Sexual Harassment, Harassment and Victimisation in Academia

I remember very well one of my first conferences abroad as a PhD. student. We were socialising in a pub and meeting researchers from all over the world. My colleague and I were introduced by my supervisor to a male professor. He looked at us briefly and exclaimed something like:

I can fully understand why you chose these two as your new PhD students.

*lol*

Their breasts are great!


I can still remember how extremely painful the situation was. I was completely shocked and did not react at all. And neither did my colleagues. I strongly felt that I did not belong in academia, and that this was obvious from the comment. I so wish I could say that I said something clever, and that I walked out of the situation strong etc. That did not happen at all. I felt like such an outsider and the comment rested with me the whole conference.

Until very recently little has been known about sexual harassment, harassment and victimisation in academia. But now one of the well known Swedish universities has done a study to understand the occurrence of sexual harassment, harassment and victimisation in academia. Recently they presented a report around the topic that is based on questionnaire, interview and focus group data from employees, doctoral students and students. In total, 61 interviews and 21 focus groups were
completed, and the surcey was sent to all employees, doctoral students and students who were registered for the autumn of 2018. The response rate was 34% for employees and doctoral students, and 32% for students.

The report can be downloaded from Tellus’ blog.
In Swedish: https://tellus.blogg.lu.se/lunds-universitet-starker-det-forebyggande-arbetet-mot-sexuella-trakasserier-med-stod-i-kunskapsunderlaget-fran-tellus/
In English: https://tellus-eng.blogg.lu.se/the-report-from-tellus-is-published/

From the report: “Amongst employees and doctoral students, 25% of women and 7% of men state that they have been subjected to sexual harassment at some point during their employment at Lund University. 8% of female respondents stated that this had occurred in the last 12 months; the corresponding figure for men was 3%.”

Robots should not reproduce our mistakes – teaching about equal opportunities and AI

I was an invited lecturer to the introductory course for Technical Mathematicians at the Royal Institute of Technology a few weeks back. The students were really great, and thet had really many interesting view points and reflections related to Equal Opportunities. It was indeed a well worth effort to go to Stockholm and to meet them and to discuss this with them!

We did the course as a flipped classroom experience where the students watched three TED talks before the lecture, and we discussed these during the lecture – and of course other things. One of the TED talks posts was on how to keep human bias out of AI, by Kriti Sharma and the students very much appreciated this.

I think many people have the image that AI is neutral, and that it is disconnected from equal opportunities. Unfortunately this is not true, and AI can indeed be carriers of strong bias. Or as in the below Ted talk where Kriti Shama concludes that the “Poor robots suffer from sexism”, and that the newest technologies are created to reflect a society that is strongly biased.

Robots should not reproduce our mistakes and we need to be careful when launching AI systems in decision making. The problem basically lies in the material that we provide robots with, and how diverse that material is or isn’t. Also there is sexism in what the robots do, and helpful robots that support us are for example often women.

Of course Kriti Shama’s TED talk also provides some ways forwards. Her conclusion is that we should be  

1) Be aware about the biases around us .

2) Give diverse experiences to learn from

3) Make diverse teams build the technologies

New Word? Sourdough Paper is a Paper you Need to Rewrite and Rewrite to get Published.

In Swedish we can talk about things being a sourdough. Being a sourdough means that it is something negative from the past that is still around. However, I think that the word is quite good to use about research papers that you need to rewrite, and rewrite before they are published. We often use this word in my team such as in this sentence: I’m working on one of my sourdough papers.

First, I think this is a good word since sour dough bread is a kind of bread that takes a very long time to prepare but it is a good bread in the end. It includes many different steps, and you need to leave it for some time before you bake it. A sourdough paper is a paper that takes some time to prepare, and it will be rejected several times before being accepted but in the end the paper is quite good. I have indeed many such papers!

Moreover, a sourdough bread It is however an especially delicious bread, and some of the papers that were sourdough papers are now among my very best cited papers. Doing them over and over again inproved the quality!

Also, when writing on your sourdough paper you need to practice grit – and this is a good thing to practice since we know that this kind of grit is what is required in academia! Don’t give up and keep struggeling

Failing in Getting Funding

I have written so many funding applications this year. But so far very few have been funded, and none of the ones where I can recruit a PhD student or a Post Doc.

Most of the time you don’t even get feedback on your application that you spent weeks and week writing. The only thing you know is that someone else’s project was seen as more interesting , more doable or in some way better.

