Saturday, September 30, 2006

What To Wear, 2

More random thoughts on Un/Professional Attire

I used to think that my husband could wear whatever he wanted to conferences year after year, but that I couldn't. I was envious that he would just throw some nice-ish shirts into his suitcase (the same shirts he wears for teaching), and not think anything more about it. A few years ago, however, a Rather Famous Person in his field said to him at a conference "Is that your meeting shirt?". I laughed so much, and am still too entertained by this to this day. Now, although I can't say that he gives a huge amount of thought to what he wears at conferences, he does at least pause and wonder, "Did I wear this last time?".

Another challenge for the Modern Young Male in academia today: I have several students who wear baseball caps ALL THE TIME, even at meetings. I think I wrote about this a few months ago. My female students may well come across as more serious just because they dress more professionally at conferences. When a prospective graduate student approaches me at a meeting to discuss their application or potential application to work with me, I don't mind if they are wearing a baseball cap or are otherwise informally dressed, but I greatly dislike talking to people (students, anyone) when they are chewing gum. Memo to prospective students: lose the chewing gum before talking to potential advisors.

I have a male colleague who makes crude and lascivious comments when he sees women (young or old) dressed in an alluring way. His behavior disgusts me, but there is some satisfaction in the fact that most women think he is a troll. He once said to me "You should see me in the summer when I'm not wearing a shirt and I'm tan and in shape from hiking in the mountains." I just laughed, in what I hope was a not very nice way, and said "I could do without seeing that". I prefer to think that there is no one on this planet who would respond in a positive way to his invitation, but the fact that he is married implies that there is at least one person who at some point found him attractive.

Men and women in my field tend to dress rather the same (not counting the baseball cap fashion, which seems to be a male phenomenon) in the U.S., even at meetings, but this was not the case during my recent year in Europe. This became clear to me the first time I was invited to attend a science/business/social event, and asked a colleague what level of formality of dress was typical. He said "Oh just wear what you wear to work in the department, that's what I do." So I did. And he did as well, and he fit in perfectly with what all the men were wearing. The women, however, were extremely elegantly dressed. One woman was wearing a slinky, low-cut red silk dress with high heeled shoes. Another woman was wearing a see-through filmy top over black lingerie. I wore a black sweater and black jeans, similar to what several of the men were wearing, so I was dressed appropriately, but apparently it was only appropriate for the gender I am not. At least I wasn't wearing a baseball cap..

Friday, September 29, 2006

It Starts Early

A few months ago, my elementary-school aged daughter asked: "What's it called when someone says that girls can't do something, like math or a job or a sport, just because they're girls?". I explained about sexism and stereotypes, and gave examples. Since then, she has been very alert to pick out examples at school, in movies or books, and in our extended family. She recently surprised my mother by saying "That's a sexist stereotype!". She was absolutely right. Now the family thinks that I have indoctrinated her, although she really figured it out herself and I just put a name to what she was seeing at school and in the world at large.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Oppression O' the Day

Despite my apparent obsession with the topic of women-in-science, I really don't have to work hard at all to find examples of ways in which women are patronized, discouraged, and discriminated against on a daily basis. Some of the examples are trivial:

Trivial example: I was laughing in the corridor with a colleague yesterday, and someone (male) passing by told me that I "laugh like a schoolgirl". My immediate thought was that this must be one of the people in my department who thinks I am too young for a leadership position.

Some examples are very serious:

Serious example: A promising undergraduate student who is doing senior thesis research and has plans to go to graduate school has to change her thesis topic because she is pregnant and can't be exposed to the chemicals in the lab in which she was working. Her thesis advisor (female professor) has ideas for alternate projects, but this morning, the Undergraduate Advisor (old male professor, has a wife who raised the kids etc.) gave the student a stern lecture about how she will have to make compromises and it's going to be really difficult and he's not sure she can do research now etc. etc. He also has "intellectual" concerns about the alternate projects. This is one of those cases where mandatory retirement for aged faculty is really appealing. The student is fortunate, however, that her thesis advisor is going to make sure that she has the support she needs and can do a senior thesis.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

We Don't Want To?

