She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk ‘Feelings.’

Hope Jahren in The New York Times:

BookOVER the past two decades as a professor, I’ve grown thousands of plants, studying how their biology shifts in response to our changing environment. Soon I’ll begin to design and build my fourth laboratory; I’ll teach classes and take on more staff members, as I do every year. Like all professors, I also do a lot of extra jobs for which I was never trained, such as advising former students as they navigate the wider world. Last year, after one of my most talented students left to start her next adventure, she would text me now and then: “This is such a great place,” “I am learning so much here” and “I know this is where I am supposed to be.” Then, a month ago, she wrote and asked me what to do. She forwarded an email she had received from a senior colleague that opened, “Can I share something deeply personal with you?” Within the email, he detonates what he described as a “truth bomb”: “All I know is that from the first day I talked to you, there hadn’t been a single day or hour when you weren’t on my mind.” He tells her she is “incredibly attractive” and “adorably dorky.” He reminds her, in detail, of how he has helped her professionally: “I couldn’t believe the things I was compelled to do for you.” He describes being near her as “exhilarating and frustrating at the same time” and himself as “utterly unable to get a grip” as a result. He closes by assuring her, “That’s just the way things are and you’re gonna have to deal with me until one of us leaves.”

…The scientific method may be impartial, but the scientific culture is not. From grad-school admission on up through tenure, every promotion can hinge on a recommendation letter’s one key passage of praise, offered — or withheld — by the most recent academic adviser. Given the gender breakdown of senior scientists, most often that adviser is a man. Perhaps she decides to ignore this first email — and this is often the case — knowing that she has little to gain, and a lot to lose, from a confrontation. Once satisfied with her tendency toward secrecy, the sender then finds a way to get her alone: invites her to coffee, into his office, out for some ostensibly group event. At said meeting he will become tentatively physical, insisting that if people knew, they just wouldn’t understand. At this point, any objection on her part wouldn’t just be professionally dangerous, it would seem heartless — and she’s not a horrible person, is she?

More here.