Posts Tagged ‘Female Science Professor’

Since the news broke of a reported job offer being rescinded by Nazareth College, nearly everybody has weighed in on the issue (including Slate, Forbes, Jezebel, Inside Higher Ed, and academic bloggers). Quickly moving past the fact that I think rescinding an offer is wrong, even if none of the requested items can be provided, we can see the way that one’s experiences affect perceptions of the request and reveal how this sort of request may have been made.

My own response to the situation was probably closest to Kate’s at The Professor is In, who writes:

In short, 3 points: 1) rescinding an offer when a client attempts to negotiate is outrageous and unethical; 2) the institutions that rescind offers strongly tend to be tiny teaching colleges with current or former religious affiliations, so if you are dealing with one of those, tread VERY carefully; 3) this candidate, W, made some grievous errors in her approach to the negotiations, showing a tone-deaf lack of sensitivity to the needs of the institution. That does not justify the rescinding. But if she had worked with me on negotiating, I would have told her to remove or rephrase many of the elements on her list of requests, because they were inappropriate to such a small, teaching oriented, resource-poor, service-heavy kind of institution. However, again, her sin of negotiating ineptly is miniscule compared to the sin of an institution summarily rescinding an offer.

At my own institution, things like pre-tenure and parental leaves are based on institutional policies that are not up for negotiation. Regarding salary, the AAUP Faculty Salary Survey can provide candidates with a rough sense of what is normal for a particular institution.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Female Science Professor, who works at a research institution and states:

I don’t know if there is a gender angle to this incident or not, but speaking as someone at a research university, there is nothing in the candidate’s email that surprises or offends me. I have been asked for many of the same or similar things by candidates; some of these requests are routine, some of them require discussion. I say ‘yes’ when I can, and ‘no’ when that is the appropriate response for my department/university. Negotiations can be constructive and interesting discussions.

The gap between these responses is elucidated by David Ball at Inside Higher Ed, who reminds us:

Nazareth’s rashness also reveals a troubling disconnect between SLACs and R1 institutions around the hiring process. Job expectations and institutional cultures are oftentimes dramatically and necessarily different between the two. This communication problem can be exacerbated by the lack of liberal-arts exposure on the part of either the candidate or her advisers and the corroding belief many R1 faculty still propagate that SLACs can’t offer their candidates conditions in which they can flourish, even for those applicants most keen to teach in a liberal-arts setting.

Representatives from SLACs can be understandably fatigued when pushing back against these expectations and gun-shy when candidates demonstrate interests in a research agenda that appear to eclipse their investment as teachers. Graduate departments have an imperative to educate themselves about the expectations of liberal-arts colleges by listening to colleagues and recent Ph.D.s teaching in those settings. Likewise, SLAC hiring committees must proceed, particularly at the negotiation stage, with the knowledge that their hires may be getting advice that is oblivious to the realities of their institution.

Since there is a great deal of variation even within institutional types, it would benefit everybody involved to keep these things in mind when working through the hiring process. And, of course, remember that you should never rescind an offer.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed.

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As you may have noticed, the entire internet is required to compile a best-of list (or two, or ten) at the end of the year. Since I am lazy, my best-of list this year consists of one blog: Conditionally Accepted. Since grad school I have read a lot of blogs but none of the blogs I regularly read have done as much to remind me of the importance of practicing what we preach as Conditionally Accepted. To borrow a sports cliche, Conditionally Accepted reminds me of a young FemaleScienceProfessor, in that it regularly highlights the problems that it is easy for those (like me) in the white, male academic majority to overlook while letting people outside of the majority know that they are not alone. And it has only been five months!

Congratulations, Conditionally Accepted, and keep up the good work!

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Speaking of gender roles, I recently saw a post at The Society Pages linking to this suggestion by Rebecca Rosen at The Atlantic that men refuse to speak on or moderate all-male panels at technology and science conferences. While I think this is a great idea, I also wonder how the fact that prospective male participants ask male organizers to include women affects the reactions. For example, see the exchange in Rosen’s post:

I cannot speak for the dozens of other Jewish male leaders, scholars and activists who also made the pledge, but in my case, push has never actually come to shove. My convictions have not yet been tested. I never had to refuse participation because, so far, not once have the conveners failed to “find” a woman who can participate. Generally, the conversations have gone something like this:

“Prof. Kelner, will you teach at our all-night Shavuot study session?”

