A Chance to Break Down Gender Barriers at Columbia

Chloe Pasin
4 min readApr 14, 2020

Throughout history women such as Marie Curie, Maria Mayer, Rosalind Franklin or Barbara McClintock have made many important contributions to science. Even today women scientists across the world are on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, as Postdoctoral and Associate Researchers from across Columbia, we know institutional barriers based on gender often interfere with our ability to do our best research and make it more difficult for women to succeed in academia. Statements like, “having children while you are a postdoc is bad for your career”, or, “if her PI [faculty supervisor] wants to date her, she can always say no,” are all too common around academic science. But these seemingly innocuous comments paint over real institutional barriers.

Women in academic fields are more likely than men to experience bullying and sexual harassment, and over half of women trainees in STEM fields have experienced gender-based harassment. At the same time, over 40% of women leave academia or move to part-time work after having a child, due to discrimination and the lack of family-friendly benefits.

Our experience at Columbia confirms these shocking statistics. As we work to finish our fight for a fair first union contract with Columbia, we want to share some of the ways we believe a strong contract would make the university more equitable for postdoctoral researchers of all genders.

While Columbia is legally required by Title IX to investigate gender-based misconduct, a recent article in the Columbia Eye detailed how indefinite timelines, insufficient protections for survivors, retaliation, and lack of a neutral process have led many to lose faith in the current process. The unique relationship between Postdoctoral or Associate Researchers and our PIs also creates additional challenges to reporting harassment due to the influence they have over our future careers in academia.

Our bargaining committee has proposed some solutions to these problems: a timely grievance process that can be expedited in cases of harassment, interim measures to ensure researchers are free from harassment during an investigation, enforceable language providing recourse against retaliation, and access to a neutral arbitrator. Although over 2,500 Postdocs, Associate Researchers, and Graduate Workers have called on Columbia to take action, almost a year later Columbia has yet to agree to a proposal that includes these…