Friday, July 30, 2010

"The Literature vs. Tierney

Posted on behalf of the author, Elizabeth D. Freeland.

I recently read the article "Legislation Won't Close Gender Gap in Sciences" 6/7/10 by John Tierney. Tierney argues that requiring scientists to attend workshops to enhance gender equity is a waste of money because gender bias does not exist. I find flaws with how he draws his conclusion, take issue with his lampooning of the NSF ADVANCE program, and believe that actively addressing bias can help reduce it. That said, Tierney’s first claim is that people who believe gender bias exists only dredge up a study of the Swedish Medical Research. That’s a bit unfair, although it is true that, as physical scientists, we often don’t do as good a job as we should in using the research in economics, psychology, and sociology to support our arguments. To help remedy this, and simultaneously take on Tierney, I briefly review the studies he brings up and throw in a few I’ve heard about elsewhere. Admittedly, towards the end I have fewer sources. Perhaps, though, others can respond and let us all know of recent studies which could fill the gaps.

There have been many studies on bias. Two that are often mentioned are the effect of screens on gender balance in hiring of musicians [1]; and the effect of gender-identifying names on resumes [2]. There is also V. Valian’s book "Why so Slow?," which discusses the cognitive origins of gender bias [3]. Finally, a more recent study focusses on implicit bias and demonstrates evidence for it [4]. One concludes from such studies that learned policies and procedures can diminish bias. For more articles, see Refs. [5].

(click on "Read More" to see full post)

Work-Family: On Balance

As rosy a picture I painted in my previous posting on work-family balance, the truth of the matter is that raising children is not an easy task. Trying to raise children while establishing a career is even tougher. On the good days, I count the number of years until my youngest turns 18. On the bad days, I wonder if I should discourage young women from pursuing careers in science because it's simply impossible to have it all.

While mulling these rather depressing thoughts, I came across this article in the Washington Post, talking about the difficulties of parenting while pursuing a career in business. You could easily substitute "business" for "science" and "executive" for "professor" and everything Sharon Meers says applies equally well. Some choice quotes from the article:

When a father of small kids is late or looks dazed in a meeting, we're more willing to assume it's an aberration, a passing phase, and he'll snap back to top form because he values his job. We give him the benefit of the doubt. Do we give women the same?

After spending a weekend with his kids alone, one male executive told me, "If every man in Congress had to do this, we'd have some very different laws."

Meers writes that VP Joe Biden is setting up a Middle Class Task Force that can address some of these work-family balancing issues from a public policy standpoint. I agree with her that this sounds very promising, especially if they can successfully reframe the problems of working parents "not as women's issues" but as "issues of middle class economic security" as described in the article. Let's hope that this Task Force succeeds.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Astronomer H-R diagram

Also, This is brilliant. An H-R diagram of astronomers:

I think I'm somewhat leftward of the New-media branch, with 11 refereed publications at this moment.  I blame all my posting here.

(hat tip: The Astrodyke. Cross-posted at my other blog)

Work-Family: It's Not Always About Balance

So often we hear discussions of work-family balance, as if work is on entirely one side of the scale and family is on the other, and the two must always be in conflict. This article in today's Washington Post is no exception. The article discusses the challenges faced by women trying to succeed in academia, challenges I'm all too familiar with.

To be perfectly honest, I've been avoiding discussing some of my own personal experience with work-family issues on this blog, in large part because of evidence that mothers are at a distinct disadvantage in the job market. But the reality is that having children has made me a better communicator, educator, and scientist, so to not acknowledge my kids is to do them a disservice.

My kids are in elementary school now, and they are always bubbling over with questions about how the universe around them works. Explaining scientific concepts to them is a source of joy for me, though I sometimes have to stop myself when I find myself rambling on excitedly on some topic for 10 minutes at a time while their eyes slowly glaze over. My kids have taught me how to simply but accurately explain things to them before their attention spans time out. They have also taught me that my enthusiasm for science is contagious.

Recently, I participated in Science Day at my kids' elementary school, where a variety of scientists were brought in to talk to the kids. I was assigned the first graders. Although I had given public talks before and am completely comfortable with facing challenging questions from PhD scientists, I was really really anxious heading into Science Day. Would I be able to handle a classroom full of antsy six- and seven-year olds? As it turned out, the experience was a lot of fun for myself, the children, and their teachers. I talked to them a little bit about what it was like to be an astronomer, and my heart warmed when I asked them, "how many of you would like to be an astronomer when you grow up?" and nearly all of them, including the girls, raised their hands. Most of the kids are ethnic minorities, too. It's thanks to my kids that I both had the opportunity to do Science Day, and had the experience to carry it out successfully.

Children are naturally curious about the world around them. So many times, their simple, "why does...?" questions turn out to have rather profound answers. We went blueberry picking earlier this summer, and after staring at his stained hands, my son asked, "Why are they called blueberries? The juice is purple." This led to a full-fledged kitchen chemistry experiment involving acids and bases and blueberry juice as an indicator. I had just as much fun as my son did. My kids' enthusiasm and joy of discovery make me more enthusiastic about pursuing science questions of my own.

My children enrich my scientific life. So while there are days where I have to head out early to chaffeur them to one activity or another, and there are late evenings that I spend working while the kids sleep, I don't believe that the work-family balance is an either-or proposition: sometimes they can work in harmony together.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

SATs and PhDs

For better or for worse, the Tierney articles got me thinking: is it really true that those with SAT math scores at the 99.9 percentile level are that much more likely to get a doctorate in science or to win tenure at a top university than those at the 99.1 level, as Tierney claims? My gut feeling, from having interacted with hundreds of PhD astronomers, including myself, is that it isn't true. Heck, I doubt the scores themselves are even that accurate. Also, while I can see that math scores are important for achieving in science, verbal scores are surely very important also. After all, the way scientists communicate our ideas to each other is through talks and papers, both of which surely involve good verbal and communications skills. In which case, shouldn't girls' superior verbal scores balance things out?

So, if I were to conduct a thoroughly non-scientific internet survey on PhDs in astronomy and your SAT scores (if you can remember them) to analyze Tierney's thoroughly non-scientific claim, would you participate? If there's sufficient interest, I'll go and figure out how to set up a survey.

AASWOMEN for July 9, 2010

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of July 9, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Men In Academic Science Earn Up To 40% More Than Women

2. Book Review: Whistling Vivaldi And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us

3. The Effects of Textbook Images on Science Performance


4. NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program

5. The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Postdoctoral Fellowship Program

6. APS Career Center

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

8. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

AASWOMEN - Special Edition on Invited Speakers

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of June 25, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery

SPECIAL EDITION: Low Percentages of Women Invited Speakers

1. Introduction

2. Too Important to Ignore

3. A Perennial Problem!

4. The Wrong Approach

5. The Value of Lists

6. Pushing Back?

7. Aim High

8. Set Guidelines

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

10. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

AASWOMEN for July 2, 2010

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of July 2, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. More Responses to Tierney NYTimes Article

2. Calling Women in Planetary Science

3. Celebrate Women in Physics Posters still available

4. How to Write a Winning Fellowship Proposal

5. New NASA Space Technology Program

6. NASA student fellowships for space technology research

7. Graduate, Post-Doctoral, Senior Researcher Opportunities at National Labs

8. Sigma Space Support Scientist at NASA Goddard

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

10. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

AASWOMEN for June 18, 2010

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of June 18, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Responses to Tierney NYTimes article

2. Female Science Professor Checklist

3. Astrophysics Positions, Univ. of Hertfordshire


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

5. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN