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October 29, 2009

Stereotyped Roles in the White House: Say It Isn't So Mr. President

I'm just back from the "CEOSE Mini-Symposium on Women of Color in STEM: Perspectives on Experiences, Research, Evaluation, and Policy in Higher Education and Careers". Sponsored by NSF, it was an amazing two days of data, stories and ideas for changing the world. I was the time keeper-- an interesting experience, but hey I was such a mean timekeeper that there was lots of discussion and everyone who wanted to speak got a chance to. The powerpoints will be up soon and when they are, I'll let you know.

So being gone for a couple of days meant that I'm just now reading the front page of the Sunday Times. Unfortunately the first story I read was titled "Man’s World at White House? No Harm, No Foul, Aides Say". The story included such tidbits as:

The president, after all, is an unabashed First Guy’s Guy. Since being elected, he has demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of college hoops on ESPN, indulged a craving for weekend golf, expressed a preference for adopting a “big rambunctious dog” over a “girlie dog” and hoisted beer in a peacemaking effort.
Mr. Obama often points out that he is surrounded by strong females at home (where he is the only non-canine male).
In the same week as the [all male] basketball game, Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, hosted a group of women reporters for an off-the-record meeting with Ms. Jarrett over chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies..
Ms. Dunn [the White House communications director], said that she recently hosted a baby shower for an administration official and that no men from the office were invited. She is comfortable with that — just as she is fine with never playing basketball with the president. “That is just part of the culture here that I am excluded from,” she said. “And I don’t care.”

Oh for heaven's sake (see how hard I'm trying not to curse), the stereotypes are killing me-- Personally I bake darn good chocolate chip cookies, love NASCAR, hate basketball, like big dogs (and get really angry about people who think little dogs are girlie and presumably think big dogs are boyie) and while I love babies I will do pretty much anything to avoid a baby shower. So I guess I don't fit into either of the gendered cultures of the White House.

So congratulations Mrs Obama for being the cover girl on Glamour and giving dating advice and good for you Ms Dunn for not caring that you are excluded from the culture of the White House.

For me this wasn't what I signed up for when I supported you Mr. President. Please say it isn't so.

October 25, 2009

Do you have any real life engineering applications/examples?

So some of you know that I'm working with Susan Metz and Diane Matt on a project to increase the capacity of engineering schools to retain undergrads. One of the things we will be doing is helping them use real life applications to teach/demonstrate key concepts in their engineering courses.

To do this, we are collecting real life applications/lesson plans that engineering faculty are using to teach those concepts in their engineering courses. Currently we are particularly interested in applications for use in: Intro to Engineering, Circuits, Engineering Graphics, Thermodynamics and Fluids courses.

If you are interested in submitting a real life application, either post a comment or send me an e-mail . Please seend me a copy of the application including the concept/topic you are using it to teach. If it is covering a concept/topic we need to have covered we will ask you to write it up in the 5 Es (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) format.

You can find some sample real life applications/lesson plans, written by the fabulous Eann Patterson, here

We have some money available for thank you honorariums, if we can use your application. So please either send me some things your self or pass this on to others.


I'm sorry I'm sorry really I'm sorry

So when we were last in touch, I had just finished the Tufts 10K and that was, gasp, almost two weeks ago. You must have thought the race had killed me. It didn't really. It's just the next morning I went to New York and spent the week interviewing some amazing students at Hunter and NYU Medical School, came home for about 30 hours and then flew to Kentucky to observe in a school all of last week.

I know that is no excuse. They have wireless in NYC and yes in the Super 8 Motel in Brandenburg, KY (hey Tom and I live large when we travel). But I am back and here is one of the things I was supposed to write about while I was gone.

Nature vs Nurture-- whoops this time it's that other ongoing fight-- recruitment vs retention as being the reason why there are so few women in engineering. FairerScience friends Clemencia Cosentino de Cohen and Nicole Deterding have published a new study that found

that overall and in most disciplines there is no differential attrition by gender. Instead, results suggest that gender disparities in engineering are largely driven by inadequate enrollment (not inadequate retention) of women.

This is good news folks, 20-25 years ago there were differences in retention rates and women tended to drop out more often than men (even when they came in more academically prepared). Clemencia and Nicole did a nice job. And of course I have some thoughts. The first thought is to thank all those WIE folks out there for making such a difference. The second that between freshman and sophomore years the retention rate for engineering students is 67%-- that is unacceptably low.

My third thought is yes we need to focus on recruitment but that doesn't mean that we are home free in terms of women's retention. I'm reminded of daughter's Kathryn's honor's analysis class where like maybe 35 young men enrolled and 15 finished; while 7 young women enrolled and 5 finished. I was impressed that women had a much higher retention rate. Kathryn pointed out that I was wrong--women's retention rates were much lower; I just wasn't counting all the women who weren't retained in math long enough to even enroll. .

October 12, 2009

Starting strong, ending stronger

So ok this has nothing to do about women and science but it does have a lot to do about women. Today I, 8000 of my closest women friends and about 10 guys who I didn't know, did the Tufts 10K in Boston. The magnificent Tom drove me down, cheered me off and cheered me in (and bought me a great meal with champagne afterward). I race walked the whole thing with 13 min miles and except for some really bad chafing from a hidden sticky label on my new, but washed, Nike jog bra (yes I'm bitter), it was fun.

But that wasn't what I wanted to say. When I thanked Tom, he said he was glad he came; that seeing all those women-- all ages, all colors, all sizes running together was really inspirational. Being part of that crowd was even better. The theme was "starting strong, ending stronger" and that's pretty much what happened. It was a beautiful day and an amazing group of people. It doesn't get much better than this

PS I especially loved the 18 women in their pink shirts which said "Follow me. After 33 years I know where I'm going". Yes these women have run the race for all of it's 33 years.

October 09, 2009

Best Web Home Page Ever

I know my life is totally crazy right now. And I know I owe you a blog post about Lise Elliot's new book "Pink Brain Blue Brain" and I know that I really have to tell you about our new totally cool NIH grant (well on that one at least I can give you the abstract below--BTW I know it's researchie; I'm researchie); I also know that that stuff is going to have to wait for a bit (no not a long bit; just a bit).

However there are some things that just can't wait and chief among them is getting you to check out Alison Bechdel's new home page. I know I am biased. I loved her book, "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic", but even if I didn't I would love her home page. It is probably the most creative, interesting yet simple one I've seen.

PS Am driving to NYC later this week. My goal is to finish reading Pink Brain Blue Brain during that drive and get that darn post up.

Pivotal Career Decisions Guiding Potential Women Science Faculty
Where do I go from here?

Since the 1970s, many programs and interventions have been implemented to encourage more women to enter science careers. While parity with men has been achieved in the early stages of training for some fields, progress has been very uneven, with the least progress being made in the professorate. Although many factors have been proposed as likely contributors to this slow progress, most focus on barriers preventing professional advancement. Another possible explanation is that a steadily rising number of young women, including those from underrepresented groups, see themselves as perfectly capable of succeeding in an academic career, but are choosing not to pursue it. In order to design interventions to support and promote the rise of women in academic science careers, it is essential that the relative contributions of persistent barriers and active career decision-making be determined.

In this study, interview-based qualitative research methods will be use to reveal the career decision-making of young women by accomplishing the following:
• Determine the processes and criteria young women are using to make career decisions in the biomedical sciences, especially related to academic careers, as they progress from undergraduate into PhD training, comparing students with different ethnicities in women's colleges, colleges and universities with strong Women in Science (WIS) programs, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and other colleges and universities;
• Compare the career decision-making processes of these women with a broad and diverse sample of men in these schools, and women and men in NIGMS-sponsored programs;
• Compare how activities of programs for women (WIS) and those for underrepresented minorities (MARC, RISE, IMSD and PREP) influence students’ perceptions of and interest in academic careers;
• Determine the degree to which refinement of career decisions can be explained by Social Cognitive Career Theory, with a focus on how sex role socialization processes affect beliefs, attitudes and self concepts which in turn affect motivation, choices and behaviors especially for women.

The research is studying the career decision making of students in the biological/biomedical sciences in the early phases of their training. Approximately 250 students at participating institutions, who voluntarily agree to be part of the study, will be interviewed in-person at the beginning of the junior year and the end of their senior year, and by phone 1 and 2 years later. Interviews will be designed to reveal how their thinking and perceptions about potential career options evolve over time, particularly academic careers. Interviews will all start with the same set of questions but then follow what students reveal about their thinking to understand the basis for their views. Transcripts of the interviews will be analyzed through detailed qualitative analysis in parallel with a tandem study of students from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups.

October 07, 2009

Shortest blog post ever

Scientiae is up over at Mad Chemist Chick's. It's cool; go read it. Gotta run.

October 02, 2009

The road less travelled on

Am not sure but I'm probably too late for this month's Scientiae and I'm really sorry because the theme "the road less traveled on" means a lot to me. Ah there is so much to say. Here are just some of the things:

1. in elementary school I tried really hard to be an alter boy. Yup you're right; I totally failed on that one even though at age 9 I took and passed an adult religion class (Father Smith instructs Jackson), won religious education contests (even though I was in public school) and wow you should have seen my holy picture collection. But I didn't have the one thing I needed to be an alter boy-- and no it wasn't religious fervor

2. In college I was a math major-- and not a BA Math major but a BS Math major (minor in Physics). I didn't actually kill any of the myriad of folks who said I was too cute to be a math major. Damn I had a great funny line for this and then I started thinking about women who were killed because they were studying something that wasn't "female friendly" and there are no jokes-- just tears.

I was going to write about quitting my academic job the day I got tenure and lots of other things but at this point all I want to say is please let us all spend some time thanking the women, living and dead, who took the road less traveled on and made it easier for the rest of us.

just read it ok?

I'm a New Englander, born and bred; which means that there are some things we don't speak or write about-- even in blogs. But damn you really should read this-- trust me it's short and you know for TV and movies and whatever-- it may not be a bad rule to follow

PS if you have no idea what I talking about, remember I told you to read it

I'm supposed to be writing a serious blog post.

No kidding-- I've got the article; I've got some positive and snarky comments ready and I even ordered and got the book. So of course I should be writing a post about "how small differences grow into troublesome gaps and what we can do about it."

But am I? Of course not because last night the Ig Nobel Awards were given. And who can resist them? Not I--( I know, I know I should have written "not me" but since I am a total fan of Judy Holliday consider the "Not I" as a homage).

BTW my favorite awardee was the brassiere which, "in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of gas masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander". For the illustration click here. For a picture of the bra being demoed click here

Ah there are so many things that I could say; but instead I will leave you to read about the rest of the winners. After all I have a book to read and that serious blog post to write. .