Calling attention to meetings with skewed speaker gender ratios, even when it hurts, part 2

A few weeks ago I gave a talk at the Future of Genomic Medicine 2015 (aka #FOGM15) meeting.  The talk seemed to go over well.  I talked right after Martin Blaser in a session on “The Microbiome”.  I posted my slides and then a video of my talk as well as notes from the meeting: see My microbiome talk at #FOGM15 – the perils (and fun I guess) of redoing one’s talk at the last minute.  And I met some really interesting people at the meeting and enjoyed most of the talks I went to.

But alas, one thing stuck in my head from this meeting.  One single Tweet from someone out there threw me for a loop:

And this let to a bit of soul searching on my part.  Some of the conversations on Twitter are captured in this Storify:

Which I guess culminated in a post to the organizers of the meeting


Then, when I left the meeting I went to say goodbye to the organizers.  And, well, one of them did not take too kindly to the critique of the meeting, saying that they were doing a better job than other healthcare meetings.  I disagreed and said I thought they could do much better, but I had no numbers to cite at the time and the conversation ended there.

So on the way to the airport I started digging around for some numbers and I found some great resources – especially this from Rock Health.

And for the last few weeks I have continued to fester wondering – well – should I post more about this?  Should I dig into the gender ratio of the FOGM meetings in more detail?  Well, why do it?  Because I think it is important to know how meetings perform in terms of diversity.  Why not do it?  Well, I like Eric Topol and the other organizers.  And the meeting has many strong points.  But, as I wrote a few days ago – sometimes one needs to call attention to meeting gender ratio issues, even when it hurts.  

So then I decided to dig a little deeper and look at past versions of the “Future of Genomic Medicine”.  And, well, when I did this, things just do not look so good (detailed analysis is at the end of the post). (Note – for the numbers i counted all presenting slots – session chairs, keynotes, welcomes, etc.  The numbers are not much different if one counts just “talks”).

If one compares these meetings to the ones catalogued by Rock Health, the FOGM meetings are at the low end.  Not the worst certainly.  But definitely not something to be proud of.  And certainly something that could be improved upon enormously.  So I repeat the Tweet I posted during the meeting, and I stand by it, even if it means I am unlikely to be invited back and even if it means pissing off some big shots in the world of genomics …

If you are running a meeting, please consider the ways in which bias may creep into the speaker and session chair slots.  If speakers come from invitations, perhaps the invitation list is biased.  Perhaps certain types of people are more likely to say no to invitations.  Perhaps the timing of the meeting (e.g., on weekend) may lead certain types of people to not be able to participate.  Perhaps the meeting does not provide enough travel funds or child care or the right kind of schedule.  There are so many things that can lead to bias – from explicit bias against certain groups to very subtle implicit biases.  Consider inviting people from diverse career stages, which can open up speaking slots to more women and underrepresented minorities.  Consider providing child care.  Consider asking people why they say no to invitations to try and understand what is going on if many people say no.  Consider asking for help in finding speakers covering the diversity in the field.

If you do all these things, and the meeting still does not have diverse speakers, well, try some other things.  Keep trying to figure it out.  There are resources out there that can help.  Read things like Some suggestions for having diverse speakers at meetings (by me) and Ten Simple Rules to Achieve Conference Speaker Gender Balance (by Jenny Martin) and Increasing Diversity at Your Conference by Ashe Dryden (which is just completely awesome) and How To Create A More Diverse Tech Conference … and Would I attend my own conference? – O’Reilly Radar by Sarah Milstein.

Why is this important?  Well, speaking at a meeting is important for people’s careers.  It helps in merit and promotion and tenure cases.  It helps get their work recognized and known.  Speaking at a meeting is also good practice for speaking at other meetings.  Having diverse speakers also is important in terms of providing role models to attendees.  And having diverse speakers helps a meeting not just be about the same old, white, men talking about their ideas.  Or, in other words, it makes a meeting more, well, diverse.  And almost certainly more interesting.  And so on.  Diversity of speakers at meetings is important for 100s of reasons.  And don’t just focus on one aspect of diversity.  I post a lot about women speakers because, well, it is easy to make a reasonable guess as to whether a person is male or female.  But there are MANY other aspects of diversity to consider (see Increasing Diversity at Your Conference by Ashe Dryden (which I referenced above and which really is awesome).

