Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

Note: I have been gone, but I have some things to say, and this is a forum where I have lots of space (unlike Twitter), so I will use this space to collect my thoughts. Maybe they will be helpful to you again, as a refresher, or for the first time. Enjoy – or not. You don’t have to read it.

I am getting nervous. In less than two weeks, I am walking into a classroom in a new university, a new department, and a course I have never prepared before. I am having nightmares – stress dreams – about teaching. I have had two already where I walk into class without my syllabus or anything on the first day. Those dreams definitely kicked me in the pants to get on top of my syllabus. Syllabus done – check – so we definitely have something to do on the first day. Nightmares subsiding.

After the learning goals, calendar for the class, and syllabus, I think about my teaching team. This semester, I have a small class, and will have 0.5 teaching assistants assigned to me to help with grading and teaching. At my new school, the TA has assigned office ours in a general learning space (awesome!) so they can help any student who comes in. Also, unlike my old university, the TA is responsible for a recitation or discussion session each week for the class – DOUBLE AWESOME! But, also a lot of responsibility for this person. Honestly, I am not sure what to recommend for this person. Please comment if you have suggestions.

Apart from that, I have some pretty clear ideas for how I would like my TA to work with me in the class. Each year, I write a set of expectations for the TA, and we meet to discuss it in person before the class starts. It somehow gets longer every year – mostly due to prior failures making me realize that I need more information. Here is what I say:

Physics 216 is the second physics course in the physics major and many of the students are freshmen. This is an exciting course because not only do we get to introduce the students to the world of physics, but we also help to set the tone for their career in the department for the next 4-5 years. Please take a look at the syllabus to get the information on the course and the expectations and notes I wrote for the students. Also, send me edits, when you find errors or typos!

As with many of our courses, the students have a variety of backgrounds. Some have passed out of Calculus I and II, some are taking it concurrently. I will be going over a lot of the math in class, but many will know it already. The diversity in their math skills and background makes teaching physics courses challenging.

For the graduate TAs: This is a HALF TEACHING ASSIGNMENT, so I expect you will need to put in 7-8 hours per week most weeks for this assignment. There may be weeks with more time (exam weeks). There will be weeks with less. The active learning class is Tuesday and Thursday 12:30 – 1:50 pm, and I expect you to be there during the class. This will be a bit less than 3 hours per week. There will be some grading of the daily warm-ups and in class work; this is basically graded on participation. There is also one long-answer homework problem that needs to be graded each week. All the grading should take only about an hour each week. You will also need to run a recitation for the class for one hour per week and the typical, required two hours per week in the Physics Clinic, which will serve as your office hours.

Expectations: I expect you to be respectful of the students and coach them in their learning. You are not to do the work for them. Coaches instruct and guide – they do not teach by doing it for the student. In class and discussion section, encourage the students to work together and to get up and try it on the boards. Please approach the students with the mindset that they can learn from failure. Failure is nothing to be afraid of and will ultimately help them to succeed, as long as they learn from their mistakes. Many cultures and societies associate failures with shame, and this stigma inhibits learning. I would like you to encourage a positive, growth mindset around failure, so that students take risks with their learning.

I enjoy teaching in a team atmosphere. If you want to make a change, notice good or bad things in the class, or have other suggestions, please let me know. I will likely ask for a 15 minute debrief each week, so we are on the same page about the class, schedule, materials, and students. Please let me know when a good time for these weekly meetings is, so we can put it in our calendars.

Your job is to:

  • Let me know all your information including your office location, office number, and email address. I will put this information on the syllabus.
  • This course is an active, team-based learning course. The students will do physics every day in the class. So, you will need to be there for every class. In the class, you will walk around and help students with their group work. There are about 10 students right now, but I am hoping a few more students might come into the class.
  • Office Hours: My office hours will be in the evening of Mondays (5-6:30pm) and Tuesdays (7-8:30pm). Not all students will be able to make those times, so it would be good to have additional times with someone familiar with the class. I will let students know when your scheduled times in the Physics Clinic are, so that they can come to you specifically. I will likely call these your “office hours” because that is the language I am used to using. Please let me know as soon as possible what time your office hours are, so that I can inform the students on the syllabus and Blackboard page.
  • Grading: There are two main types of assignments for this class: homework and in-class work. The homework is mostly online, using a system called I will get you a free account, so you can see what the students are watching for videos, what the problems look like, and their homework, so you can help them. The daily, in-class work will be organized for each group in a folder assigned to that group. The work will be distributed and picked up using that folder. Graded work should also be distributed in the folder.
    1. Homework: The students have three kinds of homework: Online Prelecture videos and quizzes in FlipItPhysics (, online long-answer questions in FlipItPhysics, and long-format written homework. The online assignments are automatically graded online.

