Friday links: what REALLY scares scientists on Halloween, and more

Also this week: a horrifying story of an institutional culture of sexual harassment, your theories and methods vs. you, how to make your next poster interactive, liberal arts eh?, and more.

From Jeremy:

This is just appalling: the story of a horrifying long-term culture of brazenly open sexual harassment and assault in the Texas Tech biology department, driven by not one but several senior male faculty. One of whose students then went on to become a repeat offender himself at Texas Tech and the Smithsonian. The linked story includes a video of the retirement party for one of the Texas Tech profs in question, Robert Baker. A party at which the theme was fond jokes about Baker’s serial sexual harassment. The linked piece includes good comments Janet Stemwedel and Kate Clancy, noting that institutional culture is a big part of the problem here. Institutions focused on complying with excessively-bureaucratic policies rather than on doing the right thing end up facilitating harassment. Even if the institutional culture isn’t completely toxic like Texas Tech’s. (Note added by Meg: I was going to include this link, too. Without a doubt it’s the most important link this week. People who think that EEB doesn’t have problems with sexual harassment especially need to read it. And I think we all need to think through how we would respond if we witness something occurring or are told about it. This is especially important for those of us in positions of relative power. We cannot allow this to be the culture within our departments.)

Stephen Heard says that, when it comes to conference nametags, form should follow function. He’s right. I think he’s probably a bit too bothered about some of the things he’s bothered about. But what’s a blog for if not to occasionally make a Big Deal about your personal hangups? 🙂

How a basic error in data interpretation led English soccer astray for decades. Good fodder for an intro stats course.

What would it take to start a Canadian version of Williams College? Speculative but interesting.

A good line:

And finally, sticking with Kieran Healy: text editors as Lord of the Rings locations. I actually have no idea what most of these text editors are, so you’ll have to tell me if the analogy is accurate enough to be funny. 🙂

From Meg:

Some would argue this is the scariest Halloween pumpkin of all:

Though, I must say, my lab’s Chaoborus pumpkin was pretty terrifying:


(Pumpkin carved by Sara Thomas. Isn’t it impressive?)

I like this poster idea:

This is a really thoughtful, introspective piece by a graduate student, Katie Ritz, who started a PhD program but has decided to finish with a Masters degree. (ht: Irene Liu) I think lots of folks will find it of interest and that it contains lots of food for thought. Three particularly important things in it are:

  1. Loving a lab environment and loving being around science is not the same as loving being a scientist. I’ve known others who have come to the same realization, and who have found careers that work well for this set of interests (e.g., as a sales rep for a scientific supplier).
  2. Sticking things out isn’t always the right plan. As she says, 3 to 4 years (which is approximately the amount of time she had left in grad school if she continued to pursue a PhD) “is not an insignificant amount of time to be unhappy”.
  3. “Don’t lie during your grad school interviews just to get in. They’re not trying to trick you, they just want to know you’re there for the right reasons. Love of science and being good at experiments doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get a PhD.” Yep.

Finally, DrugMonkey had a post on a similar theme: Career Self-Awareness. I’ve been thinking about this lately in terms of service, and trying to work more on making sure the work I’m doing is aligned with what I’m interested in and good at. I’ll probably have a post with more along those lines in the future.

4 thoughts on “Friday links: what REALLY scares scientists on Halloween, and more

  1. “…he’s probably a bit too bothered about some of the things he’s bothered about”. Guilty! Especially when you stick the link right after the Texas Tech, which is, as you say, truly appalling. In my defence…. OK, I don’t really have one, I’m just aging and grumpy 🙂

    Still, does the existence of bigger problems really mean we can’t fix the small, easy ones? (He said, plaintively.)

  2. Your linking was on fire this week Meg! That Katie Ritz piece is *great*. And DrugMonkey asks a very good question in that post.

    And the Chaoborus pumpkin is indeed terrifying. And well timed, I’m talking about zooplankton right now in my aquatic ecology course, I can show them that pumpkin on Monday. 🙂

  3. I will offer a research idea for any evolutionary psychologist who will take it. When I was a young faculty member at a mid-sized state university, a fellow (but older) faculty member was elevated to department head. Within a few weeks he developed the habit of leaning on the wall outside the departmental office and ogling the coeds passing by. At the time I wondered whether his increased social status had caused an increase in his testosterone titer. So my hypothesis is that sexual harassment of the extreme sort reported at Texas Tech is correlated with having a high status scientifically. Obviously there would be other potential causes: poor romantic success in the real world, a personality with low impulse control, the perception that misconduct will be ignored because of the high status, lack of emotional intelligence to recognize how pathetic the behavior is.

    Perhaps harassment is for some men a manifestation of being cock of the walk (lab). It is well established that a boy-friend is disproportionately likely to harm young children of their girl-friend who are unrelated to him. That situation seems connected to similar behavior in other primates. Perhaps excessive unreciprocated interest has an evolutionary basis as well Not an excuse, but possibly a partial explanation. If one wishes to prevent a certain behavior, knowing why it happens would surely be useful.

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