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February 29, 2008

Fear, Race Cars and the Norm Group

As you know, we at FairerScience are big auto racing fans, well at least Tom and I are. Indeed we once were a race team, Tom drove and was the head mechanic; I was everything else (including one of the best darn tire changers you ever saw). Ah but, as usual, I digress.

Flying to Ohio yesterday, I was reading the Delta Sky Magazine and immediately fell in love with a story by Katherine Clark about her and a bunch of guys learning to drive at Lowe’s Motor Speedway (that would be NASCAR).

Why am I telling you this? Well read what she wrote after her first attempt:

Frozen with fear, I began to hear my own thoughts spoken by the men around me…. Wait a minute these are men. Good ol’Southern boys, Red-blooded American males who were rased on racing. And they’re just as scared as I am. A-freakin’-mazing! Hot diggity…

Listening to guys around her talking about their fear made her decide “I’m going to get back in that car. Nor only that. I’m going to drive as fast as I can.”

And she did.

Now that’s my idea of a step forward; men speaking of how scared they are and doing it anyway and women gaining courage from men’s honesty and going ahead to do it too. Now if only we could make it happen in settings other than car racing! .

February 28, 2008

Mentor News

Yet again, researchers have found that women science students report receiving less mentorship support than do men. It’s too bad that they didn’t read the October, 2007 Scientiae Carnival on mentoring. They would have gotten an earful (or is it any eyeful?).

Also on the mentoring front, it is good to see MentorNet growing and prospering. Not only do they now have more than 3000 mentor pairs in over 100 colleges and universities), they are developing a portal for "Latinas in Computing” to provide direct access for Latinas studying or employed in computing sciences and engineering to participate in mentoring and networking. Let’s hear it for MentorNet!

February 26, 2008


It's Scientiae Carnival's first anniversary and skookumchick, Carnival's mother, has chosen renewal as the theme. I've been thinking a lot about renewal lately, especially intellectual renewal. It's soooo easy to get into an intellectual rut; that old "I've done it this way before, it works quite well, trying something new is really risky…." thing.

It's surprising and especially nice when funders worry about intellectual ruts and take some risks to break out of them. Last week I chaired a peer review panel for XXX (a funder who will remain nameless). While I can almost hear you saying "been there, done that; where's the renewal there?", this time it was different. The funder decided to try an experiment. The panel reviewed proposals from two different solicitations; call them A and B. Half of the reviewers were experts in A and the other half were experts in B. I, the chair, was the only reviewer with experience in both A and B.

Reading the two different sets of proposals at home was just hell; but the panel itself was one of the best I've ever been on. Since half the reviewers were not in their field, the other half had to explain. They had to describe theory and previous research and give rationales as to why they liked and didn't like things.

Folks pushed each other—"Tell me more." "Why do you think this…?" were said a lot. Conventional wisdom and underlying assumptions went out the window. And folks challenged each other on that "so and so is so good; they will do a good job regardless of what is in the proposal" thing. Since half the panel had no idea who so and so was, decisions were made based on what was in the proposal, not on who the PI was or in which institution the work would be done. Boy was it fun and I learned a lot.

Thanks funder; please keep experimenting and thanks skookumchick for starting Scientiae Carnival and keeping it going. In many ways Scientiae Carnival is my monthly renewal.

February 22, 2008

I can't believe I (almost) missed National Engineers Week

but I did. National Engineers Week is over tomorrow, so for heavens sake design something, thank an engineer, talk to a kid about the many cool things engineers do just do it now! Ok you don't have to do it now but please do it soon. I will.

February 19, 2008

Speaking of Evelynn Hammonds

Remember how I said how cool my co-Fellow, Evelynn Hammonds, is? Well it is clear that I'm not the only one to think so. Evelynn is one of the amazing people included in the new African American National Biography. And speaking of amazing also included is FairerScience friend, Shirley McBay. Shirley, who got her Ph.D. in Mathematics at the University of Georgia in 1966 (now you know that wasn't easy), since 1990, has been the president of the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network. One of the many reasons I admire Shirley can be found in the description of the QEM Network

The QEM Network is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, dedicated to improving the education of African Americans, Alaska Natives, American Indians, Mexican Americans, and Puerto Ricans. Millions of dollars, now spent for remedial purposes, could be made available for the educational benefit of all children and youth by improving the quality of education available to the groups targeted by QEM. Quality education for minorities improves the quality of education for all.

