Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Better vs. not really

Well, taking the weekend off helped in a lot of ways, and I got a lot done yesterday.

One thing I found out this weekend was not very encouraging. It's funny, though, in a black humor - aha I knew it! that explains a lot! - kinda way.


Although we hear lots about how "most" universities are either trying or are forced to use some kind of affirmative action in their faculty searches, not all of them are actually even trying.

This weekend I found out from a friend that one of the places I always wanted to go is among the worst when it comes to hiring.

Case in point: last year they interviewed 6 people.

1) 1 of the 6 people they interviewed was female.

2) The search committee consisted of: two guys.

3) They concluded after the interviews that the one woman they interviewed was
"too unfocused" and "sounded like a first-year grad student."

4) They also concluded that "the best candidates" are "waiting" and "not applying right now."

(I can't quite follow the logic of why the best candidates would be waiting to apply, but hey, since I think I'm one of the best candidates and didn't apply last year, I kind of have to laugh at that.)

However, when asked how they chose the candidates, and whether they even tried to take diversity into account, the answer was that they "just interviewed the top candidates."

5) The reason these two guys ran the search: the department chair is basically a figurehead. They're sort of the puppetmasters of their department. But how would an applicant know that before applying there, unless they had friends inside?

6) The two guys said there were no women faculty on the search "committee" because they were given "ample opportunity" and "chose not to participate".

Uh huh. I can think of about ten reasons why that might be, and none of them make me feel better about the outcome.

7) Last but not least, the department somehow 'dictated' that they wanted new faculty who work in particular areas, so topic was one of the major criteria by which candidates were chosen to interview.

However- and this is in some ways the best punchline- neither of the two guys choosing the candidates knows anything about the topics that were supposed to be top priority.

One has to wonder, then, how qualified these two guys could be to evaluate the quality and impact of the work from these candidates.

My guess is that lots of departments conduct searches this way, and even if there are more bodies on the search committee, it doesn't mean anyone in the whole group knows anything about the research topics of the candidates they're supposed to be evaluating.


So there you have it, folks. Another example of the scientific ways in which we hire scientists, while making conscientious strides towards increasing diversity.

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At 5:07 PM, Blogger Dr. MCR said...

That is so scary, and, I have to say, pretty unbelievable given the way many larger U's work now in the diverity sphere. My U has almost gone to the other extreme, to the point, in fact, that I've had applicants for the last 2 faculty searches I've Chaired come out and assk "Well, I'm a white male; should I even bother applying?" It's a good quesiton, and at my U, if you are a white male the cards are stacked against you in some schools and colleges. It's sad that supposedly educated, open-minded academics can't get diversity and inclusion right; seems to me inclusion means everyone, regardless of gender, color, physical ability, religion, sexual orientation, etc..

At 8:50 PM, Blogger BP said...

That sounds like an atypical job search committee. Committees I've bee n on are closer to what Dr. MCR describes.

At 9:00 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Wow Dr. MCR, I hear these stories now and then, mostly from white men in the department, for whom it is clearly a perception error since their departments still hire a majority of men; or from white male candidates who conjure it up as an explanation for why they don't get interviews (but have no proof whatsoever that this is a real reason).

Even in departments where this is a criterion applied to choosing interviewees, I've NEVER heard of it being used to the exclusion of white men for interviewing OR for hiring.

Typically even when a majority of women are interviewed, the men get the majority of offers, for precisely the same reasons given for why this particular female candidate was not considered a serious one- the "she's too young" or "she's too unfocused" types of critiques.

And as of yet, I've NEVER met ANYONE who has interviewed at or gotten a job in a majority-female department in anything related to my discipline.

I wonder how different our fields are, scientifically speaking?

But I totally agree, I don't like the idea of 'including' some groups to the obvious exclusion of everyone else.

The only other comment I've gotten so far on this post called me a 'raging lunatic' and couldn't see how this could be an unfair way to do things.

