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June 29, 2007

Scientiae Carnival: Responsibility

Science is amazing. Scientific advances have led and formed our lives in innumerable ways. Through science and scientific knowledge, we have learned an immense amount about ourselves, our world, and our universe. Imagine how differently you would see the world if you didn't know that pressure, moisture, heat, and energy were all factors in determining the weather, or if you didn't know that sickness was caused by germs.

Simultaneously, though, we have seen scientific knowledge used for ill, over the years. The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, Medical Experiments of Nazi Germany and the bombing of Hiroshima are all examples of scientific knowledge applied in unethical and irresponsible ways.

There are a lot of reasons that we at FairerScience.org feel passionately about our work towards increasing women's and minorities' representation in the sciences, and one of those reasons is responsibility. It's not that we think women or minorities are more responsible or more ethical than white men; rather, it's that we all seem to be more compassionate about populations who look like us. The more diverse the field of science is, the more sympathetically scientific knowledge can and will be applied.

Therefore, it's only responsible for scientists of all stripes, striving toward an ethical approach and application, should desire and encourage a great diversity of people to be active in the field. It benefits us all.

Gender differences: not what you might think

There are some gender differences that are just set in stone, aren't there? Oh, sure, we can debate the math/reading difference, and we're still learning a lot about it, so who really knows, anyway? But surely, some of the aptitudes and abilities we think of as gender-based really are, right?

Well, I remember hearing a story a few years ago about a fellow somewhere in Asia who began lactating and breast fed his kids after his wife died giving birth, a story that gave me a huge kick. So, I was delighted to stumble upon this story from last February in Scientific American about this. The conclusion: males can, indeed, lactate.

Maybe this will get the ball rolling on people suggesting that more men can be stay-at-home dads to infants? Oh, sure, call me a dreamer. Okay, I'll settle for a little more critical thought about "hardwiring". Still too much? Tough crowd!

Hey, Barbie, gender differences are confusing! Let's go do some math!

June 27, 2007

Goodbye, Mr. Wizard, and thank you!

Mr. Wizard died this week and he will be missed. Oh I know that he hadn't been on television for many years and that the quality of those grainy black and white tv shows wasn't high. But ah Watch Mr. Wizard was great.

He and the kids with him did real experiments—ones you could do yourself at home without getting into too much trouble. And not only that, Mr. Wizard's science assistants included both girls and boys (side note oh how I wanted to be one of those girls even though they always wore the ugliest school dresses ever). And remember, folks, this was the 50's and the 60's when it was assumed girls didn't do much of anything – much less science. For years Mr. Wizard introduced girls and boys to the coolness of science. Thanks, Mr. Wizard!

Posted by Rosa for Pat, who's off doing cool science stuff in Hawaii, the poor woman.

June 23, 2007

Disaggregation and Privilege

I'm off to Hawaii and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) annual meeting. Now I admit the title of my presentation, "Changes in PhDs Awarded in STEM and New Enrollees in STEM Graduate Programs by Gender and Race", isn't very exciting but the results remind us how badly we need data that are broken by sex by race/ethnicity. Results are often very different between white and African American women or between Hispanic women and men. But if data are only reported for women and men without looking at their race/ethnicity we will never know.

And there are many things that we won't know about graduate education because while the Council of Graduate Schools PhD Completion Project breaks out student data by race/ethnicity and by sex ; it does not break out race/ethnicity data by sex. Even worse, the National Research Council Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs breaks out student data by race/ethnicity, but does not even collect student data by sex.

It was the loss of potentially key information that was bothering me here but after reading the following from Thus Spoke Zuska I realized that I was missing the bigger picture

" …there are times of the day when my privilege makes me forget about racism and homophobia and religious discrimination, and a whole host of other isms I'm not even thinking of right now. Because sometimes I am just sick to death of thinking about gender, and I can't seem to unknow that perspective on the world anymore. I can still slip out of the others if I'm not careful, which, I must admit, is restful at times.

That's what's so very, very cozy about privilege. It's not disturbing at all, if no one (including yourself) forces you to think about it. "

PS The paper will be part of the 2007 Conference Proceedings. If you want to see it before then, drop me an e-mail and I'll send it to you.

