female friends/mentors. I know this is challenging in the fields that we are in. It is so much easier to just close your office door. But try to connect with other women. Another postdoc or faculty member would be great, but don't overlook female staff and students. I have a great friend in my current workplace who is also a faculty member, and she has kept me going. But I've also received a lot of encouragment at different points from female staff and students.

I can't really give advice on whether or not you should leave your workplace and/or leave science altogether. I would try to wait making the decision about leaving science until you've had more time to heal. In my own situation, I decided that I love what I do too much to let these bastards keep me down. But, I also thought about leaving several times and can understand not wanting to fight through the anger and sadness every day.

In terms of leaving your specific workplace, it sounds like you are in a horrible environment, and to a certain extent the posts saying that there is sexism everywhere are true. However, there are some places that are worse than others, so perhaps you should make a long-term plan to look around whenever the time is right in your field.

Burnt Out, my heart is really aching for you. I am sending love and prayers your way, and I hope you find the path that is right for you.

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts:

1. Regardless of whether your own trauma is causing you to be less than objective about the bad environment you are working in, it sounds bad. It seems to me grounds for reporting the people involved to whatever the relevant authorities are at your institution. At our university, there is great concern up to the highest levels about creating a positive and non-discriminatory environment, so there would be people whose job it is to hear complaints like yours. Maybe not all institutions are so advanced but you might check. Of course you don't want to cause problems for yourself by complaining and "outing yourself" but maybe there is a way to do it carefully so that you either wouldn't be outed or would be protected from repercussions if you were. If there are other women in the same group/lab they probably feel similarly (even if not as strongly) and even some men may as well (we are not all jerks) so maybe you'd have some cover.

2. Finding a supportive male colleague - preferably one reasonably high in the power structure - to help you is a good idea, for the reasons one other commenter gave. Such a person probably exists, and if he does you can probably figure out who he is.

3. On the flip side of course you should talk to the other women around you about it, both to get their readings on the situation to calibrate your own, for emotional support, and to back you up if you try to get some kind of formal intervention to improve your environment.

Full disclosure, I am a midcareer male faculty member who considers himself a feminist and has a lot of close collaborations with female colleagues.

Anonymous said...

Dear Burnt Out,

One thing I can tell you is that, while you will not be able to change the behavior of your colleagues (in your department, at conferences, etc), the change in their perception of your status once you become a professor can be shocking. As a professor, you may find that your day-to-day interactions with people will more often be on your terms (you set the tone for the professionalism in your own lab and in your classes), which is a much more comfortable position to be in than in your daily experience working in somebody else's lab where they set the tone for acceptable behavior.

I guess my message is this: the personal experience of academia as a professor (in a department at least partially of your choosing) is likely to be scientifically fun, challenging, exciting, and empowering, in contrast to the experience as a postdoc (often treated with less respect/status than grad students).

So...if you're wondering if every day you suffer today will be as the rest of your life in academia, I would guess that it will not be. However, it sounds like your current environment may be costing you too much of yourself, and that may be worth changing the pathway to get to your future career.

Good luck in finding a better situation!

Anonymous said...

As a rape victim myself, I would like to encourage you to be strong and not let the horrible things that happened to you limit you from fulfilling your potential. Seek counseling, change your environment, find other women in your field to talk to, but most importantly try to change how you deal with the pain to use it as fuel. Don't let the cowardly, insecure people around you bully you. You can't control other people and what they do to you, you can control how you respond... take some time, change your situation, move full steam ahead at pursuing your goals.

yolio said...

Regardless of everything else that is going on, it sounds to me like you have crossed the line. You have no tolerance left for your environment. None. In this situation, there is only one thing to do and that is get the hell out. Seriously.

I would start working at home as much as possible right away. I would cultivate relationships (even casual ones) with people outside of your astro world, take a class at a gym or join a knitting circle or just make chit-chat with the chick at the coffee shop, anything to remind you that there is a larger world out there that doesn't include these assholes.

As for leaving research, you don't actually have to decide now or for a long time. We are all sort of brainwashed in this academic land of thinking of our career trajectory in the this very narrow way. It is very difficult to break away from that mindset. But it can be done. Start reading books about career planning.

Most of all, give yourself lots of time and room and cut yourself some slack. It may take a long period of grieving and being lost before you find any real footing again, and that is completely okay. Never forget, you have effin PhD in astrophysics and that counts for a lot in this world.

Sorry for all the crap and I feel you. Good luck.

Ann said...

I think it is important to get the word out that not all universities, departments and research groups are identical with respect to sexism and other demoralizing aspects of the workplace. If you are currently miserable, you should not assume that you would necessarily be miserable anywhere. Find a better research group and get the hell out of your current one.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, academics are not immune to issues such as this, although I sincerely wish we were.

I too am a survivor of sexual assault, an incident different in nature but similar in consequence to the one presented today. I want you to know that you are not alone. I (unfortunately) also know of two other women, both successful PhDs and close friends, who have had (and are still dealing with) similar experiences.

I echo the sentiments of the other comments and urge you to seek counseling from a mental health professional (if you have not already). I was a graduate student when my life abruptly changed one day, and I could not have dealt with it properly without the help of my individual and group counseling sessions. I am proud to say that, five years later, I have overcome that experience and lead a happy, normal life (in academia), and I know that you can too.

While I was writing this, more comments popped up. I was not going to divulge the details of my situation, but since others have paved the way, here goes nothing.

I woke up one day, a normal April day in the middle of my grad school years, and remembered being molested. And I mean this quite literally, I suddenly remembered with great detail while I was standing in my shower. I know (now) what triggered the memory, but that is a consolation only today, as then I was screaming and crying and huddling in the corner of my apartment thinking, "What the fuck is going on?" To say that I was dealing with a lot of emotions is a gross understatement. I somehow managed to get myself together and high tailed it to straight to the counseling center at my university, which fortunately I knew offered emergency counseling services.

Like I said earlier, I would have never gotten through this without counseling. Yes, these things are VERY hard to talk about, but talking about them is what is going to help the most. My individual counselor was amazing, and I was part of group that met weekly with a completely different focus, but I was able to discuss this in that setting as well. When I brought it up, one person disclosed a similar experience, and I wanted to kiss that person, because it was the only person (I thought) who knew what I was feeling. To feel (know) that you are not alone is very powerful and an imperative realization on the road to recovery. So, even though you may feel alone, you are not, I want you to remember that.

And, on top of this all, I was not having an easy time in grad school. I had encountered and overcome several academic obstacles along the way, but at this point in my career I was in serious conflict with my advisor. This advisor had, on more than one occasion, behaved in a manner that probably qualifies as sexual harassment (unfortunately at the time I did not realize this). And these things did not happen to just me, but also to the other females in the group. It was not a pretty situation.

But I never let any of this stop me from doing what I wanted to do, which is get a PhD. I do completely understand your feelings of despair and wanting to leave it all behind and maybe go hide under a rock for the rest of your life. But to do that would let my assailant win, and I sure as hell wasn't going to let that happen.

Anonymous said...

cont...

(But to do that would let my assailant win, and I sure as hell wasn't going to let that happen.)

I wound up moving to another university and managed to find *the most* normal advisor, which I had previously thought would be about as likely as witnessing the sun explode. I never once felt like a woman in that department, even though we were severely underrepresented (it's physics...). Shockingly, I was treated as an equal, sans sexual harassment! The same goes for the department in which I am now a postdoc. This department seems to be full of young, progressive males who truly believe that there is no difference between males and females, and it is amazing. My advisor even encourages me to interact with young girls to ensure they remain interested in science, which to me is one of the reasons why I am so happy in my situation.

I do want to say that at times it still is tough to deal with what happened. I have a good (male) friend who is a very touchy person, not sexually, but the kind of person who puts his hand on your arm when he's talking to you, etc. This makes me very uncomfortable, more uncomfortable than it should, because he really is harmless. Nonetheless, when I brought this up with my counselor, she reminded me that I had been molested, and that my feelings were natural. And after I explained this to my friend, who was very understanding, I was actually able to let the wall down, and now we hug without sending me into a week long depressive coma.

Please keep your head up Ms. Astronomer. You can get through this, I promise. We are all here with you in spirit, helping you pull through, please don't forget that.

Kitty said...

Kudos to burnt out for reaching out.

I echo the suggestion to consider a leave. Sometimes work can be a great salvation when you are struggling with other issues, but when the job is demanding (as academia is) and/or when the situation is bad (as this one sounds) it can make recovery more difficult.