Clearly, a strong believer in the "top candidate" mentality, where

top = whatever-these-two-guys-like

Someone else sent me this link today which I think illustrates quite nicely why these kinds of things happen routinely and some people literally cannot see what is wrong with it.

At 1:46 AM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc said...

There was an interesting exchange on this topic in the comments section of this post.

On the general topic of messed up career stuff, have you seen this?

At 6:25 AM, Anonymous a physicist said...

I had a lot of interviews when I was looking for a faculty job. I can say about half of them work like you'd expect: a reasonably competent search committee draws up a short list, they interview the short list, rank the candidates, offer them the position one after another until they hire someone, or until the remaining candidates are deemed unsuitable. Ideally the search committee takes into account diversity when forming the short list and when ranking the final choices.

The other half work like Ms. PhD's post: majorly messed up in some weird way that makes you wonder what they're thinking of. In one search for example, the head of the department ran the search entirely on her own, in an area she knew nothing about, and ended up hiring nobody because she couldn't figure out exactly what area she was trying to hire in. And that was one of the departments I still think highly of and think that the head had decent intentions and is a good person. (Maybe I can feel good about things since I did get a job in the end, just not there.)

Back to the original post topic: I've been part of several job searches since becoming a professor. We do try to take diversity into account in drawing up our short list. Of our department's last 6 hires, two have been women and none have been minorities. For a physics department, we're doing great. Compared to other fields, we still suck. I'd say our university is average when it comes to taking diversity into account in hiring, we have plenty of room for improvement.

At 6:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So your logic is:

every search should ALWAYS have more than 1 out of 6 women invited (never mind that many STEM fields have about that percentage of female PhDs), regardless of qualifications of top candidates - simply based on diversity. And that woman should get the job, or at least not get any kind of negative reviews of her talk.

Anything less is CLEAR evidence of sexism. Right?

I know you will not probably delete this post as you have done many times before with my posts. Only acceptable comments are those that agree with you.

At 6:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an assistant professor at an R1 in a biological science. In the year I have been here, I have been part of three search committees, two for faculty and one for staff. Our university requires that search committees be as diverse as possible in terms of gender and race.

One of the problems you mentioned was that the two men on the search committee were not in the subfield of the search. That is not a criteria for being on a search committee here. It could be impossible if the department is trying to expand its coverage.

For regular searches, we are forbidden from taking into account, race, gender, marital status, etc. We can only interview the top candidates. In one search, the top three were non white females. In another search the top three were white males.

Our university does have funding for diversity faculty hires. In these hires, the university pays for the faculty line. However, in these searches, only minorities can be hired. These are also not advertised and there is no competition. A department identifies a minority candidate, submits a request for diversity funding and then offers the contract to the candidate.

At 8:03 AM, Blogger sara said...

That's a fantastic article. I think more people need to take a course in psychology that discusses this sort of social psychology work and other experiments that help us see how we really are.

I have also been wondering what would make a good science aptitude test, to really suss out whether a person thinks in a scientific and less biased way. Piercarlo Valdesolo's and David DeSteno's experimental setup might be the way to go.

Also, did anyone else think the 45 minute mental geometry test would be more fun and interesting than sorting through photos for 10 minutes?

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

bwaaaahhhaaaa [wipes eyes]

MCR, I'll try to be nice about it. but seriously, I don't know what weird world you are living in. if you make these "waah, I perceive the deck is stacked against white males" claims, well, I want to see the specific data. Because just about every and all general sources of relevant data testify to the continued privilege and deck-stacking-in-favor-of white males.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon said:

So your logic is:

every search should ALWAYS have more than 1 out of 6 women invited (never mind that many STEM fields have about that percentage of female PhDs),

yep, that is exactly what I'm saying

regardless of qualifications of top candidates - simply based on diversity.

NO, I didn't say that at all. What I've said over and over and over on this blog is that the definition of qualifications is VERY skewed and often does NOT represent the people most suited to the job.

What has been shown quite clearly, by a variety of studies, is that the searches that claim to ignore gender and race actually select for white males in most cases, because our current system discriminates systematically in favor of them starting from grad school and increasing as you go up the ladder.

