Saturday, March 31, 2007

The next chapter from ?AA? U

Recall the whole denial of interview-affirmative action saga we have going on, including the follow up email sent Thursday morning to find out why I hadn't heard anything. Thursday afternoon I got a voice mail from the AA director basically saying that she was looking into it and would get back to me. Friday afternoon I got a voice mail and then an email from the department chair. He offered a long and circuitous explanation of their search process, which apparently is still on-going - one that may or may not contain the correct story and that fails to explain why they denied me an interview if the search is still open. The chair's email concludes with an invitation to interview and a request to call him on Monday.So basically, they are giving me an interview because I complained to Affirmative Action - although they aren't going to come out and say that.

Is this proof that the affirmative action system works? Will they give me the interview and then proceed to not hire me because nobody really wants a complaining bitch as a colleague? Will they hire me no matter how the interview goes because the university is afraid of legal consequences if they don't? Do I even want to work in an environment where they are either so clueless or so biased that it takes a complaint to get them to do the right thing? Is it worth the time, effort, money, and sanity to fly across the country for an interview at this place? (My last interview cost us $800 (for fish's plane ticket), two days of lost work for fish, and exposed minnow to enough germs to give her a cold at 4 weeks old.) What would you do if you were in my position?

I should add that two things will happen on Monday morning before I talk with anyone at ?AA? U. First, I'll call the chair at Mystery U and find out what in the world is going on with their search. (I'd accept an offer there easily.) Second, I'll talk to my advisor, who apparently met the department chair at ?AA? U a few weeks ago. Maybe my advisor will have some good advice for me in this situation.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

this morning's sent messages

To department chair, mystery U.:
Could give me an update on the status of your search? I suspect
that you have offered the position to someone else, and if so, I hope that they
make an excellent addition to your department. I remain interested in the
position, and I hope to hear from you soon.

To AA director, ?AA? U:
I wrote to you over two weeks ago with a report of gender-based discrimination
during the faculty search in the Department of XXX. While I do not seek personal compensation, I would like an acknowledgment that my letter was received and is being treated seriously. If I
do not receive some response from you within the next week, I feel it will be necessary for me to send my letter on to other members of the ?AA? U administration.
ETA: just got a voice mail from AA...

To Earthmama:
Playdate, tomorrow afternoon? My house or yours?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New banner/background color

Comments sought. How's the readability?

From the inbox

(Minnow is sleeping in her own bed! All by herself! I'm staying up past my bedtime because I'm just so excited to have some freedom! I'll regret it (and the use of so many exclamation marks) tomorrow!)

Occasionally I get correspondence asking me to promote something, write about a news story, or even seeking advice. I thought I'd do a bit of a in-box dump here and dispense with a bunch of it at once.
From a correspondent (altered for anonymity):
"I have a daughter who is currently majoring in Science at a large university. She is an excellent student and is planning on pursuing a PhD. I am always at a loss as to what to say to her when she asks if she is wasting her time. Is this a viable field for her to be successful in? ...She loves what she is doing and I want to encourage her to do what makes her happy."

My response:
A Ph.D. is hard work, but I don't think it is a waste of time if your daughter is interested in asking and answering original science questions or going above and beyond what she can do with an M.S. If she is passionate about her field and a hard worker, she can be incredibly successful. However, she needs to think about what she wants to do with her PhD and what her job prospects are. I'd encourage her to think about careers (other than being a professor) that might require a PhD in her field. For example, she could be an environmental consultant or work for a non-profit. I think PhD programs and advisors often push students to become professors and don't advise well enough about other career opportunities. Then, if upon completing her PhD, she can't get a professoriate job right away, she may feel disillusioned. But if she starts the process with her eyes and options open, I see no reason why her future can't be incredibly bright.
The email synopsis: Jackie from elementlist discovered that the Discovery Channel Promotes Sexist Stereotypes by seeking a male to host a new show about engineering. She emailed me and asked for my thoughts.

My thoughts? I'm honestly not that surprised. Just look at their programming in recent years. It seems to be striving for an ever lower lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, I could also imagine a casting call that sought a woman host for a new show. It would probably read something like "seeking attractive female, preferably blond and curvaceous twentysomething who knows a little about engineering..." Am I being too harsh?

The email: "Here's an interesting thread about a grad student who went to an interview with her child. I know it was not the best thing to do but frankly, some of the responses are apalling."

My thoughts: I haven't read the comments, but I can guess at what some commenters might have said. Stating up front that you only want to work in the lab 3 days a week is probably not the best way to get accepted or funded, but at least the student was being honest. And if she's willing to work from home (on classwork, writing, etc.) the rest of the time, I see no reason why she couldn't complete a degree just as fast as someone who didn't have that schedule. Besides, speed is not everything. Hopefully quality counts for something too. Right? I say that if the student is otherwise a good candidate, she deserves all the support the advisor can muster. That's what I would do.



I’m writing to you on behalf of L’ORÉAL to let you know of the 5 women scientists, who received the L’ORÉAL-UNESCO AWARDS For Women in Science on February 22nd.

This program, which began in 1998, each year recognizes five outstanding women researchers, one from each of the five continents, who have contributed to scientific progress and serve as role models for the next generation of young women. In addition, there are 15 international fellowships offered to young women scientists at the doctoral and post-doctoral levels. Detailed information about these women and their accomplishments are available on the website <>.

The 2007 Award laureates are Pr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim from Mauritius (Laureate for Africa); Pr. Ligia Gargallo from Chile (Laureate for Latin America); Pr. Mildred Dresselhaus from the USA (Laureate for North America); Pr. Margaret Brimble from New Zealand (Laureate for Asia-Pacific); and Pr. Tatiana Birshtein from Russia (Laureate for Europe).

We hope you will consider supporting the L’OREAL-UNESCO program by including information on your site. Attached you will find a document including information on this year’s Award laureates and fellows, general facts on the L’ORÉAL-UNESCO partnership, and current figures on the under-representation of women in science. We can also provide you with logos, photos and illustrations in the format that best suits your needs.

Thank you so much and please let me know if you have any questions.


Jackie DaSilva

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

checking in

Oops! You missed it. Too bad.

this picture was taken a few minutes ago

  • Minnow is now 2 months old, has huge smiles of delight, and is batting at objects. We know she can see across rooms to look at lights and graphic prints. Her favorite activity is wiggling to the music of her mobile or activity gym,
  • She has her two month appointment tomorrow. She’ll get 4 shots! 4!
  • I start back to work on Monday – 25 hours per week for at least two months. More on this to come.
  • ScienceGrandma will babysit for 4 hours 3 afternoons per week. Fish will do all day on Monday. The rest I will have to fit in while she is napping.
  • Fish has been sick the last 4 days, so I’ve had all the babycare for 8 days with no break in sight.
  • Minnow has now been to campus 3 times and has endured her first project meeting. next up: field work

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Why we leave

There was an article in Naturejobs last week on "leaks in the pipeline" - why women leave science at every stage of the ladder. This article focused on why women who get science PhDs aren't showing up in the same numbers in academia. To cite one example, in the geosciences, "39% of PhD recipients are women. But only 26% of assistant professors, 14% of tenured associate professors and 8% of full professors are women."

The authors of the article, themselves women geoscience academics, give some reasons for the leaky pipeline. But I've been thinking about all the reasons that people might choose to get a science PhD and then not end up in academia - and only some of them are specific to women.

Here's my list of reasons that ANYONE might leak out of the pipeline. I've italicized the items that I am guessing are more prevalent among women.
  • Failure to get an academic job. (We can't all be academics if there aren't enough jobs to go around. And there don't seem to be.)
  • No desire to be an academic. (People start grad school intending to be other things? Gasp!)
  • Desire to do the sort of science that can be easier to do in private industry (more funding, better facilities, and whatnot).
  • Desire for greater income provided by industry jobs.
  • Desire for more reasonable work hours provided by some industry and government jobs.
  • Desire to balance family and career. Feel that such balance is hard to attain in academia.
  • Desire to work in an industry where your 30s are not chewed up by trying to ensure that you still have a job in your 40s.
  • Fear of failure. Imposter syndrome.
  • Overt discrimination against women, minorities, disabled persons, homosexuals.
  • Unconscious bias against women, minorities, disabled persons, homosexuals.
  • Lack of role models for women, minorities, disabled persons, homosexuals.
  • Lack of good mentorship in how to attain an academic job.
  • Lack of good advising during the PhD process (or in a post-doc) that results in fewer publications, etc. making you less competitive for academic jobs.
  • Poor recommendations because you have bad letter writers.
  • Poor recommendations because you have personality problems to which your letter writers must confess.
  • Lack of desire to move away from a specific location.
  • Spouse or significant other that is unable/unwilling to move to/away from a specific geographic region.
  • Care for an elderly or disabled family member that ties you to a specific location.
How about the reasons that are specific to WOMEN?
  • Discrimination based on child-bearing status.
  • Fear that they will be unable to reproduce or have as many children as desired once they reach tenure.
  • Fear that they will be unable to adequately care for their pre-existing children while trying to reach tenure.
What do you think? Did I miss any? Have I miscategorized some?