On the issue of the harassment, you might also consider documenting in detail the sexism you are experiencing. When you hear an inappropriate comment, immediately go to your computer and write down what was said, by whom, who else was present, and when and where it occurred. If it occurs via email, save the email, etc. Then, when you have the strength, contact the university office that handles complaints of harassment. In fact, it might be useful to find their webpage right now to read about your university's policies. Ours require anyone in a supervisory position (which includes faculty) to report any claim that is reported to them. So, if you have complained about any of this to someone locally and it has not be pursued, they could be violating the policy. Once you complain to the appropriate office, they usually have a policy requiring an investigation and they handle the investigation. This is very useful. Someone external to the situation, often a lawyer trained in sexual harassment laws, will conduct an investigation. They will render a decision. It will not be up to the men of your work group to decide.

Your university hopefully also has an explicit non-retaliation policy. Of course, in academia, there are plenty of ways to retaliate, but this at least protects your immediate employment situation.

Even if you are unsure you wish to file a complaint, you can also speak to someone in this office anonymously about your situation and they should be able to offer you concrete advice about your options.

In short, this is not just a personal issue or a social problem. It is a violation of the law. There should be really solid mechanisms in place to help you address it. Good luck and hang in there. I had extensive contact with our comparable office (for a much more minor situation, and in a situation where I have a ton more support). Nevertheless, I was surprised at how empowering the process was, and how much I had been in denial of just how inappropriate the situation was.

Anonymous said...

Dear Burn Out,

I too reached my breaking point with sexism and a hostile work environment. After 5.5 years of working for a verbally abusive and sexist boss I went to my committee and asked for a masters so that I could leave. I had reached my breaking point, I was having anxiety attacks at work, I was on anti-depressants, I couldn't sleep, and I was not getting any science done.

Everyone has a limit and I had reached mine, in the end, thanks to some very heavy-handed tactics by some female professors in high places I got my PhD.

But I was ready to leave academia and let me tell you, once I realized I could walk away, it was like a great weight had been lifted off of me. The truth is that no career or goal is worth the abject misery that I allowed myself to suffer. Was my PhD worth the half decade of sufferring I went through... NO. Is this post-doc and a career in science the only thing I am qualified to do... NO. Is science the only thing I can be happy doing... NO.

If you are post-doc then you are smart, intelligent, educated woman... you can find happiness and fulfillment in a multitude of career paths that don't involve working in such a hostile environment. You are not as helpless as this situation makes you feel, you deserve to be valued and happy. There are many right paths for each of us, don't let this situation convince you otherwise.

My advice is to quit and quit now. It doesn't matter if you don't know what you are going to do next, whatever it is, it won't suck as much as what you are doing now.

Anonymous said...

Do you know any of the members of the Committee on the Status of Women in astronomy? They are your representatives in the field and may be able to help in terms of support, reporting the harassment (if that is desired), etc.

http://www.aas.org/cswa/

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear you've been going through this awfulness.

I have no advice to add beyond what has already been said, but I just want you to know that a fellow woman in science is thinking of you, and is on your side.

Anonymous said...

Dear Burned Out,

I agree with suggestions that if possible you should leave your work place altogether and try to find new work place (academia or outside whatever suits you better).

Though my experience is not as bad as yours, but my post-doc adviser was abusive verbally and the environment in the lab was toxic. I had a baby and preschool child and could not cope with the situation where I was bringing stress home everyday. I decided to take a break from work altogether. I still regret for choosing that lab which terminated my career for a time being. Now 2 years on, I am fresh and ready to take the challenges. I love science and have applied for NIH's reentry grant with another supportive mentor. I am not vulnerable anymore (my kids are big now) and looking forward to do science again in more supportive environment.

There are all kinds of people everywhere. You will have to be strong and find people with whom you can work. There are nice and supportive people in academia (I think probably more than anywhere else). Running away from academia will not solve anything unless you really don't want to continue.

FemalePhysioProf said...

Just to add to the many pieces of terrific advice already left here for 'Burnt Out', many universities employ an "ombudsperson" who is paid by the university to help students, faculty and staff deal with difficult problems such as the harrassment you describe in your workplace. The ombudsperson is bound to keep your visit confidential (both the fact that it happened and the content of the meeting) and can identify institutional resources available to submit a formal complaint (if you choose to go that route). Because the ombudsperson (unlike faculty) is bound to keep the meeting confidential, you are free to explore your options with him/her.

Doctor Pion said...

I see two separate (but closely related) issues here, complicated by not knowing if this is even in the US.

