Advice columnist tells female student to 'put up' with adviser's leering

Response to reader sparks public outrage

A Science Magazine advice columnist sparked a conversation on sexual harassment in the field after suggesting a young researcher "put up" with her adviser who continually tries to look down her shirt.

"The kind of behavior you mention is common in the workplace... His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on your science and his best advice," wrote Alice Huang, the "Ask Alice" columnist, molecular biologist, and senior faculty member at the California Institute of Technology.

Multiple news sites and social media users quickly picked up on the column, condemning Huang's response and launching hashtags such as "#DontAskAlice" and "#CrapScienceCareersAdvice."

Others noted that Huang eventually married her own research mentor.

The magazine has since archived the article and issued an apology, explaining that the piece did not undergo "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," they said. 

The column may have sparked such a response because it is something many women still deal with in workplaces across fields, says Susan Svrluga in Washington Post's "Grade Point."

"I thought it was appalling advice," says Imogen Coe, Ryerson University's faculty of science dean. "Nobody should be having to work in an environment that's less than respectful," she says.

This is especially true in situations with "an imbalance of power," such as a student and post-doc supervisor, says Coe. Students "are very dependent on the approval, attention, support of this individual—they don't want to jeopardize it."

However, Coe also defends Huang, saying she has done significant work in the course of her career to aid women in science and this was just one mistake.

Coe stresses that most institutions have clear guidelines on ways to constructively deal with similar, uncomfortable situations (Svrluga, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 6/3). 

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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