Category Archives: education

Young US women in STEM

Depressing slide from Margaret Eisenhart and Carrie Allen’s paper at the AAA2015 (American Anthropological Association meeting) in Denver.

  

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

being (a girl) in physics

Just stumbled across this lovely blogpost. Marion Erpelding, a professional physicist who, after a three year postdoc, left academia to devote herself to science communication (http://alpha-angle.com) and other more fun pursuits, talks about gender segregation in schools, and of the segregation of sciences from humanities on university campuses. This made me think of how important the physical landscape of science is. It also reminded me of my anger the other day when reading once again about gender stereotypes in science: these stereotypes which Marion’s post so nicely links to the physical landscape of a university campus. (And which are just as contingent, and hard, yet not impossible, to shift and rebuild!)

Brief and evocatively written! https://bymarion.wordpress.com/portfolio/being-a-girl-in-physics/

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Girls, math, and bullshit

After 9 years in the UK, I’ve reconciled myself to the realisation that I will always remain a foreigner. When I’m stressed, like when speaking to my bank on the phone today, my spoken expression and listening comprehension skills in English go out of the window. If someone woke me up at night, I’d speak to them in Bulgarian (my native language), but if I were really fast asleep, it would be Russian (my mother’s tongue which I learnt first).  But what is especially hard for a social scientist is that I am unable to overcome some taken-for-granted ideas that I had before coming here, and get used to their opposites which should be obvious to me. This evening I’m reminded of one: women and maths. This stuff is doing my head in. Each time I read about it, I get a headache. You know that peculiar blackout feeling when you hear something that is either blatantly, in-your-face, unjust or untrue, or something whose premises are so flawed that it’s not even wrong. I get that each time I encounter the obvious, common knowledge that women and math don’t mix. I just found an article about Shirley Conran’s new project aiming to make maths attractive to girls by convincing them that it will help them manage their personal finances. The article had the awesome title “Math is a feminist issue”, and it linked to what must be a very interesting and useful new report on women and the fear of mathematics. I’m sure it’s a very useful report. I must read it for my research. But I am stuck with the pdf like a horse in front of a river. I can’t read it because just reading the chapter titles makes me wince:

“1 Why maths and maths ability for women matter 13

2 Why confidence about maths ability matters 19

3 How do we know that women fear maths? 25

4 Why is maths perceived to be innately male? 29

5 Being female 37

6 Women’s education in history and the place of maths within it 47

7 Attacking the Maths Myth that drives the Fear Factor”

Clearly, I must have grown up with a different Myth. I grew up with the conviction, supported by empirical observations, that girls are better at all subjects. I don’t know why. And because I never had a reason to question this belief at the time I was at school or university, now I’m finding it really hard to accept that things are so obviously not the case. I don’t even know if my belief was justified about Bulgaria in general, or about Bulgarian “elite” primary and secondary schools. I may not be. Maybe I grew up in a bubble (a bubble in which all but one of my maths teachers were women, like almost all my other teachers; and in which schoolkids who were good at maths were equally likely to be girls or boys, and those who weren’t were more likely to be boys).

But I like having grown up in a bubble. I like the fact that the obviousness of “girls don’t like math, girls are no good at math” pisses me off. The really painful thing is that with each new item of information on the “women and maths” subject, doubt and desperation trickle in. I fear the thought that, if I had heard of this at a younger age, this belief might have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and would have made me worse at maths – and worse at believing in my own capabilities, talents and worth. I hate the thought that there are young people out there growing up right now who entertain the freaking insane belief that interest and talent in various parts of human culture may have anything to do with their genitals.

Even less rationally, reading stuff which generalises a whole gender into one box according to a negative criterion, such as lack of ability or fear, makes me uncontrollably angry. When you, as a woman, read something like this, you just can’t win. If you happen to be bad at maths or hate it, well, there, there, little darling, we said it first, women suck at math. If you happen to be good at maths or like it, then you are not a woman, you’re an honorary man. &%£$@£$&?{}$£% Rage is not a good companion to research. Imagine, my research isn’t even about gender, actually, it’s about all mathematicians regardless of their gender. Imagine how angry I’d be if I were actually studying gender.