The one long-answer question per week is the one that I would like you to grade. Please write a complete solution to the problem that I can scan and post to the website. Using your solution, please assign and distribute 10 points to the problem to use it as a rubric for the grading. Using your rubric, please grade the long-answer questions. If you find that many students are missing large sections of the solution you think should be there – resulting in missing points for correct answers, come to see me. We can discuss if the students need to show those steps or not. In general, I would prefer for students to demonstrate all their thought processes in writing. If you have questions about the grading or for a particular homework many students are doing poorly, please come to talk to me.

You might find that the students have worked out a different solution than yours. This is an awesome part of physics, but it can be a pain for grading. If there is a different solution, which is correct, please make a new rubric for that solution, so that students can earn points for their correct answer.

In general, when grading, please treat the students how you would want to be treated. Use your rubric and add helpful comments if they had a conceptual error or just a minor math mistake. Strive to be fair and coach them.

  1. In class work: In addition to homework, there are two other types of in-class work that need grades recorded: warm-up problems and daily group work. The warm-ups will be slips of paper where students will work on logic puzzles, basic math, or other problems. The daily group work will be worksheets for students to work on together in class. Since the class meets twice per week, there will be two of these each week. These will both need grades from you.

When grading these in class assignments, you will not need to grade for accuracy – please just grade for participation. Did the students make an attempt to complete the problems? Did all the group members put their name on the sheet? The grade should mostly depend on if the students completed the assignment. Sometimes it might be too much for some students or groups to complete in the class, so it doesn’t need to be fully complete, but it does need to be attempted. Each week, you will be responsible for collecting and grading the in-class work.

  • Grade Records: After grading the work and before returning it to me, you must record the grades of every person in an Excel spreadsheet.
    1. Save the spreadsheet as P216-S2020-MM-DD.xls, where the MM-DD is the date in (MM = month as a two-digit number, and DD = day as a two-digit number).
    2. Every week, open up the last spreadsheet and put in the new grades.
    3. Then, save the spreadsheet with a new name with the new date. Send the spreadsheet to me, and I will save it, too.
    4. By the end of the semester, we will both have numerous spreadsheets all saved. By saving multiple copies, we are less likely to lose the grade data. Losing the grades is very bad, so this method will allow us to not have this problem. Also, it will keep us organized each week.
    5. I will not use the online gradebook. I cannot make it work, and I absolutely hate it. If you want to put the grades into Blackboard, we can discuss how best to do this, but I have never been successful with it in the past and cannot guarantee success this year.
  • Recitation/Discussion Session: This is the first year for me to have a TA who runs a recitation section. I would like to discuss with you how you want to run this session, and what you want the students to learn there. Do you want it to be review? Do you want to lecture? Do you want it to be enrichment – doing harder problems with more challenges? Do you prefer to let them work on homework in groups and solve problems? Let’s sit down and discuss, and we will make a plan, and I will re-write this.
  • Exams: This course has three midterm exams and a final. They will be long answer. I will proctor them in class and grade them myself.

Midterm Exam Dates:

Thursday, February 13th, in class

Thursday, March 12th, in class

Thursday, April 23rd, in class

Final Exam Date (subject to change) :

Tuesday, May 5th, 3-5pm, in classroom

All exams are cumulative. It might be useful to hold extra office hours during the week of the exams. Please let me know if you are doing this, so I can announce it. Hopefully, we will be able to respond to the students who need it.

  • Substitute for me in class. There will be times when I am away to give talks or due to illness. During those times, you will be required to fill-in for me in class. I will give you the warm-ups and daily work copies for the class before, so that you will be able to run the class the same way I usually do.
  • Pay attention. If you notice a student having a particularly hard time or not attending class, please let me know as soon as possible. I will attempt to contact the student and make a meeting. Developmentally, college-age students can suffer from depression or anxiety – often for the first time ever. It often manifests as missed classes or assignments. If a student is struggling in this way, we have an obligation to reach out.
  • Wise criticism. Please grade and offer advise using wise criticism. This means to let the student know that you think they can do it, show them what they got wrong, and offer suggestions for improvement. The most important part is letting them know that you have confidence in their ability to learn the material and that failing is not a bad thing – especially in class. In fact, it is better if you can see them while they make a mistake, so you can help them see it. For instance, if they are struggling with dividing fractions, be specific about the criticism, so they can improve. Do not offer general platitudes or passive aggressive comments.
  • Harassment. Harassment or bullying will not be tolerated in the class. People need to feel free to try and fail in order to learn. If you see someone treating students or students treating each other in a negative way that affects someone else’s learning, please let me know as soon as possible. I will address the situation. If one of the groups is not working at all, please let me know, so I can adjust them.

So, what do you think about this? Do you do something similar? What am I missing? I’d love to hear from you with suggestions or edits. Feel free to comment below.

Get Out – part 2

SHirleyJacksonThis post is part 2 of an N-part (where N is an integer > 1) series of stories of systematic bias I have directly observed over the past year. These stories detail mechanisms in academia to systematically remove women and under-represented minorities from the academy. Women like Dr. Shirley Jackson (pictured here). Do you want to tell Shirley Jackson to get out? No? Well, awesome! Please read on.

Why to read on:

  • If these things have happened to you, know you are not alone. In sharing these stories, I hope people can learn that “it’s not you, it’s them,” and it isn’t fair. Recognizing when bias is happening to you is important to help you fight it for yourself and for others.
  • If you are an ally, learn about these tactics, so you can combat them. I know that these stories are hard to hear. Just think if you had to live them and put up with this every day. If you really want to help under-repressed people, you need to know when bias is happening and speak up when you can do something.

Today’s tale is about how women and minorities are removed at the professor level. I have seen this trick several times; I could literally write a manual for how to do it. It is especially saddening when they complain about the “leaky pipeline” and not having enough women and minorities in the supply line. Sometimes that just isn’t true! Sometimes there are perfectly good women in front of you, and you say no to them. Here are some of the tricks (part of the manual) that keep women and minorities out of the professoriate (I am going to use she, but you can read as any minority you want).

How to keep women and minorities from getting a job in your department:

  1.  During a one-on-one conversation with the minority candidate, ask a very confusing science question. Something like, “The sky is orange, right?” This is a “gotcha” question meant to put the candidate in a very difficult position. How does a minority candidate answer that question? Does she tell the white male, cis professor that he was mistaken? Does she try to convince him that he misspoke? Either way, it is a losing endeavor for her. When the minority candidate doesn’t “answer” this “question” the way expected, make sure to tell the hiring committee that she “Doesn’t know her own science, and couldn’t possibly be hired to the department.” See, in order to be a professor of X science, one needs to be proficient in X science. This is the most common way I have seen people remove women and minorities. It is super easy for other men to believe that a woman or minority doesn’t know whatever science, especially when it is physical science or engineering. I mean, they just don’t “look” like they would know what they are talking about. You might ask, does she have a PHD in X science? The answer is yes. She often also has had a postdoc in X and sometimes she is already a professor of X. Despite all these accreditations, the single, in person assessment of the candidate’s skills becomes more important than all the prior work. This will be a recurring motif (keep reading).
  2. When asking a question, expect an answer to a completely different question. When the minority candidate doesn’t answer the unarticulated question in your head, tell the committee she avoided the question and therefore must not know the answer.
  3. Ask a question in the seminar about the science being shown. Make sure your question appears to be somewhat silly and motivated by not listening to the candidate’s talk. Instead, consider your question is a “qualifier” question – literally the type of question from a qualifying exam. When the candidate doesn’t answer the question as expected, assume she does not know the answer to the qualifying exam question, and therefore “doesn’t know science X.” (See 1 above.)
  4. Ask a real question about science in the candidate’s seminar. Make sure that you once thought about this problem peripherally, but it isn’t your main line of work. Assess that the candidate, who is an expert on the science she is presenting, doesn’t describe the science the way you remember it, or think it should be described. You tell the committee that she couldn’t answer the question properly, and therefore doesn’t know enough about her own science, and shouldn’t be considered further. Or, go one step further, and ask the closest related expert in the audience for his, “expert opinion,” that way, everyone at the seminar will know that you don’t think much of the candidate or her answer.

