Issue of October 29, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery
This week's issues:
1. Stereotype Threat
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
We can all agree that there are differences between men and women; it is unlikely that the NFL will start drafting women or that men will soon fill maternity wards. These physical effects aside, many studies have looked for cognitive differences, but only a few have found significant results. It is, however, impossible to attribute these results to Nature alone because our society is full of cultural gender differences. The fact that Japanese girls do better on math tests than American boys tends to support the cultural explanation. Indeed, the math divide disappears in countries where gender equality is the cultural norm. In Iceland, for example, girls outperform boys in both math and science (Guiso, Monte, Sapienza and Zingales 2008, Science, 320, 1164). Further, no studies have linked any of the alleged gender differences in cognition to actual professional success.
Researchers recruited students with strong math backgrounds and similar math abilities (Spencer, Steele amp; Quinn 1999, J. Exp. Social Psychology, 35(1), 13). Subjects were divided into two groups and given a math test. One group was told that men performed better than women on the test (stereotype threat), and the other group was told that there were no gender differences (nonthreat). Women performed significantly worse than men in the threat situation, but the gender difference almost disappeared in the nonthreat condition. More recent results find that the threat can be induced simply by asking students to indicate their gender on the test form or having a larger ratio of men to women in a testing room (Inzlicht amp; Ben-Zeev 2000, Psychological Science, 11(5), 365).
Stereotype threat may account for as many as 20 points on the math SAT, a full two-thirds of the so-called gender gap (Walton amp; Spencer 2009, Psychological Science, 20(9), 1132). In a society where Talking Barbie said, "Math class is tough!" as recently as 1992, can it be so hard to imagine that girls still get a mega-dose of this math-crippling stereotype threat?
For a nice summary of the stereotype threat, please see Chapter 3 of "Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics," compiled by Hill, Corbett amp; St. Rose. You can download a copy here:Back to top.
2. Best Policies for Gender Equity?
From: Tammy Smecker-Hane [smecker_at_sculptor.ps.uci.edu]
[Last week's issue of AASWOMEN included an item from the Women in Astronomy Blog from CSWA member Ed Bertschinger on best policies for gender equity. Below we include a response from Tammy Smecker-Hane and a follow up from Ed. Note: you can read and comment on blog postings at http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com - Eds]
I am responding to Ed Bertschinger's post inquiring about policies on the university scale and larger that can influence women staying in academic careers.
Yes, indeed there are policies that you can take at the department, university and national level. There ought to be a set minimum allowed leave time for all parents when a child is born or adopted, no matter if they're a graduate TA or RA, postdoc, faculty member or staff. There ought to be available childcare (open and affordable spots) for all parents, too. There ought to be policies for people who need leave time for elder care, too. There ought to be rooms throughout campus where breast feeding women can pump in a safe and private environment.
Academic life as well as the wider world needs to get in touch with the fact that 50% of the population are women and that raising and caring for family is growing in importance to all of us -- not just women.
A good resource to read on this issue -- to see what the University of California as a whole is doing and what it still needs to work on -- is the recent issue of a report entitled "UC Report of the UC Systemwide Advisory Committee on the Status Women" (May 2010), which you can find at:
I was a member of the committee and co-chair of the Work-Life Subcommittee. Read it for concrete information on WHY university leadership should take action, concrete FACTS and STATISTICS related to issues of concern for women students, faculty and staff at all UC campuses, and IDEAS for what to do.
Note that a number of these issues are not unique to women faculty; they're also important to women students at all levels, postdocs and staff, but they often are left out of consideration because they have less political pull.
From: Edmund Bertschinger [edbert_at_mit.edu]
Tammy Smecker-Hane has suggested some important employer policies and resources for those who wish to inform themselves and their employers about valuable steps to improve work-life balance for parents. I strongly endorse these ideas and am glad for her contribution to both AASWOMEN and to the efforts at the University of California. The need now is to transform policies from ought to is.
University administrations are paying increasing attention to such matters but the wide differences in policies show that continued efforts and activism are needed. For example, at my university I've found it difficult to make headway in promoting affordable childcare; like many places, we have on-campus childcare but with far too few spots (especially infant care) to make a significant difference. Faculty members are given preference for campus childcare spots and are sometimes even given portable benefits. Postdocs and graduate students get little or no assistance, a situation that is not conducive to advancing women in the profession. One objection I've encountered to a recommendation for childcare subsidies for graduate students and postdocs is that the subsidies would have to go to men as well as women and this would benefit men more than, and even at the expense of, women. While I agree that childcare benefits should be gender neutral I don't see how they can be bad for women.
Parental or medical leave is another area with wide variation in policies. To my university's two months of paid leave for childbirth accommodation for graduate student mothers, I added one month for students in my department hoping it would inspire others to do likewise. I was unaware that the federal funding agencies will permit grant funds to be used for parental leave if there is a clearly stated institutional policy for such leave, until I read it in the UC Systemwide Committee on the Status of Women Report mentioned by Dr. Smecker-Hane.
I'm delighted to learn about the groundwork done by the UC Committee. As for "why", I believe every supporter of women in academia should read the reports "Why So Few?" prepared by the AAUW and "Staying Competitive" prepared by the Berkeley Center on Health, Economic, amp; Family Security. They can be downloaded from:Back to top.
3. The Cost (and Value!) of Breastfeeding and Doing Astrophysics
From: Sara Ellison [sara_at_beluga.phys.uvic.ca]
[Last week's issue of AASWOMEN included an item from the Women in Astronomy Blog from CSWA member Ann Hornschemeier on breastfeeding and doing astrophysics. Below we include a response from Sara Ellison and a follow up from Ann. Note: you can read and comment on blog postings at http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com - Eds]
I wanted to make 2 comments about Ann's post, which might bear sharing with a wider community. The first is that, in Canada, we can use our research grants to pay for our nursing children to accompany us on work travel. There is still a financial drain of course, but now it is on our research grant, not our pockets. Our grants can also be used to cover babysitters and/or the cost of a caregiver's travel. The second comment regards hotel accommodation, which Ann pointed out can be expensive and inconvenient when travelling little 'uns. We (re)-discovered the joys of youth hostels last summer with our (then 2-year-old) daughter. Hostels are cheap, often have private family rooms with en-suite bathrooms, kitchens for self-catering, a place to hang out once the kids are in bed (we just left a baby monitor in the room) and .... many willing babysitters! Whilst I prepped dinner, gaggles of backpackers amused my daughter and there were plentiful supplies of board games, movies and a ctivities laid on, many of which can be family-friendly. So the whole thing was easier and cheaper for us, and more fun for her.
From: Ann Hornschemeier [Ann.Hornschemeier_at_nasa.gov]
Sara correctly points out that charging the cost of having your nursing children accompany you on travel is a drain on your research grants, but definitely helps out your wallet. Note that I am double-checking with folks at NASA and NSF but I'm pretty sure you can't do this in the U.S. (but gee, you _should_!).
Sara also suggested considering youth hostels. Great idea! I personally went for proximity in the extreme (the conference hotel gave me a room immediately next to the coffee break amp; talks) but this solution can really save some money. My choice was definitely more expensive.Back to top.
4. Example of the Mutual Benefits of Outreach
From: L. Trouille_at_women_in_astronomy_blog
As a new member of the CSWA and first-time blogger, I thought I'd take this moment to introduce myself: I recently began my first (only?!) postdoc as a CIERA (Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics) fellow at Northwestern University. In my research, I use optical emission line and X-ray diagnostics to identify galaxies that are actively accreting material onto their central supermassive black holes and the role that this accretion (and the consequent feedback) plays in galaxy evolution.
I've kept myself happy and sane by working to protect a life outside of research -- as a roller derby queen with the Mad Rollin' Dolls (my moniker was 'Big Bang'... really, what else could you be as an astronomer crashing around on wheels?), as a stilt walker and trapeze artist (still looking for good names for this alter ego, any suggestions?), etc.