Too bad NYT columnist John Tierney doesn't have a fact-checker for his essays. If he did, he might have avoided publishing such a deeply flawed column today (NYT, September 26, 2006, "Academy of P.C. Sciences").

It is clear that Tierney is a very sensitive guy, though. His essay oozes with empathy for the lone man on the NAS committee that produced the "Beyond Bias and Barriers" report. I don't know how Robert Birgenau survived the experience of being on a committee in which everyone else was of the OPPOSITE GENDER. Well, OK, I sort of do, since I've been on 57 MILLION committees where I was the only female. I am sure that Tierney would have no trouble believing that those committees all produced objective, scientifically-sound, non-P.C. results, since the gender ratio was apparently skewed the appropriate way.

[note: Several years ago, one of my graduate students said to me, "I don't know if you realize this, but every once in a while, a little bit of sarcasm creeps into your speech." Then he laughed in a not-entirely sane way.]

What sort of person assumes that a committee whose membership is female-dominated is incapable of producing an objective, relevant, accurate document?

What would it take to convince Tierney that there is a problem? A committee of men concluding the same thing as Shalala et al.?

I don't know about you, but based on my own experiences, I found this less than compelling as an explanation for why there are so few women in science:

"As Science magazine reported in 2000, the social scientist Patti Hausman offered a simple explanation for why women don’t go into engineering: they don’t want to."

I saw nothing in the essay that explained why so many women students "want to" do science and engineering as students. What happens to them after that? They get a Ph.D. in science or engineering and THEN discover that they are more interested in "social values", "people contact" blah blah blah? And since when do science and engineering not involve "people contact", not to mention "social values". Hello! Ever heard of climate change, natural disasters, and energy resource exploration and extraction, not to mention TEACHING students, most of whom could technically be considered "people"?

Yes, what about those women who do not have "different priorities" than men? What about women who are interested in "learning how (a) dishwasher works."? Why don't they succeed in greater numbers? How nice that Patti Hausman found social science, so she doesn't have to care how her dishwasher works, but don't say that we don't have a problem here because we surely do. How cheap to dismiss a report because it was written by women about women. How weak to avoid the main issues and dismiss a problem for which there is abundant evidence, no matter who compiles the data.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Reinventing A Very Stupid Wheel

Someone should come up with a Geneva Conventions-type document for faculty. Somewhere in there should be a mention that faculty meetings, including *retreats* that last more than 6-7 hours, are cruel and illegal. There should, however, be a specified set of punishments reserved for people who enjoy these events so much that they make them last even longer by talking about non-essential things, like themselves.

With what little lucidity that remains to me until I recover from my ordeal, I will say that my considered opinion is that I just wasted a huge amount of time going to this thing. We talked AT LENGTH about the same old stuff, came to the same old conclusions that we need to talk more about these things, and nothing was accomplished.

And what is more, almost the first thing out of the meeting's discussion leader was an incorrect statement attributing one of my accomplishments to one of my senior (male) colleagues. It was very classic. I wish I'd been sitting there with a copy of "Beyond Bias and Barriers". I could have said "Um, excuse me, but what you just said is covered on page x in Chapter 3. Shall I read this to you?" and then everyone would gasp as they recognized their unintentional discriminatory behaviors and they would all vow to change and it would be amazing. As I said, I am not lucid right now.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Women As Bad Investments

It's taking me a while to read through the whole report recently released by the NAS on the lack of women scientists and engineers, but I like what I've read so far (I am part way through Chapter 3). Even though the results are mostly obvious to women who are already deep into a career as a scientist or engineer, it's still nice to see it written out.

For example, this is what I and others who have commented on my blog have been talking about recently:

".. on 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."

Will anyone recognize themselves in this and change their wayward and discriminatory behavior? I do not believe so. I do have some hope, however, that the recommendations that administrators and funding agency directors take specific actions might have some effect, especially if there is accontability and if there are more women in these positions.

