Good night horror stories of women in STEM during women’s history month – part 1

Good night horror stories of women in STEM during women’s history month – part 1

A few years ago, on the 8th of March, I went for drinks with a younger friend. Let’s call her Anika. I needed to vent because I was unhappy in my workplace. Anika, a recent addition to my “Andreea’s friends” WhatsApp group, asked me about the experiences the other ladies in my group had. It was then when I realised that most of my female friends either had left academia or were in the process of leaving academia.

Notably, the two male friends in the group were still hanging on. One of the men is at his 4th postdoc and the other is still in the same postdoc position since 2014. Any other woman would have given up way before that (not that anyone should). So what makes men more resistant and why women leave academia at a higher rate creating a leaky pipeline?

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How we brought about improvements in the health and safety policy at the University of Oxford: Training matters for success

How we brought about improvements in the health and safety policy at the University of Oxford: Training matters for success

Summary

We are facing an ongoing pandemic and the government is minded for return to on-site work. Universities are deemed ready for an academic year for which face-to-face teaching is still the plan. This is why we need more trade union health and safety representatives. We also need to catch up with a lot of training and knowledge about the SARS-CoV-2 virus that evolves every day. Here, I will talk about the struggles we faced in Oxford UCU but also about the success we had once we started organising ourselves to recruit and train a new generation of health and safety (H&S) reps.

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How do we sort out the precarity of contracts in academia: to strike or not to strike?

How do we sort out the precarity of contracts in academia: to strike or not to strike?

Summary

Over the last year, UCU members – staff in academic and academic-related roles at universities across the UK – went on 22 days of strikes. The strikes led to an offer from Universities that was rejected by the UCU membership. As the UCU general secretary, Dr. Jo Grady, put it “22 days of strike action didn’t produce the results members want or deserve”. In the meantime, the COVID-19 pandemic happened. As a consequence, anticipating a financial impact that is yet to be proven true, British universities adopted recruitment freezes while staff are facing massive redundancies. These hit the casualised staff most. But what about the University of Oxford? Some will claim that the pandemic increased the amount of redundancies. I argue here that we are yet to see whether the numbers got worse. What we know is that the staff on fixed-term contracts (FTCs) and on furlough have their mental health affected most with worries about finances, unemployment and the future of their careers. I reflect on these data as I need to vote on several motions for industrial action as an Oxford UCU delegate in the special HE sector conference.

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How do we build a member-led union?

How do we build a member-led union?

I am standing for the Oxford UCU president in the first ever contested election for this position. You can read my election address here. I want to build a member-led union instead of a committee-centric pne enthralled into local rules and tradition. I have seen candidates for positions within the UCU talking about building a member-led union either through recruitment drives or involving the members more. However, I never see concrete proposals. Here you can read the local rules amendments that I prepared, together with other reps, for discussion at our annual general meeting (AGM) on the 16th of October. I invite comments, suggestions and potential amendments to these motions.

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I stand for president of the Oxford UCU branch

I stand for president of the Oxford UCU branch

Here we go again: Years after the Max Planck PhDnet journey, I downsized to local activism and representation. But now, I am running again to represent a large group of people: I stand for president of the Oxford UCU branch to represent more than 1900 trade union members. This is the first contested presidential election in the history of the branch. I want a more democratic way of representation which is based on input from membership and representatives. Below you can find my election address.

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Journalists have the responsibility to put stories within a political context

Journalists have the responsibility to put stories within a political context

Summary and context

The summer was filled with press coverage of problems in the Max Planck Society (MPG). Come autumn and these issues had no impact on how politicians perceive the MPG: Yesterday, in the German Bundestag, the education and research minister, Anja Karliczek, proposed a budget for 2019 that showed an added 50 mill EUR to MPG’s budget without any quality check. It appears that the bullying cases  that were extensively covered by the German and international press were dismissed as anomalies in an otherwise excellent research organization. What did the press do wrong that their coverage changed nothing? Here I offer an analysis.

