Recommended reads #157


We need a wizard who can appeal to the moderate orc voter

If you haven’t seen this yet, a strong piece of journalism in Science, about who gets NSF graduate fellowships. (I get a couple mentions in there, and the proposal for near-peer cross-institutional mentoring wasn’t funded, if you’re curious. But EEB Mentor Match is bigger than ever, and we are still looking to connect students to mentors to write proposals and/or apply to grad school, so please sign up to be a mentor or to be mentored!)

And if you identify as URM and are looking for a mentor to help you apply to grad school or for grad fellowships, and you’re not in EEB, check out the Graduate School Mentorship Initiative from Cientifico Latino.

A pedagogy of kindness [highlighted read]

A “culture of harassment” at the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania. (And the person who is accountable for this is moving on to a new position at Rutgers.)

A bunch of students at the University of Georgia assembled a crowdsourced “Being not-rich at UGA” guide with lots of practical advice and information about getting by, which looks extraordinary. If only every campus had something like this.

Here is the full text of the 1619 project.

Women’s narrowing path to tenure [highlighted read]

“Data reveal that underrepresented students are simultaneously positioned as representatives of progress and uncompensated consultants in their departments’ ongoing equity and diversity efforts. As a result, student contributions to diversity work are experienced as an ongoing process of emotional labor in which institutional ethos and/or feeling rules in the department shape how students manage their internal and external emotions.”

In yet another sign about what this country has turned into, a new college freshman coming to the US to start courses was deported after hours of questioning, because they said friends of his online said negative things about the US. They searched his laptop and phone for five hours.

In an extraordinarily frustrating set of circumstances, a labor union in Los Angeles is holding up a big switch to solar power.

Scientists who leave research to pursue other careers are still scientists.

There was a very mistaken piece about the fires in the Amazon in Forbes, which I won’t link to, but here’s a high quality response from the guy who founded Mongabay.

The always-helpful blog of DEB at NSF advises on writing budget justifications. It’s surprising to me how often budget justifications are not formatted in this preferred way!

“Toward a more humane genetics education: Learning about the social and quantitative complexities of human genetic variation research could reduce racial bias in adolescent and adult populations.”

Last year the University of New Hampshire made news when one of its librarians, Robert Morin, who had saved almost 50 years of paychecks, left $4 million to the university upon his death. UNH spent $1 million of the librarian’s gift on a 30-by-50-foot high-definition scoreboard for the new, $25-million football stadium.

She wanted a man with a good job who is nice to animals. [highlighted read]

An NPR story about dude walls.

I’ve said a few times here how I’d update y’all on things I’m reading for pleasure. But then I keep forgetting to do that. So here’s a little bit of catch-up. I finally read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, about finding oneself on the Pacific Crest Trail. Which was very good. I also enjoyed Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. And Chuck Wendig’s Invasive is a wacky fun quick horror read about genetically engineered fungus-growing ants that grow their fungal garden with substrate of human flesh. I’ve started digesting Mark Twain’s autobiography in small pieces, which is fascinating combination of wisdom and gossip. Also, more work-related, I really really enjoyed Joshua Eyler’s How Humans Learn, which essentially uses evidence from a broad range of fields to show demonstrate how particular student-centered teaching approaches are more effective. It’s probably not the first book to read as a university-level instructor, but maybe it should be the second or third? It definitely connects if you’ve had some experience in the classroom. I’m also doing a slow binge, if one can do such a thing, of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and I’m having trouble pronouncing the title of Eyler’s book as a Ferengi would say it. Hew-mon.)

5 thoughts on “Recommended reads #157

  1. Terry, I wonder if you have thoughts on reconciling your linked highlighted read on women’s narrowing path to tenure with the analysis of NSF data in Shaw & Stanton 2012: Quoting from their abstract, “We show that the hiring and retention of women in academia have been affected by both demographic inertia and gender differences, but that the relative influence of gender differences appears to be dwindling for most disciplines and career transitions. ” In particular, they show that, conditional on becoming an assistant professor, women have higher odds than men of progressing to associate professor in most fields of biology, and that that’s been true since the early ’90s. And the data in NSF’s 2018 report show that the percentage of women among science and engineering full-time faculty (all STEM fields combined) has continued to increase at all ranks (full prof, associate prof, and junior faculty): (scroll down to Fig. 5-12.). More broadly still, the Finkelstein et al. study the author links to says (Table 3) that the percentage of US full professors who are women rose from 14.8% in 1993, to 23.7% in 2003, to 36.1% in 2013.

