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Ideas, Doors and The Times Magazine Section

Acmegirl , host of this month's Scientiae Carnival! suggested we write about doors that have opened and closed this year. Doors opening reminded me of my favorite NY Times Magazine -- the annual December issue on ideas.

My favorite idea from the magazine is Positive Deviance.. This is something I've believed in for a long time but didn't know it was a named concept. Positive Deviance is about "solving problems by thinking about how we act, rather than acting upon how we think." I quote:

Jerry Sternin, who ran the Positive Deviance Initiative at Tufts University until his death in December 2008. “There are 30 percent who are not malnourished — same socioeconomic status, same risk, but they're not in trouble. Why?” Understanding precisely what the 30 percent are doing differently, and then encouraging these positive deviants to educate the other 70 percent, can effect significant changes in group behavior.

Last year, Toni Clewell and I wrote a book, Good Schools in Poor Neighborhoods, that built on this concept. We found highly effective schools (defined by student achievement) and matched them with typical schools from the same district in the same neighborhoods serving the same types of kids. Then we looked at what the good schools did that the others didn't and vice versa. Some results reflected existing theory, others didn't.

We should be doing this at college, graduate, post doc and faculty levels. Take the places with larger numbers of women in STEM, match them with other similar institutions that aren't doing so well and see what are the successful institutions are doing differently than the others. Heck we could even compare institutions where women in STEM are, dare I say it, happy and where they aren't. Let's spend more time looking at success and exploring what's behind it rather than always testing strategies to see if they work.

For every door that opens, some days it feels that two doors close. The ideas that depressed me the most from the Times included one I already knew about:

On average, according to “Is the Gap More Than Gender?”, men who say they believe in a traditional role for women earned a stunning $8,549 more per year than men who profess egalitarian values. Egalitarian-minded women earned $1,330 less than their male counterparts, and traditional women earned another $1,495 less.

and a second that, sigh, was new to me:

Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam do research on “the glass cliff,” which they contend is an invisible form of prejudice. In other words, people will give women a position of power only when there’s a strong chance of failure. Why? “If someone has to be the scapegoat to take the fall, you’re not going to put your best man forward,” Ryan says. Women are thrust into desperate situations precisely because they’re likely to fail, generating “proof” that women can’t handle responsibility.

Hmmmmm maybe I'll post on happier things tomorrow.


Yup, I had noticed both the glass cliff and the "sexist guys finish first" phenomenon at work.

I love your suggestion to compare institutions re: women and postdocs and STEM. LOVE IT.

p.s. got here via Scientiae.

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