As someone who has
spoken up for women within our field, people tend to come to me for advice from
time to time. One question that I have
repeatedly received is “do you know of one great STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics) resource for women in our field or young women
looking to enter this profession?”And
every time I say "no, I know of way more than one, " then Google every website I
can think of that I have found useful previously.The person usually leaves with their head
swimming full of websites, and likely forgets most of what I said within
minutes (but now knows I have a strange relationship with my iPhone and Google).So I’m going to use my blog time this month
to include the many sites that I have found useful, add some others that have
been suggested to me along the way, and hopefully readers will take the
opportunity to chime in on the comments section of this blog to add their own
useful sites.I’ll focus on websites
targeting issues for women already in the STEM field, but will highlight one
site that points out several resources for younger women/girls looking to enter
in to the field. So the next time someone asks this question, this blog can be
easily pointed to as a starting point.
Today's Guest Post is by Ramin Skibba is a research scientist at the Center for Astrophysics & Space Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. He blogs about astronomy news and science policy issues at http://raminskibba.net.
It's obvious, but one thing I've noticed over my career so far is that many departments, institutions, conferences, organizations, committees, high-profile publications, big research grants, etc., both nationally and internationally, and especially leadership positions, are filled with straight, white, men. There are notable and impressive exceptions, but the trend is clear. The distributions of people in the scientific workforce clearly don't reflect their distribution in the overall population. For example, according to the AAS's Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, nearly half of undergraduate students who obtain bachelors of science degrees are women, but only a third of astronomy graduate students and 30% of Ph.D. recipients are. Women compose 25-30% of postdocs and lower-level faculty, and this drops by half (to 15%) of tenured faculty. This is not explained by historical differences in gender: if women were promoted and retained at rates comparable to men, then the fractions advancing to higher career stages should be equal. The demographics in terms of race aren't good either: according to the American Institute of Physics, African Americans and Hispanics combined account for only 5% of physics faculty.
Of course, this isn't news to readers of this blog. And the disturbing lack of diversity doesn't just affect us in astronomy and astrophysics or even just in the physical sciences. For example, as you've probably seen, the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley has deservedly been in the news lately. Tech companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have all been criticized for being dominated by white men (and recently, also Asian men). We definitely need to work more at improving diversity in all STEM fields.
Below is our interview with Joan Schmelz, an astronomer turned faculty. If you have questions, suggestions, advice to share, etc. about this career path, please leave a comment below.
For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit http://aas.org/jobs/career-profiles. We plan to post a new career profile to this blog every first and third Thursday of the month.
Do-it-yourself mentoring sounds like an oxymoron, but the
idea is that women can find mentors in not-obvious places if they look around. Here are a few stories of life
experiences from women in my family on finding mentoring and getting inspired.In general, the lack of adequate role
models and mentors can be a significant factor in hindering women scientists in
their careers.Starting in childhood, girls will typically
find fewer scientists or engineers of their gender in their families to look up
to than boys do.This can be a serious
impediment to considering science as a career since family experience plays a
huge role in influencing our directions.Later in life, women will see fewer female scientists in senior
positions as examples to strive for.The situation is improving with every year, but there are still
Extended family and friends can give a pool of role models
outside the immediate family.TV
can also help.My wife found a few
successful women to look up to on television in her formative early years.In my family, my mother went back to
school while us kids were growing up and greatly inspired my younger sister.
In school, interactions with particular teachers and
students can be quite important.While in college, my sister-in-law heard about a woman doing exciting
field work in geology who needed a research assistant.She got the job and became hooked on
geology.My wife had an excellent
chemistry teacher in high school who got her interested in science.He was opened minded and was a role
model for many boys and girls.The
important points were that he enjoyed chemistry, made it seem relevant and fun,
and believed in the ability of his students of both genders to succeed.In this case, a man was a fine role
model even for the girls.
In graduate school, my wife was one of the small group of women
students at Caltech and there were no women on the science and engineering
faculty.She found a good way to
go by joining one of the few groups with women graduate students.In fact, the female students tended to
be found in clumps throughout the university.This provided immediate excellent mentors in the older
students.She now wonders if it
was the women who attracted each other to the group or if it was topic of the
group (a new and growing field, surface physics, in her case) that was of particular
interest to women.
After starting a career, men have lots of people to look up
to, not to mention the old boys network to give support.It is harder for women, but casting a
wider net can do the trick.The "new
girls' networks" tend to be from larger groups of universities and across
departments, instead of within a department.There are actually some advantages to such a broad group in
that women get to know colleagues in different areas and different
The bottom line is that it is harder for women to find
mentors, but a little ingenuity can get the job done.The women who succeed have the benefit of a wider
group of contacts and more flexible approach.
On Friday, October 3 MIT hosted a symposium addressing the well-known story told by Virginia Valian in Why So Slow? It was a big hit with the audience of more than 200 students, staff and faculty who came to hear an outstanding panel talk about the problems and solutions. Why did we hold this symposium and what did we learn?
Two years ago, computer scientist Tess Rinearson wrote a blog On Technical Entitlement in which she poignantly discussed the challenges of being a female student in a male-dominated field. This is a familiar, distressing story, with a twist: namely, her story inspired a male computer science student to reflect on his own technical privilege - on how being an Asian male gave him unearned privilege that helped him to compensate for deficiencies. As Philip Guo said, "Nobody every says you only got into MIT because you're an Asian man." He spoke up about micro-inequities, stereotype threat, and silent technical privilege. Man bites dog is news, so Guo was interviewed on NPR.
Jane Stout, Director of the Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline of the Computing Research Association (CERP/CRA), is a social psychologist who presented her research on factors explaining the underrepresentation of women in some STEM fields. Her analysis was powerfully supported by two MIT students, Jean Yang and Tami Forrester. They shared examples of explicit and implicit bias and how they coped with the challenges. Every faculty member in a STEM field should hear stories like theirs, along with the advice offered by the rest of the panel on how to prepare our students to face social as well as intellectual challenges. Intel's Gabriela Gonzalez shared with us how important it is to go beyond data to tell personal stories. In Mexico, she noted, engineering is not regarded as a man's field; engineers solve problems, and this is a desirable profession for women and men. In the US, engineering culture is different. Donna Milgram, Executive Director of the National Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science (IWITTS), cited examples of schools that significantly increased the percentage of women in STEM, and noted the elements of their success: having gender-balanced outreach efforts, making STEM appealing to those who want to improve the world, and using an inclusive curriculum.
For me, the main lesson was this: our students have compelling stories of how to cope with the continuing challenges of inequity and exclusion. Giving them voice, and supporting them with mentoring and sponsorship, is a great way to advance equality. Speaking of which, Jean Yang has produced a wonderful annotated bibliography for those who would like more information. You can also follow the conversations on twitter at #techprivMIT and read a news report of the symposium at Boston.com.