Speaking of overt, representative and visible diversity in the Academy

Jan 17 2014 Published by under Academics, Careerism

In a conversation on the twitts:


@drugmonkeyblog @RockTalking I'm an out gay grad student and I have never, to my knowledge, met an LGBT PI. is it the numbers or visibility?

Yeah, that sucks.

16 responses so far

  • eeke says:

    I am not a tweeting person, so I don't know the conversation. In response to this query, though, maybe the student needs to get out a little more (and meet more people..). This is anecdotal, but I have met at least one gay PI - who is married to his partner. Ben Barres (a well known scientist) is open about being a transgendered male. LGBT PI's are out there, this student just needs to cross paths somehow.

  • pyrope says:

    In my department of ~30 we have only one LGBT faculty member. She is definitely out, but that ratio is pretty low (although our overall diversity numbers are not particularly stunning).
    As a grad student I think we had only on lesbian on that faculty too.
    My postdoc mentor is LGBT, but definitely not something he advertises...I once had a mutual acquaintance ask me if he (postdoc mentor) was married yet (to a woman), so no rainbow flags or anything.
    Based on those limited anecdata I would guess it's a a combo of both lack of diversity and visibility. Also, from a junior faculty perspective, there's probably some pressure to stay closeted/private because you don't really want those granting you tenure to think of you through any lens other than 'scientist'.

  • Former Technician says:

    I would definately agree with pyrope on the reluctance to be "out". I have my personally opinion on some of our faculty, however they often bring "friends" of the oposite gender to events. There are still too many greyed white men (and a couple of greyed white women) on our faculty that are a bit old fashioned. My boss is progressive on many things but I doubt his level of tolerance given his opinion on our not quite out departmental accountant. On the other hand, very few seem to have a problem with our department administrator stepping out on his wife with a postdoc.

  • Evelyn says:

    Pyrope, I agree with you, our LGBT faculty (we have 2, both male) are definitely more quiet about their personal life as opposed to the rest of them. Both are out, but they don't have a tendency to share their off-hours adventures as much as the rest of them.

  • Busy says:

    In my department of ~30 we have only one LGBT faculty member.

    Which is perfectly consistent with the modern 3% estimation for the LGBT population.

  • Grumble says:

    "Yeah, that sucks." Maybe it sucks, but it could just be that whoever tweeted that needs to get off his ass and meet more people. I know a few gay PIs, and even more who are in academia but not yet PIs.

  • A. Tasso says:

    Please stop this blather. I'm AsianAm and I work with 4 LGBT PI's in a single DIVISION of my hospital. In the last institution where I worked, the residency program director, acting chair, 2 vice chairs, and numerous faculty were LGBT. Everywhere I look around me there are white and AfAm PI's. Only one other AsianAm PI. But you don't hear us whining about it.

    And we live in a country where anti-AsianAm racism is the last culturally acceptable racism:

  • Evelyn says:

    A. Tasso - our department is almost half AsianAm. We have a single AA post-doc and our only female PI just left for another institution. So excuse me if I don't buy your version of the world.

  • Juniper says:

    And we live in a country where anti-AsianAm racism is the last culturally acceptable racism:

    LOL. That is total bullshit. And as equally unacceptable as anti-Asian racism is, and as crappily as Asian PIs are treated by the NIH system, at least Asian Americans aren't stereotyped as stupid, ugly and bestial the way African Americans are. Stereotypes that many Asians share with many whites, by the way. And I am half-Asian and half-black, so I definitely know all about this, and I get to say it.

    "Whining"? What the fuck do you think you're doing?!

    Meanwhile, back to reality: Other people have mentioned this, but I'm still going to chime in and agree that LGBT people in this country face so much virulent, sometimes life-threatening bigotry that I wouldn't blame any LGBT PI for not coming out. So I agree that accurate data can't be collected right away.

  • It's always good to meet more people, but doing so isn't likely to change the number of out LGBT PI's this person meets. The problem is both numbers and visibility.

    I can name off three PI's in STEM that have either self-identified to the media enough to be googleably LGBT and/or fly a rainbow flag on their professional website. I know of another 3 from over a decade of scientific talks/meetings. (None of these people are particularly closeted, but finding them required high-level gaydar and enough guts to out myself to the individual first.) And four of my out LGBT pals have crossed the post-doc to PI threshold. That's ten LGBT PIs! Rainbow takeover! Put in context with the number of people that I "know" in approximately the same ways, however? Way under the population average. Are there more out LGBT PI's? I'm sure. But it's hard to find them with a simple internet search, likely for deeply-considered personal reasons.

    FWIW, sometimes university LGBTQ offices/groups maintain lists of self-identified LGBTQ faculty to help students find an appropriate faculty mentor.

  • queenrandom says:

    My grad school dept. included 2 out female LGBT faculty (one of which was my mentor), but as others have stated they were quiet about it (but didn't hide, either); you had to know them. My postdoc department doesn't have much interaction between the PI body & trainees, so I have no clue. As a bi woman in a dual-sex marriage, I'm aware that as a future faculty person I will read straight, but I also know it's important for LGBT trainees to gave LGBT mentors active among the faculty (in the general mentor sense, not necessarily as their PI). I want to make my career about my science, not my sexuality, so I haven't decided how to navigate these issues when I am a faculty member.

  • Erickttr says:

    My big professional meeting of choice, SfN, has an LGBT social. I went once as a grad student 6 years ago, and was minorly squicked out by the awkwardness that accompanies transgenerational comingling in both the LGBT and scientific communities. That said, my impression is that LGBT are over represented in some fields and under in others. I've known out PIs since undergrad. Whether the culture that dictates tenure has biases is also field and likely regionally specific. Even so, I went on a TT interview visit at a Midwest SLAC, and every single faculty at every level (even the Dept's most recent hire, at age 34), was married. It kinda weirded me out.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    To be fair, most of those official meeting socials are kind of awkward......

    (Except BANTER of course)

  • Patrick says:

    UCSF has a list of out faculty, staff, and postdocs: http://lgbt.ucsf.edu/out_outlist_faculty.html

    Based on the total faculty numbers, this approaches around 5% (113/2400), which is actually around what you would expect... except that there still appear to be 0 in molecular bio as far as I can tell (broadly defined as microbiology, genetics, molecular neuro, etc). And since SF has a reputation as a mecca for LGBT people, you'd expect UCSF to be near the ceiling of representation. But I haven't run a chi-square test or anything; we just don't have very good figures right now, mostly because nobody's really studied it yet.

    BTW, the 3.4% result mentioned upthread is a) only for people willing to id themselves to a phone survey and, interestingly b) varied very strongly with age (>6% of young people ID'd as LGBT in the same sample). Even partially- or functionally-out people who feel pressure to keep their sexuality private might be reticent to id themselves in what purported to be a Gallup survey. So while I think ~3% is actually not a bad number to use as a baseline for PIs, who are after all older than their students (mostly), I think it probably underestimates the true percentage quite a bit. I agree that 1 / 30 is probably not statistically significantly different from the background distribution; we'd need bigger n to make any claim one way or the other.

  • Patrick says:

    BTW, I think the "I want to make my career about my science, not my sexuality" comment above is actually a great example of the pressure LGBT scientists can feel to be less visible than their hetero counterparts (not to pick on you at all, queenrandom, this is more of a general concern, and I know it's harder for bisexual people). I am pretty confident that *all* scientists would rather be known for their science than any personal attribute. On the other hand, I've never seen a PI in a hetero relationship go through linguistic contortions to avoid mentioning their sexual orientation, or the gender of a romantic partner. (And of course plenty are downright flaming about their heterosexuality.)

    I also have to say that I think these fears might be somewhat overstated in a practical sense: yeah, everything is Googleable these days, but most people reading your papers are probably just not going to be interested in whether you do any LGBT advocacy -- at least interested enough to go looking. It's not like we have pink triangles next to our names in Pubmed. But doing some advocacy is likely to be visible enough so that people who *do* care, like prospective grad students interested in figuring out the vibe of a potential department, can find you if they need to.

    That said, I absolutely get the instinct not to make any type of wave in a system in which so much depends on what really comes down to personal recommendations.

  • very interesting says:

    A very interesting reading. Don't miss it!

    "Of late, I’ve wondered whether our reliance on using love as a way to measure one’s suitability for their work has the effect of excluding low-income and working-class people from the academic professions. If the love question is, in fact, a kind of gatekeeping thing—and I think it is—then we run the risk of stacking the deck with people from middle- and upper-income backgrounds, folks who can understand and answer the question affirmatively and who have the luxury of ignoring the hard economic realities of the academic job market."

    - See more at: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/309-love-and-other-secondhand-emotions?cid=wb&utm_source=wb&utm_medium=en#sthash.zANYNBOM.dpuf

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