Hello, My Name Is....
Transitioning to one's preferred identity can be challenging on its own. The Name Change Initiative, launched in 2021, aims to make the logistical hurdles to accomplish this as simple as possible for our transgender colleagues – and anyone else whose identity changes during the course of their career. The Name Change Initiative is a coordinated effort among U.S. National Labs and publishing institutions, led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, that focuses on making it easier for transgender scientists to change their name on published works.
In this interview, conducted by Berkeley Lab's "A Day in the Half-Life" podcast in 2021, two initiative leaders join a transgender scientist who has faced the difficulties of transitioning openly and changing her name on past work, to share their stories.
Presenting: A Day in the Half-Life
Berkeley Lab's podcast, A Day in the Half-Life, explores the past, present, and future of STEM fields through fun, down-to-earth interviews with researchers. Check it out to learn origin stories behind today's cutting-edge science & technology, where exciting new advances could take us, and to get an inside scoop on what a day in the life of a scientist is really like.
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MATT DOZIER: Welcome to Direct Current – An Energy.gov Podcast, I’m your host, Matt Dozier. Today we’ve got something a little different for you. June is Pride Month, so we wanted to share a special episode that originally aired last year on Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s podcast, A Day in the Half-Life. It’s about scientists who transition to a new identity, and the challenges that come with making that transition, in a field where your professional reputation is closely tied to the name on your published research. But a new initiative is working to make it easier for transgender scientists to get the credit they deserve. A Day in the Half -Life is produced and hosted by Aliyah Kovner at Berkeley Lab. It explores the past, present and future of STEM fields through interviews with researchers. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts, and I highly recommend you check it out. We’ll have a link in the show notes at energy.gov/podcast. That’s all for now — here’s the episode.
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ALIYAH KOVNER: Ben Barres, a trailblazing neuroscientist, transitioned to a male identity in 1997 at the age of 47. He was the first openly transgender scientist to be elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences and devoted much of his time to mentoring female and LGBTQ scientists, having seen firsthand how difficult it can be to navigate straight-male-dominated stem culture as someone who doesn't fit in that box. He was a famous and highly respected scientist, and yet he still struggled to connect the research he had done under his previous name to the research he was doing under his chosen identity. He once recounted overhearing a fellow Stanford professor say, "Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister's." For scientists, their career's legacy is etched by their public papers, the lectures they've given, the panels they've led, and the citations they've received. Having that legacy fractured by a name change from a gender transition -- or one of the many other reasons to change one's name -- can have a hugely detrimental effect. And yet scientists like everyone else deserve to conduct their professional lives with the identity they choose without facing inequitable hurdles. These days it's getting easier for transgender scientists to live openly, but the practical challenges of name changes remain. So Berkeley Lab is coordinating an effort to help make this easier. We, alongside other labs and institutions, are working with major publishers to create streamlined and private processes for researchers to reach out and retroactively change their names on published works. I spoke with two folks at the front of this initiative, Lady Idos and Joerg Heber, as well as Amalie Trewartha, a transgender scientist who has firsthand experience with the difficult bureaucracy of name changes.
LADY IDOS: My name is Lady Idos, I'm the labs first chief diversity equity and inclusion officer in the laboratory directorate. And I'm happy to be in this role and contribute to IDEA at the lab, which is inclusion, diversity, equity, and accountability.
JOERG HEBER: I'm Joerg HEBER I'm the research integrity officer at the lab I use he/him pronouns. I look after research integrity and how we do research at the lab,
AMALIE TREWARTHA: I'm Amalie Trewartha, I use she/her pronouns. I am a postdoc here at the lab in the material science division, and I study, broadly, applications of AI to material science.
ALIYAH KOVNER: To start out, Lady, could you give me a sense of where the push for this initiative came from?
LADY IDOS: Yeah, thanks Aliyah. So let me actually start out by talking about Joerg and having him be on board, because I was really pleased to hear about Joerg being hired at the lab last December as our new research integrity officer reporting to our deputy lab director. So as our new RIO, or research integrity, officer Joerg is charged to lead lab wide efforts to help researchers with best practices, including high standards for research integrity and ethical behavior. What I was also pleased to learn in, in conversations with Joerg is that in his previous role, he was the editorial director at public library of science or PLOS and editor in chief of PLOS one. So he had this rich background in the publishing world. So he told me about an idea that he had for collaboration to try to help our transgender researchers come up with a more streamlined way of getting their names changed with publishers and to see if we can help coordinate an effort and workflow with various publishers and even involve other National Labs, perhaps even the UC system in the future. We'll see. So this is how it came about. We can talk a little bit more about where it's at right now, but I'm just very pleased to partner with Joerg on this effort.
ALIYAH KOVNER: And Joerg, it sounds like you were a driving force for this initiative when you came into the lab. For you, was it something that you had been just thinking about a lot on your own, or was it something you'd already sort of been developing as a plan previous to joining Berkeley Lab?
JOERG HEBER: Yes, I've been, I've been exposed to sort of the concerns from the community around this for a little while. When I was editor in chief, even a few years back we had requests to change names and publish papers, and I did that in a very ad hoc manner. But then starting sometime last year or the year before some publishers have started to have formal policies around changing names on published papers. And I thought this was a way it's a, it's a great initiative. And at the public library of science, at PLOS we implemented a similar policy. And in response to that policy, a number of transgender researchers approached us and said, "This is fantastic it's very useful." but if you have worked in research for quite a while, then you may have a very long catalog of papers and articles and research outputs where you need to change your name. And this is it's, it's quite a burden logistically, emotionally. And so there's, there's still problems that need to be solved. There wasn't too much that I could do on on the publisher side because we can only control the papers that an author has published at a certain publisher. But coming to the lab I thought, okay, well, this is one of the problems we can tackle. And that's when I partnered with Lady and we thought, okay, can we make a difference here? Can we support at least the researchers that at Berkeley lab or even the other, other National Labs in organizing these changes.
ALIYAH KOVNER: So you wanted to create this initiative so that it wouldn't have to be each individual scientist facing this issue, up against the bureaucracy of the journals?
JOERG HEBER: Yes, exactly. If you had published 20, 30 papers you need to contact potentially each and every journal office separately. If you have other items that you published, like preprints, so that's something that you publish before you post online before you publish a paper, then that needs to be changed. There may be data sets that are published or other items so it can be a fairly long list. And, and the bureaucracy of changing, it can also be quite cumbersome. But potentially Amalie has, has tried to, has tried that, and maybe [knows] a bit more about those kinds of efforts.
AMALIE TREWARTHA: Yeah. I mean, just as someone who's been through this as an individual academic, trying to change my papers, like I ... my research career is only eight-ish years old that I've been actively publishing and there was still four separate publishers I had to contact and each one of those had their own policy, their own systems. Of those four, three of them didn't have a policy at all before I contacted them. And then it's quite a lot of effort in terms of just like explaining why this is necessary and justifying it. And it is, it's a lot of work. Even though I was fortunate enough that each of those publishers responded positively to my request, which is not always true, even then --like best faith efforts from both sides -- it ended up taking up a lot of my time. And so it would be a huge deal if I could've just talked to someone at the lab and having all of this done on my behalf, it would have taken a lot of work off my plate.
ALIYAH KOVNER: So to kind of zoom out a little bit, and, and kind of discuss the history of transgender scientists and what the culture of STEM has been like over the years, because this is obviously a great milestone moment where you know, such a practical change is being made, but could any of you speak to what that has been like historically?
LADY IDOS: Yeah. this is Lady I can speak on that a little bit. So you know, several years ago we were, you know, hearing different challenges from our transgender researchers and colleagues around you know, just challenges around changing their names just at the lab, right? So all the different systems and, you know, the, the whole coming out process to your colleagues and also letting your external collaborators know, and, and just all of that just administratively and emotionally is, as you mentioned just really, really was impactful. And we wanted to find a way to how, to have a way to support our trans colleagues. So back in 2015 was the very first ERG or employee resource group at the lab, which was, which is Lambda Alliance, which is an employee resource group that supports our LGBTQ+ colleagues here. And we undertook one of our initial projects is to launch the very first workplace gender transition guidelines at the lab. And from what I can tell, or from what I know, I believe it's one of the first, or at least the first in the UC system and perhaps even in the national lab complex. So we were, you know, part of that leading pioneering stage of putting that out there. And so, you know, I think having that transition guidelines out there really articulated, you know, what will the institution help you with in terms of changing names within the systems and what can we help take off your plate so that, you know, you, this is the role that you have to do in terms of, you know now making this announcement to colleagues, but, you know, we can help with trying to minimize some of those burdens institutionally. So I think this is just an extension of that, but even more at a bigger stage and more international level, so to speak because we have different, you know, researchers all over the world and if we can help them with this coordination and you know efficiencies and workflows and having a national lab, a coordinated effort, and we're hoping to get all National Labs on board with this, I believe it's the first of its kind in any kind of institutional group. So you know, this is exciting for us, so we love, we love to, you know, get in front of this and innovate, and we're just really happy to partner with other National Labs on this.
AMALIE TREWARTHA: Can I just jump in with maybe a couple of thoughts on that? So something that I really like about this initiative is that so far the processes [for name changes on papers] has been largely grassroots driven by individual researchers. And there's just a world of difference in the way a publisher reacts when an individual contacts and asks for something versus when a representative of National Labs contacts them and asks for something. And I'm really excited that the potential, this has to kind of tip things over in the sense that now publishes will feel like an obligation to have a policy, whereas before it was very scattered and each policy was basically ad hoc written on its own. So I joined the lab in early 2019, which was sometime after the transition guidelines had been set up. And so there was a decent amount of infrastructure in place for basically people whose preferred name was not the same as their legal name, but there's still a long way to go. There's a lot of systems where somebody's name is included and so I was encountering a lot of occasions where my legal name would inappropriately be used and it would out me, or dead name me to someone. And the feeling that you get from that as a trans researcher is that this is an institution that was not designed for you. That was not designed for, with people like you in mind, and even above and beyond the amount of work it takes to deal with each of those signs, like having an office that will deal with publishers on your behalf is a really important way to counter that. And so it's not just about the amount of work or actually having this done [on your behalf], it's about a symbol of inclusion.
LADY IDOS: Yeah. if I can add to that too. Thank you, Amalie, for sharing, that's really powerful. Just feeling like this is a place for you, in that we, we include you in the ways that we're thinking about our policies and the way that we're thinking about, you know, making sure that you feel supported, I think was really the intent of the transition guidelines to begin with. And so I think this effort is a continuation of that, but I also think it probably is not the last, right. There's probably other things that we might encounter in the future that we can join forces even with other organizations to try to make things better you know, for our trans colleagues. So thank you so much for sharing that.
JOERG HEBER: Yeah, I think it's also really important for the academic community because publishing research, publishing papers is one of the important ways in which the community assumes credit, provides credit to researchers. And if you don't get this credit under your preferred name, you know, this is, this is a problem, and we need to make sure that in the academic community, we provide everybody with a credit for their intellectual output in the right way. So I think that that's a very important problem for the community to solve as well.
ALIYAH KOVNER: So Amalie, you mentioned having to do a lot of this sort of on your own as an individual reaching out to journals. Are you now at the point where all of your work is under your preferred name?
AMALIE TREWARTHA: I am getting there. Most of it is now under my preferred name. There is one publisher remaining who didn't have a policy when I contacted them. And so I was sort of the first test case slash design of the policy. And they're still in the final stages of making the corrections. So in terms of the publications that, yeah, I mean like papers, almost all of them are done, but there is this sort of long tail of things with my name on it, like conference proceedings and data sets and talks and things like that. And that is not stuff that necessarily will have to go on my CV that will raise the same sort of like day to day issues that papers will, but it's still out there and it's still things I would like to get changed, and I haven't even begun to deal with that.
ALIYAH KOVNER: Right. And you know, it definitely highlights how difficult this is because you're, you're an early career scientist. So I can only imagine how difficult this would be for someone who has, you know, 20, 30 years of research under a name that they no longer want to go by. So it's great to hear there's progress being made on this. And I was hoping you could speak a little bit too about the last couple of years, and if you felt like the culture within science, you know, from your own perspective, have you felt a shift happening recently that it's different than maybe, you know, 10 years ago, five years ago?
AMALIE TREWARTHA: Yeah. So for context here, I started grad school in 2010. So I guess I have a perspective on maybe the last 10 years of, of academic culture and yes, there has been an enormous shift. I think, I think today in a way that wasn't true when I first started, people will agree that in principle, it's good to accept trans people in academia. I think in 2010, it was still common for even academics and high ranking people at institutions to express open hostility to trans inclusion. That's no longer true. People can no longer get, get away with that. And the feeling I get is that the overwhelming reaction that I have had from academics has been, I would call the median reaction, positive but slightly clueless. Maybe like open hostility is rare or like any kind of hostility is a pretty rare experience. Though people, like, I think for most of my colleagues, I am the only trans person they know. And I think that is just something that is going to take time to change because there were significant structural barriers to having a successful career as an academic up until very recently. And I know people who are senior academics who are trans, but overwhelmingly, those are people who came out once they were already established. I don't know anyone who started their career openly out and transitioned in grad school and then managed to become tenured. I just cannot think of a single example of a person like that. And so I think it's just gonna take some time for trans people to feel more comfortable being out, or to be more open about their identities, because it also used to be extremely common for trans people, if they could to just be completely stolen, worked and never tell any of their colleagues, they were trans. And that barrier seems to be falling. So there has been a big shift and I think things are continuing to shift and there's still a long way to go. That's how I would put it.
LADY IDOS: So I did want to talk to you a little bit about yourself as a scientist, because I want to know how you got into STEM and what your passion is. Yeah. If you could just tell me a little bit about how you ended up at the lab?
AMALIE TREWARTHA: Yeah. I mean, I'm always happy to ramble on about the science I do. So I started my career in theoretical physics. I went to grad school, working in a field called lattice QCD, which is computer simulations of subatomic particles that compose like protons and neutrons inside of atoms. I decided to change fields. I took a bit of a left turn when I, when I moved to Berkeley lab and joined the material science group. There are a couple of reasons behind that. Firstly, I wanted to do something with a bit more of a direct social impact. Secondly, I had started working with AI towards the end of my time in physics, and that was very underdeveloped at the time in, in physics. I think it's probably more, a lot more now than it was. And so I wanted to join an already established team that was already working on that. And thirdly, I mean, to be totally honest, that coincides with when I was out of work and when I changed my name and I wanted to have a clean break and moving to the other side of the country and changing fields is a pretty good way to do that. And so I moved to Berkeley lab and I worked in the group of Gerbrand Ceder who studies, broadly, battery science and battery materials and had a large effort going to use AI to analyze the text of scientific research papers or scientific literature in general. So I joined that group in my time there, I have also started working on some problems to do with using AI to simulate materials properties, so to aid in materials discovery and do things like predict stability of proposed new materials or predict whether they have properties that might be useful for some technological application. Also last year during COVID, I became involved in an effort to do something similar to the work we'd been doing with materials research for COVID research, where this problem of too much research was kind of amplified by the speed at which COVID research was coming up. I believe it's like 500 papers a day now which is just, it's an absurd rate. And so I became involved in, well, I started an effort to collect COVID papers in one central place and provide a way for scientists to filter the research as it was coming. And I think that's kind of the scope of what I'm doing right now.
ALIYAH KOVNER: Thank you. That's great. It's awesome. Because the work that you're doing is definitely represents an intersection of a couple really big priorities in science across the nation in general, and especially at Berkeley Lab. So it's, it's always really great to hear about the intersection of machine learning and practical applications. So thank you for sharing that.
AMALIE TREWARTHA: Yeah. I mean, something that's been great about being at Berkeley Lab is that it's actually possible to do this kind of work in a way that there's not many other institutions. Yeah. Yeah.
ALIYAH KOVNER: Great. Thank you. So Joerg, in the process of reaching out to these publications and even other National Labs to get them on board to this, which is obviously now we, you know, we can understand the importance of it. What has that been like from your perspective? Has there been a positive response, have there been any sort of negotiations you've had to engage in? What's it been like?
JOERG HEBER: It's been mostly positive. I, we started reaching out to publishers and quite a few of them already had established policies. And that's the ones that we started with because we wanted to ask them whether they would, in addition to having authors come and contact them about changing the name on the paper, [but ] would it be okay having an institution contact them? So the ones [publishers] we started with were the ones that we knew were receptive to the idea, because they already have a similar policies. We reached out to some of the others because um, our researchers make use of them. And they generally were interested and, and welcoming not all of them have formulated policies, fully formulated ones. So there's certainly still a shift to be done. But on the other hand, we have agreements, or we working together with some of the largest publishers in the industry, that's Elsevier, they have thousands of journals. There's Springer Nature -- they have recently announced their own policy -- again with thousands of journals, including some really well known ones under the Nature brand. There's Wiley, another large publisher, American Chemical Society, a chemistry publisher. So those are all important publishers and organizations. We've also partnering, we're also partnering with Archive, which is a pre-print server and they're also willing to make such changes. So that's great to see, so that it goes beyond just academic journals. So yeah, we, we started with a list of those places where our researchers tend to publish in. And that response so far has been very positive, but of course there's many, many more publishers left. So we only started with this, and we still have a long way to go. So I think there will be certainly be some kind of incentive or pressure on other publishers to have similar policies seeing that now some of the largest or some of the most well-known publishers have these policies and are working with us, for example. Yeah. And on the side of the National Labs, Lady can speak to that. She has done some of the work, but I, I felt, I felt the response was very positive.
