Scientist, with kids February 19, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in career, education, engineering, family, feminism, grad school, homeschooling, older son, personal, physics, research, science, societal commentary.
Tags: feminism, gender equity, kids, parenting, role models, sexism
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FSP has a post asking about the Local Mom Effect. That is, she wonders if being in a department with more women professors who have kids affects the outlook of younger women in the field. I find this post interesting…but also, I hate to say it, irrelevant.
Let’s put it this way: what women?!
When I started school at Caltech, I knew of two women professors out of all of math, physics, and astronomy. I only ever met one of them, knew she had no kids. I knew nothing about the other professor. When I decided to go back to school a few years later, I ended up in a physics dept. where the professors were all men. Later, I ended up in an electrical engineering department where the professors were all men.
I guess that, in my mind, the notion of being one of the few women in the department was no different than being one of the few women with kids in the department. When I went back to school, I had a kid already, so it wasn’t like I really had a choice about whether or not to be a childless woman in physics or engineering.
I will say that when I originally got pregnant as an undergrad at Caltech, I was told by my advisor that women couldn’t do calculus while pregnant and that I should drop out. Of course, he was a guy, so I seriously doubted he understood how women’s brains work while pregnant. (And it turns out that I can do calculus great while pregnant…I just can’t speak a full sentence coherently.) However, I guess I never took it as a message that women with kids don’t belong in science…I inferred that he meant it more personally, and that I myself was not a good fit for science. (Fortunately, major hopping got boring after a while, I ended up back in physics.)
When I went back to school, however, I felt that being the only woman or one of a few was very advantageous for several reasons. First, if I was the only woman or one of a very small number, I was already an oddity. A woman with kids is probably not much more odd than a woman without, and there was really no one to compare myself to (or say that I was doing it wrong). Second, I went back to school in North Dakota, and it really seems like people here more or less expect you to have kids no matter what you’re doing. I know that grates on some people, but for me, it was a blessing: having kids is just another part of life, and most people here learn to do their jobs while having them. (Also, I can’t recall anyone having a fit if I said I couldn’t make it to something because of kid-related issues.) Third, I was older than the average undergraduate or even grad student, so I think people assumed that it was pretty normal for someone my age to have kids. The fact that the younger students didn’t have kids was simply a function of age and never made me feel self-conscious that I did have kids. Finally, when I started my MS, my advisor was fine with the fact that I was homeschooling the older boy and would only be doing my degree part-time. He said this was really no different than other students in the department who were working full-time and pursing their degree part-time, as well.
I have been told, especially when doing my PhD classes, that it was “really cool to see a woman in science with kids”, especially by some fellow grad students. Until I started my PhD, I really hadn’t expected it to be a big deal. It had never occurred to me that I might be a “role model”…but I keep hearing it more than I ever expected to. I also suspect it’s because I often had kids with me or family issues that were more apparent to fellow grad students. Many professors try to maintain a more professional relationship with their students, and it doesn’t surprise me that many grad students don’t see how having kids affects the lives of the professors or that they don’t realize some professors have kids at all.
Realistically, I only got here because I didn’t really know that what I was doing was unusual in any way. If I had been surrounded by women who had kids but never let it on or didn’t have kids, I might have felt self-conscious about being a mom already. With no one to compare to, however, I just assumed that it wasn’t any more abnormal than a woman without kids.
Undergrad physics inaccessible to women November 23, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, feminism, physics, teaching.
Tags: education, gender equity, physics, problem solving, sexism
I was very intrigued when this month’s Physics Today showed up in the mail. While scanning the table of contents, I noticed an article called, “Problems with problem sets.” The summary went on to say that the problem with undergrad physics courses is that they often use problems which require specific background knowledge. Men are more likely to be acquainted with this knowledge than women.
The gist of the is that many of the problems in physics texts assume knowledge of various areas like construction, meaning that more men than women will be acquainted with the problem set up. Many times, these problems will make reference to various tools or constructions without giving an explanation or picture to describe what’s going on. They assume the students will understand what is being asked without further explanation.
I guess I hadn’t run into this a whole lot as an undergrad, but I think I may be a special case. As a kid, I worked with woodworking tools because my dad was a carpenter. In fact, I regularly had to help out in the shop, so I got a lot of hands-on experience in building and working with tools.
On the other hand, I think that when I went back to school, I wasn’t afraid to ask questions. I’ve observed that there are a large number of students who don’t like to ask questions, especially among the youngest students.
It’s a very interesting premise. Obviously it didn’t deter me, but I can see how this would be very intimidating for young women. It would definitely make many of them feel like they didn’t have a good enough background to do the work. I’m glad that someone is paying attention to issues like these, and I hope professors will pay a lot more attention to the problem sets they give in the future.
Our society may now be dominated by WOMENZ!!! September 9, 2010Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism.
Tags: gender equity, matriarchy
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News to me…
I read (the most awful) article telling me that our society is soon to be run by women. What numbers can we use to support this assertion? Well, blue collar men lost most of the jobs during the last recession, for one thing. (Let’s ignore that the sector mentioned is dominated by men.) And professional jobs are at parity. (Ignoring the fact that congress isn’t, let alone where I work.)
So what do you think? After you’ve read the article, I’m curious if you think that post-modern and soon-to-be matriarchal society will be the flip side of the patriarchal coin or more egalitarian?