One is PTSD from the rape making it impossible to function in an already difficult environment. If you could function before but cannot do so now, you need to make use of whatever resources are available to you through victim advocates and other local and university resources.

The other is a hostile workplace, and I am amazed that it seems like no one (other than the last commenter) has mentioned reporting this environment through the proper channels. It seems a bit late to do anything about your PhD adviser back at another university, but I'd be stunned if your current university didn't have an entire staff to deal with hostile workplace issues. Similarly, I'd be surprised if its IT department (not to mention a funding agency like the NSF) wasn't upset if research facilities were being used to publicly view porn in the workplace.

Maybe postdocs don't go through the same orientation as regular employees, but our college makes it very clear how we (faculty and staff) are to go about reporting any situation that contributes to a hostile learning environment. My own experience dealing with a situation where one student was being harassed by another made it clear to me that our policies are taken seriously by all involved and did what they were supposed to do. Use them at your institution.

Zuska said...

Reporting a hostile work environment sounds like a great idea, but this is an incredibly difficult undertaking under the best of circumstances, and the letter writer is not operating under the best of circumstances. There is no guarantee that the university machinery will work to protect the person doing the reporting, or that the outcome will be anything other than a slap on the wrist for the perpetrator, or that the proceedings will be conducted and resolved in a reasonable and timely fashion, or, most importantly, that reporting the harassment and invoking an open university investigation against one's own PI will have NO ramifications against one's career. Burnt Out isn't sure she wants to stay in science, but she isn't sure she wants to leave. I am the last person to say that sexual harassers should be left to run amuck unpunished but taking them on in an adversarial system is not for the faint of heart or the walking wounded.

It seems to me that Burnt Out's priority right now is personal survival, and figuring out how to heal and then thrive. Personal survival means cash to pay rent and buy food and so on, and while taking a leave of absence sounds lovely, it may not be practical. Who among us can afford to go 12 weeks without pay? If Burnt Out has savings she can use to fund the 12 weeks that the Family and Medical Leave Act allows, then by all means go for it - but be prepared that there is a good deal of paperwork to go through in getting a FAMA leave.

So, Burnt Out, the very first thing you need, if you are not in therapy, is to get in therapy, so you have someone who is in your corner. And you need a friend who can maybe help you with practical things - therapy is for unloading and sorting the emotional and psychological burden, but a friend could help you negotiate bureaucracies, like figuring out how to orchestrate a FAMA leave, and planning your finances for that period, etc., because one's mind just doesn't function as well when one is walking around with a head full of sexual assault trauma and daily sexual harassment and discrimination.

Once you have survival lined up - therapist, plan for finances and maybe a leave from work, a friend to help you organize planning - then you can dive more into the work of therapy and healing. And, eventually, will come the thriving stage. Absolutely. It will come.

Now is not the time to make huge decisions like "should I leave science?", it seems to me. Plus, take it from me, you can do adequate work with a half-functioning mind and most people will not know that you are not all there. You can find sexist asshats wherever you go. What is more elusive is cultivating within yourself the knowledge that they are stupid sorry little shits who are not worth your fingernail clippings. They will make you angry the rest of your life, but you will learn eventually not to let that anger at them - which is legitimate, and righteous, and deserved - shatter you into pieces. You will learn how to set it aside at times when you need to just walk away from it, so that it does not consume you - so that it does not burn you out.

Zuska said...

If you cannot afford a leave of absence without working, and you and your therapist determine that continuing in your workplace is just too toxic for you, and dealing with the university reporting system doesn't seem safe, there may be other options. Maybe you will decide you just do have to leave science, at least for awhile, for your mental health, but don't do this precipitously, without a plan of where to go to earn money for survival and be able to continue seeing a therapist. Another commenter on this thread noted she re-entered science after two years away, so it can be done, but it will be easier if you plan your exit carefully rather than just run away. And planning means making sure you have the financial means to care for yourself while not doing science - which includes being able to see a therapist. Many therapists will see clients on a sliding scale fee basis. I prefer psychologists and MSW's (masters of social work) for the kind of therapy you are going to need, rather than psychiatrists. If you are not sure how to find a good therapist for what you need, try contacting your campus women's center or women's study program and ask for help, in addition to whatever on campus counseling services may be available.

I am dismayed at the number of commenters who seem surprised or shocked to hear Burnt Out's story. You think these sorts of things aren't happening around you or aren't common, just because they aren't talked about in the papers or discussed in polite society. Survivors of sexual assault are all around us, academia - and science in particular - is no exception. And Jesus, it's not like sexual harassment and discrimination suddenly went out of style in scientific circles.

