16

As I work my way through my academic career (second-year PhD student), I am confronted with many stats and instances of gender bias in the publishing process (see references below). Of course for double-blind peer reviews, this is not an issue, but for others it may be. I’ve also seen stats that indicate that female first-authored papers receive fewer citations, even after taking into account the historical gender lag of fewer female publications.

So the question I’ve been pondering is: Should I use my initials (first and middle) when submitting papers as an attempt to introduce gender neutrality into my work? I am lucky that I have a relatively unique last name (nothing like Smith) so I’m not very worried about identity.

Is this a good idea? Are there any further pros and cons I may not have considered?

References

  • Discussion about the existence of the presumed effect and answers in comments have been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Jan 19 '19 at 8:02
  • Actually, I don't think so, as long as nowadays we have very reputed female researcher and I did research and I found they don't use the first two Initials! I think that the good work regardless of gender presents itself. – user103209 Jan 19 '19 at 23:33
7

If you feel at risk in your profession for such things, then, certainly, establish a professional persona for yourself that will help assure fairness. Whether it is necessary or not, or backed up by statistics, is irrelevant. If you feel at risk, do what you think is best.

I would also suggest that you get some advice from a female mentor or professor about this. What have their experiences been? I'd guess their advice would be pretty good.

But I'll add, that you should think about making that a permanent persona that won't change in the future. You want your complete history to be traceable through a single name, even as your life changes. You can be A professionally, and B personally, as long as no fraud is intended.

I once should have changed my name, but didn't. Things would have been better for me had I done so at the time. The issue was completely different, but it had consequences.

5

Based on extensive anecdotal evidence, not stats, I'd recommend, yes, using first two initials and then surname, if your surname is sufficiently unusual so that (e.g., if/when you google yourself with those parameters) you are "unique".

Yes, be sure to set up ORCID and similar, as mentioned in another answer, to disambiguate yourself, and to allow for future modifications.

I say this based on long-term observation, in math in the U.S., of perhaps inadvertent presumption about gender and such... Better to avoid it entirely, even if things are not as wildly prejudicial as decades ago. Dodge it.

Yes, I know there is a big issue here, which my advice might be seeming to ignore. In effect, later, when you are established, you can make the professional-ideological point that you were ... who you are ... all along. On practical grounds, I'd tend to recommend against too-aggressively mixing ideology and professional issues, for a beginner, since you'll tend to not get your foot in the door at all, and be dismissed as marginal. Get a little credibility first, and then you'll be better able to do something about the (visible, if subliminal to many people) inequities that exist in the system.

EDIT: Thanks to @DanRomik for some insightful comments... which among other things made me think that a fuller explanation of my rationale for the advice would help people evaluate it.

So, first, yes, in general, short-term, when one is acting on one's own as a not-so-powerful person, it may be best to try to "stay under the radar", unless one chooses to risk martyrdom of some sort. I cannot give advice about nuances of self-immolation, so I tend to give advice about how to avoid it... which may not be the universally correct choice, I understand.

In mathematics, in the U.S., in my observation, the biggest bias issues are not about overt, explicit bias (though there is quite a bit of that), but unconscious bias. That is, I know very many good mathematicians on hiring committees who would never consciously select against women, ethnic minorities, etc., ... but nevertheless mysteriously functionally do so. If accused of somehow being biased, these honorable people would be hurt and absolutely deny any intent of discrimination.

Yet they do discriminate. Wow, how to make a policy to prevent this? Obviously it is easy to prohibit overt bias, etc., even tho' people with conscious biases can figure out how to circumvent such... but how to outlaw (acting upon) unconscious biases?

For that matter, people without conscious bias, but with unconscious ones, and who otherwise strive mightily to behave ethically and with a good social conscience, will (apparently!) have extreme difficulty understanding that there does continue to be a problem ... since, supposedly, biased behavior is illegal... "Equal Opportunity"... "Affirmative Action"... and so on... ?!?!

