Sunday, September 30, 2012

NYTimes Opinion Piece: The Myth of Male Decline

On Friday we posted a link to David Brooks' NYTimes opinion piece, Why Men Fail. A related opinion piece, The Myth of Male Decline, by Stephanie Coontz came out in the NYTimes on Saturday.

Below are excerpts of interest from The Myth of Male Decline:

On Wage Disparity

Women’s real wages have been rising for decades, while the real wages of most men have stagnated or fallen. But women’s wages started from a much lower base, artificially held down by discrimination. Despite their relative improvement, women’s average earnings are still lower than men’s and women remain more likely to be poor.

Today women make up almost 40 percent of full-time workers in management. But the median wages of female managers are just 73 percent of what male managers earn. And although women have significantly increased their representation among high earners in America over the past half-century, only 4 percent of the C.E.O.’s in Fortune’s top 1,000 companies are female.

On Skewed Studies

Proponents of the “women as the richer sex” scenario often note that in several metropolitan areas, never-married childless women in their 20s now earn more, on average, than their male age-mates. But this is because of the demographic anomaly that such areas have exceptionally large percentages of highly educated single white women and young, poorly educated, low-wage Latino men. Earning more than a man with less education is not the same as earning as much as an equally educated man.

On Prejudice against Working Mothers

Once they have children, wives usually fall further behind their husbands in earnings, partly because they are more likely to temporarily quit work or cut back when workplace policies make it hard for both parents to work full time and still meet family obligations. But this also reflects prejudice against working mothers. A few years ago, researchers at Cornell constructed fake résumés, identical in all respects except parental status. They asked college students to evaluate the fitness of candidates for employment or promotion. Mothers were much less likely to be hired. If hired, they were offered, on average, $11,000 less in starting salary and were much less likely to be deemed deserving of promotion.

According to the N.Y.U. sociologist Paula England, a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, most women, despite earning higher grades, seem to be educating themselves for occupations that systematically pay less.

On the Negative Impact of the Masculine Mystique

According to a 2011 poll by the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Americans now believe that a college education is necessary for a woman to get ahead in life today, but only 68 percent think that is true for men. And just as the feminine mystique exposed girls to ridicule and harassment if they excelled at “unladylike” activities like math or sports, the masculine mystique leads to bullying and ostracism of boys who engage in “girlie” activities like studying hard and behaving well in school. One result is that men account for only 2 percent of kindergarten and preschool teachers, 3 percent of dental assistants and 9 percent of registered nurses.

The masculine mystique is institutionalized in work structures, according to three new studies forthcoming in the Journal of Social Issues. Just as women who display “masculine” ambitions or behaviors on the job are often penalized, so are men who engage in traditionally female behaviors, like prioritizing family involvement. Men who take an active role in child care and housework at home are more likely than other men to be harassed at work.

Men who request family leave are often viewed as weak or uncompetitive and face a greater risk of being demoted or downsized. And men who have ever quit work for family reasons end up earning significantly less than other male employees, even when controlling for the effects of age, race, education, occupation, seniority and work hours. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

AASWomen for September 28, 2012

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of September 28, 2012
eds. Caroline Simpson, Michele Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, and Nick Murphy

This week's issues:

1. Bias Persists for Women of Science, a Study Finds

2. Zen and the Art of Astronomy Research

3. Tips for Conducting Astronomy Outreach

4. Gender Inequality in Deliberative Participation

5. 3 Ways to Tell Girls How Cool Science Is

6. FYI: Why Do Girls Throw Like A Girl?

7. Why Men Fail

8. Awards and Funding Opportunities

9. Job Opportunities

10. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter

11. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter

12. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Why Men Fail

Posted by Joan Schmelz in this week's AASWomen Newsletter.

Below is an excerpt of interest from David Brooks' opinion piece in the NYTimes about the traits needed for professional success and how they may be changing from "favoring" men to "favoring" women.