Incidentally, most of the female professional mathematicians I have talked to say that they were never aware of a negative gender stereotype in relation to maths when they were little. When they did realise it (often upon arriving to university), it was not a pleasant realisation.Some say that they were aware, but consciously rebelled or ignored it.

Perhaps we ought to not just combat the stereotype, but also shield from it those young kids who are lucky to don’t know about it yet…at least until they are old enough to be brave and rebellious rather than conformist?

P.S. Upon rereading, this sounds like an unusually personal and non-rational research-related blogpost. Unprofessional pubic expressions of unpolished thoughts, tut-tut. But it will have not been in vain, if it helps me at least read that report which, I’m sure, has lots of interesting and depressing data…

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

But hey, they just need to learn how to sell themselves!

I read this cheery post on the careers blog at my university this morning and it made my porridge taste sour. What better way to start your working week (well, start isn’t the right word since most academics I know do at least some, and sometimes most, of their work over the weekend): let’s all join hands engage in some gleeful unreflective apology of our pernicious labour market system. 

Sure, I get it. You live in a market place, you must sell yourself, stupid. In this context, some of the advice in this blogpost is useful. It makes sense. We all do it. We all do it, whether we are good at it, whether we hate or enjoy it. But under the cheery businessy tone of such publications lies the creepy reality of academic marketisation gone out of control.

Oh and by the way, when will I have time to do some research, find/create/acquire/share some knowledge? After my market pitch. In my copious spare time. Over the weekend. Hey there, I am for sale, brains, research ethics and all. Who is buying?

http://careersblog.warwick.ac.uk/2015/10/19/sell-yourself-get-ahead/

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An antiapology of the student experience

 The enthusiasm for the “student experience” is a depressing example of how higher education is becoming a commodity. Universities invest in better services not only to please students, but to enhance their competitiveness in the market by attracting more, or better qualified, students, and to boost their scores in the national student survey and league tables.

Peter Scott, the Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/oct/06/students-university-education-experience-customer

Tagged , , ,

What are rankings for?

hear, hear:

“The panic about ratings causes university management teams to spend money on PR in order to affect the opinions of those who rank universities. They may formally request all staff to lobby colleagues in foreign universities for a higher rating on questionnaires. They may insist on an increase in the quantity of postgraduates without respect to quality. They may demand that faculty publish only in journals the university ranking systems tabulate.

When the only aspects of quality considered are those that are digitally measured, a great divide can open up between appearance and reality. Time is spent on the manipulation of measures rather than on the search for truth or the betterment of life.

Ratings may go up (in the short term) and the actual quality of the university sink.

These management-driven efforts to perform for the rating system can have a bad effect on scholarship as well as teaching.”

Letter to the editor of the Irish times by Adrian Frazier, 5 Oct 2015 http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/university-rankings-what-are-they-for-1.2376841

Tagged , , , ,

Is “embracing ordinariliness” really the only way to cope with the impossible demands of contemporary universities?

Another depressing article: astute analysis of the problems in contemporary academia (which affect both women and men, but the average man tends to have better invisible support in coping with them)…sadly followed by a call to “embrace ordinariliness”.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/angela-mcrobbie/womens-working-lives-in-new-university

“Given that women still bear the brunt of responsibility for running households and organising the school schedules of children and so on, the question I was asking myself was how can women academics ever hope to achieve success in their working lives when this kind of pattern is seen as not just normal but entirely unremarkable, especially in a sector deemed by and large to be well-disposed towards working parents? Deciding not to have children, and having a partner who is also an academic or at least very familiar with these kinds of schedules would seem like the obvious answer.

the ideal career track in the academy especially one which carried all the laurels of prizes, awards, fellowships and a high volume of grants seemed to have been tailored around the image of the brilliant young man untrammelled by any of the fine details of domestic life. And if the young woman was to follow this pathway and plan the right time to have a child, then when would this right time be? The first few years of full time work (34-38) are marked by all kinds of expectations, and so it may be that just before getting to 40 having children could be embarked upon.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why the world needs more scientific literacy.

Scientific literacy is one of those things which are easiest to spot by their absence. We need more scientific literacy to make sure there are fewer articles like this…”A Michigan Newspaper Claims the Large Hadron Collider is Being Used as a Stargate

Tagged , , ,
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: