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Out in academia

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Matt Lees
(Photo courtesy of Matt Lees)

Matt Lees

PhD candidate

May 28, 2021

“I used to be pretty resistant to the notion that sexual identity has much bearing on who you socialize with,” said geophysics PhD candidate Matt Lees, who studies land subsidence caused by the over-extraction of groundwater in California. “I now really enjoy meeting others with that shared experience – it helps me be comfortable with myself so I can put my all into my research.”

Lees grew up in a small town in England where he didn’t have many LGBTQIA+ role models. After coming out to friends and family during his undergraduate studies, he found a thriving community to join. Through organizations like gradQ and Out in STEM, Lees has formed connections with colleagues who also identify as LGBTQIA+.

“Stanford had some wonderful communities for LBGTQIA+ folk,” Lees said. “Sometimes it is hard to find reasons to talk to people outside your own program, so the LGBTQIA+ community here at Stanford gives me a great way to meet people in other academic departments who provide perspective, context and advice on my own PhD.”

Having spaces for sharing identities in the workplace makes the unique challenges associated with our identities become so much more manageable, Lees said.

“A challenge I’ve encountered is doing field work in parts of the world where LGBTQIA+ attitudes are less tolerant than in the U.S. It requires some care (and self-care!) when working in such places – and knowing that your institution values and protects your identity is so integral to doing good work.”