Thursday, August 30, 2007

Departments supportive of 'difficult' women?

This article illustrates quite nicely the folly of ranking schools based on quantitative measures like number of articles published in Science and Nature. And that there is no such thing as "a good school." It always depends on what department you're in, which campus, etc.

Obviously these rankings are meant for students trying to decide where to apply to college, but I'm curious as a potential applicant for faculty positions.

Is anyone else curious to know what would happen if we could rank departments based on their sexism? Would something like that actually put pressure on the old boys to clean up their act?

Anyone care to post some anonymous (you anonymous, the school by name) rankings of their own departments? Where would you say yours rates on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most egalitarian and synergistic even with conflicting opinions from strong personality types (probably doesn't exist), 1 being the most sexist, demeaning, lawsuit-deserving place in the world?

Obviously I can't say where I've been, but I'd say the department where I did my undergrad deserved a pretty low rating, somewhere in the 2-4 range. In fact, come to think of it, everywhere I've been has been about that bad...

And you?

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At 7:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where I work now is about an 8. The department is very good to the women, but sometimes all the focus on parity in hiring and special seminars/events, both social and professional, for women faculty and women students can leave the men feeling disadvantaged, actively marginalized, and without access to critical information.

Well, there are a few exceptions. We have several faculty heterosexual couples, and in those cases the men can be included, or at least have fairly direct access to the "special" information given to the women, through their partners.

Really we're doing farily well at my place, and once we stop all the "women only" crap, we'll move from 8 to 10.

At 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

writing where i went to undergrad, grad, and post-(postgrad) may give away who i am, because i went to a couple "no name" schools as well as somewhere recognizable.

sexism scale:
undergrad 5
grad 1
postdoc 9

i am hesitant to put 10 as the postdoc place because maybe my perception is skewed due to the horrible environment that preceded it in my grad institution.

At 8:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's an article in that very same issue describing how the NSF and NIH have included new instructions to grant applicants regarding their duty to "mentor" postdocs. I'm surprised you didn't pick up on that.

As for your department ranking thing, my department at BU Med was very supportive of women as far as I could tell. Lots of women faculty, many in leadership positions, and they seemed happy to me. Although I must qualify that I was student there so was not privy to inner politics of the PIs.

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work in a music department. It's typical for the tenure-track faculty to be male and the "temporary" lecturers to be female (often they are the wives of tenured faculty). At my university it is especially bad: out of 15 tenure-track faculty there are only 3 women. Out of 19 "temporary" (in quotations because many of us have been here for several years) lecturers there are 6 women.

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Janet D. Stemwedel said...

My undergraduate chemistry department was a solid 8 or 8.5, with the main deduction being that certain of the professors underestimated what sorts of graduate programs we could handle. That was Wellesley -- a women's college -- back in the mid- to late-1980s.

My graduate chemistry department (Stanford, early 1990s) was between 5 and 6, although the atmosphere in my research group was significantly more supportive than that. Probably the research group was so good because the PI was at a very good career stage (tenured, full, done with his service as dept. chair) and was serious about mentoring rather than setting up little gladiatorial battles. Also, the male to female ratio in the group was about 1 to 1 (slightly more than 50% of the grad students were women, slightly fewer than 50% of the postdocs were women). And we weren't all fighting over shared equipment (since we were using the same theoretical approach applied to many different experimental systems). And the expectation from the PI was that we could accomplish what was needed for a Ph.D. in 4-5 years (so there wasn't the grimness that sets in when you're in year 7 with no end to the project in sight).

The department as a whole had a fair number of profs and male grad students who seemed to regard female grad students as mostly useful for TAing. They probably thought they did a good job concealing this attitude. However, at least they had the sense to recognize that this was an attitude worth concealing.

At 3:55 PM, Blogger Carrie said...

Undergrad: Humboldt State University -- I'd rate it an 8.
Grad: University of Maryland -- rating of about 5. Not good but not horribly bad either.
Post-doc: University of Hawaii -- rating of 1. My department in particular, but the Univ as a whole was pretty horrid on the sexism scale.

At 1:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

U of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Microbiology
I'm honestly not really aware of how it was for faculty. The department is not ridiculously skewed to men, and the women are spectacular scientists so if I had to guess, it would be a safe bet that gender would present few issues. My grad student TA who helped me through told me how much better grad was than undergrad... because of her and others, I'm inclined to think it was a good place to be a student.
As an undergrad, I lived in a Women in Math/Science/Engineering themed living/learning community. It wasn't a huge asset for me personally, but it was good environment.
Overall, I'd give them an 8.

My graduate institution is Penn State University, and here things are more complicated. The institution as a whole might get as high as a 6, but my experiences would put it as more like a 2. In the space of about a year, ~12 grad students that I know of were kicked out of labs. Of those, I think ~9 were women, and 7 were women of color and/or not US citizens. PSU also had to change some policies and had to require salary increases, as the result of a study (and possibly an acompanying lawsuit). My understanding is that a particular department is also involved with a current lawsuit from female faculty members (either about salaries, promotions, or something like that- there's not much accessible news about this stuff).


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