You Are the Advice Columnist: Should I Work With A Professor Who Objectifies Women?

If I had not heard him make those comments about bikinis, he would be the first person I would ask to be on my reading committee.

"I am in a graduate program in a tech field where women are traditionally under-represented. Scratch that -- just plain under-represented. 'Traditionally' implies that that is a problem of the past. I am more often the only woman in the room than not.

During the course of this quarter, I had the opportunity to spend extra time with a certain distinguished professor in my department, showing visitors to our department around campus, etc. During these relatively casual walks through campus, on multiple occasions I heard this professor comment on how he was sad that the fountains were not filled with water right now, because last year there were lots of girls in bikinis. This was said to industry professionals who are in a position to make hiring decisions at companies I want to work for, and in earshot of both me and other students in my program. It happened at least three times. To be clear, this was not a conversation that I eavesdropped on -- I was explicitly a member of a group of four people walking along and talking casually.

I have also heard him talk very negatively about specific female researchers, saying that a particular individual's thesis was done mostly by her husband. But he speaks very negatively about a lot of people, regardless of gender -- I haven't heard him speak positively about a female researcher yet, but that could be because there are honestly not that many of us.

So now I am faced with a hard decision. This professor is a very distinguished member of the department. He is an expert in subjects related to my thesis. He is held in very high regard by everyone, and in particular by my thesis advisor who is very close with him. Having this person on your reading committee is considered an honor, the assumption being that having him listed on your thesis lends greater credibility and weight. If I had not heard him make those comments about bikinis, he would be the first person I would ask to be on my reading committee.

(A reading committee decides whether or not to award a PhD. Often determined more than a year before the defense, and often has input/advice into the research content.)

I mentioned this to one of the other women in my program, and her response went something like, "oh man, you should totally tell him off for that..... wait, your research is in [his specialty], he might be on your committee -- do it after you defend."

Should I ignore these comments and ask him to be on my committee?

Should I ask my advisor for advice about this, which would mean telling him something negative about his close friend?

Should I just ask other people to be on the committee and pretend that it's a coincidence (no one will fall for that)?

Should I talk to the distinguished professor directly? If so, how do I broach this topic?"

Any words of wisdom for our reader? Let her know in the comments.

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