<<Men still dominate the tippy-top of the corporate ladder because many women take time off to raise children, but women lead or are gaining nearly everywhere else. Women in their 20s outearn men in their 20s. Twelve out of the 15 fastest-growing professions are dominated by women.
Over the years, many of us have embraced a certain theory to explain men’s economic decline. It is that the information-age economy rewards traits that, for neurological and cultural reasons, women are more likely to possess. 
But, in her fascinating new book, “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin posits a different theory. It has to do with adaptability. Women, Rosin argues, are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances. Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one. They speak the old language. They follow the old mores. Men are more likely to be rigid; women are more fluid. 
This theory has less to do with innate traits and more to do with social position. When there’s big social change, the people who were on the top of the old order are bound to cling to the old ways. The people who were on the bottom are bound to experience a burst of energy. They’re going to explore their new surroundings more enthusiastically.>>

To read more, please see:

Gender Inequality in Deliberative Participation

Posted by Daryl Haggard in this week's AASWomen Newsletter. 

American Political Science Review article that considers the impact of women's participation in group decision-making.

Article abstract: Can men and women have equal levels of voice and authority in deliberation or does deliberation exacerbate gender inequality? Does increasing women's descriptive representation in deliberation increase their voice and authority? ... We find a substantial gender gap in voice and authority, but as hypothesized, it disappears under unanimous rule and few women, or under majority rule and many women. Deliberative design can avoid inequality by fitting institutional procedure to the social context of the situation.

To read more, please see:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Guest-post by John Johnson: Zen and the Art of Astronomy Research

Guest-post by John Johnson, professor of Astronomy in the Caltech Department of Astrophysics. His research is on the detection and characterization of exoplanets. This post is a re-post from astrobites. With the start of a new academic year, his career-life advice seemed particularly timely and useful. Read on!

I had the pleasure of visiting the Harvard Center for Astrophysics back in February when I stopped through to give a colloquium. One of the CfA traditions is for the graduate students to treat the speaker to lunch. So on the day of my talk I hung out in a classroom with about two dozen graduate students where we munched on pizza and talked about everything from the difficulty of measuring stellar radial velocities at 1 m/s precision, to advice about applying for postdoctoral fellowships, to what it’s like to be a professor.

Near the end of our conversation one of the students asked me if I had any career advice for them. I’m sure this is a common if not boiler-plate question to ask speakers, so I thought carefully about what advice they likely haven’t heard before. Rather than talking about how many papers they should publish in order to get a named fellowship, or what fields of research are hotter than others, I decided to focus on a topic that I’ve found extremely important in my professional life lately: mental health.

Most people find the topic of mental health a bit unsettling, so I made sure to qualify what I meant by the term. I wasn’t insinuating that anyone in the room was crazy or mentally unstable. And I wasn’t trying to get all squishy with my audience by talking about warm fuzzies, or fuzzies of any  for that matter. But in the same way that it’s important for you to take care of your lower back by lifting with your legs, it’s important to take care of your mental state while you tackle the rigors of science. After all, you can in principle reduce your data with a bad back. However, if you’re not thinking clearly, or if you are perpetually unhappy with your lot in life, your astronomy research will certainly suffer.

I can’t remember all of the specific advice I gave to the Harvard astro-grads because it wasn’t really planned. So I hope the good folks who run Astrobites won’t mind if I riff once again. Here’s my advice about keeping things in order upstairs:

1) For most of us, if we were to wake up five mornings in a row with excruciating pain in our right arm, we’d probably go see a doctor and get it checked out. So why is it that we don’t get our minds checked out if we, say, wake up five mornings in a row feeling stressed, burned-out, or otherwise unhappy?

The field of astronomy comprises extremely smart, technically-gifted people who could easily have made very comfortable salaries after they graduated with their B.S. degrees. Yet astronomy grad students spend their days in cramped offices working 10 to 14 hour days for annual salaries that place them squarely below the poverty line. My point is that we’re not doing astronomy for the money. Most of us are in this field because we find it inspiring, exciting and…fun. Right? Isn’t that why were here? Yet, sadly, some graduate students spend a lot of their time being stressed-out and unhappy. I know my time in grad school certainly wasn’t all roses and publications.

All of this is to say that if your arm hurts you should see a doctor. If you’re unhappy, you need talk to someone. Your university has a counseling center set up just for this type of thing. They know how to help and they’ll keep it confidential. Seeking help for your mental state isn’t being weak or an indication that something is fundamentally wrong with you. This is 2011, after all, not 1950. Go get a checkup if you need it.

2) Spend a small part of your week pondering the Universe. I just wrote about how grad students are paid relatively little given their talent and expertise. The flip side of that is you all have pretty sweet jobs. It’s your job to figure out how the Universe works. So focus solely on this part of your job for at least one hour a week away from any distractions, and away from your day-to-day grind. In so doing you’ll simultaneously keep your mind limber and strong, while keeping yourself from burning out on seemingly menial tasks like tracking down that bug in your spectrum-fitting code.

Perhaps someone once mentioned that the reddest subgiants in the Solar neighborhood give a lower limit of the age of the Galaxy, but you were busy with something else and couldn’t give the notion the reflection it deserves. Or after one of your recent research talks someone stumped you with a question that, while you were able to wiggle free of at the time, you really should have had a better answer for. Or maybe you can’t seem to remember whether it’s okay to use a preposition to end a sentence with. Make sure you have a small window of time in your week to give the matter some serious thought.

3) Identify something that poses a serious challenge for you and pick a fight with it. I’m being figurative, of course, so please don’t apply this advice to your challenging office mate. Instead, I’m talking about that topic in your field or aspect of your job that you don’t have a firm handle on just yet. Maybe you’re still uncomfortable giving talks, or you’re not satisfied with your writing style. Don’t shy away from these things. Spend some time reading books on that tough topic. Sign up to give an extra journal club talk. Write a guest post on Astrobites!

By continuously looking for ways to shore up your perceived weak points you’ll give yourself opportunities for small yet regular victories, all while adding variety to your work week. Remember, your time to learn didn’t end with your qual exam; it continues throughout your career.

4) Periodically make it a point to give someone effusive yet specific praise for a job well done. Did a postdoc in your dept recently give an outstanding research talk? Stop by their office and tell them that you really liked it, and be specific about what aspects of the talk worked for you. Did a classmate recently post a paper on astro-ph? Read their paper, stop them in the hallway and congratulate them on a job well done. Or how about this: we’ve all gotten one of those emails from someone congratulating us on our recent paper, and BTW they published on the topic last year and would appreciate a citation. Try sending one of those emails to someone, but without the last part requesting a citation. If nothing else, it’s a lot of fun imagining the look of confusion on the recipient’s face when they reach the end of your note.

Kind words, encouragement and praise are hard to come by in astronomy, but keep in mind that you’re not the only person who needs these things.


This might sound like strange advice coming from a professor. Shouldn’t I be telling you about publishing or perishing? Shouldn’t I tell you to suck it up and pull an all-nighter again? Well, science is fundamentally a human pursuit and we do ourselves and the field a disservice by forgetting this simple fact. Unhappy graduate students tend to be sloppy, less productive researchers. Happy students, on the other hand, vigorously pursue interesting science questions, give outstanding talks and churn out well-written papers. Thus, as a professor, it’s in my best interest to work in a science field full of mentally-healthy students.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Guest Post: Julia Kamenetzky on Tips for Conducting Astronomy Outreach

Julia Kamenetzky is an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Her research focuses on extragalactic submillimeter spectroscopy with Z-Spec and Herschel.  She is active in CU’s Women in Astronomy group and is the recent winner of the CU Boulder Graduate School’s Dorothy Martin Doctoral Student Award for a student active in women’s issues.

Role models are critically important for encouraging young people to pursue science and math careers, especially young girls.  Astronomy is in a unique position because space is an incredibly interesting and awe-inspiring topic for the general public, yet most people don’t have a good understanding of what astronomers do.  As I mentioned in a previous guest blog post, I recently started working with an afterschool STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) program for elementary school girls.  