So, overall, I like the report very much. I like seeing forceful statements and calls to action. And graphs. I really like graphs, even when they are scary.

It is a weird feeling to see that I belong to such an exclusive set: in my field, < 5% of full professors at research universities are women (and the number is lower at my university). I participated in the survey that went into the database that is graphed, so I really am in there. Does that mean there is something strange and/or lucky about me that got me here? I use the word lucky to indicate that I really do love my job, however much time I spend dealing with (and complaining about) obstacles and jerks. I am really not a very aggressive or competitive person, so am not especially 'male' in my personality. I can be quite assertive (which I think is more elegant than being aggressive), and I love research and teaching, so I have never been (too) tempted to give up. And I've been lucky.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Another Planet

Sometimes when I read an article about Academia, even a corner of Academia that I supposedly know a bit about, it is not uncommon for the article to diverge wildly from my own experience. Either I am out at 7-sigma (or beyond), or the articles are skewed by the random anecdotes chosen, or something..

Example: An article on today, "Some universities shift future professors' focus to teaching". News flash: it's not just about research anymore. It hasn't been just about research for quite a while, at least in my field. Sure, there are some professors not teaching or teaching poorly, but teaching has been a major component of tenure and promotion decisions at many research universities for more than a few years. According to the article, the job market "..seems moderately more interested in teaching skills than in the past". I would change "seems moderately" to "is significantly", and perhaps define "in the past" a bit more specifically.

And then there was a quotation by an art history grad student who just wants to teach and not do research
"It's unfortunate to know you have to go through all that other stuff to get to do something you love," she said." Isn't "all that other stuff" the things you need to know in order to be able to have something interesting to say? And more than just knowing a lot of things that you can repeat to students, research gives you the opportunity to be creative, go in new directions, teach others things they can't read in books. I don't know much about art history from personal experience (though some of my best friends are art historians!), but I would hope that research and teaching complement each other very well, just as they do in the sciences. I would never argue that you can't be an outstanding teacher without doing research as well, but in my own case, doing both research and teaching makes me better at both.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Metaphorical Cats and Roosters

This morning, my husband showed me an article in which a political contest between 2 women was described as a "catfight". I think the description illuminates more about the reporter (and his editor(s)) than anything else.

We searched for news articles that use beast-adjectives to describe acrimonious political contests involving 2 men, but didn't find anything easily. I can think of one good one, but it would never be printed.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Rewarding Awards

The issue of Awards (prestigious grants, honors etc.) just won't go away. I recently finished my term on one awards committee, but have recently been asked to be on a different one. I said yes because this one involves early career faculty. This type of award can have a major impact on someone's career, and it's important to have a diverse committee.

This phenomenon of getting asked to do something after just finishing a similar activity also seems to occur with reviews. I will just finish one review and send it off, and within minutes or hours, the next request will come in from a different journal. It's as if editors sense a reviewing void and rush to fill it.

But back to awards: I had some early career awards that helped me a lot, and I think it is important for more senior faculty to encourage younger colleagues to apply for those that can be applied for, and nominate younger colleagues for other types of awards. As you get older, awards aren't so critical, but they are still a gauge of how you're perceived in your field, and to some extent a monitor of your visibility.

Of course, the whole awards thing can also be disheartening. For example, as an associate professor, I was nominated for an award that involved a nice bit of unrestricted research funding for a couple of years, but my chair unfortunately asked the 'wrong' person for a letter. I got to see the letter, and found that although the writer thought highly of me and my work, he felt that I had published "too much", and was working "too hard", and that this was "not healthy". He encouraged me to slow down. He thought that I was a "victim" of the modern pressure to publish too much and write endless grant proposals, and that he would be encouraging this if he supported my nomination . So, I didn't get the award and it went to a male colleague who had published a lot and written endless grant proposals.

