Archive for the 'Resources' category

Rethinking the Normality of Attrition

There are few things so beloved by the professoriate as the faculty retreat – amirite? And the highlight of every faculty retreat is surely that hour when we gather and form small groups to contemplate How Diversity Is Making Us Stronger!!1!! These are nearly always well-planned, adroitly led, and very effective. In my dreams.

At one such gathering, the first exercise our group was given consisted of a sheet of paper with four photos: a young white man in casual clothing; a middle-aged white woman in a suit; a young African-American woman in a suit; and an old, bespectacled, gray-haired, bearded eminence in tweed jacket and tie. Our task: which of these people did we think was a professor, and why? Nobody wanted to go anywhere near that booby-trap. Nobody, that is, except the old, bespectacled, gray-haired eminence in a jacket in our group. He promptly pointed to the bearded dude and said “oh, he’s the professor. He just looks like one. Don’t you think that’s how a professor is supposed to look?” The diversity workshop leader happened to be standing next to our group at the moment and the rest of us cringed. Now, this professor was a really nice guy, and he said this without any guile. In retrospect I applaud him for saying what we were all thinking but self-censoring ourselves from saying. Gray-haired bearded dude did look like what we thought a professor should look like. The question was why did we, committed as we were to diversity, still think that? How could we come to see the others – especially the women – as equally valid images of the professoriate?  And what did all this mean for our work at the university?

Well, it should be no surprise, and should not make anyone feel guilty or ashamed, to realize that we carry these internalized stereotypical images of what a professor or scientist or engineer looks like. We daily bathe in the sea of stereotypes.  We may also carry a picture in our heads of what a successful STEM student looks like, without realizing it, and may make advising decisions based on that image rather than on the student’s interests, desires, and real potential.

The first step in interrupting the circuit is to interrogate the term “successful student”. Is a successful student one who makes top grades? One who rallies after a failure? One who doesn’t have a lot of distractions to get in the way of focusing on the degree? One who learns how to manage the non-negotiable constraints of life and still continue with their studies? One who goes on to a satisfying and successful STEM career post-graduation? One who takes their STEM degree as a springboard into another career direction? Is a successful student one whom we help to succeed?

Of course, I can tell you my anecdata about getting a D in calculus and going on to a successful STEM career despite a frosh advisor who suggested I switch out of engineering, and you can counter with your scores of advisees and your, as we will see, oh-so-unfortunate example of George.  And then I’ll walk over to my bookshelf and peruse the research.

The classic reference text on students switching out of STEM majors is, of course, Seymour and Hewitt’s Talking About Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave The Sciences. If you are a STEM professor, make yourself familiar with this book if you are not so already.  The book is an exhaustive presentation of the results of a three-year study of 335 students at seven four-year institutions of different type and location. The authors question the assumption that leaving, or switching, is natural or normal.

The revolution did not swing by anytime in the last 15 years so you can pretty much go with what the book says. Here’s the

most important single generalization arising from [the] analysis…switchers and non-switchers [were not] two different kinds of people. That is to say, [they did not] differ by individual attributes of performance, attitude, or behavior, to any degree sufficient to explain why one group left , and the other group stayed…What distinguished the survivors from those who left was the development of particular attitudes or coping strategies – both legitimate and illegitimate. Serendipity also played a part in persistence, often in the form of intervention by faculty at a critical point in the student’s academic or personal life. [emphasis mine] [p. 30]

It turns out that STEM is bleeding students, male and female, white students and students of color. Only, the bleed rates for females and students of color are slightly higher than for white males, so the overall impact of culling the herd is to reduce diversity. After all that hard work to recruit the best and brightest to your uni, and to get all those women and students of color to your doorstep! Such a shame. Well, what can you do, eh?

Seymour & Hewitt note, by the way, that inappropriate choice, underpreparedness, and overconfidence, while present for many students of color, are not sufficient factors to explain the higher switching rate of this group compared to white students. So one thing you can’t do is lay the burden for the problem on the students.  The extra difficulties that students of color face include: differences in ethnic cultural values and socialization; internalization of stereotypes; ethnic isolation and perception of racism; and inadequate program support.  It’s true. Your unis are not doing a good job of supporting students of color.

Seymour & Hewitt speak in their conclusion of a desire to marginalize the issue of wastage of students, given the consequences of taking seriously the loss of 40 to 60 percent of a group of students with above average ability.

Switching is not defined as a problem when it is believed to be caused, on the one hand, by wrong choices, underpreparation, lack of sufficient interest, ability, or hard work, or on the other, by the discovery of a passion for another discipline. Either way, there is little that faculty feel they can, or should, do about people who leave for such reasons. The difficulty about our data is that they support neither type of explanation for switching. We find no support for the hypothesis that switchers and non-switchers can be sufficiently distinguished in terms of high school preparation, performance scores, or effort expended...Nor do switchers neatly divide into those who are pushed out (by inappropriate choice of major, lower ability, poorer preparation, lower levels of interest, or unwillingness to work), and those who are pulled out (because they discover a vocation elsewhere)...[W]e posit that problems which arise from the structure of the educational experience and the culture of the discipline (as reflected in the attitudes and practices of S.M.E. faculty) make a much greater contribution to S.M.E. attrition than the individual inadequacies of students or the appeal of other majors. [p. 392]

Ouch. That hurts.

Students who wash up on your advising shores performing poorly in their major classes may be doing so for any number of reasons. In my opinion, if you let them get to their junior year and flunk a major course three times without an intervention, your uni is failing that student, and not by giving them a failing grade, if you follow me. Read the conclusions chapter of Seymour and Hewitt if you read no other part of it. There's more in there about the groups of students that are being lost from STEM, groups that faculty members might very much want to retain. And rethink your notions of the successful student and beneficial advice to switch majors. Even if you think you're doing the student a favor, is it really a good thing for your uni to continue recruiting, but not retaining, STEM students?

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When to Tell? Who to Tell?

The most awesome Hermitage asked in a recent post

Ignoring the fact that knowing who to even complain to, and to what purpose, is not always clear, how bad does something have to be before you are compelled to take a stand? Should the criteria be severity, or simply how easy something is to prove? Should you always do the right thing, or should your career come first?

I wrote a long comment that sort of turned into a mini-post.  I'll reproduce it here. My answer was written assuming that what was being complained about was harassment or discrimination.  One main point I wanted to get across is this:  DO NOT WAIT until you have been harassed or discriminated against to try to figure out what you should do when you have been harassed or discriminated against.  Read and educate yourself about your school or workplace's relevant policies and procedures, understand how things would officially be handled and what that would imply for you.  Go talk to someone at the office of diversity or the equal opportunity office (where a complaint might be likely to be handled).  If your university has a women's studies department, ask them for resources to help you understand the situation women in science face in academia and how to respond to harassment and discrimination (tell them you don't need to read high theory, you need practical stuff about dealing with douchebags).  An informed woman scientist is one who is less likely to be harassed, and more likely to be able to aid a colleague who is dealing with a problem.

Okay, here's the rest of what I wrote over at Hermitage's place.  I encourage you to go read her post and the comments there, too.  Continue Reading »

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Designing Faculty Websites - Diversity Resource

Professor in Training is working on a faculty website design and asks the following:

I'm in the process of designing my own page and also a separate set of pages for my lab. I know the type of stuff I want in both of these but I was looking for feedback from both current and prospective students and postdocs as well as other faculty as to what you look for if/when you go searching for faculty/lab pages.

Take a visit over there and share your opinion on what makes a good website. Inquiring minds may also be interested in some work done on this issue a few years ago by Cynthia Burack (and me):
Evaluating STEM Department Websites for Diversity
and by Burack, Ruth Dyer, myself, and Beth Montelone:
Designing Welcoming and Inclusive STEM Department Websites
You can also look up each of those papers in the WEPAN archives (click on the 2006 archives and scroll down the table of contents).

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How Many U.S. Counties Today Provide Abortion Services?

I'm visiting with mom this week, taking her to a number of doctor appointments and dealing with some minor medical issues. No time for stuff I promised you like the second post on Chapter 1 of The Gender Knot.
So what I want you to do, to pass the time while you wait for me to show up again, especially those of you who consider yourselves to be white, is go and read this: Shinin' the Lite on White Privilege. I promise it will shake up your thinking. It sure made me look differently on my experience as a beneficiary of the land-grant university system. See if you can figure out why, also if you can pick out the answer to the blog post question.
If you are too frickin' lazy to click and read, here's a take home message:

...when oppressed whites protest against their own oppression, while refusing to simultaneously challenge racial oppression and white privilege, they can win short term victories (a union, legislative reform, a constitutional amendment, etc.) But when they organize in this way, they themselves become oppressors of people of color. Their silence is consent to racial oppression and white privilege.
And they sacrifice the possibilities for building coalitions with activists of color which could challenge the power of the descendants of the slave owners -- the capitalist power which oppresses all of us today.

But you cannot possibly understand the real meaning and import of that quote without reading the full text of the link I provide above. So I urge you to click and read. Then come back here and discuss if you like.

18 responses so far

What Should a 20-year-old Proto-Feminist Guy Be Reading?

In the midst of a vigorous discussion on my last post, reader Deatkin expressed his frustrations as to how he might engage in a positive manner in a discussion of feminist issues. In this case, it was not the hairy-legged man-hating feminazi Zuska who was intimidating; it was Comrade Physioprof.

Now, I'm perfectly willing to accept that the problem lies with me on this... In sum, I may simply be too immature (I'm 20 and a mere undergraduate) to think broadly and imaginatively enough on feminist issues in order for me to reach a conclusion that somebody such as [Comrade Physioprof] would find satisfactory... But instead of attributing comments that you perceive as off-base to some insidious, malignant strain of male paternalism, isn't it more likely that the person is someone like me, genuinely troubled by all the ways in which women are inhibited and made uncomfortable by men in society, but uncertain as to what attitudes we could hold that women would appreciate? Isn't it possible that people like me are actually afraid that self-described male champions of feminism such as yourself will ridicule our attempts to communicate solidarity with feminism and embarrass us in front of the women we are trying to support? That's definitely the case for me.I feel that most men (in my age group, at least) want to support women's issues, and maybe it is our fault if we support them inappropriately, but it is definitely your fault if we persist in our ways because you mocked rather than enlightened us. I would appreciate, but am certainly not demanding, a comment, detailing some of the ways in which you explicitly and constructively promote feminism in general and women in academia in particular, and providing some sort of template from which a male such as myself could go about doing the same.

I will not go so far as to agree with Deatkin that it is CPP's fault (or anyone else's fault) if he "persists in his ways" because of mocking or anything else. If one is committed to social justice and equity, then one must proceed down that path no matter what obstacles, mocking included, one runs into. Getting your feelings hurt is not sufficient cause to stop educating yourself about how to be a better human being.
But I do think we can make the effort to lend a brother a hand now and then, no? Pass along some good advice, point them to sources of information. I'm not suggesting we baby them and spoon feed them every bit of information they need to have. Just sayin', I didn't come to my gloriously enlightened feminist state all on my own. I had teachers. I took classes. I had books. I had a biweekly reading group of fab feminist babes who pushed me to think.
So, Deatkin, here are Zuska's Guidelines For Dudely Proto-Feminist Development:

  1. Get thee to a bookstore. Or online to Amazon, and purchase for thyself a copy of Allan Johnson's The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. You may also wish to read his Privilege Power and Difference. Mr. Johnson explains to d00ds how being a feminist man does not make your balls shrivel and penis drop off. He explains how patriarchy is actually bad for men, too. I think it's good for men to hear another man talking about these issues.
  2. Taketh thee an introductory women's studies course. And while in said course, try to listen more than speak. When speaking, try to ask questions to clarify points and learn more, rather than to pontificate and explain things to the ladies. If you behave in this manner, you may find that the ladies will occasionally ask you for your perspective. Even if they don't, you will learn a hell of a lot just by listening and reading. I'm not just talking pie in the sky theory, either. You may learn, for example, as one young man I know did, about the existence of the clitoris and its central role in the female orgasm. Women's studies classes are life-changers, I'm tellin' ya.
  3. Read thou freely and often amongst the feminist blogs. You will want to read the women-and-science blogs, of course, if you are a scientist (see here and here for a comprehensive list of links) but you will also want to read others. Bitch, PhD is a good one. Feministe (and anything on their fabulous blogroll), Shakesville, and, let us not forget, Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog. Read Echidne's Feminism Series.

This should give you a good start. Try to remember that it's more or less a lifelong process, this un-learning of the prejudices and stereotypes we breathe in daily, that our brains have bathed in since birth. It's a little like gardening. You work the soil, you put in the best-looking plants you can get your hands on, but it's all going to go to hell if you don't water and weed regularly. It's so very easy to fall back into old stereotypes; gender schemas aren't obvious unless you are on the lookout for them. (And check out these tutorials on gender schemas.)
Readers, I ask you: what other resources would you recommend to a 20-year-old proto-feminist d00d? What have you read that was helpful in developing your own feminist viewpoints? Dudes, how did your own feminist journey begin? Leave your stories in the comments, please!

71 responses so far

Links for 4-3-2009

Scads of stuff I don't have time to blog adequately...

  • Johns Hopkins Provost Kristina Johnson was nominated by President Obama to be under secretary of the Department of Energy in mid-March. From the email press release:

    She is a distinguished researcher, best known for pioneering work -- with widespread scientific and commercial application -- in the field of "smart pixel arrays." Last year, she was awarded the John Fritz Medal, widely considered the highest award in engineering and previously given to Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, George Westinghouse and Orville Wright. She is an entrepreneur and has served with distinction as dean of engineering at Duke and, since 2007, as provost at Johns Hopkins.

    I should have blogged that for the last Diversity in Science carnival!

  • Isis smacks down the whiny jerkwads always complaining about "illegals" stealing "our jobs". You know, the ones the whiny jerkwads don't want to do.
  • Bean-mom left this very meaty comment three days ago on the motherhood/science careers issue,and it got lost in moderation. Check it out. Also check out her blog!

More stuff after the jump.

Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

Links for 03-20-2009

NSF ADVANCE Workshop For Women Transitioning to Academic Careers

The University of Washington's ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change received an award from the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program to hold professional development workshops for Ph.D.-level women in industry, research labs, consulting, or national labs who are interested in transitioning to academic careers in STEM. The first workshop will be held October 18- 20, 2009.
This workshop will be very helpful to women interested in making the transition to academia. The workshop speakers will primarily be successful women faculty members who began their post-Ph.D. careers in industry, research labs, consulting, or national labs. The attendees, speakers, and workshop organizers will form a community who can support each other during the job application period, the interview process, the startup negotiations, and the first years in academia.
Please note, this workshop is NOT designed for research faculty, PhD students, graduate students, or post-docs on university campuses. It is instead targeted toward women who hold Ph.D.s and are currently working in industry, research labs, consulting, or national labs.
The workshops will be limited to 30 participants. Registration is free and some travel funding for airfare and hotel will be available.

More good stuff after the jump.

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Radio Stories and a Web Resource

Nov 19 2008 Published by under Resources

These may be of interest to readers of this blog:
A new web resource, that's really a catalog of many resources:

[Ruta Sevo has] posted about 100 recommended resources on women in science and engineering, organized into small chunks, calling it "10 x 10 List." When you use Google to find things, or a large database, you have to decide, "Is it any good?" These are short lists of selected resources for people who are entering the field. There is much more out there, of course.

And the WAMC Radio Series on the Role of Women in Science and Engineering is now available online. The program is called The Sounds of Progress: The Changing Role of Girls and Women in Science and Engineering. More details about the program after the jump. The series was funded by your tax dollars via an NSF grant so you may just want to take a listen!

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Kadath's Sound Advice To The Lovelorn

When this first came up, I thought it was really outside the scope of my blog. But then I thought about all those stories you hear about women on tech campuses getting "glommed" by clueless nerd boys. I remembered dating catastrophes and tragicomedies from my own undergraduate days, a hundred years ago. And I thought, well, maybe there is a place for at least some brief commentary on this topic.
In the comments to this blog post, Anonymouse asked

Granted, a lot of the behaviors described elsewhere (tit-grazing, eg) are very much not appropriate, but how exactly DOES one go about the whole mating thing? From the beginning, and for both 'sides'? (asketh one who, @22, still hasn't figured out much at all of it - if any)

Dear readers, I am willing and able to pontificate on many, many things, but dating advice is not what I would usually consider to be one of my areas of expertise. You'll see by my answer which follows Anonymouse's comment that I was most likely not of much practical use to him. (Though the book I recommended there is a good one for anybody to take a look at.)
But fortunately for him, and for all you likewise desperate souls out there, kadath stepped into the breech with a reply so wonderful it deserved promotion into a post.

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Friday Bookshelf: Becoming Leaders


You're a smart woman, and a fabulous scientist or engineer. You know you can be a great researcher or professional engineer. But have you given thought to doing more than your job - to becoming a leader? F. Mary Williams and Carolyn J. Emerson hope you will, and to encourage you, they've put together Becoming Leaders: A Practical Handbook for Women in Engineering, Science, and Technology. The book is a joint project of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Society of Women Engineers.
As the authors note in the introduction, there is plenty of research out there that looks at women in the workplace, particularly STEM workplaces; that delineates the history of women in science; and that examines inequities and analyzes social and economic issues. Most of you don't have time to wade through all the research. What you want to know is, what are the "practical, manageable actions that [you] or [your] organizations can undertake" to promote your own career and improve the situation at large for women.

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