To cheer you up in difficult times 4: Women In Theory present — I will survive

An amazing video

(Update, May18 2020). I failed to explain what WIT is and this may have caused some misunderstanding. Here is a description from the Simons Institute site.

“The Women in Theory (WIT) Workshop is intended for graduate and exceptional undergraduate students in the area of theory of computer science. The workshop will feature technical talks and tutorials by senior and junior women in the field, as well as social events and activities. The motivation for the workshop is twofold. The first goal is to deliver an invigorating educational program; the second is to bring together theory women students from different departments and foster a sense of kinship and camaraderie.”

The original 1978 version is also quite good.

and all so this one

 

Update: Meeting of the heads of the universities with Israeli postdocs abroad

israeli-post-doc

This entry was posted in Academics, Combinatorics, Computer Science and Optimization, Convexity, Games, Philosophy, Poetry, What is Mathematics, Women in science. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to To cheer you up in difficult times 4: Women In Theory present — I will survive

  1. Anonymous because I don’t have a tenure yet says:

    This is grotesque. Many of the colleagues of the women in the video are facing extreme uncertainty nowadays. Some of them suffer of depression, anxiety or other forms of mental distress due to the pandemic, some might face poverty in the near future. Many careers will come to an end.

    The ability to produce such a cheerful video is a direct result of their rare financial and professional privileges. If they want to celebrate life, that’s their own choice, but shoving it in our faces during this difficult time is not only insensitive but also cynical, grotesque and lacking any sense of solidarity. They should focus their energies on finding ways to help their less-privileged colleagues who don’t have permanent positions and a sense of stability (where are those petitions that professors love to sign all the time?).

    As a final remark, it should be noted how miserable the choice of the song “I will survive” is. It’s trivial that the women in the video will survive, the real question is: will I survive?

    PS. Feel free to forward my comment to the participants in this video (actually, this will be highly appreciated).

    • Gil Kalai says:

      Hi anonymous, As you can see from the blog I also try to cheer people up in these difficult and tragic times and I salute the participants of the video in trying to do the same. Of course, I don’t think that new results about matching in graphs or a new hypercontractivity inequality can balance the tragedy, and it goes without saying that I feel myself privileged in many ways. But I do think that my efforts as those of my friends in the video to cheer people up are right.

      I disagree with your statement: “It’s trivial that the women in the video will survive.” The possibility of women in academia to survive and thrive professionally is a highly non trivial matter. We can hope that things are better now then they used to be, and that things will be better in the future compared to the situation at present. (For sure, things are better in theoretical computer science than in theoretical economics or theoretical physics.)

  2. Anonymous again says:

    Hi Gil, while I’m not a mind reader, I do believe that your intentions are good and sincere (and I enjoy following your blog regardless of the pandemic), and I want to believe that the WIT group were also meaning well. However, this is a huge blind spot, and what might seem to you like a sincere attempt to cheer us up actually does the opposite and is a poke in the eyes of your less privileged colleagues.

    This is not an attempt to make anyone feel guilty, but rather to encourage the community to replace the self celebratory videos with real acts of solidarity that might actually help their more vulnerable colleagues.

    I don’t completely agree with your statement “ The possibility of women in academia to survive and thrive professionally is a highly non trivial matter“. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of women in the video are coming from families that are wealthier and more educated than average, it’s reasonable to assume that their families encouraged and supported them from the beginning. All of the Israeli participants (or most of them?) are Ashkenazi Jews. How many of your tenured Israeli colleagues are Mizrahi Jews from poor towns and neighborhoods? How many are Palestinian? How many grew up in poverty surrounded by an uneducated family? Having those people succeed in Israeli academia will indeed be a highly non-trivial matter. Portraying those privileged women as if they had to overcome enormous obstacles is not only untrue (with all due respect to the old sexist professors that might be on some hiring committees), they portray academia as a progressive-leaning environment while keeping the power and wealth in the same circles and preventing any hope for a more radical social change.

    • Gil Kalai says:

      Hi anonymous, I suppose we disagree regarding the WIT group. I think that the video can and is very inspiring to women, to other members of unprivileged groups, and to the community as a whole (and also to other communities). I can see that the video can be a poke in the eye of a few men (both privileged and unprivileged).

