Monday, July 25, 2011

Starting up

It's almost the end of July, and summer is slipping by fast. As a new academic year approaches, some of us are looking forward to beginning new jobs. A perennial question around this time of year is, what advice do you have for brand new faculty members? How do you make the transition from postdoc to professor? I pose these questions to readers of this blog with no small amount of self-interest, I must admit.

While I'm at it, what advice would you give to newly minted PhDs becoming brand new postdocs?

My own advice to new postdocs would be to network like mad and build up your professional connections. Doing research and publishing papers should go without saying, but networking is vital for career development. So knock on doors, strike up conversations, go to conferences, and ask questions during talks.

Now it's your turn: what advice would you give new postdocs? faculty members? What do you wish you had been told when you started your new job?

-by Hannah

AASWOMEN Newsletter for July 22, 2011

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of July 22, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Latest Issue of STATUS Now Available

2. Walmart Women

3. Undergraduate Women Engineers: Race Matters

4. Increasing Diversity in Your Department

5. Summer Conferences

6. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

7. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

8. Access to Past Issues of the AASWOMEN Newsletter

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A journey through the Milky Way: sometimes you just wing it

So, I had a day where managing my work and managing the milk seemed to almost collide. There has been a lot going on, I’ve been concerned about funding my research group (we’re okay right now, but anyone who isn’t at least mildly concerned about funding their research group right now probably has their head in the sand!). It is easy to get distracted and say, forget completely that you are still producing milk for a child!

I started out Monday morning getting dressed and being fortunate enough to have a few more choices of tops thanks to a fun shopping trip with my mother who had been visiting for a week while my daycare was closed. One top in particular was a bit more frilly/girly than I normally wear. I had thought to reserve it for weekends rather than my work at NASA, but at the last moment decided, “what the heck”. I remember having thought that the shirt might also work as one with a built-in nursing cover.

I arrived at daycare that day to nurse Anya and couldn’t find the nursing cover anywhere in the car. That frilly blouse came in handy after all! But, that’s not all I forgot!

I forgot my cooler pack at home. I managed to go beg a bag of ice from the café in my building. I have actually managed to now do this twice this week (its only Tuesday!) and the second time the café had already closed. This time I just slipped the milk into a baggie, and then into my purse, and hoped it would be okay during the 10 minute trip from my office to the daycare (it was fine). I actually have a new bigger purse and found it a bit liberating to not carry around that cooler pack. It was actually nice to walk to the room without the obvious pack (just my purse!). Mental note: in the future when the weather is slightly cooler maybe this can just be the default!

And, when I reached the pumping room I realized I didn’t bring any of my pumping supplies to work. I forgot my pumping supplies (bottles and breast shields). I had back-up supplies and back-up to my back-up (2 sets of shields! Thank goodness!). I’ve made a habit of bringing extras in and it saved me.

It was kinda nice to know that I basically forgot to bring any of the nursing/pumping stuff to work today and I still managed to nurse my daughter today and pump milk.

Sometimes this is chaotic, but it can still work.

AASWomen Newsletter for July 15, 2011

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of July 15, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. NY Times Article Advises, "Don't Fret. Just Ask for What You Need"

2. Call for Nominations: 2012-2015 MIT Pappalardo Fellowships in Physics

3. Three Young Women Crowned Winners of Google Science Fair

4. Inappropriate Article

5. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter

6. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter

7. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Friday, July 15, 2011

Walmart women

You can interpret the recent Supreme Court ruling on Wal-Mart v. Dukes, where the 5-4 majority denied the right of female workers at Wal-Mart to certify as a class in a class-action law-suit as a pro-business, but I see it rather as an attack on the rights of women workers in general. In the CSWA, we recognize that overt discrimination is not longer where battles are being fought, but rather the pernicious biases of individuals that affect everything from workplace climates to hiring decisions. From the article cited above:
Writing for the court majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that in order to sue as a single class, the women would have to point to a discriminatory policy that affected all of them, and they could not do that. Indeed, Scalia noted that the company has a specific corporate policy against discrimination.
To which I can only respond that a written policy is useless if it is not implemented.

The case for the Walmart women relied on statistics, such as the fact "that women held two-thirds of the lowest-level hourly jobs at Wal-Mart and only one-third of the management jobs, and that women overall were paid on average $1.16 an hour less than men in the same jobs, although the women had more seniority and higher performance ratings." As a scientists, particularly astronomers, we know that statistics often tell the real story rather than any one object. In the case of discriminatory hiring and promotion cases, it's easy to point to a myriad of reasons why any one particular person was overlooked for a promotion or fired or what have you. It's much harder to fight individual cases, which can in the end be blamed on special circumstatnces, than to make a case for an entire group as a whole.

It's notable that all the female justices dissented with the majority opinion. They, at least recognize that unconscious bias is real:
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed to previous Supreme Court decisions holding that a companywide policy against discrimination can be undermined where, as alleged here, local supervisors have so much discretion that decisions are made without standards, often on the basis of biases unrecognized even by the supervisors themselves, for example, assuming that a female employee with a family would not be willing to relocate for a promotion.

Suffice it to say that I will be avoiding shopping at Walmart from now on.

-by Hannah Jang-Condell

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Improving Faculty Searches

A faculty search is one of the most important processes overseen by a department chair. I've been involved with faculty searches, either as search committee member or chair, or as division head or department head, for 20 years. Over these years in my department the attention to affirmative action has grown. This absolutely does not mean less-qualified candidates are interviewed or hired. It means that we work to assemble the largest and most diverse pool of qualified applicants that we can, and we strive to identify the most promising candidates regardless of race, gender, or other qualities unrelated to the job description. We do so with explicit awareness of factors that discriminate against underrepresented groups -- in particular, our own implicit biases. Here are some of the things we have done, and my assessment of their utility.

For several years, search committee chairs have met with an Assistant Dean to review university affirmative action procedures and to be alerted to implicit bias and best practices for faculty recruitment based on the Michigan STRIDE materials. Last year I required all search committee members to attend a similar session which I led. Some faculty bristled but I let them know it was required. I will repeat this for new committee members as I am optimistic about its educational value over the long term.

For several years, I have required search committees to assemble lists of promising women and underrepresented minority postdocs to be invited for visits (which the department pays for), and who should be encouraged to apply to faculty searches. This process has led to some success, although the numbers to date are few. I strongly believe this proactive search process is important to building a strong faculty. In the words of Shirley Malcom of the AAAS, it converts a "sort committee" into a "search committee".

Before short lists are finalized, they are reviewed first by me as department head, then by a committee assembled by the Assistant Dean. Each search committee is required to justify their choices, especially why candidates are not on the short list who would increase the diversity of the pool. Occasionally I call for changes in a short list. The committees know that I have an eye on inclusion and they respect that spirit. I feel that this oversight is important in fields with serious underrepresentation problems (and not just for women). I would recommend this practice to others; it sends a clear signal to the faculty and that, in turn, helps change the climate.

This past year I ran a separate "open search" with no preference for subfield, and with explicit encouragement of applications in any area of physics or astronomy. I had hoped it might encourage talented individuals who feared that other searches in the department were so narrowly focused as to exclude them. In this it succeeded, although it did not increase the gender diversity of our total applicant pool. Most of those who applied were from areas of physics that were not explicitly mentioned in the other searches (e.g., string theory and optics). In astrophysics, our search was broad as it has been for many years. All our searches are open in the sense that we never have determined in advance whom we want to hire. In the future, it may be more efficient not to run a separate wide-open search but instead for the overall departmental ad to mention that candidates in fields not explicitly listed are invited to apply to the most closely related search and to contact search chairs if ever in doubt.