Notice a theme? It all boils down to questioning the competence of the candidate, and the fact that many scientists rate this as the NUMBER 1 requirement to be a professor. Any misstep, any misspeak, any inability to decipher the question causes the faculty interviewing the candidate to say the minority candidate doesn’t know her stuff, and shouldn’t be hired. Even more frustrating is that the non-minority candidates often make the exact same mistakes, but the missteps are brushed off or glossed over and excused as the misspoken words they are. This is actually fine – I don’t begrudge that the non-minorities have common courtesy. What I mind is when that courtesy isn’t afforded to the minority candidates.

How can we change this? I think the first issue is that it is really hard to combat this type of thing on the fly. It would be much better if the hiring committee and department decided, in advance, how important knowledge of the field is? Is it enough to be able to teach undergraduates? What parts of the field are required to be known and at what level to be a professor? Further, what is the best way to assess this? Is is fair to ask the candidates all random questions and brush off difficulties of non-minority candidates while we focus and inflate those of minority candidates. If you want to ask a qualifier question, at least it should be asked of all candidates, it should be a clear question, and it should be judged equally. Personally, I think asking qualifier questions is dumb and will cause us to lose out on awesome candidates. Many excellent candidates would be offended by getting a PHD-level qualifier question. But at least it would be more fair than what is happening now. Either way, a conversation a priori about the importance and weight of this knowledge should occur.

More important to think about beforehand: is knowledge of all aspects of the field (assuming all candidates have a basic level of knowledge because they do have PHDs) the most important thing? I would argue that the ability to learn more science is a more important thing to assess, and it is the skill a professor actually needs. Further, based on my years and on many of these blog posts, knowledge of your field is not sufficient to be a good professor – let alone a great one. How can we assess the real skills a professor needs? Flexibility? Empathy? Change or growth mindset? Perseverance? Honestly, new faculty are going to get a lot of rejections – will he/she be able to bounce back? I would claim a minority candidate is much more likely to be able to take a hit and keep on going than someone who had very few struggles to make it this far.

Ironically, it is the diversity of thought, which many of these candidates show, that turns off my colleagues. Yet diversity of thought is exactly what we need in the department. Why do we need diversity of thought and people who think differently? Well, first there is the fact that we do science – a creative endeavor – and creative tasks are stymied when everyone thinks the same way. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we are teachers, and teachers need to be flexible and able to explain things in more than one way. To me, the diversity of thought displayed by minority candidates is EXACTLY what we need to be better educators… Sadly, many people don’t see things this way.

Well, there you go. A second story. I am looking for practical methods to combat this in action (in case the a priori decisions about weights don’t happen). Do you have any ideas? If you do have some ideas for how a department can get over themselves to allow some available, awesome minority candidates to actually get a fair shake, please comment here. Or, send me a post. I will happily post anything helpful for this problem. To get an email every time I post, please click the +Follow button.

Keep out! – part 1

keep-out-restricted-area-sign-s-2455Do you find yourself wondering why there aren’t more women, black, Latino, etc… students in science? I don’t wonder. I know why. They are constantly and systematically being removed from science at every level every day. I knew this. I have felt this, but this year it has hit me in the face over and over, and I am really just sick of it. Literally sick to my stomach.

Over the next few posts, I am going to outline some of the behaviors I have observed that keep women and minorities out of STEM fields. My first story just happened this week – yes, it is only Tuesday!

Like many other faculty, I have undergraduate and graduate students in my lab. I love them, as I have posted previously (here). One of the things that often happens is that the undergraduates have fun in the lab, and want to share their experiences with their friends. They invite their friends to the lab to see their experiments and meet their lab-mates. Often they meet me, and I get another undergraduate application (I have an application to work in my lab, detailed here). Many times they are also in science, and they appreciate the lab space and equipment we have.

This week, I was told that I can’t have other students hanging out in my lab. I have been at my institution for 11 years. I have never had an issue with students visiting and hanging out in the lab or nearby offices. I was wondering why all of the sudden I was getting crap for this. Then it hit me, I have a lot of students of color in my lab – black, Latino, African decent, etc… Many of these students also have friends who are black, Latino, African, etc… Now, all of the sudden, these extra students hanging around the lab have become very, very visible.

I guess I can’t say for sure if it is outright racism, but I can’t help but feel that they were “noticed” not just because they were black but because there is an assumption that they “didn’t belong there.” The excuse I was given was that they didn’t have safety training, and it would be a liability to have them in the lab. I asked if they could sit in the office space next to the lab, and was told it would disturb the other students.

Stupidly, I felt like I didn’t have a choice. At lab meeting that afternoon, we talked about it. I didn’t feel comfortable with it. I could tell my students were also bummed. As we discussed, I said, “if the problem is that they don’t have safety training, we should just have all our friends get safety training.” But, this solution didn’t sit well with me.

The next day, when the friends came by, my student asked them to leave. Of course, they wanted to know why. Luckily, I was there shortly to discuss. The visiting student came by my office, and we chatted. I knew this student was also a science student. It turns out he already had lab safety training because he had worked in labs before. We also talked about his background. Turns out he is a veteran, at university on the G.I. bill after serving his country for 6 years. I told him he was more than welcome in the lab, and if anyone had a problem, they could talk to me.

That evening, I was still upset. I was upset that I let someone tell me how to run my lab. I was upset that my students of color were being made to feel bad about having their friends around. I was mad that this happened because of systemic racism and the thought that people of color “shouldn’t be in a science lab.” I called my department head to ask what the “official policy” of the department was. He said, that probably we are not allowed to have untrained people in labs, but that he (not speaking as chair, but as a colleague) always allowed and encouraged students to bring their friends into the lab. I said that I felt the same way, but that my students were being unfairly singled out because they were black. I told him that I planned to allow these students to continue to be in the lab, and that if someone from the department reported them or me, that now he had a heads up about what was happening. He agreed but said he would stop by to make sure they were not being too disruptive to others. (This irked me, too, but I didn’t want to push my luck – I had already called his personal line in the evening to discuss this.) I promised him they were not loud or disruptive. In fact, the loudest person in the lab is often ME! (Anyone who knows me will not doubt this.) To the contrary, they are amazing and smart kids. They kinds of students anyone would want dating their own children – not to mention in the lab. Further, I know all of them personally and have had several mentoring conversations with each of them. I consider them my own students, and I don’t appreciate being told that they cannot be in the lab.

During this conversation with my department head, I remembered a story of when I was a graduate student. I was in a university that had an institute that held workshops with visitors from around the world. This was one of the benefits of being a graduate student at this school. There was a policy that graduate students could attend lectures but not meals unless they paid for the meeting. The graduate students argued that we wanted to be apart of meals because that was when a lot of networking and important scientific conversations happened. We promised to bring our own food, and the scientific leadership agreed. The information didn’t make it to the administrative assistants (all women) right away, so the first time we went in, they tried to stop the local graduate students. Well, to be clear – they only tried to stop ME. That was because I was the most conspicuous. All the local graduate student men mixed in and looked like all the visiting scholars and visiting students. Only I was conspicuously “wrong” and looked like I “didn’t belong there,” so I was told to leave while all my male colleagues went in… Of course I complained. I made it clear that I was singled out because I was a woman – a blonde woman – and “didn’t look right.” The science leadership allowed me to pass and made the new policy clear to the staff. I am sad to feel that almost 15 years later the same thing is still happening to students at my current institution. But, I won’t stop fighting. I might not always get it right at first, but I try. I hope my students don’t hold it against me that it took me a day to figure it out.

A lot of times my posts are meant to have some sort of follow-up with ideas for how to solve problems, but this post and the next few posts will be to open people’s eyes about the things that happen to under-represented groups in STEM and why they might not exactly want to stay to work in these environments.

Award Season!

Yellow Ribbon Award isolated on white backgroundDear All,

Just a reminder that it is awards season – time to be nominating your woman and under-representented minority friends, colleagues, peers for awards, fellowship, etc. Please see this recent OpEd in the APS News: Back Page to see some numbers on the problem with the supplement on another blog in case you think that a bunch of women can’t possibly have done the statistics correctly. Please read before you ask. Seriously.

Please do:

  • nominate deserving women and minorities. Do you realize the crap we go through just to get here. We are super qualified. Nominate us.
  • ask people to nominate you and help them put together your nomination.

