Category Archives: Sociology of work

Conference on precarious female work

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

How to become an academic mathematician

This seems like good, honest, humorous advice:

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Why no one can “have it all”

“Our gilded expat cages”
(The photo is intended to represent the sexes…)

This is just one example of the many articles on the web right now which continue a one-sided discussion that will never have a solution until we stop pretending that *anyone* can be independent. The men are just as dependent as the women (and that’s true of all kinds of relationships, as well as about singles). The ideal of independence is unattainable because it is trying to answer a badly defined question. In my research about matheamticians’ careers, I have met a lot of academic couples, and academics partnered with non-academics. The same mechanisms as described in this short article are visible in academic careers, as well. Many more female academics who are in relationships with children tend to default to the housewife optio, compared to our male colleagues. My hypothesis is that there are several main culprits. These come in order of importance, with 1 and 2 being probably equally important, and 3 and 4 being contingent upon them. i would be very thankful if anyone shoots down any of my ideas or adds better ones!

1. the way gender roles within the household snd in the workplace are defined in contemporary Western society, and the way these definitions are adopted, un-challenged, passed on to children and perpetuated by (a) institutions and (b) both men and women. These gender expectations/roles/conventions are by far not obvious or universal across time and space! An example of a different gender role distribution is socialist and postsocialist Eastern Europe where the proportion of female scientists was, and remains (though to a smaller extent after 1989), higher than in the west. in fact, Germany is a very interesting one-country example where women born in the [former] GDR are socialised in a noticeably (though by far not completely) more gender-equal way of thinking. aS someone who grew up in Eastern Europe, and has been in the uK for 9 years, I am still often shocked by occasional day-to-day revelations of micro- and macro-gender inequalities I was never aware of.
2. The “scaffolding” which enables people to go about their daily lives outside of work. This includes but is not limited to transport infrastructure, healthcare, childcare and all stages of education but especially early-age education, family structure (extended families in one geographical locality enable more women to spend more time on paid employment), the urban landscape (a funny detail such as the preference for houses in the UK vs apartments in Germany makes UK cities much less dense in comparison, meaning more driving and less access to social spaces outside the work-home nexus, which in turn makes it more likely that one of the partners will stay at home with the children), parental leave laws and practices.
3. Historical inertia
4. Counterproductive initiatives! Small UK example: I don’t know how useful are all the “women in academia” events is the Athena SWAN initiative, though they are certainly very well intentioned. I am yet to be convinced that Athena SWAN is contributing, instead of taking up time and cluttering the debate space… I am pretty sure I am being unfair here and I really hope to see positive change brought about by this initiative… (i am just using this blog as a space to think aloud, so don’t take this particular statement as very serious). But a bigger German example is the law which requires university employers to employ the woman if there are two equally qualified candidates. This one seems both hard to implement and badly received by men and women academics, and in some cases creates a bad attitute towards any female academics employed anywhere because their colleagues begin to harbour suspicions of what they see as “unfair” appointment. This one also needs a more extended discussion, but I am sligtly more convinced of it than by my Athena swan comment above.

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 ( 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!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Semantic Scholar: the AI which, knows your field better than you (and a Short Rant to Science Policy-makers)

“What if a cure for an intractable cancer is hidden within the tedious reports on thousands of clinical studies? In 20 years’ time, AI will be able to read — and more importantly, understand — scientific text. These AI readers will be able to connect the dots between disparate studies to identify novel hypotheses and to suggest experiments which would otherwise be missed.

AI-based discovery engines will help find the answers to science’s thorniest problems.”

— Oren Etzioni

“Semantic Scholar” is a better idea than the REF. But wait, what do they have in common? Here’s what.  Semantic scholar looks through existing scholarship and lets you use it and build up on it. It may uncover an article which no one has read many years after it was published, and let a new researcher learn something. It helps cut through the bullshit – perhaps not in the best possible way, but AIs are work in progress and will surely evolve into cleverer versions. The REF, conversely, fosters the production of bullshit. Its existence scares scientists into producing more crap (sorry, dear colleagues) because that’s the way in which we, and our university departments, are assessed. We all know it’s a game, and some refuse to play it, but people in their early careers have more incentive to play along than to protest by producing fewer, better pieces of work – even though it actually is in our long-term interests, we are fooled by fear. And so we write, and publish, instead of thinking and publishing less, better stuff.

If I were a science policy-maker, I’d put my money on tools that facilitate tedious, or downright impossible, tasks such as sifting, navigating and organising existing knowledge and debates.  And I would leave scientists with a bit more freedom to actually think, be curious, produce ideas, hypotheses and sometimes even knowledge, and – very importantly – also to make mistakes in the process. Oh, and having access to jobs that last longer than a year or two before having to move continent with or without your significant other, or instead of deciding to have children, would help. But that’s another rant, perhaps for a future post entitled “If I were a science policy-maker”.

For more about Semantic Scholar, see:

Tagged , , , ,

Conference: Association for the Philosophy of Mathematical Practice

There’s a very interesting conference in Paris right now. Such a pity I’m not there. In fact, this post only appears now, because I only just found out about it. Looking forward to reading the papers.

3rd Congress of the Association for the Philosophy of Mathematical Practice (APMP) Paris, Institut Henri Poincaré, 2-4 November 2015


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

Male STEM scientists reluctant to see gender bias in science (new study)

New study by Ian M. HandleyElizabeth R. BrownCorinne A. Moss-Racusin and Jessi L. Smith:

“Ever-growing empirical evidence documents a gender bias against women and their research—and favoring men—in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Our research examined how receptive the scientific and public communities are to experimental evidence demonstrating this gender bias, which may contribute to women’s underrepresentation within STEM. Results from our three experiments, using general-public and university faculty samples, demonstrated that men evaluate the quality of research unveiling this bias as less meritorious than do women. These findings may inform and fuel self-correction efforts within STEM to reduce gender bias, bolster objectivity and diversity in STEM workforces, and enhance discovery, education, and achievement.”

Read the full article here (free access):

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?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: