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Author Topic: Women in STEM  (Read 28229 times)
anon99
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« Reply #15 on: March 04, 2012, 2:16:04 PM »

I think it depends on what STEM field you are talking about. The biological sciences should have the closest to an even gender split, and my graduate cohort (in a molecular bio field) was ALL women. The more physical science you get, the more male dominated.

Again this will vary, but as a generalization; yes.  It is not that women aren't getting PhDs (in Biology we have more women than men getting PhDs and there are other STEM departments where the same is true).  The drop out comes at the postdoc or faculty stage where many women decide this isn't for them.  Last job opening we had, the top candidates were women, but (unfortunately in one case) they took positions elsewhere.

To see if it is a problem within a department, look at the newer hires (e.g. assistant and associate level) to see what the ratio of men to women is.  I would like to think that the ratio will be less unbalanced than if you were to look at faculty over the age of 50 (assuming they were hired while in their 30s).
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ruralguy
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« Reply #16 on: March 04, 2012, 4:21:45 PM »

Even in some of the physical sciences, the numbers are considerably less lopsided than even 20 years ago,
especially at the BA/BS level, but also at the Ph.D level.

Then, we run into the "leaky pipeline" and all that.

From a talk I heard at a major conference on the physical sciences (oh, probably almost a decade ago now, so the info is old),
a number of women were deciding to work in labs vs. "pure" TT positions because they felt that on the TT, the job never ends,
and the duties were more fixed in , say, an NIH or NASA lab, or something like that. The speaker also noted that among the growing number of men who left or skipped the TT, similar reasons were given. That is, many women, and a growing number (but smaller absolute number) of men were interested in a more balanced life than they felt a TT position could provide.

They (surveyed women and men) probably skipped over possibilities like SLACs because they were still interested primarily in research, but I don't know.

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ptarmigan
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« Reply #17 on: March 04, 2012, 4:36:52 PM »

From what I've seen in my department (I've only been here 2 years), we seem to admit about the same number of female and male grad students, but the women don't stick around as long, for whatever reason. (I suspect they may have lower admission standards for women specifically to keep the ratio high, but I may be completely wrong about that. Our admission standards are low anyway.) Our TT faculty is overwhelmingly male (like < 5% female).
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He's on my roster, but if I've taught him anything, it isn't math.
galway
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« Reply #18 on: March 04, 2012, 7:22:34 PM »

Service and teaching differences between male and female faculty could be a component of this, as could climate (full on sexism or different expectations which are often not fully articulated), and differences in resources provided (lab space, start-up packages, salary). 

In my dept women and men teach the same # of courses on average but the sizes of those classes tend to be quite different in my sub-field at least.  I get the same teaching credit for a class of 70 as my male colleagues do for classes of 20-30.  This has effects on my productivity. 

The obvious climate issues may not be the most damaging.  When someone clearly says something really sexist it's actually fairly easy to discount that statement and that person.  The trickier thing for many women are differences in expectations.  In my field there are a mix of male and female 'super-stars' but you see far fewer of the good but not 'super-star' female faculty in R1s.  We tend to accept work-a-day (=good but not stellar) male scientists a little easier than women in this position.  In addition to that the expectations for teaching performance tend to be higher for women in the same position as men and this is particularly an issue in the R2 realm (IMHO) where teaching doesn't help a lot but can pull you down on a tenure bid.  Students, other faculty, and the admin often expect female faculty to be guiding and nurturing to students (e.g. more interaction time with students, more flexible and time consuming assessments, etc) while male faculty are expected to be commanding leaders in a lecture setting.  These require very different levels of time investment into teaching and time is the most limiting quantity for most pre-tenure folks. 

For a fascinating insight into the effects of resources look at the MIT study of faculty lab space and what's been done subsequently and the effects of these actions on the recruitment and retention of female faculty.  This varies across institutions but I am unaware of any school that has found that their female faculty have MORE resources than the male faculty but am aware of the reverse for a number of schools across a range of institution type.  Even minor differences add up and have cumulative effects on faculty productivity and subsequent tenure success.  Think about a minor difference in lab space - 20%.  If that means you run 20% fewer experiments (I realize that's a rough measure but space is often a limiting factor) you will presumably produce 20% fewer papers.  That can be the difference between getting tenure or not.  Salary which is very, very often male-biased also has pernicious effects.  Money can buy time - a 10% higher salary might mean 10% more evenings when you don't cook, a daycare that's closer, or a shorter commute - all save time and this is the currency of pre-tenure life.

