Sunday, August 9, 2020
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Inspired by her words, I want to talk about the proactive, constructive part of the story that we as professors, advisors, and/or managers can do to create a healthy culture in our labs and offices. Much of what I share here I have learned from my amazing colleague, Radhika Nagpal. She too has deep insight and material on creating a positive lab culture.
Let's start with the obvious. Lab culture is important; it's what we live and breathe every day. When I moved to UBC, I decided to explicitly write down what I hoped to achieve in terms of lab culture. My website says,
Lab Culture People do their best work when they are both challenged and happy. Research provides plenty of intellectual challenge; our lab culture is designed to encourage happiness.The part in italics comes directly from Radhika.
We are open and collaborative We value diversity in all dimensions, welcoming students and collaborators of all genders, orientations, races, and religions. We collaborate within the lab and with colleagues outside the lab. Today, we have projects with colleagues from theory and engineering, statistics and business, Harvard and Duke, the UK and New Zealand, colleges and high schools.
We are positive Feedback is critical to the research enterprise. However, feedback can take many forms – we welcome constructive criticism. We criticize ideas, not people. We criticize with respect. We are open to others’ perspectives. We do not always agree, but when we disagree, we do so collegially and respectfully.
We are supportive Each of us shares in the mission to enable every member of our lab to achieve their greatest potential, realizing that each person’s definition of success is highly personal. We support each other in realizing our individual images of success. (Radhika Nagpal’s awesome talk articulates this eloquently.) We do not tolerate personal attacks and discrimination of any kind.
Here I'd like to talk about concrete steps I've taken to try to create that culture.
Day 1 -- My first face to face meeting with a student
For the past five years or so (it took me a long while to figure this out), I open my first conversation with students with the following.
Welcome! We are so glad you are here. You were admitted, because we believe that you have what it takes to be fabulously successful in our program. That said, graduate school can be hard and there will be times when things aren't going well. It may be your research; it may be something personal; you may be unwell. No matter what it is, do not hide. You are welcome to come in here any time and say, "I didn't get anything done this week." Just do not hide. Come to class; come to lab; come to our meetings. Together, we will get through this.I like to think that this is the first step in establishing culture. It says that the students are not alone and that my job is to help them get through this big, scary ordeal they are starting. It is my starting point at building a trusting relationship.
Lab 1 -- our first lab meeting of the year
We began the year by welcoming back all our continuing students, welcoming our new students, and welcoming our visiting students. We then played the game where each person wrote down, on a sticky note, something about themselves that they thought others would not know and that would make them unique. I then read each one and the group tried to match the statements to people. This turned out to be a lot of fun. We were terrible at guessing! You have to make up rules about people telling the truth (i.e., if I say, “This must be you Juanita!” and it is, you have to fess up). We tabled the harder ones and came back to them. I think I would probably use some physical sorting during this to keep people moving and to separate those “still in play.”
Next we spent the thirty or forty-five minutes talking about what an inclusive environment looks like and what behaviors make an environment not feel inclusive.
I shared memories of my first days and weeks at UBC and how students and faculty alike went out of their way to make me feel welcome and included. I also shared stories of a conference I'd attended recently where I was invited to one of their VIP events and felt incredibly unwelcome and most definitely not included. Other students shared their experiences.
We have a diverse international group and better gender balance than many computer science and especially systems groups, so we heard many perspectives. People were thoughtful and respectful.
Lab 2 -- one week later
I had given people homework to take any two Implicit Association Tests. I also shared my favorite quote on the topic, "Being biased doesn't make you a bad person; it makes you human. Being unaware of your biases and/or being unwilling to work at mitigating them is what makes you a bad person."
I admitted that I always test biased against women in science. I asked how many people found their results uncomfortable. Then I talked about the specific things I do to try to compensate for my biases, e.g., blind grading, the conversations I have with myself before meeting a new student.
Then we played a two-minute video from here.
Next we played The Tag Game. This did not work as well as I had hoped. I labeled the tags with numbers of stickers of different sizes, shapes, and colors and then asked people to form groups. They were all kind of lazy and just formed groups as a function of where they were standing instead of looking at the name tags at all (but maybe this was a sign that my group didn't need this game?).
The basic idea is that people focus on finding people with similar shapes and/or colors on their nametag and when you see the patterns, you can start talking about how you were drawn to finding others like yourself and what this means in other contexts. So, even though the game didn't work, we had the conversation anyway!
