Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do we try to “protect” busy women by not inviting them?

I have had this come up twice now in rather significant ways: someone is being considered for a position on a relatively powerful committee and the various candidates are of course very busy. For some reason, the decision was almost made (luckily some intervention occurred!) that a particular woman was just too busy and would turn us down and should not be asked. I have had this come up in a context where a senior male was making the nominations and where a mid-career female was making the nominations. The mid-career female mentioned that she probably shouldn’t be “protecting” the junior woman in this way. I found this to be interesting: are we not trusting the person in question, whom we regard as highly qualified for the committee, to make the right decision about serving?

I tried to do a quick internet search on the topic and came up with interesting articles about how women were too busy for various other things but didn’t find information on this.

In both cases, however, I suggested to the nominator that the candidate should be able to make the decision herself if she is too busy. It might be that this particular opportunity is very important to her and she would step down from something else to do it (who knows!). Often just being invited to serve can give someone a boost to their career, so we have to be careful not to withhold those invitations. We might inadvertently "protect" them from career advancement.

Friday, February 19, 2010

AASWomen for February 19, 2010

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of January 29, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, & Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. CSWA Sponsors Special Session at AAS 216th Meeting - Second Announcement

2. WIA Blogspot: Words Matter

3. AAS Statement on Professional Ethics

4. Women of Color in Astronomy and Physics

5. Are You on the APS Women Speaker List?

6. What Works for Women in Physics?

7. Viktor Ambartsumian International Prize

8. Your Photo is Sought!

9. National Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate

9. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

10. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

AASWOMEN for Feb. 12, 2010

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of February 12, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson & Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Margaret Geller wins the Russell Lectureship
2. Math Anxiety Study: A Comment
3. How to Become a Grant Reviewer
4. Tenure-track positions at Lowell Observatory
5. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN
6. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Words Matter

Recently, a colleague send an e-mail to all department members after he saw an article in the local paper describing a scientific success of one of our graduates. Another colleague replied to all of us with, “Our boys are really doing it!”

I've thought a lot about this response over the past couple of days and even discussed it with my husband. It’s not the first time (or even the first time this week) that I’ve had to play the role of the Word Police. My concern was about inclusive language, or in this case, the lack thereof. This is so very important.

I'm sure that my colleague didn't mean to imply that only 'boys' graduate with physics degrees, or that only our 'boy graduates' are doing well. But that is exactly how it sounded.

As the senior woman in the physics department as well as the chair of CSWA, I politely pointed out to my colleague that women and girls need to be included in every aspect of physics, from search committees to invited speakers lists. This also means that even in a casual e-conversation, like a reply to a department announcement, we need to be aware that our colleagues are not just men, and that our students are not just boys.

I asked him as a colleague to be aware of language, and to include everyone.

He took it rather well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

215th AAS: The Longitudinal Study

At the AAS Meeting, the CSWA hosted a special session on the Longitudinal Study of graduate students in astronomy. Pat Knezek of NOAO gave some background about the survey, and Rachel Ivie from the American Institute of Physics presented some initial results. Although some of these results were recently reported in Nature (see also here), the presentation at the AAS Meeting gave a more complete description of the survey. Here are notes on the session compiled by Michele Montgomery and Rachel Ivie.

1. Of the respondents in the study, 447 are female and 696 are male, and 77% are U.S. citizens.
2. The median age is 27, and the students have been in the program an average of 3.5 years (because there is a sizable group of older graduate students who have been in grad school only a short time).
3. 53% of females use observations for research compared to only 40% of men.
4. 54% of women and 62% of men want to eventually teach at a university.
5. Graduate students interact with faculty on research, course materials, and career opportunities but are less likely to discuss other graduate students, advisors, or their personal life with faculty members.
6. Students who are not mentored are less likely to feel welcome in their department, to feel that they cannot succeed, and to feel that they are not as smart as their peers.
7. Research Assistants with good lab equipment available to them feel they will make good researchers someday. Likewise, teaching assistants feel they will make good teachers someday.
8. Women are more likely than men to say that other people helped them succeed.

Women seem less likely to concentrate in theory or instrumentation than their male counterparts. Over half of Ph.D. graduates want a profession like their mentors or advisor (editors note: thereby showing that institutions of higher learning should be doing a better job of promoting all careers in astronomy/physics).

This is a longitudinal study, and the study ultimately hopes to show whether:
1. feeling engaged within the department reduces the likelihood of dropping out of the program.
2. whether the process of deciding to stay in astronomy is different for women and men.
Bottom line is that mentoring matters! Mentoring can help students to feel welcome in the department, to feel that they can succeed, and to feel that they are at least as smart as their peers. However, the study also found that the longer the student remained in the program, beyond three years, the less likely the student is to think they will succeed and the more likely they are to be afraid that someone will find out that they really don’t belong in astronomy.

If a student spent a majority of their time as a Research Assistant, then they feel that they can be a good researcher provided they had good research equipment during their studies. Likewise, if a student spent a majority of their time as a Teaching Assistant, then they feel that they can be a good teacher. With regards to success, women are more likely than men to credit their success to hard work than their innate ability.

Future studies may include more statistics on race and ethnicity.