This is a somewhat depressing view but not all hope is lost.  When you get an offer scope out the dept culture very carefully.  I looked at numbers of classes people were teaching and didn't ask about class size - do that!  Ask to see a lot of labs and make a mental (unvoiced) note of any gender disparities in lab size.  If you find these things and you can't walk away from that offer (or if there are enough other good things about the offer to make it worth taking) keep these issues in mind during negotiation.  The climate one is the hardest to work your way out of - and to diagnose before taking the job - so be prepared to move. 

Women can succeed in STEM faculty jobs but in my opinion a major barrier is a failure to recognize what factors are getting in our way of that success.  Don't internalize it - if there are systematic differences between the support and expectations for male and female faculty - it's them not you and you need to look for someplace else.
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pathogen
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« Reply #19 on: March 04, 2012, 9:56:05 PM »

Setting: my department.

Male colleague to course scheduling person: I got x dollars in grant money. I'm taking a buyout this semester. Put me on the schedule for only 1 section of basketweaving.

Course scheduling person: Okay!!!

Result: MC teaches 1 section of basketweaving

Female colleague to chair: I got x dollars in grant money. Would it be all right if I take a buyout this semester?

Chair: I'd like to see at least x+10 dollars in grant money before you take a buyout.

Result: FC is teaching 2 sections of basketweaving.

Sometimes nobody means to do anybody wrong, but still.......
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hamsandwich
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« Reply #20 on: March 05, 2012, 12:26:04 PM »

Our department (molecular biology/biochemistry) at a state university has hired 3 faculty members recently, and we have been informed from above that it would be especially great if they're female (e.g make it happen, to improve the ratios that we have now).  We would love to hire an excellent female research colleague, but only ~10% of our applicants are female.  Generally speaking (and by considering the statistics - 90% are male), the best applicants are, you guessed it, often male. 

I have thought for a long time that our discussions on how to fix the gender disparity in the biological sciences need to be focused on this "leaky pipeline" that has been brought up already.  I feel like we spend way too much effort on providing scholarships and opportunities early in women's careers - but it's close to 50/50 male:female in grad school and at the postdoc levels, and from what I have seen, women are equally productive and prepared after their training.  But then, for some reason, the women just don't seem to apply to TT jobs as much as men do, and this has been noted by many of my colleagues at other universities as well.  From my own experience, the many extremely bright and talented women I did my postdoc with (and I was at a BIG place) decided for one reason or another to do something else (regulatory affairs, patent examining, writing, etc).  My sense is that, for many of them, their priorities changed at some point, and a LOT of them had kids during their early-mid 30s as a postdoc, so I feel like motherhood might have played a role in modifying their future plans. 

Now that I am a TT asst professor, I wish that I could tell a lot of the women I worked with that you can be an involved parent (I have kids with a wife who has a very busy job, so I share lots of parenting duties) and run a lab, teach, etc.  Good time management is essential, but it can be done.  Recent statistics from the NIH reveal that women largely get treated equally with regards to funding, so I don't think that's a major issue nowadays.

So my quandary is, if it is true that women are deciding on their own to abandon the TT and take other jobs, what should the rest of us do about it?  Should we try to tell them they're wrong for making that decision and that they should become a TT PI and do what we do?  Should we stop worrying about it and let them go on to make other career decisions?  And if women are making this choice, why does it always seem (here at my place as well as others) like the men (especially the white ones) are the culprits behind it all?  I feel like the discussion is not framed around what seems to be the problem (at least in the bio sciences), because it inevitably will bring up gender preferences and differences, which are not the most comfortable topics for discussion in this day and age.  I Would love to hear others' thoughts on this... 
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ruralguy
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« Reply #21 on: March 05, 2012, 2:17:36 PM »

I think you hit upon an important factor: folks in the pre-TT stage need to hear from and see successful women. They also need to see that it isn't "R1 or nothing." I see why some people, men and women, take that position, but many take that view without really seeing what other schools are like.

If, after changes in primary, secondary and college education, agressive recruiting, affirmative action, and mentoring by mid-career women still leaves many women saying "No thanks, the (STEM) TT isn't for me", then we may have to accept that. Of course, such "group opinions" are maleable, and what young women think today isn't exactly what they might think 10 years from now.