It seems to me, from making this list, that while there are some barriers that apply on to those of us with no Y chromosome, there are lots of barriers to anyone who is: (1) not a white, able-bodied, heterosexual male or (2) looking for a career where work does not totally subsume the rest of their life.

To fix (1) we need to keep strengthening recruitment and mentorship at all levels while continuing to educate and supervise those responsible for hiring decisions. With time (1) should be fixable. I remain hopeful that I will live to see the day that (1) is no longer on the list. To fix (2) we need to overhaul the structure of academia - starting with tenure. On this front, I am much more pessimistic.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Wonderful weekend

What a
wonderful couple of days it has been
We've been blessed by the visit of one of my dearest friends and her daughter
Writer Chica and Chicita are now
winging their
way back to the Midwest
We'll miss them
wildly until
we see each other again

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Scientiae Carnival is Up!

The new women in science carnival is up over at Post doc ergo propter doc. This is the second edition, I apologize for not promoting the first.

Here's the permanent homepage for the carnival. The third carnival will be held April 1st at Lab Cat. Posts are due by March 29, and can be submitted by following these instructions.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Taking a stand and naming names

Note to my readers: What follows is the complaint I filed this morning with the head of affirmative action at a university where I had been invited to interview. I have pseudonymized the department name, the faculty member's name, and my name, but for the next week, the name of the university shall remain unaltered. I want other women to be aware of potential problems there.

DearHead of Affirmative Action,

I would like to bring to your attention discriminatory behavior by the Department of XXX during their search for a tenure-track faculty member in YYY. My purpose in writing to you is not to seek personal recourse, but so that the problem may be addressed within the department and the university prior to any future job searches.

In early December 2006, I was contacted via telephone by Dr. ZZ and offered a January interview for the faculty position. I confirmed my enthusiastic interest in the position and in interviewing, but informed Dr. ZZ that I couldn’t come to campus in January. I was pregnant with a due date of January 27th, and my doctor had forbidden travel more than an hour from my hometown within a month of the due date. Furthermore, most airlines refuse passengers during and after the 36th week of pregnancy.

I offered to interview on campus during the month of December or in February, and I volunteered to be available by telephone or videoconference at any time. Dr. ZZ told me that he would see what could be arranged, but that he was doubtful anything could be organized in December and that February would be “too late” to interview. He promised to get back to me.

By December 18th, I had not heard from Dr. ZZ, so I sent a follow-up email (appended), again expressing my interest in the position and suggesting possible arrangements other than a January interview. He responded the same day by email (appended), writing that a decision would be made when the search committee met in January and that I would be updated at that time. This was the last contact I had from ?AA? University.

Based on conversation and correspondence with Dr. ZZ, I believe that I was denied an opportunity to interview for the job solely because of a short-lived and gender-based medical condition. This treatment strikes me as discriminatory and it reflects poorly on ?AA? University. I hope that you will initiate discussion of biases and prejudices within the Department of XXX and that you will take steps to ensure that in future hiring decisions no one is denied an opportunity to compete for the position based on pregnancy, other medical conditions, or gender.


ScienceWoman, Ph.D.

+++Appended Emails+++++

At 04:30 PM 12/18/2006, you wrote:

Dear Dr. ZZ,

I wanted to follow up on our conversation last week, since I have not heard back
from you. I am most interested in the YYY position at ?AA? U, and I would love to interview on campus. However, I am medically unable
to travel during the month of January, as I am due to give birth at the end of
the month.

I want to reiterate my offer to interview on campus this month or in February
and to be available by phone at any time. I also have a streaming video
presentation of my research talk that might be helpful for giving you and your
colleagues an impression of my teaching/speaking style, if only a phone
interview can be arranged.

