My Name Is Jen

My name is not Jen.

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Jen did not want us to use a picture of her

As a grad student, I lived through a toxic and terrible environment. The men in the lab would read the Victoria’s Secret catalog at lunch in the break room. I could only wear baggy sweatshirts and turtlenecks to lab because when I leaned over my bench, the men would try to look down my shirt. Then came the targeted verbal harassment of the most crude nature from the start postdoc with in credibly foul comments launched across the la targeted at my body and my relationship with my boyfriend. I tried to pick my battles and focus on just the one worst issue – the verbal harassment of the star postdoc. I privately and quietly told him, with no one else around, to knock it off, don’t talk to me and leave me alone. He must have complained. I was then taken out of the lab by senior members who said I was not to create a bad environment for everyone, and was sent to HR by the PI with the postdoc. The PI sent the lab head tech with us, to back up everything the postdoc said and throw me under the bus.

My Worst Moment: When I had to go to HR and defend myself when I was the one being wronged. When I had to sit there and listen to the lab head tech lie and back up the postdoc and say that I, the whistleblower, was the one creating the bad environment.

I Have Given Up On: The idea that anyone will listen to what is true and what is right. I now believe the institute is only interested in covering their ass and preventing a lawsuit, and that the lab PI was only interested in having the problem go away but the valuable postdoc remain unscathed. I now see that everyone will lie to side with who is strong and no one will defend the lower ranking woman who is being wronged.

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I’m Afraid: That I am an outcast at my institution. That I have been labeled a troublemaker even though all I did was quietly and privately ask the postdoc to knock off the crude behavior. That the PI, whose goodwill I need to succeed in my career, was lost. Even though the postdoc was harassing all the women in the lab, I was the only one who complained.It never hurt him one bit. He’s now an HHMI investigator.

This Has Cost Me: The lab environment was so toxic it was all I could do to survive, I went home and wept every night for the next two years of my PhD as I tried to make it through. I have lost opportunities and promotions by having been labeled a troublemaker at my institution for being the only one willing to stand up to the harasser and quietly ask him to leave me alone. Because I was then labelled a troublemaker, I lost access to equipment and had to raise funds and buy my own and support it myself. I would estimate lost wages, lost opportunities and lost equipment and gained expenses to total $2 million.

Something You Should Know About Me: I was raised in the south and taught to always be gracious and polite. I was taught to choose my battles, focus on just the single most important problem, and try to address it quietly without making a fuss.

Is There a Bright Side: Diamonds are made in crucibles, with temperature and pressure. Otherwise, you’re just carbon.

My Fight Song: Rocky

Secret Weapon: Grace and class