Other experiences with awards have been more satisfying. A few years ago, I realized that neither my husband nor I had been nominated for fellowship in a particular professional society in which one of our spectacularly unproductive senior colleagues was a fellow. One could reasonably ask why we would want to belong to a *club* that had members like that, and there is no good answer. In any case, there was no reason we weren't fellows of this society, other than it had not occurred to anyone to nominate us. Our colleague clearly wasn't going to rouse himself from his torpor to nominate us, so I pointed out my husband's fellowlessness to another colleague (who had just assumed we were both already fellows) and this colleague got the process started. Being a Fellow (can't someone think of a better name for this?) has no effect whatsoever on one's life, but to me it felt like correcting a slight imbalance in the academic universe.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Professor News

Thanks to Maxine for reminding me about the letters to Nature (Aug. 24) re. the Barres' commentary. The statistics on the number of women who have received some major awards is shocking in an unsurprising kind of way. Also very interesting was the letter about how changing the wording in an NIH proposal announcement and instructions - and changing the make-up of the panel - seems to have 'fixed' the problem they had both with getting women to write proposals for the young investigator grants and how the grants were awarded. For example, removing the description that "high risk" proposals were encouraged may have been one factor in increasing the number of women who applied.

That interested me in part because I don't think that the "high risk" wording, or the other descriptions mentioned, would have stopped me from writing a proposal. In fact, I find the concept appealing. I've long assumed (with some evidence from observations when serving on panels) that women's proposals are in some cases deemed to be "too risky" (for a woman?) whereas men are given the benefit of the doubt for similar proposals. So, a proposal that was not going to be undermined by a high risk factor might actually work for women IF the reviewers and panels apply fair criteria when evaluating them. In other words, I guess I'm a hurl-myself-at-the-castle-wall type (apply and see what happens).

Random note about Nature letters, which all start with "SIR-". If the editor-in-chief were a woman, would these all say "MADAM-"? (Maxine?)

In other professor news: I temporarily set aside my reluctance to read yet another barrage of New York Times articles about Harvard, and read about the demise of early admissions. If it helps those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged with their chances of admissions, that's great. I am too cynical to believe that this will happen, but will keep an open mind and see what happens. Speaking entirely selfishly as someone who applied early to one college, got in, and was done with the process in a low-stress and efficient way, I very much appreciated a process that defanged my father's obsession with the application/admittance process.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My Far Flung Correspondent

From an email from my conference-attending husband, in Europe: "You would hate this conference. Lots of senior men dominating the meeting. A few senior women, mostly keeping quiet."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Better Living Through Least Publishable Units

In recent weeks I've been on a committee that selects a recipient for one of the highest awards in a field related to my own, and it's been very interesting to observe the dynamics of the committee and also to reflect on the careers of the very successful nominees for the award. I suppose I am a "diversity" member of the committee. No woman has ever won this award, and I think only one has ever even been nominated. Many other members of the committee are past winners of the award, so as you might imagine, their opinions carry a lot of weight. And then there's me.

It will surprise no one that recipients of the award tend to have vast numbers of papers, even if the total is inflated by lots of Least Publishable Unit (LPU) papers such as "Results of My Experiments with Material X", followed by "Results of the Same Experiments with Material Y", and let's not forget the papers with multiple parts, like "Part I: My Data" and "Part II: Now I Am Going to Think About my Data."

And then there is the phenomenon of giving someone an award because he got some other awards which he got because he got some other awards and so on to infinity. Even if the early awards were well deserved, it's surprising how long you can coast on that without doing anything more creative than edit books of other people's original articles (a useful and necessary thing to do, I admit).

This recent committee was quite divided between one group that wanted to award someone with a War-And-Peace length CV with some important papers and a fair number of LPU's, and another group that favored someone who had fewer papers, but a large number of his papers were creative and had a high impact on the field. That is of course not an objective description, and it reveals what my (losing) choice was.