I understand that you are between terms right now and there are holidays
looming, but I would really appreciate an update as to your intentions for my
interview. Again, I am excited about this position and the possibility of
becoming a member of your department, and I hope that we can arrange something
so that you and your colleagues have a chance to interview me.


Mon 12/18/2006 3:53 PM

Dear ScienceWoman:

Thank you very much for following up, and I appreciate your interest in the
position. As you guessed correctly, this is winter break for us and holidays
are also just around the corner; as such, only a few colleagues may be
available to participate in an interview now. I understand your medical
condition, and I have brought this to the attention of the search committee.

I appreciate your initiative about phone interviews, but it is not clear to me
if our colleagues can meaningfully compare candidates due to the difference in
the interview procedure that a phone interview may create. I suspect is that
the Affirmative Action office on campus may not even allow this since you will
not get a fair and equal opportunity to present your strengths through a phone
interview, in comparison to other candidates who visited/will visit.

Anyhow, the search committee will meet in the second week of January, and decide
if it can wait till February when you are able to travel again, or make a
selection among the candidates interviewed by then. This is not necessarily bad
news, since it is entirely possible that the committee decides in favor of
inviting you in February. I will write to you with an update as soon as I have

Happy Holidays and best wishes,

Friday, March 09, 2007


Oops. You missed it. Too bad.
they are interviewing an additional candidate, so i won't know anything for another couple of weeks. not that i'm in any rush...

minnow is 6 weeks old today and she'll still only sleep in my arms. but she's smiling and much more interactive now, so i'm having more fun at home with her.

and now she's awake!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The anti-climatic 500th blog post

I've been putting off posting lately, hoping to have some good job news to share in this, my 500th post. It seemed like a great narrative arc that in 500 posts (just under 2 years), I have gone from frustrated grad student struggling with conception to a successful post-doc mom on her way to a great tenure track position. Alas, it is not so.

But it also is not not so. I still haven't heard anything from the university in question. I'm surprised for 3 reasons: 1) I was the last candidate to interview; 2) They seemed in a hurry to get an offer out there; and 3) They promised to notify the unsuccessful candidates at the same time they made an offer to the successful one. So I'm left to ponder the hold-up. Did they renege on their promise to tell us unsuccessful ones in a timely fashion? Did something get hung up (in the dean's office?) and then everyone went on spring break? I'm hoping for the latter, but suspecting it is the former.

Going on the assumption that I didn't get the job, over the next couple of weeks and months, I'll be ramping up my applications for post-doctoral spots, government jobs, and eventually, even those in private industry. I run out of money in my current position sometime this fall, so I really should have at least a stop-gap measure in place by then.

The crappiest part of this is that I am really happy here in Utopia - I like the town, I like the people I work with, I like what I do. If money didn't make the world go 'round, I'd stay right here indefinitely - working part-time off soft money as it could be found and maybe doing some science writing. But that won't really work because the money is too inconsistent and someone's got to put food on the table. For reasons I won't go into here, but can largely be found in the previous 499 posts, I'm the bread-winner in this household.

And right now, I don't feel like I'm doing a very good job of winning the bread.

But, hey, this afternoon minnow and I have a playdate with Ecobaby and Earthmama and that is something to look forward to. Seriously, at least I'm not a new mom with a crappy PhD advisor and a husband who is about to finish his degree and become unemployed.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

worst possible outcome?

No job offer and sick newborn from exposure to germs for which mom has no immunity to pass on. So far at least one has come true. Keep your fingers crossed on the other.

Friday, March 02, 2007

It is possible

  • To fly across multiple time zones with a newborn
  • To interview for a job a month post-partum
  • To feel like you'd done almost as good a job preparing for the interview as if you hadn't been a new mom
  • To calm your husband, strip off your shirt, nurse your child, review your interview cheat sheet, button back up, and go to your next appointment within a 1/2 hour. But don't plan on going to the bathroom
  • To get your baby to nap on their own (occasionally) without crying it out
  • To not be too offended when your husband forgets your birthday, because you'd forgotten it too
  • To sometimes think that being a professor and a mom is possible, if only someone would give you a job
  • To realize the truth that Dr. Free-ride wrote. "There is no "balancing" from here on out, only juggling."