“Sure. I’d be happy to. Who else is on the program?”

“Abe, Isaac and Jake”

“You couldn’t find any women to teach? Look, I’d love to join the program, but I’ve made a pledge not to participate in all-male panels. And anyway, do you really want to send the message that there are no qualified women?”

“Wow! You’re right. Thank you. We’re going to fix this.”

“Do that, and I’ll be happy to participate.”

Because a male is organizing the conference and a male is asking about the inclusion of women, this seems like a reasonable request to the organizer. I can unfortunately imagine all kinds of scenarios, however, where a woman mentions the fact that there are not many female participants and is criticized for suggesting that there may be some sort of bias at play. This also seems to invite tokenism or the claim that there “aren’t any qualified women.”

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I like that spring break coincides with the first weekend of the NCAA tournament but this also makes it unlikely that I’m going to accomplish anything outside of the exams I graded and some important things like reading, yard work, and washing my car. I guess that I don’t completely identify with Female Science Professor (in every other way, obviously, we’re the same), who spends spring breaks working in her office and wonders why graduate students don’t want to do the same.

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Given that I’ve felt extra-busy this semester, a few recent discussions of work habits caught my eye.  First was a post by Female Science Professor describing three types of people she has encountered:

A Type W person would get a lot done whether they were funded by a research assistantship (RA), a teaching assistantship (TA), a fellowship, or whatever.

A Type X1 person would only make decent research progress if funded by an RA or fellowship. A TA would consume all of X1’s time and energy, not because X1 is more devoted to teaching than W, but because X1 can only focus on one thing at a time.

A Type X2 person would get more done if partially funded by an RA or fellowship and partially by something requiring a bit of structured work — for example, perhaps teaching one lab or discussion section, or perhaps doing some grading or other work like that. If funded entirely by an RA or fellowship, X2 wouldn’t be able to deal effectively with the lack of structure and would waste a lot of time, making very slow progress, even if the advisor set specific goals.

Given these descriptions, I would classify myself as an X2 person.  As I’ve mentioned, I don’t do well with large blocks of open time.  I also don’t do well when I have something that can easily take up all of my time (like teaching three courses in a semester).  In order to be productive in more than one area I need to have something to structure my time but not so much of that thing that I can’t focus on anything else.

My ability to fill up time with other things is related to a lack of time in general.  Tenured Radical responds to a reader who asks about a lack of time that is related to constant requests from others:

I don’t have time to go to the gym, or to pack my own lunch — two things I swore I would do this fall to maintain my mental health and not gain back the weight I lost over the summer.  I see talks and events come and go and don’t do any of them because I am already scheduled to do something else or I am so tired all I want to do is go home. Worse, I have so much to do that I am not sleeping well and I forget things constantly.  Keeping up with my writing? Ha! I have deadlines coming due that I can’t even imagine I will keep.

Her response is that the reader, “Marv,” needs to learn to say no to things that are not in line with his goals and interests:

This leads us to a larger problem, Marv, which is that you have set goals for yourself — go to the gym, eat a nice lunch, get some sleep, write, be responsible to your students, take advantages of the intellectual pleasures a university campus offers — without actually acting to privilege your own interests and desires over the interests of other people. You are trying to please all of the people, all of the time.  You are pleasing everyone but yourself.

While I can certainly appreciate the pressures to please others, especially on the tenure track, but this is not my problem.  My problem is that I keep saying yes to opportunities that sound interesting without prioritizing my own goals.  I pressure myself to get involved.  At some point, though, I need to decide what is really important, likely putting research above other interests.  I have a feeling that this time will be soon.

