Monday, April 20, 2015

Some Professors are More Biased Than Others

Motivated by a New York Times article, I looked up a paper in the Journal of Psychology about a study done to assess bias in university professors.  The results were based on a large blind audit of professors in various fields and were remarkable.  In all fields except the humanities, professors systematically replied to correspondence from professors than students with white male names differently than students with female names or names suggesting non-white race.

The study was performed by Katherine L. Milkman (U. Penn), Modupe Akinola (Columbia) and Dolly Chugh (NYU) and published on-line this year.  E-mails were sent to a large selection of professors in 89 disciplines and 289 institutions  The e-mails were from fictitious students expressing interest in a professor's research and asking for a short meeting during the student's visit to campus.  The student names were chosen to suggest gender and race, such as Meredith Roberts and Raj Singh.  A total of 6548 e-mails were sent to randomly selected professors.

The result were that professors on average were more likely to reply to students with white male names than any other group.  (E-mails were immediately sent to cancel any appointments with the fictitious students.)  All e-mails were identical except for the names.  With the students sight unseen, the bias in the thinking of these academics was revealed by value association based on names.  The results are shown in the figure (discrimination in grey and reverse discrimination in black) using percentages.  The number of samples for each disciplinary category ranged from fewer than 200 to more than a thousand.  There were 850 samples for the Natural, Physical Sciences and Math.

The results are most striking in the disciplines of business and education at the levels of 10's of percent response differences and lower in the science disciplines at the levels of few percent.  In fine arts, the bias was strongly reversed with professors replying systematically more to female and non-Caucasian students.  The only field where there appears to be little of no bias is in the Humanities.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

New Study Demonstrates Shocking Truth About Faculty Hiring

Screen grab from CNN for the OpEd by the authors of the PNAS study. 
(*) In a paper just published in PNAS, Cornell professors W. M. Williams and S. J. Ceci have demonstrated conclusively that the process that all university departments use to hire new faculty is completely unrelated to the actual process they modeled in their study of fictitious faculty searches.

When the Harvard University Department of Astronomy undertook a recent faculty search, the Harvard faculty asked applicants to submit a CV, a list of publications, statements of research and teaching interests, and to arrange for confidential letters of recommendation. The department reviewed these materials, selecting a half-dozen applicants for interviews. Each individual visited for two days, during which time they delivered a colloquium, and met with faculty and students, including several dinner meetings. The faculty then convened for several hours to decide on whom should receive the offer.

Monday, April 13, 2015

CSWA Success Stories and Future Challenges

Recent data on demographics and conversations with my NSF colleague, Lisa Frehill, opened my eyes to a somewhat surprising fact. Young women in astronomy (assistant professors, postdocs, students) from some racial and ethnic backgrounds (white and Asian) may have reached parity with their percentages in the US population!
The STATUS magazine article, the 2013 CSWA Demographics Survey, was open on my computer screen. In particular, Figure 1 shows that percentages of women at the level of assistant professor and younger are about 30% (within uncertainties). These percentages are similar to those described in the article, The 30% Benchmark: Women in Astronomy Postdocs at US Institutions. According to this article, which was based in part on data gathered by members of the Astro2010 Demographics study group,
-Graduate enrollment for women in US astronomy departments has risen from 25% in 1997 to 30% in 2006 (NSF-NIH Survey of Grad Students and Post-docs in S&E).
-The percentage of Astronomy PhDs earned by women in the US has increased steadily from less than 20% in 1997 to almost 30% in 2006 (NSF Survey of Earned doctorates).
-The success rate of women in both prize fellowships and individual postdocs is about 30%.
-The percentage of women faculty at stand-alone astronomy departments in 2006 was 28% at the assistant professor level.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Finding Funding in Unexpected Places

Today’s guest blogger is Sabrina Stierwalt. Sabrina is currently a L’Oreal For Women in Science Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Virginia. Her research uses multiwavelength observations of nearby galaxy mergers to understand the cosmological assembly history of galaxies. Her most current work focuses on low metallicity, merger-driven star formation and the subsequent enrichment of the ISM in interacting dwarf galaxies.

Astronomy research funding through the usual NSF and NASA channels is shrinking to the point that some agencies have considered capping the number of proposals a scientist can submit. Other programs, like NASA’s 2015 Astrophysics Theory program, are being cut altogether. As a predominantly longer wavelength astronomer, I also don’t typically benefit from funds allocated with my telescope time since I rely on ground-based radio facilities as my workhorses.

So as a postdoc on a (never ending?) quest to fund my research in the financial landscape before me, one thing became clear. It was time to get creative. That’s how I found the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science program

Someone in biology or chemistry, however, would not likely consider this move creative. L’Oréal’s FWIS program is very well known and highly respected in many STEM fields. The US branch of the FWIS program has awarded $2.5 million to over 55 women since the grant program began in 2003. The larger, global L’Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science International Fellowship program began in 1998 and has supported more than 2,000 scientists in over 100 countries. AAAS, an organization more astronomers are likely familiar with, manages the peer review and selection process and administers the grants. Fellows are chosen for “their exceptional academic records and intellectual merit, clearly articulated research proposals with the potential for scientific advancement and … their commitment to supporting other women and girls in science.”