Representative anecdotes have been organized and presented at conferences in poster form (PDF available here):
'What women and minorities are afraid to speak up about'
Below are some example anecdotes which we will periodically update.
I told my mentor I was concerned I was only getting programming experience and not enough experience with hardware or instrumentation. His response was, "You have two boys. Can't you pick it up from them?'. My boys were in middle school at the time. I was shocked that he thought my kids should be able to teach me graduate level instrumentation and device engineering simply because they are male. I did not stay in his lab.
...submitted by a white female engineering graduate student
My former male classmate regularly told everyone that 'women are not as smart as men.' He is now a full Professor at a prestigious university. He is on several editorial boards and reviews our grants and papers.
...submitted by a former female Neuroscience graduate student
In our faculty meetings, the dominant men constantly interrupt and loudly talk over each other. I had to learn to talk over people to have any chance of being heard, and that was very uncomfortable for me. I'm very glad my new Department chair keeps an eye out for who is trying to say something and makes sure everyone's voice is heard.
....submitted by a female Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering
The male grad student and post doc from my lab regularly eat lunch and get afternoon coffee with our research advisor. They sometimes play golf together and go to bars together at conferences. I can tell they have in-depth discussions on lab research projects during these social events which I am not invited to. This puts me at a disadvantage. I am expected to read through the complex and controversial literature and come to the exact same conclusions as my advisor or else I am viewed as stupid and 'not cut out for research'. My male labmates are spoon-feed what to think by my advisor during this socializing so of course my advisor thinks they are brilliant.
...submitted by an Iranian female Biomedical Engineering graduate student
A male urologist needed some technical drawings of a device to treat erectile dysfunction. Most often doctors stop by our department to discuss projects but he called and asked me to come to his office to discuss the drawings. He sat with his legs apart and demonstrated how the device functioned by laying it over his own crotch (pants on) and started demonstrating the device features. At first this wasn't too alarming as I was use to clinicians pointing to or using their own body parts to illustrate how various devices/procedures worked for different drawing/design projects. However, he kept repeating the demonstration over and over long after I clearly expressed that I had understood the information needed to make the drawings. I dutifully watched his demonstration the first time or two through but then started to only intermittently glance at his crotch demo once it became apparent he was repeating the demo more than necessary on purpose. This seemed to piss him off and he started to repeat descriptions of individual steps and wouldn't move on until I looked at his crotch. Later after he received the final drawings, he called and quickly said 'The drawings look good. I'm sorry" and then hung up. This confirmed to me that he knew his actions were inappropriate. He was a very powerful board member at our institution, and I never told anyone.
....submitted by a white female in Technical Services
When I shared with my graduate school advisors that I was pregnant, they expressed surprise that I was on the "mommy track" rather than the "science track". Years later, I am a happy mom and scientist : )
....submitted by a former female graduate student in Social Sciences
When I got my new position, in a new lab, in a new town where I didn't know anyone... well, the head of my department wanted to meet me to discuss about my "integration" in the lab. He didn't want to meet formally, but take a coffee. I was thinking it is a way to chat informally about my research and what I plan to do here, so I agreed to meet him at the cafeteria. Problem is: he never asked me about my research or what I wanted to do, he asked me a series of personal questions: was I married, had I children, had I friends in town, etc. At some point, while he was telling me about the beauties of the city and its surrounding, he told me "you know there is plenty of nudist places around, if you want this weekend we can go to one of those.
...submitted by a European white female tenured robotics scientist
As an electrical engineering PhD student, I attended a government funded meeting for a major project. There were about 50-100 people there, and I was one of the only women in attendance who was not administrative staff, running the meeting logistics. At some point during a break, I was near the food and drinks, and an engineer from a major company looked right at me and asked if I could get them to bring out more coffee. I stammered about who I was. Within seconds he had a look of horror on his face, realizing that he had looked right at me in a room of mostly engineers and assumed that I wasn't one on account of gender. He apologized profusely. I think of this as an example of how most people can act on biases without having any idea that they're doing it.
...submitted by a white female graduate student
A research director (male) was visiting my laboratory and I was presenting my research with robots, our projects and so on. At some point he stopped, with a smile, and laughed and said "Come on, it is not possible that this research is led by a women. Everybody knows that women have troubles in geometry, they cannot navigate in places and have no sense of orientation. I bet if I ask the angles of the robot arms, no female here will ever be able to answer." Not only he said this to my face, but the director of our center (male) was there and heard his comments. He was shocked and said "I can't believe I hear this in 2020... I have two girls, are you saying they should not study math, ...." and the visiting director replied "They can try to study but they will never be able to understand. It is coded in their genes that they can't do math or science nor anything that involves geometry. I have a daughter and I told her that she should stay at home. And about you (speaking to me) your lab presentation is a joke, everybody knows you can't do robotics." I was hired as tenured scientist and I built my robotics lab almost from zero. I am PI in robotics projects, I publish regularly at the top conferences in my field. His comment was ridiculous. At least I have some witness!
...submitted by a female European tenured researcher
Two of the first people (men, outside my very close friends and family) that I told about my new faculty job said: 1) "How'd *you* manage that?" and 2) "But you're not really an engineer...". These comments were so clearly aimed to undermine my accomplishment rather than acknowledge it. It was so hurtful. I was uninterested in inviting more of that negative energy into my space, so I stopped telling anyone unless they needed to know. I now feel like I was robbed of an opportunity to celebrate a major achievement.
...submitted by a white female postdoc in Neural Engineering
A white male labmate expected a reagent to change from clear to dark blue within a few minutes and was getting impatient. He held it up to my face and said "nope, I guess it's not not dark enough", clearly gesturing to my dark brown skin. I was the only black person in the lab and no one else around (white or brown) called him out for being inappropriate. I felt ostracized and othered, which prevented me from participating fully in lab after that.
...submitted by a black female undergraduate in Neural Tissue Engineering