Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Lesons from Women's Safety Initiatives in South Asia

There is an interesting article in the January issue of the Harvard Magazine on women's safety in South Asia that got me thinking about broader implications.  The article was written by Rohini Pande, a public policy professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, and is titled "Keeping Women Safe".

We have all seen the shocking headlines about gang rape in India.  These cases are getting international publicity and a lot of attention in India.  Prime Minister Modi mentioned the subject in his Independence Day speech, saying "Today when we hear about these rapes, our heads hang in shame".  Many different efforts are underway to address this crisis.  The article reviews them and comes to some noteworthy conclusions.

One obvious way to deal with criminal behavior is to pass new laws.  This has been done in India, but the efforts have generally not produced a safer environment for women.  The laws increase the penalties for rape convictions, even allowing for the death penalty, but have led to a backlash.  Women are increasingly subject to peer pressure to not press charges that result in extended incarceration or death of men in their village or neighborhood.  In some cases, local laws are passed to counter or reduce the impact of the wider law to levels even below previous legislation.

                            (photo caption:  women police cadets in the Indian state of Gujarat)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Negotiating a Single Tenure Track Offer

Today’s guest blogger is Stella Offner. She is an assistant professor at UMass Amherst.

In the current stressful faculty job market, multiple job offers are becoming more rare and the typical lucky job seeker receives only a single tenure-track offer. The single-job offer naturally produces a more unequal negotiation between the applicant and institution, versus the case of multiple offers where institutions can be pitted against one another, like two wrestling titans. So, how does one successfully negotiate an offer without leverage from a second option? 

In two different years I found myself in this situation: the happy recipient of a single tenure-track job offer. Many very helpful resources have been written containing general negotiating advice. Whether you have one offer or many, here is one good resource. However, from my experience I learned that there are some surprising advice omissions. For example, most job-advice panels focus on the best-case scenarios, where the job seekers received what they wanted. Unfortunately, due to the inherent secrecy of offer details, dissatisfied parties rarely broadcast their negotiation failures. Worse, the whole negotiation can go badly wrong. If this happens it is a frustrating and isolating experience. After all, in this job climate wouldn’t one be crazy to decline a tenure-track job offer … in favor of a post-doc?? Although this situation is rare, it happened to me and I have since learned of other instances where applicants walked away from their single tenure-track job offer. All the cases I know of involve women applicants, but this may be due to small number statistics.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

President Obama: Childcare is a Must-Have

Left: President Obama in the middle of saying the word childcare, a word which would be greeted by a standing ovation, and which he would say a total of 7 times during his speech.  Right: Government taking an active role in subsidizing childcare in America is currently out-of-fashion, but it isn't a new idea.
I married into a family of State-of-the-Union watchers, and I have embraced the tradition of watching the address live. Yesterday, we managed to get the kids (mostly) in bed and (mostly) asleep by the 9pm start, and so my wife and I snuggled up to hear what the President had to say. 

Over the past decade, these addresses have been peppered with words like "terrorist", "war", "recession", and "unemployment". Then, just about 14 minutes in, I heard a different word: "childcare".

"Wait, what?" said Margaret. "Is this really happening?"

Then, yes, it happened. President Obama told us that childcare is a national economic priority:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Astro-Diversity: Post #1 – The Pipeline to Astronomy Degrees

Dr. Lisa M. Frehill [1] is an IPA at NSF in Strategic Human Capital Planning working as an Organizational Evaluation and Assessment Researcher.  Her home institution is Energetics Technology Center in St. Charles, MD, where she has completed science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce analysis and assessment and evaluation in support of the Office of Naval Research, the DoD STEM Development Office and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  A past NSF awardee, Dr. Frehill was the PI and Program Director of the ADVANCE: Institutional Transformation program when she was an associate professor of sociology at New Mexico State University. She is an expert on diversity in STEM and on program evaluation. A forthcoming volume (co-edited with Willie Pearson, Jr. and Connie L. McNeely) titled Advancing Women in Science: An International Perspective is due winter 2015 from Springer.  In her free time, Lisa enjoys hiking, yoga, visiting family and baking.

This is the first in a series of posts about diversity in astronomy. The idea for the series emerged from conversations with Dr. Joan Schmelz, who is serving as an NSF program officer in the Division of Astronomy on loan from the University of Memphis. Joan has been involved in issues for women in astronomy and is interested in being attentive to how to more generally increase the diversity of her field. 

This first post will provide a view of the pipeline into college and bachelor’s degree attainment in both astronomy and physics, which is an important “feeder field.” Future posts will look at U.S. astronomy degrees in greater detail.  This post relies on institutionally-reported data in the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) were accessed via the National Science Foundation WebCASPAR database tool. 

What does the STEM pipeline into college look like from a diversity standpoint?  The answer to this is a “glass half full/half empty.”  On the one hand, we have seen a significant narrowing of the sex gap in high school preparation in mathematics and sciences. Indeed, high school boys recently caught up with high school girls to earn an average of 7.4 credits in mathematics and science (Nord et al., 2011).  Girls (14 percent) and boys (12 percent) are equally likely to have taken a “rigorous” high school curriculum consisting of at least four years of English and mathematics (including pre-calculus or higher), and three years each of social studies, science (including biology, chemistry and physics), and foreign language.  These are important increases since 1990, when just 4 percent of girls and 5 percent of boys had taken a rigorous high school curriculum.  Science, not mathematics, continues to be a more important issue for girls.  An additional 15 percent of girls would have completed a rigorous curriculum by taking just one more science class, as compared to an additional 9 percent of boys.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Women of Color in Astronomy and Astrophysics

"Women of Color in Astronomy and Astrophysics" was a joint effort of the AAS Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA) and the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA). It was written by Dara Norman, Jedidah Isler & Hakeem Oluseyi (CSMA) and Nancy Morrison, Caroline Simpson & Laura Trouille (CSWA). It is especially powerful because it describes strategies for overcoming the barriers that have kept the percentages of Women of Color in the sciences so low.
This document is part of the 2013 conference entitled, “Seeking Solutions: Maximizing American Talent by Advancing Women of Color in Academia.” It is reprinted here with permission from the National Academy of Sciences, Courtesy of the National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
Women of color (WoC) are at the intersection of race and gender. While they experience issues that arise for both women and minority groups, they are often overlooked in efforts on behalf of either category, to the detriment of their persistence in academia [1]. The next section of this article enumerates barriers that face WoC in astronomy, starting with those that particularly affect career establishment (early graduate student to postdoctoral) and moving to those that impact later career stages. Later sections describe steps toward solutions to these problems, measures taken by the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and lessons learned from academic programs.