And that woman should get the job, or at least not get any kind of negative reviews of her talk.

No, I didn't say that either. But seeming young and/or unfocused are typically used as sexist epithets, and have nothing to do with the science. Look it up.

At 7:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 6:42 am -- you're acting a bit clueless.

The main point is that, as has been explained over and over again on this blog and elsewhere, the system is biased against women and minorities. If a search committee attempts to bias themselves slightly for women and minorities, this is just an attempt to correct for prior built-in biases that are often present in recommendation letters and search committee members. Or subtler biases of the sort that Ms. PhD often talks about here, related to dealing with advisors and getting publications out -- things that are subtle but which can impact your CV.

And again, as has been explained repeatedly, these biases are often present when evaluating job candidates who have already come for an interview. It's reasonable that a search committee at least keeps in mind that they should be careful when rejecting a female candidate. That's not to say they can't reject a female candidate, but they need to make sure it's for good reasons.

I hate having to add disclaimers to my comment, because I think what I have written above should stand on its own. But here it is: I'm a white male.

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post and the discussion is very interesting. Thank you!

At 7:09 AM, Anonymous AnonJuly5 said...

Hi -- I'm an ethnically Chinese (English speaking) male, a child of blue collar parents, recently hired to an assistant professorship at a public R1 (in a different field of science than yours). Although I practice in a different
field, the issues of discrimination of women is one I've thought about for some time. I've toiled as a postdoc for five years.

I believe, people like me, as do women, face disadvantages. However, "minorities" in the sense of affirmative action don't apply to me. I don't need to get into it, but it suffices to say that I can provide many personal anecdotes about discrimination.

But what about the disadvantage of blue-collar parents? This is something that cuts across all races and genders! I would say that the vast majority of women in my field with tenure track jobs are children of professionals, and often professors. Long story short: I personally don't see why women in that position should (and they do) benefit from any sort of affirmative action. From my point of view, they've had all sorts of opportunities I never had!

That said, I don't feel I should be given affirmative action either, or that hiring committees should address needing better "economic diversity" on our faculty.

When and if I have a role to play in hiring, I want to improve the scientific quality of the faculty in my department and school, because that enriches my life. I have the greatest to gain from getting good faculty, and the most to lose from eliminating candidates because of gender, ethnicity etc.

I know you question whether "scientific quality" is defined properly. Well, I'll say this: in my discipline, and perhaps yours, the very best people (the one's with all the interviews at all the best places) are clearly distinguished from the rest. They have results that are impressive to the experts in their subfield. Period. (In my experience, those women in that position do very well on the job market.)

I think if there's discrimination (of any form), it is in deciding upon the large middle crop of researchers that most of us belong to. So focus on the science and get to that top tier!

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


Interesting point about women whose parents are professors. I only know one of these who chose a tenure-track position, and I think her successful father has helped her. One is still a postdoc and thus far hasn't fared any better than I have; another decided against getting a PhD but stayed in academia in a supporting role. Her name and connections definitely helped her get the position she has now.

But let's also clarify the point about 'parents' who are professors: I don't know ANY women my age in academia whose mothers were professors. Only fathers.

I agree that we should address economic diversity. Although it's hard for me to see - and admittedly I'm biased - how having 1 professional parent (and 1 stay at home mom) gave me a huge leg up over, for example, some of my friends whose parents both worked blue collar jobs (and whose total income/cost of living was equivalent to my family's).

But there are all kinds of family dynamics, usually (but not always) exacerbated by economics. These can all lead to cumulative disadvantages - having lots of younger siblings and being expected to supervise them after school, for example, or sick relatives who need constant care.

Still, I completely disagree that the best candidates are known to all. MANY are off the radar. I think this is true regardless of gender, although it may be a matter of degree.

I could easily argue that women generally get less air-time than men and less recognition for their contributions. But maybe I'll write a post about that instead of burying it in a comment.

At 6:53 PM, Anonymous AnonJuly05 said...

Dear Ms. Phd,

Actually, as I say in my comment, I _don't_ think we should address economic diversity. In fact, as you say "there are all kinds of family dynamics". More generally, there are many reasons (gender, race, cancer,...) one might be "disadvantaged" so my basic thesis is that I personally don't see why we should provide affirmative action to any given subset and not others.

In particular, I pose the question of why a woman whose parent (father, let's say) is a professor is more disadvantaged than say, I was, as an Asian male with blue collar parents.

I don't have complete answers, but I will try to address your question of why having a professor parent might help. Just to start off with, my parents threatened to ban me from the family if I pursued my particular basic science, since it wasn't useful, and would only lead to teaching high school. (I did it anyway.) Am I giving too much credit to most faculty, that they wouldn't impose this on their children?

I have way more examples, but I don't want to bore you (or frankly, myself) with a laundry list. I'd conclude by saying that when the disadvantages (economic inequality or sexism) don't apply to a person, it's hard to see them; but you are aware of that already.

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


Give me a break. My parents wanted me to go into science until they realized there are no jobs - now they want me to quit.

They threatened to disown me if I went into any number of fields that I was interested in, and they wanted me to go to med school.

I chose what I chose, for reasons that made sense to me at the time but which I sometimes still question.

I OFTEN wonder if I would have been better off cutting ties from my family completely, but for a variety of reasons I didn't and I mostly don't regret it.

This has NOTHING to do with economics in some ways, and everything to do with it in others.

In order to become emancipated I would have had to renounce all financial ties to my family. I would have been completely broke.

But then I also would have qualified for financial aid, which in some ways would have given me a lot more independence from my family, and more options.

One of the reasons I chose not to become emancipated was that I recognized I could get a better education if my family paid for it.

So I made that choice, strings attached and all.

Perhaps I would have been happier in the long run if money hadn't entered into it, it would have been poor vs. broke - not as hard a decision, I don't think, as being offered the Golden Handcuffs.

My point being that yes, I DISAGREE, I think we SHOULD reward perseverance through economic hardship, since that, my dear friend, is an incredibly important skill in today's academic science.

Most of the rich kids who have faculty positions now have no concept of how to deal with budgets (my own advisors great examples of how NOT to manage money).

But I've blogged about that before.

And I think all kinds of diversity are useful. I give lots of points to those who worked their way through school and got out with no reward but a big tuition debt. They have a lot more self-discipline and work ethic, a lot more perseverance. On the other hand, usually those who have never had financial hardship have had a lot of freedom to be creative, they don't tether themselves as much to what they think they can afford to do.

It takes both kinds. But that means we can't go on blindly rewarding the usual criteria by default. Right now the 'top candidate' approach will ALWAYS favor expensive pedigree over bootstraps.

At 1:28 PM, Anonymous AnonJuly05 said...

Dear Ms. Phd,

You say "Give me a break" concerning the specific example I introduce. Well, I'm not going to get into an argument about who's had it worse off, you have your blog with your perspective, which I respect. If I want to get into a complete discussion, I'd start my own blog about it (which I probably won't). You're intelligent and can imagine the advantages (e.g., advice) having a faculty parent can provide. At least your parents encouraged your early interest in science -- mine didn't AND discourage me even today. Being an Asian male is another issue. I think that one particular facet of having early role models is learning how to "appear professorial" -- I still come off as blue collar myself. As you've noted in the context of sexism, this is an issue.

Rather than continue down that line, we also disagree about the issue of finding best candidates. Now, as I pointed out in my original post, I speak of my particular discipline.

Fact of the matter is that advantaged children are more likely to get into high prestige schools, where they have usually better mentorship and projects, which lead to better results. (I should point out that I wasn't educated in the Harvard, Princeton class of places myself.)

That's life, and on a search committee I
don't see how to reasonably take into account all these things, in particular when pedigree is confounded by affirmative action (would this person of class X, who would have gotten into fancy school Y have gotten better results than affirmative action Z had X had the chance....).

So what do we do? We do as scientists and make an approximation to the truth about excellence, in this case focusing on the results as evidenced by letters of recommendation and papers.

"Best" is controversial, of course. Every year I see people that are really good, end up with "subpar" jobs. I don't deny the effect of "randomness". Unfortunately, the job market in my field is tight -- so in actuality, I don't want to define them as the best. I'd say these are this large hump of really good people but which haven't quite distinguished themselves from one another. (I include myself in this bunch.)

In this very good group, randomness, sexism, racism, connections, whatever, does play a role. I don't have a complete solution in this demographic.

But I do contend that in the top tier, -in my field- people with results, exciting to the best experts, almost by definition are highly visible and sought after (the people at top schools talk to these best experts and know who's doing what).

It's an imperfect system, I agree. My personal opinion though is that affirmative action is an even more imperfect system for R1's, since it asks one to judge the complexities of "disadvantage" and weigh that against scientific merit.

I personally reject the notion that a white woman, citizen, daughter of a professor from a top flight school as having more disadvantage than a foreign born asian male child of blue collar workers without college education.

But your opinion may strongly differ from mine, --which is my point-- whereas we can both agree that if so and so obtained this result that the best people in the field have been after for years, that's an impressive thing.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Samia said...

Okay, I'm an Indian-Bengali chick with Canadian citizenship:

My dad was very literally born in a gutter in India, went to college against his parents' wishes, and is now an economics professor at an okay school in the U.S. My mom comes from a good family and is a housewife with a master's. We're stretched for funds right now and Dad has never had enough to keep his family in India very comfortable. That part of our family is still pretty destitute.

It would be prudent to keep in mind that not all of us profs' kids are loaded, nor can all of us namedrop. I love Dad, but I don't expect many people to know who the fuck he is.

I realllllly don't see how being Asian would give anyone a disadvantage in college. From what I've seen, a lot of people tend to assume we're naturally good at the sciences. I'm not going to speak to the accuracy of that notion, but "appearing" blue-collar? There are a bagillion Asian males in science (and some of the very traditional ones are quite sexist and difficult to work with). I don't see any particular bias against them, whereas I do see it against women in general. The fact that the existence of sexism is some kind of debatable question is evidence, IMO.

At 5:17 PM, Anonymous AnonJuly05 said...

Dear Samia,

You said (since I don't know how to quote in blogs, embarassingly):

"It would be prudent to keep in mind that not all of us profs' kids are loaded, nor can all of us namedrop."

Being a prof myself, I know that faculty salaries typically don't make one _financially_ loaded. But profs' kids often benefit from large intellectual capital.

"I realllllly don't see how being Asian would give anyone a disadvantage in college."

Well, I would emphasize disadvantage at the graduate school, postdoctoral and tenure decision level.

"From what I've seen, a lot of people tend to assume we're naturally good at the sciences."

Sometimes this comes off as "good as a grind" rather than "ingenious" or "insightful". Sometimes this assumption has some negative effects: "oh, yeah, he's reasonably good as science, no big surprise, he's asian". BUT, I agree that this is better than "she can't be good at science, she's a girl".

"There are a bagillion Asian males in science (and some of the very traditional ones are quite sexist and difficult to work with)."

...and there are a humpnormous number of women benefiting from affirmative action (and some are truly not deserving of faculty positions given their academic output). --- I don't see any point in these types of statements.

"I don't see any particular bias against them, whereas I do see it against women in general."

I'll likely never convince you with a few anecdotes, but I don't think media puts asian (and specifically Chinese) men in a good light. I suspect this permeates to hiring at some level. I still impress people when I give a talk and they realize "hey, you can speak English". Do you doubt the presumption that I can't speak English might have an effect on potential hiring? Your thoughts in your comment are suggestive.

"The fact that the existence of sexism is some kind of debatable question is evidence, IMO."

I don't doubt the existence of sexism. I don't really know anyone reasonable that does. But in the end scientific output is what should matter.

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I can definitely see how there could be more discrimination, especially assumptions about language skills, the further up you go. This is true for sexism, too. It only gets worse the further up you go.

But I have to take issue with this statement:

...and there are a humpnormous number of women benefiting from affirmative action (and some are truly not deserving of faculty positions given their academic output).

I don't know ANY women who got their job through affirmative action. Where are these numbers you're talking about? Isn't affirmative action basically illegal in most places now?

And this blog is basically all about this point you make here:

in the end scientific output is what should matter.

To wit, I direct you to the post from July 1st, which apparently struck a nerve and highlights an important, often overlooked difference in how scientific 'output' is rewarded for male vs. female lab members and collaborators.

At 5:39 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Oops, I mean July 6th. Sorry.

At 5:29 AM, Anonymous AnonJuly05 said...

Dear Ms. PhD,

With regards to the "humpnormous" comment,
it was my (failed) attempt to be ironic: note the parallels with Samia's comment about asian men.

"Humpnormous" is a word I made up (I think), it's as ambiguous as "bagillion". When we talk Xism, it's precisely inprecision that's a problem, no? The off color remark should be offensive; Samia's remark was offensive to me (and exhibits a stereotype).

As far as whether I know _any_ examples? Well, it so happens that since Samia brought up Canada, I would look at the now recently defunct "UFA" program which was intended for women and (theoretically) aboriginals:


Admittedly, you have to be a citizen or permanent resident to apply, but in Canada, unlike the US, permanent residence is not hard to achieve (being a PhD is already a big plus for entry; a postdoc in Canada would mostly suffice).

YES, absolutely, I reiterate, there is sexism that affects how we perceive talent and output. But to summarize my main points:

1. There's also other disadvantages, how can one account for all of them. Trying to do so makes it worse than just trying to evaluate results.

2. If you have top notch (and I really mean "top", not just "very good"), the effect of sexism will be minimal. In fact, since departments are looking to be diverse, women with such results are highly sought after, and in my experience get excellent jobs, by comparison with their male counterparts.

3. I admit, the effects are different for large "2nd tier" to which I belong:
people who on a good day might get a good job, and on a bad day... I _don't_ claim to know what is the very best, but my impression is that the simplest thing
(occam's razor if you will), is to just rely on papers, as reflected by letters of reference.

4. Having gone through this myself (in the context of my own history, make what you will of it): the very best thing _individually_ is to just focus on your (scientific) work, and one _will_ be rewarded. Worrying about this and that being a disadvantage (whether it is or isn't) will only psych one out.

At least that's what I'll tell my children to encourage their careers :)

At 4:07 PM, Blogger Samia said...

Hello AnonJuly05:

I am really sorry for offending you and giving the impression of being flippant about a sensitive subject. I identify as Asian and did not intend to insult you at all. I'd like to address your reply to me:

I'm not sure what you mean by benefiting from intellectual capital. I can only speak for myself. My parents haven't helped me get into a good school, or get a job or anything like that. They really still don't understand exactly what the hell I am doing and have no idea how little money I will probably make in my lifetime. ;) All of my initial "lucky breaks" have actually occurred as a result of attending smaller, less prestigious institutions before transferring to the school I am attending now. I found it was easier to get noticed as a hard worker and eager learner at a small school. One of the institutions I attended was also an HBCU; I was lucky enough to attend a special program there aimed at minorities in the STEM fields before The Presidential Powers That Be decided this was a waste of money and cut our funding. All of the other students in that particular pre-professional summer program were from blue-collar families and most if not all of them were the first in their family to attempt college. It really breaks my heart that money for this kind of awesome stuff is being sucked away like it's some kind of useless cash sinkhole. For a lot of students this is their first time learning about the grad/professional school admissions process and what kinds of careers they can look forward to. I have no doubt it is very difficult for people from blue-collar, sometimes non-supportive families to make it through college. My dad went to college against his parents' wishes and basically near-starved through undergrad and grad school because he didn't want to be a poor farmer with 8 kids.

