Where science and tech meet creativity.

Back in 2015, I knowingly blew up my life.

That is not an exaggeration. That is not hyperbole. It is, quite simply, a thing I did because it was the right thing to do.

At the time, I was at the top of my career. I’d just been awarded a $12 million grant. I was an officer in multiple professional societies. My podcasting was continuing to grow, and I was traveling the world to promote science.

But then I gave voice to victims of sexual harassment who had been brave enough to come forward. I did what you are supposed to do as a society officer and a senior researcher – I reported the information that was brought to me. I did what I could to make sure this one particular man would never again harm any future women.

And I had a congresswoman’s aid. I worked with Congresswoman Jackie Speier to try and say “never again”. You can read about what happened here and google as you will. 

Honestly, this situation was the best a woman could possibly be in when reporting a sexual harasser. What happened to me should serve as a cautionary tale about why women are reluctant to report harassment and how our system works against them. 

In late 2016, I was sued for $33 million in a defamation case brought against me for reporting what those women told me, for sharing the evidence they brought me, and for sharing my personal experiences. 

Due to retaliation related to this lawsuit and all its trickle-down effects, I ultimately had to switch jobs twice, and my $12 million grant was canceled. A colleague trying to help me manage the situation was able to put together over 900 pages of documentation demonstrating how the cancelation was retaliation. The documentation was presented to the inspector general to no avail; there was no getting that grant back. 

And all the while I was being utterly isolated by the lawsuit. At one point, I had an employer (not my current) who forbade me from discussing the lawsuit on pain of being fired. I lost my savings because I couldn’t ask for help through a legal advocacy fund. I was isolated from friends because I couldn’t talk to anyone in confidence: the lawsuit sought complete access to all my social media, all my emails, all my other digital communications (like texts), and all my hard drives. (They didn’t ultimately get it, but how could I have kept talking to people and risked things getting read into the record?) I had to leave all Facebook groups where I’d found mentoring and community for fear that if I had to turn over my passwords, these safe places would be made public in my potential trial. This lawsuit, which continued on and on and on through 2020, drove me to isolation while allowing retaliation without real consequence.

And on the day the case was thrown out, someone tried to kill me. 

My beloved jeep of 20 years, which lived with its nose in our garage and its butt hanging out (our garage was designed for model Ts), had the lug nuts on its two rear tiles loosened. While a grad student who was living with us drove it down the highway, one of those tires flew off. Somehow, he was able to prevent the car from flipping. The police were never able to say if it was related to the court case, or anything else. All they could say was it looked like someone did it, we should get a dog that bites (Hi, Malachi), and maybe purchase some security cameras (we purchased sooo many security cameras).

And now we get to why I’m writing this essay.

A few weeks ago, I needed to be the adultier adult helping a young woman figure out how to handle being assaulted at her workplace and having her identity stolen by her ex-boyfriend. You’d think with the police involved that the dude would back off, but that’s not how this story ever goes. 

We were sitting on the floor sorting legos, and he kept blowing up her phone with messages that ranged from “I’ll kill myself if you don’t come back” to “I like the new color of your hair. I see everything” to threats of violence. In a desperate attempt to say something to cheer her up, I said, “Look… it could be worse… you could get sued for $33 million, and have someone try and murder you.”

I am not ok. At that moment, I realized just how not ok I am.

But I want to find a way back to being ok again.

Many negative voices are living rent-free in my head. There are the women – including senior women who give talks on DEIA all the time – who told me I don’t know what real abuse is and made it clear I should have kept my mouth shut. There are all the people who worked with me before this all started, but who never reached out to ask if I was ok. I’ve been told to my face that I’m the problem; that I’m the reason these things happen. (That one likes to put itself on repeat).

Then there is the silence. Just silence. My messages don’t get returned, and through back channels, I get told, “Tell her we can’t; there are too many harsh consequences from working with her.” 

I knew in 2015 when I got the evidence of what those women had experienced that I had to do something and that nothing would ever again be the same. I knew that women who reported harassment disappeared from our communities. When things go right, both they and the abusers lose their careers. I hoped to at least fall into that latter group. I just hoped no more women would be hurt.

From 2015 to 2020, I dealt with the harassment reporting and then the lawsuit. 

Then there was a global pandemic. We all know how that has felt on a variety of levels.

And now, in 2024, I’m trying to find a path forward so that I do, against all odds, get back the career I was on my way to having.

I don’t regret what I did. It was right. I would report what I reported over again. I just… I want to still be an astronomer.

After spending several years just trying to survive, I’m now focused on getting my research going again. (Hello, IRB forms. Hello, GitHub). I’m continuing over and over to try for grants. I will start actively seeking the speaking gigs that used to fall into my inbox. I am going to invest in taking a risk on me and doing what I need to do to prove I’m still the researcher and science communicator I was in the before times.

I cannot do this alone. 

Science is collaborative, and I know – because I keep getting told – that I’m not someone many of my old collaborators can work with because they are afraid it will affect their funding or they are afraid of retaliation. Or perhaps afraid on an even deeper level of the repercussions.

If you aren’t afraid, will you reach out? If you are looking for things to collaborate on with someone with me-shaped skills, will you reach out? I am here, and I need to do more than just survive. I need to explore the universe through data using citizen science, and I need to share what we learn with audiences everywhere.

Will you please reach out, so that we can build something great together?