A Code of Conduct for Creating Productive Communities

We’ve just wrapped up admissions for the LSSTC Data Science Fellowship Program, and I am looking forward to introducing our wonderful group of students in the very near future! In the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to share the code of conduct I put together for our program. The following is by no means an entirely original work, and owes much of its language to existing resources (as noted below); it does, however, collect some basic principles and guidelines that I thought were important for setting the tone and expectations of our program.

In particular, I wanted to emphasize that the intent of this code is to create a learning environment that is challenging and productive. Our admissions process placed a great emphasis on curating a diverse group of students, and unfortunately I often hear people speak dismissively about community guidelines as though their main intent is to protect people from hurt feelings. Sure, it’s true that they can sometimes help people avoid hurtful conflict, but that is a bit besides the point– the point is that creating a safe space for the exchange of ideas and knowledge is how we get to excellence. It’s a big universe, and we must value all voices and contributions if we are going to unlock its mysteries.

Without further ado:

The LSSTC Data Science Fellowship Program Code of Conduct

The LSSTC Data Science Fellowship Program (DSFP) is committed to creating an inclusive, collaborative environment. The DSFP endorses guidelines regarding professional behavior, bullying, and harassment, of the American Physical Society (APS), American Astronomical Society (AAS), and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). These documents are linked below, and we expect that DSFP Fellows will read and abide by these guidelines. In addition, we summarize the main values and rules of the program below, which draw heavily from the linked APS/AAS/AURA documents, as well as additional online resources (such as the guidelines of the Recurse Center). 

Our Values:

The following three principles are intended to foster a learning environment that leads to rigor and excellence.  

1. Shared Responsibility. As scientists, and specifically as Fellows of the DSFP, each student is a citizen within the global community of scientists, and shares responsibility in maintaining the health of their community. 

2. Honesty. Quoting from the APS: “Science is best advanced when there is mutual trust, based upon honest behavior, throughout the community.”

3. Respect. Inclusive environments foster excellence by challenging us to consider a variety of viewpoints and approaches. We honor alternate viewpoints as opportunities for discussion and learning, and therefore treat others with respect, even if we disagree. Quoting from the AAS guidelines: “Scientists should work to provide an environment that encourages the free expression and exchange of scientific ideas. They should promote equality of opportunity and treatment for all their colleagues, regardless of gender, race, ethnic and national origin, religion, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, or any other reason not related to scientific merit.”

Principles of Engagement:

The following are a few basic social rules, adapted from those of the Recurse Center. These rules make explicit certain norms of social behavior that help uphold the values listed above, as well as the ethical guidelines we endorse. If you mess up on any of the below, don’t panic: we all make mistakes sometimes. Apologize, reflect, move forward. 

1. Raise all voices. During group work and discussions, pay attention to who is contributing. Invite contributions from quieter members of the group, and be conscientious of not dominating the conversation. We understand that it can be exciting to discuss a new idea, but always strive to listen (rather than just wait your turn to speak). 

2. No feigning surprise. In a learning environment, it is very important that people feel comfortable saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand.” Therefore, please do not act surprised when someone says they don’t know something, whether it is regarding a technical or non-technical subject (e.g. “What?! I can’t believe you don’t know what X is!”). Quoting from Recurse: “Feigning surprise has absolutely no social or educational benefit: When people feign surprise, it’s usually to make them feel better about themselves and others feel worse. And even when that’s not the intention, it’s almost always the effect.”

3.  No well-actually’s. As defined by Recurse, ” A ‘well-actually’ happens when someone says something that’s almost (but not entirely) correct, and you say, ‘well, actually…’ and then give a minor correction.” Well-actually’s interrupt the discussion and fixate on a minor, usually irrelevant point, often solely to make the person delivering the well-actually feel more important. If you feel the need to correct someone, take a moment to consider whether your correction is in the spirit of truth-seeking, rather than grandstanding, and whether it will provide a positive contribution to the discussion.

4. No -isms. The DSFP explicitly bans racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other kinds of bias— whether these behaviors are overt or subtle. Subtle -isms can be particularly tricky, as they are often unconscious behaviors we engage in by mistake, and are sometimes caused by conflicting norms between cultures. To use an example from Recurse, saying “It’s so easy my grandmother could do it” is a subtle -ism. If you experience these behaviors during the course of the program, you should feel free to bring it up directly with the person, or if it’s more comfortable, point out the behavior to a member of the DSFP leadership team. If someone points out that you have engaged in this behavior, it can be tempting to become defensive— but instead, we ask that you apologize, reflect a moment, and move on. If you do not understand why issue was taken with your behavior, the DSFP leadership will be happy to discuss it with you, so that everyone can learn from the experience. 


Further Resources:

AAS Ethics Statement, including “Conduct Towards Others”: https://aas.org/about/policies/aas-ethics-statement

AAS Anti-Harassment Policy: https://aas.org/policies/anti-harassment-policy

The APS Guidelines for Professional Conduct: https://www.aps.org/policy/statements/02_2.cfm

The Recurse Center Manual: https://www.recurse.com/manual#sec-environment

AURA Standards of Workplace Conduct: http://www.aura-astronomy.org/about/sectionB.asp

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