Picture A Scientist,  2021, Filmmakers Sharon Shattuck, Ian Cheney, chronicles the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. Biologist Nancy Hopkins, Chemist Raychelle Burks, and Geologist Jane Willenbring lead viewers on a journey deep into their own experience in the sciences, ranging from brutal harassment to years of sublet slights. Along the way, from cramped laboratories to spectacular field stations, we encounter scientific luminaries – including social scientists, neuroscientists, and psychologists – who provide new perspectives on how to make science itself more diverse, equitable, and open to all.  

Picture a Scientist explores sexual discrimination better than any other conversation about it. It is the sublet slights that are systemic in society. This film focuses on the scientific community. A world I know from working on my geology undergraduate degree and interning at the Naval Research Laboratory. Unless you have a champion in the workplace, then you are fresh meat for the wolves that are out to feed upon you.

I. Tip of the Iceberg (3:57)

The film opens with Dr. Nancy Hopkins in the lab at MIT, showing the audience the fish in her research and photos of her fish in her first research. The segment follows with the sexual harassment at Radcliff. She began working as an undergrad in Jim Watson’s lab, and Francis Crick visited the lab. Francis flies into the lab and grabs her breast, and asks “what she is working on?” As culture had taught her not to make a fuss and preserve their privilege, she brushes it off and goes on as if nothing had happened.  

Geologist, Dr. Jane Willenbring narrates her decision to study geology and work on her master’s at Boston University in 1999. Her trajectory was to focus on the east glaciers in Antarctica. Dr. Willenbring details the abuse she has endured and how it would affect her young daughter’s future. Then addresses the biases of the image of what a woman scientist is like as opposed to a male scientist.

When asking a population, “Draw a picture of a scientist.” It used the be all men. Biologist Nancy Hopkins answers, “We were trying to be a scientist. We didn’t want to be seen as trouble makers or activists.” The graphics follow detailing how women are extraordinarily underrepresented in science. In 2017, 71% male to 29% females were employed as sciences or engineers. “The message is you somehow don’t belong here. There is a playbook, and men wrote it, and the men pick up on it, they know what the plays are, and I always felt like I didn’t have the playbook. I was feeling my way through this game.” – A Collection of Female Scientist.

The film successfully dispels the myth that has grown out of the sexual harassment culture and the stories created about sexual discrimination. The false belief that sexual harassment is limited to unwanted come-ons. It shows the absolute truth: working under these biases, women’s resources in terms of emotions, time is squandered, and being driven down numerous rabbit holes created solely by the toxic masculinity in these environments. Women as a whole and women’s work are discarded and dismissed. The film addresses biases in all people, how deeply entrenched society is to what is female and how it can be dismissed and what is male, and how it is preserved. The whiter and more heterosexual male, the more he is protected.

Glaciologist David Marchant, Ph.D., brutalizes the female graduate students when they are the most vulnerable on the glacier, named after him, in Antarctica. They are remote and limited witnesses who consist of his brother, himself, a female student, and a male graduate student. Timestamp 10:27 geologist Jane Willenbring narrates her first experience with the brutalization that began with pursuing her master’s degree at Boston University and the dream study with David Marchant, Ph.D. in Antarctica. Many dreams come true, and experiences become a woman’s nightmare when she brutalizes a man and his toxic masculinity. Men have a little understanding of what it is like to be a woman and the constant violation of our human rights. His disdain for her existence and his power to eradicate her from a career and her livelihood is pervasive. Women live with physical trauma, psychological trauma, career trauma, and setbacks over their lifetimes.   

In 2018, the National Academies of Science, Medicine, & Engineering released a report of sexual harassment in STEM fields. 50% of women faculty & staff in Academia experience sexual harassment in the workplace, and those numbers have not changed over time. The issue is the system is built on dependence. Trainees, i.e., medical students, undergraduates, and graduates, depending on the facility for their funding and future. That sets up a highly problematic dynamic. It creates an environment in which harassment can occur. The rarest form of sexual harassment is come-ons. They don’t happen often. Typical conditions are in the form of putdowns. The film goes into detail about the structure of sexual harassment: they use the iceberg as a metaphor for how we believe the frequent form of sexual harassment occurs and how it occurs. The public eye is unwanted sexual attention, coercion, and assault.  

II. The Underneath (19:08)

Chemist Dr. Rachelle Burks narrates her experience as a black female scientist who works at St. Edwards University, Austin, Texas. Subtle exclusions make up 90% of sexual harassment. Such as being left off an email, not being invited to collaboration when you are the clear expert, vulgar name-calling, obscene gesture, hostility, passed over for promotion, relentless pressure for dates, remarks about bodies, sabotaging equipment. These little moments that make a woman feel like she doesn’t belong are shared experiences. Findings have revealed that consistent gender harassment has the same impact as a single episode of unwanted sexual attention or coercion.  

The scientists in the film, biologist Nancy Hopkins, chemist Raychelle Burks, and geologist Jane Willenbring all are smiling or have stoic expressions on their faces. Raychelle Burks, smiling through the narration of her abuse and the statistics on women of color. 

Raychelle is especially poignant when she discusses professionalism. As she describes professionalism, I have been told that and wondered what the point is.

My questions have been:

  • Do you want me to say that you are great while abusing me?
  • Do you want me to lie to you when you steal from me?
  • Do you want me to smile your abuse away so you can feel comfortable with yourself?
  • What part do you want me to stuff, so you don’t have to be accountable for your actions?
  • Those are the questions I ask myself when someone tells the group or me to be professional.

It’s bizarre.

  • Does it mean you can do whatever you want to, and I MUST stoke your ego, as fragile as it is?
  • Is professionalism code for taking my abuse and not getting angry at you for destroying my life?

Chemist Raychelle Burks narrates about growing up in Los Angeles, the representation of females, much fewer women of color, didn’t exist. She explains the size of the classrooms and the lack of championing sciences or the encouragement of pursuing science as a career—she chose a Ph.D. in chemistry to expand her options. In 2016, Ph.D. was in STEM Fields Awarded in U.S. Citizens, are 47.9% white men, 25.7% white women, 2.2% black women. In Academia, as a woman of color, the abuses, roadblocks, and biases she has to overcome and the roles she plays are exposed. Such as assuming she is the custodian or has the right to park in the academic parking lot. Invisibility is an element of sexual harassment when being ignored in meetings. When a white man says it suddenly, the best idea is presented. Critical emails that are wildly inappropriate.

The social chains in place restrict her from responding; how dare you put her at risk of being seen as the angry black woman trope. Forces her to exhaust emotional resources when crafting a response that minimizes the email’s inappropriateness. The answer is a short amount of time; multiplied, it amounts to a fantastic amount of her resources. When managing the abuse, the sidelined elements of her job are writing grants, writing papers, networking with peers, and doing research with her students—instead, forced to navigate these oppressive systems that people who are not in the marginalized communities do not have to. Dr. Burks highlights that the people who are not in the marginalized communities do not have to use their resources addressing it; they don’t even register it or think about it much. Through her voice breaking and holding back the tears, Dr. Burks explains the resources in time and emotions the oppressive systems impact her work and her productivity what she loves, science.   

Dr. Nancy Hopkins explains that starting in science is like getting an airplane off the ground. Make enough discoveries that you become known. She encountered, as a professor, biases with the post-docs assuming she was a technician. The post-docs would pilfer her equipment and disrupt her experiments when she was young. The culture avoided an outspoken woman and held people accountable for their actions. She encountered people discrediting her discoveries. She kept it to herself because no one would believe her, so she kept her nose to the grind-stone she got tenure. She was consistently questioned about her abilities when her research needed more space, 200 square feet, for her zebrafish study. After the lab space administrators denied her claims, she measured the area, mapped out all lab space, and allocated it after hours. The men were assigned 2,936 square feet to the women 1,974 square feet. Then she returned her findings to the people administering the space, and he refused to look at them. Against her wishes, she was radicalized and became an activist.

III Data-Driven (28:34)

Geologist Dr. Jane Willenbring explains she expected science to be working hard at something. The struggle of fieldwork was expected and enjoyed, but the gratuitous sexual harassment is unnecessary. In a flashback, she recaps Dr. Marchant’s message that she is stupid and will never have a career in science. She explains how those messages got under her skin, and she questioned her competency and her abilities as a scientist. She completed her Ph.D. and did a post-doc. She explains how she procrastinated reporting Dr. Marchant’s sexual harassment in the Antarctica field. It is her dedication to the field of science, and she wants it to be a welcoming environment for her daughter. She wrote the Title IX complaint seventeen years later. Both Dr. Willenbring and Dr. Hopkins waited until they had tenure. She contacts Adam Lewis and invites him to write his experiences that field season, expecting him to respond with not wanting any part of it, but he agreed to support her and stand with her and has regretted his silence that field season. Boston University officials considered her Title IX complaint behind closed doors.  

Dr. Burks addresses professionalism, fitting, being in the marginalized community. She highlights professionalism and how the marginalized are supposed to behave respectfully civil under the definition of professionalism while the privileged can be inappropriate. Fewer than 1 in 4 speakers at chemistry conferences is a woman, and fewer than 1 in 25 is a woman of color. In major research universities, 7% of deans and fewer the 3% of provosts are women of color. In her university’s school of natural sciences, Dr. Burks is the only black tenure-track professor.    

Dr. Nancy Hopkins addresses her steps in activism for lab space, began after measuring the lab space, and then wrote a letter to MIT’s president detailing the systemic and invisible discrimination against women. She shared it with Mary-Lou Pardue, Ph.D., a faculty member Dr. Hopkins had admired for coherence. It began to spread to a cohort of women tenured faculty members. The initial meeting was held privately to establish safety and trust. Their activism exposed the discrimination of women in terms of numbers, 1994. Fifteen tenured women in 6 departments of science at MIT and 197 tenured men. The cohort of women was high-profile scientists in the National Academy of Science. They discussed the stigma around family leave how it impacted tenure. Dr. Hopkins, this cohort of women was going to be listened to instead of the environment they are combating. Together they go to the dean’s office. The prevailing feelings Dr. Hopkins narrates of not belonging. They request for a committee to document the problem and examine the data. The dean has granted them a committee because of the deeply entrenched biases among male scientists who are dominant in science; he had little hope for change. The future of scientists was in the balance for Dr. Hopkins and others.  

IV Nature of the Beast (45:14)

From 1900 to 1990, women in STEM began at 0.63% 1900, 9.33% 1930, 4.75 1960, 23% 1990, 29% 2017. The leaky pipeline was highlighted through attrition issues. In 2018, Women in Science and Engineering Bachelor’s degrees awarded 50%, master’s degrees awarded 44%, Ph.D.’s awarded 41%, Post Docs 36%, Employed 29%. Despite the effort to fill the pipeline for getting girls and women to study STEM, sexual harassment has created leaks in the pipeline.  

Leaving science in part is the culture. Social science has uncovered the culture of sexual harassment and is no longer a mystery. Social Psychologist Corinne Moss-Racusin, Ph.D., had conducted the first experiment addressing sexual harassment. Her question was, “what is the experimental evidence of whether or not there’s gender bias among the scientific community.  

They describe a student applying for a lab manager position. They distributed two resumes with equal qualifications, and the only difference was gender. They sought to find STEM facilities from around the country (USA). They spread half the male applicant and half the female applicant. They said this one had applied to be a lab manager somewhere in the country the prior year. For this new mentoring program, they needed their candid assessments of the student. When Dr. Moss-Racusin was looking at her first pass of data analysis, initially, she thought she had miss coded her findings. The data revealed gender bias. The female student is rated inferior to the male student on every dimension we assessed. She is ranked as less competent, less likely to be hired, less likely to be mentored by a faculty member, and beginning with a lower starting salary ($30,212 to $26,104). This study quantifies gender bias. Gender biases target Women of color in more complex, insidious, and familiar ways.

Consciously, I could say I have zero bias. To me, men and women who perform the same are equal. But I think we’re in those very early moments in the science where we’re able to actually get snapshots of what’s inside our mind of which we don’t know.”     – Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, Social Psychologist

In her class, she performs the IAT test. She explains the IAT has a simple idea that underlies it. The idea is that if two things have something in common, we’ll be more easily able to put them together. And sometimes, this just happens in our experience. Salt and Pepper go together. Their opposites in one sense, but they go together because we combine them. Surprisingly, the biases come from standard cognitive processing mechanisms. Meaning well-intended folks display these very pervasive biases. The IAT Implicate Associating Test. The IAT works in the same manner as the Kuleshov Effect. In the IAT, if two things have something in common, we’ll be more easily able to put them together. Sometimes this happens based on our experience. If two things come to be associated, if stated repeatedly in our experience, we will be faster to put them together regardless of our awareness. The words king and queen go together. Easy to imagine, and so, we use this idea to argue that if two things have come to be associated over and over again, in our experience, whether we know it or not, we will be faster to put them together. Nobody has any trouble understanding why this might be. The test revealed how we are programmed to associate women with domestic life and men with careers, especially in STEM. It is much more work to do the reverse, associate women with STEM careers and men with domestic life. The pacing of the test is 700 milliseconds per word association. 

In discussion with Dr. Hopkins and Dr. Banaji, they discussed the email Dr. Hopkins received from another colleague regarding a male colleague denying this bias and sexual harassment. The conclusion is that today, 2019, the discrimination is data-driven and has moved beyond opinion. 

V. The Eyes to See (58:15)

Dr. Burks narrates before her middle school years. She had no representation of a woman scientist and was extremely hard-pressed to name a woman scientist of color. Dr. Burks has a YouTube channel to fill that need for today’s women scientists and girls of color who aspire to be scientists. She is on other media outlets as well. Not trying to fit into a scientist’s look (white male with straight hair), she opens the door to girls of color to dream of being in a role like hers, a scientist.  

Dr. Jane Willenbring travels to meet with Adam Lewis at his home in Calgary, Ca. The discussion begins with an antidotal conversation about the wind, freezing body parts, like noses and tuchus. The conversation moves to Dr. Willenbring writing her Title IX complaint and Adam’s take during the field season. He admits his lack of awareness of Jane’s experience and his compliancy for not stepping in and helping her.  

The gem in this segment is when Adam tells the story of when he witnesses sexual harassment at a European glacial conference. Adam is impressed by the women blowing off the sexual advancements of a senior glaciologist, and Jane explains the scenario where no matter what a woman does in a social setting at that conference, she is limited to being viewed as a sexual object. Jane explains the actions needed to break through the old biases that women have to be nice. Required others to call out the old glaciologist. Women with a voice are kicked out of science when they call out unwanted sexual advancements—and not blown off his advancements, even though the men in the room are violating her rights and boundaries. Jane explains how a reputation is built based on a male colleague’s bias and the stories he is making up about her to discredit her actual accomplishes, based on real work and not sexual acts to get her up the ladder of success.  

Adam’s inability to see Jane’s need for support in Antarctica was miss read by Jane’s stoic nature. Adam believed her stoicism was a part of Dr. Marchant’s intensifying his abuse in a quest to see her break.  

In November 2017, Boston University concluded their investigations into David Marchant’s behavior, finding: no “credible evidence” of direct physical attacks a “preponderance” of evidence of sex-based slurs and sexual comments. David Marchant stated that he has never engaged in any form of sexual harassment and appealed the findings to a faculty committee. The faculty committee at B.U. recommended that Marchant be placed on leave for three years and then be allowed to return.

Azeen Ghorayshi, an investigative reporter with Buzzfeed News, has reported sexual harassment in the sciences since 2015. Coming to a report to seek help and support for the problems they dealt with as graduate students resulted from many failures along the way. The frustration with inaction is why Buzzfeed sees this wave of women coming forward to publicize their stories. Ms. Ghorayshi reports that many of the women she has spoken to have left the field. The women have left the field either the experience itself or the process of trying to do anything about it that eventually made them throw up their hands and quiet.  

In shadow, a female scientist narrates her childhood dreams of being an astronaut, and the two paths are test pilot in the military or a Ph.D. As his first graduate student, Dr. David Marchant destroyed her dreams by sabotaging future funding for more polar work in Antarctica. The department was more interested in preserving Dr. Marchant’s white male privilege than the life-long dreams of a young woman scientist. She makes the point that the opportunity to pursue her dream of being an astronaut might not have happened, but she would have liked to have it end on her terms. That is happening to so many capable women’s life-long dreams are being shot down by toxic men. The trap is funding is dependent. To succeed, you had to apply for funding through the National Science Foundation Polar Programs. There aren’t alternative sources for funding if you want to do work there. Dr. Marchant’s authority was derived from his help deciding who got funding. In the field in Antarctica, he told her he had decided she would have no future in polar studies, and he would make sure she got no funding.

