Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Scientiae Carnival: Fools and Foolishness

So it's time again to round up some of the best posts about women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I've been looking forward to being a host, especially in light of the recent announcement that this year more women than men will earn advanced degrees in physics, chemistry and electrical engineering for the first time.

"I thought that my LEGO spaceship-building hobby and high scores in World of Warcraft were signs of my natural aptitude for the sciences, but I was just fooling myself," said I. M. Acho, who recently switched his major from physics to women's studies. "It turns out that physical science is really a chick thing. I only hope that I can learn the secret to their success."
On with this month's Carnival!

Fooling Ourselves?

EcoGeoFemme tells a story about her first experience working in a lab in college and her own bias against a woman doing science.
I shudder now to admit those thoughts even crossed my mind! I would never think such a thing now. There’s no job a woman can’t do with the right tools. But knowing that someone like me could have had those thoughts once upon a time makes me realize that lots of people still have them. I think that’s why I’m drawn to women-in-science issues even though I rarely feel bias myself. Hopefully, women doing great work and speaking out about these issues will shown the remaining fools just how foolish they are.
ScienceWoman asks whether she's a fool to think she can take a summer break from daycare for her adorable Minnow. There is a good discussion in the comments about the positives and negatives of making that choice in terms of both her career and her desire to lead a "balanced" life.

Jenny F. Scientist writes about women putting up with harassment and discrimination and accepting extra work as part of "playing the game" to become an academic professor.
If being an academic professor is really more important than anything to these women, then they have the right to make the choices they want. But what happens a lot- what I see- is that they make choices and then they are utterly miserable because they have given up too much. They feel exploited, degraded, used. Because they are. And they're buying into The Crazy.
She points out that the culture of academic science is unlikely to change if people aren't willing to complain. She also has a rant about her experience that working hard is not enough to get ahead since she doesn't "put on a good enough show."

Flicka Mawa writes about her first experience as the only woman in a small class.
I’m not saying that this is a big deal, and certainly in this class I have never witnessed any discrimination, but it does make one think about the subtler aspects of …bias. The part where a person’s mental conversation is occupied with thoughts of how they are different. It makes me think of what it might be like to be part of a smaller minority, and thus feel more…alone.
Her biggest concern was the difficulty of the course material, but she realized that she could indeed handle the course work, something she reminds herself when she has a crisis in confidence. Also check out her post about less traditional options in academic research: having a lab at a small college and doing research part time.

Mad Hatter wonders whether academic scientists have foolish expectations about their own research.

Miss Prism writes about the the issue of sexism in peer review and women not using their first name if it identifies them as female. She suggests that that might actually harm women in the long run:
If a few of us go by our initials, we benefit from sexism rather than doing anything to stop it. If all of us do it, it stops benefiting anyone. Initials will soon be interpreted as female names, and if we all sound or dress less girlie we narrow the range of what’s acceptable, and before we know it we’re wearing false moustaches and the world’s no fairer.
ScienceMama writes about being a senior in college and foolishly spending too little time weighing whether grad school was right for her. It turned out not to be.

We likely all fool ourselves to some extent about the biases we harbor. At Sciencewomen Alice Pawley shares some resources for understanding and working against your own implicit biases.

Playing the Fool

Addy N. writes about foolishly causing herself stress by making overambitious conference plans.

Hannah writes about the conflict between the pressure on women to be humble and meek and not appear too knowledgeable, while at the same time not really wanting to play the fool.
They are impulses I constantly have to fight against in order to succeed. No matter how lofty and noble the study of science may seem to outsiders, landing and keeping a tenure-track position seems to be as much about networking and self-promotion and politicking as much as it is about doing good science. So I need to put myself forward, and stop playing the fool. I need to go out on a limb at times, at the risk of looking like a fool. I am gradually getting better at it both of these things.
As a counterpoint to Hannah's post, check out Alice Pawley's post about playing the fool in academia, both in the role of a jester, or "someone of miniscule rank who asks pointed questions of someone in considerable power in order to goad or trick them into reflecting on the potential truism" and as a buffoon, or someone who is memorable due to their kookiness.

Jenn at Fairer Science writes about feeling and sounding foolish as a non-scientist in the company of scientists.

The Foolishness of Others

Postdoc Dr. Jekyll/Mrs. Hyde writes about grad students who foolishly failed to heed her advice, and found out the hard way about their poor choice in labs.

Liz Henry writes about a sexist story about female tech recruiters making the rounds of a conference.
Because the technical recruiters are female, they are sluts, or "call girls"; definitely sexually available and exploitable. Because they are female, they are assumed in the story to be ignorant of computers, technology, sys adminning, and programming; any knowledge they DO have is "fake" because it is is artificial "training" given to them as a thin veneer just to mask their real goal which is sexual predation on the sys admins, run by mythical "big company" pimps.
She also writes about the sexist framing of a story in SF Magazine about Google engineer Marissa Mayer, who is described as "surprisingly pretty" and "girly".
But the end! The end was the worst! "Does Mayer ever see herself going completely low-tech and focusing (professionally or otherwise) on art, entertaining, baking, or fashion? " You know, what would have to be wrong in an interviewer's head for them to ask that question? What the hell? Why would anyone ask that question of one of the most powerful engineers at an extremely successful company, a person with a couple of degrees in computer science and many years of experience in the industry? "Oh... just wondering... have you ever thought of forgetting about this lil' ol' computer thing and sticking to cupcakes?"
Just ew. She points out that this kind of talk likely discourages women who are interested in programming and engineering from entering those fields.

Female Science Professor has observed women actively hindering the careers of other women and suggests what professors can do to not "pull up the ladder" unintentionally. She also advises women students who are having problems with their advisors:
If you love what you are doing but just hate the environment, don't give up. The academic culture has long selected for the personality type of your advisor, but it need not always be this way. Graduate and get a job and be part of the positive change.
Mind Hacks writes about an article in the new journal Neuroethics, which takes on "'neurosexism', the increasing trend to portray sex differences as 'hard wired' into the brain." In a related post, Podblack Cat writes about the assumptions about gender differences in the brain and education.

Kimm Hannula writes about her experiences as a women in geoscience.
It feels to me like I'm constantly having to disprove the same flawed hypotheses, over and over again. (I'm the first woman professor in any of the small schools in western Colorado - there were others on the Front Range, but in the triangle bounded by Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, and the greater Salt Lake City area, I was the first.) No, I am not the department secretary. Yes, I can identify rocks. Believe me, it gets old after a while.
Those of you who have heard of Vox Day won't be surprised that he believes women are a terrible threat to science. He doesn't think women are even competent to vote, after all. Mark Chu-Carroll has posted his own experiences with women in science that clearly demonstrate what a moronic fool Day is.

Absinthe reports that in the sexual harassment case of Kay Weber, a judge has granted summary judgment to Fermilab, and that the case has had a negative impact on other senior women who are working there. She also gives an address to send Weber letters of condolence or support.

Dr. Shellie writes about a male colleague who admits to being unlikely to admit female students.

Undergrad Katharine Dickson plans to suffer no fools on the internet, at least when it comes to writing about neuroscience. She also has a plea for pharmacy student Tope Awe, who is in danger of being deported to her native Nigeria, despite having lived in the US for 20 years.

Academic at Journeys of an Academic lists the Genres of Fools.

Miscellaneous Foolishness

Cath Ennis writes about a great bio lab April Fools prank - and her commenters add their own suggestions.

Mrs. Whatsit ponders what it actually means to "have the balls" to do something, and rounds up a bunch of suggestions for less masculine substitutes.

At Bioephemera, Jessica Palmer has discovered that she shares the name of DC superhero The Atom, a scientific prodigy who graduated from MIT at the age of 8 and turned to using her skills of manipulating matter towards costumed superheroing at the age of 18. Now that is an alternative science career!

Neatorama posts about an article in New Scientist about James Barry, who served 46 years as a British Army doctor. It was only discovered upon her death in 1865 that Barry was, in fact, a woman.

