December 8, 2019
Want to be more inclusive? Stop making geology conferences about the beer.
Posted by Laura Guertin
Twitter feeds are filled the week prior to and of the AGU Fall Meeting such as this:
The craziest week of the year begins… at my gate to board a flight to the City by the Bay for #AGU2019! Around 25,000 geoscientists are about to descend on San Francisco to talk rocks and drink beer. Who’s ready?
— Kayla Iacovino (@kaylai) December 7, 2019
And as I’ve been reading the amazing powerful EOS series on diversity, equity and inclusion, I’m being reminded of all the other tweets I’ve seen this past year about the role of alcohol at conferences – particularly during poster times and networking sessions. Here’s a few tweets I’ve collected over the past year, which are important to think about, reflect upon, and then decide if we are turning away potential students and colleagues and/or even our current AGU members with this identity and connection between beer and geology (actually, not just geology but science disciplines overall, as not all of these tweets are from geologists or in reference to geology conferences).
I’m starting with this take-home message:
Hey fellow academics, this might not have occurred to you, but it’s important that we stop having networking and info sessions centered around alcohol. Many people avoid alcohol for deeply personal or religious reasons. When events are focused on alcohol, it marginalizes people.
— Dr. Rebecca Kreitzer (@rebeccakreitzer) November 19, 2019
Some other tweets on the topic:
And I continue to find the close relationship between beer and geology troubling. https://t.co/ACQ5gfJDga
— Erik Klemetti (@eruptionsblog) February 22, 2019
I know this is a minority opinion but I dearly wish alcohol consumption was a less ubiquitous feature of any social event involving scientists. Scientists are amazing, interesting, curious people & we can network just fine without using alcohol as a recreational social lubricant.
— Tanentzapf Lab (@TanentzapfLab) March 2, 2019
This is a relief to see, thank you. As someone who used to drink and chose sobriety, I find it super hard going into science events where I want to engage intellectually but end up feeling left out and anxious because of alcohol, and often pressured to drink.
— Hasreet Gill (@HasreetGill) March 2, 2019
No joke, this was a major factor in my grad school decision (I was fortunate to be choosing between great research options). At most recruiting weekends, they took us to bars. I went to the school where we played word games. 🤓
— Dr. Jayatri Das (@JayatriDas) March 3, 2019
And this thread…
To the PIs who follow me: alcohol has a strange place in academic culture, so be mindful of your attitude towards it. Even if you aren’t deliberately trying to communicate that the only way to fit into your lab is to drink, your actions and attitude may speak for you.
— Isabel Ott (@DiagnosticChick) May 27, 2018
I also think we should have more dry events because it’s exclusionary for people who can’t be in a space with alcohol due to their religion. That being said my concern is people would just leave to go drinking together… there has to be a balance somewhere though.
— Dani Rabaiotti (@DaniRabaiotti) March 2, 2019
It’s important also to not call-out our colleagues who are not drinking:
Reasons someone may not be drinking (none of which are anyone’s business):
-An alcoholic or recovering alcoholic
-It’s a faith-based decision
– Pregnant (and potentially not open to telling anyone)
-THEY DON’T WANNA https://t.co/uoRn1Tq7sm
— Lee Constable (@Constababble) February 24, 2019
Hey academia, please do not make social events for trainees mostly about booze/beer. Be mindful that some may suffer from alcohol use disorder or avoid alcohol for religious or cultural reasons.
— Bita Moghaddam (@bita137) August 19, 2019
Stated so well in the last sentence of this tweet:
Making sure every event has non-alcoholic beverages is the most important, as you never know why someone might not want to consume alcohol, and frankly it’s none of our business.
