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June 30, 2008

A Girl’s Life

Did anyone but me, and FairerScience friend David Mortman, read A O Scott's essay, A Girl's Life in yesterday's New York Times? Scott, if you don't know him, is the Time's film critic. And while, A Girl's Life is sort of a review of the American Girl movie , it is actually much more.

He's writing about the American Girl phenomena and what it does and doesn't mean for, well, the American girl. He points out that the American Girl dolls are "a kind of anti-Barbie, a sturdy, nonsexualized body whose proportions are more or less those of a real girl." and that "while some of the historical adventure books acknowledge that opportunities for girls — especially poor and nonwhite girls — were limited in earlier times, they emphasize optimism, good will and self-reliance as the ever-available antidotes to injustice or deprivation." He asks "Is the brand reflecting tastes, or enforcing norms of behavior? Is it teaching girls to be independent spirits or devoted shoppers?" and figures the answer is yes.

In the past I, along with many others, rolled my eyes about the whole American Girl thing. But you know Scott may have a point. He sure gets it right when he says

You [the American girl] grow up being told that you can do anything — run for president, win a Nascar race, fly into space or become a four-star general — but in the meantime everything you do is subject to intense and often contradictory scrutiny from the grown-up world. You are exposed to a barrage of mixed signals from parents, friends, teachers, television advertisements, even the stuff you play with, and your response to those signals becomes grist for expert hand wringing and opinion mongering.

So I'm taking a second look atAmerican Girl. Now if only we could them to do more science!

June 28, 2008

STEM PhD Recipients by Gender and Race/Ethnicity

Ok that isn't the most exciting title for a blog post but it is an important one. As you may remember in an earlier post I wrote about how, because of a concern about small cell sizes and confidentiality, the NSF's Science, Resources Statistics started suppressing data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), primarily data related to the numbers of under represented minority women and men PhD recipients although data about women from other ethnic groups are suppressed in some fields as well.

In response to researcher concern, NSF decided to release revised tables for the 2006 SED. The website says "SRS has released revised tables from the 2006 Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) for the Summary Report, and Race/Ethnicity/Gender (REG) and Baccalaureate-Origin tables released by the survey contractor in previous years." They do forward the tables to anyone who requests them. So please request the tables and agree to be surveyed as to the best ways to present the data.

For those who need the STEM PhD recipient data immediately, we have uploaded the public domain tables and guides. But even if you download them here, please request them from NSF anyway. NSF needs to know that we need these data.

June 26, 2008

Snuggle up with a Good Theorem

It’s been a while since I highlighted math and science in the craft world and I found two great new examples.

First we have mathematical quilts from Elaine Krajenke Ellison, a retired high school math teacher. As an aspiring quilter myself, I am in awe of the beautiful works of art she creates – some are owned by the Science Museum in London. Check out her description of her work:

“I now work mostly with quilters and pre-service teachers. I encourage the future teachers to try using quilts in their classroom. Quilts serve as a visual introduction to mathematical concepts that allows students to explore mathematics as they gain geometric insights. My quilts will engage the viewer in mathematical visualization, helping to further the role of problem solving.”

Next are mathematical afghans from Wooly Thoughts and some of their work is also owned by the Science Museum in London. This afghan actually contains an encoded message!

Have fun checking out these great artists – it’s a wonderful reminder that math is everywhere!

June 24, 2008

Nerd Girls and Geek Girls Are Everywhere!!!

This has been quite a week for girl nerds and geeks with Newsweek's Revenge of the Nerdette leading the pack.

BTW don't you hate those cutesy little additions to people give to jobs to make them girly? Authoress, suffragette, yes even actress and waitress—well at least we don’t have engineerette (damn I hope I didn't give anyone any ideas). Anyway Newsweek, nerdette is neither witty or trendy- it's stupid and old fashioned.

Sorry for the digression. Anyway there are some good things in the article, not the least of which is the following quote from FairerScience friend; Annalee Newitz: of io9 fame.

"For a long time, there's been this stereotype that either you're ugly and smart or cute and not suited for careers in math, science or engineering," says Annalee Newitz, the co-editor of "She's Such a Geek!", a 2006 anthology of women writing about math, tech and science. "One of the big differences between Generation X geeks and girls in their teens now is really just an attitude—an indication that they're much more comfortable."

Jenn (yes our Jenn) had some interesting comments about the article:

An excerpt from the article notes: “They're trying to break down stereotypes by being as proud of their sexuality as they are of their geekiness.” Do girls and women need more pressure about their appearances? It’s ok to be a nerd as long as you’re hot? Is this now just another double standard? I don’t see a lot of boys and men feeling the need to be sexy and geeky. I will give points to the Sexiest Geek Alive pageant – it was co-ed. But onto the positive side - I loved a lot of what was referenced in the article – some of it echoes things we at Fairer Science have said before – including trying to encourage girls in science and technology by highlighting the connections to their every day lives.