Many of us know colleagues who "shingle" publications by publishing more than one paper on something that probably could be just one paper, and often this practice is spoken of with contempt. Yet, publishing LPU's clearly hasn't harmed some prominent people. You wouldn't be able to get a job today if you had a CV full of LPU's and shingled papers, and you most likely wouldn't get promoted either. But perhaps there is some point at which the shear number of papers starts to impress people. I don't completely understand this phenomenon.

Is this another depressing and cynical post? I guess, but I will say that I am at least slightly optimistic that these old-style committees, awards, and such will change in the not-so-distant future.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Should One Rant to Administrators?

I guess I will find out soon because I did rant to an administrator (via email) today and he replied that we should chat more about my Issues this week. I was really fed up about a whole lot of things, and reached my tipping point when two weekend departmental functions came up in quick succession. My husband and I went to one event yesterday, and we told the powers-that-be that we would try to find childcare for an event that is 2 weeks away, but we hadn't found anything yet. We were told we have 3 more days to figure it all out. I am not feeling too motivated to do that.

Overall, I think I balance life and work very well, but it's a rather delicate balance. The balance can handle such things as travel (in fact, my husband just left for a conference), major deadlines (proposals), assorted visitors, minor illnesses and so on. I could even handle extraneous departmental functions if I had to, but that's where my attitude problem kicks in.

Last year, in a reorganization of the leadership positions in my department, for the first time in 10+ years every single position was given to male faculty (some were elected, some were appointed). The reason given to me for why I was not as qualified as my male colleagues is that they would be better able to "balance research with other responsibilities". The colleague who told me this has a stay-at-home wife. Of all the reasons one could come up with for why I shouldn't have a position of responsibility (my strange sense of humor? my tendency to be sarcastic in a place where sarcasm is not always appreciated?), this is the last one I would have thought possible. In fact, it would not have occurred to me. You will just have to believe me that in my case, this particular reason is bizarre. But there it is.

So, I have that still seething in my brain, and then these extra events come up that are easy for the guys with Wives to attend but challenging for other people. If my colleagues think I have trouble *balancing*, even though I dealt with everything that came my way and more for the past 10 years, then why should I continue being an uncomplaining team-player? I am done being nice about dealing with extra administrative activities because (1) I dealt with them for years, and it got me nowhere, and (2) I'm a full professor, and I can complain about stuff like this. My rant today wasn't just about the immediate issue of departmental functions on weekends, it was that the current department organization and culture will impact our recruitment and retention of faculty. If we keep going as we are, at the very least we have a major morale problem among the women faculty (20% of the department!), and at worst we won't be able to recruit excellent candidates who see our regressive departmental structure and culture.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Nothing But Time

Working at home just doesn't work for me -- it never has. I need to be in my office, surrounded by all my office stuff, without the home distractions of people and cats. I don't think this is any more virtuous than people who work successfully at home, though. The key thing is what you accomplish, wherever that may be. I have postdocs and students who prefer to work at their homes, and that's totally fine with me as long as we have enough time in the department when our schedules intersect, and as long as they are making progress in their research.

I was recently entertained when a colleague who NEVER comes to the department at night or on weekends, and seldom in the summer months either, stopped by the office one weekend to check his mailbox after one of his many vacations. He saw me coming out of my office, and was very surprised. He said "I didn't expect to see YOU here". So I said "Why not?" He had no response to my question. It occurred to me then that perhaps some people who 'work' at home (as opposed to the ones who really do) assume that no one else is working in the off hours either.