June 19, 2007

Acknowledging what we owe to those who came before

FairerScience friend and advisor Walter Secada sent me his review of a new book on equity in mathematics, Improving access to mathematics. The book sounds interesting but what really interested me was the last paragraph of his review.

Walter reminds us that "that the individuals who engaged in equity research [in the 60s-80s] were, in their own ways and in their own times, as politically astute and as ground breaking as breaking as the authors of these chapters. Equity researchers from that era used the dominant research theories and tools from their times to create the spaces that made possible this book." He goes on to say "The authors of Improving access to mathematics also use the dominant theories and tools of today to create another set of spaces; I end by wondering what use future scholars will make of these new affordances that will render this work, in its own turn, hopelessly out of date."

Walter's words have application far beyond a specific book, or even field. Being out of date means that people were able to learn from and build on the work. That should be acknowledged not attacked,

June 15, 2007

Scientiae Carnival: Transitions

The theme of this Scientiae Carnival is transitions — happy transitions, sad ones; transitions in education, life, and work.

At Proving Theorems estraven considers all of her major life transitions and determines that the biggest change was the first step of going to university.

At one end of the graduate education continuum, Propterdoc writes with joy about her transition to being a grad student: "Everyday I felt quite light headed with the notion that I was in the right place doing what I was supposed to do, becoming what I was supposed to be."

Flicka Mawa is working on a similar mental transition in her thoughtful post about learning from going through rough times as an undergraduate and being able to apply those lessons to deal more effectively with failing her qualifying exams.

At Amelie's Welt Amelie writes about how surprising many aspects of moving into a PhD program were. "When you come into a new environment, usually there are others who know what’s going on, who can show you (on purpose or not) how things work. You start kindergarden… I assumed it would be similar when I start my PhD…"

Also becoming who she's supposed to be, Yami from Green Gabbrowrites about Leaking From the Pipeline (Again). She talks about her decision to move from a PhD to a Master's program, what was behind it and how she feels about it. Her comment that "I am able to recognize misfits between myself and academia as value-neutral or as flaws in academia instead of feeling like I am broken," made us cheer out loud.

Galaxy girl has a different take on transitions. She writes about graduate school not as a single transition but as a state of transition where pretty much all of life's decisions from the small to the big are on hold, waiting for the PhD to be completed. For a future post, Galaxy girl says she will write on a really different type of transition—"maybe how transitions of iron allow a glimpse of the very heart of an active galactic nuclei." We can't wait to read that one!

On the other side of the doctoral divide, Tenure Track Newbie writes about that transition -- moving into her first tenure track job and sorting out how to negotiate the demanding waters of that position: "During my interview, the dean stressed excellence in teaching, excellence in service, and excellence in scholarship. Note to self: Replace “very good” with “excellent” in personal vocabulary." We were especially interested in her comments about students evaluating faculty more highly if they (the students) can associate a role or personality with the faculty member. Fascinating!

Skookumchick writes about surviving being in the middle of that graduate education continuum including getting her first faculty position, finishing and defending her dissertation, moving. Her advice to herself: "Calm down, skookumchick. Take a deep breath. Do one thing at a time. Maybe make a list. And think how much more relaxing it will be to consider all these changes from a Hawaiian beach, or on the parents' Coastal deck over their rocky beach, with Mr. Skookumchick, who will help you through all this." sure sounds good to us.

Sciencewoman considers different transitions – those with clear boundaries (teaching vs. not teaching) and those without (research!).

And out the other end of the tenure process, Kat on a Wire discusses getting tenure -- what it didn't mean to her and what doing a sabbatical did. We also enjoyed her tie-in to talking about "What Not to Wear."

Jenny F Scientist comments on the conflict between personal and professional, personal demands and systemic, structural issues. In her first post Not All Choices Were Created Equal, she does a really nice analysis of how power and policies effect our choices as women. Her conclusion is a powerful one: "We choose, but we cannot choose willingly, freely, if our alternatives are constrained by our gender." Her second post, Continued Disturbance About Motherhood, Price Of brings the more general argument home to academia and to her own life and dealing with the lack of compatibility for women faculty of children and academic success.

At Women in Science, Peggy shares remarks and observations from Melissa Franklin, and early female physicist on the s…l…o…w transition towards women being unquestioned members of the science professions. (Spoiler: We still have a way to go: “What hasn’t changed is the fact that many men think that women aren’t the smartest,” Franklin said. “It’s just a belief they hold without having thought about it much.”)

And Zuska writes a great post about the transition her blog has taken and how hard it can be always to be thinking about Gender Stuff. We are printing out the following paragraph from her post and putting it up on the wall here at FairerScience.org:

It's times like these that I think: thank you, sweet Jesus, for making me white and straight, for having me raised in a christian family. At least there are times of the day when my privilege makes me forget about racism and homophobia and religious discrimination, and a whole host of other isms I'm not even thinking of right now. Because sometimes I am just sick to death of thinking about gender, and I can't seem to unknow that perspective on the world anymore. I can still slip out of the others if I'm not careful, which, I must admit, is restful at times. That's what's so very, very cozy about privilege. It's not disturbing at all, if no one (including yourself) forces you to think about it.

And for the most painful transition of all; Science woman writes about the suicide of Elizabeth Sultzman and what it might mean. "I am left wondering whether the life she led was "worth it" while it lasted. I am left wondering whether there is something wrong with "the system" that puts so much pressure on individuals to constantly perform. I am left wondering about the expectations that we have for our selves - to succeed at so many endeavors simultaneously. I am left wondering about the extra burden we carry as women - primary caregivers facing an unequal playing field at work - and the chronic pressure that adds to our loads."

It shouldn't have to be this hard, so we're glad to have opportunities help each other through the hard times when they come along and celebrate the good stuff, too.

June 08, 2007

How Stuff Surprises Me

You all probably have already seen all the interesting articles at How Stuff Works, but I just discovered it this week. I love this kind of site, where I can click for a short, informative article about ... just about anything. How Stuff Works is a lot like Wikipedia, except that it has actual authors and editors and, perhaps more to the point, some quality control. (Don't get me wrong; I love me my Wikipedia, but I also sometimes take it with a grain of salt.)

So I was doing that thing you do when you find a new website and clicking around from one interesting topic to the next when I saw the link for "How Women Work". Er. What now?

Okay, let's ignore the part of my knee-jerk reaction that said, "Women aren't stuff!" and move on to the part of me that said, "Let's see what this has to say before I get too cranky about it. And also, by the way, is the obvious partner article available?"

(At this risk of ruining the suspense, yes, there is a corollary article, "How Men Work".)

Mostly, these articles talk about the current research on gender development ("... from conception until the eighth week of gestation, men and women are almost exactly the same. The only difference is at the chromosomal level ...") and give a fairly broad brush overview of common topics of gender stereotypes, including emotions, the math vs. verbal ability question, hormones and the like. But I was surprised and pleased to see that the articles were reasonably condsidered, well-written, and, perhaps most importantly, contain links and references to back up the information they contain.

I still object to calling people "stuff", but, hey, life's no fun if I don't get to be offended at something, right?

June 05, 2007

Catching Up

Speaking of catching up, this is our 101 post. Some days it seems like we started years ago, other days it seems like we started yesterday. I am learning so much from doing this and from getting to know so many of you. Thank you!

On the catching up front. First thanks to Zuska for not only telling folks about the 2007 Science Blogging Anthology and the need to nominate good posts by women bloggers but for nagging us until I did it. You can do it too. It’s easy and it is a good way to get some attention for your favorite blog posts.

Speaking of blog posts, while I always enjoy reading the Scientiae Carnival and learn from it, this time it is even better than usual. FemaleCSGradStudent has done an amazing job putting together entries related to "How We Are Hungry." Go read it.

Rosa and I will be putting together the next Scientiae Carnival on transitions and would love to have you submit your posts. Please do it by June 14th so we can have it up by June 15th.