Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Despite Our Natural Inclinations

One thing that interests me about the recent Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education study is how certain media outlets have summarized the results.

According to the study, there may be differences in job satisfaction among untenured faculty in different disciplines at research universities (physical science professors are the happiest). There are also differences in job satisfaction levels between men and women within a particular discipline. The biggest gap is in the social sciences.

The study didn't ask faculty why they were answering survey questions the way they did. Any explanations presented in media reports are from interviews with people musing about the results of the study.

For example, in the Inside Higher Ed article on the report, there is an interview with Rosanna Hertz, the Classes of 1919-50 Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Wellesley College and "a member of the Council of the American Sociological Association and .. that board's liaison to the association's Committee on the Status of Women in Sociology."

She describes how she has seen:

.. frustration among junior faculty about the tenure process. "Many say that they don't understand the tenure criteria," she said. "They ask 'Do I need a book? How many articles do I need?' They want to quantify it in a way that's not always quantifiable."

A Huffington Post article, which links to and cites the Inside Higher Ed article, summarizes this point as:

Pursuit of tenure often stumps female instructors who wonder what exactly it takes.

In fact, Professor Hertz didn't single out women faculty in her statement, but since we are trying to figure out why the women are so unhappy, I guess we can ignore the confused men for now.

Hartz also notes that faculty in the physical and biological sciences typically work together in labs and therefore have a lot of contact with other people. Social sciences faculty, however, may be more isolated. For junior faculty, therefore, particularly those who would like some guidance, "it can be more difficult to chart a path".

Without any context, the Huffington Post turned this into: new female professors looking for mentors struggle to find them.

For some reason the HuffPo condensing machine decided to skip over the paragraphs about the lack of female full professors (despite the large number of women who get a PhD in social sciences), and about the female economists who feel they are "passed over for promotion in favor of men" who in some cases may be less qualified.

No, we can skip over all that complicated, irrelevant stuff and get to the final point worth noting: that women who do research in fields outside the mainstream of economics (e.g., on gender and inequality issues) may be marginalized and may have trouble getting tenure for research in those fields.

OK, I believe that, but this is summarized as: Furthermore, women tend to get pushed into the gender studies departments, despite their natural inclinations.

This comparison of the source article and the HuffPo summary is not intended to bash the Huffington Post in particular, though it would be consistent with my natural inclinations to do so. Mostly I am interested in how a 'summary' of the findings of a study is not just incomplete (perhaps to be expected in a summary) but contains a fair amount of fabrication, resulting in a rather dim view of women faculty.

In just three short sentences, we learn that women faculty are confused, struggling to find people to advise them, and pushed into research fields that go against their nature. We do not learn that women are passed over for career opportunities and promotion. We therefore do not learn why untenured women faculty in the social sciences are much less satisfied with their jobs than are their male peers.

If you are dissatisfied with your job as a faculty member, whether tenured or untenured, in whatever field, what is the #1 reason for your dissatisfaction? Is it related to the specific place where you are employed, to something more general to your field (does your research go against your natural inclinations, whatever those are?), to your lack of tenure (yet), or something else entirely?


DrScienceDaddy said...

I'm dissatisfied as a postdoc; does that count?

Anonymous said...

FSP is to Huffington Post as Jon Stewart is to Fox News.

Thanks for pointing out the bad reporting, FSP.

Anonymous said...

Untenured, biology, SLAC. 3 on the happiness scale yesterday. Mostly happy, but a key source of professional unhappiness for me is:

1) Stress associated with the tenure process (due to working somewhat long hours, constant evaluation, lack of clear goals)


2) The completely different standards for post-tenure faculty Many are extremely productive, even inspirational, but for some, I can't help but wondering how they ever got tenure in the first place.

In other words, life isn't fair, and that makes me grouchy.

I do not think this source unhappiness is gender-specific at my university or in my discipline.

Anonymous said...

