Herr Oberst (herr_0berst) wrote,
Herr Oberst
herr_0berst

о суперновых, экзопланетах, языке без костей и шаловливых ручках

Прицепом к предыдущему -- учОные-астрофизики в Калтехе живут менее интересно, я бы даже сказал без огонька. Оно, впрочем, и понятно -- Калтех, да ещё и астрофизика.

He Fell In Love With His Grad Student — Then Fired Her For It
[ Azeen Ghorayshi | Jan. 12, 2016 | via BuzzFeed ]

Christian Ott, a young astrophysics professor at Caltech, engaged in “discriminatory and harassing” behavior toward two female graduate students, a university investigation has found.

Christian Ott, a young astrophysics professor at the California Institute of Technology, fell in love with one of his graduate students and then fired her because of his feelings, according to a recent university investigation. Twenty-one months of intimate online chats, obtained by BuzzFeed News, confirm that he confessed his actions to another female graduate student.

The university investigation, which concluded in September, found that Ott violated the school’s harassment policies with both women. Ott, a 38-year-old rising star who had been granted tenure the year before, was placed on nine months of unpaid leave. During that time he is barred from campus, his communication with most of his postdoctoral fellows will be monitored, and, with the exception of a single graduate student, he is not allowed to have contact with any other students. Before returning, he must undergo what a school official calls “rehabilitative” training.

The sanctions were imposed quietly, but after an inquiry from BuzzFeed News about Ott’s case, the university’s president and provost emailed a statement to the entire university on Jan. 4.

“There was unambiguous gender-based harassment of both graduate students by the faculty member,” the statement said. It also noted that the faculty member — who was not named — had appealed the sanctions against him, but the university denied his request.

Ott declined to address most questions about his case, telling BuzzFeed News he was “constrained from commenting on the situation at this time.” But he challenged the idea that he was responsible for anyone’s firing.

“At Caltech graduate students are not ‘fired’ by the decision of a single faculty member,” he wrote in an email this week. “When problems with students arise, multiple faculty get involved and a solution is found that ensures the graduate student is not harmed.”

Now the two women who filed the harassment complaint — the graduate students Io Kleiser, whom he fell in love with, and Sarah Gossan, whom he confessed his feelings to — have shared their stories with BuzzFeed News. They said they were disappointed that instead of terminating Ott’s employment, Caltech chose to take a rehabilitative approach, and will allow Ott to continue to work with students.

“Because Christian still has a place at Caltech, I feel that I don’t,” Kleiser, who left the university in January, told BuzzFeed News. (Kleiser will finish her research at the University of California, Berkeley, but will still receive her doctorate degree from Caltech.) “If they retain Christian and keep a place for him, then they may be inadvertently telling many students that those students do not have a place at Caltech.”

Interviews with a dozen of Ott’s current and former colleagues, as well as more than 1,000 pages of correspondence between Ott and the two complainants that were submitted to the investigators, suggest that Ott struggled not only with romantic feelings for his student, but with forging appropriate professional relationships with some of the people he advised.

Speaking on behalf of the university, Fiona Harrison, chair of the division of physics, mathematics, and astronomy, told BuzzFeed News that the sanctions were appropriately severe. Ott committed “gender-based harassment and discrimination, and we have zero tolerance for that here at Caltech,” she said. “I think our actions actually demonstrate that.”

Ott’s case coincides with high-profile incidents of sexual harassment in university science departments. In October, BuzzFeed News revealed that Berkeley had found that the famous astronomer Geoff Marcy had sexually harassed students. And on Tuesday, during a speech on sexism and science on the House floor, Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California revealed that a 2004 report from the University of Arizona found that the astronomer Tim Slater had violated sexual harassment policies.

“Science students go to college to study astronomy, chemistry, or physics, not their professors’ sex lives,” Speier told BuzzFeed News by email. “Sexual harassment in science is pervasive,” she said, and “the culture needs to change if we want women in this country to reach their full potential as scientists.”

Unlike Berkeley, which did not punish Marcy, Caltech has been applauded by some observers for imposing sanctions against Ott. But others question why, despite warning signs, no action was taken until Gossan came forward last June.

“He’s obviously a talented researcher, but that’s not all that his job entails,” said Joan Schmelz, who until recently led the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. “In his current state, should he be advising students and postdocs? I think no.”