I'm interested in learning more about specific disadvantages Asians face at the grad/post-doc/tenure decision levels. What I find puzzling is that from what I can see, male Asians and Asians in general enjoy decent representation in the sciences and even in graduate school, but why are there so few faculty? You spoke of a potential perceived language barrier. I'm interested in hearing more about this if you'd care to share. From my experience working in a few labs (physics/engineering, chemistry and pharmaceutical sciences), Asians either predominate or are the second largest minority cohort. The last research lab I worked in had no white grad students and I don't think anyone spoke English as a first language. I'm sure every university is different, but mine has huge support networks and organizations for students of different nationalities as well as specialized tutoring services for non-native speakers of English. I used to tutor foreign students in English composition for the purposes of passing standardized tests; I was employed by the school so my services were free to clients.

You said:

"Sometimes this comes off as "good as a grind" rather than "ingenious" or "insightful"."

The very same thing is assumed of women, and I would contend it's a bit more ingrained than a stereotype about Asians (this is probably the only point on which we disagree). The bigwig in the last department I worked in was Asian-- actually, all of them were. And a lot of the male Asians who share my major are pretty outspoken, so I haven't really seen the "quiet" stereotype except in females.

I don't see any direct evidence that there are great number of women benefiting from affirmative action, but if you have some I'd be very interested in taking a look.

Re: accents. I'm not sure how hiring committees make decisions about something as subjective as language proficiency; from what I can tell, things like citizenship seem to matter more but I may be wrong on this point (again, I'd love to hear about your experiences). I have no doubts that the presumption that a person can't speak English well might have a negative effect on hiring prospects, though.

I think everyone who reads this blog would agree that scientific output is what *should* count when it comes to hiring and granting of tenure. However, I think that a large part of YFS's writings describe the *current* situation, which is far from ideal. I don't know any reasonable people who deny the existence of sexism either, but there are plenty of unreasonable people who do, and unfortunately some of them hold positions of power.

I've been reading quite a bit about diversity in science lately but there is really a paucity of information on the experiences of Asians (and Asian women) in academia. It's definitely an area of interest for me, so if you'd care to point me towards a resource I'd really appreciate it.

As sort of a last note, the reason my family moved to the U.S. from Canada is that my father felt the hiring system in Canadian academia was racist. I'm not sure whether his feelings were justified or not, having been relatively young at the time; however he obviously thought it enough of an issue to move his family to another country. I'm almost sure it was due to some weird (perceived, at least) anti-Muslim sentiment.

Sorry this was so long. I'd like to share some links readers may find interesting:

http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/pdf/october2007updates.pdf (NSF stats on post-docs and grad students by race/ethnicity and gender)

http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2000/02/34110 (news piece about a possible Asian glass ceiling phenomenon in academia)

http://www.phds.org/career-guide/women/ (various articles on the subject of women in academia)

At 7:46 PM, Anonymous AnonJuly05 said...

Dear Samia,

Thanks for your comment and the links. I'm not prepared for a very carefully thought out response, but will try my best, with the caveat that what I have to say is very incomplete.

"I'm not sure what you mean by benefiting from intellectual capital."

Let's mainly forget this for now, since I'd rather focus on your other questions. I've mentioned that my parents were blue collar; well, my wife's parents were even more blue collar. Her father never passed grade 2. When I first started dating her, I noticed that there wasn't a _single_ book in her house. If your parents had some, that's already an improvement.

Your dad sounds impressive.

"I'm interested in learning more about specific disadvantages Asians face at the grad/post-doc/tenure decision levels."

It's harder to get into grad school with a Chinese name, especially if you are foreign, since you might very well end up in the mainland Chinese pile, which for many years was not such a great thing. Maybe this has a lot to do with
perceived language problems, as you say,
and in many subjects, one needs to do teaching or recitations.

This similarly affects postdoctoral hiring, for similar reasons. Perhaps it's also the stereotype of being difficult.