And on other Geek Girl fronts- there actually is Nerd Girls Reality Television which is dedicated to busting the myths that "Boys are better at math and science than girls" and that "A female engineer is socially inept girl with no sense of style." They aren't totally ready for primetime (so many typos in their website that even I noticed) and they can get a little whatever with lines like "They're "Beauty and the Geek" all in one package!" but hey they describe the Nerd Girls as

"an impressive team of female engineering students, just one year away from landing top jobs with $70,000 salaries. They turn heads when they enter a room - they're stylish, self-possessed, ambitious and confident. Whether building a solar car or harnessing wind power on a remote island, these girls fully intend to change the planet with their own ingenuity and hard work."

And finally you should read about Window Snyder "Chief Security Something-or-other" at Mozilla Foundation (yes folks that's Firefox) . USA Today describes her as "a self-avowed "geek girl" and daughter of software engineers, Snyder says her mom taught her to program Basic, an early computer programming language, on a Texas Instruments PC when she was 5 years old."

Nerd Girls and Geek Girls Are Everywhere!!!

June 20, 2008

Joining the Fray

I don't know how many of you have read about Sylvia Ann Hewett et al's new report "The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering and Technology", but since it costs $295, I'm pretty sure most of you haven't read the report itself (I know I can't afford to buy it).

The summaries in the Harvard Business Review and the Chronicle provide an overview of the reasons women are leaving science, engineering, and technology careers. The reasons should come as no surprise to FairerScience readers. Indeed we have experienced/heard far too much about macho work environments, feelings of isolation or career stagnation, cultures that encourage risk-taking, and time-intensive positions that compromise family responsibilities.

While I'm delighted that the report analyzes 13 company initiatives that try to combat these "pressures", possibly the most interesting part of the report is the comments that that it has engendered in response to the short Chronicle article about it. The 49 and counting comments are are darn good indicator of where things are and aren't for women in STEM. The variety includes:

I hope that women react to the sexist comments posted in response to this chilling report in one of two ways. Either they pity and ignore these bored, talentless young men who scour the Internet for opportunities for (incredibly unclever) harassment, or they rush toward careers in the sciences out of sheer indignation. I don’t expect this level of heroism from anyone, but I certainly applaud it.
I agree with addressing the macho environment, but we must also begin to address the opposite hostile environment as it exists in the social sciences. This is not a one way street- and lack of concern about men entering university/college in social science fields also needs to be addressed with equal fervor.

Go read them or better yet, write your own!

June 18, 2008

Maybe I'm Just In A Bad Mood

but why not only does this not make me happy; it makes me positively snarky?

House Celebrates Women Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, and Mathematicians

On June 4, the House approved, by voice vote, a resolution (H. Res. 1180) recognizing the efforts of outstanding women scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians in the United States and around the world.
Sponsored by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA), the resolution contains a number of findings, including:
• women have been vitally important to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and have transformed the world and enhanced and improved the quality of life around the globe;
• the contributions of women and mothers are central to progress and to the development of knowledge in many areas, including chemistry, physics, biology, geology, engineering, mathematics, and astronomy, and these contributions boost economic growth, create new jobs, and improve our knowledge and standard of living;
• in order to ensure our nation's global competitiveness, our schools must continue to cultivate female scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians from every background and neighborhood in our society to create the innovations of tomorrow that will keep our nation strong;
• and a disproportionately low number of female students are pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and it is crucial that we focus attention on increasing the participation of women.

June 14, 2008

New report highlights the “bad news” for women in academia

From FairerScience colleague Donna Tambascio, AKA the Deputy Director for Communications & External Relations at the Wellesley Centers for Women, who is taking up some of the slack for me for a bit. Thanks Donna!

Check out Inside Higher Ed’s recent article, Quiet Desperation’ of Academic Women. The Higher Ed article reports on a study, “Gender Equity in Academia: Bad News From the Trenches, and Some Possible Solutions,” that appears in the new issue of Perspectives on Politics. The article is behind a paywall but the abstract is available.

The article lays out frustrations of female faculty members from the University of California: Irvine about the overt and subtle gender inequities they experience. The authors of the qualitative study from which this information comes, say that these issues are typical at any research university: harassment, sexist remarks, undervalued recognition, work-life conflicts, and more. In their response the University noted the professional advancement of female faculty and administrators as well as institutional policies.

June 11, 2008


Tom (FairerScience's tech guru and my husband) was in a serious accident last week and, as you would imagine, posting hasn't been much on my mind. We are back home now and he is on the mend.

I was really sorry I missed the deadline for this month's Scientiae. "Added Weight: Taking Up Space" is such a great topic. I was rehearsing my post in my head; thinking about my mixed feelings when a former research assistant said "Pat, you're not a big woman but you take up a lot of space."

Anyway this month's host, the incomparable Zuska, has done a great job, pulling the entries together. You gotta go read them.

June 01, 2008


Well I'm not exactly a slug, perhaps currently I'm more of an intellectual slug. After several years of not being able ride my bike because the sun was making me sick; I'm doing ok-- as in I'm riding my bike more and more and not getting sick. So as a crazy bike rider, I've been riding as opposed to writing posts. So sorry folks I will do better (no I'm not stopping riding, but I will do better combining work, riding and posting).

BTW this month's Scientiae, hosted by the wonderful Zuska, is about Added Weight. I'm thinking about posting about how doing exercise that is meaningful to me makes me so much bigger. More to come