Then I talked about different kinds of bias and let the conversation just go from there — fabulous interaction! Some of the biases that came up:
- Gender bias
- Beauty Bias
- Affinity Bias
- Conformity bias
- Halo bias
- Horn bias
I came in with a stack of sticky notes on which I'd written one-sentence scenarios, all of which were based on genuine interactions that I'd had with students. These scenarios ranged from health problems to family problems to stress reactions -- some were pretty intense. And I warned people that some of the topics might make them uncomfortable.
The students paired up and each student took a sticky note. Each student got a chance to both be a student dealing with the issue on the sticky and a student to whom someone was coming for advice. Here were the directions:
After each person had had a few different partners, we had a group discussion. It went really well. Students acknowledged just how hard it was. A colleague said that they'd found themselves using words that they weren't used to using in conversations with students -- FEELING words. Some people were confronted with situations to which they couldn't relate, e.g., I'm male and my partner was dealing with a pregnancy. Even so, we talked about how to be a supportive colleague even when you can't empathize.
Each person is going to grab a sticky and then with a partner, you'll take turns being a student who is experiencing some difficulty or a friend that is being asked for "help". You'll get about 5 minutes in that role and then you'll switch; we'll do this with about 3 different partners.
Every one of these scenarios is based on a real conversation I've had with students (or former students).
As the listener: Your first task is to figure out what the person wants:
Many of these are problems you cannot "fix" -- this is sometimes frustrating and uncomfortable as an engineer. Figure out what your partner wants/needs and what you can do (sometimes it's just getting them to talk with someone else). As the person in difficulty, think about:
- to vent
- something else
- How do you ask for help?
- How scary is it to ask for help?
- What do you want (see above)
I expect that we'll do a similar sort of orientation/culture-building exercises this year, but we will talk more explicitly about racism. We'll talk a lot about mental health -- COVID-19 has changed our lives in myriad ways, and I worry more than ever about students feeling isolated. I moved my lab to Discord about a month ago, and it seems to have been a good move. I spend a lot of time on Discord, Skype, Zoom and make sure that every one of my students (almost) has some structured time to talk with me every day -- it might be short; it might be in the context of our reading group, but for the students who want it, they can have daily human interaction. At the same time, many of these meetings are optional, so the introverts don't need to feel overwhelmed.
Sunday, July 14, 2019
I was repeatedly asked "how it felt" to march in my last commencement ... but wait -- I get to come back for reunions and march as an alum, so perhaps not my last, but yeah, it was a special one. I was struck by two things in particular: the 25th reunion class were my students!? How could that possibly be? I found it significantly more shocking that I had 25th reunion students than that I was celebrating my 35th reunion. And then there was the national anthem. As I stood listening, I realized that quite possibly, the next national anthem I hear at a Commencement will be O Canada. Sobering. (I spent the afternoon learning the words, in English; the French words will come later.) [My daughter's high school graduation preceded Harvard's and I don't think they played the national anthem, anyway.]
The Harvard Crimson and I have not always been BFFs, but of late, we've had a good relationship. Last year, the commencement issue included a profile of my colleague, former Dean of Harvard College, Harry Lewis. It seemed fitting -- Harry is the heart and soul of computer science at Harvard; he was the Dean of the College; of course they would do a profile piece about him after he'd announced his upcoming retirement (they also did a wonderful piece about him and his wife, Marlyn McGrath Lewis, this year). But it came as a bit of a shock when managing editor, Hannah Natanson, asked if they could do a profile of me for the Commencement issue. I'm sure there is no bias when I say it's the best thing that I've seen the Crimson do. I had a blast working with the reporters, who managed to unearth an impressive array of characters from my past (not all of whom appeared in the final copy, but to whom I am still extraordinarily grateful). I was happy to see that my habit of speaking up was spun in a positive light and that it was referenced by most who wrote; it is, perhaps, the most important thing I've done at Harvard. But most of all, I am deeply humbled by the piece they produced and the kind words that my friends and colleagues offered. (And while I normally hate watching and listening to myself in video, the video piece, which I missed the first several times, was lovely.)