While you probably aren't going to buy it (It's eight volumes and costs $795 and that's before shipping. So if you only have $800 buy it at Amazon instead of Oxford Press—Amazon will ship for free), it is wonderful that it exists and hey maybe you can get your library to get it

Thanks to Donna Tambascio for letting us know about this.

Am off to NSF to do proposal review (I know, I know but I also know that it is important that we all continue to do this no matter how painful it might be. The only reason I am mentioning this, other than to guilt you all who have said no a lot lately, is to say postings may be slim for the next few days-- unless you want to see my reviews-- which I think may be illegal )

February 18, 2008

Pat's a fellow

And I am indeed. Last night I was selected to be one of the 2008 AWIS Fellows. AWIS is, of course, the Association for Women in Science. I am so honored and so excited for so many reasons.

First I love their vision:

We envision a day when women will participate fully in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as manifested through equal opportunity, pay equity, and recognition commensurate with their accomplishments.

Second my fellow Fellows (ah I always wanted to type that) are so cool:

Molly Carnes

Penny Gilmer

Evelynn Hammonds

Mary Anne Holmes

Geraldine Richmond

Richard Zare

(of course I googled them right away, wouldn't you?)

and third I got to spend some time with Rita Colwell. (I'm such a groupie when it comes to two people, Rita Colwell and Bob Moses)

All in all it was a wonderful night. Thank you AWIS !

February 16, 2008

Not exactly live blogging

Ok we all know I could never live blog, my spelling and typing are just too bad. Husband Tom Kibler once gave me a bookmark that says “I type like I live, fast and with a lot of mistakes.” Don’t worry I didn’t take it personally, well ok I did but since he was right…

But as usual I digress. Our AAAS session, Blogs, Boards, Bonding: Using Electronic Communities to Support Women in Science" was really good. One of the themes turned out to be “if you build it, how do you get them to come.” Rosa raised some interesting points about synchronous vs asynchronous events. She pointed out how important it was, when introducing or wanting to expand a blog or a board or whatever, to have as many synchronous events as possible—webcasts, web-less casts, conference calls, radio shows to help people feel part of the group. Other thoughts were- “give the people what they want”, update regularly, give them a chance to contribute and remember unless you friends in very powerful places who are willing to link to you, it is going to take a while to build that community.

Based on a comment from Jolene, the discussant, Annalee took on the issues of electronic stalking of women. Her concern –this fear of stalking is being used to decrease women’s confidence online, keep them from speaking their piece and even keep them off line. Her point—being stalked is not fun on or off line, but at least on-line you can kill comments, delete accounts, filter out different IP addresses. In many ways you have more control on line than off. By the way, on the safety front- Stay Safe has some great suggestions for online safety.

There were also some interesting generational differences. When I asked the presenters how electronic communities affected their lives, Rosa and Annalee just looked at me. As Rosa said she can’t imagine a life without electronic communities—where she said would you get data, a dentist, a date? Annalee agreed. Claudia, who still doesn’t program her remote, spoke of improved communications. And speaking of communication she pointed out how in the world around us it is NOT Information Technology, it is Information Communication and Technology. She also pointed out that her more limited use of electronic communities has actually been helpful to her work with women in developing countries who have had so much less access that we.

And that was just a taste of what was covered. I’m going to check to see if the session was recorded. If so I’ll let you know and we will probably put up audio pieces of the sessions with powerpoints as we did for three speakers at last year ’s “Miscommunications, Misunderstandings, and Mistakes: Gender, Science and the Press” (I’m all over that alliteration thing aren’t I?):
Why Don’t They Hear What I Say?
Reporting Gender
Getting Gender Reported

February 14, 2008

Will you be in Boston Saturday?

If so, please come join us Saturday at 1:45 -3:00 at the Hynes Convention Center, Room 312 for our AAAS session, "Blogs, Boards and Bonding: Using Electronic Communities to Support Women in Science".

I can guarantee you will be part of a great discussion and that will get to meet and listen to some fabulous folks including Annalee Newitz, author of She's Such a Geek, Rosa Carson, who left us at FairerScience (big sigh) for Tufts University, Claudia Morrelll, director of the Center for Women & Information Technology at UMBC and Jolene Jesse program director of NSF's Research on Gender in Science and Engineering Program. Oh yes I'll be there too. See you Saturday!

February 12, 2008

Checking out The Beauty Brains

When we were preparing for our webcast last month I had a very fun time exploring all of the fabulous women in science blogs. As Pat noted, because of the positive response to the webcast we’re working on a tool for FairerScience related to using women in science blogs to help increase girls’ interest in science.