When I was a grad student, there were lots of grad students and postdocs working late at night and on weekends in the department. In my department now, it's the faculty and postdocs who are there at all hours, and we seldom see grad students at night and on weekends. I have always assumed that this means that the students are better at working at home than we older people who 'grew up' working in the office. And, without getting into the whole cat vs. dog issue, for some reason a large number of people in my research group have dogs, and these dogs require a lot of attention and company. This is fine with me -- I like both dogs and cats, although at present I only have cats at home. I have been strangely fascinated to watch two dog-owning but childless people in my research group juggle schedules that are much more complex than mine (a non-dog-owning mother of one). They love these dogs, of course, and the dogs are important for their emotional well-being, so we all just work around it, just as my students and postdocs have to deal with my occasional absences or erratic schedule when my daughter doesn't have school.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The 60 Hour Week

A recent op-ed essay in the NYT about the end of summer noted that most academics work a lot more than 40 hours a week, though we have somewhat erratic schedules and our work is not typically 8-5. I have some colleagues who are strictly 8-5ers, but am not one of them. I would have a hard time with a strict schedule, and with working so few hours. I added up my hours in a typical week, and easily got to 60+. Maybe I am less efficient than some of my colleagues, but even so, I wouldn't feel satisfied with working so little. It takes about 40 hours for teaching and administrative work each week, and then there's the research I want/need to get done. It doesn't really feel like it's so much time because the work is so varied, and much of it is interesting and fun.

That said, I am not looking forward to an upcoming faculty 'retreat'; i.e., an all-day faculty meeting on a weekend. Overall, I am fortunate that my department has very few evening/weekend activities that are not family-friendly. Some of my colleagues in other departments at this university have lots of such activities, and they are always torn between not going (possibly harming their standing in the department; stressful for tenure-track faculty) and going but having less time with their kids/spouses (+ the expense of baby-sitters). I don't have to deal with that much, but these retreats are different. Even if we could find an all-day babysitter who could come to our house as early as 8 a.m. on a weekend, it would probably cost about $100 for my husband and I to attend this retreat thing. I don't mean to be cheap, but the general idea of paying to go to an all-day faculty meeting is annoying. The previous chair refused to pay a student to babysit faculty offspring during these retreats because he says it wouldn't be 'fair' to those faculty without kids. I think that reason is bizarre. In the past, my husband and I have flipped a coin to see who goes and who doesn't (the loser of the coin toss attends the retreat).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Men 12 : Women 0

The official departmental speaker list was posted today. Twelve weeks of male speakers, no women speakers. It is possible that a woman will be invited in the spring as part of a special effort to promote the invitation of women scientists as speakers. Swell. I mentioned this 12 : 0 situation to one colleague today, and he explained to me, very patiently, that there are no women speakers because none were invited, so it's not that we turned down anyone's request for women speakers.. we just didn't even invite them in the first place. Oh, so that's fine then <-- sarcasm.

It is too bad that he spoke with no data to back up his hypothesis because he is not correct. I had one woman speaker on my list of possibilities, and I really find it hard to believe that I'm the only one. And even if I am, does that mean that only women faculty are interested in inviting women speakers? We have had women speakers in past years, so it does happen.

Maybe we've already invited everyone there is to invite? Some of the most prominent women in my general field have actually been here 2-3 times in recent years, so maybe we have to recycle women? We do, but only if we restrict ourselves to already famous people.

The possible speaker on my list is an early career person. I didn't sit down and make sure there was a female name on my list. I just thought about who might give an interesting talk about something new and exciting, and I thought of her. Unfortunately, she didn't make the cut this time, perhaps because she is not yet famous enough.

Meanwhile, I'll be giving 4 research talks. I always hope that when I'm invited to give a talk that I'm invited at least partially because someone is interested in my research, and not just to provide gender diversity, although I don't mind doing the role model thing as well. I would just prefer that research interest come first, as that would enhance my effectiveness as a role model (though I've doubts about how effective I really am, as I've noted before).

Monday, September 04, 2006


Over the summer, I've done a lot of the kind of teaching that involves working individually with undergraduates and grad students on research projects. Tomorrow will involve a dramatic switch to the stand-in-front-of-a-big-class and *lecture*, although of course we aren't supposed to really *lecture*, because students apparently don't learn well in that format anymore (did they used to? is it really such a bad thing even today?). Unless I'm willing to throw out a large proportion of my course's content, which I am not willing to do, the class is going to be mostly *lecture* format. I like to think that my socratic style, use of some in-class activities, thrilling mix of powerpoint+chalkboard-writing+demonstrations, and availability for discussion/help outside of class make the lecture format effective for this class. Maybe my pedagogical imagination is limited, but this is a big university, I get these students in class for < 2 hours/week, and I have a huge amount to teach them.