Anyway – if you are organizing a meeting, make sure to think about these issues.  And do something about them.  And if you are invited to a meeting, look at the speaker list (if it is available) and consider saying no to speaking if the meeting has diversity issues (see a post of mine about doing this here: Turning down an endowed lectureship because their gender ratio is too skewed towards males #WomenInSTEM).

And if you are considering attending a meeting, consider diversity of speakers when deciding whether or not to attend.  Meetings with high diversity of speakers should be supported.  Meetings with poor diversity relative to possible candidate speakers (e.g., who is in the field) should be avoided, shunned, and called out.  We need to force change upon some fields and the only way will be to call out the bad apples.  Mind you, it is not possible to know WHY a meeting has a skew in terms of diversity of speakers.  Thus one additional thing to consider is whether something is a consistent pattern.  For example see my post about meetings from the National Academy of Sciences Sackler Colloquia – Apparently, the National Academy of Sciences thinks only one sex is qualified to talk about alternatives to sex #YAMMM. Sadly it seems to me that the FOGM meetings have a consistent pattern of poor representation of women among the presenters.  Unless the organizers commit to changing this, I think people should not attend this meeting in the future.


Detailed analyses of these meetings are below.

People I have identified as males are labelled in yellow.  People I have identified as females are in green.  I realize that this is an imperfect thing to do.  I may make mistakes in my inferences.  And dividing people into two categories is not representative of the true diversity in the human population.  But I still think this is a useful, informative thing to try to do.

2015 FOGM (schedule is from the one sent around to participants on 3/4/15)

  • Welcome
    • Eric Topol
    • Pateint #1 – Eunice Lee and Nilesh Dharajiya
    • Francis Collins
  • Session 1
    • Moderator Ali Torkamani
    • Diana Bianchi
    • Evan Muse
    • Stephen Quake
    • David Hoon
  • Session 2
    • Moderator Ali Torkamani
    • Mark McCarthy
    • Christopher Austin
    • George Yancopoulos
  • Session 3
    • Moderators Nathan Wineinger and Andrew Su
    • Atul Butte
    • Eric Schadt
    • Andrew Su
    • Joe Pickrell
  • Welcome Day 2
    • Patient #2
    • Eric Topol
  • Session 4: 
    • Moderator Ali Torkamani
    • Cristian Tomasetti
    • Nazneen Rahman
    • Roni Ziegler
  • Session 5
    • Moderators Kristin Baldwin and Fyodor Urnov
    • J. Keith Joung
    • Fyodor Urnov
    • TBD
    • Kristin Baldwin
  • Session 5
    • Moderator Kristian Andersen
    • Martin Blaser
    • Jonathan Eisen
    • Stephen Steinhubl
  • Session 6
    • Moderator David Goldstein  (he did not show up)
    • Elizabeth Worthey
    • Ali Torkamani
    • Seth Mnookin
    • Virginia Hughes
All speaker and session chair slots

  • Male: 30 (81%)
  • Female: 7 (19%)

Just speakers

  • Male: 23
  • Female: 6

2014 – Future of Genomic Medicine VII –  schedule from here

  • Welcome
    • Chris Van Gorder, FACHE
    • Eric J. Topol, MD
    • Patient / Family #1
  • Session 1
    • Frank McCormick
    • Bert Vogelstein
    • Elaine Mardis
    • Robert Nussbaum
    • Sarah Jane Dawson
    • Michael Pellini
  • Session 2
    • J. Craig Venter
    • Eric Topol 
    • Al Gore
    • Heidi Rehm
    • Muin Khoury
  • Session 3
    • Moderator Katrina Kelner
    • Leonid Kruglyak
    • Carl Zimmer
    • Magdalena Skipper
    • Chris Gunter
  • Session 4
    • Patient / Family #2
    • Athur Beaudet
    • Jay Shendure
    • Howard Jacob
    • Hakon Hakonarson
    • David Epstein
    • Nir Birzalai
    • Ali Torkamani
    • Jeffrey Hammerbacher
  • Session 5
    • Michael Specter
    • Jessica Richman
    • Andrew Feinberg
    • Russ Altman
    • Anne Wojcicki
    • Harry Greenspun
    • Zubin Damania


