I am not an Associate Professor.

You asked, “I see you are an Associate Professor, were you promoted with tenure?” The answer is yes, of course. But I am not an Associate Professor.

What are the important parts of this story? That some of my students waited after class to walk me to my car to make sure I’d be safe from some other students? That one of my faculty stormed into my office, threw things across my desk, towered over me, yelling and swearing? And when I told my in-department mentor he said, “that’s not threatening”? That when I inadvertently passed someone with an ASSA badge I ran home and stayed there for the next week?

With unanimous support from my department, I was promoted to Associate with tenure in 2008. (Fun fact: I was the first woman they had tenured in many years.) I spent my sabbatical at Cornell and upon my return became Interim Chair. Much went smoothly, but I experienced a series of abusive and harassing events from a handful of administrators, faculty, and students. In all cases, administrative responses were feeble. A university lawyer told me he believed I was the victim of sex discrimination, but nothing came of that finding. A dean advised me not to file a grievance because he would “take care of it.” A departmental committee pledged to write a letter of reprimand, but later “changed their minds.” The workplace became unsafe for me. But I was the breadwinner and my identity was my career—I was a labor economist, after all. The situation was untenable.

Two colleagues working in the officeI was diagnosed with acute stress disorder, then post-traumatic stress disorder with severe suicidal depression. I began getting my affairs in order. My husband lived in another state (two-body problem), but when he realized that I was preparing to kill myself, he begged me to leave the university. He encouraged me to look into a formal leave of absence, and the diversity office directed me to a medical leave. The university lawyer told me that if my doctors dictated I was unable to return, I would be eligible for disability benefits.

I went on medical leave and applied for disability. Despite the unanimous diagnoses of four doctors and documentation of inpatient treatment, I was denied. The ruling admonished me for not addressing personnel problems through formal university HR procedures. They determined that I simply left my position so I could live with my husband, and that I wasn’t really suicidal because I had “no documented attempts.”

I have since been in consistent treatment for PTSD and severe depression. Five years after leaving the university I am not yet cleared to return to academic work. I was [in-]“voluntarily resigned” in 2016.


Uber and public transit: postscript

I’m going through the newsletters in my inbox and I come across a Plan Philly article about big declines in SEPTA ridership. There were 3.1 million fewer passengers in 2016 compared to 2015.

Saska is so bold as to claim that “[b]oth Uber and Lyft declined to provide ridership data, but it’s safe to say that these services grew significantly over this same period.” Agreed, good sir. And I said the same just a short while ago.

Ride-“sharing” is an obvious substitute for public transit, with the obvious cost of increased road congestion and resulting gasoline usage.

Let’s not be lazy, folks. Let’s get our butts back on the buses!

Why I don’t do Uber

I know a lot of people love the convenience of ride-sharing ride-sourcing services (RSs). I just can’t go there. I keep using taxis when I need them. And I’ve got my reasons.

It’s clear that these RSs have cut into the taxi market. Who drives taxis? Lots of immigrant (often nonwhite) men. And the municipal revenue that is generated from taxi licenses is also cut as fewer licenses are sought.

RS drivers obviously provide a substitute for taxi trips, but they are not subject to the same regulations and insurance requirements. If someone pays you to drive them somewhere, that’s a commercial use. That’s not ‘ride-sharing.’ And it definitely isn’t sharing if you wouldn’t have even been on the road otherwise.

If RS users have substituted away from taxis because they want a cheaper alternative, that has labor consequences. Lower prices almost always come with lower wages. So that means lower wages for immigrant (often nonwhite) men due to declining taxi demand. What about RS drivers? The overwhelming majority do this as a part-time side job. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone seeking more income. But is this the best way?

“Female cabbies are rare in Philly, but ride-sharing [sic] apps have opened new avenues for women drivers.” (source) Of course! Another low-paid job has sprung up; it’s perfect for the ladies. And they get to do more work, by providing emotional labor too. “When I get female customers now, especially late at night, they’re so thankful,” says Lyft driver Rasheedah Ahmad. (ibid) I bet they are.