Our memorial service -- 8:30 AM on Friday morning. We all showed up. In a class of roughly 1600, we've lost 57 classmates. Some were my friends: bandie Larry Millet, fellow Computer Scientists David Brownell, my twin (we share a birthday) and inspirational mathematician, Matthew Bovell. But unsurprisingly, my thoughts turned to Alex, and I found myself silenced and in tears during the final verse of Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Alex should have been graduating. I heard from both his parents in the days leading up to graduation. My heart continues to break for them every time I think of him.
We lost another member of the class of 2018, Luke Tang, during the fall of 2015. While I did not know Luke, I remember that a group of his friends were taking CS61 from me that semester. I still remember where they used to sit in the room and how I wanted to, somehow, be able to ease their pain in the days and weeks after we lost Luke. Until I started writing this blog, I didn't realize the light that came out of this darkness. I've not yet seen the documentary, but I want to. And I want to know why every faculty member hasn't seen this; why it's not discussed; why we continue to keep these stories in the dark.
The SEAS Commencement Reception -- a chance to meet the families of some of my wonderful students. Lots of proud families and many wonderful pictures with my students, my colleagues, their families.
Reunion receptions. Classmates I haven't seen since Freshman year; classmates I've never met; classmates I see regularly. It's all a blur.
A commencement address to the students completing their Master's degrees in Information Technology fields. At the encouragement of the students in my online business analytics program (HBAP) with HBS, I talk about courage, perseverance, and gender equality. I later give that talk to the HBAP cohort at their immersion.
Reunion panels and talks -- the raw, honesty brings us together in a way that four years at Harvard never did. It took thirty-five years of life to create class cohesion so palpable that nearly all of us used the same words afterwards to describe what an amazing reunion it had been.
Then commencement and reunion are over, and it's officially summer. Israel, Michael Rabin. Weekly lunches with my group. Birthday cakes. Many, many coffee, breakfast, and lunch dates with friends and colleagues. The Harvard club of Rochester, an awkward coming home of sorts, but a fabulous group of people. Marlyn and Harry, the two who have been with me since before I was admitted to Harvard and until now, celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Teagan takes me to see Dirty Dancing. Soccer. A going away party with the chucks. DE Shaw Research; MongoDB World. More lunches with my students. More soccer. Usenix annual tech. DC. DARPA deliverables. Late nights and long weekends leading up to DARPA deliverables. More lunches with students. The Eagles. An outing to Kimball Farms with the Oracle crew. Dinners with friends. Soccer. USWNT in Hartford. The quintessential NYC experience: waiting in line for six hours in a torrential downpour for Hamilton tickets; success! ISAT in Wood's Hole. My students begin departing -- to home, to Africa, to NYC. Students slowly return to campus. My last week; Teagan's first. Heat. Humidity. More heat. Boxes. Drinks with colleagues. More boxes. Pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Pictures from a life time ago.
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
I grew up in a pretty anti-sports household. In my family, education was what mattered. Entertainment could be found in board or card games; ironically, even reading for pleasure wasn't particularly emphasized. My brothers, or at least one of them, wrestled. One played pool. I bowled (that would be 10-pin, thank you very much). Title IX was a law by the time I was 11, but it wasn't a reality. I swam competitively for a bit in middle school, but if truth be told, my most athletic pursuit was, I kid you not, cheerleading!
As you might imagine, spectator sports were also not a big thing. As a typical horse-crazed girl I did watch the triple crown every year, read every black stallion book on the planet multiple times, and sometimes fantasized about being a jockey, but um, well, they were all male.
Fast forward to my young professional life. In 1985, two years out of college and working for a tech company (Stratus), a bunch of twenty-somethings started playing pickup soccer at work. I joined for the social aspect, but something about the game and the skill of some of the other women on the field attracted me, so in the fall of 1985 I went looking for a women's soccer team, and I was lucky enough to find the Charles River Women's soccer club, now known as, "The Chucks."
I was never great at soccer, but I loved it. I loved being part of a team, watching how coordinated play could turn individuals into a functioning unit. Three years later, when I moved to Berkeley for grad school, I set out to find a team and ultimately started the Berkeley Bruisers with Nancy Geimer (who I met at tryouts for another team in the area). I could write at great length about the Bruisers, but suffice it to say that while one of a tiny number of women in graduate school, the Bruisers gave me a group of diverse, talented, and athletic female friends and two non-computer science male friends -- coaches Jim and Andy!