Good luck Burnt Out. My heart goes out to you.

DrDoyenne said...

This situation clearly requires professional (psychological and legal) counseling, and I hope 'Burnt Out' seeks it out. She may be in no condition to pursue official or legal action, unfortunately.

If I were in such a situation (hostile workplace) and could not immediately leave for another job, I would get legal advice (from someone not associated with my employing institution, which will be concerned about liability) and contact the US-EEOC (or equivalent) for assistance.

Even if you don't plan to take legal action, knowing your rights can make a difference in dealing with supervisors and others involved in such situations.

Anonymous said...

A rape? This is terrible. Personally, I find it hard to believe there are people around in the workplace who approve of rape. But I also understand how the trauma of rape might make someone a lot more paranoid about gender issues. Maybe this person should try to re-evaluate by wondering if people at her workplace are evil enough to support rape. Beyond that...I think she needs a pro counsellor.

Anonymous said...

I'm taking an anon login here, but I'm slightly dismayed that people are even recommending talking to the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy as they haven't really been great shakes recently either, I recall them publishing a cranky email in the last year or so from a known sexual harasser of postdocs and students whining that he didn't get a faculty job and the university he applied to refused to tell him what he could have done to "make his application better". Unfortunately this person has also maneuvered himself into roles for encouraging diversity even though segments of the field know what a sleeze he is.

That said, to the emailer, I've unfortunately been there, but for me it was undergrad, and trying to get anything done was a mass of impossibility (things took place over the summer at a different institution). I was very lucky to be in a department that was very friendly (as in the department didn't have strict social levels) so I was able to seek a level of normal friendship from people and I also had an awesome undergrad advisor who knew that for me research was the thing I could throw myself into. I can honestly say right now as a grad student if something had happened I'd be in your shoes since I watch a lot of sexism go on in our department and I don't find it right at all. That said, it took me a very long time to get help and it's mostly worked, but not completely. I've learned my triggers and how to avoid them but it's not been fun. I've also become a bit more a mouthy broad and that is also related to how I picked my PhD advisor- he and I snark at each other well.

Anonymous said...

You am sorry to read all of that, and I never being in academia place like that (with porn etc). I might just mention that quitting is not the way. In the other world (as opposed to academia) workplace sexism on average could be even harsher. Leave this particular place and find yourself another place in academia, and please consider counseling.

Anonymous said...

I would like to echo the suggestions to find professional counseling (outside your workplace.)

The people in your workplace, as has been said, are attempting to exert power over you in inappropriate ways. The problem is with them, not you. I say that because we women tend to feel that there is something "wrong" with us when these kinds of people upset us. WEll, the problem is not with us!

Their emotional dysfunction causes them to inappropriately act this out as harassment. You are stronger than they are, and counseling can help you find how to use your power so that they don't make you feel in a one down position. It's not a simple thing, which is why professional counseling will help.

I know there is a stigma to counseling, but if you and the other readers will forgive a sports analogy, it is like getting coaching for your tennis game. There is no stigma to that. For example, a weaker player finds a way to beat you on your backhand. A good coach will examine that and help you win those points. The weaker play may still go there, but you will win those points.

-OutofthePipeline

Anonymous said...

Dear Burnt Out,

I'm writing to you as both an astronomer and a rape survivor. Since you don't say for sure, I want to reiterate everyone else's comments about seeking out counseling. I also want to say that not all counseling is equal...so invest the time and effort into finding someone that you connect with who can help guide you to a place where you feel safe and whole again. It's a long process. There's no single path, but it has to be your priority.

If your work environment is toxic to your emotional well-being, then I think you have to find something healthier. But quitting astronomy altogether might not be the only solution. There are places where the types of behavior you've described are not the norm.

But at the end of the day you also need to consider what you want your life to look like moving forward. A traumatic experience can have a profound impact on what you want out of your life. I hesitate to say something like "change you", b/c in the most fundamental way I think I am still the person I was before I was raped. But it did change my relationship to the world (and men) in a pretty fundamental way. I think you owe it to yourself to explore what has happened to you and to acknowledge that you may have to get to know yourself again. I think there is a tendency to feel like bad things are just experiences to get past. But that simply was not my own experience.