During my immersion in the world of science blogging I came across a site called The Beauty Brains. As a side note, does anyone else think of the cartoon "Pinky and the Brain" when they hear the name of the website? Just me? Ok, moving on…

Here’s how the site describes itself: “The Beauty Brains are a group of cosmetic scientists who understand what the chemicals used in cosmetics really do, how products are tested, and what all the advertising means.” The main contributors are listed as Left Brain, Right Brain, Sarah Bellum, and Mid Brain. They also sell “booty from the beauty brains,” including a thong (I think I’ll pass) and a t-shirt that proclaims “Don’t confuse beauty with beautiful” (that one I liked). One major turn-off was some of the advertising links on the right side of the screen, I’m not going to link to them but some of them were a little troubling.

Despite some misgivings about the ads, I think the actual site content is pretty cool. They do a lot of debunking of the claims made by cosmetic and hair and skin care companies and explain the science behind why some products work and some don’t. It’s also a fun approach to connecting science to everyday life. They have forums where readers can discuss other topics and the blog sometimes posts product reviews from forum members. I’m all for sites that increase consumer awareness and shed some light on some of the shady scientific claims you see in advertising and marketing.

As someone who doesn’t wear make-up often but has a startlingly large collection of make-up, skin-care and body-care products, and shower gels I enjoyed reading through the posts and learning more about the industry and the science behind it all.

February 10, 2008

Everything you wanted to know about Pat but....

Well perhaps not everything but a lot. Bora (yes that Bora) did an interview with me which is now up at A Blog Around the Clock

February 09, 2008

Scanning the Headlines

It feels like I’ve spent the last several weeks either traveling, recovering from traveling, or preparing to travel. I got back from my latest trip on Monday and while I haven’t fully unpacked yet (there were much more important things to do, like catch up on the season premiere of Lost.) I am starting to catch up on things, including some blog posts that have been bouncing around my brain. My first trip of 2008 was to one of my old stomping grounds, the Washington D.C. area, and while I was there I read an article in The Washington Post with the headline "Most Diversity Training Ineffective, Study Finds". The Post article addresses recent research by Dr. Alexandra Kalev, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona, and Dr. Frank Dobbin, Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. I looked at the headline and my immediate reaction was “huh?”

My main issue is with the headline. I admit I don’t know a lot about people’s newspaper reading habits and my complaints about sensationalizing headlines are nothing new (of course neither of those issues will stop me from expressing my thoughts, it doesn’t stop many pundits so why should it stop me?). For a reader skimming the paper and seeing that headline the take home message can easily be translated to “All diversity training doesn’t work” and that’s a problem for two reasons. First, the headline paints a broad picture of diversity training when in reality the study looked at efforts at “mid-size to large U.S. workplaces.” Second, the attention-getting headline seems to implicate just diversity training efforts but when you get to the 2nd paragraph of the article the role of company becomes much clearer:

“Rather, it showed that mandatory programs -- often undertaken mainly with an eye to avoiding liability in discrimination lawsuits -- were the problem. When diversity training is voluntary and undertaken to advance a company's business goals, it was associated with increased diversity in management.”

Hey…that actually makes much more sense to me than just saying that most diversity training doesn’t work! Paying lip service to diversity and making employees go to diversity training to simply cover your butt=BAD. Making diversity an organizational priority and having appropriate training=GOOD. I know, I know, I’m simplifying things just as much as the headline did and maybe it’s naďve of me to expect that the complexity of an academic study can be truly represented in a newspaper article.

I know I’ve spent most of this post complaining about the headline but the research study itself seems very interesting and has a lot of promise in thinking about the best ways to implement corporate diversity initiatives and help organizations make meaningful changes. The study referenced in the Washington Post article hasn’t been published yet but here’s a discussion of an earlier study by Kalev, Dobbin, & Kelly, (including a link to a PDF of the 2006 article in the American Sociological Review).

Connecting this all to FairerScience, there’s lots of good advice for researchers dealing with the media, including ways to Keep it Simple and Interesting and Keep it Careful and Intelligent. I don’t know of any researcher who can control the actual headline and it looks like Dr. Kalev was putting a lot of these techniques into practice.

February 07, 2008

Recovering from the SuperBowl

so for the first time ever I lost an entry that I had (or thought I had) posted. I am so sure this is because of the Patriots. Anyway the first part of the post was to tell you that I lost the bet with my sister and the bet was that the loser had to make the favorite dessert of the winner. So does anyone have a good recipe for Apple Crisp that they will send me? Please please please- all I can make is cookies brownies and the NY Times noknead bread recipe

thank you!.

February 03, 2008

Telling Stories: February's Scientiae Carnival

This is a wonderful set of posts. Thanks so much to all. The good news is that Women in Science bloggers write really well. The bad news is how little things have changed in the many, many years since I first heard "you're too pretty to be a math major."

Enough—let's get to the stories and the tellers of stories. Science Mama starts off the carnival perfectly asking us if we are tellers (those who will tell just about anyone practically anything about themselves) or not so much. We are, this month, tellers.

One of the tellers, A Lady Scientist , writes a series of sad and achingly familiar vignettes about her youth where "two things are expected from females: (1) to be A Lady and (2) to land a man." Science Girl too writes of similar discouragements that so many of us face. Her strategy of developing a "death glare" sounded good to me, but like her, I'm saddened by the people who assume she cannot do what she has set out to do. Another story of youth comes from Cherish (Faraday's Cage is Where You Put Schroedinger's Cat). Her "Really Nerdy Fairly Tale", called "Because I wish I had a dragon…." takes us with imagination and hope through our heroine's life to date. Also speaking of life to date is Early To Bed's lovely story of how her grown up life has evolved and what it is and isn't.

Dr. Medusa writes of her grown up life as an academic and wonders about how you deal with colleagues, who are professionally supportive and generally "good guys" but whose humor is sexist and degrading. Jokerine asks "How do we portrait ourselves to other people, publicly, to ourselves and our friends?" Her thoughts on the aspects of ourselves that we do or don't share in different settings and what it says about who we are, are thoughtful and touching.

Skookumchick tells some "stories of an academic panel discussion" and they aren't pretty. In just one panel discussion, she experiences so many of the stupid sexist behaviors we've all experienced, it is a miracle she didn't hit someone. What she is doing instead is much wiser; she shared it with us "and will share it with others, and I hope you will share it with others. It can live on in people's disbelief, outrage, and desire for change." In her story Zuska provides some great advice for Skookumchick's fellow panelists. The advice is good, her analysis great and her conclusion, "The story of diversity is not that white males are bad, it's a story of a power struggle.", speaks for itself.

And just in case you are worried that things are getting too serious, CAE ( VWXYNot?) has a great post on "more drunk dancing scientists" dancing the ceilidh, in which kissing is required, even if that means kissing a professional hero. Speaking of kissing (well sort of) Digital Cuttlefish pens a lol-poem about the woes of the "male enhancer" Enzyte, which it turns out doesn't enhance at all (they lied). To keep us telling stories, Young Steller Objects, writes about how telling, and writing stories helps in so many other parts of our lives. And as we are telling stories, Alexis reminds us that "truths wax and wane and become more true within closed communities."

Some of us tell stories of others, Twice Tenured tells a story about teaching climate change, the consensus of the scientific community, scientific vs political beliefs and what we owe society through our teaching. It is an important story, please go read it. Science Woman is also telling stories, but these are ones she is telling her students are about the researchers in her field. While she says "the slideshow history of -ology may feature a bunch of old white guys," she is hoping "that the next chapter will be multi-ethnic and fully populated by both women and men. She figures telling stories is one way to help make that happen. So do we at FairerScience where we post about a teller of stories about women in science and the stories he tells. Propter Doc agrees that stories have their place but makes it clear "you don't always need the stories of the famous, big names. The last grad student to leave a group may have a story that resonates and helps you far more."

Kylie (Pod BlackCat), takes on the stories of others in a different light. Through a review of Full Frontal Feminism, she looks at how the modern interpretations of feminism are limited in the narrative they gives of young women and those who might seek higher education in the sciences.

I can't think of a better way to close this month's Carnival than with the "story plotlines" from Kate ( A K8, A Cat, A Mission):
• We need to build explicit, formal mentoring networks.
• We need to form diversity committees in our departments and national organizations and societies. We need to work on making these committees actually stand for something.
• We need to learn about the kinds of issues that hold back underrepresented groups from achieving in our labs and classrooms, and implement appropriate changes.
• We need to be honest about what it takes to be successful, and we can't try and do it alone. We need to find resources and allies to make it so that we thrive as humans, not so that we make it by the skin of our teeth.
• And when it's time to fight, WE FIGHT. We don't say, that's for someone else to do, or I have a child, or maybe I don't care that much, or I'm safe so it's not important. We fight.