  • Male: 25 (76%)
  • Female: 8 (24%)

2013 – Future of Genomic Medicine VI – schedule from here

  • Welcome: Eric Topol
  • Patient / Family #1
  • Session 1:
    • Michael Snyder
    • William Gahl
    • Howard Jacob
    • Ali Torkamani
    • Gholson Lyon
    • Cinnamon Bloss
    • Misha Angrist
  • Session 2
    • Evan Eichler
    • Eric Schadt
    • Katrina Armstrong
    • George Weinstock
  • Session 3
    • Joe Ecker
    • Stephen Kingsmore
    • Stephen Quake
  • Session 4
    • Patient / Family #2
    • Siddhartha Mukherjee
    • Elaine Mardis
    • Daniel D. Von Hoff
    • Randy Scott
    • Susan Desmond Hellman
    • Elias Zerhouni
    • Janet Woodcock
  • Session 5
    • Peter Vesscher
    • David Goldstein
    • George Church
    • Jonathan Eisen
    • Atul Butte
    • AJ Jacobs
    • Neil Risch
    • Lonny Reisman
    • Daniel MacArthur


  • Male: 26 (84%)
  • Female: 5 (16%)

2012 Future of Genomic Medicine V – schedule from here

  • Welcome
    • Chris Van Gorder, FACHE
    • Eric J. Topol, MD
  • Joseph Beery and Family
  • Moderators: Samuel Levy, PhD and Eric J. Topol, MD
    • Samuel Levy, PhD
    • Matthew J. Price, MD
    • Julie Johnson, PharmD
    • Michael R. Hayden MB, ChB, PhD
    • William E. Evans, PharmD
  • Moderators: Evan Eichler, PhD and Sarah Murray,
    • Evan Eichler, PhD
    • Christofer Toumazou, PhD
    • Siddharta Mukherjee, MD, PhD
    • Sarah Murray, PhD
  • Moderators Nicholas Schork, PhD and Bradley Patay, MD
    • Hakon Hakonarson, MD, PhD
    • Isaac Kohane , MD, PhD
    • John A. Todd, FRS, PhD
  • Moderators Eric J. Topol, MD and Nicholas Schork, PhD
    • Howard J. Jacob, PhD
    • Joseph G. Gleeson, MD
    • Stanley F. Nelson, MD
    • Lynn Jorde, PhD (note – originalled labelled as female – corrected thanks to comment from Bruce Rannala)
  • Eric J. Topol, MD
  • Moderators: Aravinda Chakravarti, PhD and Richard Klausner, 
    • Aravinda Chakravarti, PhD
    • Joseph Nadeau, PhD
    • Nicholas Schork, PhD
    • Hakon Hakonarson MD, PhD
  • Moderator Eric Topol
    • Matthew Herper
    • Daniel B. Vorhaus, JD, MA
    • Issam Zineh, PharmD, MPH
  • Moderators: Elaine Mardis, PhD and Jeffrey Trent, PhD
    • Richard D. Klausner, MD
    • Thomas J. Hudson, MD
    • Jeffrey M. Trent, PhD
    • Daniel D. Von Hoff, MD
    • Elaine R. Mardis, PhD
  • Moderators: Samuel Levy, PhD and Fred Gage, PhD
    • Fred H. Gage, PhD
    • Bruce D. Gelb, MD
    • Joseph C. Wu, MD, PhD
All speaker and session chair slots

  • Male: 44 (88%)  45 (90 %)
  • Female: 6 (12%) 5 (10 %)

Just speakers

  • Male: 31 32 (91.4%)
  • Female: 4  3 (8.6%)

2011 Future of Genomic Medicine IV – schedule from here

  • Session 1: Moderators: Sarah S. Murray, PhD and Eric J. Topol, MD
    • Hannah A. Valantine, MD
    • Geoff Ginsburg, MD, PhD
    • Steve Shak, MD
    • Cinnamon S. Bloss, PhD
    • Matthew J. Price, MD
  • Session 2: Moderators: Bradley Patay, MD and Nicholas J. Schork, PhD
    • Kevin Davies, PhD
    • Thomas Goetz, MPh
    • Melanie Swan, MBA
  • Session 3: Moderators: Samuel Levy, PhD and Nicholas J. Schork, PhD
    • Kári Stefánsson, MD
    • Aravinda Chakravarti, PhD
    • Howard J. Jacob, PhD
    • Sarah S. Murray, PhD
    • James R. Lupski, MD, PhD
    • Nicholas J. Schork, PhD
    • Stephen L. Hauser, MD
    • David R. Bentley, D.Phil, F.Med.Sci.
  • Keynote: Juan Enriquez, BA, MBA
  • Session 4: Moderators: Robert L. Strausberg, PhD and Samuel Levy, PhD
    • Robert L. Strausberg, PhD
    • Elaine R. Mardis, PhD
    • Thomas J. Kipps, MD, PhD
    • Samuel Levy, PhD
    • Daniel D. Von Hoff, MD
    • Dennis A. Carson, MD
  • Session 5: Moderators: Eric J. Topol, MD and Bradley Patay, MD
    • Eric J. Topol, MD
    • Amy Harmon
    • Misha Angrist, PhD
  • Session 6: Moderators: Sarah S. Murray, PhD and Samuel Levy, PhD
    • Hakon Hakonarson, MD, PhD
    • Mark McCarthy, MD, F.Med.Sci.
    • Karen Mohlke, PhD
    • Stephen S. Rich, PhD
    • Philippe Froguel, MD, PhD
    • Muredach P. Reilly, MB, MS

All speaker and session chair slots

  • Male: 35 (80%)
  • Female: 9 (20%)

Giving thanks … Acknowledgements cannot be said / posted enough …

Got reminded on Twitter today about the Acknowledgements in my PhD thesis.







// I think Acknowledgements are a very undervalued part of science and I always have tried to spend serious effort remembering and thanking people who contributed to my work.  Science is not done in isolation and so many people play a role in each piece of work – and they deserve to be recognized and thanked if they helped in any way.

So – as part of this I am reposting my Acknowledgement section from my thesis here.  Many of these people are still part of my scientific and personal life and for that I am very grateful as well.

My thesis has represented a relatively long and twisting road. In acknowledging the people who have helped make this possible I think it is useful to provide some of the history of each of the projects and my scientific development along the way. I have tried to make these brief and have put them in somewhat chronological order.

I owe my general interest in science and science research to my parents, Howard and Laura Eisen and to my grandfather Benjamin Post. They did not force me to become a scientist, but they did help me learn how to think critically and to appreciate some of the wonders of science.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, I was very fortunate to interact with many great biology researchers and teachers. During that time, I become interested in evolutionary biology and in particular in molecular evolution. The people I am particularly grateful to include: Stephen J. Gould (for his excellent class on evolution which was my first introduction to evolutionary biology as a science); Wayne and David Maddison (who, as Teaching Assistants for Gould’s class, introduced me to computational evolutionary biology); Stephen Austad (for getting me interested in field biology research through the field “laboratories” for his Ecology class); Eric Fajer and Scott Melvin (for giving me my first experience designing a semi-independent research project for their Conservation Biology); Alan Launer (for lending me the equipment to collect fish from the pond, which, according to him, I never returned); William A. Calder III (for giving me my first experience as doing real science research at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory); Fakhri A. Bazzaz (for being an excellent advisor throughout my time at Harvard and afterward, and for giving me a chance to do my first truly independent research project); Peter Wayne, David Ackerly, and Susan Morse for helping me with the jet-lag experiment; P. Wayne, again, for hiring me as a research assistant and teaching me about science research and culture; Jennifer Doudna (for introducing me to molecular evolution and for teaching me how to critically read a scientific paper); Dennis Powers (for introducing me to molecular ecology), Colleen M. Cavanaugh (for too many things to list here including teaching me to keep a good notebook and to do controls for every experiment, for introducing me to microbiology, and introducing me to the powers of a phylogenetic perspective in biological research); Rob Dorit and Hiroshi Akashi who helped me learn how to do some molecular biology experiments; and all my other teachers and colleagues at Harvard including Woody Hastings, Karl Liem, Peter Ashton, and Otto Solbrig. 