I guess in some ways this isn't exactly career advice...but I tend to think that life advice is career advice. B/c even the perfect job is miserable if you are unhappy. I'm sending you good thoughts and wishes for your happiness. And I'm here to tell you, also, that there is a way to feel like a person again. And to trust men again. But it's not fair to yourself to expect that to happen overnight. And if being in an all male environment is unbearable (and I found that it was, even when the men were trusted friends) give yourself space to get out. In the end it's just a job.

The most important thing is simply to listen to yourself and respect what you need. Don't worry about what you "should" be doing. Think about what you want and need to be doing to feel okay. And trust your ability to take care of yourself. You can't get a PhD in astronomy if you're not resourceful...so know that things will get better.

Madscientistgirl said...

I have never had anything as bad as this happen, but I have a verbally abusive supervisor and I have worked with a verbally abusive co-worker. In both cases, I started documenting everything I could. In the latter case, I told other people in the group I was collecting evidence and if they ever needed it they could borrow my folder. I don't know if it was a change in my demeanor or what, but in both cases, after I started collecting evidence, the abuse pretty much stopped. In the former case, the abuser also seems to have stopped abusing others, at least when I'm around. If you think you might stay for any amount of time at all, document everything and collect evidence. If you've written emails to friends about this, collect those. They have time stamps so can prove this was not just one incident but a pattern. (Although in the log you start keeping for these purposes, try to keep it to the facts as much as possible. Then it's not about your emotions but their actions.) Right now, sit down and write down as many details as you can remember - who said what when, where, and to whom. Write down abuse that happened to other people too - that proves a pattern and makes it more difficult for the abuser(s) to argue it's an interpersonal conflict. It might not be enough to win a lawsuit and even if it is a lawsuit isn't necessarily the best thing for you, but it is likely enough to go through an internal grievance procedure. Having organized evidence also gives you credibility. It also lets you see larger patterns and helps you see it's really not you. This really helped me.

There must be at least some allies around - find them. There were times I thought I had no allies, but I always did. And odds are you are not the first victim - try to find past victims. They can help you (a) realize it's not you and (b) build a case.

At least for me I found that trying to build a case against the bullies helped me because it helped me feel in control of the situation. All forms of bullying are about control. Another thing about bullies - coming from a past bully herself - bullies like easy victims. You might be surprised how little you have to fight to defend yourself. It might even be as simple as responding to the harassment by "joking" about filing a lawsuit.

I also considered leaving because of an abusive situation just a few months ago. Realizing that you can leave is empowering. Yes, we need more women in physics, but there is no need to make yourself a martyr. It took me a while to realize I had no moral responsibility to stay in the field. When I realized that I didn't really want my job all that bad, I was much less anxious about responding to my abuser. When I threatened to leave, life got much better. (Now he is almost afraid of speaking to me.) You're highly skilled labor and they need you.

And, yes, seek counselling. Please.

Anonymous said...

Dear Burnt Out Astronomy,

I feel sorry hearing about your sad situation. While you can surely hope to get some relief from time passing and from personal counseling what do you think about finding a (preferably female) friend in your research group whom you can talk to about your feelings?

My personal experience also involves a lot of sexist behavour in the scientific environment (mathematics) but it all feels a lot better since I have met two female scientists in my institution with whom I can talk about the sexist experiences. First, it is good that they can lend an ear directly after something bad happened. Second, they tell you their stories and so you might feel less personally addressed by what happens. As always: Sharing your anger and sadness gives relief.

I wish you all the best and please do not feel lonely, there is a lot of people thinking of you.
Mathematica

Burnt Out said...

Thank you very much for all your comments. I feel like a weight has been taken off my shoulders, just knowing that there are other academics who are aware of what is going on, and knowing that others have survived such situations.

I have sought counseling and am also in group therapy with a rape-victim charity. These charities exist in most countries and I recommend anyone in this situation to contact them immediately. Most can be contacted anonymously. They have provided me with psychological and legal advice and support for free over the last year and without them I would be in a much darker place.

Regarding the sexism, some of it took place at my former University. This was the most severe. At the time I reported it to a FSP/mentor, who then reported the contents of a confidential conversation we had (without my authorization). This is when the victimization began. It's too late now to report this.

If any of you are involved in reporting such events, please do not ever breach confidentiality. This was the biggest blow for me. I do not trust anyone at work now, even those involved in women committees etc.

