Young researcher already tempted to pack it in

I work as a postdoc at a large institution. We have a well renowned research group, which is highly respected and I took this position for this reason. I have a strong research background, and am not afraid to say that I am good at what I do. It started out fine, with a pick of projects. Then the administration started piling up on me, other people administration, not just mine. I managed to get a hold of it, and sat happy for a while, completing my project and beng activately involved in three PhD projects, with two new starts earlier this year. Recently a new male postdoc has started a role at the university, and my research commitments have slowly been passed to him. In a way that he gets all the credit for work that is nearly at completion. He took control of the new supervisory roles, which was OK, because it’s nice to have more time. But I recently found out I have been taken off the supervisory roles for the students I am currently working hard alongside. When I mentioned this, it was suggested that I might be better placed in an admin position, and I was being sensitive. Please tell me it’s not always like this? My publication record suggests I am better placed at an institution that will encourage it.

Story signed by : Voltrux

The story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2014 at an academic institution in ‘Not in Belgium’

Casual sexism at Oxbridge

I’m in my thirties with a PhD and several years’ professional experience. During a meeting with all male colleagues, I was referred to by a senior professor as “a clever girl.”
I felt too humiliated to retort, and besides I don’t think he even perceived it as insulting so I would’ve felt awkward “making a fuss.” It’s played on my mind ever since though.

Story signed by : Doc Brown

The story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2013

Sexual harassment by postdoc – no support of boss

We got a new postdoc in his middle thirties in our lab from an eastern European country. From the beginning on, he was disproportionate friendly. He especially chummed up with the female part of the work group and always suggested going to a concert together. At first we all were very friendly, invited him to join in to go out for a beer together with the whole group after work. Since most of us didn’t like him too much from the beginning on, the girls always said no when he asked them out. However, he kept on asking even if you told him you had a boyfriend and preferred not seeing him in the evenings. After some time I got angry when he kept on asking. Especially since he on the one hand wanted to see you after work but didn’t respect you as an equal colleague during work (although we were both postdocs). One had the impression that he felt like the better scientist because he was a man. He never accepted my advice in genetics although I was clearly the expert whereas he never really had worked genetically before. He also started discussions about that in his opinion girls and women exclusively dress up and use make up to please men. One of our male PhD students told us that the postdoc and a postdoc from a Persian country (around 40 years old) came to him one day to ask him if it is true that German girls are easy. When the postdoc started to harass even our young female student helpers (although always with words, never physically), I became worried about letting them work alone in the culture rooms in the cellar on weekends. The more he harassed the girls and the less respected I felt, the more angry and unfriendly I became. Interestingly, every time I had a quarrel with him in the evening, I would find some lose tubes from my culture flasks the next morning. I cannot prove that he pulled them out but there was a high correlation. I know that several girls went to our boss to inform him about this postdoc. We also begged our boss to do something to stop the postdoc bothering the girls. However, I got the answer that we must understand that this postdoc – originating from an eastern European country – has another cultural background and therefore it might be that we misinterpret his behavior. Interestingly, I also originate from an eastern European country and I am absolutely not used to such a behavior from men. This story happened in a university in one of the bigger cities in Germany.

Story signed by : Angry female postdoc

The story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2011 around an academic institution in ‘Not in Belgium’

Sexist harassment by a University Professor in a well-known Belgian University

I started a new job in a Belgian University, so happy to have found a research position in an institution that was famous for its outstanding quality in research. Very soon after I started the new job, the male academic professor who had received the grant for the research project I was working for, started to act in a weird way with me. He would ask from me to greet him in a way that was inappropriate, and then would react aggressively when I would refuse to play his sexist games.

He kept saying I was an excellent researcher – and being actually more intelligent then what he had first imagine. (He suggested I looked silly when I was opening my mouth and behaved surprised to see I could actually write!) Of course that was all about manipulation, he would never have hired me had he thought I was silly. He suggested insidiously on how strong as a researcher I was, but not “warm enough with him”.

As I was starting to be more and more scared by his changing and aggressive behaviours, and told my director about it, a lady who I thought was clever and supportive. She insisted I had to change my behaviour and be “warmer with him”…. To her, the only problem came from the fact that I was not being warm enough with him. “If I wanted things to work out better… I had to act differently”, she advised me. Then she also gave me examples…. of what kind of behaviours she had with him so that he would “appreciate” her.

