Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nothing to Prove: The Poll

Yesterday's post in Scientopia resulted in a wide range of responses in answer to the question of whether a female professor should agree to be on the committee of a doctoral student who had openly stated that women should not be scientists (or that women in general are not good scientists).

I want to try to get a bit more data on this question with a poll. Also, it's just a blog-poll kind of week.

I realize that the response of some would be a qualified "agree" or "refuse", depending on certain circumstances, but just go with your gut feeling of what you would do in this situation.

If asked to be on the committee in question, would you:
Agree to be on the committee
Refuse to be on the committee
pollcode.com free polls

24 comments:

earthquake said...

The student's attitude wouldn't determine my response much.

I'd decide whether to serve on the committee the usual way - (1) am I interested/capable in the topic, (2) is the student proficient?, (3) do I like the prof who is advisor and owe him/her?, and (4) am I in town that day with a little free time?

The student's personality would affect how much work gets invested in generating helpful comments - if he doesn't appreciate my ideas, he doesn't need to hear them, and he may get a little more skewered, if I'm up to it.

John V said...

oops, that last comment was mine, not my wife's, who I forgot to log out.

Yayaver said...

Female Professor must remain on the committee. They should not leave the post since some male student is prejudiced and wrong. No matter what will turn out in the future, student should be given piece of mind by the presence of female prof through the committee. These student if absorbed in academia with their prejudiced mind, they will hamper others.

All women professor has fought hard to attend there position of today and they should not slip from their position due to a statements of some MCP.

Anonymous said...

It will be a great way to remind them that you had the authority/expertise to contribute towards whether they've passed or failed. Refusing, in my view, is just a cowardly thing to do as you are implying that you are scared of criticism.

Anonymous said...

At the beginning of my career, I would have done it and then made sure I was superbly prepared to ask challenging and insightful questions. Now I say: what a waste of my time. Sadly, one can usually judge pretty quickly if you are going to be able to make a real difference in someone's attitudes. (I am a full FSP)

Thinkerbell said...

I voted refuse. I would however also report this (if indeed the student was so stupid/honest as to be as blatantly outspoken) to at least the student's PI and/or chair. It has nothing to do with the woman/no woman fact, but everything with the fact that the student is discriminating. A similar statement regarding race/sexual preference would be as bad - but in the end it comes down to the same thing: the student should a) grow up and b) be forced to realize that this is a great big world where not everybody is/looks/behaves the same, yet all these people might end up working in all walks of life. The criteria are whether you are qualified for the job, regardless of race or gender or whatever other random reasoning this student holds. If he is too closedminded for that, I'd say that doesn't bode well for his academic future.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I've never met a grad student who was so openly prejudiced, so I'm not sure how I'd react. I would be astonished that such an openly prejudiced student would ask for a female professor to serve on his committee.

Anonymous said...

He wouldn't, but his advisor might.

mjphd said...

I said agree, but only if his committee chair was a fan of me. That way, when I contributed something worthwhile the advisor would say, "FSP made a good point. Be sure to include that."

Otherwise it would seem more futile and less satisfying than banging my head against a wall.

Oh, and despite what some people wrote yesterday I would try to seem sweet. You know, to avoid the "b" word that gets slapped on assertive women.

Anonymous said...

The thing I find most interesting about the comments is this vein running through that it is somehow an honor to be asked to serve on this committee, and that refusing somehow impinges on the status of FSP. Is this a commonly held opinion?

I know I'm asked to serve on more student committees than I have time to take, and I pick and choose which ones to take based on some combination of interest in subject material, interest in the student's progress, and fair balance of sitting on committees vs number of students I have asking for other faculty to sit on committees (ie, fair workload balance). Every hour I spend reading a candidacy or thesis document, mentoring the student, etc, is an hour I'm not spending with my own lab or on my own teaching/research. If I can't stand the student, I'll say no, because that tips the "burden" side of the scale.

Anonymous said...

Had a very similar situation this year. I refused after speaking with the major advisor about it. He was totally understanding. I am assistant but I just didn't want to be in the same room as this person.

Anonymous said...

This happened to me (a tenured FSP), and I agreed to be on the committee, but for logistical reasons it didn't work out. I still had some interaction with the student because his advisor and I were working together on some projects. After he got his PhD, he applied for faculty positions. I did not write letters for him, but by chance I was speaking at a university where he'd applied and the people there asked me my opinion of this student. I first focused on my opinion of his research and was unsure how I was going to say more, but then they asked me directly if he worked well with women!! It turns out that this department had no women faculty, and in their ongoing search all their top candidates were men (surprise! even though there are excellent women in this field.. maybe they didn't bother to apply??. So if they weren't going to hire a women, they at least needed to hire a man who worked well with females because 50% of their majors and grad students are female. So I told them that this was probably not their guy. He wasn't on their short list, but he was on their "medium list" (he had not published much), and after that he was on their reject list. Cosmic justice?