The situation at my current University is not as extreme but still sexist. There doesn't seem to be a proper HR unit dealing with harassment, and there is no information on the website. Another woman who has complained have been victimized in my opinion.

I don't feel like I have the strength to start an official procedure anyway.

Regarding my situation, my contract ends in a few months, which is why I feel pressed to make some kind of decision.

I have applied for several postdocs, got shortlisted, and in several interviews the question propped up "Why have you not published any papers in the last year?". I have no idea how to answer this question still, so advice on that would great. I've also decided that I can't afford to apply for postdocs far away as I need to keep my local support network and my therapist agrees this is important. I'm also wary of applying to groups where I don't know what the 'culture' is like. This has reduced my choice of applications to a few. I am still waiting for answers. I am very aware that the fact that my mind is elsewhere makes it difficult for me to come across as a motivated candidate.

In my experience, I have witnessed / been victim of sexism in all institutions I've worked at. I've seen it / been victim of it in many conferences, and in institutions where I've been a visitor. In my experience, the perpetrators vary from grad students to heads of groups. All this makes me feel so angry, but the sheer extent of it and the fact that no one in my field ever seems to have any training regarding this makes me feel also very helpless. I'm sure it exists outside academia, but I feel like I would find it much easier to be detached from what happens at a job I am less 'involved' in.

I think my ideal situation would be to take a 'break' from astronomy for a while, and then come back. But my feeling is that's it's already so hard to get a permanent position, that a non-maternity related break is much harder to recover from - especially as I've already been 'out' for a year.

The constant need for references and the high productivity required when a postdoc are what I think makes this situation so difficult.

Thank you all again for your comments.

PS Regarding what one commentator said about rape occurrence, from what the rape-victim charity have told me, numbers show that about 10-20% of American and European women are victims, and the number is pretty constant across all social categories and backgrounds.

Helen Huntingdon said...

If I were in the circumstances described in the email, I would quit that workplace as fast as possible.

If it meant giving up on the doctorate for the time being, I would do it anyway. I'm a good engineer; I'll thrive, survive, and learn. Whether my combinations of options and choices ever led to a doctorate, I wouldn't know, but I'd get out of there.

That means nothing about what anyone else should do. It's just what I realized I would do in that situation.

Tas said...

Dear Burnt Out;

Before you leave the field, I just want to remind you that it's possible to leave your location and try a new one. I'm amazed at the different attitudes between different places. If your place is not doing everything it can to earn you as its researcher, consider moving. There is a reasonable demand for experienced post-docs. Use your network--especially outside of your current job--and give a serious look into switching. You might be really strongly surprised at how much you want to do research if you can find the right supportive environment. Best of luck to you.

Always,
KMJ

Anonymous said...

Dear Burn Out,

I will tell you what my father told me... just because something is more difficult doesn't mean it is impossible. What is right is not always easy. If the right thing for you is to take a leave of absence then take it. Yes things will be harder when it comes to re-entering academia, but they will not be impossible. We are all stronger and more capable then we imagine.

-Post-doc Z

Anonymous said...

I think you should quit your current job and try to find a new one in your field. Maybe there are some labs known for being feminist or woman-friendly, or you could ask a woman you trust to recommend a lab that might be a good fit. I'm sorry you're going through such a terrible time. . .

Anonymous said...

Burnt Out,

I wanted to address your concern about how to handle questions about publication record. I think it's perfectly okay to be honest but vague. In other words, you can mention that you've had a personal emergency which has affected your productivity. It's unlikely that the interviewer would pry. And if your potential employer is unable to understand that you are a human being and sometimes things happen to human beings, it's probably not a good employment situation to begin with.

But, reading your most recent post, I'm also thinking maybe it would be helpful for you to take a break from astronomy. As another commenter has said, it's hard but not impossible to come back. And I think you've had so many negative and emotionally charged experiences that a little distance might help you sort out your feelings. Just a thought.

Anyway, I'm glad to hear you've found some support. I also hope the number of comments here show you that you are not alone.

Anonymous said...

Burnt Out, you said:

I think my ideal situation would be to take a 'break' from astronomy for a while, and then come back. But my feeling is that's it's already so hard to get a permanent position, that a non-maternity related break is much harder to recover from - especially as I've already been 'out' for a year.

I would not give up so easily. I think anything is possible, you just have to want it and be willing to do what it takes to make it happen.