Fast forward to 1999. The Women's World Cup is in the US! (Who even knew there was such a thing as a women's world cup???) I bought tickets for the games in Foxboro. To this day, I still remember the wave of emotion that swept over me as the US women took the field. I
I watched the 1999 final from the comfort of my living room with my 18 month-old beer-swigging son, who dubbed the sport "mommy ball." He'd been coming to games from the time he was four months old (there being little soccer in New England between December and April). For a good year or two afterward, the only television my son watched was the 1999 world cup final and then, because my husband couldn't bear one more viewing, VHS tapes from the '91, '95, and '99 world cups. By the time he was five, my son knew every goal ever scored by the US in a world cup. And I had fallen for Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Joy Fawcett (who I had actually seen play as a student at Berkeley), Kristine Lilly, and Brandi Chastain (who, BTW, sat in the row in front of me on my flight from Lyon to Munich).
WUSA happened, and I have to confess, I kind of missed it. I was a mom with two small kids and a desperately-seeking-tenure professor. In 2003, when the women's world cup returned to the US, due to the SARS outbreak in China, I decided that I was going to see the final in person. By sheer dumb luck (and a wonderful travel agent), my son and I ended up in the hotel where the German, Swedish, and Canadian teams were staying. It was the weekend of a lifetime. We hung out in the lobby with players, got autographs, cheered on both Germany and Sweden before and after their matches, and came home with Silke Rottenberg's Goalie Gloves.
When WUSA folded, I felt that I had failed. If I, a soccer playing, 99er-loving fan, hadn't been attending games, is it no wonder the league didn't make it? (I will lay some of the blame on WUSA marketing as well.) So, when the WPS was created, I become a devoted fan -- I had season tickets to the Boston Breakers every year. I actively bid for Project Pink team jerseys, and I started traveling to see the USWNT.
I took both kids to the 2004 farewell match for Mia, Joy, and Brandi. I went to Cincinnati on crutches to see Kristine Lilly's last international goal. And thanks to the encouragement of former Chucks' goalie, Becks Ruck, I started attending the Women's World Cup.
|2007 Game in Hartford|
|2011 Women's World Cup: Dresden|
In 2012, I had the incredible honor to be on a panel with Kristine Lilly.
And without further ado, the final: USA vs the NetherlandsAlthough relative newcomers to the Women's World Cup (this was only their second appearance), the Netherlands are the reigning European champs and the USA are the reigning world champions -- sounds like a great match. Our seats in the very uppermost row, smack center behind the Dutch goal in the first half, provided a surprisingly good view of the field.
As if to say, "We didn't need the PK to win this match," eight minutes later Rose Lavalle did what Rose Lavalle does and single-handedly sliced and diced the Dutch defense to lay in a rocket of a shot.
And then, unlike in earlier knock out round games, the USA did not sink back into a defensive posture but continued pushing and dazzling. There were at least three different attacks that looked like certain goals, but Dutch keeper, Sari van Veenendaal, who unsurprisingly won the Golden Glove award (best goal keeping), was superb, using every part of her body to block the stream of shots. The onslaught continued until the final ten minutes, when even this devoted fan kind of wanted to boo the time-wasting behavior of the US.
But then it was all over and the USA had done it -- retained their crown, become the second team (after Germany) to win back to back world cups, and earned their fourth star.
The Dutch team had earned the respect of the entire crowd and it was heartwarming to see the entire stadium honor them as they did their lap around the stadium. There was great rejoicing, celebration, and ultimately, the US team receiving the World Cup trophy, being showered with glitter, and celebrated with fireworks. (Smugmug link with password wwc2019final)
And not just one selfie this time, but a collage of meet-ups with all my "World Cup" buddies.
|The Olson Family||Becks -- my stalwart World Cup Buddy|
|Beth Martens and Family||Former Bruisers: Nancy Geimer and Chris Vance|
A few backstories seem required. I opened this year's tournament with Mike and Teresa Olson in Paris. We met up several times in Paris as we each dashed off to do different side trips and then all met again at Lyon with their whole family (kids and partners), and we celebrated the victory afterwards with them and Teresa's sister's family.
Becks was a Charles River teammate (and awesome goalie) who started me off on my World Cup Odysseys in 2011 -- I remain grateful!
