Friday, May 29, 2015

AASWOMEN Newsletter for May 29, 2015

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of May 29, 2015
eds: Daryl Haggard, Nicolle Zellner, Meredith Hughes, & Elysse Voyer

This week's issues:

1. Leadership, Role Models . . . and Captain Kathryn Janeway(?)
2. Homework for Those Seeking to be Allies
3. Science still seen as male profession, according to international study of gender bias
4. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
5. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
6. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Leadership, Role Models . . . and Captain Kathryn Janeway(?)

The January 2015 issue of CSWA's STATUS Magazine includes an article entitled, “Senior Women Moving into Leadership Positions: Has ADVANCE Affected Junior and Senior Women Scientists Differently?” by Sue V. Rosser, the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at San Francisco State University. Part of the article describes responses to a survey question, “In your opinion, what changes in institutional policies and practices are most useful for facilitating careers of academic women scientists or engineers at the senior level?” The only response that got much traction was, “Training for leadership.”
I agree that training is an important, perhaps most important, component for leadership. I can think of another one, however, that doesn’t appear to have made the list: Role Models. This is one component of astronomical life that I, unfortunately, was not able to benefit from during the early stages of my career. When I was an undergrad at an engineering school, I knew other undergrad women but no women grad students, postdocs, or professors. When I was a grad student at a state university, I knew other women grad students but no women post docs or professors. When I was a postdoc, I finally started to become aware of senior women in astronomy, but they were not part of my research group and I was not able to interact with them on a personal or professional level.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Homework for Those Seeking to be Allies

The below by Dr. Sarah Ballard is cross-posted (with permission) from John Johnson's blog,  Dr. Ballard is a Carl Sagan postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, and soon-to-be Torres Fellow at MIT.

The writer and activist Janet Mock describes the idea of an “ally” as more of an action, and less of an identity. “Ally” is something that we actively do, not something that we can ever passively be. I found this conception very helpful to hear because it posits “ally” within the context of hard work. Being an ally is hard work. It is similar to my other kinds of work (in astronomy and elsewhere) in that (1) improvement is not only facilitated by criticism from respected peers and colleagues, it relies upon this criticism, and (2) it’s characterized less by large leaps and bounds, and much more by constant and small day-to-day efforts.

AASWOMEN Newsletter for May 22, 2015

AAS Committee on the Status of Women AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of May 22, 2015
eds: Daryl Haggard, Nicolle Zellner, Meredith Hughes, & Elysse Voyer

This week's issues:

1. Letter of Recommendation for Letters of Recommendation

2. #GirlsWithToys

3. The Broader Impact of Broader Impacts

4. In Science, It Matters That Women Come Last

5. Being "out" as a #scimom

6. Gazing at the Future: The experiences of male and female astronomy doctoral students in the UK

7. Job Opportunities

8. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter

9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter

10. Access to Past Issues

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Letter of Recommendation for Letters of Recommendation

My wife pointed out to me an interesting article in the May 2015 issue of Science about gender bias when writing letters of recommendation.  It is by Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt and describes her personal experience in reviewing graduate student proposals for small research grants.  She found systematic differences in letters of recommendation for female and male proposers that were detrimental to the females.

Here are some specifics.  Ten percent of the 60 proposers had one or more letter with inappropriate content for the purpose of the letter and all such cases were in letters for the women.  Prof. McNutt cites examples of mentioning that the candidate was "so good to her elderly mother", "spending time in nature with her husband and her animals friends".  Another discussed the candidate's balancing being a scientists and a mother.  Also, the language was on-average different between men and women in a detrimental way for women.  In some cases, the women got adjectives such as "friendly", "kind", "pleasant", "humble", and frequently "nice".  Typical language for the male candidates, and also many of the females candidates, included "brilliant", "creative", "hard-working", insightful" and "showing leadership".

Graphic from Science May 2015 issue (McNutt)

Monday, May 18, 2015


"Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call 'boys with toys.' I really like playing around with telescopes. It's just not fashionable to admit it." These are the words of Caltech Professor and Optical Observatories Director Shri Kulkarni, shared with NPR's Joe Palca on Weekend Edition Saturday May 16, 2015.

The photograph of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin on the left shows that women have also been fascinated by scientific instrumentation since before Kulkarni was born. They just haven't always had access to it, unlike the boys.

Kulkarni himself has supervised several female graduate students and postdocs, so his choice of words was surprising. They do seem like a prime example of unconscious bias. Are there still scientists, or others, who believe that they are completely objective and fair? If so, please share with them the Implicit Association Test, so that they can match their wits against a computer. For a little background, see this nice explanation within the SPLC Teaching Tolerance curriculum.

Words matter. When a leading scientist excludes girls, it sends the message, whether intended or not, that girls should not apply because they do not belong. The same  message is regularly heard by people of color, transgender people, and others. We expect better of our community members.

Fortunately, social media enables us to advance a different narrative, one that shows women (and, one hopes, people of color and other genders) playing with their scientific toys. I don't know how Twitter views compare with the audience size of Weekend Edition, but I know that it can have an impact. If more young people are drawn into STEM fields through the inspiration of  role models showing up under the #GirlsWithToys hashtag, Kulkarni's comment will have served a useful purpose.