One anecdote: generally speaking, once you've been hired at the tenure track level, you've got a very good chance of getting tenure. In fields like mine where many people have long postdocs, this probability is even higher, since hiring committees can more easily judge trajectory by then. In three of the four institutions I've been at, I've been aware of three denials of tenure in my subject. All were Chinese.

In the most recent place where this happened, the rumor was that the person involved didn't socially "fit" with the rest of the department.

"male Asians and Asians in general enjoy decent representation in the sciences and even in graduate school, but why are there so few faculty?"

This is, in my opinion, as strong as a priori evidence of discrimination as the statement "women are 50% of the population, but only 10% of faculty". Here you see asians as a high percentage of the "eligible population", and a small percentage of faculty.

There are many reasons. Speaking from my experience, in Chinese (Cantonese) families, probably the lack of money/high risk is a reason why parents might push their children towards more secure jobs.

BTW, usually it's said that asians are overrepresented among faculty in the sciences in the US. What I've never seen anyone say is that that's true if you consider only the % of asians from the US, not world wide.

"I don't see any direct evidence that there are great number of women benefiting from affirmative action, but if you have some I'd be very interested in taking a look."

My remark was mainly ironic; does humpnormous=many? :)

"Re: accents. I'm not sure how hiring committees make decisions about something as subjective as language proficiency; from what I can tell, things like citizenship seem to matter more but I may be wrong on this point (again, I'd love to hear about your experiences)."

It's not really that subjective. But the main point is making the cut to the interview. At the tenure track level, citizenship is basically irrelevant. I reiterate, it's mostly about the results.

"there are plenty of unreasonable people who do, and unfortunately some of them hold positions of power."

I can say that I've never met any faculty that I respected on scientific grounds that we're unreasonable in the way you suggest. They may (as I do) disagree about what to do about it. That's not to say they don't exist, but that's one data point anyway.

"As sort of a last note, the reason my family moved to the U.S. from Canada is that my father felt the hiring system in Canadian academia was racist."

I would say the following. Because of the unfortunate racial problems in US history, there are quite a few protections built into faculty hiring, usually administered through some "diversity office". Often this leads to things like putting pressure on a department to interview an underrepresented individual. Lawsuits are more common in the US.

My personal opinion, maybe not too well founded, but with some experience, is that Canada perceives itself as being more inclusive in comparison, and lawsuits are less common, and so maybe these regulations aren't there or enforced as much. My main anecdote is that at at least one well-known Canadian school, two years in a row, the only person interviewed was the hire. I doubt this would be (technically) possible in the US.

According to your blogger data, you're an undergraduate. My recommendation is to just focus on the science. As you go through grad school, postdocing, etc, there's a good chance you'll see "politics", beyond just "sexism/racism".
I've spent too much of my time and energy on it, and in the end, it simply wasn't helpful. Despite what might or might not be "unfair breaks" that I encountered, in the end getting strong results got me a job that I appreciate.
All the complaining I did to myself and my wife didn't do anything positive except get me angry.

There is one other thing, and this is something where sexism/racism etc matter. Once you have the requisite results for a research school job, good enough to be interviewed, you need to appear "normal", able to speak decently
and not appear like you'll be trouble. I'll admit this is where perceptions of "normal" can be affected by, e.g., gender. By the time you get to this point, there'll be plenty of resources for you to look at to help define "normal". Basically, although sexism can creep up here, I believe that so long as you're "normal", this will almost never be a problem.

Good luck.

At 5:09 PM, Anonymous a physicist said...

This may be too late; I was on vacation last week.

Regarding Asians in grad school -vs- Asians in faculty positions: Most mainland Chinese students and Taiwanese grad students I've known want to return home after their PhD. More students from India that I've known want to stay in the US. Asian-American students seem to get faculty jobs at the same rate as other Americans, in my experience.

Regarding accents: my school is an R1, but we do place an emphasis on teaching as well. If we noticed a strong accent at the interview, we would at least discuss how that might affect teaching ability. Obviously many other factors affect teaching ability as well, and accent is far from the top of the list of concerns, but it's on the list.

Regarding everything I've written above: it's all only based on my limited experience.


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