I'm not dissatisfied in general. But the elements of dissatisfaction that do exist are related to my particular institution: 1) the tenure requirements seem to be a moving target, and the process isn't transparent and doesn't seem consistent or fair, and 2) our salaries are lower than what people make at peer institutions. Both of these are sort of related to my field (social science), in that I'd be making more if I were an engineering professor, and maybe the tenure requirements are more clear in different disciplines, but mostly it's institution related.

militant mama said...

I'm one of those women who leaked themselves out of the academic science pipeline. No mention of the double standard facing mothers in science? My professional happiness would be a lot higher if more men would do an equal share of the childrearing!

Anonymous said...

Great discussion question. As a tenure seeking female STEM professor I am dissatisfied and considering a career change because of (in no particular order): 1.)a lack of professional development opportunities, 2.)a lack of mentoring, 3.)a lack of staff support, and 4.)nonexistent tenure guidelines. These reasons are largely specific to my particular institution and are mostly gender neutral (at least this is my perception). Thus, I may choose to seek another academic position elsewhere.
However, I may leave academia for yet another reason. Before becoming a professor, I believed gender bias and discrimination was something isolated to previous generations. Since becoming a professor, I have fielded comments such as:
>>I am lucky to be a woman because I can always rely on my husband's salary if I do not get tenure
>>I can always try to 'save myself' and get an extra year towards tenure by 'getting pregnant' (as if 'getting pregnant' is even all that easy at my age never mind how insulting the rest of the statement is)
>>We really need to get Dr. XY's salary up because he has a family to support (never mind that A.)I have a family to support and B.)I am the lowest paid in my department)
>>I should be the faculty advisor for the student female professional society (why? the currently advisor is doing an admirable job, I was never a member of this society, and none of the other untenured professors serve as an advisor to a student professional society). This statement has been repeated so many times without any qualification that I have begun asking in response whether Dr. XY has also been asked to serve in this capacity.

Anonymous said...

I think that the mentoring issue is significant. When I started (as an instructor rather than a professor), a male colleague started at the same time as me. He acquired several mentors within the department with effectively no effort on his part; he just "fit in". Nobody in the department made anything remotely ressembling the same effort to help me. I joined an official university-wide "find a mentor" program but the person they matched me up with was no help at all. It took me several years and an awful lot of effort to gain the same level of support that my male colleague started with. Meanwhile, I had to fight tooth and nail to get the teaching assignments I wanted, etc. while he was just handed them (despite being less qualified for the particular assignments we both wanted).

Ms.PhD said...

This reminds me of a survey of postdocs from a few years back.

Postdocs uniformly said they were miserable.

The interpretation was that survey respondents were self-selecting. They said 'Oh well only the miserable ones wrote back.'

I think it's pretty common for articles on survey and statistical summaries to fabricate results or interpretations (like that John Tierney nonsense a few weeks ago).

But I have to agree, I would have expected better from the Huffington Post.

In fact, I would expect better from Jon Stewart & friends at Comedy Central.

For that matter, where is Rachel Maddow when we need somebody smart to cover this stuff??

Anonymous said...

I'm tenured at a small college, with a predominately female faculty. Mostly happy, but dissatisfied with the amount of administrative work I have to do. This is mostly a function of the small size of the college -- there is a lot of admin work to do, and not so many tenured faculty to do it. But overall, the men do a lot less.

Anonymous said...

Just tenured and reasonably happy, or reasonably unhappy depending on the day.

Source of dissatisfaction? Too many jerks, not enough salary. If my research went against my natural inclinations, I would have quit years ago. That whole idea is just laughable. And insulting.

Anonymous said...

Untenured, regional state school, I said I was 5 on the happiness scale yesterday. Reasons for unhappiness: 1)Location (both for itself and for its lack of jobs for my partner); related to that: 2)having to live in a different state from my partner of 15 years, due to no jobs where I am -- it's been 2 years so far and no end in sight; also 3) anxiety about tenure (though in my school's defense, the guidelines are very clear); also 4) the students I deal with (too many and too entitled); also 5) MONEY. My salary is way low. It doesn't help that I keep having to spend it on airline tickets to see my partner (not an academic). I think that about covers it.