LADY IDOS: One thing that stands out for me, and I think sort of Amalie sort of alluded to this, in terms of who's really advocating for this, I would say, right, like we have a partnership across the national lab complex with DEI practitioners researchers other colleagues who interface with publishers already. And so there's a, there's a good cross-section of allies. And it doesn't have to be trans folks. I think that's the thing, right? We are pushing this institutionally and, you know, being led by cis-gender people and, you know, some of them not queer, and I mean that, and that's okay because I mean, all, all in all, it's really a push for furthering diversity equity and inclusion across the board. So I think that's one thing to note, and I think, you know, this whole effort will apply beyond the LGBTQ+ community, right, to published authors who changed their name for any reason and wish to retain recognition of their prior work. So, you know, I think it's, it's, it's a bit of in the disability community called "universal design." So when you do like a side sidewalk cutout, it's not just for people with wheelchairs, but people with strollers and carts and you know, it helps everyone. So I think that's also the message of this is, it helps everyone. And I think it's, it's very powerful.
ALIYAH KOVNER: Yeah. That's such a good point that I'm glad you brought out, it's it's really something that will benefit, I think anyone within academia. And so, you know, I think that it's, it's hard not to see the value in a policy like this. So to, to end, I would just like to ask a little bit about this initiative, which is obviously something that is going to continue to evolve over time. Um, Joerg and Lady, when can we expect some of these new policies to be in place? And do you know what form these guidelines might take? Such as, you know, if a scientist like Amalie wanted getting their name changed on a publication, what, what will that look like? What will the process look like and what will be the role of an institution like Berkeley Lab?
JOERG HEBER: Yeah, so together with our other national lab partners as some of the next steps we have to design and work on the actual workflows for the initiatives. So there are certain considerations, first of all, how do we ensure that we have got the authorization of the researcher to engage on their behalf with publishers? How do we document that? Do we need to document this? And the second one is what is the information that publishers typically need to change the name on a paper. So there's slightly different variations between publishers, what they request and require. So that's something we have to work with the publishers on. And then we have to create some kind of database or information how each and every publisher likes to implement that on their end. Is it an email to a certain office? Is it an online form, or is it something else? But I think in general, we have some general agreements with some of the large publishers to, to work out those details and that will be the next step.
ALIYAH KOVNER: Yeah. I have to admit when you mentioned that working with different publications, them having different kind of requirements or documentation. I'm not, I guess I'm not surprised, but it may be disappointing that you even need to have any certain form or any certain you know, reason, because ideally right. It would just be because that's what the individual wants and this is their work and this represents their portfolio and their, their career. But do you think that that will be kind of following on soon that maybe it's just going to be more bureaucratic and logistics heavy in the beginning?
JOERG HEBER: Yes. And also to be fair to the publishers, the publishers are working on harmonizing their own workflows and requirements. There's talks across the industry with the industry bodies as well on their end to make sure that not just the requirements for, for name changes are the same, but also that the implementation is the same, the way that you change a name on, on a scientific paper can vary. Do you also change the references within the paper? Do you change any pronouns that appear within the paper? Do you announce that you have changed the paper or not? And the preferred way is not to announce it to maintain the privacy of the authors. But those are questions that the industry is addressing within itself, within their own bodies. So I think that was those kinds of workflows that they will streamline. I'm fairly certain, so, yeah, I just, just hope that this normalizes author name changes for any reason on scientific papers it's something that is good for the community that would benefit everybody as Lady mentioned whether it's a transgender researcher or whether that's someone who changes the name because of marriage or for any other reason, I hope this becomes just a routine process that will take place. And right now, it may not be always easy to engage with all the publishers on this, but going forward and with time, I hope that this becomes a standard process for the industry.
LADY IDOS: Yes. Yes.
AMALIE TREWARTHA: Just as someone who's had to deal with the publishers who are bringing things into place, this is the kind of, this is exactly the kind of thing that has required a lot of work on behalf of individual trans people, contacting publishers who will not have necessarily thought this through ahead of time. And they might be well-meaning, but they might have what to them seem like perfectly reasonable suggestions. Like, "we need to send out an announcement about this," or "we need to notify your coauthors." And that explaining again and again, why it's not okay to do that, it can be quite draining. And so just having that taken out of your hands is a huge deal. Also the other point I want to make is that the implicit expectation that academics will have one name that they're referred to by that is constant throughout their life is an expectation that was made with a certain community of people in mind, with the needs of a certain community in mind. And for academia to be more diverse, to be truly diverse, it means not having that assumption made. Often these kinds of efforts can be sort of seen as giving some sort of special privilege to certain groups, but the simple fact is that publishers built everything with the expectation that authors would have a name that is constant throughout their lives was already privileging one group in particular. And all we're asking is to remove that.
ALIYAH KOVNER: That was well said.
LADY IDOS: Yeah, well said.
ALIYAH KOVNER: Thank you so much for being here, it was great talking to you.
LADY IDOS: Thank you, Aliyah. Goodbye. Take care.
AMALIE TREWARTHA: Thanks everyone, bye.
JOERG HEBER: Thank you. Goodbye.
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