Monday, September 28, 2015

Midterm Exam for Faculty Members

Astronomy 501: Departmental Methods for Faculty (Fall Semester)

Mid-term Exam.

You have 50 minutes. Answer all questions. Show your work to maximize partial credit.

Question 1: You are a faculty member in top US astronomy department and serving on a search committee for an assistant professor. Which of the two candidates below gets your vote for the job?

Candidate A is a father who has 10 first author papers and has appeared frequently at international conferences to give invited reviews. He completed his PhD 2 years ago.

Candidate B is a mother who has 8 first author papers and currently travels only rarely to give talks. She completed her PhD 3 years ago.

Explain your decision using the standard metrics of academic success, and present a compelling case for your candidate.

Bonus: Imagine you are an untenured professor and a woman. Explain how your decision about which arguments you present to your senior colleagues on the committee is unaffected by your gender and junior status.

Question 2: You are a faculty member in a top US astronomy department that has a reputation for not tenuring the majority of its junior faculty. In the past 10 years, your department has made 10 job offers at the assistant professorship level. Five offers were to men, of which 4 were accepted. Five offers were to women, of which 2 where accepted. All candidates who chose to decline accepted assistant professorships at other institutions. During this time, the department also hired two faculty at the senior (tenured) level, both of whom are men.

Explain, using Bayesian statistics, why these results are completely consistent with no gender bias in your department.

Question 3: You are a faculty member in a top US astronomy department and serving on the tenure review committee of a junior colleague. As standard practice during its tenure review, your university provides external letter writers with a list of top astronomers in the same sub-field, and requires respondents to rank the candidate among these individuals. Many of these names are senior colleagues, and the comparison is sought at a comparable career stage. The candidate paused her tenure clock two years, one year for the birth of a child, the second for care of her elderly parent. In keeping with legal requirements and the university's policy of equal employment, there is no mention of parental status or family leave in the review materials.

Explain, supported by outcome data from the past five years, why this rigorous and equitable process is the best means to identify the top astronomers and build the strongest possible research faculty.

Note: All three questions above are not trick questions. They have straightforward answers.


Tomorrow will see the release of Anne-Marie Slaughter's new book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family. In her recent NYTimes editorial A Toxic Work World, and subsequently on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, Dr. Slaughter argues that the lack of women in positions such as astronomy faculty isn't a women's issue: It's a work issue, namely the utter lack of a work culture that values and enables care-giving through paid support and flexibility. Many women and men are juggling work and family in a system inherited from an era in which each member of a couple was expected to master only one of these.  Since women continue to provide the bulk of family care, this care-adverse structure translates into small numbers of women at senior levels. 

In her book, she also commands men to come forward and make these demands, too.  This could take the form of hallway discussions, or debates at faculty meetings... or even a blog post.