Some of what comes out of this will probably also help men (more flexible time, "stopping the tenure clock", etc.), so I think its worth it to give this topic a lot of consideration.
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hamsandwich
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« Reply #22 on: March 05, 2012, 3:00:49 PM »

Ruralyguy,

After reading your post, I remembered another theory of mine that might contribute to this gender disparity, but haven't heard anyone else ever mention... thought I'd throw it out there and see what everyone thinks:

While in grad school and as a postdoc, most of the seminar speakers that we as trainees met with/had lunch with (common practice at most places) were really accomplished folks (and mostly male) - from the top universities, the consistent publishers in the top journals, consistently funded by multiple R01 grants, huge labs, national academy members, etc.  We actively sought to invite these "famous" scientists to come talk to us.  Well, most of them got "famous" by working 80-hour weeks, weekends, and likely eschewing family responsibilities and a social life.  Also, a large % of them would give the advice "you can't do this unless you work like a maniac, never stopping until you retire or die".  I know many of these folks well at my professional society as well.  Most are very aggressive, opinionated, and not afraid to share these opinions freely.  We rarely, if ever, had anyone visit and talk to us who ran a small lab at a state school and who had normal family relationships.  Of course I am generalizing, as there were exceptions to this, but I wonder how many young ladies, thinking about having a family, who get the message over and over to "work, work, work, publish or perish, tenure denial, grant denial, eat your young, etc" decide to just walk away and do something else.  As a young hard-headed and competitive guy, their bluster didn't faze me too much, for some reason...  Anyone else think that the superstars on the "lecture circuit" and this 80 hour workweek myth (you don't have to do that to be successful!!!) might contribute to the mass exodus of female scientists from applying to join the TT ranks?
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onthefringe
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« Reply #23 on: March 05, 2012, 3:19:00 PM »

Our department (molecular biology/biochemistry) at a state university has hired 3 faculty members recently, and we have been informed from above that it would be especially great if they're female (e.g make it happen, to improve the ratios that we have now).  We would love to hire an excellent female research colleague, but only ~10% of our applicants are female.  Generally speaking (and by considering the statistics - 90% are male), the best applicants are, you guessed it, often male. 


Interestingly, my (very similar sounding department) hasn't exactly seen this. We do see the very skewed application numbers (20% women in the last pool)., However, when we look only at the very top set of applicants in the pool, the numbers are much more even. The pool that was 20% led to a short list that was 35% women and an invite list that was 40% women, without us overtly talking about gender issues at all. And I've seen similar numbers in our last 3 or 4 searches.

I wonder if women who are close to the top tier (but not quite there) are more likely to self select out of the process than are men who are close to the top tier, while in the very top tier this tendency is minimized?

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ruralguy
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« Reply #24 on: March 05, 2012, 3:40:06 PM »

Well, Mr. Sandwich, I think you are on to something!

At my R1 grad program,  all of the faculty were married save for one woman, who did not get tenure. Of the remainder, all men,
more than half of them were divorced by around the time I left the program. They were the sort of men who worked very very hard,
and then on Friday, they escaped to have beers with their male colleagues, rather than go back to their families. By the mid 90's,
they were trading names of divorce attorneys at these pub runs (I kid you not!). I'm a guy, and I grew to not have respect for these folks.
I think some of the women (grad students) were just plain disgusted.

I went to work in a govt. lab shortly after this, and the enviroment was totally different. I don't think I saw anyone put work ahead of family. People all had all sorts of cute stories of how they met their spouses, and kept life interesting after decades of marriage. I would remain single (most of that period without being in a relationship at all) for a decade or so, but I still felt more comfortable in that atmosphere.

Look, I don't judge people for getting a divorce or anything like that, I just brought the story up because I think it was endemic of the
workaholism, avoidance of family, male-domination, etc.



I  do absolutely think we ALL need to see a variety of folks in our fields when we are grad students. Seeing just the R1 workaholics is very skewed.
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itried
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« Reply #25 on: March 05, 2012, 6:18:36 PM »

pathogen: exactly.
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busyslinky
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« Reply #26 on: March 05, 2012, 6:43:33 PM »

Setting: my department.

Male colleague to course scheduling person: I got x dollars in grant money. I'm taking a buyout this semester. Put me on the schedule for only 1 section of basketweaving.

Course scheduling person: Okay!!!

Result: MC teaches 1 section of basketweaving

Female colleague to chair: I got x dollars in grant money. Would it be all right if I take a buyout this semester?

Chair: I'd like to see at least x+10 dollars in grant money before you take a buyout.

Result: FC is teaching 2 sections of basketweaving.

Sometimes nobody means to do anybody wrong, but still.......

Clearly all colleagues should go to course scheduling person and not chair for course reductions.
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Such a wonderful toy!
pathogen
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« Reply #27 on: March 05, 2012, 11:35:53 PM »

I guess so. I think that's part of what happens (to overgeneralize a lot): Women ask if they can have something. Men say "I should have this."
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zoelouise
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« Reply #28 on: March 05, 2012, 11:54:09 PM »

Conclusions of "Beyond Bias and Barriers", a study performed by a committee of the National Academies of Science and published in 2007:

(I truncated some of these.)

FINDINGS
1. Women have the ability and drive to succeed in science and engineering.

2. Women who are interested in science and engineering careers are lost
at every educational transition.

3. The problem is not simply the pipeline. In several fields, the pipeline
has reached gender parity.

4. Women are very likely to face discrimination in every field of science
and engineering. Considerable research has shown the barriers limiting the
appointment, retention, and advancement of women faculty. Overall, scientists
and engineers who are women or members of racial or ethnic minority
groups have had to function in environments that favor—sometimes
deliberately but often inadvertently—the men who have traditionally dominated
science and engineering. Well-qualified and highly productive women
scientists have also had to contend with continuing questioning of their
own abilities in science and mathematics and their commitment to an academic
career. Minority-group women are subject to dual discrimination
and face even more barriers to success. As a result, throughout their careers,
women have not received the opportunities and encouragement provided to
men to develop their interests and abilities to the fullest; this accumulation
of disadvantage becomes acute in more senior positions.

5. A substantial body of evidence establishes that most people—men
and women—hold implicit biases. Decades of cognitive psychology research
reveals that most of us carry prejudices of which we are unaware but that
nonetheless play a large role in our evaluations of people and their work.
An impressive body of controlled experimental studies and examination of
decision-making processes in real life show that, on the average, people are
less likely to hire a woman than a man with identical qualifications, are less
likely to ascribe credit to a woman than to a man for identical accomplishments,
and, when information is scarce, will far more often give the benefit
of the doubt to a man than to a woman. Although most scientists and
engineers believe that they are objective and intend to be fair, research
shows that they are not exempt from those tendencies.

6. Evaluation criteria contain arbitrary and subjective components that
disadvantage women. Women faculty are paid less, are promoted more
slowly, receive fewer honors, and hold fewer leadership positions than men.
These discrepancies do not appear to be based on productivity, the significance
of their work, or any other measure of performance. Progress in
academic careers depends on evaluation of accomplishments by more senior
scientists, a process widely believed to be objective. Yet measures of
success underlying the current “meritocratic” system are often arbitrary
and applied in a biased manner (usually unintentionally). Characteristics
that are often selected for and are believed, on the basis of little evidence, to
relate to scientific creativity—namely assertiveness and single-mindedness—
are given greater weight than other characteristics such as flexibility, diplomacy,
curiosity, motivation, and dedication, which may be more vital to
success in science and engineering. At the same time assertiveness and
single-mindedness are stereotyped as socially unacceptable traits for women.

7. Academic organizational structures and rules contribute significantly
to the underuse of women in academic science and engineering.

8. The consequences of not acting will be detrimental to the nation’s
competitiveness.

To facilitate clear, evidence-based discussion of the issues, the committee
compiled a list of commonly held beliefs concerning women in science
and engineering (Table S-1). Each is discussed and analyzed in detail in the
text of the report.

ZL again- I like this one best:

Belief: Women are not as competitive as men. Women don’t want jobs in academe.
Evidence: Similar proportions of men and women science and engineering doctorates plan to enter postdoctoral study or academic employment.

ZL again- the idea that women don't want academic jobs as much as men do is just not true.
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You ain't a beauty but hey you're alright
kangaroo
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« Reply #29 on: March 06, 2012, 9:41:06 AM »

Another one bites the dust.

Another of my female friends in science who I consider brilliant, who is currently in a top postdoctoral position, and who always talked about her dream of leading a lab at an R1 has just taken a job in industry. I am undeniably happy for her that she found a good job in this economy, but I haven't had a chance to talk to her about why she decided against academia.

Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts. This is really interesting to read.
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