Chris and Nancy were Berkeley Bruisers and in 2011, we had made no prior arrangements to get together. Becks and I got to the game in Dresden early and were pretty much sitting alone in an entire section when two women happened to be in the seats immediately behind us -- they were Nancy and Chris! Since then, we've tried to meet up at some point during our respective World Cup journeys.
And, in 2015, I discovered that teammate Beth Martens was in Vancouver with her family, and we enjoyed a pre-final boat trip down the Indian Arm together. Although this photo was taken at the airport, we did meet up outside the stadium.
And that's a wrap on the 2019 Women's World Cup. If you are fortunate enough to have a local NWSL team -- support them! Keep your eyes on the press about the USWNT equal pay lawsuit. Tell FIFA gender discrimination isn't good business.
Saturday, July 6, 2019
The most spectacular thing about this walk is how vividly you can see the color of the water.
At the end of the hike, we ended up high enough to see the gorge as well as the dam, just a bit off to the right, not to mention the picturesque village across the hill.
After we finished our hike (18,000 steps; 7 miles; 63 floors all in 2 hours 45 minutes), we took a double kayak up through the gorge where we had hiked. It was aimply stunning (as well as wonderfully cooling).
And then, of course, we came back to the house so we could watch the consolation match: Sweden versus England. Sweden looked the more powerful and intimidating the first half and took a 2-0 lead after 22 minutes; England then came back like gangbusters with a gorgeous goal in the 31st minute and what looked to be a second goal only minutes later. But in a deja vu moment, the ref motioned the VAR signed, reviewed the play and determined (correctly, IMHO) that there had been a handball. This must have been devastating after what happened in the US game (goal disallowed due to an offsides by a hairbreadth margin).
The second half looked eerily like many of the recent US games, with Sweden compacting back into a 5-person defensive line and simply taking a pummeling. However, as the US has done, Sweden held fast and the 2-1 score held until the end. Tough break for England, happy day for Lindahl (keeper) who is probably playing in her last world cup.
Friday, July 5, 2019
Yesterday, we drove from Lyon down to the beautiful small town of Regusse, in the heart of Provence. Becks found us a fantastic two bedroom AirBnb with a luxurious bathroom, a washer and dryer, a swimming pool, and the most delightful hosts imaginable. They made it feel like a combination of a real BnB as well as being guests in someone's home. Highly recommended!
Anyway, Becks had identified, and our hosts confirmed, that the hike to do was the Blanc Martel Trail through the Verdon Gorge. Here is a snapshot of what we did:
Here are some photos of the view from various elevations:
|View down the gorge from about half way up.down.|
|View of the river from almost the bottom|
|Looking down the gorge from somewhere near the top|
|At the end, we went through a long tunnel and this was one of the lookouts||Vertical view of the lake leading into the gorge|
|On the drive home, we stopped at the lookout to see the lake|
Thursday, July 4, 2019
That kind of sums it up!
The good news is that we did not have the annoying fans behind us. The bad news is that's because it would have been impossible -- you see, we were in the very last row -- underneath the big screen, which turned out to be kind of cool, because it was such a distinctive location that the Olsons could spot us from across the stadium! Those teeny tiny people down there are actually soccer players!
So, maybe it was the late night on Tuesday (we should have just walked from the station, but after getting food and realizing the metro was shut down, we tried an Uber who couldn't find us and then finally stood in line for a taxi -- it was a very late night), or maybe it was the hike we took up to the Basilica which sits atop a somewhat large hill.
In any case, it could have been my low energy, but I thought it was a pretty dull game. And we might just have left during the first over time period when the Netherlands scored its first (and what turned out to be the only) goal of the match.
You see the game was 0-0 at the end of 90 minutes. Now, the USA-China Women's World Cup final was also 0-0 after 90 minutes (and still after 120), but that was an exhilarating match to watch; this one was not. I thought Sweden looked more threatening, although the statistics would show that the Netherlands had more possession, more shots, and better passing accuracy.
We almost left after the end of regulation time, but decided to stay for one of the overtimes, and we were privy to the lovely goal scored by the Netherlands. While on the tram back to the city, we watched the final minutes tick down to the final 1-0 score.
So now we're off to Regusse for some hiking and R&R, before returning to Lyon for the final on Sunday! (No, we won't be attending the consolation match, but hope to be watching it from the comfort of our lovely AirBnb.)
And, the post wouldn't be complete without the obligatory game selfie.