Building a network of women and nonbinary cognitive modelers

Here’s a (maybe not so well-kept) secret: I’ve got a PhD in modeling! No, not the posing kind, I constructed computational models of babies’ minds and behavior to better understand their early language acquisition. I learned a lot about cognition, babies, and data in that time. Next to that and two programming languages (Python and R) I also learned a bit about the modeling world. A key insight came to me after repeatedly trying to network with senior men and that being taken … the very wrong way. I must admit, I don’t know how much not being taken seriously as a modeler by some (no, not all) fellow modelers contributed to the fact that I took a step away from this field and am now an infant and a meta-science researcher most of the time. I am often thinking about what I’d recommend fellow women aspiring to a modeling career. So, at last, here’s the insight: build a support network of women modelers.* For those who watched a recent instalment of Academic Crisis Line, this might not be terribly earth shattering, but you have to realize that this is something that holds for your corner of science. I met a node in this support network soon thereafter, Olivia Guest, with whom I could talk forever about all those “fun” encounters. At some point, the idea to make a list of all fantastic, but probably vastly underappreciated women and nonbinary folks in modeling emerged, as she writes in her blog. There was some back and forth, questions about time investment, criteria, subcategories, so we effectively never got started, but such lists are super useful. For example, I suggested replacement speakers when asked to give a talk recently, and this list would have made my life much easier. So I am glad that Olivia turned to Twitter and simply asked others to make a list. The resulting thread is a goldmine.

The overwhelming response led us to start a spreadsheet, where you can add yourself and/or others. We welcome volunteers to make this into a website, improve tagging, etc…

Now, when can you use this list? There are so many moments beyond looking for speakers, which is probably the most salient use case. You also want to open it when you prepare a lecture on modeling and are looking for authors whose papers to discuss (you might even know them but forgot to add them to your reading list). Some might also find it useful when planning summer schools, I’m teaching modeling at two this year, for example. Or when writing a paper and looking for a reference, why not cite a woman modeler?

These efforts might seem small, but remember: Every time a woman modeling student sees a fellow woman modeler speaking or cited the path to success will seem a little less steep.

* I also want to mention Women in CogSci which has a mentorship program.


R-Ladies: Coding sans prejudice

Recently, we (that is Page and Christina) successfully launched the Parisian installation of R-Ladies Global. It’s a meetup group and at the same time a non-profit coding club for all R proficiency levels, whether you’re a new or aspiring R user, or an experienced R programmer interested in mentoring, networking, and maybe picking up some new skills. We are a community designed to encourage, support and ultimately drive the development of our own R skills through a range of events, including meetups where members tackle hands-on tutorials and exercises to learn specific functionalities, informal gatherings, talks about latest trends, and debates. Our goal is to promote access to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers and tools for women (trans and cis) and gender-variant people. Men are welcome, too, by the way. We just need a member to bring them to the next meetup. In other words, we try to be a harassment-free zone. Sadly, that’s easier to do when men are screened beforehand.

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Speaking my Microagression Story (even though I’m almost WEIRD)

I started thinking about writing this blog entry when I first read about the speakyourstory initiative in this insightful Nature column a few months ago. This initiative raises awareness of microagression in the form of subtle sexism in the world of research. Subtle sexism is often less obvious both to its initiators and recipients than overt sexism, but can nevertheless be quite harmful – or I should say could be harmful, since we know amazingly little about its real effects. Microagressive comments are, of course, not restricted to sexism, but to an abundance of topics people can be – often unintentionally – biased about (read more here or here).

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The Stereotype Trap


That women in science and in the professional world in general are subject to gender biases with real consequences (lower pay, less career opportunities) goes without saying. In this context, I find it important to be aware of how easy it is to be biased myself. Not in order to justify, but to better understand. I have recently made two experiences with my own and fellow female researchers’ biases, in situations where I somewhat slipped into a man’s skin.

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