EliRabett said...

Eli's advice to young isolated faculty is go to lunch (and don't sit alone, find someone you know a little sitting in a group and ask if you can join them)

engineering girl said...

Thanks for the informative post! I feel like this is exactly the kind of advice people my age need (just got a masters which I did straight out of undergrad, so there's time to go to academic route but still time to explore industry), and this is why I started reading blogs like this one. A lot of people on the tenure track seem to say there's a lack of mentoring...perhaps the mentoring should have started earlier. I know a lot of graduating PhD candidates who have just committed 6-7 years of their lives to getting a PhD (male and female), and are now confused about what they want to do. Several are doing postdocs because they don't know what else to do. As difficult as it is to navigate the tenure track, it's probably even more difficult if you're trying to figure out your life goals on top of it. Of course, I could be way off in my statements, being nowhere near tenure track...but I guess this is how it looks from the other end of the tunnel, before one step down the academic route is taken.

Anonymous said...

I echo everything that Anonymous 12:30 fact, I wonder if she is a friend of mine at my former university. All of the things she said happened at my former university. On top of that, I was in a small department (<10) where everyone else was tenured and the last person to go up for tenure did so over 10 years before I was scheduled to (he left several years after receiving tenure and I filled his spot). So, most of these tenured folks in my department didn't do anything besides teach their two classes per semester. In the five years I was there, more than one of them did not publish a paper, receive a grant, or graduate a graduate student. Basically, all of the publishing, funding, and graduate student advising fell to me because no one else in the department was contributing. I taught two classes/semester, just like the rest of them. These same people who have not been research active in some cases for over 5 years were the ones evaluating my case for reappointment and tenure and saying I didn't write enough proposals, submit enough papers, or publish in the right journals. It is beyond my comprehension how someone who has not been research active in 5+ years can be at all qualified to judge my research productivity.

Despite having funding from two major national agencies, including NSF, when I went up for my annual reappointment this past Feb, the department voted to not reappoint me. Which effectively took away my ability to go up for tenure this fall. I had been miserable for some time and was already looking for a job. I verbally accepted an offer in industry (with a start up company that could utilize my research experience) before receiving official word that I wasn't reappointed. Since I left, I heard that another asst. prof who is going up for tenure this fall (same college as mine but different department) is already publicly announcing that he will not be accepting any new grad students or writing any new proposals for at least one year after he receives tenure. He's essentially taking a year off, but it's not a sabbatical. He's just going to teach his two classes/semester. I'm pretty sure this guy is a shoe-in for tenure (he has a lot of pubs, which seem to reign supreme there), but it just boggles my mind that he's telling people he's basically puttting his research on hold once he gets it tenure! Of course, that's what all of the other tenured faculty in the college do, so I guess he's just going with the status quo.

Needless to say, my happiness shot up from about a 2 to an 8.5 once I left and took my new job. Not to mention, the reduction in my stress-level has been at least 10 orders of magnitude.

Kea said...

I'm yet another dissatisfied unemployed female theoretical physics postdoc ...

The #1 reason for my dissatisfaction? I've spent decades STARVING while watching less talented, less qualified, less independent and less ethical young men being given ALL the jobs.

Anonymous said...

I am a assistant female science professor at a R1 institution. I'm happy and think I have good mentorship both within and outside my university.

The source of my frustration comes from:
1) Having no other assistant or associate female professors in my department. The young males are great, but it still feels a bit isolating sometimes.
2) Comments that Anonymous 12:36:00 PM posted
3) Finding it difficult to know how I stack up/ not knowing what I'm racing toward. This isn't about tenure - I know what I need to do to get tenure - but in general, how do you know if you are doing a good job overall (and not just in your department)? This goes for research, teaching and outreach... It's hard to know how to improve if you don't have a good grasp on how you are doing (beyond counting papers and grant money).

Anonymous said...

i'm satisfied now (post-tenure), but during most of my yrs as an asst prof in econ i was miserable, mostly due to the isolation i felt in this ueber male dept and the crap i took from students.