Harassment, diversity in science and inspiration from my grandmother

Today was a big day. I care about many things including diversity in science (STEM) and building a community of R users and developers in Mexico. Both moved forward in two completely separate conferences: one in Mexico: CDSBMexico; and one in Canada: JSM2018.


This was a very important day for me. It was the beginning of the Latin American R/BioConductor Developers Workshop 2018 in Cuernavaca, Mexico. I already wrote a blog post about why I was super excited about CDSBMexico, but briefly it’s because this is something we’ve been wanting to see become a reality for years and have been working towards it.

My job was to give the first keynote to pump up everyone at the workshop. So I had a bit of trouble sleeping and woke up remembering a dream. If you know me, I never dream: or never remember my dreams. It was a dream of my grandmother Mercedes Vides Tovar.


I have many things from my grandparents in me, like Juan’s joviality, Rosa’s love, Rolando’s tenacity to overcome tough moments. Or so I like to think. But my grandma, Abue, has always been an academic inspiration. She overcame many challenges in her life. She studied at the university to become a doctor, even without total family support (to avoid details). She was a trailblazer in the field of Epidemiology. She had to flee her native country leaving everything behind. She studied at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France while caring for 3 adolescents as a single mom. She studied in a time when WomenInSTEM had to disguise themselves up as men and were the targets of jokes all the time. Rolando, her classmate at the university, has told me a handful of these jokes: I wouldn’t be the only one to call many of them harassment. She left academia to start her own business in public health. She was the main health supervisor in the first international conference my dad organized early in his career (which helped him launch it): I was the 6 year old in charge of delivering the gifts in the closing ceremony ^^. She would answer my phone calls when I first started French school and my dad was busy at work: thanks to their time in Paris my dad fell in love with the French way of teaching math.

I actually don’t know much more. She passed away when I was 13 after a years long battle with disease. Google tells me that she is a co-author of at least three titles in the field of Public Health:

I did inherit her souvenirs from her trips (my dad also loves them) and something that is precious to me: a medal with her name. I’ve looked at that medal next to my bed in Mexico many times. I would look at it, search for inspiration, then try harder to solve whatever academic problem I had.

In my dream there was a moment where I was sitting next to her (me in my current adult form) and we were revising many of our shared moments. She was explaining to me things she couldn’t explain before because I wouldn’t have understood them. She also pumped me up before my day and wished me luck for my talk. I think that I delivered ^^


Today was a big day for WomenInSTEM and in particular in the field of Statistics. Why? Today the Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM2018) held a session on β€œAddressing Sexual Misconduct in Statistics” that was organized by Stephanie Hicks and chaired by Keegan Korthauer.

The session is not a direct response (I think) but it’s definitely related to Kristian Lum’s blog post titled Statistics, we have a problem and to the more general MeToo movement.

Sexual harassment and misconduct not a US problem only. We have a code of conduct at CDSBMexico both in English and Spanish to help prevent any issues.

I couldn’t be there, but I wasn’t the only one excited following what has happening online thanks to tweets from many including Mandy Mejia and Michael Hoffman.

Times are changing

I do think that slowly, maybe sometimes quickly, the times are changing. I’ve been telling friends and family for a few years now that I’ve come to realize that we need to keep trying to improve, to stay updated, to do what’s best and maybe sometimes come up with new ideas to improve things. I do care quite a bit for WomenInSTEM but for me, it’s larger than that. It’s about diversity. I don’t know in how many different ways we can label each other and it’s not the point. So yes, gender diversity is a good thing and initiatives like this seem like a good thing to do:

But then I think immediately of next steps, like race and ethnicity as well as sexual diversity. I want to ask for more, but I sometimes hold myself back. I’m no expert on many of these topics, so maybe what seems like a good policy could easily backfire later. So I think about incremental steps. But maybe that’s too slow and not enough. Maybe careers are suffering but I guess that as a community we are going as safely and fast as we can.

I’m not supporting whoever Michael was referencing in his next tweet. I don’t flirt at conferences: I do socialize and try to make new friends with fellow conference attendees. I do acknowledge that I struggle in my head with what is ok and not ok to do, particularly with people you spend at lot of time with at school, work, etc. I’m not certain of the boundary between clumsy dating skills and sexual misconduct in some scenarios. I think that I’m not the only one because I’ve heard different versions in different sexual harassment prevention sessions. So mostly I end up doing nothing yet sometimes I wonder if I lost out because I didn’t try a bit more with X person. For instance, Mercedes maried her classmate Rolando. What can I say, I’m still learning and we all probably need to learn to differentiate these boundaries better through more training.

I also know that sometimes I’ve been a bystander and failed to take action. So this next idea sounds good to me. I do try to intervene more now, specially with micro aggressions: because they are less high pressure situations and easier to do something about, at least that’s how I feel.

To close my post, I encourage you to check their request for feedback!

And if you are an R non-cis male person, you should totally join the R-Ladies community slack!


This blog post was made possible thanks to:


[1] C. Boettiger. knitcitations: Citations for β€˜Knitr’ Markdown Files. R package version 1.0.10. 2019. URL: https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=knitcitations.

[2] H. Wickham, J. Hester, and W. Chang. devtools: Tools to Make Developing R Packages Easier. R package version 2.2.1. 2019. URL: https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=devtools.

[3] Y. Xie, A. P. Hill, and A. Thomas. blogdown: Creating Websites with R Markdown. ISBN 978-0815363729. Boca Raton, Florida: Chapman and Hall/CRC, 2017. URL: https://github.com/rstudio/blogdown.


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