Rutherford and Her Research Continue to Get National Attention

Julienne Rutherford, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Women, Children and Family Health Science was recently selected as a UIC Researcher of the Year “Rising Star” in the Clinical Sciences category.  She is also featured in a new podcast by the American Anthropological Association and was honored by them in 2011 as a Leadership Fellow. In 2013, she was a recipient of the inaugural Legacy Award from the American Society of Primatologists in recognition of the important contributions she has made as an early career researcher to the field of primatology.

Rutherford’s research revolves around a central interest in the dynamic maternal environment in which a fetus, from both human and non-human primates, develops. Her main interest is in the primate placenta as an interface between mother and fetus. Her research has been featured in American Anthropologist, Placenta, American Journal of Physical Anthropologists, American Journal of Primatology, American Journal of Human Biology, Obesity, and Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. She recently co-edited the volume Building Babies: Primate Development in Proximate and Ultimate Perspective. Her research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Society of Primatologists.

 Additionally, Rutherford and her work were highlighted nationally with the release of a new study published in July in the journal PLOS ONE.  As part of the study, 142 men and 516 women with experience in the disciplines of anthropology, archaeology, geology and other scientific specialties were surveyed.  While at work in the field, 64 percent of respondents reported they had experienced sexual harassment (inappropriate sexual remarks, comments about physical beauty, or jokes about cognitive sex differences, for example) and more than 20 percent said they had been victims of sexual assault (unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature, including touching, physical threats, or rape). Undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers were more likely than faculty members to report that they had been the recipients of unwanted sexual attention.

Respondents were recruited through social media outlets and on websites serving scientific disciplines that involve field research. An online survey asked them about their educational and professional status, gender, age, and experiences during field studies.  These findings made the researchers wonder if this could be one mechanism driving women from science. Female researchers reported most often that they were the targets of researchers who were superior to them in rank, either more-established researchers working at the same sites, or leaders of the research. Males were most often harassed or abused by their peers, according to the survey.

“Previous work by other researchers has shown that being targeted by one's superior in the workplace has a more severe impact on psychological well-being and job performance than when the perpetrator is a peer,” said Rutherford.  “This suggests that women may be even more burdened by sexual aggression in the workplace”, she said.

For many social, life and earth science disciplines, conducting research in field settings in an integral part of scholarship. Field settings often occur at a distance from a researcher’s campus, and frequently far from their home country.  Scientists who lead field studies are trained to raise and manage funds, follow research protocols and provide logistical support to their teams, but they are rarely trained to manage interpersonal conflicts that might arise in remote locations.

Rutherford said that the results of the study may "open a new window" as to why women outnumber men in the training stage of fields such as anthropology and biology, yet continue to be underrepresented in the professoriate.   "Many people in the sciences will be surprised that these kinds of abuses are still so common, thinking it was all in the past," she said. "Sadly, that’s not the case. And despite outnumbering men in many doctoral programs, women are still getting the message that they are not welcome as full members in academic society."

Additional Media Attention for Recent Study

Additional media attention for Julienne Rutherford for her recent study, 'Sexual Harassment and Assault in Field Studies':

Coverage of initial wave, April 2013:


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