Pagan Topologist said...

I confess that if I were in this position, the temptation would be to serve on the committee, and hold the student to far higher than ordinary strandards. If he stumbled even slightly on any question, I would do everything I could to prevent his being awarded the Ph. D. This would make a good point and would prevent the problem from arising again.

Perhaps is it just as well that I am a male mathematics professor.

Female Science Professor said...

Something that has interested me about the comments today and yesterday is that others have reported this particular type of experience with grad students.

Requin said...

I voted no. A student who is not professional and who is unlikely to take my advice is not worth my time. Think of the opportunity cost; what could you be doing that you aren't because you are spending time on this student's work? I don't have enough time as it is, so I choose to spend it where I can be most productive.

I was burned early on by a grad student who sucked up a lot of my time but who did not, in the end , implement my suggestions. (No gender issues at all in this case, just laziness or who knows what?) Now I am more ruthless about protecting my time.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I'm surprised by the assumption that advisers pick committees for their students and that being on a thesis committee is a quid-pro-quo relationship with the student's adviser.

In our department, it is the student's responsibility to choose their committee and get them to agree to serve. I have generally said yes to any student who asked me, though there have been a couple I've worried about as I did not think them capable of finishing a thesis proposal, much less a thesis.

For the most part, it is the top students and the clueless students who select me, as I have a reputation for providing detailed, critical feedback on proposals and theses. The top students welcome the detailed critique, convinced that they can improve as a result. The clueless ones have no idea what they are asking for to have me on their committee—they just see that top students ask for me and assume that they should also, without thinking about why.

Christie Rowe said...

If the student has a belief that women function differently than men in the same position, this will only be confirmed if the professors' attitudes toward gender discriminatory behaviour split along gender lines. If the guy being a sexist jerk is reason to refuse to serve on his committee, professors of both genders ought to refuse to serve on his committee. I would agree to serve but would also make a point of the student's failure at professional conduct and give him stern advice about collegiality. Maybe that makes me a bitch.

neurowoman said...

I'd have to say neither. Before agreeing to serve I would have a meeting with the student and discuss the issue. I would make it clear to him that how he behaved was disrespectful, to me as someone senior to him, and an indication of a potential problem in his relations with others in the department. Can he behave in a respectful and even-handed way with the female grad students, techs, and other personnel?

You can't make someone not hold a biased opinion, but you can hold them to standards of respectful behavior. That goes for disrespectful behavior for any reason.

Declining to sit on someone's thesis committee is not in any way 'backing down' or away from criticism or giving in to 'intimidation'. It is demanding the respect you deserve. In fact, serving on the committee without confronting this issue is to let the student walk all over you, reinforcing their supposition that they don't have to respect you.

Anonymous said...

A male grad student who informed me that women are not good scientists and should not even be allowed to do certain types of science (he said that this would be for their own good, to protect the women) was from China. He would presumably have been extremely offended if I had said that I don't think Chinese people are good scientists (not a view I hold). For one thing, data do not support this view, but then, data don't support his view either. I decided to interpret his statement to mean "I am not comfortable working with women", and my hope was that with time he would become more comfortable through routine professional interaction with female faculty, postdocs, students. In fact, over time, he got used to working with women, but was never entirely comfortable and would have preferred to work only with men.

Abby said...

On this topic, I'm a female science graduate student and one of my male colleagues just sent out this e-mail to the entire grads list:

There is a time in every young physicist life when he must become a man. However, before he can hope to prove his worth to the village wise-men, he must seek the approval of his peers.

I replied with a guess I'm not invited because I'm not a wise-man...and in this case he just forgot to include wise-women on the first e-mail.

If I were a professor in this situation, I'd certainly be tempted not to serve just because it would be a waste of my time.

Pagan Topologist said...

I have never understood the (ridiculous) bias that women cannot be good scientists. When I was a child, the person most often mentioned to me as the scientist par excellence was Marie Sklodowska-Curie.

Anonymous said...

I agree with neurowoman. I would have a serious discussion with the student making clear to him how his opinions were not reasonable, how holding those opinions would not serve him well in the long term, how being so stupid as to voice these opinions publicly would lead to long term trouble. I would also remind him that he is not in a position of power in the situation and would likely be working in situations where women had power over him in the future. (I think I may be feeling cranky as it is the end of the semester)

Anonymous said...

@Abby


Your fellow student wrote:
"he must seek the approval of his peers."

Yep! You were invited. I am sorry your ego is so big that you think it is insulting for male grad students in your department to think of you as "just a peer". Are you trying to imply that female grad students should have the elevated status of "wise-women" of the village and should not be referred to as "peers" by lowly males?

Andrea said...

I generally avoid being on the committees of students who look to be a pain in the ass for whatever reason. I don't have the energy for the drama. (I need to save it for faculty forum ;)