Io Kleiser came to Caltech to work with Ott in 2012, when she was 22, to study supernovae, the rare astronomical explosions that happen in the final stages of a massive star’s life.

Halfway through the year, Kleiser was taking a full load of classes as well as doing research with Ott, who uses supercomputers to model the mysterious explosions. She struggled with the workload. “I was just trying to keep my head above water,” she said.

Ott began messaging her late at night online, where they talked about their shared insecurities about work. Sometimes their chats were casual; he’d recommend that she read Charles Bukowski or listen to Leonard Cohen. But other times, he’d ask her why she wasn’t devoting more time to research, questioning her motivations and time management.

“It saddens me that research is coming last 😕,” he wrote one night in May, 2013.

“Not only was he being demanding in terms of my time,” Kleiser said, “but he was questioning my commitment to the work, and telling me about how it was making him feel, really from an emotional angle.”

In fall 2013, Kleiser went to the incoming executive officer for astronomy, Sterl Phinney, to tell him that she was struggling to work well with her adviser. Within a few weeks, Kleiser said, Ott asked her to meet.

Over coffees at a Peet’s just off campus, Kleiser recalled, Ott broke the news that he no longer wanted to work with her, meaning she would have to find another adviser to finish her graduate studies. The change totally upended her research plans, but she said she didn’t really understand why he was firing her. He mentioned an email that she had not responded to a few weeks earlier, she recalled, and said he “couldn’t emotionally deal with” her anymore. She had no idea that he had any romantic feelings for her. She just thought she had failed at her job.

Five days later, around 1 a.m., Ott messaged her online. “Of all my students I cared most about you and I failed in the worst way,” Ott typed. “My problem is that I don’t want to be in a power position, but I factually am.”

Around the same time, Ott began chatting online with another of his female graduate students, 23-year-old Sarah Gossan, to confide in her about the situation with Kleiser. One evening, Ott asked Gossan to switch from chat to Skype. “I can’t even write this stuff down,” he typed.

On Skype a few minutes later, according to Gossan, Ott confessed to being in love with Kleiser. “The reason he had fired her was because he was concerned she was using her sexual influence over him to not do any work,” Gossan told BuzzFeed News.

Over the next year and a half, Ott continued to message Gossan online, sometimes late at night or while he was inebriated. He talked to her about not being able to let go of his feelings for Kleiser, whom he was still repeatedly reaching out to by chat and email. He also discussed his previous relationships and past emotional involvement with students.

Gossan was often sympathetic to Ott, and opened up to him about her own struggles with anxiety, bulimia, and her boyfriend.

“I am just so happy that I have a female grad student who is actually sane and I can talk to,” Ott wrote to her in January 2014.

“Do you think I am a shady person because I let myself be emotionally involved with my student?” he asked her later that month. “I think I may actually be prone to this sort of thing.”

Almost immediately after these conversations began, Gossan said, she felt emotionally distraught by them, often working on her supernova research at home rather than at the office, and switching her chat settings to “invisible.”

“It’s not good if a person in power is out of their fucking mind,” Ott wrote to her in December 2014, referring to an issue with another student.

“Well we are all out of our minds,” Gossan replied.

“Yeah, but your insanity does not affect other people’s lifes,” he said.

By Gossan’s third year, Ott’s demands on her intensified, she said. “When I said I couldn’t work 80 hours a week, he said I would never make it in academia,” Gossan recalled. “I came to Caltech to do science. He slowly but surely made me feel worthless.”

In April last year, she said, she realized that her deteriorating relationship with Ott was harming her work and emotional well-being. After a dispute in which Ott said she had “not published anything substantial” enough to speak at a conference commemorating Einstein, Gossan reached her breaking point. Two days later, she switched advisers, and about a month after that, she filed a complaint with Caltech’s Title IX office, which handles issues of gender equity.

By that time Kleiser had gotten a new adviser too. But she was still upset about her unexplained firing — she felt like an outcast, she said, uncertain of her place at Caltech or as a scientist. “I went into a several-month-long state of depression where I couldn’t even sit down at my computer and work,” she said. “It made me feel sick.”

Kleiser said she didn’t find out about Ott’s feelings for her until June 4, when Caltech’s Title IX coordinator called her into her office and presented her with a stack of 86 poems Ott had posted about her on his Tumblr page. (The poems, which BuzzFeed News has reviewed, are no longer online.) The coordinator told Kleiser she could join Gossan’s official complaint.

