Biased for science December 10, 2014Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, geophysics, math, physics, science, societal commentary.
Tags: bias, feminism, gender equity, iat, science, women in engineering, women in science
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I’ve taken a couple tests at Project Implicit. The premise is that we have unconscious biases that may unknowingly affect decisions we make about other people. I remembered this after coming across an article on race from the Washington Post. I’d taken a test before that said I had a bias against blacks. I’m owning up to it, but now that I’m aware of it, I try to recognize it’s there when making decisions.
I revisited the site to see if I could retake the test and if my results had changed, but I was distracted by the shiny things. In particular, I saw there was a test on the subconscious preference to associate science with male and liberal arts with female. Given the studies about how labs hire women less often and there is a subtle bias in salary, as well, I thought, “this could be interesting.”
And it was. I was expecting to show a rather strong relationship between men and science. Not only is that the most common association, but it seems like working in a male-dominated field would make that a no-brainer.
Your data suggest a moderate association of Female with Science and Male with Liberal Arts…
I’m one of the 3% who took the test who has that association. If what I read in the Washington Post article applies to this study, most of the people taking this test are younger, more liberal, and more female than the average population, so the test may actually mean that the 10% who associate females with science is actually an overestimate.
Why do I have that association, particularly working in the field I do? (I feel a bullet list coming on.)
Some potential ideas:
- Being a female scientist is a very strong part of my identity, so I would naturally equate the two. While at first guess, I would think this would be a no-brainer, the studies I cited above seem to indicate that’s not the case for most women scientists.
- I have a lot of female friends that are also scientists. As an undergrad, I was the only female physics major, but I made friends with a lot of female math, engineering, and physics and math education majors. In my MS program, I spent a lot of time with other women engineering students, the handful I could find. Going to a grad program (in earth sciences) means I was in a program with near gender-parity among the students. Through the beauty of the internet, I’ve also made friends with other women scientists. I think I’m likely to “see” more women in science than the average person…or even the average scientist. “Women in science” isn’t a token female here or there but an actual sizable demographic in my world. I think that this sort of exposure has probably had the most profound effect on my biases.
- I know a lot of men who are interested in liberal arts. Probably the most strongly influential one is older son, who is very much into drawing and writing. I spend a lot of time with him, so that also probably affects my perceptions.
I’m curious how others fare on this test as well as their analysis of their own results.
It’s a mistery October 30, 2014Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering.
Tags: conference, engineering, feminism, gender equity, peer review, women in engineering
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I get asked to do a decent number of conference paper reviews, and surprisingly, some of those conferences have asked me to review in subsequent years. One such conference didn’t just ask me to review again, but bestowed the honor of making me part of their advisory board. I accepted, and they sent me a nice letter as an official statement. Except they sent it to the wrong person. They addressed it to Mr. Cherish.
So…what to do?
I at first considered responding and pointing out their error. (Hey, they had a 90% chance of getting it correct, right?) However, I’ve decided instead that I will keep it as is and frame it. I think it’s funnier that way.
A manly woman September 19, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, societal commentary.
Tags: feminism, gender equity, sexism
I recently read an article about a woman, Norah Vincent, who went undercover to become a man. It was very interesting, particularly the difficulties she had dating and the preconceived notions that were shot down in the process. It sounds like the process was horribly stressful for her, though, so it should give us thought about how difficult it can be to actually *be* a man. I’m impressed by her willingness to go through with the experience and try to see things from another’s point of view.
This got me thinking, however, about the fact that I spend most of my time around men. I work with mostly men, my kids are both boys, and even a lot of my closest friends are men.
I came across a gender analyzer that looks at the text you write and tries to assess your gender. (If you’re curious, it’s here.) It’s interesting to me that every piece of my own writing that I analyzed ended up giving a male result. In the notes below the analyzer, it said:
For example, a woman who has spent 20 years working in a male-dominated field may write like her co-workers. Similarly, professional female writers (and experienced hobbyists) frequently use male writing styles.
That makes sense…but it made me think about how, as an engineer, I have to pretend to be male in order to be accepted. However, accepted and respected are two different things. I often wonder if I would have better luck accomplishing the latter if I took notes from Norah Vincent: maybe I need to get a buzz cut and start wearing a fake 5 o’clock shadow.
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?