As undergraduate research is emphasized more and more in colleges and universities in the US, it is high-time to engage an issue that is all to familiar for female students — sexual harassment of women while conducting field work as well as in laboratory settings. This unresolved issue is far older than our commentary today, of course, but it comes on the heels our recent discussions about keeping women in science through undergraduate research opportunities, recognition that these gender and race-based inequalities pre-date graduate school training, as well as discussion regarding how undergraduate research experiences might be utilized to better serve underserved students in academia.
A topic worth of discussion in its own right, I can see this being a solid introductory read for undergraduate students interested in how gender and science meet. As a science and technology studies professor, I notice that a lot of the literature in that area of research centers of feminist technology, seeing the underlying sexism in scientific depictions (i.e., the sperm is active while the egg lays in waiting, and so on), and, of course, access to and participation in science and engineering broken-down by gender (sort of like a version of the Matthew Effect, only with women falling out of the pipeline to professional scientist/engineer, perhaps it should be called the Molly Effect or something like that).
At any rate, the piece covers a number of important issues such as power/gender dynamics while in the field, the issue of “sleeping arrangements” while conducting research at non-local venues, as well as the reality that when sexual harassment looms in university-based research activities the matters are often settled internally (rather than in a public forum).
These are matters worth of more public discuss, especially on college campuses, and, to my mind, the sooner the better (perhaps, even in high school). Also, if higher education wants to expand access to undergraduate research across the nation, then it is time to fully engage this particular issue and open dialog about how not to just repeat this tiresome and terrible practice. Let’s not let another generation of female scientists inherit this issue.