Skip to main content


Documenting the Gender Gap in the Use of Titles in Academia

    The “Dr. Jill” (Biden) controversy swept social media like wildfire in early 2021, bringing yet another double standard for men and women to public attention . But to a female academic like me, “untitling” and “mistitling” has always been par for the course. For years, I would grit my teeth as I open an email from a new contact starting with “Hey Olga” or worse yet “Dear Mrs. Shurchkov.” If the email came from a student or advisee, I would try to awkwardly explain why addressing someone with a PhD this way is inappropriate. But it would not be as easy if the addresser were a professional colleague, especially if senior. My male colleagues never seemed to have to deal with this or to even care. (See Endnote 1 for a caveat about titles in Taekwon-Do.)     Before I go any further, let me first explain “untitling.” Linguistically, the prefix “un” implies the act of taking away, which in this case refers to a removal of an earned title that diminishes perceived authority and credibilit
Recent posts

The dreaded post

I stand at my kitchen counter and scarf down an egg bite I just microwaved.   This has been lunch since the start of the pandemic. One minute to microwave, one minute to eat, back to work. And, much of my work life has been like this.   If Evan is home, I stand at the kitchen counter, typing at my computer.   If Evan is at school, I sit in my makeshift office which is also my TKD room, zoom-ready at all times. When I’m in there, I almost never get up.   Home "office": View of wall and Taekwon-Do trophies. According to a survey I conducted with Tatyana Deryugina and Jenna Stearns last summer, since the start of the pandemic researchers lost about 50 min of research time per typical workday, and much of the time lost can be attributed to childcare disruptions due to the lockdowns, school closures, and lacking care infrastructure to pick up the slack.   And while fathers worked about 75 minutes less per workday due to Covid-19 disruptions, mothers worked almost two hours less.

Is COVID-19 turning back the clock on gender equality in academia?

     Almost overnight, COVID-19 turned me into an elementary school teacher, a housekeeper, a hair dresser, and a professional worrier – all things I am terrible at, with the exception of the latter.  My full-time job as an academic economist has become an afterthought: I now jot down research ideas between snack time and tantrums, read and write papers while I guiltily plug my kid into yet another device, and conduct Zoom meetings that are sometimes crashed by unexpected visitors.       As a full-time working mom, I am not alone.   Across the board, the disproportionate burden of the disruption created by COVID-19 is being borne by women, especially by those with young children and no other childcare options (see for example, here and here ).   The full effects of the pandemic on gender gaps in the labor market – my area of research focus – will take time to emerge. However, a quick look at the differential impacts on the productivity of male and female academics can give us

Redefine “Promotable”

I only wrote one post in 2019.  It was not for lack of inspiration or important topics, but rather because writing op-eds is a “non-promotable” task for me. Other examples include serving on a committee, speaking on a panel, and talking to the press about research.  So what is  “ promotable, ” you might ask ?    For an economics professor, it’s research. Actually, not so much the research itself, but publishing said research. (Somewhat tangential, here is a piece on bias in publication in economics and how it relates to promotions.)  At some institutions, teaching counts too, as long as you aren’t doing it “too well” or too much, so as to not get pigeon-holed as “teaching faculty.” In the world outside of academia, non-promotable tasks may include things like organizing a social event for the firm or serving on a committee.   Broadly defined, these are tasks that benefit the organization but likely don’t contribute to someone’s performance evaluation and career advancement.   It tur

Why I chose left

    A few weeks ago, on March 1, 2019, I wrote a seemingly innocuous post on Facebook seeking my network’s opinions regarding my most recent professional photos.   Specifically, I wrote: “ Time to pick my new work profile pic! What looks more “professorial” - left or right? ”    The two photos are reproduced below.       Little did I know that this post would generate the greatest number of non-birthday comments ever (87!).   On Instagram, the same post got 25 comments. Without even realizing it, I was conducting a survey experiment.   The photo on the left displayed only a hint of a smile, chin up, and head slightly tilted to the right. The one on the right had me smiling a toothy smile, chin down, and head tilted left.   Otherwise, the pictures were identical, down to the arm fold, slightly unruly hair, and outfit.   (The only give-away that I didn’t originally plan this as an experiment was the fact that the two pictures were cropped differently, with the one on the left more

Facing the challenges of everyday life, Part 2

Fall of 2017: my closet is out of control.  Bursting at the seams with hardly ever-worn party dresses, jackets, and jumpsuits, it still manages to be completely devoid of options.  How is this possible, I muse, digging through the racks, laden with hangers, each carrying two or more items. Among the multitude of impulse buys and total duds, I locate that 15-year-old black jacket, two sizes too big and 20 dry cleans past its prime.  I wear it with a belt, and it looks ok.      Fast-forward one year: I no longer fall for impulse buys, and I almost never dry clean anything! Thank you, unlimited membership at Rent the Runway .   In a nutshell, I rent clothes, keep the four items I pick as long as I want to, and then return (no dry-cleaning required!).  As soon as the returns arrive back at the distribution center, I can pick my next items (conveniently "hearted" in the app).  First, this is a perfect mental replacement for shopping (hello, commitment device!).  I no longer go

Redefining success

I can hardly believe it: last week marked the 10-year anniversary of my becoming a faculty member at Wellesley College.   Over the last decade, I’ve coached countless students through health crises, anxiety over recruiting for jobs, striking the right school-life balance, and struggling over seemingly impossible problem set questions.   But no concern looms larger for Wellesley college students than their angst over grades.      Grade anxiety isn’t just a Wellesley thing, of course. Yet the extreme extent to which grades define student experience at Wellesley has always bothered me, and never more so than now. Only at Wellesley would a student show up in her professor’s office after an exam not to argue about her grade, but rather to apologize for disappointing the professor.   Oftentimes that “bad” grade is a B+!  More importantly, it seems like this self-defined “bad” grade is viewed as more than just academic weakness. Students see it as a failure in life in general – a profoun