I’ve been reading both geoblogs and women-in-science blogs for a while, and watching the support networks grow around them. So when I looked through the Geological Society of America’s list of session topics for the 2009 annual meeting and saw one about “Techniques and Tools for Effective Recruitment, Retention, and Promotion of Women and Minorities in the Geosciences,” I asked Anne Jefferson (who blogs with Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous) whether she would be interested in submitting an abstract with me. We didn’t know whether blogs were really useful or not, though, so (with the help of Pat Campbell and Suzanne Franks), we put together a survey to find out. Here are the results of the survey, as I presented them at the GSA Annual Meeting in October.
The survey was completed online, voluntarily, and anonymously. We recruited participants through our blogs (All of My Faults are Stress Related, Highly Allochthonous, Thus Spake Zuska, and Fairer Science) by inviting readers to participate in a survey about women geoscientists who read blogs, and other bloggers and Twitterers passed on the request to their readers. We asked questions about reading and blogging habits, about blogs that the respondents read, about why participants read blogs, about what benefits the participants gained from reading blogs, and about the experience of blogging. We asked general demographic information, as well, at the end of the survey (to try to avoid problems with stereotype threats). For the GSA talk, we focused on the questions about demographic information and reading blogs.
We got 102 responses, 91 women and 11 men. Ninety-four respondents were white; no more than five people identified as African-American, American Indian, Asian American, Latino/a, or Other. We only analyzed the data from the female respondents (because we doubted that the eleven men were a representative sample of male blog-readers). We did not sort the data by race or ethnicity, but the data mostly reflects the experience of white women.
We also asked respondents about their professional status, and here are the results:
Respondents could select more than one answer to this question, so there is overlap between many of the categories. (In particular, “researchers” included post-docs, industry researchers, and government researchers, and people from a number of categories were also looking for work.) Students (28) and faculty (24) dominated the responses, though there were also a number of people working in industry (15) and government (11).
The women respondents included both bloggers (36) and non-bloggers (55). Of the women bloggers, 10 blog under their real-life name, 21 are pseudonymous, and 5 describe themselves as anonymous. The women respondents who blog write about a variety of topics:
We did not ask respondents to classify themselves as “geobloggers” or “women-in-science bloggers” or other types of bloggers, but it seems that women geoscientists who blog don’t necessarily fit into neat categories, in any case.
We asked all of the respondents what topics they read about. The women respondents read a variety of different blogs, as well:
So we know that there are women geoscientists who read blogs. But what do they get out of them? We asked a bunch of questions on a 5-point Likert scale (1 – strongly agree, 2 – agree, 3 – neutral, 4 – disagree, 5 – strongly disagree):4. Please indicate the degree to which you agree or disagree with each of the following statements as to why you read geoscience blogs:
- Reading blogs makes my experience seem more normal.
- Reading blogs tells me what work as a geo/environmental scientist is like.
- Reading blogs tells me what it is like to be a woman scientist.
- Reading blogs makes me more interested in a career in academia.
- Reading blogs makes me more interested in a career in industry.
Here are the responses we got (from all the women respondents who answered the question – 88 women total):
In general, women tended to agree that reading blogs made their experience more normal (ave = 2.20, std dev = 1.05), that reading blogs told them what work as a geo/environmental scientist is like (ave = 2.37, std dev = 0.97), and that reading blogs tells them what it is like to be a woman scientist (ave = 2.18, std dev = 1.02), but are more neutral about the effect of reading blogs on their career interests.
We also asked about what people get out of reading blogs:
5. Please indicate the degree to which you agree or disagree with each of the following statements as to what you gain by reading geoscience blogs:
- I learn about teaching methods and pedagogy.
- I learn about topics directly related to my field of research or teaching interest.
- I learn about geoscience topics outside of my field of research or teaching interest.
- I learn about the application of technology in geoscience research and teaching.
- I feel more connected to people in my field.
- I feel more connected to other women scientists.
- I find a greater variety of role models than I find in my real life.
- I can participate in discussions of gender issues that I don’t discuss in my real life.
Here are the responses, split into two histograms to make them easier to read:
Blogs are useful for learning stuff, especially outside one’s specialty.
Blogs are especially useful for finding role models that aren’t available in real life.
So what does all that mean? Pat (who has the expertise in social science amongst the group) calculated Pearson product-moment correlations for the blog-reading questions, and found correlations (0.56 to 0.64, which Pat says are pretty high for this kind of study) between the following statements:
- “Reading blogs makes my experience seem more normal.”
- “Reading blogs tells me what it is like to be a woman scientist.”
- “I feel more connected to other women scientists.”
- “I find a greater variety of role models than I find in my real life.”
These four statements were also correlated (r = 0.44 to 0.46) with an increased interest in a career in academia, but not correlated with increased interest in a career in industry. (That is, women geoscientists who find role models by reading blogs say that reading blogs makes them more interested in academic careers; women who don’t find role models by reading blogs are less interested in academic careers.)
In order to tease out the reason for the differences between interest in academic versus industry careers, we looked at the responses to the four correlated questions from four different groups of women blog-readers: students, faculty, women in industry, and women in government:
In general, women students tended to agree with all four questions – in fact, none of the women students strongly disagreed with any of them. There was more variation in the responses from women faculty, but the responses still leaned towards agreement. Women in industry, on the other hand, had a much more mixed response to those four questions. And women in government tended to disagree more than they agreed with them.
So what’s going on? We’ve got some possible explanations.
One possibility that academia is simply better represented in blogs. Out of the women geoscientists who blog, there were 11 faculty, 6 students, 6 women in industry, and 5 women in government. Amongst the women blog-readers who responded to our survey, there were 24 faculty, 28 students, 15 women in industry, and 11 women in government. In addition, there are many academic women-in-science blogs written by women in other fields (or who don’t specify their field). Maybe women in industry or government don’t see their experience represented amongst all those academics. If that’s the case, I wonder what that means for minority women in the geoblogosphere. If 11 women in government don’t see their experiences reflected, what about the one or two or five African American or Latina or American Indian or Asian American women geoscientists who are reading blogs? Do social groups on the internet need some kind of critical mass before they can help people stay in science?
On the other hand, maybe academia has a worse climate for women than industry or government do. Many of the industries that hire geoscientists are cyclical – either they need geoscientists (and lots of them), or they don’t. The supply of students tends to lag behind the demand in industry, and right now both the petroleum and mining industries are hiring. Maybe during times of high demand for geoscientists, industry can’t discriminate without hurting itself.*
Or maybe industry and government are forced to follow anti-discrimination laws in ways that academia isn’t. It’s difficult to prove discrimination in promotion and tenure decisions, and as for trying to prove it in grant review or acceptance of papers – good luck.
Or maybe the importance of “reputation” in academia makes subtle discrimination more prevalent than in industry or government.
We don’t know the answers to those questions (and we’re curious what blog-readers think of our possible explanations). But we did leave the audience with a few take-home messages:
- Women geoscientists participate in larger blogging communities
- Blogs can be useful for sharing experiences and finding role models
- Women-in-science blogging helps academics
- But what about people whose experiences aren’t reflected? (Minorities, people with disabilities, non-trad paths?)
* I think I got that argument from reading Milton Friedman for a political class during my freshman year of college. But it’s been 24 years, and I don’t have the book any more, so maybe not.