Wednesday, February 29, 2012


In Scientopia, I discuss a letter from an undergraduate researcher who is now anxious about her interactions with her lab's PI, and invite comments from readers who might be able to help her with her difficult situation.


Anonymous said...

I would definitely save the text, seek advice from the graduate counselor's office, or whichever office is responsible for sexual harassment situations like this, keep everything confidential until she graduates, and not seek a letter from this creep.

The truth is, if he thinks he can sleep-and-get-away with an undergrad when he is the PI of the lab, he cannot possibly respect her professionally, even though being excited and successful at work she deserves that respect, support and mentoring. Realistically, do you really think he is going to write a glowing letter for someone junior, who he thinks more as a girl-to-sleep-with than a successful young scientist-to-be, particularly after she has not returned his advance? I have tried in vain to work with senior men in my field who had made advances at me, no matter what I did, his interest always boiled down to whether he could sleep with me. Once he realized I was never going to do it, the interest disappeared. This happened consistently in two separate harassment situations. Creeps like this have one-track-mind and remember, he gains nothing by writing her a letter, unless he uses it as some form of control to get her to say yes.

I have known other female students/postdocs who got burnt this way. Some reasons why reporting is important: (i) she feels she has done something about it (ii) she cannot get harmed if she insists that the report stays confidential (it is her legal right) (iii) leaves a documented trail should he try to predate her again. It might be important for her to get some written acknowledgement of her report and condition of confidentiality from the office for sexual harassment as well, so they keep to their toes.

Confronting a predator *never* works. He will likely deny everything, feel threatened, blame her (almost always this happens), and bad-mouth her to the lab to save face.

Hope my two cents of experience in this mater helps.

Anonymous said...

Difficult one. I've witnessed and experienced more than five incidents of male PIs hitting on female students in my 10-year career at different universities. Some were more, some were less subtle than this one. Actually I would be surprised if it wasn't like that because it just reflects the range of male mating behavior in our society. This PI was just really incredibly stupid to write a text message which could kill his career. Amateur. My advice to the girl: Definitely keep the text, but chill out if nothing else happens, it's not worth the hassle dealing with the faculty. Call me a coward, but if you go through that multiple times and report everyone, there would be empty halls at university.