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There is a culture of discrimination against pregnancy and parenthood inside the Max Planck Society

There is a culture of discrimination against pregnancy and parenthood inside the Max Planck Society

Summary and context

Yet again, one Max Planck female director – this time from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI-CBS) – was presented as an isolated case of bullying in academia. The story illustrates pregnancy discrimination. The press office of the Max Planck Society (MPG) stated that this an isolated case that is internally solved and it doesn’t reflect what the other more than 700 group leaders and directors do. However, years of PhDnet surveys show otherwise. Later – after a social media comment about putting the case within a larger contextBuzzFeed and Spiegel Online covered the case within the context of MPG’s building principle. A few days later, PhDnet launched their position paper on  abuse of power and conflict resolution in the MPG in an interview given by the PhDnet spokesperson, Jana Lasser in Science magazine. The position paper was extensively discussed by Forschung & Lehre. The bullying at MPI-CBS was also reported by the Daily Mail, Washington Post, LA Times, the online magazines of New York Times and Atlantic, among many others. One coverage has a unique take on bullying as an ubiquitous phenomenon. Similarly, there is an ubiquitous phenomenon of discrimination against pregnancy and parenthood inside the MPG, in academia and society.

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Bystanders enable academic bullies: The Max Planck Society as a case study

Bystanders enable academic bullies: The Max Planck Society as a case study

Summary and context

In February, Spiegel Online brought up the topic of bullying and sexual harassment at a Max Planck Institute (MPI) in Bavaria. Since then, extensive press coverage discussed the deeds of the female director at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA). Initially, the press office of the Max Planck Society (MPG) through their spokesperson – Dr. Christina Beck – stated that they heard about the problems at the MPA only in 2016. I proved otherwise: There were documents that went through Dr. Beck’s hands that showed problems at the institute since at least 2013. The president of the MPG – Martin Stratmann – admitted in an interview to FAZ that the internal complaint mechanisms are not ideal but claimed a clear responsibility structure. I agree with the first part, but I will argue that the responsibility structure is far from clear. In addition, academic bullies thrive enabled by bystanders. I describe here how “Nils” – mentioned in the first BuzzFeed coverage – went through all the complaint avenues inside the MPG. Everyone, not only the general administration (GA) of the MPG, knew about what was happening to him.

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Is the conversation on academic bullies over now? We are just getting started

Is the conversation on academic bullies over now? We are just getting started

In February, a report in Der Spiegel spoke about bullying and sexual harassment at a Max Planck Institute in Bavaria. The moment I read it, I knew who the academic bully was because each bully has their own brand of bullying. I knew of a case from 2014 that I took through all the mediation levels mentioned in the statutes of the Max Planck Society (MPG). The mediation failed in 2014; the case was reported in BuzzFeed in 2018 as “Nils”. The press office of the MPG was quick to convince Nature News that the issues are going to a head, before actually seeing the results of the survey conducted at the institute. The lack of remorse and failure in taking responsibility disappointed the people at the institute: The MPG continuously stated that the first time they heard about these cases was 2016. As a consequence, the survey results were leaked to BuzzFeed.

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The press office of the Max Planck Society  keeps themselves busy with threats of legal action for years

The press office of the Max Planck Society keeps themselves busy with threats of legal action for years

Summary and context

The Max Planck Society (MPG) is receiving a lot of press due to the cases of alleged bullying and harassment at Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) (SpiegelBuzzFeed, Nature News, again BuzzFeed, Deutschlandfunk, Nature News, Nature News and today by Spiegel again.) I previously covered how the Press Office has a difficult relationship with the truth and how they dismissed old complaints from the junior researchers at the MPA since at least 2013. I also made a case for a long history of discrimination in the MPG. Some years ago, I argued that high rank officials in the MPG use threats and bullying when faced with public criticism. In this post I will present the MPG’s press office strategy of threats with legal action.

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