In my own case, in general social terms, I had not really thought of the possibility until my daughter explained to me "beneficent sexism": guys hold doors open for gals, all that. Nothing overtly mean about it, but, duh, yes, lotta problems.

And, no, not "equality", but "equity".

Now and then I think about the semi-voluntary martyrs of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. c. 1964. My question in that case is whether that's what it really took? To read LBJ's memoirs, it probably did. What's the analogue for gender equity?

  • So, you would “recommend” to all women, in any academic discipline (I didn’t see you qualifying your recommendation with any specifics), to hide their gender when they are trying to publish? Without passing judgment on the recommendation itself, I’d like to call attention to just how big of a deal this is. You are in effect saying that there is something so horribly wrong with academia, that all of us should immediately get off our chairs, and... do nothing, except for the victims of that wrong, who should discreetly modify their own behavior to avoid harm to their careers. ... – Dan Romik Jan 19 '19 at 21:50
  • ... Do you see how it might be a bit problematic for you to be offering this advice, especially as someone who does not belong to the group of people who would have to live with the consequences of following your recommendation (in either direction)? Even if the problem you are pointing to is as bad as you make it out to be (I don’t feel qualified to enter that debate, frankly), isn’t the action you are advocating simply a cop-out, or a work-around that obviates the need for you and other senior people in academia to create mechanisms that would ensure women don’t suffer unfair discrimination? – Dan Romik Jan 19 '19 at 21:54
  • (For example, you could be advocating for all authors, male and female, submitting papers for peer review to be required to initialize their first names - this seems more fair to me than just telling women to do this.) – Dan Romik Jan 19 '19 at 21:56
2

As an author, you can choose any variation of the name you will put on your manuscripts. People use initials instead of full names for a variety of reasons, including very long names, names which are hard to write using English letters, names which are hard to read correctly, etc. If you want to abbreviate your name for whatever reason, do it.

It is a good idea to stick to one form of your name to keep build your publication track record. However services like ORCID help you maintain your track record even if you change your pen name later for any reason.

2

If you use only your initials, readers and reviewers (in non-anonymous refereeing) will either default to assuming that you are a man or, less likely, make no assumption about your gender.

It is plausible that this strategy will protect you from being discriminated against. Without being able to guess your gender from your name, readers and reviewers can't take your work less seriously just because you are a woman.

You're asking whether this strategy will "promote gender neutrality". If by this you mean whether using initials will promote gender equality in science, the answer is clearly no. To the contrary, one more woman scientist will become invisible; prejudiced people will have one less chance to correct their false assumptions; and, to generalize a bit, it will appear as if only men produce publishable research.

I am not arguing for or against hiding your identity; I am just pointing out the implications, so you can base your decision on them. As to what consideration should be more important, that is for you to decide. Regarding the strategic question of picking your battles, Paul Garrett's answer is good advice.

-9

Even if there is an impact, I suspect it is very minor. And then you are giving up some of the benefits of having your name out there to begin with (harder to search). Given your statements, it seems like cites and thus notability is a motivation for you. So I think it is counterproductive to cloak your name.

My guess is gender is immaterial or if anything a positive. (IOW, I don't buy that a stats difference must be the result of discrimination. Of course we would have to do really controlled experiments to see that...blind/unblind, not just factor controls). I suspect that biased judgment stemming from prestige of university is much stronger. Even ethnic bias is, I suspect stronger than sex bias. Both of these of course are much harder to cloak.

But in any case, I believe your mindshare is better spent on the work and doing it as well as possible and promoting it as well as possible versus contemplating injustices.

  • Why you are getting downvotes: The effect isn't merely presumed, the question quotes three studies; that other biases also exist doesn't make the bias in question go away; other answers explain how it is possible to work around the problem you mention in the first paragraph; your 'advice' in the last paragraph comes across as rather arrogant and dismissive. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jan 19 '19 at 13:34

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