I just wanna hurl chunks right now at fellow Sb’er Chad, who writes Uncertain Principles. Chad wrote this foolish entry about the so-called pipeline problem of women in physics. Which just goes to show that even an advanced degree in physics is no guarantee you won’t have your head up your ass now and then.
The gist of Chad’s post seems to be that, since he is a nice guy, it is awfully unfair of unnamed personnages to go about bashing physics profs for their bad behavior vis-a-vis women, especially since most of his colleagues on the faculty are also nice guys. Here’s the whiny end of his post:
If you want to improve the gender balance in physics, beating up college professors isn’t the answer. We can’t be responsible for driving women out of the field if they never take our classes in the first place. The problem starts somewhere before college, and that’s where the effort to fix it needs to be directed.
I beg to differ most vigorously with Chad. You can read my comment on his post to see just why. You can also continue reading below for more on why Chad is woefully misguided.
Physics professors can, indeed, be responsible for driving young women out of the field before they even take their classes. When they teach science or math to non-majors, they can either spark an interest in a student or completely turn a student off of science and math forever. You wouldn’t believe how many undergraduate women learn to hate physics in just this manner.
Physics professors can also be responsible for recruiting young women into the field before they ever take their classes. They can volunteer at workshops and summer camps and other outreach programs for middle school and high school girls. They can work with the Girl Scouts on science activities and boost young girls’ interest in science careers. They can act as judges at science fairs and encourage the young girls who participate. They can attend parent-teacher meetings and be involved in local schools to make sure that science, math, and computer teachers are teaching equitably in the classrooms, and that young girls are not being shortchanged in these important pipeline classes. They can be involved with their colleagues in the school of education to make sure that teacher training is topnotch, to give interested teachers a chance at more in-depth explorations of science. They can provide summer research opportunities for community teachers, to help them sharpen and refresh their science skills.
In short, there are a million things that should be going on at the college level that have nothing to do with young girls themselves, but have everything to do with the behavior of college professors. And here I am talking about three kinds of behavior.
- The absence of harassing or discriminatory behavior – behaving like a decent human being.
- The awareness of how unconscious bias operates in situations where evaluation or decision-making takes place – behaving proactively to counteract it.
- The promotion of a positive climate for young girls and women in science – participation in outreach programs, lobbying for institutional transformation initiatives, being an advocate for women’s issues in the profession at large.
If you are not doing ANY of these things, if you are just sitting back in your office, doing your research, teaching your one little intro class and congratulating yourself because you didn’t drive all the women students away, then get out of my face and stop wasting your breath and internet electrons telling people they shouldn’t complain about professors.
Chad, there’s a set of photos rotating on your department’s home page. One is a picture of 5 cheery white males in the physics honor society. Poor Emily Ulanski didn’t make it into the picture. TAKE A NEW PICTURE!!!!! Two others show solitary males. One shows the graduating class in cap and gown – here we get males and females, this is good. In the one photo I saw where there were actually more females than males in the photo, they were photographed on a balcony overlooking water and a sunset – in Maui, at a conference. There were several photos of equipment with no people, some photos of men with equipment. But in the 10 or 15 tests I tried, NO photo came up of a woman or women with equipment. NET: women elided from honor society photo, women in soft focus in Maui sunset, women absent from equipment photos, more men photos than women photos, men-only in equipment photos. This is not good. This stamps your department in a subtle way as male-dominated and sends a message that gets read, no matter what explicit message you think you are sending. Students today overwhelmingly use the internet in the college search process and I and my colleagues have demonstrated (see papers under Franks, Suzanne) that welcoming and inclusive websites can make a difference. So, yes, you can drive them away before they ever take a class from you.
You have a faculty search going on in your department. What are you doing to make sure that it is conducted in a fair and equitable manner, that it reaches out to find the most diverse group of candidates possible? Will it really be a search committee, or just an envelope-opening committee? You have three women on your faculty and staff page, none of whom are full professors, one of whom is a technical secretary. Still, 2 of 11 full-time faculty lines (not counting adjunct and visiting professors and staff) is not too bad. Not great, but not bad.
Chad, are you familiar with the results of the study of women in science and engineering at Union College that I found on your university’s website? Have you done anything to help lobby for a Women in Science program? Are you familiar with Union president’s remarks to the Union College Alumni on October 22, 2005:
Union wants to have 50% women within the student body, and especially wants more women in science and engineering. Union is continuing to work on attracting more members of underrepresented minority groups to our student body…Union should be an oasis of civility in an uncivil world.
Maybe you would like to email the president and let him know that you think “The bigger problem, though, is that the focus on the college level really misses the point.” Or not. I think there’s a lot of work that even a nice physics professor could be doing in your department.