A little bit later, and despite the stated outstanding qualities as a researcher, I was fired without me being even explained why. As I was crying after being fired… this director told me: Don’t say I did not warn you… I was so traumatized and humiliated by this event that I just left, silently, and without even daring to put a complaint for harrassement.

I think that is a perfect example of a Belgian University professor feeling above the law and obviously knowing it is safe for him to act as such.

Story signed by : Alice

The story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2011 at an academic institution in Wallonia

Story header : Sexist harassment by a University Professor in a well-known Belgian University

My/my friends story :

Does getting up at night make me unfit for research?

My supervisor told me, after the birth of my second child, seeing that I was tired from getting up at night: “I will be forced to state in your application for FWO funding that you are not in optimal shape to conclude this research”

Story signed by: Getting Up At Night

The story happened to me as a Post Doc year(s) 2005-2009 at an academic institution in Flanders

Introducing a Pregnant Postdoc

A prominent professor from abroad visited our research group. My promoter introduced all my male colleagues by saying their name and the research topic their working on. Then he introduced me: “And this is Ann, she is going to help me with the teaching… (I was just appointed as teaching staff, 30% of my time), but I just found out that she is pregnant, so I will not be able to take a lot advantage of it”.

He meant no harm, he considered this friendly and funny. I was affronted by the fact that my research was completely overlooked, even more than by the remark on the pregnancy, which was absurd, since I finished compiling new course notes and taught half of the course before my delivery.

Story signed by: Ann

The story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2010 at an academic institution in Flanders

“A mother should be with her kids at home”

I was doing my postdoc abroad, and became pregnant for the second time.I met a former postdoc of that lab, and she said “ah, I heard you’re going to leave science?”. I was surprised because I never told anyone that was my plan, so I asked where she got that idea.

It turned out my lab head had told her that “because now that I would have 2 kids, I would not be able to stay in science”. For him, having kids and not staying at home for them as a mother, was unthinkable. “Why else do you have kids of your own? To have them raised by somebody else?” he once asked me. He also had 2 kids, and had his wife (also PhD!) stay at home for them.

It’s more than 10 years later, I have 3 kids now, and I’m still in science…

Story signed by : scientist & mom

This story happened to me as a Post Doc in the years 2000-2004, around an academic institution in [Not in Belgium]

“We want to keep you at our faculty as a professor – but only if you’re male”

I am now working in a foreign country at a prestigious university, but I used to be an FWO postdoc at a Flemish institution, in a large faculty that is almost completely male (+90%). This institution does not grant FWO prolongations, but it does have a BOFZAP tenure track system. While a postdoc, faculty members told me several times that I “should not count on getting a prolongation of the FWO” and even that I “should be looking elsewhere”, as I did not fit the faculty. However, male postdoc colleagues got the message that “We will do anything in our power to keep you.” – This included, I witnessed several times, positions written out specifically with their profile in mind. No female postdoc at this faculty ever made it as a professor, and to my knowledge no profiles have ever been written out to help secure a permanent position for a female candidate (indeed, this explains their quasi-absence).

A few years ago, I applied for a BOFZAP tenure track position at the same institution, despite getting no encouragement and getting the explicit message that another postdoc (male) was the favored internal candidate. This was generally known – several faculty members said they would do anything to support him. However, some faculty members wanted to advocate for other male postdocs, who were all considered brilliant (“Such a brilliant guy, he really deserves a position”). Nobody wanted to stick out their neck for me. When I talked about my career options, they just said vaguely not to worry because “They need more women everywhere”.

Bottom line: I have to carve out my own way, because I am a woman and enjoy the tremendous benefits of affirmative action (!), but several of the male postdocs are helped to positions because the faculty value their work and their teaching.

By the way, I have several papers in high-ranking (A1) journals, including in the top 10 journals of my discipline, as well as a monograph in press with a top university publisher. I am regularly invited as a plenary speaker and to contribute to edited collections with university presses. The students in my current university tell me how they love my teaching.

