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Sara Seager is doing an online chat today at noon about exoplanets!

(Disclaimer: Sara Seager is awesome in her own right, not just because she's a friend of mine.)
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[ profile] ayekamn has a great post about a recent study's findings on why women leave science. To quote from the article, "The reported contributing factors to this disparity fall into two categories: family responsibilities and self-confidence."

As [ profile] ayekamn notes, there's no mention of institutional barriers that block women - the old boys' network, biased hiring practices, or even outright hostility to women in the workplace. Maybe that all falls under the category of "lack of self-confidence," as if all we had to do was fix the women and all would be well with the world. Well, I have news for you: all the self-confidence in the world isn't going to help you if you're still constantly judged as being less competent simply because you lack the smallest chromosome in the human genome.
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Caught sight of this item over at Thus Spake Zuska. Apparently, the journal Nature reprints its original mission statement in every issue. Said mission statement includes the line,
"to aid Scientific men themselves, by giving early information of all advances made in any branch of Natural knowledge throughout the world, and by affording them an opportunity of discussing the various Scientific questions which arise from time to time."

Recognizing that the phrase "Scientific men themselves" might be objectionable in the 21st century (if not the preceding 1.38 centuries as well, really), the editors announced a change in the wording in an editorial in yesterday's issue. The new improved wording will be... wait for it...
"Scientific men [sic] themselves".

hmphf. Personally, I agree with Zuska, that it's a big cop out.

Nature likes to thinks it's on the cutting edge of science research, but it's more like the bleeding edge - I'd estimate that half the results published in it get quietly retracted within a year, at least in astronomy. Maybe by being behind the times in gender equality, it balances out?
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As part of the 5-question interview meme, [ profile] arcanology asks:

1. What should an individual male academic do in order to make the academic career less male-biased?

It's such a good question and provoked such an involved response that I've decided to re-post my answer on its own here.

So let's say you're Prof. Joe Average, white and male. First of all, you should be aware that if you really want to improve the environment for women, you have to do more than mean well, you have to actively work to make changes, and that those changes need to begin with your own interactions with respect to women.

Realize that just because you don't see a problem doesn't mean that the problem doesn't exist. You have been sheltered from the problems facing women (or minorities for that matter, a whole 'nother topic!) all your life. Just because someone has had a different experience from you doesn't invalidate her experiences. Don't take it personally if you hear a woman gripe about her experiences with chauvinist men - she isn't necessarily speaking about you specifically.

Understand that you, yes you, have unconscious biases towards women. All these studies I discuss in my livejournal about attitudes toward women as they apply to the business world? Read them. Acknowledge that you are part of the problem. Yes, you, no matter how well-intentioned you are -- those unconscious biases are sneaky that way.

Be aware that your perceptions of a woman's ability might be clouded by your unconscious biases. Repeatedly ask yourself, would I treat this person differently if she were a man? When I write recommendations, do I talk about how brilliant and independent my male grad student is, while talking about how organized and hard-working my female grad student is? Do I believe that the newest female assistant professor got her job only because she is female? Those attitudes need to change. This part may be hard work, but no one said that cultural change was easy.

Seek out qualified women for your colloquium series, your conference speakers, your job search candidates. Keep in mind that women are often worse at self-promotion than men, so even though the first people that come to mind might all be male, there are almost certainly women whom you may not have heard of that would fit the bill as well. Along those same lines go out of your way to give opportunities to your advisees, like talking them up to your collegues, suggesting conferences for them to attend, and encouraging them to give talks.

Point out sources of unconscious biases to your collegues. Show them those studies you've read. Get them to also be aware of their own unconscious biases. Identify cultural issues in your department that might unintentionally disfavor women. For example, if your department puts a high value on "face time," that would work against people who might leave early to pick up the kids, but then work from home after the kids have gone to bed. Another example is if salary increases stem mostly from someone waving job offer from a rival department around - you should be rewarding people for their loyalty to your department, rather than their threats to leave.

When you see misogyny in your institution, whether it's lewd pictures sexual harassment, or simply unprofessional attitudes toward women, speak out about it. The women that are subject to the harassment may be unwilling to speak out for fear of retaliation.

And when you've done all that, don't rest on your laurels. This is going to be a long, hard fight. Constant vigilance!

(Answers to other interview questions will be forthcoming. Soon. I promise.)
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Last night's Marketplace show on NPR included this item about dual career couples and the problems they face -- the two-body problem, as it is referred to among physical scientists, because we're geeky that way. Some quotes that resonated with me:
"We have a number of friends who were academics, who cheerfully, one half — but wistfully — would say OK, you know, we want to be together, and so one of us will actually stop being an academic. And I think for us, that would really breed a resentment. You know, how can you ask somebody to give up what they do when that's such an integral part of who they are?"

Almost a third of all faculty and staff in higher education are partnered with other academics. They face huge hurdles when it comes to getting jobs in the same place.

The article also says that universities are actually responding, and trying to find solutions to the two-body problem with HERCs: Higher Education Recruitment Consortiums.
HERC members hope that by collaborating, they'll be able to hire their top-tier candidates by luring them to the region, rather than placing the burden on only one institution.

This morning, I see this on PhD comics:

click here to see full strip )

Personally, I've been lucky enough to not have a significant two-body problem. My husband does not face the same hurdles finding employment that I do. When it came time to move for my postdoc, knowing that my husband would be able to keep his job saved me a lot of angst. But so many of my friends do face the heartache of having to decide between their career and their relationships. This includes many readers of this here little blog -- you know who you are. I earnestly hope that things change for the better, for all of us.
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The Supreme Court has decided to make it easier for employers to discriminate against women. I guess the wage gap doesn't bother them in the slightest. Perhaps it's only coincidence that this comes soon after I read this article* about pretty blatant sex discrimination against an assistant professor at UCLA, where "it was discovered during court proceedings that her UCLA department had a secret reserve of money that they used to supplement the salaries of male faculty members only." So if your employer does something behind your back, and you don't find out about it until more than 180 days afterwards, does that mean you don't get to file suit against them? If your employer systematically gave you smaller raises than your male collegues over the past 19 years, it's not a valid claim? Oh right, that is what they ruled.

I used to be pretty naive about sex discrimination - I never really experienced it myself, so I thought. Up through grad school, I felt like I was treated pretty much the same as my male cohorts. Certainly my grades showed that I was as good as them. But as the criteria for success becomes more and more subjective, I'm feeling it more and more. It's nothing truly blatent, just the thousands of tiny paper cuts ("You'll have no problem getting a job, you're a woman." "Did having children in grad school make you take longer?") that bleed you to death. To have the Supreme Court, of all entities, make it harder for a woman to fight discrimination, that makes me all the more paranoid about my chances for success.

What with this and the "partial birth abortion" rulings, it seems pretty clear that the majority of the Supreme Court hates women. I share Ruth Bader Ginsburg's frustration and anger. The end of Bush's term in office and the accompanying chance to rectify the makeup of the Supreme Court can't come soon enough for me.

*seen at Bitch PhD
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I'm a bit late to this news tidbit, but there's this study that's been recently published about how working mothers fare in the job market. It seems that you can draw up the perfect resume for a woman, but if you insert a single line in it, about being a PTA officer, suddenly you don't land the interview or get the job or earn as much money as you would have otherwise. (see also.)

Relatedly, having children can be a real liability for women hoping to get tenure, whereas it seem to be an advantage for men.

Consider, also, that astronomy is small enough a field that pretty much anywhere I apply, there will be at least one person who can say, "Dr. Nomer? Yeah, I hear she has two kids." So really, there's no sense in hiding the fact that I'm a mother, even if it doesn't show up on my resume. I also wonder how much of that factors into my big, fat, and growing pile of rejection letters.

I wish I could change these things. You know, shake some people up and make them aware of their unconscious biases, maybe slap them around if they're conscious (the biases, I mean). But at the same time, I don't want to create bad feelings, because it really is such a small field and my position in it is precarious enough as it is. Raising a ruckus will probably just grant me a "shrill feminist" label, and who wants one of those in their department, spoiling the good-old-boy atmosphere? I guess I'll just have to be a quiet, bitter feminist until I get tenure, then all hell can break loose.

EDIT: You can find the study by Correll et al. here (p. 1297), but I don't have permissions to see it.
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Wow, I didn't realize that my last post would generate so many comments! Granted, it's mostly [ profile] dcltdw to blame, but thank you all for keeping it civil and generating such an interesting dicussion. *scritches* to [ profile] dcltdw for being a silly rabbit.

While I can't really respond to every comment, I did want to respond to a couple of ideas that came up:

1) I'm not advocating affirmative action. I'm not really sure that that's the right response. For example, I am very reluctant to apply for any faculty jobs that are specifically allocated for a woman, because I want to be hired on my scientific merits, not simply because I'm a woman. On the other hand, I would be perfectly willing to apply for a grant that would allow me to return to research after a leave of absence for family reasons, if that circumstance actually applied to me. There's a difference there that I can't really articulate, but has to do with allowing for flexibility in your career trajectory or working hours, rather than promotions based on criteria other than merit.

2) The story goes that the academic tenure-track career path is based on the lives of sixteenth century monks who studied "natural philosophy," as it was called way back then. So our notions of ivory towers are based on that - pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, and to the exclusion of all else. In the intervening centuries, life has changed. Science is no longer the exclusive domain of old white men (even though it still seems that way sometimes!) and yet the career trajectory has not changed much. If at any point you deviate from the grad school-postdoc-assistant professor-tenured professor path, it's extremely difficult to get back on. So, if you take some time off from research to, say, have a child, when you're ready to come back, you'll find that the doors have slammed shut to you. This is what I mean by flexibility - allowing for varied career paths, for people to have lives outside their careers. Several people alluded to the fact that longer hours do not necessarily mean greater productivity. The business world is finally beginning to realize that, and I hope that the academic world does, too.

Off my soapbox now, and to bed.
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That's right. I started cleaning my office on Thursday, and now I'm finally on the last bit of going through Giant Mountains of Papers, sorting them, tossing out duplicates, and filing them away. And then maybe I can do some Real Work again.

In the meantime, here are some interesting articles I came across on the internet today:

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The "leaky pipeline" metaphor is explained in this article as:
In corporations, women tend to talk about a "glass ceiling." In academia, the more commonly used metaphor is the "leaky pipeline." The flood of women in graduate and professional schools gives way to a trickle at the highest levels in many fields.
And as with many articles on the subject, it cites having children and trying to balance career and family as one of the biggest obstacles to keeping women in science. And look, a way to tackle the problem!
Grant won a Claflin Award. It was only a modest prize -- $60,000 over two years, offered since 1997 to select Massachusetts General Hospital women trying to balance their medical research with young children. But, she says, it made an enormous difference: It not only paid for staff to help on her research, it gave her "the positive feedback you need when you're overworked and exhausted to kind of keep in the game."
I'm a huge fan of grants programs like this that give women scientists a hand up when they have children.

On the other hand, this item bring up an important point. Why is childcare always considered almost exclusively a woman's issue?
Most men in corporate, political, judicial and non-profit positions of power -- Democrats, Republicans, independents, apoliticals -- don't have childcare as a national problem anywhere on their radar screens. It's a "woman's issue." A special interest group concern. Their wives' problem. Despite the fact that, obviously, men have something to do with creating children.
And I totally agree. Which is why DH and I do our best to share childcare duties.

This begs the question, why not make the grants programs cited above open to both new mothers and new fathers? To which I say, fine, if the father is actually doing the bulk of the work tending to the children -- which is just not the case in most families. But that involves a huge cultural shift, as evidenced by the second article. And maybe if men in positions of power did pay attention, then special help for young mothers in academia would not be necessary. So until that happens, I'm fine with giving women an extra hand up.
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This is a very interesting article, but I really should be working on finishing up this paper so just a few brief comments. Some quotes:

Read more... )

A lot of this stuff resonantes with me. It's especially interesting to me to read about the job-hunting advice since that's foremost on my mind at the moment. Enough. Go read the article yourself.
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I've posted about stereotype threat before, but I found this article particularly interesting. Basicially, stereotype threat is the self-fulfilling prophecy that can lead to women and minorities underperforming, by simply reminding them of their minority status. The article cites a study that looks at extremely subtle triggers that invoke the stereotype threat, like subliminally flashing the words "doll" and "lipstick" at women to cause them to favor arts over math, or the presence of a US flag causing an uptick in math scores among whites.

Boy, who knew this sort of thing could be so insidious. Imagine you're the only woman on the faculty of a science department. Not only are you very isolated in your position, but you have all these constant reminders (like the faces of the others in your department) that you are a woman in science, thereby invoking the stereotype threat. It makes me very leery of applying to some of these all-male departments.
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So I noticed a job posting at Stony Brook University and I went over to their website to check them out. One of the first things I notice is their little icon next to the URL in my browser. I'm not sure what it's called, but LJ's little doohickey is a blue pencil. Anyway, theirs is an image of an old white guy, complete with bushy eyebrows and mustache.

Now, they posted their job ad to a mailing list that goes to lots of women in astronomy. And they state in the ad, "We are indeed particularly eager to find women and minority candidates." Well, great. But you might have better luck by not perpetuating stereotypes.
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Here's a radical idea: freeze your eggs so you can have your career now, and family later.

I can see why this could be appealing for a competitive career like science, where you're expected to work like a dog until you get tenure. At the same time, is it really healthy for a mother to undergo pregnancy and labor in her 50s? or even 60s? Besides, if you're a downtrodden postdoc, you're unlikely to have the money to extract and freeze your eggs anyway.

Is it really so hard to balance family and career that you have to resort to such extreme measures? Possibly. But it shouldn't be that way.
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One of the postdocs at work (not in my particular group), I'll call her N, had a baby, oh, 1.5 years ago maybe? She had brought the baby in a couple of times, but then disappeared for a while. The other day, one of the office admins mentioned that N was expecting another baby and had decided to be a stay-at-home mom.

My feelings about this are mixed and conflicting. While I'm happy to hear about another baby on the way, I'm less so about hearing her drop out of science. Granted, she had some serious two-body issues going: she lived 3 hours away, for instance. And I could totally understand having a baby and then discovering, wow, I love being a mom! And mothers have enough guilt as it is, so I shouldn't be judgemental. But I still have to wonder how much of it was really her choice. Maybe if it weren't so damned hard to have a baby while being a postdoc, maybe if her two-body problem could have been accommodated better, maybe maybe maybe.

I haven't had the chance to speak to N about it myself, so mostly I'm just speculating. I hope for her sake, that she really did decide that being a mom was really great, and that giving up science was worth it. Or maybe she has a plan for getting back into it when the kids are older. If so, more power to her. But if she felt like she was forced out because of the circumstances, then, well, all the more reason to fight the patriarchy.
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This news is a tad old by now, but there's a very interesting article in last week's issue of Nature (requires subscription to read full text) written by Ben Barres, a scientist who used be known as Barbara Barres, about how sexism in the scientific community keeps women from succeeding. He cites a number of studies documenting gender bias in addition to his own anecdotes. A particularly choice one:
Shortly after I changed sex, a faculty member was heard to say, "Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister's."

The NY Times had an interview with him. (thanks to [ profile] fredrickegerman for the tip.)
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Now I understand. This is why I made the short list. Clearly, I should try to turn it to my advantage.

Late Tuesday evening: I arrive in Boston. I don't plan for anything more than make my way to [ profile] chenoameg's house, say hello to her housemates, and go to bed.

Wednesday evening: DINNER MOB! Any suggestions for a place to go? I'd prefer something in the Porter/Davis vicinity.

Thursday evening: I am thinking of heading to that yellow house in Brookline for dinner and not-coffee. But I can't stay too late, since I'll need to check into my hotel that evening and will want a good night's sleep. DH has already warned me that I will be led into temptation, but I'm on my guard against you pinochlers!

Friday: THE BIG DAY. As far as I know, my talk is public, so if you want to see my pretty pictures, it'll be at 4pm in the Green building, someplace on the 9th floor, I think. I expect to be busy the entire day and into the evening.

Saturday morning: I head back home.

Hmm, I leave tomorrow night, don't I. I should start packing.


Mar. 11th, 2006 08:16 pm
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Yesterday, I got to see both new babies in the astronomy group! Both babies are just over a month old, and were both born 3 weeks early within a week of each other. Both moms are still grad students. Both dads are astronomers. Both babies slept for most of the time I saw them.

Baby K came in the afternoon, with both parents in tow. K's dad is the astronomer, K's mom is still a grad student in biology in Pennsylvania. Dad's been on materinity leave in PA since the baby arrived, and they just came down for a couple of days. When dad goes back to work, he'll basically have to go a week at a time without seeing K. At least it sounds like mom has a good support network, and she's really motivated to finish up in the next year or so. I threw some useless advice K's mom's way, and we traded horror stories about our own moms. I offered her a sympathetic ear for anytime she's feeling down, and I hope she knows I'm serious. I really do wish I could help them out more, perhaps because I can empathize with their situation better than most.

Baby C came to a Women's Night out at M's house, M being a prominent senior woman scientist where I work, though not an astronomer. C's mom has been feeling cooped up at home, so she really enjoyed coming out, even with baby in tow. She seems to have settled into the mom business pretty well. Need to remind myself to make plans with her in the near future. I'm also contemplating starting an astro-playgroup.

I had brought DS1 along to the party, and he was very well-behaved. I didn't really feel like playing foozeball with him, but I managed to convince a couple other people to join us, and we got soundly beaten several times. I suspect it's because DS1 hit the ball backward as often as he hit it forward. The party was strictly for women at my workplace and any offspring, but it seemed that all the offspring that got dragged to the party were boys -- so everyone under 15 were boys, and everyone over 15 were women. Hee.

(for the non-astronomers, YSO = Young Stellar Object)


Jan. 4th, 2006 09:47 am
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The January 2006 issue of STATUS, the semi-annual publication of the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, is now available online. Highly recommended reading for anyone concerned about women in science.


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