The State of Harassment and Feminism in Computational Chemistry

This week I am in Vermont attending a conference in computational chemistry. The nature of the meeting is to discuss cutting edge, unpublished research in an intimate environment. While I can’t reveal any of the fascinating progress in the field, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the harassment policy in place and the overall breadth of feminism present.

As any reader of Skepchick knows, harassment has been a popular topic to say the least. So when I headed to Vermont this week, I had my eyes peeled for a harassment policy to be in place. I felt it was particularly important due to the fact that we are all sleeping in the same resort together, eating every meal together, drinking every beer together, and basically spending every second together for five long days. Let me begin by saying that generally I am not worried about sexual harassment in the field, however a few incidents have happened during my academic career. After the multitude of discussions in the skeptical community at large and being confined in an intimate environment for an extensive period of time, I wanted the comfort of having a policy in place.

*happy dance* I was immediately calmed that they presented a policy at the first session, before the first talk began. We did not have any handouts for the entire meeting, so we didn’t receive a hard copy. The slide was up and gone fairly quickly, so it was difficult for me to evaluate the comprehensiveness of the policy. However, harassment was addressed at the start of the meeting in front of everyone. The tough love attitude certainly made me believe that any incident would be taken care of.

Most of the previous occasions I alluded to have occurred while presenting my research during poster sessions. With two poster sessions combining for four hours of discussion, there was plenty of opportunity. The poster sessions were incredibly engaging with extraordinary scientific dialogue being exchanged throughout the week. Every meal and open bar at the end of each evening supplied a comfortable environment for men and women alike.

Stating the obvious, the issue of feminism in chemistry has always been important to me. Whenever I attend a conference, I expect a certain quota of female speakers. Particularly, at a conference such as this where there is only one meeting room with a limited number of speakers (~25) over the course of five days.

In total, about 25% of the speakers were women. No… this is not a 50:50 gender ratio, but this is a fairly reasonable representative of the male:female ratio in the field as a whole. The total percentage of females in attendance was similar.

Furthermore, did I mention that the chair of the conference is a woman? I got a chance to speak with her about diversity of the conference, and as I expected the gender choice of speakers was intentional. However, this wasn’t the only diversity issue at hand. There was also a conscience effort to choose speakers at various parts in their career. The invitations were spread between North America, Europe, and Asia. There were even a few experimentalists on hand, despite being a computational chemistry conference. Diversity extended even further due to participants in industry, academia, and national laboratories.

All of that being said, the combinatorial diversity has contributed to my overall, positive experience of attending this conference. The intimacy of the conference has allowed me to build memorable relationships with present and future leaders in the field.

Hopefully, this is viewed as a positive, encouraging spin on the harassment and feminism topic in physical sciences. Naturally, the science world is different than the skeptical world, but the male:female ratios can be viewed as similar. If one group of men can be respectful towards women, I am optimistic for others.

Feature image credit: Nano technology now


Jacqueline, a true Floridian, wandered up to the tundra of Athens, Georgia to receive her PhD in computational quantum chemistry. Returning to her roots, she is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in Tampa in the field of computational biochemistry investigating the wonders of penicillin-like drugs. When she is not slaving over the computer, her varied interests include international travel, Brazilian jiu jitsu, kickboxing, fancy food, (American) football, and Belgian quadrupels. She is also the founder of EligibleReceiver.com, a football blog with an exclusive female writing staff. Check out her sports ramblings there or follow her on Twitter @jhargis9.

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One Comment

  1. FWIW, for a few years I was working in computational chemistry. My PI was a woman, as were some of the other people in our group. I’m not female, so I wouldn’t have experienced sexual harassment myself, but I didn’t hear of any while I was there.

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