Please don’t:

  • pre-judge yourself and decide not to do it based on your self-doubt. Let them tell you know, and it is an honor to be nominated at all (link). There is no perfect time when you are “ready” and if the committee things you are not ready, then fine – let them decide for themselves. Yes, they are likely to have biases, but a lot of times they are looking for qualified women to award things to, and there are zero women in the pool. Further, having multiple women in a pool is important for getting any other woman to win (see this cool article). So, consider that your nomination might help yourself, and it might help someone else!!
  • only nominate women and minorities for women and minority awards! This is infuriating. I have been told from my department that I shouldn’t try for a general award, but should wait and only apply for women-only awards. I do think these awards are important (link), but I certainly don’t think it helps to only allow women or minorities to those awards! Duh.
  • pre-judge people who ask to be nominated. If you are an ally who is looking to help women, please don’t discourage. I know it is tempting to think, “why should they get an award, and not me?” or even, “well, they aren’t *that* good,” but don’t. Even if you genuinely think someone asking or someone you are considering is “not ready,” remember it is an honor to be nominated. It will make your friend, colleague, department, field of study, etc look good – just to be nominated (link). One of the biggest issues is that women are not nominated, so obviously cannot win awards, fellowships, etc. Please turn down your criticism knob. Please turn up your optimism knob. And help!

OK, so I hope you get out there, put in some hard work, and help your fellow scientist or engineer to get nominated for any and all awards.

Sequins_macroToday I have a cool post from another WomanOfScience. It is once again on clothing choice, which is difficult to decide for many women, and is becoming more confusing for young men, as well. I have had a number of prior posts about clothes (here, here, herehere, here, here – OMG, that is so many!), but I really love this one!  Thank you for your post!

Our department’s Women’s group has been having a discussion today about femininity in STEM professions. Many women feel they need to masculinize themselves in order to be taken seriously. This seems like a great forum to continue this discussion and hear the perspectives of other brilliant and successful women scientists.
My view is that this presents a three-fold problem in attempts to achieve equality in STEM professions. On one hand, it sends a message to young women that they have to check their femininity at the door — they shouldn’t wear dresses or makeup. This discourages young girls from wanting to be part of this field because a significant part of their identity is manifestly not valued at best and unwanted, or deemed inappropriate, at the worst.
Worse than sending the message to the next generation that they are unwanted is that current students, postdocs and faculty may feel that they have to deny part of themselves for the sake of their careers. That can wreak havoc on the mental state of women and deeply impacts their career satisfaction. Feeling that they are not accepted and have not community, no support system, is one of the leading reasons women leave STEM careers.
At the highest levels, making people feel like outsiders for not being white or male or western reinforces a dangerous stereotype that there is only one “correct” point of view in science. That leaves no room for creativity or thinking outside the box. How many of your biggest breakthroughs have come from tiny iterations on a single project? None of mine have. They all require creativity, ingenuity, hard work and moreover taking many other perspectives into account. When we dictate the singular validity of an established point of view, we negate the insights and perspectives to be had from listening to women and minorities. A broad diversity of backgrounds leads to better critical thinking. Yet, the insular culture of the status quo suppresses the very essence of what makes for good science.
Having role models who feel the need to cloister their femininity, nullify their gender, or conform to other people’s ideals does not bode well for the future of women in STEM.
As some of you know, I am unabashedly, unashamedly feminine. I wear dresses, stilettos, makeup and perfume. I do it because it is who I am and that makes me feel good about myself. I get a secret kick out of being a science version of that famous quote about Ginger Rogers “sure he [Fred Astaire] was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did…backwards and in high heels”.
I know that sometimes people don’t take me seriously. That is sad, but ultimately their loss because they won’t be able to appreciate good work that has been done by someone with a different background. The flip side is that me being me is something that resonates with my female students, particularly in my intro physics for engineers course. They get to see someone who isn’t much older than them and looks like them confidently doing physics and calculus in front of them, and they realize that despite what they’ve been told in high school, perhaps they too can succeed and do well. Female students have come to me in my office hours saying that they had expected they couldn’t do better than a middle B, but we’re thrilled that they had earned an A. The best part is I get to see the confidence they have in themselves growing over the semester.
I am by no means advocating that everyone be ultra feminine. What I am advocating is to inject a bit of your personality into your work uniform — wear a bright color, that funky pair of shoes you only wear on special occasions, some cool science earrings, or any article of clothing or jewelry that you love. The confidence that comes from being happier and more yourself sets a great example for your students and colleagues.
Thanks for that insightful post! I wholeheartedly agree. One idea is that we can stick to discussions of “professional” attire. I think we can all agree that it would be inappropriate to wear a bikini to give a talk at a conference! So, there must be a line somewhere, and that line is different depending on what you are doing that day, who you are talking to, and the venue.
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1160px-Eleanor_Roosevelt_receiving_the_Mary_McLeod_Bethune_Human_Rights_Award_from_Dorothy_Height,_president_of_the_National..._-_NARA_-_196283Hey Ya’ll, It’s Awards Season! As I do every year at this time (post, post, post, post), I am going to remind you to nominate women and minorities for awards at your favorite society. This year, I am writing to remind you that

It’s an Honor to be Nominated!