During the 2 job interviews at this Flemish faculty, I got lots of questions outside of my area of specialization, whereas (so I learned from my colleagues later) the male postdocs got mainly questions about their research. I was also asked about my religious beliefs, which was not relevant for the job. And although hard to quantity, I have had many job interviews, but never did I encounter such hostility and dismissiveness (faculty members saying “Oh, come on, you don’t seriously think that” during the job talks.

I am sharing this story so that faculty members, who are often well-meaning, understand that a lot of privilege (“We really want to keep this guy, he’s so brilliant”) is still accorded on the basis of being of the male gender, which makes informal friendships and contacts easier. To illustrate: many of the male postdocs regularly got invited to barbecues and other private meetings with male faculty members, but I was always an outsider. It is especially bitter, because I have been told time and again that I will make it because of affirmative action (note that the university at that time only had an equal opportunity policy in place in name, not in practice). I would want to see the day that female postdocs get valued fairly for their accomplishments.

Story signed by : NN

This story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2011, around an academic institution in Flanders

“Genderdiscriminatie bij Aanwerving ZAP”

Het hing al een tijdje in de lucht op de vakgroep dat er een BOF ZAP (=professor) positie ging komen rond mijn thema. Aangezien alle postdocs bij ons rond dat thema werkten, ging ik er van uit dat we hier allemaal voor konden kandideren en een eerlijke kans maakten in een faire procedure.

Met het oog op deze aankomende vacature had ik mijn inspanningen de voorbije twee jaar nog meer opgevoerd en had ik ondertussen een redelijk indrukwekkend cv uitgebouwd. Ik had bijvoorbeeld het meeste A1 publicaties (academische publicaties in toptijdschriften) van al mijn collega’s. Dit is normaal gezien een erg belangrijk criterium bij aanwervingen.

In 2012 werd ik onverwacht tijdens een receptie na een doctoraatsverdediging van een collega apart geroepen door mijn diensthoofden. Daar deelden ze mij mee dat ze ‘lang en hard hadden nagedacht’ en dat ze de BOF-ZAP positie aan mijn jongere mannelijke collega gingen ‘geven’. Op dat moment was de vacature zelfs nog niet uitgeschreven of bekendgemaakt en had er ook niks van procedure, sollicitatiedossier of gesprek plaats gevonden. Dit kwam voor mij volledig uit de lucht vallen. Ze hebben mij nooit om mijn CV of een motivatie of wat dan ook gevraagd. Ik had hun voordien duidelijk later weten dat ik mee wilde dingen voor deze job via de sollicitatieprocedure.

Nog voor ze objectieve criteria vergeleken hadden of wat dan ook, hadden ze al bepaald dat mijn jongere collega toch de beste was. Dit is uiteraard volledig tegen de procedure die moet gevolgd worden om een Bijzonder Onderzoeksfonds Professor – voor het leven – aan te stellen. Dit gaat om publieke middelen, dus dit moet gebeuren met een faire procedure om de beste kandidaat voor deze job te bekomen (ook externen moeten kunnen meedingen!). Daarenboven moet dit beslist worden door een groep onafhankelijke experts en niet door betrokken individuen die vriendschapsrelaties hebben opgebouwd met hun mensen.

Toen ik hen vertelde dat ik het oneens was met hun beslissing en de argumenten op een rijtje zette waarom de beslissing onfair was (ik heb meer A1s, ik heb een jaar en half meer ervaring, ik heb zes keer een visiting scholarship gedaan in het buitenland, ik heb 3 keer een prestigieuze beurs binnengehaald…) kwamen ze niet af met tegenargumenten.

Story signed by: M.

This story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2012, around an academic institution in Flanders.

“Females Invisible To Faculty”

The incident began when a very senior member of my faculty interrupted a conversation I was having with several senior members of the administration and he completely ignored me and didn’t shake my hand and then explained he was late because he was doing ‘real work’ (clearly implying that I was doing something else). Then a few minutes later, in conversation with the vice-rector for diversity, another professor (one who publicly groped a female friend of mine my first year in belgium at the x-mas party) made the comment that for a faculty with so few female professors, we were well represented at this particular presentation on gender at the university. I thought yes that’s true there are three of us here. What he said was “we should be proud that two of us are here'”, clearly forgetting I was in the faculty. I have never felt more invisible and less at home in the faculty.

Story signed by: Frustrated By Being Excluded

This story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2014, around an academic institution in Flanders