The careers site of Science magazine has pulled an advice column posted today from virologist Alice Huang, who suggested a postdoc tolerate an advisor’s roving eye.
In the retraction note, Science Careers apologizes for publishing the post, even if it was for just a few hours. “We regret that the article had not undergone proper editorial review prior to posting.”
Here’s the question, from a reader whom we presume to be female:
Q: I’ve just joined a new lab for my second postdoc. It’s a good lab. I’m happy with my project. I think it could really lead to some good results. 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.
What should I do?
It’s the answer that appears to have caused an uproar. Huang provides the definition of sexual harassment under U.S. law, and tells the writer the advisor’s leering doesn’t seem “unlawful” yet:
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.
Hours later, the site pulled the post, with this retraction note:
The Ask Alice article, “Help! My adviser won’t stop looking down my shirt,” on this website has been removed by Science because it did not meet our editorial standards, was inconsistent with our extensive institutional efforts to promote the role of women in science, and had not been reviewed by experts knowledgeable about laws regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. We regret that the article had not undergone proper editorial review prior to posting. Women in science, or any other field, should never be expected to tolerate unwanted sexual attention in the workplace.
We’ve emailed Jim Austin, editor of Science Careers, and called Huang, and will update if they respond.
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