The two graduate students knew each other, and that night they met for a drink. Kleiser emailed the Title IX office from the bar. “Add my name. Talked to sarah. I am so mad,” she wrote. “I will do whatever it takes.”


In a letter sent to Kleiser in September, the university acknowledged that her firing “was prompted by [Ott’s] romantic or sexual feelings for you,” and that his behavior “significantly and adversely affected your educational opportunities at Caltech.” A letter sent to Gossan concluded that Ott’s interactions with her “placed an inappropriate and undue burden on you that adversely affected your emotional and physical well-being.”

In addition to Kleiser and Gossan, seven other students have left Ott’s research group since 2012. All of them spoke with BuzzFeed News. Four said they were fired, abruptly. Many said that Ott’s erratic behavior created a hostile and demanding work environment where bullying was the norm.

Casey Handmer was a grad student in Ott’s group until June 2013, when he was fired partly because Ott didn’t want him to keep his bicycle locked up inside. “Either you accept my rules or you go look for another advisor,” Ott wrote him by email. “Your call!”

“As his student, did I have an obligation to manage his moods and pussyfoot my way around the extent to which a grown man is unable to control himself?” Handmer told BuzzFeed News. “I hadn’t come to Caltech to join some weird cult where you have to do whatever the leader says.”

Five other students, including Gossan, quit his group on their own for a variety of reasons, some of which were unrelated to his behavior. Since Ott joined Caltech’s faculty in 2009, just two of his graduate students have completed their degrees.

“At this point it’s not isolated incidents, it’s a statistic,” a former student who testified in the Ott case told BuzzFeed News. Though she never felt personally harassed, she said she left the research group in part because she found the atmosphere toxic, with Ott often berating and belittling his students.

“It’s normal to have an ebb and flow, for students to quietly migrate somewhere else, but having nine students [leave] and two graduate is very strange,” Chiara Mingarelli, an astrophysics postdoc at Caltech who works in a different research group and testified in the investigation, told BuzzFeed News. “If this was a normal company, there would be no question about his dismissal.”

The case underscores a common problem in academia: Professors, promoted for their research, may be unequipped to advise students.

“We don’t talk enough about how to talk about, and live within, honorable professional boundaries in the role of professor,” C. K. Gunsalus, director of the National Center for Professional and Research Ethics, told BuzzFeed News. (Gunsalus was not involved with Ott’s case.) “There isn’t always as much formal preparation for the teaching and advising role as is needed for people.”

Harrison, the division chair, told BuzzFeed News that Caltech considers the success rate for graduating students when a professor is up for tenure, though she would not speak to how it was weighed in Ott’s case.

Caltech is planning to offer more mentorship training for junior faculty, Harrison added, and is considering how to get confidential feedback from students about how professors advise them. ”We are drawing every lesson we can from what happened.”

In the first week of January, Kleiser moved to Berkeley to continue her graduate work on supernovae. Caltech did not tell her or Gossan that it would be sending out a university-wide statement about their former adviser and the complaint they played such a big role in.

“I did not know it would go out, but I am dealing with it fine,” Kleiser wrote in an email. “I just moved out of my apartment an hour ago and am driving up to Berkeley tomorrow, so I am thinking about other stuff. :)”

Gossan, however, is not feeling as settled. She will stay at Caltech to finish her degree, which she expects to get next year. Ott will be allowed back on campus July 1.


У учОных-астрономов в Беркли огоньку малась побо́ле:

Famous Berkeley Astronomer Violated Sexual Harassment Policies Over Many Years
[ Azeen Ghorayshi | Oct. 9, 2015 | via BuzzFeed ]

A university investigation into astronomer Geoff Marcy, exclusively obtained by BuzzFeed News, has determined that he violated sexual harassment policies at UC Berkeley. Marcy has written a public apology, though he denies some of the investigation’s findings.

One of the world’s leading astronomers has become embroiled in an increasingly public controversy over sexual harassment.

After a six-month investigation, Geoff Marcy — a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has been mentioned as a potential Nobel laureate — was found to have violated campus sexual harassment policies between 2001 and 2010. Four women alleged that Marcy repeatedly engaged in inappropriate physical behavior with students, including unwanted massages, kisses, and groping.