      Of course, the individuals in the video (I am privileged to know roughly 40% of them) are extremely successful, and yet are very nice and pleasant and humble and humorous about their own success which can also be inspiring to other successful guys.

      I agree with some of the sentiments of the second half of your comment and especially with the need to open academia to people from other unprivileged (and biased against) groups and especially to those from poor families, neighborhoods, and towns. (Here the situation in the US with the atrocious universities tuition is especially bad.) However, in my view the change in the status of women in academia (and in society as a whole) makes by itself an important difference towards inclusion and justice and may be pivotal to further changes in the direction of inclusion and justice.

      • Anonymous for the third time says:

        “I think that the video can and is very inspiring to women, to other members of unprivileged groups, and to the community as a whole”

        A little bit about me: I’m a mathematician. I grew up in a poor uneducated family in Israel, I’m now a postdoc at a so-called prestigious university abroad. I’m expected to apply for TT jobs in the fall, but considering the massive blow that universities around the world have taken, my chances of securing a decent TT position seem to be astronomically low at the moment. As a result, I decided to put most of my research on hold and I’m now spending the time teaching myself data science and programming (that is, when I’m not paralyzed by anxiety and depression).

        If you’ll read around, you’ll see that this is not an atypical experience for people who are currently in a similar situation. Therefore, I have a quite good reason to believe that my above critique represents the views of quite a few members of unprivileged groups within our research community. Of course, I can imagine that this video was posted on various social media accounts and received many “you’re amazing” comments. This is not an evidence for the video being beneficial to our community, rather this is an evidence for social networks acting as echo chambers.

        “I can see that the video can be a poke in the eye of a few men (both privileged and unprivileged).”

        This comment is unfair and disappointing. It’s unfair as it’s framing me and my critique as part of a gender war, or even worse, as a man simply being jealous of his successful female colleagues. I’m genuinely happy for the achievements of the WIT members in the video, and I hope that many more women will be as successful as they are. It’s disappointing as I believed that my views were reasonably explained in my previous comments, so if the bottom line for you is that I’m just a jealous man, then either I failed at explaining my views or you haven’t considered them in a fair and objective way.

        As a closing remark, let me reemphasize my point: this is not meant to be a Facebook-style “check your privilege” rant, but rather a desperate call for solidarity from the only people who can actually do something about the current state of academia. As I wrote before, feel free to direct the attention of the video participants to this discussion if you find it appropriate.

      • Gil Kalai says:

        Hi anonymous, indeed your views seem unreasonable, are not clear, expressed in a hostile and patronizing tone, are not reasonably explained, and do not express sympathy with the success of your colleagues in the video. It is very fine to try to pursue data science and programming but it is probably not appropriate to put your mathematical research on hold. (Beside that, while these are difficult times prospects for TT jobs might be lower but probably not astronomical lower.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    “indeed your views seem unreasonable, are not clear… are not reasonably explained”

    Fair enough.

    “do not express sympathy with the success of your colleagues in the video”

    First of all, this contradicts what I wrote explicitly. Second of all, even if I didn’t express sympathy with their success, that’s fine. We’re not part of a religious order where the devotees have to continually prove their loyalty.
    “expressed in a hostile and patronizing tone”

    My purpose was never to launch a personal attack, publicly shame or start a fight with anyone (and indeed, I have done nothing of these), I thought that I made it clear in my previous comments but perhaps I was wrong. Yes, my criticism is harsh and I believe that this harshness is justified, however, the sole purpose of that is rather constructive and is meant to direct people’s attention to the fact that the members of our community at the bottom of the professional hierarchy are going through an extremely difficult time, and what they need right now is not a cheerful video but rather to see their higher ranked colleagues do something to save their careers (or at least minimize the damage and help as many of them as possible to carry through this crisis). And yes, this is an inappropriate time to celebrate your success, straight and simple (would you celebrate your promotion with a friend that has just got fired?). An intellectual community should be able to withstand harsh criticism without resorting to dismissing the opponent as “hostile” and “patronizing”.