    Looking at the footnotes in the article you linked, I think the apparent discrepancy has three sources. One is the linked article choosing to discount progress by focusing on the inequality that remains (e.g., footnote 5). The second is the linked article using statements about fields in which progress has been slow or absent to support blanket claims that progress has been slow or absent in all fields (e.g., footnote 6, which is a statement about all US faculty, supported by a citation of data from medical school faculty). Third, the author, following Finkelstein et al., discounts ongoing improvement in women’s representation among full time faculty at all ranks because their representation has increased even faster among part-time and non-tenure-track faculty.

    I think it’s fine to focus on problem areas. But I’m uncomfortable with the blanket claim that no progress has been made or the progress everywhere has stalled on all dimensions. And I’m concerned with apparent cherry-picking of data sources or measures of diversity or equity so as to make it appear that no progress has been made.

    • I think it’s possible to have not made real progress, even if the numbers are shifting in a positive direction. The fundamental causes of gender inequities in the academy are still in our scientific community — and efforts at recruitment, retention, and boosterism are inadequate to bring us to equity because the change in academic culture isn’t happening in parallel. When these advances in representation have occurred in an environment replete with misogyny, I think it’s wholly appropriate to argue that things haven’t really gotten better.

      I’m going to decline your invitation to take a deep dive into the statistics of the linked article and those in Shaw & Stanton 2012. I would not like to use the comments section of my blog to host discussion between two senior tenured men about whether sexism in the academy is overstated. It’s that kind of discussion that led me to experiment with shutting down comments on the site. When I get see a link to a heavily referenced article about how misogyny continues to prevent equity in higher education, I don’t want to be the guy to debate whether it’s not so bad based on the merits of the article stats from another several-year old article. I don’t want to start that debate, and I don’t want to be even involved in it, and I don’t want my platform used to amplify it.

      When we ask, “How bad is sexism in academia?” the most functional answer is not quantitative. The answer must focus on the lived experiences of people who are on the raw side of this inequity, and be informed by those people. There is a ton of information in the Vettese 2019 piece, and only the smallest (and less consequential) aspects are informed by the data from Shaw & Stanton 2012. While you’re concerned about how Vettese cherry-picked statistics to make their case, I’m more concerned about cherry-picking statistics out of an article that is about much, much more than statistics.

      Before I posted that article, a lot of people saw that article and shared it others, because it spoke to them. It speaks a lot of truths. Truths that are undeniable. I would hope that any critique of the stats in the article would be coupled with a recognition of the truths that it speaks. Because, otherwise, folks might get the impression that the important truths are being denied or overlooked.

      To answer your question, do are the stats in the Vettese article off? Well, maybe, I honestly don’t know. But I think considering my identity, my expertise, and the main point of the article, this isn’t a discussion I’m going to have, much less broadcast to the public.

      • Fair enough Terry. I don’t deny any larger truths Vesette speaks to. I just don’t think getting the data right is mutually exclusive with speaking to larger truths. I don’t think larger truths need cherry picked data to support them.

  2. And in case anyone is inclined to argue that the data I linked to merely show ongoing progress in increasing representation of white women, table 5-16 in the 2018 NSF report shows that representation of under-represented minorities (blacks, Hispanic/Latino(a)/American Indian/Alaska Native) among full-time US STEM faculty increased from 1.9% in 1973 to 3.6% in 1983 to 5% in 1993 to 7% in 2003 to 8.6% in 2015. That tracks increased minority representation among STEM postdocs almost exactly. One could criticize the overall rate of progress on that front. But I don’t really see how one could claim that it’s slowing or stalled progress.

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