As a result of the findings, the women were informed, Marcy has been given “clear expectations concerning his future interactions with students,” which he must follow or risk “sanctions that could include suspension or dismissal.”

As word has spread that Marcy was not more severely disciplined, some fellow astronomers have begun speaking out about his behavior, asking for stronger sanctions and even telling him that he is not welcome at his field’s biggest annual gathering. On Wednesday evening, Marcy posted an apology letter on his faculty page.

“While I do not agree with each complaint that was made, it is clear that my behavior was unwelcomed by some women,” Marcy wrote. “It is difficult to express how painful it is for me to realize that I was a source of distress for any of my women colleagues, however unintentional.”

The letter was a rare public spillover from an investigative and disciplinary process that is usually conducted in secret. The proceedings of the investigation, which have not been made public, were obtained by BuzzFeed News. Marcy did not respond to requests for comment, instead forwarding them to his lawyer.

“We consider this to be a very serious matter and the university has taken strong action,” the university said in a statement.

David Charbonneau, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University, said the matter has broad implications.

“Geoff Marcy is undeniably the most prominent exoplanet researcher in the U.S.,” he said, referring to the study of planets beyond our solar system. “The stakes here couldn’t be higher. We are working so hard to have gender parity in this field, and when the most prominent person is a routine harasser, it threatens a major objective nationally.”

With the biggest exoplanet conference of the year coming up at the end of next month, Charbonneau told BuzzFeed News, he called Marcy on Wednesday. Charbonneau says he told Marcy that, given the concerns that some attendees would have following the investigation, Marcy shouldn’t go. Charbonneau said Marcy agreed not to attend and also stepped down from the meeting’s scientific organizing committee.

“After all of this effort and trying to go through the proper channels, Berkeley has ultimately come up with no response,” said Joan Schmelz, who until recently led the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. (Schmelz was not a complainant in Berkeley’s investigation.) “I’ve seen sexual harassers get slaps on the wrist before. This isn’t even a slap on the wrist.”


BuzzFeed News spoke to three of the four complainants in the investigation. One of the women, known as Complainant 3, studied astronomy as a graduate student. She spoke on the condition of anonymity because she did not want her involvement in the matter to affect her current job.

According to her account to Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, she was at a post-colloquium dinner with her graduate department at the University of Hawaii when Marcy placed his hand on her leg, slid his hand up her thigh, and grabbed her crotch.

She didn’t register an official complaint until eight years later, by which time she’d left astronomy — in part, she said, because of the sexual harassment she and other female astronomers experienced. “When you’re a student and you see every complaint being ignored, and every male professor who has violated that have zero consequences, it really makes you not want to step forward,” she said.

In the investigation documents, Marcy stated that Complainant 3’s accusation was “totally absurd” and “plainly false,” and that he “would never touch the knee of someone I didn’t know.”

In the documents, the investigator wrote: “Based on the preponderance of evidence, I find it more likely than not that [Marcy] acted as reported by Complainant 3.”

Harvard astronomy professor John Asher Johnson was a graduate student in Marcy’s lab from 2000 to 2007. During his first few years in the lab, Johnson told BuzzFeed News, he directly witnessed Marcy giving an undergraduate a back massage, with his hand underneath her shirt, alone and after hours in the lab.

Marcy, through his lawyer, denied this incident.

“What’s really infuriating about this is that anybody of my generation in the field of exoplanets knows that Geoff does this,” Johnson said. “Everybody is so afraid of doing anything about it that they are afraid of speaking out, but everybody knows it.”

Jessica Kirkpatrick, Complainant 4 in the investigation, was not herself harassed by Marcy, but told BuzzFeed News that she saw him get “inappropriately touchy” with an undergraduate one evening during the American Astronomical Society’s 2010 meeting in Washington, D.C. As the evening wore on, according to investigation documents, several people saw Marcy become more persistent.

“It’s plausible,” Marcy told the investigator regarding the allegations of inappropriate touching. “It would have been a friendly touch if I did it at all,” the investigation documents quote him as explaining. “But I would never do it again.”

Several people told BuzzFeed News that the incident is well-known among astronomers and that it was largely responsible for spurring the ensuing campus complaint.

“He’s had a long history of behaving inappropriately, especially with undergraduates,” said Kirkpatrick, who at the time was a graduate student at Berkeley studying astrophysics. “Women discouraged other women from working with him as a research advisor. It was just something that was talked about pretty frankly among the women in the department.”

Kirkpatrick, who has since left academia, continues to run the Women in Astronomy blog, through which she says three other women have approached her with accounts of their experiences with Marcy.

Sarah Ballard decided to talk about her experience with Marcy after hearing that many other women had been through something similar, she told BuzzFeed News. Ballard, known in the Berkeley investigation as Complainant 2, participated anonymously in the proceedings.

She was an undergraduate in Berkeley’s astronomy department when her roommate organized a rally against sexual assault and sexual violence, according to investigation documents. Marcy went to the rally, and Ballard, who was a student in his class, later emailed him to thank him for attending. Marcy responded saying Ballard should call him at his home, but she declined.

At a coffee shop during her junior year, Marcy told Ballard about having sex outdoors with a woman he once dated, the documents say. In another instance, during the summer of 2005, Marcy gave Ballard a ride home from a cafe. Parked outside her home, she opened the car door and stuck her legs out to leave. Then he began to rub the back of her neck. “I felt fearful and uncomfortable,” she told BuzzFeed News.

Marcy, through his lawyer, declined to comment to BuzzFeed News on Ballard’s accusations, and Marcy’s response in the report is redacted.

Ballard says she carried the confusion and shame of the event with her for years, until she heard about other women’s experiences and “realized it was a pattern — it wasn’t just me.”


Marcy studies planets orbiting stars outside our own solar system, or exoplanets. Thousands have been discovered in recent years, and a few have Earth-like properties, suggesting that they could sustain life. Marcy’s is the rare ilk of scientific research that is capable of both reaching the peak of his field and capturing the public imagination.

He’s won all sorts of awards and has risen beyond the confines of academia to become a kind of intellectual celebrity. In person, he’s described as charismatic, approachable, and “aggressively empathetic.” He’s been dubbed a “finder of new worlds” by the New York Times, a “brave thinker” by The Atlantic, and a “natural showman” by Wired. He has even appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman.

“Not only is it the case that he is very senior and very well-respected, it’s also the case that he’s a collaborator on a lot of large projects,” said Ruth Murray-Clay, a former UC Berkeley graduate student who is now an assistant professor of physics at UC Santa Barbara. As a theorist, she does not rely on his data. But many others do. “You don’t want to make an enemy with someone who has access to data you might need,” she said.

Murray-Clay was not harassed by Marcy. But in her capacity as student representative to the Berkeley astronomy faculty, she says, she spoke with him several times in December 2004, directly confronting him with complaints from undergrads and graduate students.

After speaking to her in person, he wrote her an email. “Thanks for all those thoughts and hopes,” he wrote. “I feel lucky that you’re helping me see myself better from the outside, and from the inside too.”

But over the next year, Murray-Clay says, more women came forward with complaints. So in September 2005, she went to the department chair, Don Backer. She says Backer, who died five years ago, defended Marcy and told her he could not respond to anonymous accusations.

After another undergraduate came forward with a complaint a year later, Murray-Clay, along with three other female graduate students and postdocs, tried to register an official complaint at the university level. But there, too, they were told they could not do so on someone else’s behalf.

“There was nothing that we could do short of trying to convince an undergraduate to subject herself to what was likely to be a humiliating and professionally damaging experience,” Murray-Clay told BuzzFeed News by email. “I didn’t feel comfortable doing that.”

The issues around how universities treat sexual harassment and sexual assault cases in the face of a constantly matriculating student body are already being hotly investigated at the federal level. UC Berkeley is currently under federal investigation for its handling of dozens of sexual violence complaints on campus.

“Problems shouldn’t need to get this bad for the commonalities among victims’ stories to be recognized,” Murray-Clay said. “He’s caused a lot of harm to a lot of people, and in doing so he’s caused a lot of harm to our field.”

Late on Thursday night, Johnson, Murray-Clay, and other astronomers started an online petition to “support the people who were targets of Geoff Marcy’s inappropriate behavior.”

Marcy has submitted his apology letter to the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy newsletter, a weekly email that goes out on Fridays to many astronomers. The statement is still under review by the editors.

Tags: education, man::woman, phd, science, usa
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