I was also lucky to have been part of a great group of women (and men) graduate students at UW-Madison. Together we formed WOWSAP (Women of Wisconsin Strengthening Astronomy and Physics), a mentoring and networking group for women graduate students, postdocs, and early career faculty. The discussions we had and the professional development we provided for ourselves played a key role in keeping me in this field.
For the Spring 2011 AAS in Boston, CSWA has proposed to host a special session panel discussion on 1) ways to ensure the sustainability of mentoring programs and 2) sharing examples of how departments and institutions have managed to change the climate so that these programs become accepted as the norm. I'd very much appreciate hearing about your experiences with these two aspects of mentoring programs.
Have you had success (or encountered obstacles) promoting the sustainability and institutionalization of a program in your department, university, or other work place? What ways have you found to improve climate and culture with respect to mentoring/networking programs?
For more, go here:Back to top.
5. Assistant Specialist or Associate Specialist, UC Berkeley
From: Karen Wang [karenwang_at_berkeley.edu]
The UC Berkeley Supernova Group and Exoplanet Group invite applications for an optical observer starting 1 January 2011, or another mutually agreeable date. The initial appointment is for one year, with renewal for a second year expected if progress is satisfactory and funds continue to be available. The position involves working with Professors Alex Filippenko and Geoff Marcy at UC Berkeley on problems involving supernovae and exoplanets. Specifically, the successful candidate will be expected to spend a majority of his or her time conducting ground-based spectroscopy and photometry using remotely controlled telescopes at the Lick and Keck Observatories. Most of the observations can be done from the UC Berkeley campus; extensive travel to the observatories will not be necessary. Some time will also be devoted to data reduction, especially when poor weather precludes observations. Writing and contributing to research papers may also be possible, time permitting. Salary is in the range of $38-55k per year, depending on experience. Successful candidates will enjoy interacting with a broad range of researchers in astrophysics at UC Berkeley. A Masters or PhD degree in astrophysics or a related field is required. Applications will be evaluated starting 1 December 2010, and the deadline for applications is December 15, 2010 Please submit applications online at
Include a CV, bibliography, and statement of interests. Three letters of reference from people closely familiar with the applicant are required. Follow the directions for self-registration, uploading of PDFs, and obtaining the URL for reference writers. Refer potential reviewers to the UC Berkeley Statement of Confidentiality found at:
UC Berkeley is committed to actively recruiting diverse candidates, including women and minorities: Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.Back to top.
6. Faculty Openings in Astronomy & Astrophysics and High Energy Theory
From: WIPHYS for Oct 28, 2010
The University of Utah's Department of Physics and Astronomy is continuing to expand -- we now number 35 faculty, eight of whom have arrived since January 2009. The research areas of the most recent arrivals include astronomy, high energy astrophysics, experimental condensed matter, and biophysics. As part of our ongoing expansion, we are filling two more positions this year, one in high energy theoretical physics, and another in astronomy and astrophysics. In astronomy and astrophysics, we are particularly interested in enhancing our strength in the area of theoretical astrophysics and/or cosmology, and seek candidates whose research would benefit from the University's membership in SDSS-III and the University's Center for High Performance Computing. In high energy theory, the ideal candidate would have an interest in LHC phenomenology. With reasonable rents and cost of living, combined with all the activities that the area has to offer, the quality of life for both students and faculty is awesome. Completed applications will be reviewed and interviews scheduled on a rolling basis -- first priority will be given to astronomy and astrophysics applications received before November 15, 2010, and to high energy theory applications received before November 30, 2010.Back to top.
7. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN
[Please remember to replace "_at_" in the below e-mail addresses.]
To submit to AASWOMEN: send email to aaswomen_at_aas.org. All material sent to that address will be posted unless you tell us otherwise (including your email address).
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If you experience any problems, please email itdept_at_aas.orgBack to top.
8. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN
Past issues of AASWOMEN are available at
Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered.Back to top.