Okay, so I’ve been keeping this under my hat for the last six-eight months, scared of jinxing things, but it’s becoming arduous to keep hiding, so I’m sharing.

Purdue submitted a proposal in December for an NSF-ADVANCE institutional transformation grant – the purpose of these grants are to improve the lot for and of women in science and engineering academia, particularly faculty positions. I’m listed as a co-PI on Purdue’s grant.

NSF hasn’t awarded anything yet, so we are in official limbo, waiting for word. However, the waiting game has now bumped into the annual ADVANCE PI meeting, where all the PIs and co-PIs on the grants get together to share successes and challenges. Because NSF hasn’t made any decisions yet, some (many? all? I have no idea) of us who submitted proposals were invited to the meeting, even though we still may not get the grant. It’s somewhat awkward, and will be super-heartbreaking if we don’t get one in the end. But I’ve been asking around, and this seems to be a fairly common occurrence for ADVANCE, perhaps because it’s a cross-cutting program and there’s that many more people to convince to pony up the funds. I have no idea.

Anyway. I’m at the meeting today, and wanted to share some thoughts, so figured it was time to come out of the grant closet. And hope the Jinx Fairy isn’t watching.

Firstly, the meeting is in a swanky hotel in Alexandria, VA. I flew in yesterday from Indy, and haven’t flown in to Washington-National before, so it was cool looking out the windows on the left side of the plane and seeing the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Monument, and even the Capitol building. I guess NSF has taken over the hotel for this and perhaps other meetings too – so far, the rooms have been lovely (if somewhat chilly), the food fabulous, and the microphones well adjusted. Also, the music in the elevators has been French, a cultural marker I find confusing. And the television is interesting – I only usually watch PBS, and I don’t like the programming here so far (Tavis Smiley at 6 pm? Where’s Jim Lehrer, for gosh sakes?) so I’ve been channel flipping, and therefore seeing the weird ads by oil and nuclear companies directed at legislators saying how outdated gas taxes are, so 1970s and you don’t want to be in the ’70s, what with their funny hair and such, do you? Oh, and drinks at the bar with names like “Blackout Blackberry” and “Dirty Deal” and “Pickeled [sic] Litigation.” Very odd indeed.

The meeting proper started this morning. And I’ve been a little star-struck. It’s like a who’s-who in the gender and STEM academia world. Virginia Valian gave a talk with her graduate student this morning, and then asked a really great question of the lunch speaker. I switched places at a talk with Donna Nelson. I’ve bumped into a bunch of people whose names were recognizable because I had read their papers or heard of their programs – like Sharon Bird and Christine Grant. I also got to talk with people at Kansas State who Zuska introduced me to, and Joyce Yen who came to a talk I gave at SWE in 2004 and was nice enough to tell me to contact her when I graduated (a fact I remembered even if I forgot to actually do it), and I saw Alice Hogan across a room (whose name I remember because she was the initial, and long-standing program officer for ADVANCE, as well as having an unusual first name). It’s nice to see people you think of as simply names on the page (especially if the page is a hardcover dust jacket or a Science paper) as regular people who get lost looking for their conference room, or who nip in to the bathroom before the next session starts, or who pollute their coffee with sugar.

I’m also amazed at how many people I know (as well as know of) here. I got to catch up a bit with Peggy Layne of Virginia Tech, Amy Wendt, Eve Fine, Jenn Sheridan from Wisconsin, Ann Austin from Michigan State (actually, we’re going to chat tomorrow), among other folks. It’s very cool.

Okay, I know it looks like I’m name-dropping, here. But for so long, I’ve attended conferences where I didn’t know anyone, and had to somehow make my way through the endless sessions (some hints: develop a store of small academic talk phrases to network, such as “So, you’re at Such-and-Such University. What do you do there?” or “Have you been to this conference before? Any advice on what not to miss?”; and when eating alone, bring a book or the newspaper for company. Or do as someone did to me at ASEE in Salt Lake City – invite yourself along with a group of people who look friendly. But remember to introduce yourself – it’s helpful to them. :-) ). It’s a new experience for me to know comparatively so many folks, in addition to feeling so comfortable with the subject area, and knowing the area’s conversations, arguments, major players, history.

The other feeling that is interesting is being amongst folks who, while they may shy away from the label, have a fundamentally-activist philosophy. They are trying to change institutional culture to increase the number of women faculty in science and engineering. Everyone here already believes this needs to happen and if we talk about reasons for why this is a good idea, it’s in the context of how we convince others to help. There’s a focus on change which I find refreshing, and strategies to help manage and forward change.

I haven’t been outside since yesterday evening, and it looks like I won’t have a chance until tomorrow when a Washington-based friend and I will go have dinner somewhere. But so far, I think this meeting is going okay. And I still hope I get to play in the same sandbox as these folks next year.


  1. #1 Citronella
    May 13, 2008

    My school has been part of the ADVANCE program for a while now, and I’ve attended a talk about it (while at the Grace Hopper Celebration for women in CS). The practical details appeared very fuzzy and unclear… so I wouldn’t worry too much.

    Funny thing about “Alice”, the distribution in France is quite different: (I don’t think you really need to understand French to read the graph.)

  2. #2 Rebecca
    May 13, 2008

    How wonderful, Alice! It is really exciting to meet big names and realize that you are now a peer rather than a student.

    I went to several meetings and conferences before realizing that the attendees weren’t mean or cliquish, they were just shy like me. Now, I invite myself to go along with people who seem friendly and whose work I’m interested in, and they’re happy to have me join them.

    As for the name Alice, my former babysitter (as in, she used to babysit me) is named Alice. She enjoyed spending time with us so much that she would come over even when she wasn’t babysitting. We are still friends and she is now a professor at a university in Missouri. So I have good associations with that name. :)

  3. #3 kamote
    May 13, 2008

    Keep on rockin’, girl! Great to hear that you’re doing well there in DC!!!

  4. #4 Peggy
    May 15, 2008

    It was good to see you, Alice! Good luck with the grant, and feel free to call/email if you want to know more about our experience at Virginia Tech.