And then there are the environmental impacts. I can’t tell you how often I am walking or biking around center city and a car pulls over to the curb in front of me, either to pick up or drop off a passenger. It’s obviously an RS because there’s one driver in the front and one passenger in the back. And they’re doodling away on their phones, presumably in the RS app.

What is the ‘next best alternative’? What would be happening if the RS didn’t exist?

The car companies, unsurprisingly, are bullish on their environmental impact. “By using Lyft to share rides, passengers are helping to reduce the carbon footprint left by our country’s dominant mode of transportation – driving alone,” said Tommy Hayes, the transportation policy manager at Lyft, in an emailed statement. (source)

Um, really? Sure, there are two people in the car during the paid trip, but the driver had to get to the passenger. And if the passenger gets another RS to go home, the driver again has to get to the passenger. That is more driving, not less.

And what would the passengers do if they couldn’t use a RS?

Source: Shaheen and Chan (2015)

Eight percent of people would have stayed home. And a full 33% would have taken transit. 33%!!! And 39% would have taken a taxi. So while it is true that RSs are biting into the taxi market, that is not the majority of the effect.

And I love this quote:

Uber emphasizes that it is helping to reduce the need for personal car ownership. “Uber helps use today’s existing infrastructure more efficiently at no extra cost by getting more butts into the backseats of fewer cars,” a company spokesperson says. (ibid)

Huh? Where is the evidence to support that claim? You see more butts, eh?

What about all the RS drivers who are out driving SOLELY to take passengers to and fro? They are not ride-SHARING. They are ride-SELLING. I would rather they stay home and find another way to make money.

I don’t want to give myself an excuse to eschew public transit or not ride my bike. I don’t want to support a(nother) market that underpays women for more work. I don’t want to take work away from immigrant men. And I don’t want to support more people driving when they don’t need to. So you’ll see me on my Fuji or the 11 trolley. Maybe you’ll even see me in a yellow cab, but only if absolutely necessary.


Teams, Gender, and Collaboration

I’m always collecting data. I can’t help it, it’s just what I do. Here’s some data I collected from a meeting I recently attended:

  • Percentage of team members who are male: 20%
  • Percentage of women who completed all tasks assigned since previous meeting: 100%
  • Percentage of men who completed all tasks assigned since previous meeting: 0%
  • Percentage of women who collaborated as expected within stated team procedures, by meeting with committee members and seeking input: 100%
  • Percentage of men who made unilateral decisions and did not organize or convene the committees they chair: 100%


As I observe myself at the meetings for this team, I am increasingly irritated. I believe I must appear ornery and contrarian. The fact of the matter is that I have more expertise (on certain matters) than both of the men who are acting unilaterally, and I struggle between being a ‘good girl,’ behaving, keeping my mouth shut,… and calling out the crap when I see it.

I understand that my ego is wrapped up in this. Everybody’s ego is wrapped up in everything. And yet, what’s best for the organization? How about we stick to the procedures we all agreed upon and assign tasks to those best suited for them?

But that requires the men in this group to cede some of their power, and they seem quite resistant to doing that.

Four essential elements of effective project management

Project management has one simple goal: complete the project. Whether the project is a book, a song, a fashion line, a fundraiser, or a major show, four essential elements emerge.


The very first step to success is to establish a timeline, beginning with the end date and working backwards. (A Gantt chart is a great tool for this step.)

The second step is to determine the budget. How much is needed for the best possible execution of the project? And what is the bare-bones version? Do the research, and document the appropriate range for each expense category. What are the revenue sources? Document the best and worst case scenarios.

Now it is time to gather the full team. Of course, the process is constrained by the timeline and the budget. And in order to assemble the best team, everyone needs a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities.

Most project managers incorporate these three elements, even if they are not formally documented. Where many projects struggle is in the fourth essential element: adaptability.

The best leaders expect that roadblocks and challenges will arise, so they are not derailed by them. The best timelines allow for unforeseen delays, budgets have room for extra expenses, plans B and C and D have been considered. Adaptable managers are problem solvers who release attachment to details, while maintaining firm commitment to that one simple goal: complete the project.

Effective project management requires a keen understanding of what, when, how much, and by whom. The best managers consider many possible scenarios, but they also understand some surprising challenges will arise. Adaptability (with flexibility, resourcefulness, compromise, and creativity) is the key to true project success.

Prepping for my R maps workshop

I’m thoroughly enjoying gathering data and writing the scripts for the maps I’m going to share in my upcoming Women in Tech Summit workshop. I’m starting with world-level maps, then will move to US and then more local. A main challenge is that there are lots of different ways to draw maps in R. My personal favorite is to use ggplot2. I have seen there is a choroplethr package, but I haven’t tried that yet.

Here’s my latest map:


It’s based on the wrld_simpl SpatialPolygonsDataFrame, and I merged in data from the World Bank Development Indicators. Next up: gender differences in economic and education outcomes across the US. Whee!

I took some online courses

While I am in the process of applying for full-time jobs, I have decided to devote chunks of my time to beef up my skills. I have been going full-force on Coursera, finishing courses in Learning how to learn, Influencing People, Introductory Python, Conflict resolution, and Leadership.

I would highly recommend the Learning How to Learn course from UC San Diego; it is almost perfect. Here’s a little video I put together to illustrate three concepts from the course.

Continue reading “I took some online courses”

A Coursera super-bargain

In my never-ending pursuit of more skill and knowledge, I have been spending big chunks of my time on Coursera. Some of the material has been meh, but most has been outstanding. My favorite so far is UC-San Diego’s course on Learning How to Learn. It’s free, unless you want to receive a certificate. I have learned way more than a free-course-worth.

The last assignment is optional, and I am choosing to do it. We are charged with selecting three key concepts from the course and teaching these concepts to others in a format of our choice. I’ve decided to do a video about tap dancing and a blog post about coding. I am presenting a workshop on making maps with R at a conference in April, so I’m going to use some of my prep for that to do this assignment.

Stay tuned….

Planning Philly Tech Week 2016

Last night I attended my very first Philly Tech Week planning session. It was very well organized by the technical.ly staff–kudos to them. Since I arrived in Philadelphia a couple years ago, I’ve attended a number of different gatherings, in hopes of getting involved with a well-functioning and motivated group. And it was very inspiring to see how well-oiled the technical.ly machine is.

I sat in on two brainstorming groups: Access and Creative. I’m the sort of person who has a lot of ideas, and I enjoy tossing them out on the table, and seeing if anything gets legs. A couple of my ideas did get legs last night, and that was cool. During the Access discussion, there was a lot of focus on including children and youth in Tech Week activities. And that got me thinking about the other end of the age spectrum, so I suggested we consider including seniors, many of whom have only a phone or tablet (if that), at the same time that so much important information for them (on SS, pensions, health, etc.) is mostly available online. I’d love to see that grow into some programming. I know my neighbors in west Philly could really benefit.

The Creative group truly lived up to its name, with gobs of ideas. Most of these focused on engaging and marketing to techies. When I asked about PTW marketing strategies, our facilitator mentioned an interest in attracting people who are not in Philadelphia. The man sitting next to me recommended a viral video. After some other ideas came out, I threw it back to the video idea, suggesting that we bring back that poor robot that was destroyed in Philadelphia. The hitchBOT idea seemed to get some legs too. I think it could be a great marketing campaign, and this group of folks would certainly be up to the task of redressing that shameful blemish on our fair city.

time to learn some Python

Last night I attended my first R users meetup group meeting. I had hoped to learn more, but I did nonetheless get some helpful tips for things to explore, like animating maps and graphics. And when I asked about webscraping for data with R, I got a tip to use Python instead. OK, world. I get it. That’s the final kick in the tush I needed to start learning Python. It’s just another language anyway, right?

So I’m working with Learn Python the Hard Way and CodeAcademy. And I’m open to suggestions!

Away we go!