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Female Science Professor posted today about her reaction to receiving communications via the US Postal Service rather than e-mail.  Through discussions with my students I am increasingly convinced that they see e-mail the same way that I see snail mail.  For example:

You also couldn’t have known that I seldom look in my mailbox anymore. When I do get physical mail, most of it is junk mail. It is quite miraculous that I glanced at my mailbox this week, when I wasn’t expecting anything interesting. In fact, even once I saw that there was something in my mailbox, I almost ignored it, so sure was I that it was not important.


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In some ways, teaching evaluations are the most important reflection of my performance over the course of the past semester.  While the reports of peer evaluators will appear in my tenure file, a one-class observation may not hold as much weight as these 15-minute student responses to a semester’s worth of work.  Setting aside the hotly contested issue of whether student evaluations tell us anything at all about one’s teaching abilities, the fact that we are required to give them and that others are required to look at them leads to the question, as Female Science Professor points out, of when.

To some extent, this is dictated by institutional guidelines.  In grad school I typically made evaluations the last task of the last class period.  Influenced by a professor I had been a graduate assistant for, I also tried to give a brief talk highlighting the progress students had made over the course of the semester that was intended both to wrap up the semester and leave students with positive thoughts about the course before they evaluated it.  Maybe because of this practice, I have always been in favor of end-of-the-semester evaluation administration.

Last year, however, the deadline for evaluations at my new school was a week before the end of the semester, forcing me to rethink my timing.  Without the last day as an option, I had to consider the issues involved.  For example, in order to ensure that all students would be present for the evaluations, it made the most sense to give them on a day that an assignment was due.  Of course, this is related to the questions of whether students will think more negatively about a class after staying up late to complete an assignment and whether it is actually better to give the evaluations on a day that some students miss class, since the students who skip a class close to the end of the semester may not be the best students and, hence, may not give the most positive evaluations.  How would it look, though, if one fifth of a class (5 out of 25) did not take the evaluations?

Because I want to make sure that the students who have been most engaged over the course of the semester complete evaluations, I find myself giving evaluations on days that an assignment is due.  Despite the work they have just put in, my hope is that this is better than giving evaluations when before an assignment is due when they are still feeling the stress of a looming deadline.  In the end, though, I’m not convinced that anything I do will actually make a difference in a given student’s evaluation of my course.  There is a considerable amount of research on student evaluations but unless my scores decrease dramatically I guess I believe that it is better to spend my time preparing good courses than trying to game the system.

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After reading the recent Female Science Professor (FSP) post “Why & Me,” which summarizes FSP’s transition from “I blog because I am angry” to “I keep blogging because it is fun,” I decided to read some of the posts that started it all.  While browsing I came across a post focused broadly on looking for academic jobs when you already have one.  In FSP’s case, the goal was to solve the “two body problem,” but she also mentions using outside offers to increase one’s salary and prestige.  It was her final point, and the article and research it linked to, however, that caught my attention:

I have been very lucky that all the places I have been academically employed have been ‘good enough’ to lead to other opportunities. There was a recent study about whether there really are dead end academic jobs (Roach Motel Colleges, Slate.com, http://www.slate.com/id/2142489/), and, if you accept the parameters of the study, I guess there are. I think it’s quite possible to be happy at a Roach Motel College, though. My husband and I disagree about this (perhaps more on that later).

The Slate article that she refers to summarizes research by an economist (Oyer 2006) examines the careers of graduate students with similar records who got “better” or “worse” jobs (in terms of rankings) because they went on the job market in particularly good (when a lot of high-ranking schools were hiring) and bad (when not many high-ranking schools were hiring) years.  Slate summarizes the research like so:

[F]ive years into their respective careers, members of the boom cohorts are more likely to hold good jobs at Top 50 institutions than similar candidates entering the job market in bust years. In general, about a quarter of elite Ph.D.s end up at first-tier institutions. Starting one’s career in a boom year raises the probability of ending up at a Top 50 department by between 40 and 60 percent.

Boom-year graduates don’t end up in better jobs arbitrarily. Along the way they publish more articles that are more influential. Despite their elite credentials when hired, more than a third of the econ Ph.D.s in Oyer’s study had not published anything 10 years after graduation. The other two-thirds had published an average of 6.2 articles. Starting at a Top 50 institution raised that total by roughly a factor of two.

