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May 31, 2009

Guest Post: Affirmative Action is no longer a useful term.

Thanks to FairerScience friend, Catherine N. Duckett for the following post:

I have recently had two experiences which lead me to believe that the academic community needs to discuss the term ‘Affirmative action’ and consider alternatives. I believe it is no longer a term that is universally comprehensible in its intended meaning and therefore not a useful term. Why is 'Affirmative Action' is not a useful phrase? It has clearly taken on the meaning that ‘that individual was hired because of race or gender and that they are not the most qualified’ or in some cases qualified at all. This has been clear in the public discussions of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the supreme court, Last night on the PBS Newshour David Brooks said something to the effect of ‘well she is clearly not a classical affirmative action candidate because of her high qualifications’. What I take from that statement is that classically ‘Affirmative Action ‘ candidates were not fully qualified.

However, it was clear that President Obama needed to pick a woman for the supreme court or a Latino, and this need was discussed widely in the press. Therefore, in the original sense of ‘Affirmative Action’ Judge Sotomayor is an affirmative action candidate in that she affirms the value of diversity in looking through all the diverse groups (with whom you may not be fully socially comfortable) to find a well-qualified candidate.

Pat offered me this guest post after I described to her an experience with a respected senior dean at a local community college, where the Dean (who is clearly one of the good guys) in describing some of their female engineering students who had recently gone on to good jobs told me “They were not affirmative action candidates! They were fully qualified”. I was shocked (naïve me) that he would consider affirmative action candidates as not fully qualified and consequently did not correct him. I missed an opportunity to engage in discussion of why we want diversity and how difficult it is for some individuals to choose people who are racially or socially different from them and they may not feel the most comfortable with in during the hiring process.

I think it is time to retire the term 'Affirmative Action' and come up with something that suggests ‘superbly qualified and just not your best friend’ got any good suggestions?
"Best role models?" "Excellent AND different'?

Catherine N. Duckett was trained as an entomologist, after eight years as a faculty member at University of Puerto Rico she returned to her native New Jersey, where she is currently a consultant and an adjunct professor at Rutgers. Her interests in 'Affirmative Action' developed from her own experiences interviewing for jobs and her recent work at the Office of Promotion of Women in Science, Engineering and Mathematics at Rutgers.

May 30, 2009

Keeping On Keeping On

Sciencewoman and Alice ask us, for this month's Scientiae "What keeps you moving forward in your science, work, and life?"

Well, when asked to describe what I was like, Tom used to say; "Whenever Pat sees a barrier, she starts running and crashes into the barrier head first. She then picks herself up and crashes into the barrier again and again and again." Recently I asked Tom if I had changed much since then. "Oh yes," he said, "Now you wear a helmet."

What keeps me moving forward? The strong belief that if I just keep trying, I can make things better. Does it matter if the belief is irrational or just plane wrong? No not usually. Luckily I have folks who love me; who help pick me up, dust me off and even suggest some more effective strategies for getting past whatever the current barriers are.

May 26, 2009

And you think women in science have it bad

Rachel Alexander is a horse; a filly actually and she won the Preakness, the first filly to do so in 85 years. That's interesting you say but so what? Well read on; do I have a story for you.

First of all Rachel Alexander is in everyone's estimation, an amazing horse. However her original owners wouldn't "nominate her to the Triple Crown races, believing fillies should run only against their own gender. "

Yup her owners didn't want her to run against the boys. Enter a new owner. He says heck yes, let her run and paid extra money for a late nomination.

But wait people said, look what happened last year when a filly ran with the boys; she broke her legs (NOTE: after she finished second by the way) and had to be put down, you wouldn’t want that to happen again. Think of the children watching.

But wait said a couple of the other owners:, she might beat our horses; let’s add lots of other colts to the race and then she won’t be able to race. Think of the business; what will happen if our boys are beat by a filly?

The nefarious plot was about to happen and there was little to be done until---it was foiled by the doyenne of racing Marylou Whitney.

“We think Rachel Alexandra is wonderful,” Whitney’s husband, John Hendrickson, said. “We entered our horse because we thought we had a shot. But if we are the deciding factor on whether or not Rachel Alexandra gets in, then we’ll withdraw and wait until the Belmont. We’re for sportsmanship and what’s best for the game. It is ladies first for us.”

And it was ladies first; Rachel Alexander ran and won big time. The moral of this story? Oh I don’t know; it’s just such a great story I had to tell it.