I left my lab in my fifth year of grad school due to conflicts with my advisor. Several faculty members told me that my career in science was over and that I should go beg for my position back. Others told me not to listen to the negative comments. I didn't. I found a great new lab at a new university, got a PhD, and am now a postdoc. My career has survived despite this 'major' 'flaw' on my CV.

The point is, if you really want to take a break and then return to academia, then you can find a way to make it happen. Not every single person in astronomy can be a pain in the rear like you describe, there has to be some department where you fit in!

Marshall said...

As a male astronomer, it breaks my heart to hear of your suffering, and disgusts me that those around you don't see how wrong they are. I hope that you soon manage to find a safe environment to heal in, and I'd echo the suggestions of others to take advantage of professional counselors.

Reading these comments has also opened my eyes a bit, seeing the number of women who've stepped forward in solidarity as victims of sexual abuse. I suppose I have no right to be tragically surprised at the number... Yet another downside of the culture of silence on such things is those of us who do care may not have a good sense of the statistics, I suppose.

That culture of silence ("show no weakness") hits other areas, too. For instance, as a grad student I had some significant health issues, from ongoing chronic daily pain on up to "go to the ER right now or else you may die", as a result of Crohn's Disease. I don't mean to suggest that rape and serious illness are exactly analogous situations, of course; clearly they are very different, but both are deep traumas. I told essentially no one what I was dealing with, not my advisor nor most friends. Like you, I found that that is a path to burnout, frustration, and depression. I managed to get through anyway, but on some days came near to leaving the field due to what I felt as overwhelming stress, and an inability to muster even the slightest enthusiasm for going to work.

Ultimately, when I was able to seek out professional mental health assistance, and found the trust to widen my network of support to a broader range of my friends and collaborators, it was tremendously liberating and healing. I have nothing but praise for my university's counseling service, which put me in touch with a superb therapist with experience in exactly the areas I was dealing with. Meeting with her made a tremendous and lasting difference. Later, as a postdoc, I became friends with another member of my new department also suffering from a chronic illness--and both of us found that mutual support to be deeply empowering. Trying to tough it out on your own in any toxic environment - whether the toxins come from an external or internal source- is just not the right course.

One of the saddest things about academic culture is that so many people feel unable to get the help they need during rough times in life. There's far too much hesitancy in reaching out to support services, because we all think we'll be thought of as lesser scientists if we have to ask for help. But I feel like my own scientific productivity has vastly improved (in fact leading to a real job offer :-) after I finally overcame my own reluctance and sought out the help I needed at that point. Trauma, of any kind, is not something anyone should have to face on their own. Nor should they have to feel like they'll be judged for seeking out mental health aid when needed. In the aftermath of Andrew Lange's and Sam Roweis' tragic suicides, it should be apparent that hard times and crises can and do strike anyone. Seeing the number of our colleagues who post here as victims of sexual assault just tragically proves that point again. We need to make it more acceptable as a field to admit that and to seek out help, without shame. Which is part of why I'm posting this message with my real name.

Good luck in finding the help and support you need.

AstroGirlGrad said...

I am a female graduate student in astronomy in the US. I am appalled by what has happened to you, and in fact it makes me so angry that if I knew where you were I would lend my own energy to fighting that battle for you, and I am sure others who have commented here feel the same.

I have been lucky (in hindsight, after reading this I realize this) in that the 2 astro departments I have been in are amazingly free of any sexism whatsoever. Well, okay, my adviser did call "300" a "man's movie" once, but I think everyone here will agree that's fairly trivial. The guys (I am the only female in my lab) are incredibly sensitive about all the issues. So...my point is, there are places where you can be an astronomer and not be harassed. Find one!

Anonymous said...

I am sorry that happened to you. No one should have to experience sexual assault and that kind of treatment by other lab members.

I agree with all of the previous comments which have mentioned counseling, finding a supportive faculty member, and listing a leave of absence on your CV.

However, what really struck me about your post was that pornography is allowed in your workplace. Telling the other lab members about your assault will most likely be ineffective, as it is obvious these people lack respect for women period. I would seriously consider finding a new university or institution.

As someone who has experienced harrassment and sexism, I am appalled that pornography is acceptable where you work. For everything that has been said and done to me, I've never seen any lab members, professors, and students where I am viewing porn on their computers.

Given that you have complained in the past only to lead to more harrassment, I cannot stress enough that I would leave if I were at your institution. Clearly the leadership there is completely unsupportive and part of the problem, and frankly, not worth your time.