No feedback makes it difficult to really improve and I need to find other strategies to get better at this. Some of my strategies so far are:

  • I know that so far I have learned a lot from more senior colleagues and their way of thinking.
  • I have also learned from reading other’s applications in detail.
  • Finally getting feedback from colleagues before submitting, when there is time for that, is always a good idea.

I will have a look at these strategies again and start writing again. I know that when I get going I often enjoy it very much!

Doing Expert Evaluations for Positions at Other Universities – some tips from an equal opportunities perspective

As a professor I am asked many times per year to do expert evaluations for other universities. I honestly think that I also get more of these because I am a woman in a female dominated field. The universities need one woman and one man to do this job, and there are indeed fewer women than men in computer science.

These expert evaluations are of different kinds but for example they include rankings of candidates for a position at another university, or assessing weather someone can be promoted to professor, lecturer etc. I also very often do assessments of teaching skills, and I have spent many weeks of work on that over the years.

Below are some of the ideas that I think are crucial when doing these expert evaluations from an equal opportunities perspective:

Transparency about evaluation criteria used. When doing these assessments I work a lot on being transparent about the assessment criteria. I spend many hours working on describing on what bases the ranking is done. I also know that this is one way for all of us to avoid being too biased in our assessments which makes this part even more important. The criteria for rankings are found in the official employment documents of the university.

Writing to a Respected Colleague. I always imagine that the person I evaluate is a respected colleague of mine. This makes me very aware of the phrasings and also of how critical I am. I know that everyone is struggling and trying their very best given their circumstances and they will read what I write very carefully. I am especially careful when I write negative comments.

Follow the evaluation criteria to the detail. I make use of my evaluation criteria in every detail when I describe the work that has been done and try to structure the report according to the criteria so that it becomes transparent.

Try to be aware of biases. We are all biased in our thinking, and in all evaluations we need to try to be non biased. I go though my assessments one or two extra times before submitting with the bias glasses on thinking of those aspects that I have learned are often biased. I am especially aware when I asses independence, leadership skills and potential future.

Interview about being the New Adviser of Equal Opportunities

I was interviewed for the internal web pages at the university, and below is a translation of the interview.

Åsa Cajander has recently taken up the position as Vice – Chancellor’s Council on equal opportunities. She is passionate about the work of creating an inclusive work environment where everyone has the same rights and opportunities and especially wants to emphasize gender mainstreaming and digital accessibility.

It feels great fun and challenging to work university-wide with equal conditions issues based on the experience I have from working as an equal conditions representative at the Department of Information Technology, she says.

In the short term, the most critical work now is about available digital teaching due to the pandemic situation that causes a large proportion of distance learning. In addition, the law on accessibility to digital public services will change later in September, which will be affecting the work of many information channels for some time now.

One of the university’s great strengths
Åsa Cajander’s predecessor in the position as Rector’s Council for Equal Opportunities, Cecilia Wejryd, has, among other things, emphasized the support for students with special needs as one of Uppsala University’s great strengths. Among other things, she has said that the university cannot be satisfied just because its environment is good for almost 100 percent of the students.

I completely agree that we at the university can be proud of our work for students with special needs, and we will continue to work long-term with these issues and in the same structured way as under Cecilia’s leadership, says Åsa Cajander.

One goal that existed in the previous action plan for equal conditions was that 48 percent of the newly recruited professors during the years 2017-2019 would be women. The outcome was eventually 38 percent. The significance of the concrete figures has previously been toned down somewhat, but at the same time it has been emphasized that the work needs to focus on the whole so that women want to become professors in Uppsala while ensuring that those who are already professors are retained.

Åsa Cajander believes that the work of increasing the proportion of women in the professorship within the university needs to be based on the work environment and the conditions for the professors in their everyday lives.

Uppsala University works long-term with these issues at different levels, and the work needs to take time to create sustainable change. Other starting points that we work with are recruitment and competence supply, where concrete plans, for example, are about ensuring that recruitment takes place on objective grounds and that there is an awareness of discrimination and bias through all steps in the recruitment process.

In a debate article in UNT recently, Uppsala University’s work was criticized in terms of gender equality and equal conditions for following a political agenda in practice.

How difficult is it to work with issues that can so easily be interpreted from different angles as an expression of an ideological opinion?

