Wednesday, June 23, 2010


A reader sent me this link and wonders if there is a (reasonable) explanation for the last item in this alphabetical list of categories for abstracts:
  • Astrophysics
  • Atomic, molecular and optical physics (AMO)
  • Condensed matter physics
  • Nanophysics and nanomaterials
  • Nuclear and elementary particle physics
  • Physics and Climate
  • Women in physics (KIF)
If you only saw the headings, you might assume that the last category involved discussion of topics relevant to recruiting or retaining women in physics (for example). But no, these are research abstracts, just like the others, although there are only three:

C. Fox Maule(1)
Comparing regional standardised precipitation indices from climate models and observations

Henriette Skourup
A study of Arctic sea ice freeboard heights from ICESat measurements

Karina L. Gottlieb Ph.D.1
Investigation of respiration induced intra- and inter-fractional tumour motion using a standard Cone Beam CT

I looked up the "Network for Women in Physics in Denmark" (KIF) and I can see that they are a section of the Danish Physical Society. It is therefore likely that each category of the conference is organized/sponsored by a different section.

I can definitely see the purpose of having such a section as part of the overall society, but I can't see why there would be Physics research talks, on topics ranging from tumors to climate, in a Women in Physics session.

So I am wondering: What is the practical or philosophical reasoning for having a separate session of talks or posters on such varied scientific topics? Why would someone submit a research abstract to the Women in Physics section rather than the relevant scientific section?


Anonymous said...

I can't speak to why a researcher would choose an interdisciplinary womens forum to present their research. However, I will assert that if we believe that women have an equal right to be in STEM careers, the most effective way of communicating that to the next generation of scientists (both male and female) is to provide role models of both genders. While the demographics at a student level are trending towards equal, those that are at a professor level are from a previous generation and do not enjoy the same demographic makeup. A women's forum allows the conference to highlight female role models.

Anonymous said...

Maybe in Denmark, the numbers of women in physics are so low that they thought that they would open up that sector to highlight that women are indeed working in physics.

Anonymous said...

Well, somebody can claim they have proactively increased the participation of women, in their proposals/CV.

Jen said...

My guess: in my life-science field, when submitting abstract to the society-organized annual meeting, we have to select up to three possible categories in which our abstract would fit. The organizers then assign abstracts to one category. One of the categories is "Postdocs", which is under the purview of the society's postdoctoral affairs committee. This meant that all of the postdoc-submitted abstracts were held over for a special "postdoc-only" symposium, even though most of the abstracts were equally suited for other sessions. From the link, it is obvious that women are presenting in other sessions, so perhaps this category was meant to highlight women who couldn't be accommodated in the other categories, or perhaps they are being recognized for excellence in their fields?

Anonymous said...


I can almost imagine that this was completely unintentional (a result of checking off a "section" box). And I can almost imagine that it was meant to benefit women, by drawing attention to female presenters or whatever. But come one! You only have to have half a brain to realize that the results are really offensive. See we've got the real scientists here, studying real subject. And then we've got the women.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous at 12:00pm. If we don't think like that science will be a bit too grey for all of us females still working here, especially where sexism is still pretty much alive!

European Female Academic said...

There is no mystery if you understand Danish. This section is actually a part of another conference - a yearly meeting of the Women in Physics association, which is scheduled for the day before, on 21 June:

The abstracts are included on the other page simply because the KIF association is using the same submission procedure as the main meeting. From the KIF page:

Tilmelding og indsendelse af poster-abstract foregår via DFS' hjemmeside på samme vis og med samme deadlines som for DFS-mødet.

In English:

Registration and submission of poster abstracts is done via DFS website in the same way and with the same deadlines as the DFS meeting.

Anonymous said...

I am a young female scientist who often feels that instances of sexism are a bit blown out of proportion on this blog and others. I think the clarification comment by 'European Female Academic' highlights one of these instances.

I agree that it seems odd at first look but an understanding of the situation leads to a non-sexist finding.

Anonymous said...

Asking questions about something that looks odd is blowing things out of proportion and seeing sexism where none exists? If the post had immediately assumed the worst and criticized the society, you might be right, but it did not do that. The post asks a question, one sent by a reader, and got an answer from someone with information, as requested in the post. What exactly is your problem with that? Maybe you are the one going too far the other way and not seeing sexism in other places where it really does exist?

Anonymous said...

Off topic on this article, but check out these drawings of scientists by kids before/after a visit to Fermi Lab:

and a comment on the drawings:

Jamie said...

"Can someone be "kind and sweet" and authoritative and respected?"
Yes, someone can be both of them. Being kind and sweet doesn't make you less professional or authoritative. Perhaps the student is very grateful with you and the expression only shows that he/she admires you.

"I worried that I was getting too "mom-like" and less professorial "

Some students show gratitude by giving a hug. There are persons more emotional than others and a hug doesn't mean that they look you like your mom.

Kea said...

It is probably about getting a speaking slot ... the powers that be (menz) are providing speaking time to women who would not have been selected on their own merits ... because as all the physics menz knows, the wimmenz just aren't that good. And since the selected women potentially work in diverse areas, they had to choose a section title that reflected the fact they were women.

Of course, if the physicists weren't so f%$$^W%& sexist, they would have slotted these women into the appropriate research sections. That they did not is almost certainly a sign that their work is considered sub standard.

Anonymous said...

Just passing along a link: Are Women better PIs?

Average Professor said...

I assume European Female Academic's explanation settles this question. But still, I wonder if something like this would be more interesting/valuable (to me) than the usual "Women in _____" luncheon at the annual meeting of my professional society.

I don't go to the luncheon because the several times I did go it was just awkward (because I didn't know anybody else at the time) and depressing (because there was a lot of complaining about how hard it is to be a woman in ____).

Especially as a younger professional that kind of downer was not at all encouraging. Maybe a technical session full of professional women doing interesting research would have been more helpful.