Daring Tales has a tale about the youthful Liz Claiborne. No, she's not a scientist. But she did dive into a career despite the discouragement of her father, who didn't even think women needed to finish high school. Few women (or men for that matter) are willing to give up everything - including their parents - to pursue their dream job. And I thank Claiborne for her focus on producing clothes meant specifically for professional women.

Podblack Cat writes about experiments that show the eye can be fooled - and how a foolish advertising firm borrowed the work without credit or comment.

No Fooling

Last, but not least, are some women who deserve recognition for their achievements.

Zuska writes about the women on the Mars Exploration Rover tactical operations team.

Abel Pharmboy writes about the accomplishments of Intel Science talent Search winner Shivani Sud.

The Urban Scientist has started a new meme: Can you name 5 women scientists from each scientific discipline? Some responses:
If you know of other posts on this meme, let me know and I'll update the link list.

Thanks everybody for your submissions!

The May Scientiae Carnival will be hosted by Flicka Mawa at A Cat Nap. Learn how you can submit a blog post here.

ETA: I've discovered a couple of posts I neglected to add, so I've added them. Sorry about that.

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Anonymous said...

Wow, an awesome carnival, and of prodigious length too! Thanks, Peggy.

I was doing some Scientiae housekeeping and found one post that was missed - don't forget to check out Academic's post of the genre of fools here: http://academiccrossroads.blogspot.com/2008/03/genres-of-fools.html

Thanks everyone, for a fun evening of reading!!

Peggy K said...

I enjoyed putting it together!

(And thanks for pointing out Academic's post. I've added it to the post.)

kldickson said...

I'm not a grad student. I'm an undergrad.

ScienceMama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thanks for plucking my post on Shivani Sud for inclusion in this very well-represented edition of Scientiae. What an impressive young scientist!

Peggy K said...

KLDickson: sorry about that. I guess I just assumed you were a grad student. Fixed.

Abel Pharmboy: She is quite impressive. I actually have a post about her in my drafts, but never got around to finishing it, so it was nice to link to yours.

The Urban Scientist said...

I hosted a Science Diversity Meme - Women in Science March 2008. I've summarized the Meme and catalogued many of the submitted names. I included this post on the summary, too. Visit the Women in Science Summary at my blog.

Thanks for mentioning th meme on this post.

Peggy K said...

Urban scientist: I thought it was a cool meme. Thanks for the link.

convergence said...

I have been in basic research for over 20 years and it has too often disappointed me how all too easily genuinely talented people slip through the academic cracks never to be heard of again. Indeed as a result of both my own frustrations over the last 20 years or so and observating similar struggles of so many other people, I wrote a book about these and other issues (Convergence...go to http://convergence-cpt.com).

Whereas there are legitmate "glass ceiling" arguments I feel these dont go deep enough into the problem that affects all young would-be scientists (even those a little more seasoned).

At the most basic level, my novel Convergence is about 4 postdocs who face a constant battle to get their feet on the next rung of the academic ladder. There are typical roadblocks that will be familar to all postdocs. However, at a deeper level I ask why is it that there are some who no matter how impoverished intellectually or how bankrupted in sincerity they may be, they always seem to do well while those that possess clear scientific intellect and an abundance of sincerity do so poorly.

Sometimes people need to see the precise manner by which such biases occur, indeed some need to see it blow by agonizing blow, for the penny to drop. How can such otherwise smart people not see they've had their pockets picked?

Really it's a mind set, that it just never occurs to some that you can't just be academically smart or sincere about why you're into research. Without critical networking skills all that potential is lost. In the end such people end up cycling thorugh one postdoc position after another and then disappear without a trace.

The book asks so many questions about the dynamics of the academic community, but ultimately I try to provide food for thought with 4 cautionary tales for those wanting to pursue a career in the biomedical sciences.

As stated, after reading your blog, I thought I'd take a gamble and contact you. I've gotten very frustrated with agents, publishers, online directories and various other "resources" that are supposed to direct traffic to new books or authors. So I thought by contacting you, I might at least take a more direct route to alerting the core audience my novel tagets that my website exists.

Thank you for taking the time to read this response.