It started innocently enough. He was a prominent chemistry professor at a major research university, and she was eager to make a good impression. “I was a pretty insecure grad student in my early years, and the fact that he was paying attention to me and interested in my work and how I was doing in his class was kind of flattering,” says Tara (not her real name).
The professor was not her adviser. Nevertheless, “He invited me to lunch a few times and just sought me out quite a bit. And then he invited me over to his house to watch a movie. He didn’t do anything inappropriate. But after that night, I was like, ‘Something’s weird here; he has a family.’ And his family was away for the weekend.”
Those seemingly innocent actions became increasingly inappropriate. “The culmination was when he wrote me a love note. It was a proposition note, I guess. It basically said he wanted to have an affair with me. I stormed into his office and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. This is offensive. I thought you were hanging out with me because I was talented.’ ”
After that incident, Tara went out of her way to avoid the professor. “It was really hard,” she says, in part because his office was along the hallway she traversed between her lab and desk. Yet she didn’t report the situation to anyone. “I felt guilty, like I had somehow done something to have brought this on,” she says.
Tara’s story is a common one in university chemistry departments nationwide, echoing the problems of sexual harassment in the larger science community and the nation. While chemistry hasn’t had a sexual harassment case come to national prominence yet, most female chemists can tell stories of harassment or discrimination of themselves or their colleagues. It may be among the reasons women aren’t reaching parity in chemistry Ph.D. programs and faculty positions.
“It was one of the many factors why I ultimately was unsatisfied and uncomfortable in science,” says Tara, who completed her Ph.D. but decided to leave chemistry and is now working in an unrelated field....Read the whole thing.