For this guest blog post, I wanted to share some tips for conducting astronomy outreach, based on what I’ve learned:

- Make it easy for yourself.  Finding an established outreach group is ideal because you can volunteer your time but not have to worry about finding space or advertising to get participants.  Use established curriculum from sources such as NASA (; if you’re not worried about strict classroom standards, feel free to pick and choose the portions you want to use and the ones that are not necessary for the outreach environment.  Utilize equipment from your department, local planetariums and science museums instead of reinventing the wheel.  If you have money to spend, utilize websites and catalogues for science teachers (such as, I found the ultraviolet detecting beads to be a big hit).

- Make it easy for your volunteers  My goal was to establish a bridge between our Women in Astronomy group and the school group, so that those who recognize the importance of volunteering can just sign-up and spend a few hours of their time volunteering without advanced preparation.  Utilize online services such as Doodle or Google Forms to determine availability or sign-up volunteers electronically.  Send volunteers the plan of activities so that they can know what to expect and ask questions ahead of time in order to feel more comfortable when they arrive.  If possible, offering carpooling may be useful.  We are all busy so don’t make extra work for yourself or others.

Friday, September 21, 2012

AASWomen for September 21, 2012

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of September 21, 2012
eds. Caroline Simpson, Michele Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, and Nick Murphy

This week's issues:

1. Parental Leave Wiki on AstroBetter

2. The Name Game

3. The Subtle `Stereotype Threat' That May Be Driving Women Out of Science-Related Fields

4. Online Mentors to Guide Women Into the Sciences

5. Planning Career Paths for Ph.D.s

6. Job Opportunities

7. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter

8. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter

9. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Planning Career Paths for Ph.D.s

Submitted to AASWomen by Nancy Brickhouse. 

The 7 Sept 2012 issue of Science has an editorial on "Planning Career Paths for Ph.D.s" by Jim Austin and Bruce Alberts:

A free web application is now available for the purpose of long-career planning, starting at the postdoctoral level:

While originally directed toward the biomedical field, this application is also pertinent to astronomers.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Online Mentoring Program, WitsOn!

Hundreds of prominent women working in science, technology, engineering and math will become online mentors for college students next month, part of a six-week program to encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM fields.

WitsOn (Women in Technology Sharing Online) is a pilot program sponsored by Piazza and Harvey Mudd College that will run for six weeks starting October 1. It will connect undergraduate students pursuing STEM degrees with female mentors from industry and academia who can speak from personal experience about issues of particular concern to young women.

By creating an online community of students and mentors, the sponsors of WitsOn hope that students—particularly though not exclusively young women—will better be able to envision themselves in STEM careers, thereby creating a larger pool of talented people who are ready to handle the challenges that humanity faces in the coming decades.

Over two dozen universities have already signed up to participate, including Caltech, Cornell, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and UC-Berkeley. If you're interested in being a mentor and/or having your institution or just your class participate, there's a simple request form to fill out. 

Excerpts from a New York Times article on the topic & the WitsOn website.

Posted by L. Trouille

The Subtle ‘Stereotype Threat’ That May Be Driving Women Out of Science-Related Fields

The following is taken from Doug Barry's recent post at

According to new research into the glaring gender gap in science and math-related fields, the psychological phenomenon known as the "stereotype threat" may be discouraging female scientists from relishing their work, which sucks because without more women entering the scientific workforce, America is probably going to soon become a nation of cave-dwelling primates that believe thunder is just God's giant cosmic dog thumping against celestial floorboards in an effort to scratch behind its ear. Or some such non-scientific wackiness.

NPR's Shankar Vedantam reports on a study about why so many women drop out of science-related fields conducted by University of British Columbia psychologist Toni Schmader and her University of Arizona colleague Matthias Mehl. Using a device called an Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) that the Stasi would have been super jealous of, Schmader and Mehl collected daily soundbites (about 5 an hour and 70 a day) of women working in science-related fields. They found that, whereas men seemed more energized when discussing their work, when women talked to their male colleagues about work, they seemed disengaged. When women talked to other female colleagues about work, however, they seemed engaged, and when they talked to men about leisure activities, the anxieties that marred previous work-related conversations vanished. Schmader and Mehl looked for instances of men being overtly hostile or nasty to their female colleagues as a possible explanation for this disconnect, but, finding that all the conversations were perfectly civil, they realized that there was another far more subtle phenomenon causing women who'd endured grueling Ph.D. programs to suddenly cut their science careers short.

Schmader and Mehl identified the "stereotype threat," a psychological phenomenon first identified by psychologist Claude Steele, as the culprit behind the dearth of women in science-related fields. Steele explained the threat as something that, though never necessarily overt, would hang over the heads of certain groups of people like a cloud, affecting the way they saw themselves in the context of a larger group of people. Describing how the "stereotype threat" affects us, Steele wrote,

Everyone experiences stereotype threat. We are all members of some group about which negative stereotypes exist, from white males and Methodists to women and the elderly. And in a situation where one of those stereotypes applies - a man talking to women about pay equity, for example, or an aging faculty member trying to remember a number sequence in the middle of a lecture - we know that we may be judged by it.

As it pertained to Schmader and Mehl's study, the stereotype threat made women second guess themselves when they talked to a male colleague because there's an implicit cultural assumption that men are just naturally more inclined towards the sciences than women. That, coupled with the fact that the sciences are dominated by men threw female scientists off-balance in their work-related conversations with male colleagues. According to Schmader,

For a female scientist, particularly talking to a male colleague, if she thinks it's possible he might hold this stereotype, a piece of her mind is spent monitoring the conversation and monitoring what it is she is saying, and wondering whether or not she is saying the right thing, and wondering whether or not she is sounding competent, and wondering whether or not she is confirming the stereotype.

Schmader and Mehl warned that people shouldn't take this to mean that the difficulty women have staying put in science fields is all some elaborate, paranoid fiction — the stereotype threat is a very real and pernicious phenomenon that keeps people from feeling confident about their standing within a particular community. When women look around a lab and see a bunch of lab-coated penises flopping from petri dish to petri dish, they might wonder if they really belong in that environment. "If people like me," Schmader said, explaining a female scientist's dismay at finding herself the seeming exception to some unspoken stereotype, "aren't represented in this field, then it makes me feel like it's a bad fit, like I don't belong here." The only way to combat the stereotype threat, then, is to more actively encourage women to enter the sciences, which in turn will keep America out of the caves and maybe help us staff up a mission to Mars. Come on, people, we can totally do this.

For the full NPR All Things Considered New Story, click here.

Posted by L. Trouille

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Name Game

Ms., Mrs., Mr., Doctor, Professor... what do your students call you?

As we start the new school year and I teach a new crop of first-year students at a liberal arts (LA) college, I'm again faced with a big decision - how should I have my students address me?  I'm proud of the work I did in graduate school and my position at my college. We all worked hard to earn our PhDs - blood, sweat, tears, know the story. Surely, asking the students to call me "Dr." or "Professor" is appropriate, right[1]?  

I talked about this last week with a colleague of mine at a NASA agency. He spent his undergraduate years at a small liberal arts college and remembered that he "avoided the issue" entirely by never using any title. Once he got into the major, and certainly in graduate school, he called his professors by their first names. I spent my undergraduate years at a large research university (R1) - it never occurred to me (or my friends) to address my professors by their first names (unless we were outside of class, of course).  I distinctly remember my undergraduate advisor finally telling me one day, "You can call me Chris".  Once I started graduate school, I used first names more often, but not always.

I ponder the "title" issue because I've learned that several of my colleagues outside of the sciences like to "break down the walls" between professor and student and thus invite students to call them by their first names.  Results from an informal poll at my college show that across all divisions, less than half of the faculty who responded prefer to be called “Dr.” or “Professor”.  The rest use first names, nicknames or have no preference.  I'm not sure how I feel about this.  I like to think that undergraduate students should learn that the road to the PhD, ending with "Dr.", comes after many years of hard work and research experience.  Welcome to college.  Importantly, according to this poll, more scientists than non-scientists prefer to be called “Dr.” or “Professor”, and I think this tells us something about the nature of the disciplines.

To test this idea further, I also sent the survey out to members of the group, astrolrner, which is a discussion group for those interested in improving college-level astronomy teaching and learning.  Since the members teach at all types of colleges, I had them select what type of college (community college, undergraduate-only college, or college/university with Masters and PhD degrees). This time, I also had them tell me if they were male or female.  The results were not surprising.  According to the poll results, the majority of faculty at four-year institutions and at institutions granting Masters and PhD degrees prefer to be called “Dr.” or “Professor”.  Of interest, I believe, to the readers here, is that only 1/14 of female faculty at these institutions prefers that students use her first name or nickname or has no preference compared to 7/18 of male faculty.  Hmm. I expected this. Did you?

One person (male) at a four-year college responded, “Students SHOULD be referring to us by title - Prof. or Dr. Many don't... I've had freshmen call me by my first name without having been instructed to do so. Some faculty want to be 'friends' with students, and use first names. I think that is a great disservice, as students don't get the social skills they'll need in the professional business world.”   Do you agree?

What about the media?  When you are interviewed, does the reporter call you (or write about you as) "Dr." or "Mrs." or "Mr."? (BTW, did you read that, according to one study, fewer women than men are quoted/interviewed by news outlets?)  I'm always surprised when I read an article and I see scientists often (but not always) referred to as "Mr." or "Mrs." or even “Ms.”, even in prestigious national newspapers. Physics Today even accepted a letter or two about this issue.

I don’t have any answers – just data! – so I leave you with a lot of questions. Please feel free to leave comments because I think there are lots of subtleties to be explored.  Is using a title a cultural thing? Is it an LA-vs.-R1-vs.-other-type-of-school thing?  Is it regional?  As suggested by one respondent, does age, i.e, social standards of generations or the age difference between students and instructors, have anything to do with this?  

Could it be that part of the STEM issue – so few students majoring and pursuing careers in STEM fields – has something to do with titles? Or what gender of faculty uses them?  Are science courses perceived as "cold" and non-science courses as "warm and fuzzy", partly as a result of the hierarchical nature of science?  What’s your opinion?

[1] I am aware of the difference between “Dr.” and “Professor” – I chose to use them interchangeably here, as Americans tend to do.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Parental Leave Wiki on AstroBetter

This week's guest blogger is Nick Murphy. Nick Murphy is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. His research is on solar physics, including the role of magnetic reconnection in solar eruptions. He is active in several community groups in the Boston area that are working for gender equity and racial justice. 

Last year, our colleagues at AstroBetter provided wiki space to catalog parental leave policies at astronomical institutions:

The goals of this wiki are: (1) to allow astronomers at different career stages to easily compare parental leave policies, and (2) to encourage institutions to enact better parental leave policies by showing how they compare with peer institutions.  

At this point there are postings for 23 institutions and fellowships in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. We encourage you to post information about your own institution if it is not included.  If your institution lacks a comprehensive parental leave policy or only has unpaid leave, it is important to post anyway so that prospective graduate students and employees know this and the administation can be encouraged to implement something better.  If your institution has a parental leave policy worth being proud of, post so that more people want to go there!  

We especially encourage institutions outside of the US to be included, in part to show how the US measures up internationally.  With your help, we can make this an even better resource for the members of our community who are applying to graduate school, postdocs, and permanent positions.

Posted by L. Trouille

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Permanent Jobs Elusive for Recent PhDs

As someone who just graduated from my PhD and went through an extensive job search, I was interested in the results from two recent studies by the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics. These studies looked at the initial employment of physics doctorates as well as a follow up with these same doctorates one year later.

The studies found that around 30% percent of newly minted PhDs (20% for astronomy/astrophysics) are accepting potentially permanent positions, down from an eight-year high of 34% in 2008, while more than 60% (70% for astronomy/astrophysics) are taking post-doc positions, up from a low in 2008 of about 55%.

According to the follow-up survey, 13% took post-doc positions because they “could not obtain a suitable permanent position,” up from 7 percent for the graduating classes of 2007 and 2008.  An additional 34% took post-docs, not because they desired the additional research experience, but because they felt it was a "necessary step into obtaining a future position."  Of the graduates who obtained potentially permanent positions, only 25% were at colleges and universities.  The rest were at government labs (16%) and in the private sector (59%).

Private sector potentially permanent positions had the highest median starting salary at $90,000, while potentially permanent government workers earned a median of $85,000. Perhaps surprisingly, the starting salary for a potentially permanent spot at a university is only marginally better than for a post-doc, about $50,000 per year compared with $45,000 per year. Post-docs at government institutions took in a median starting salary of about $63,400 per year.

I find it particularly interesting that astronomy/astrophysics is the subfield with the lowest number of doctorates going directly into potentially permanent positions.  I found that when approaching my own job search, there was very little mentorship / guidance available about alternative career paths for astrophysicists outside of post-docs / academia.  Perhaps this, along with the fact that there are less obvious industrial applications for astrophysics (compared to material science or condensed matter) explains why so few of us are getting permanent jobs after graduation.

For more information please visit the AIP Statistical Research Center.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Recommendation Letters

Summer is officially over, classes are back in session, and temperatures are (finally!) starting to cool off. Which means it's job hunting season!
This year, I'm going to be on the other side of the job hunting process. And from this perspective, I thought it would be useful to post a reminder to letter-writers and letter-readers about letters about women candidates.
This article is a couple of years old, but the message is still valid. (And as with most online articles exposing gender bias, it does not pay to delve into the comment section.) The upshot is that in an analysis of hundreds of letters of recommendation, "Female candidates were described in more communal (social or emotive) terms and male candidates in more agentic (active or assertive) terms." Moreover, "The more communal characteristics mentioned, the lower the evaluation of the candidate." In addition, "letter writers included more doubt raisers when recommending women, using phrases such as 'She might make an excellent leader' versus what they used for male candidates, 'He is already an established leader.'"
So, if you are writing letters for women, be aware of the language you use. And if you are reading letters for women candidates, look out for the language used to describe her and avoid letting it color your judgement. Rather, look at more objective criteria, such as publications and experience.
Happy hunting!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Gender Bias in Commissioned Articles

There is an article I found interesting in Nature this week about gender inequity in News and View articles in Nature and Perspectives articles in Science.  The article is written by Daniel Conley and Johanna Stadmark of Lunds University in Sweden.  They do a statistical analysis in 3 subject areas:  biology and chemistry, physical sciences and Earth and environmental sciences.  Their conclusion is that the proportion of women commissioned to write these pieces is quite low. 

Here are some of the numbers for Nature.  Female authorship was 17% for biology/chemisty, 8% for physical sciences and 4% for Earth/environmental sciences.  The Science numbers are slightly larger, but still small.  These are to be compared to the fraction of women in these field in the US, with is 32%, 16% and 20%, respectively.  They point out that scientists commissioned to write these pieces are typically full professors, and the fraction of women full professors is lower in all three areas.

The authors were interviewed about the article and had the following to say:
"We believe that fewer women than men are offered the career boost of invitation-only authorship in each of the two leading science journals"  (Daniel Conley)
""Gender parity can be achieved if Nature and Science are willing to make the effort to include more women in their invitation-only sections" (Johanna Stadmark)

One thing that I found particularly interesting is that the authors refer to a similar kind of piece that Conley wrote in Nature in 2005 about the small fraction of women authors in the Insight section of Nature.  Nature actually made an effort to increase the fraction after 2005 with good results.  Being aware of these inequalities and discussing them can really make a difference!