— christine liu 🌿 two photon art (@christineliuart) March 4, 2019
How many of us have directly spoken to our students and/or informed them ahead of time that someone may walk up to them at their poster with beer in hand? One undergraduate student in the past shared with me that she was extremely uncomfortable with the drinking going on during her poster and felt that the conference wasn’t taking her or her work “serious” with free beer being distributed in visible site of her poster. Also, this tweet:
This is an important topic! I had never thought of poster sessions with alcohol differently, as it is a way for scientists to bond. But recently a student told me that seeing alcohol while presenting poster is anxiety-provoking, as her family has a history of alcohol abuse.
— Abha Karki Rajbhandari (@CosmicOmBrain) August 20, 2019
Unfortunately, this isn’t just an issue in geology. There was a powerful article written about Alcoholism in Archaeology (not focusing on conferences, but fieldwork).
Is it time to start breaking down that identity that geology and beer go hand-in-hand, that you can’t be one without having the other?
I am uncomfortable when people think you can’t be a “real” geologist if you don’t drink. Feels very exclusionary. I never drink during interviews and hate when I have to explain that I am small, get tipsy easily, and that seems inappropriate given the setting. https://t.co/3n4v0vvvsU
— Nicole Gasparini (@NMGasparini) March 10, 2019
What are we to do? I don’t know the answer to this. But I wonder how many people are being excluded from our community (at least conference settings) which is then decreasing our diversity and impacting our inclusion efforts.
Perhaps we could start with how we promote receptions and the wording we use. Here’s a description from the 2019 AGU Fall Meeting online program:
It’s a conversation that needs to move beyond Twitter and into our departments and professional organizations.
The following is an important message from Lauren Parr, Vice President of AGU Meetings:
“I wanted to clarify what we offer at the daily Refreshment Breaks at Fall Meeting. AGU provides attendees infused water, coffee, tea and a wide assortment of sodas and seltzers as well as beer. We do this specifically to ensure that there are choices for everyone.
“If someone feels unsafe for any reason, please seek out AGU staff, Board or Council member or volunteer who is wearing a green “Safe AGU” button. This button indicates they have completed training to assist anyone who has experienced unsafe or inappropriate behavior. Additional information about Safe AGU is available: https://www.agu.org/Learn-About-AGU/About-AGU/Ethics/SafeAGU
In January 2017, the blog The Feminist Forester wrote up “What’s wrong with conference networking”
“Since we know that true networking happens outside of talks, this is a huge problem for anyone wanting to increase diversity in their lab, department, college, or institution. We need more options to make people feel welcome if we ever want them to stick around and give their input. Student mixers that don’t focus on booze consumption. Conference centers with more options than just a pub. Scheduled networking sessions with coffee or fro yo (as was suggested by another dear friend).”
Read the full post – https://feministforester.com/2017/01/12/whats-wrong-with-conference-networking/
An article in Science titled “In some disciplines, heavy drinking is part of the culture. That can be a problem.”
by Allison Miller, Dec. 6, 2018 — https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2018/12/some-disciplines-heavy-drinking-part-culture-can-be-problem
[…] talked about in science. In many places, science social events (as discussed elsewhere in Science, AGU) are planned around alcohol and this creates a rather big problem for those who don’t […]
[…] I tweeted on the 2-year old blog post form AGU, see the […]
A related blog post on June 21, 2021, by Oliver Pourret – Want to be more inclusive? not everyone is like me and drinks beer – https://olivierpourret.wordpress.com/2021/06/21/want-to-be-more-inclusive-not-everyone-is-like-me-and-drinks-beer/
Alcohol is not the reason I go to poster sessions – it’s how I’ve endured them, as an attendee and as a presenter. Too many people in an enclosed space made me uncomfortable way before COVID, and going forward that will only become worse, and probably not just for me. One weak beer or cup of wine tamps down my flight response enough that I can focus on the science and endure what is an inherently unpleasant environment. Absent that and there’s no way I’m in that effing hall, either to see posters or to present one.
From Nature (December 20, 2021) – Reconsidering the role of alcohol in the scientific workplace
(Some societies and event organizers are rethinking their alcohol policies in a bid to be more inclusive) – https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03773-z