Starting this Monday off with an absolute bang, a career advice column in the journal Science Careers — a column penned by a female scientist with a long and illustrious career — takes on a question from a postgraduate who’s just begun working in a new lab, where her adviser won’t stop staring down her shirt. The columnist’s advice: just let him look.

The column, written by Dr. Alice Huang, an expert in molecular animal virology, went live this morning. The postdoc writes that while she’s happy with her new lab and the direction of her research, her adviser leaves something to be desired:

My adviser is a good scientist, and he seems like a nice guy. Here’s the problem: Whenever we meet in his office, I catch him trying to look down my shirt. Not that this matters, but he’s married.

Dr. Huang’s advice is, verbatim, that the woman should “try to put up with it,” and with “good humor, if you can.” This is wrong. This is the wrong advice. From her column:

Some definitions of sexual harassment do include inappropriate looking or staring, especially when it’s repeated to the point where the workplace becomes inhospitable. Has it reached that point? I don’t mean to suggest that leering is appropriate workplace behavior—it isn’t—but it is human and up to a point, I think, forgivable. Certainly there are worse things, including the unlawful behaviors described by the EEOC. No one should ever use a position of authority to take sexual advantage of another.

As long as your adviser does not move on to other advances, I suggest you put up with it, with good humor if you can. Just make sure that he is listening to you and your ideas, taking in the results you are presenting, and taking your science seriously. His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on your science and his best advice.

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It’s worth pointing out that Dr. Huang is 76 years old, and may indeed have spent much of her career in work environments where it felt like the only option was to ignore sexism or even blatant sexual harassment. That is no longer the case. OK?

The column immediately garnered a fun response on Twitter, led by science writer Rose Eveleth:

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Luckily, as with all the dumbest and most infuriating things that happen in the science world lately, we’re getting a great hashtag out of it:

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Time to reset our “Sexist Incidents in Science” calendar back to zero, I guess. As for the the letter-writer, let us speak to her directly for a moment: who’s your adviser? We’ll talk to him. Let me talk to him. It’ll be great.

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Update, 1:10: The column has been quietly removed; the link above redirects to the site’s homepage. A cached version is available here. That’s one way to handle this!


Contact the author at anna.merlan@jezebel.com.
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Screengrab via Weird Science/Universal Pictures