By Maayan Yehudai
Third year into my PhD, I was sitting on the subway, reading “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren, when something popped in my chest.
A sink opened in my stomach and my sight became a blur as tears started dripping on the pages. Luckily, you do sometimes see people cry on the subway, so I cried and cried on the train, relieved this one thing is not forbidden by the unwritten NYC subway book of rules. I cried as I got off the train and kept crying as I walked home. I kept crying for hours, mourning my dream of having to not sacrifice anything in the perfect enlightened world. I was crying because this book felt like a slap in the face to the helpless young girl I said goodbye to at that moment, who still believed she could “do whatever she wants” or “be whoever she wants to be” when she grows up.
 Jahren is a tenured professor whose book has presented one raw version of a woman’s trajectory in science.
Now, I want to share the story of starting the Gender and Diversity discussion Group at my institution, how it began and how it evolved. I want to share this story for the sake of anyone who could learn from my experience of doing science while building a better community. Many points in my grad school years were simply hell and very few people come out on the other side of doing a PhD and say: I am as sane and un-traumatized as I was before. I know I did not come out the same. It took me some time though, to embrace the change and to understand that I can be a part of the environment that makes me who I am and that I can actively belong, to create something anew, and that this lesson may be useful for other people as well.
What does “being a part of the environment that makes me who I am” mean?
Back in Israel, when I was preparing to move to NYC and start my PhD, I heard unsettling things about my new department, which is isolated from the main city campus. People were using terms such as ‘toxic environment’ and the numerous rumors about sexual harassment, bullying, and students dropping out sounded threatening. One of the first advice I got was that “I need to be confident and never seem weak” and that I need to prepare myself to be isolated and lonely…