Wednesday, March 7, 2007

On authorship and being female

So my thought focuses on something I've recently read over at Zuska's blog:

(hey, I just figured out how to do block quotes!):

In the man's world, when you publish a paper, no one suspects that your advisor/collaborator really did all the work.

This comment interests me. A lot. I don't typically feel I'm experiencing sexism when something goes wrong for me in science (although I wish I could say the same for some of the bratty privileged guys I know, who whimper "Life is easier for you because you're a girl!" every time I kick their asses in science). But this quote struck a chord with me.

Just yesterday, my adviser Dr. Awesome (the guy I've mentioned several times previously) passed on an email from a scientist neither of us knows, writing about a few papers we published a little while ago, praising the coolness of the topic and asking a few minor questions. Cool, right? The authorship on this research (there have been a couple papers) has been "Undergrad Chick [me], Dr. Awesome, Dr. Dude, Dr. Dude2, etc..."

The email was addressed to Dr. Awesome and Dr. Dude, and CC'd to me. At the wrong address, no less. This is also not the first time something like this has happened.

I am not quite sure what to think about this. Dr. A is relatively well-known in this field. It is made clear in one of the papers that I was an undergraduate when we did the work (typically you can't tell, you just see a name and their school or research facility, but the undergrad program that funded my participation is acknowledged in detail). Personally, if I had a research question that I wanted answered, I WOULD be more inclined to talk to the professor rather than the undergrad, regardless of who was male and/or female in the situation. I readily acknowledge that I am a little grad student and that I probably need to work my way up to a point where I am considered a scientist on the same level as Dr. A.

I just find it unsettling. At this point, yes, it is almost certainly the "Undergrad, Dr., Dr." sequence rather than the "Chick, Dude, Dude" sequence that is getting me slighted. But at what point should I started calling them on it? I'm a grad student now, so my name and affiliation are all that get listed - they won't know if I'm a pre-PhD student, PhD student, postdoc, or even a new faculty member, they just see "Blogger, Elli T., at Hot State University" At what point is there no longer an excuse for slighting the student in favor of the adviser? Grad students may not have Ph.D.s and big lists of publications, but they are doing research - sometimes very excellent research, and sometimes research that they are better-versed in than their advisers. So at some point it might stop being student status and start having something to do with gender.

On a related note...

When I was getting ready to write and submit that first paper, someone - I don't even remember exactly who - reminded me that I would soon be picking my "published name", the moniker that would appear in every publication I ever put forth (I have no intention of changing my name if I ever get married, so I will indeed be "Dr. Blogger" for the rest of my life). This person warned me that I should really go by "E. T. Blogger", since it would conceal that embarassing fact that I was female and increase my odds of getting treated as a proper scientist.

This annoyed me. Firstly, my name is not "E", it is "Elli"*! Secondly, I didn't like being told to go to any special lengths to conceal who I was - my male counterparts were being told nothing of the kind, i.e. "Hide the fact that you're male!" (yes, I know all about that infamous study looking at how papers were regarded depending on the gender of the author name - does anyone have a link to that? - and it still doesn't change the fact that my name is Elli!)

I am starting to wonder if people will see "Female" as a first author and automatically look to the second author for - reassurance that a male was involved? Confirmation that the paper is actually worth reading because a "Dr. Somebody" is behind the girl at the top of the list? I'll be interested to see how this plays out over the next few years.

I'd also really like to know if anyone else ever got that "Don't let on that you've got girl parts" warning when putting their names on papers. What did you do? How has it mattered?

*obviously, my name is actually neither, but work with me...


Jenny F. Scientist said...

I think there have been a couple on the names thing: here they reference this paper: Paludi, M. A. and Bauer, W D. 1983. Goldberg revisited: What's in an author's name. Sex Roles 9, 387-390. There's a couple citations in Beyond Bias if you're really motivated to look them all up!

About the confirmation that Dr. Somebody directed it: I think they do that to men too, but especially to women.

Elli said...


jokerine said...

If I want to know something about a Paper I write to the corresponding author, knowing full well, that in most cases he didn't do the work and will send it on to the respective student to answer. Nonetheless, thats what the little asterix is for.

I don't think that has to do with gender.gloeckchen

Veo Claramente said...

I can see that this can be an issue sometimes now and has been a major issue in the past. Isn't there always name-based or institution-based discrimination though? With foreign names, you often don't know if the author is male or female, but there may be a negative/postitive reaction simply based on country of origin. And institutional bias, good heavens, how often have I, and maybe others, encountered the attitude that if its from X-big name institution its okay, btu equally good work form a small or relatively unknown institution its not as easily accepted?
Bias comes in many forms, pro- or against students/internationals/women etc. It is going to a long slow time before it goes away.

Nice post, and good luck with Ph.D!