Awareness and recognition among male scientists are needed to understand how to begin to solve sexual harassment for women in the sciences. Without women in science, we have lost half the population that brings eyes to issues that men cannot, and the world of science and the world at large has lost unforeseen discoveries.

VI. The Scouts before the Troops (1:15:30)

The MIT five-year study found that salary inequities, lack of advancement, and laboratory space for women were significantly less than for men. MIT was losing female faculty hires because of the childcare issue. There was no childcare anywhere on the central campus. It became known as the MIT report. A Study of the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT: How a Committee of Women Faculty came to be established by the Dean of School of Science, what the Committee and the Dean Learned and accomplished, and recommendations for the future. The committee invited MIT President Charles Vest to comment on the report.  

It was a long time between the full report and then the decision. I would think it was almost months, definitely weeks. It was very complicated for the university. You have to, I think, but this whole thing is in the context of a university that prided itself on being a meritocracy. He struggled with exactly the criticism that I think everyone knew we would get.”  

— Robert A Brown, Ph.D.

MIT president Dr. Vest endorsed the report and is why the MIT Report became so well known. 

I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception, but I now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance.” He recognized publicly endorsed the report. It made them own the problem, and by taking responsibility for the gender bias, they acted to rectify it. The report was creditable because it was data-driven. Dr. Brown “There was a ripple, you could feel the resonance, and that’s because it was real.” It gave women in all the universities and take the report to their department head and their provosts and ask why we are not doing this. The ripple effect caused departments to resolve the gender biases on the local level. The MIT report led nine research universities to form an ongoing collaboration to address issues of gender equality. Construction began on a daycare center on campus, and the number of tenured women faculty doubled.  

Dr. Brown, “It was a turning point for me as a university administrator. I remember going to a meeting of provosts not long after that, getting browbeat by several provosts.” “It’s not in my institution!” Other Provosts. The implicit bias and explicit bias still exist. To truly combat these challenging societal problems, you can’t lose the energy because you won’t solve the problem unless you build in a systematic structural change that can keep working over a protracted timeframe.  

Dr. Willenbring reflects on the faculty decision on her Title IX complaint to let Dr. Marchant return to work and his regular activities after a certain period of time, which led her to disbelief. Fortunately, the president thought something differently. Dr. Brown moves to Boston University as president from his provost’s position at MIT. In 2019, Dr. Brown overturned the B.U. faculty panel’s recommendation. After a 13-month investigation, the board of trustees voted to terminate Dr. Marchant.  

The Science and Technology committee opened an inquiry. They were shocked that someone who’d been harassing women for decades had received millions of dollars in National Science Foundation funding. Barbara Comstock “The committee of Science, Space and Technology will come to order.” Dr. Clancy presents her testimony, “We scientists do this work because we want to give the best of ourselves to the advancement of science. Women keep trying to give us their best, and we blow ash in their faces and push them down mountains. The way we’ve tried to fix this problem isn’t working. We have decades of evidence to prove it. Let’s move away from a culture of compliance and towards a culture of change.

National Institutes of Health director calls for:

  • An end to all-male panels.
  • NASA 1st all-female spacewalk.
  • Request a Woman Scientist: a new database of 8,000 women scientists.
  • Girls Who Code: group launches to close the gender gap in tech.
  • Draw-a-scientist: rise in female representation.
  • House: passes Building Blocks of STEM act.
  • National Academy of Sciences: vote to eject sexual harassers.
  • New NSF rules: requires awardees to report title IX findings.

Women still grapple with these problems, despite the tremendous progress. In 2018, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names revoked The Marchant Glacier in Antarctica name and replaced it with the Matataus Glacier. Matataus is a Maori word meaning “a scout before the troops.”

Conclusion

I would like to see and be a part of the success of women who are not overcoming headwinds or brick walls of abuse. I have been a part of this world in an earlier chapter of my life when interning at the Naval Research Laboratory while working on my bachelor’s degree in geology.

Graduation, I had a whirlwind surrounding me. The success of the most rebellious act of my life was to earn a science degree despite my upbringing. Upon graduation, the abrupt loss of my internship destabilized me, intensifying my whirlwind. I needed rest and support to discover my next step. It put me in a vulnerable place where methodical decisions were sacrificed. Family support had never been there and wasn’t available then. The door of support that opened and I would accept turned out to be like Dr. Marchant. 

Brainz Magazine