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Blatant sexism in any professional area does expose an unhappy deficiency in the human condition. Although scientists are mere mortals, we in the APS should expect a higher ethical standard from our members. I can only hope that the small statistical sample presented in the April 2019 Back Page feature is an aberration and not the norm.
As a Ph.D. student and through a long career as a national laboratory scientist, I personally saw many contrary and very constructive examples. Hopefully, subsequent articles will expose the more positive interactions that current and future female scientists had with their mentors.
Robert G. Lanier
Thank you for publishing the April 2019 Back Page article “Impressions from the DNP Fall Meeting.” I know APS could be concerned about publishing these sorts of negative reports, but I think the benefit of articles like this is quite substantial. I’m not a member of DNP but I can easily imagine this sort of behavior happens at the APS meetings I attend; and I hope that raising the awareness of these issues will result in improvements over the long term. So again, thank you for the courage to publish this.
The author of "Yes, Sexual Harassment Still Drives Women Out of Physics" (APS News, May 2019) presents a convincing case that the pervasiveness and inappropriateness of harassment of women is a blight on our profession, and needs to be addressed more seriously. Of the three types of this unwelcome behavior cited in the study, the first—“sexist gender harassment,” including disparaging remarks such as, “Women cannot do physics”—was mentioned by 91.3% of women reporting some form of sexual harassment.
This being the largest complaint by far, compels me to give an example that may subject that 91.3% figure to reconsideration. When I was graduate student, my male nuclear physics professor in the privacy of his office said to me, “In pursuing a career in physics, you are deluding yourself.” Pretty heavy stuff!
But not sexist. I am male, always have been—and a white male, at that. The prof just didn’t like me. I completed his class, but chose for a thesis advisor a different professor who saw promise in me. Years later, I received from the APS the Tom W. Bonner Prize for “outstanding experimental research in nuclear physics.”
So there is likely a component of that 91.3% that has naught to do with sexism. If you are a woman experiencing such treatment, consider that possibility. In any case, don’t let it derail your plans. If you know in your bones that physics is your destiny, make it so.
Rancho Santa Fe, California
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