It is important that the university’s work is reviewed and criticized, and I welcome the fact that we constructively discussing equal conditions work. For me, an awareness of bias, norms and values is a central part of equal working conditions and we can all become better at reflecting on how they affect us and our actions. I look forward to further discussions on these issues, says Åsa Cajander.

Four Tips for Planning of Writing Retreats

My research team usually meet a few times every semester on a writing retreat. Last semester we did Zoom writing retreats, and that worked somewhat but was not optimal. We had the same schedule but people did not get the same level of inspiration for writing, and it was not as good.

This semester we will meet at in a conference room with lots of space in the Covid-19 spirit. The plan is to write on whatever we want, and to spend nine to five writing.

Here are three tips for organising a great writing retreat:

1) Bring a specific projects, or several small projects. Start off the writing retreat with everyone telling about their plans.

2) When at a writing retreat do a digital detox and put sms, SnapChat or Mails aside in order to do the writing.

3) Bring nice and supportive colleagues. The team support is super important for the atmisphere and for concentration.

4) See to it that you have nice and long coffee breaks! Swedes are famous for their ”fika” and of course we focus on that at our writing retreats too. A fika is a break where you sit down and have Tea, coffee or similar and talk for 15-30 min.

Adviser to the Vice Chancellor on Equal Opportunities

Before summer holidays the Vice Chancellor of Uppsala University called me asking if I would like be her adviser on equal opportunities, and of course I accepted! The previous adviser had accepted a new management role, and I will succeed in doing this important work until March 2021 if it is not prolonged.

Equal opportunities at Uppsala university means to make sure that everyone working or studying here has equal rights and opportunities, regardless of their legal sex, gender identity or gender expression, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation, age or social background.

I will do this work with equal opportunities on part of my time, and continue with teaching and research in parallel. The work includes chairing The university’s Equal Opportunities Advisory Board, and also to work with gender mainstreaming at the university. The work that people at the university are doing is really impressive, and there are many true experts in their areas.

Talk On Being a Leader in Academia and Five Key Things That I Focus on as a Leader

I have been invited to talk about my experience as a leader in academia. I will talk to people working in different leadership positions at Uppsala University.

I was invited to do the same kind of talk a year ago, and that time it felt like I talked way too fast. This time I will do better!

There are five key things that I focus on in my leadership.

1) Celebrate success! I always celebrate success to really notice all small positive things. Academia is a tough place, and it is easy to remember and think of failure. And I fail a lot! I also try to encourage my team to celebrate success and to share success.

2) Collaborate with your team in decision. Your team consists of lots of knowledgeable people and discussing with them around decisions is for sure the best strategy in any situation. Of course you cannot discuss all decisions, but generally talking to other people and getting their perspective is a good idea.

3) Share failure stories. Sharing failure stories is as important as sharing success stories. When you fail in getting published, When you did not get that grant or when you did crap at that presentation – share it with your team and you will get support and create an atmosphere where it is OK to fail. ”Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” (Robert F. Kennedy).

4) Take time off work. There are far too many in academia who don’t understand that taking time off is the key to living in a sustainable way, to be creative and to be the person you want to be. We need time off work to be our best.

5) Never stop learning and being curious of people. People are an endless source of inspiration and there is always something you can learn from other people. Make sure that you keep your mind open to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

Kicking off the Semester with Family Turbulence and No Blogging

I haven’t had the energy to blog in a while, but now I will try to get my routine back again and write something every week. It’s been a turbulent start of the semester. The first week I was ill with fever and a cold. I spent the week separated from the family in our small house in the garden to make sure that everyone else stayed healthy. The Covid-19 test I took was negative, and I am happy about that. Not that I expected it to be positive since I hadn’t met anyone with the decease, but you can never be totally sure not to get it I guess.

The third week of work started with 24 hours in the children’s hospital. One of my teenage sons had strong chest pains for around 8 hours before it disappeared. I got less than two hours of sleep in 24 hours, and was really extremely worried. It looked like an heart muscle inflammation, but in the end they didn’t really find any problem. I am so grateful for the very professional care he received, and the constant surveillance they put him under. The health care professionals did all tests imaginable dressed up in their Covid-19 suits. All tests were done in our small room including X-ray, EKG and blood tests due to the virus situation. Of course I couldn’t help observing their use of technology. And as expected it didn’t work properly at all occasions.

I hope that next week is a boring and normal week. I love my work, and I look forward to focussing on that again. There are several new projects coming in, and I have also gotten a new role at the university.