What am I sending you this public service announcement? Because in my discussions with women and awards committees, a number of women who are thinking of nominating other women or being nominated have asked me, “Are others applying? Maybe I shouldn’t…” To that I say, “Pshaw!”

I know what they are thinking. They think, “Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I shouldn’t compete against other women. What if my nomination keeps another awesome woman from winning?” But taking yourself out of the running does not help yourself or the other women. Here is my justification:

  1. Just being nominated is an honor. Whether you ask to be nominated and someone agrees or they decide to nominate you out of the blue, if they are taking the time and energy to get a set of letters together for you, it is an honor.
  2. There is no downside to being nominated. When you are nominated, you get to put together a packet where nice people agree to write nice letters about you. That packet is read by a fancy committee of fancy people. Even if they think you don’t have the strongest packet, just being nominated means they will learn your name, learn what you do, and recognize you later. Sounds like a win-win situation.
  3. Who cares what the odds are? Let’s think about probability. If you don’t apply, your odds of winning are a big fat ZERO. Even if 100 people apply (which isn’t likely for most awards), you still have at least a 1 in 100 chance of winning, which is better than zero. If you have a nice packet written by nice people, maybe the odds are even better. Finally, the odds of your packet being read is 100% (see #2 above).
  4. Women can support other women in a pool. I am a firm believer that when multiple women and minorities are present in a pool of applicants, that can subconsciously make women more appealing. In fact, there was a non-scientific initial study in Harvard Business Review that says just this for hiring. So, don’t worry that you might be competing with other women for an award! In fact, your application might be the tipping point that normalizes women being in the pool. Your contribution may be to enable another women to win… Or, their contribution might be to help you to win.

So, what do you think? Are you convinced? You’ve got 5 days until May 1 (if that is the due date for your awards). Get on it! Nominate someone for an award! Comment or post. Push the +Follow button to get an email every time I post.

In Bathroom News!

2016-10-18-15-55-27In bathroom news this week, the crazy potties (see picture) have been replaced by regular potties in my building! See my previous post about these crazy potties.

Actually it happened a few weeks ago, and the women in my lab are overjoyed. I was so excited about the change, I made an announcement in my department faculty meeting. I was actually curious as to how the change came about. My department business manager and space manager knew nothing about the change. My chair had no idea. Was it my dean, who reads this blog? If so, thank you!!

At faculty meeting, many of the men were surprised that there were urinals in the women’s rooms. At which point, I tried to explain that they were urinals for women. We even found an advertisement from the sixties trying to say that they were hygienic and women loved them! so they should be installed in all bathrooms for women. This is a great example of why you need women’s voices at all stages and levels: engineers, architects, administrators who make decisions. No woman would even have bought these for other women!

My colleagues then disclosed that some of the men’s restrooms also have them, and they thought they were weird… It turns out that in the other building (my department is split into two buildings – soon to be three), the men’s rooms and women’s rooms are on every other floor. Sometimes they are flipped due disability accommodations or other issues, and so it seems that many of the men’s rooms also have women’s urinals in them.

As funny, fascinating, and weird as this conversation was, my bringing this up allowed another faculty to broach the subject of gender-neutral bathrooms in our buildings. With the number of openly transgender students who feel comfortable enough to make the transition in college and grad school, having gender-neutral bathrooms is very important for inclusion and diversity that students have a place to go to the bathroom where they feel safe and comfortable. We were asked about where they were in my building. Thank goodness someone (not me, but one of my white-male allies) knew where they were. I was just happy we had them! Thanks to this faculty member, we were all made aware of the location.

Even better, the location is catalogued on the website of one of our diversity websites on campus, so students can look them up in each building and find them. I used one this week, because I teach on the same hall, and they are the only bathrooms in that part of the building. They are nice – one stall, single sink, outer door that locks.

Next steps: putting up signs to let people know where they are. But, where to put them? On the gender separated bathrooms? Around the building? On my office door? Any comments or suggestions will be greatly appreciated! Post here.

And that is all for the Bathroom News this week! Push the +Follow button to get an email every time I post.

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