My name is not Meredith.
My first conference in graduate school I was sexually assaulted. I had a senior man scientist (who is still in my field) grab me around my waist, lick my ear, and ask another man “am I taking her home or you are?”. I was mortified, clearly uncomfortable and not interested, and the other faculty who were around laughed. No one intervened.
I was 23 years old and completely powerless and humiliated. I think of myself as a generally tough woman, but in this situation I froze. This was my first experience at a scientific meeting.
I brushed this off as an isolated incident, however, it was not. In graduate school I was sexually harassed by a lab mate over many years. I reported it multiple times to people at my graduate institution including my advisor (multiple times). This incident was scary and unpredictable and made my graduate training a hostile environment.
I was discouraged by both an Assistant Professor who worked within the lab and my advisor; people told me that I should just stay away from him – which clearly did not work. The Assistant Professor said that I should dress differently if I didn’t want people saying these things to me. Our desks had to be moved to separate rooms, which only made him angry. I still have a powerpoint in my dropbox from the harassing texts he sent me almost every night for months – which was actually scary. I sent these in to my advisor and got the response “sorry this is happening”. These senior scientists didn’t do anything because they were concerned that this would ruin HIS career. Unfortunately it didn’t and he is still in science and working as a postdoc in close proximity to my lab – where I am an Assistant Professor – now.
I thought getting out of graduate school that this would be over, but job interviews only reinforced the fact that this is an issue for women today. I went on many interviews, almost all of which has some uncomfortably sexist moment. My first interview was the most salient. A male senior faculty member said to me: “Wow, I am impressed with you! I don’t think of women as engineers”. I was shocked that he said this out loud. He was telling me that I was impressive “for a woman”. In the same conversation he asked me if I wanted to have kids, and then told me that I should do it sooner rather than later since women’s reproductive organs start to deteriorate after 30.
These incidents are some of many more that have happened over the last 5 years.
My Worst Moment: When the situations happened to me in graduate school absolutely no one stood up for me. I was alone, isolated, and was made to feel like I was being unreasonable for trying to ruin men’s careers. I thought there was something I was doing to cause this behavior from men. And my career has been plagued by feelings of self doubt and a fear of how my behavior makes men in my field feel. This has changed the way I approach presentations, collaborations, and interacting publicly in my field.
I Have Given Up On: Trying to get justice for what happened to me or believing that these issues won’t continue to happen over my career. I have NOT given up on trying to get justice from others and trying to protect young women from similar situations.
I’m Afraid: If you asked me 3 years ago, I would say that I was afraid that this would continue to happen to me – it has continued with multiple other incidents. I have given up on worry about that at this point. What I am really afraid of now is this pattern is continuing with younger generations. There are situations coming to light where men in my generation are perpetuating these issues and creating hostile work environments for junior female trainees and that scares me.
This Has Cost Me: This cost me a lot of lab time. There was an entire year that I stayed out of the lab because my harasser was there. This means that my work was limited and had to be done on weekends. On the job market this lost me job opportunities.
Something You Should Know About Me: I am a victim, but I don’t see myself that way. I am strong and confident, which has meant that people tell me to “be tough” or “you can deal with it” when these issues happen.
Is There a Bright Side: My first thought is No. Absolutely not. However, when I think about it more, yes. I got through these experiences and as a mentor of junior women now, I have the opportunity to protect them from these situations.
My Fight Song: declined to answer
Secret Weapon: A supportive network of young men and women peers that always have my back. They defend me and support me and truly care.