Monday, January 12, 2009

Women in Science Link Roundup: January 12 Edition

Between the holidays, getting ready for ScienceOnline09, and reading Anathem (which will probably result in a post) I've really gotten behind in posting here. I've also been spending a lot of time reading other people's posts. I don't know if it's because people had a bit of vacation, or have been thinking about the past year, or just chance, but there seem to have been a lot of interesting discussions over the past few weeks.

I've included brief excerpts below to give you the sense of posts, but I really recommend following the links to read both the posts and the comments.

Blue Lab Coats: Is it unfair to have women's faculty groups?

Many of us women don’t have a female science next door neighbor, or even another female TT department-mate, who might understand our unique issues and teach us how to function effectively in a male-dominated environment. If we did, having a group where we could get the support and mentoring we need from people with like experiences to help us climb the academic ladder successfully, wouldn’t be such a pressing issue.

A Blog Around the Clock: The Shock Value of Science Blogs
Academic science is a very hierarchical structure in which one climbs up the ladder by following some very exact steps. Yes, you can come into it from the outside, class-wise, but you have to start from the bottom and follow those steps "to the T" if you are to succeed. But those formal steps were designed by Victorian gentlemen scientists, thus following those steps turns one into a present-time Victorian gentleman scientist. But not everyone can or wants to do this, yet some people who refuse are just as good as scientists as the folks inside the club. If you refuse to dance the kabuki, you will be forever kept outside the Gate. The importance of mastery of kabuki in one's rise through the hierarchy also means that some people get to the top due to their skills at glad-handling the superiors and putting down the competitors with formalized language, not the quality of their research or creativity of their thought.
And there's a lot more food for thought on his post.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Why are there so few female chess grandmasters?
You should read the whole post, but here's Ed's conclusion:
So why are there so few female chess grandmasters? Because fewer women play chess. It's that simple. This overlooked fact accounts for so much of the observable differences that other possible explanations, be they biological, cultural or environmental, are just fighting for scraps at the table. In science and engineering, where men dominate the top ranks but also have an advantage in numbers, it's likely that the same explanation applies, rather than the innate differences cited by Summers and Irwing.
Dr. Isis: "On Motherhood and Maintaining Your Identity..."
I felt like I was living a double life and constantly denying one half of my identity -- turning parts of myself on and off and disguising the others so that people only saw what I allowed them to see -- was emotionally draining and it left me feeling isolated in every sphere I interacted in. It left me feeling guilty when I let one part of my life creep into the other and it left me feeling depressed that I could not recognize my full identity for fear of being shunned in either sphere. I realized that I would not be able continue to function this way and be successful in either sphere. And with that, I opened the dam between the two spheres and have allowed them to blend together.
Greg Laden: The natural basis for gender inequality
This is a thought-provoking look at naturalism, primate behavior, and how it might relate to gender inequality in humans. The comments get a bit heated - or at least one dude does.

Courtney at Feministing points to a piece about Caroline Kennedy and the definition of "experience" in the New York Times.
She goes on to talk about how work "experience" used to be defined, visually speaking, as a ladder. Just keep on climbing and hope for the rewards on your way up. But a new paradigm is taking over, one that looks less like a ladder and more like a "lattice"--a shape that allows for stepping off and stepping back on, caretaking for children and aging parents, working non-traditional hours, taking detours into various fields, developing various skills etc. In this paradigm, success would be less defined by one's years of experience or status within a particular linear framework, but the quality of one's work, the breadth of one's experience, one's capacity for reinvention and adaptation.
Lee Kottner @ Cocktail Party Physics: by invitation only
This is quite a rant that compares the sexism in Christianity with the sexism in science, then takes on Dawkins' selection of writers for the Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing. I can't do it justice by taking a snippet, so just go read her post.

DN Lee @ Urban Science Adventures: Increasing Diversity in the Sciences With Mentorship and Conference Attendance
Scientific meetings offer tremendous learning and networking opportunities for students. This is especially true for students who are members of traditionally under-represented groups. Though you may be one of a few brown or young or feminine faces at the conference, many societies are working hard to get you at that meeting and to keep you coming back.
Female Science Professor: Just Call Me F
As a PhD and/or an academic, how do you like to be addressed?
Dr. Isis (who has been blogging up a storm the past few weeks) also weighs in: That's "Dr. Little Missy to You!

Young Female Scientist: science vs. street smarts in academia
Supposedly, your level of street smarts has more to do with your upbringing than almost any other single factor. People who know how to come in and play the system usually learned those skills early on, from their parents. Or maybe if they did certain activities after school.

This is a critical skill, but you don't learn these things in class.

However, here's where things get really interesting for women in particular.From what I can tell, street knowledge is really hard for women to get.
Christina Pikas posted the slides from her presentation at the IEEE Fourth International Conference on eScience. She looked at how science blogs were interconnected, and was able to identify subgroups in different scientific specialities and was even able to pick out a troll. She also found a high level of connectedness between women's science blogs:
What was interesting - and most definitely worthy of further investigation - is this cluster of blogs written mostly by women, discussing the scientific life, etc. The degree distribution was much closer to uniform within the cluster, and there were many comment links between all of the nodes. This, to me, indicates other uses for the blogs and perhaps a real community (or Blanchard's virtual settlement).
Juniper Shoemaker lays bare her long journey from English to genetics: part 1, part 2, part 3. English majors can indeed make great scientists.

Astarte's Circus: At Ease With Her Age
Most of Octogalore's post isn't about women in science directly, but discusses women and aging and appearance. And this part is directly relevant:
My aunt, who got into Harvard Med, wanted to be a doctor. My father, who also did, wanted to be a teacher. She was told “don’t BE a doctor. Marry a doctor.” He was told that literature was effete and that he would not continue to get love and admiration if he didn’t pursue the medical route. When he fainted at a gory video and had to be taken from the room, of course, it was clear things were a bit off.

He is now still teaching at 73, and still making much less than a first-year lawyer, but loves what he does. My aunt never did enjoy humanities and ultimately stopped working. When her kids left the home, she found herself at loose ends, with the fields she was most interested in having high entrance costs for a middle-aged woman who’d been out of the work force for twenty years.
GirlPostDoc wrote about "Marginalization and the fight for even less funding"
So should you be "extra careful of to avoid being marginalized?" No. Because that will happen anyway. If being the department's "Black or Brown Female Scientist" means that you have the chance to be present and give others a chance to see themselves where you are - I say go for it. Be that "Scientist." Be strong, take lots of deep breaths, and always be humble. And know that you are not alone.
There were also posts about stereotypical feminine gender roles and being a scientist or engineer by Green Gabro, Dr. Isis, Leslie Madsen Brooks, Sheril Kirshenbaum ....

Last, but not least, is this old post of Zuska's: "Explaining (Away) Women Geeks". Of particular note is this comment by Mark Chu-Carroll about affirmative action. (Thanks to commenter SKM in this discussion of affirmative action and gender at Shakesville)

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