And so, with a great debt to all of these people, I moved on to Stanford. Although I have officially worked on DNA repair in Phil Hanawalt’s lab, I have benefited a great deal from many people at Stanford including: Ward Watt (for teaching me about biochemical evolution), Sharon Long (who somehow taught me many valuable lessons in a short rotation project but in particular, for infusing in me the benefits of working on an organism that has good genetic tools available); Shi-Kau Liu (for help in initial projects and for initiating all of my work on RecA); Charlie Yanofsky (for many things but in particular for helping me realize just how powerful it is to have a crystal structure of the protein one is interested in); Kurt Gish, for help with sequencing and cloning; Allan Campbell and Richard Lenski (for helping me discover some of the flaws of adaptive mutation experiments and thus leading me to look for a new project); Patrick Keeling and W. Ford Doolittle for getting me started working on Haloferax volcanii; Mitch Sogin and the Woods Hole Molecular Evolution course (for teaching me how molecular evolutionary methods worked and how to think about evolutionary questions at the molecular level); David Botstein (for convincing me that teaching and research are not incompatible, despite what many Stanford professors try to claim); all the people involved in the SME core, in particular D. Botstein, Rick Myers, David Cox, Bob Simoni, and Brad Osgood; Rick Myers (for encouraging me to develop methods and ideas behind phylogenomics); my brother Mike Eisen for help with virtually everything; Sam Karlin and Volker Brendel for teaching me about mathematical methods in molecular biology, and for making me be more critical of some of the methods used in molecular evolutionary studies; David Ackerly for teaching me about the uses of evolutionary approaches in comparative biology; Russ Fernald for general advice on life and science as well as for valuable discussions on the uses of evolutionary analysis in molecular biology; Marc Feldman, for many helpful discussions about evolution; Steve Smith, David Swofford, and Joe Felsenstein for making the GDE, PAUP, and PHYLIP computer programs freely available; Steve Henikoff and Amos Bairoch for inspiring me to put information about the gene families I work on onto the World Wide Web; and many of the people I have collaborated with over the years including Bob Shafer and Michael Lerman. 

I am particularly grateful to my advisor Philip C. Hanawalt for allowing me the freedom to explore the areas of science that interested me and for being not only a great advisor, but a great human being too, showing me that one can do good scientific research without losing touch with ones humanity. I am also grateful to many of the members of the Hanawalt Lab including David Crowley, Justin Courcelle, and Jennifer Halliday.

Many people provided basic resources that helped me get my work done and get through my time at Stanford more easily including the library staff, in particular Jill Otto; Steve and Pat at the copy center; all the people in the Biostores especially Darnell, Joe and Manual; and all the people in the Biology Department main office.

On a personal level, I want to thank all of my many friends who have helped me get through graduate school whether it was by playing hockey and softball, going for bike rides, going hiking and camping doing many other things. These people include Bob Fisher, Chester Washington, Jochen Kumm, David Pollock, David Goldstein, Joanna Mountain, Mo Badi, Grant Hoyt, Becky Taylor, James Keddie, Healy Hamilton, Sinan Suzen, and Aviv Bergman. Many of these people are both good friends and colleagues.  

I am also grateful to my family, especially my brother Mike Eisen, my sister Lisa Eisen, and my mother Laura Eisen, my mother’s parents Annie and Ben Post, and my little brother Matthew Glenn, my uncle David Post, and my pseudo-brother Saul Jacobson for support and encouragement. And in particular, I want to thank Maria-Ines Benito for being there through all the good and bad times and for listening to me read sections of papers she had no interest in, and for proofreading various papers and for just about everything.

I dedicate this thesis to the memory of my father, Howard J. Eisen.