May 23, 2009

Rosie didn't just rivet

I know this isn't exactly related to FairerScience, but hmmm in many ways it is. Since it's Memorial Day weekend, what better time to celebrate the Women's Airforce Service Pilots. Who are they you ask? Well CNN, yes that CNN, describes them as the "unsung heroes of World War II"

These women were (and are) amazing. They were the first women in history to fly America's military aircraft, but they weren't in the military. Why not? Well duh because women in the armed services weren't allowed to pilot planes, so therefore any women pilots that the armed services DESPERATELY needed couldn't be in the military. Yeah, yeah I know most of you are saying, "Why not just change the rule and let military women fly planes?"

Oh please, you are probably the same folks who responded, to our earlier post about women faculty being denied promotion and raises for using family friendly polices, by asking "Why aren't we punishing the people who discriminate against women using family friendly polices rather than standing back and allowing the women to be punished?" Because, because, because... hmm fill in your own answers.

Sorry that was, yet again, one of my digressions.

Anyway I've known about and admired these women for years and I apologize for not posting about them earlier. They were treated like ****. Indeed, not only did those who died in the service of our country not get a 21 gun salute; it was forbidden to have the flag draped over their coffins. That would be go back to the part about not being in the military because if they were in the military they couldn't fly and what the military needed them to do was fly so.....

These women like Jackie Cochran really made it possible for women to fly; in so many ways. So this weekend, let's say thanks to the Women's Airforce Service Pilots.

And by the way, if you need to get inspired and teary, check here for more about the pilots of the WASP

May 16, 2009

Real Life Applications

This is a combination of a request for help and a plug.

The plug-- FairerScience friend Eann Patterson has developed a great set of real life applications related to the mechanics of solids. He uses skateboards, IPods and even sausages to help students better learn engineering concepts. You can check out a sample leson plan here. Now the bad news is that it costs money to get paper copies ($14.00 for a single copy, $12.00 each for 10 or more copies; $4.00 for 50 or more copies); the good news is that this is what it cost to print and send the copies out; no one makes any money on this (oh wait, why is that good news?). Anyway these are really good activities and I have the data to prove it (let me know if you want a copy of the results and I'll send you a copy.)

So that's the plug. The favor is related. Diane Matt , Susan Metz and I just received an NSF grant to:"work with 30 engineering schools to provide training, materials, and technical assistance to improve instruction in engineering and faculty-student mentoring skills, using research-based strategies to enhance the retention of engineering students, particularly women of all races and ethnicities." I know how cool is that, I get paid to work with these great women to help universities increase the retention of their engineering students.

Anyway, one of the project strategies is using relevant and engaging applications in courses; you know the kind of applications Eann has been developing for solids. So if you know any cool applications for teaching concepts in oh say Calc., Physics, Circuits, Engineering Design, please, please, please let me know. And if they are written in the 5 E format even better!. I promise I'll find a suitable way to reward you.

May 13, 2009

Broadband vs running water

I know this is totally off message (bad Pat; bad Pat) but I so have to post it. Today I got an e-mail from my friend about her son (also my friend)

Jesse is well, in a town without running water, but a nice stuccoed compound of buildings with occasional electricity and broadband signal.

You know at this point in my life, if I had to chose between running water and broadband; no question it's broadband. Oh ok if the nonrunning water was frozen, I might rethink my choice, but hey it's May and I live on a lake (aka a place that has water). I would so totally go for the broadband. Would you?

May 12, 2009

Moving Forward

We did a post a couple of days ago called "Moving Backward" which was, well, more than a little depressing. To counteract my depression, ScienceWoman and Alice have decided that Moving Forward will be the theme of the next edition of Scientiae.

They ask:

How are you moving forward in life? Are you close to your degree, tenure, sabbatical, or summer holiday? Is that paper almost ready to go out the door? Is your baby almost potty trained or are you training for a marathon?

What keeps you moving forward in your science, work, and life? Is it the drive to cure a disease, make the world a more sustainable piece, or discover something that no one else knows? Is it the promise of exciting data at the end of a long assay? Is it the thought of people calling you Dr.? Is it your daughter's smile when she wakes up in the morning, or the enthusiastic tail wagging of your dog? When things get tough, how do you motivate yourself to move forward?

Hmmm this is a good one. Thanks ScienceWoman and Alice

PS We need to get our posts in by May 30.