Predicted positive aspects of this class:
- It's an interesting subject and I enjoy teaching it.
- Typically, at least 50% of the students in it WANT to be there; the rest have to take it for various degree requirements.
- There have been some interesting new developments in this sub-discipline, and I'm looking forward to incorporating these into the class. It's not my major field of research, but it's not too far removed from what I do, so I can also mention relevant aspects of my own research.
- It's a great course for taking a bunch of students who know nothing about the topic at the beginning, and ending up with a group in which at least some will be so interested that they will get involved in research by the end of the year.

Possible negative or worrisome aspects of this class:
- In the 15+ years I've been teaching this or similar classes, I've never had so few female students (a trend or a random occurrence?).
- It's the first 'serious' course in this discipine that some students have taken, and it can be a bit of a shock for some.
- Although there are some allied science/math prerequisites for this course, the registration system does not have the ability to notice if students have actually taken these. It always amazes me that students without the prereqs do not think it is their responsibility to know the information in those courses, and they want me or the TA's to give them extra help and/or they just don't think they should be expected to know this information. I hope this is not an issue this semester.
- The other professor who teaches this class is convinced that he does it better than I do owing to his superior intellect and teaching skills (or something), and he likes to chat with me about my shortcomings. I do not enjoy these conversations, although mostly I think they are ridiculous. I am sure there are things I could do to improve as a teacher, but I happen to know that my teaching evaluations are better than his (I was on a committee that looked at such things for the department) and I've won teaching awards. See earlier post on patronizing colleagues.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Grads & Jobs

I have attended or participated in quite a few Ph.D. thesis defenses over the past few weeks, and in every case, the graduating Ph.D. student is going to a postdoc or short-term teaching position (e.g., sabbatical replacement). Our department has many recent graduates who are now in faculty positions at universities and colleges around the world, but almost none go directly from being students to being professors. I think that's a good thing overall for both the early-career scientist and the department, but it can be stressful for those with partners/spouses/children to move around so much and have the uncertainty about the future continue for the first few post-graduate years. Some choose to take a less desirable job right away rather than gamble with the uncertainty. I've seen some promising women scientists leave the research track for just that reason.

Only one graduate in the past 10 years from my research group is now a professor at a small liberal arts college, and that person attended a SLAC as an undergraduate. When I was in job-search mode, I got interviews at SLACs, as did my fellow job-seekers who had attended SLACs, but it was very rare for a SLAC to interview someone who had spent their entire career at large universities. Colleagues at small schools admit that they discriminate in this way because they think that someone who hasn't been part of the culture won't fit in or won't appreciate it. I don't think they would completely eliminate from consideration an otherwise excellent candidate, but having attended a SLAC gives one an edge for applying for faculty positions at one. I think this general approach filters out some excellent candidates who might have enjoyed a small liberal arts college experience but couldn't afford it or had other reasons (economic, family etc.) for attending a large university. An extreme example of this is one prominent SLAC whose department in my field consists almost entirely of faculty who attended that school as an undergraduate. At present, everyone in my research group (other than me) has been at medium to large universities for their entire academic careers and none of them are seriously considering faculty positions at small schools for reasons varying from lack of interest (wrong balance of teaching vs. research) to a strong feeling that they won't fit in. So, there's definitely some self-filtering at the application stage as well.

It can be a bit perilous to take a job at a SLAC (depending on the SLAC of course) if you have research aspirations beyond what can easily be accomplished at a small school, unless you don't stay there long (1-2 years, maybe 3 years max) and if you work insanely hard to do well at both teaching and research while you're there, despite having what is likely a huge teaching load and few research resources. That said, it is quite possible to develop an active research program by taking advantage of NSF and other programs that encourage research at undergraduate institutions.