What about the effect on publication in the best-regarded journals—the only way to earn real street cred in the field? Most economists never crack these outlets in their entire careers. But an initial job in a Top 50 institution has an enormous impact, raising the probability of publishing in one of the top five journals by a whopping 50 percent. So, quality of the first job really matters.

The idea that those at higher-ranking institutions that have higher publication expectations publish more shouldn’t be surprising to any sociologist who is familiar with Lieberman’s (1956) work on role theory, which found that the attitudes of factory workers were tied to their positions, such that those who became foremen had higher opinions of management and those who became union representatives had higher opinions of the union.  In fact, I’ve thought about this in relation to my own career.  Slate’s summary, however, ignores the idea that working at a higher-ranking institution with higher publication expectations may not be “better” for everybody (an idea that I have been attempting to make clear to those entering the academic job market).  Instead, Slate seems to take a Good Will Hunting approach to maximizing your potential:

The idea that Will needs to take advantage of his chance at a “better” life is interesting because Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, argues that he is perfectly happy working at a community college while his college roommate is a high-profile mathematician at MIT.  I suppose that the takeaway point from all of this is that if you really want a high-prestige job, go on the market in the best year possible in order to maximize your ability to attain one, because without the corresponding pressures to publish you are unlikely to achieve the high profile in the academic world that you desire.  Of course, there are examples of those who have “published their way out of” low-ranking jobs, but these individuals appear to be rare.  If you end up at a lower-ranking institution you might find that you are much less likely to attain this prestige, but you might also realize that you never really needed it.


Lieberman, Seymour.  1956.  “The Effects of Changes in Roles on the Attitudes of Role Occupants.”  Human Relations 9:385-402.

Oyer, Paul.  2006.  “Initial Labor Market Conditions and Long-Term Outcomes for Economists.”  Journal of Economic Perspectives 20:143-160.

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Female Science Professor has a nice post today about questions that have been raised about Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor.  Obviously, it is important to thoroughly examine people who will be put in influential positions (clearly, we don’t need someone like this on the Supreme Court), but some of the questions that have been asked about Sotomayer focus on whether, as a woman, she will be guided by her emotions rather than the law.  FSP provides a few examples from people named John:

Republican senators will have to conduct thorough questioning in the confirmation hearings to make sure that she will not be a results-oriented voter, voting her emotions and politics rather than the law. (John Yoo)

She must prove her commitment to impartially deciding cases based on the law, rather than based on her own personal politics, feelings, and preferences. (John Cornyn)

It will be important to determine if Judge Sotomayor will decide cases based on her own personal feelings and political views, or the bedrock rule of law. (John Thune)

She then adds:

Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a big computer program to decide cases strictly on The Law? With a program, no one, not even a sensitive male judge, would be tempted to consult their feelings about an issue and we wouldn’t have to worry about all these emotional females populating the Highest Court in the Land every decade or two, tossing aside the rule of law on a whim if it suits their (probably hysterical) feelings to do so.

As an FSP, I am of course always doing that with my own personal research. Despite decades of experience as a scientist, I’ll be doing some research thing, and when it comes time to interpret the results, or make any big decision for that matter, I get all emotional and I forget all the bedrock rules of math and science, and I just go with whatever my emotions tell me to do at that exact moment. I really can’t help it.

It’s too bad I’m not teaching right now, since this would make a great case for the discussion of gender stereotypes.

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Female Science Professor recently discussed cheating in her classroom:

This time I decided on the following course of action: I explained to each student why I believed they cheated, asked if they had anything to say to that (neither one did), I let them keep the grades they ‘earned’ (they each got a D- anyway), and I told them that for every other test they must sit in the front row but not next to any other student. They agreed, seemed relieved, and now everyone is happy.

I haven’t had to deal with many cases of cheating (as far as I know, plagiarism has been a bigger problem), but from my understanding the pain they cause professors is inversely proportional to the support professors receive from department chairs and deans.  It will be interesting to see how these situations are handled at my new institution, since that was not one of the questions that I asked during my visit.

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