    I was hoping that enough open mindedness, compassion and solidarity can be found in our community to find a way to help each other carry through, I will continue to hope so. I will not continue this discussion any further, as I don’t wish to be dismissed as the evil antagonist, and I genuinely don’t want to cause pain or anger. I wish the best to you, your family and your colleagues.

    GK: OK, if you want to talk about it privately drop me an email. Not only about it but also about you, and career decisions, advice etc. (You can stay anonymous if you wish.)

  4. Gil, we always enjoy contradicting each other, so I’m glad for the opportunity.
    I read the above exchange with great interest, but was disappointed with your final comment above, where you attack Anonymous and say that his views are unreasonable, expressed in a hostile manner, etc…
    I think you were being unnecessarily blunt, and even slightly rude.
    I found his points thought provoking.
    I assume we’ll continue analysing this soon, face to face, now that the social distancing rules in Israel have become lax.

    GK: Thanks for the feedback, Ehud

  5. Gil Kalai says:

    As pointed out by Avi W. my response to anonymous missed the crucial matter. Anon. wrote
    “They should focus their energies on finding ways to help their less-privileged colleagues who don’t have permanent positions and a sense of stability”

    However, this is precisely what WIT is doing.

    “The Women in Theory (WIT) Workshop is intended for graduate and exceptional undergraduate students in the area of theory of computer science. The workshop will feature technical talks and tutorials by senior and junior women in the field, as well as social events and activities. The motivation for the workshop is twofold. The first goal is to deliver an invigorating educational program; the second is to bring together theory women students from different departments and foster a sense of kinship and camaraderie.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Clarification: by “less-privileged colleagues” I meant those whose careers are being affected by COVID-19 (I apologize if it wasn’t clear enough in my previous comments). Those include adjuncts, teaching staff, administrative workers and other university employees who are being put on layoff, get fired or don’t have their contracts renewed. It also includes grad students and postdocs who are about to enter a hellish job market in the upcoming fall (a quick googling will reveal the extent to hiring freezes in universities across North America and Western Europe, and this will likely get worse).

      Of course, I made sure to visit the WIT webpage and read the statement quoted above before I posted my first comment. I don’t see how the above statement of WIT addresses my concerns.

      • Gil Kalai says:

        Your comment did not mention the fact that the WIT workshop is an ongoing effort for promoting undergraduates and graduate students so WIT addresses the kind of actions you advised.

        Some other thoughts: in my view, we need humor and cheerfulness also in troubled times; I don’t see the rationale for targeting specifically people affected by COVID-19. In any case, being young is a great privilege, in all times and especially in these times; being a post doc in math is overall a great privilege even in bad times; feelingד of depression and anxiety are natural in troubled days but such feelings can turn into the main source of damage. Take care. I wish the best to you as well.

  6. Eitan Bachmat says:

    I think its a fantastic video, congratulations to the participants and thank you for producing wonderful theorems as well. These theorems inspire more work and that helps more people get jobs in TCS, so the participants do and have done a lot of community service either directly or indirectly and over many years.
    Ths is perhaps a good time to note that some TCS woman have worked directly on covid19 related work and I would like to single out Gal Yona of the Weizmann institute in that respect (thats the case I know best).

  7. Gil Kalai says:

    I added a poster regarding a meeting on June 17 initiated by the young Israeli Academy between Israeli postdocs abroad and the presidents of all Israeli universities plus experts in individual fields. Register before June 8.

  8. Ali says:

    I thought this was a wonderful and inspiring video, and this is coming from a “lowly graduate student at an average school” and not an academic elite.

    Some people do not like to see others happy, when they are not happy themselves – I think this is selfish. Many women probably loved to see this. I am a man and found this inspiring and it brought levity. Many of us seek entertainment and positivity, and do not demand the world tip toe around our misery. We are not seated together at a funeral, so why should we stifle our joy? What if there is a prolonged situation of hardship for some, say an economic recession, should we not publicly show joy for a number of years?

    It takes a certain type of person to see the most positive of videos and see the negativity they saw. If it is not appropriate for how you are feeling, stop watching it. Don’t try and stop positive content being shared for the rest of the world to see. That is not caring about the feelings of others.

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