May 11, 2009

Taking my own advice

UPDATE: The show, Why Girls Don't Like Math, is online

So you've probably heard that communicating to the media about gender and STEM is a big issue for us here at FairerScience. We have tip sheets, we have multi-media presentations and we're even doing role playing workshops on this very topic next month at the WEPAN annual conference and at the NSF HRD JAM (I know I know one of the communication rules is not to use acronyms but I can't resist that one). BTW if you are going to be at either meeting come join us. I promise you will have fun and heck you may even learn something.

But alas, yet again, I've been digressing. The real reason I'm doing this post is that tomorrow I'm doing a tv show on girls and math.

Was I following my own advice? Heck no. Well, I did google the host and the program and checked them out with a friend before I agreed to do it; but that whole "have a message", "know your audience and tailor your message and language to that audience thing", not me. I didn't even think to ask who the other guests were until today when we did a tech check. Now I know I've been busy, but that's just stupid. So now that I have castigated myself publicly, I'm off to make sure I have a message. Wish me luck.

After the show is broadcast, I'll post the url and we can discuss how well I followed the rules.

UPDATE show went well but I'm embarrassed to admit, I worry almost as much about how I looked as I do about how well my message about how to get girls more involved in math came across. Show broadcasts in Ontario on Sunday (it's TVO's Your Voice for you all in Toronto-- like you Ali, Carla, Anne, Ilene, Craig et al) and then will be on line. Will post the url when it is up; but please folks let's not discuss how I looked.

May 08, 2009

Moving Backward

Sorry for the lack of blogging this week, it wasn't from a dearth of topics just a lack of time (and ok yes the weather is finally beautiful here and I've been taking advantage of it). Speaking of topics for the blog; anyone read the Chronicle's On Hiring column from April 22? article "Family-Friendly Policies May Not Help as Much as They Should, Conference Speaker Says."

In it, Karen R. Stubaus, director of Rutgers Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, said that while family-friendly policies, like allowing women to take time off the tenure clock to care for young children or creating part-time tenure-track appointments, are meant to help young academics; they may actually hurt young women faculty. Sadly too often she is right. Among some senior faculty, women (and the vast majority are women) taking advantage of these policies are seen as "not serious" and not worthy of "gaining the glory that is tenure" or even pay raises for that matter.

I would call this a dirty, little secret but while it's dirty, it's not little and neither is it a secret. The idea that in some institutions women are punished for choosing to follow institutionally approved policies stinks. Dr. Stubaus may be right that "the environment isn’t what it needs to be for female academics to seek the relief family-friendly policies offer;" but isn't that what Offices of Institutional Diversity and Equity are supposed to change? If rather than fixing the problems, we discourage women from taking advantage of family friendly polices, for their own good, then the environment will never be what it needs to be.

PS Thanks to FairerScience friend Catherine Duckett for the heads up.

May 04, 2009

Scientiae is up and in two parts!

This month's Scientiae is up over at Endless Possibilities

The theme: "A Snapshot! Create a blog time capsule for yourself that will say Spring 2009 when you look back on it in a couple of years."

The entries: so many that this is the first Scientiae with Part I and Part II

I'm off to start reading; you may want to as well

May 01, 2009

Getting back to being on task slowly

Tonight as I was watching Numbers I heard one of the best TV STEM quotes possibly ever from the character Charlie Epps: The quote: " I don't gamble; I don't drink; I analyze data." Now that's a role model!

Bizarre news day part II: chicken breasts (and I really mean that)

I'll post a real post tomorrow, but I can't resist this. So it turns out that the Miss California Pageant paid for Miss California's breast implants so she would be more competitive in the the Miss USA competition. Read it here.

No no no that's not the bizarre part. Here it is (from an interview on "The Early Show," with Keith Lewis, the Miss California Pageant co-director).

INTERVIEWER: But don't the judges look at proportion when they're judging the swimsuits? Wouldn't she have a better chance of winning if she were more proportioned?

LEWIS: Well, of course she does. But there's plenty of ways of getting to more proportion without doing breast implants.

INTERVIEWER: Well, but if...

LEWIS: Many of the girls use chicken cutlets.

INTERVIEWER: ... if you have a flat chest, what are you supposed to do?

LEWIS: You use chicken cutlets. You use tape. You use anything that you can to enhance the line. There's lots of tricks of the trade.

Hmmm there is so much I could say but I think again I'll say "no comment". (but I will send some homemade cookies to the person who comes up with the best comment with "no swears")

Today's CNN Headline: Churchgoers more likely to back torture

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