Archive for work hard and party harder

the dark side of the “work hard party harder” spirit[s]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on December 20, 2017 by xi'an

Now, following the blogs of the past days about harassment at ISBA meetings, reposting Pierre’s blog about the strong unbalance between men and women attending these meetings, and then the ISBA first action towards making ISBA meetings safe(r), or more inclusive, here are some completely personal reflections on why I think the culture of “work hard party harder” that permeates these meetings needs to change. Towards “more Bayes, less booze”, to repeat from an email I received in the past few days… (As in every entry on this blog, except maybe those few pointing out factual mathematical errors, but this need be stressed, this is indeed a personal view on the topic, reacting to the news, for which I claim absolutely no expertise or superiority of any kind above other viewpoints. And certainly no representativity. Especially not of the safeISBA Task Force opinions. Comments more than welcome, more than usual!)

So… I have been attending five of the Valencià (pre-ISBA) meetings, from the early 1990’s till 2010, all located in Spanish coastal resorts, from Peñíscola to Benidorm. As is obvious to anyone having attended one of those meetings [and not being submitted to harassment or unwanted pursuits on their first and last experience there], there was a tremendous feeling of belonging to a community. An exciting, strong, exhilarating community unlike any other statistical meeting. Here were people working exactly in my field, ready to share ideas, discuss posters for hours, and possibly shred one another to pieces when diverging on a point of theory, while remaining good friends. Plus being party animals able to drink and dance the whole night, till the wee hours when I was myself getting out of bed for my morning run… Definitely impressive. (Actually, it is at one of these meetings that I first heard the motto “work hard party harder”.) All very exciting, with a size small enough that one could feel connected to all participants by more than science. With a blurry boundary between academia and social network, between work and party. Without truly realising on my part that the resulting freedom of discussions and actions in this environment was not absolute and definitely not the same for everyone. Even though the overwhelming majority of participants were and are fine individuals, and that many friendships and collaborations started there.

Academia offers this paradox of a sensation of great freedom (to teach, research, publish, discuss anything you wish) controlled by many others (like editors, publishers, grant committees, conference organisers) that you cannot afford to antagonise too much. And hence that the feeling of a single-happy-family-of-forever-friends bumps into this constraint of reality, especially when the positions of two participants differ by much in seniority or culture. Or, primarily, gender. Because as Pierre was saying, as a man, I was never the victim of any misconduct or abuse of power. And hence could continue enjoying long poster sessions and fierce discussions without any worry of staying too long other than impacting my running the next day… While some friends of mine rather remember unwanted attentions at their very first meeting, with harassment from some organisers as well…
There were many aggravating factors to this potential for harassment, from the deleterious atmosphere of beach towns like Benidorm, to having all participants located in the same (monstrous) hotel, to holding poster sessions late at night, with excessive drinking a strong possibility, even though, as a friend was emailing me last morning, “it is too easy to blame alcohol consumption” as the sole culprit, and the availability of nightclubs and bars for after-poster-sessions… To continue quoting from this friend, she rightly suggested “swinging the pendulum back to more work hard” and less institutionalised partying. While keeping ISBA meetings definitely fun and terribly exciting. And plain safe. I am thus looking forward to the policies being developed to ensure ISBA 2018 in Edinburgh [clearly not a beach town!] is meeting all terms, and regains its attractivity for all members. All of them.