Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Too Many Papers

In (trying) to keep up with the literature in my field, I have often made that lament, especially after tracking down the 3rd in a series of Least Publishable Units that should have been one more complete paper. The LPU problem is directly related to the strongly held belief that more is better, especially when it comes to paper counts.

A week or so ago, there was this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that suggested that the problem is not one of LPUs, but instead of useless and boring research being published, wasting everyone's time and resources. Female Science Prof has an awesome refutation of this article, with Drugmonkey adding some additional arguments against. For the other side, Derek Lowe agrees with the CHE.

This topic touches in some ways on my previous post on old, abandoned data. Personally, I think the problem of old abandoned data is more significant than excessive publication of results. I've seen this play out in my own career. When I switched to a new research focus area, I aggressively searched out techniques that would speed our progress, only to find nothing much published that was directly relevant. Some of the stuff I did find was from the 60's and 70's, with low citation counts. This stuff was incredibly useful to us, even though it had lain fallow for 30+ years before someone found it worthwhile.

I've also seen the opposite occur. We had some incidental findings that we didn't think worthy of a separate publication. A few years later, another group replicated and published our (unpublished) "incidental" results. Their paper has been cited 12 times in the year and a half since publication in a field-specific journal with an impact factor of 6. It is incredibly difficult to predict in advance what other scientists will find useful. Since data is so expensive in time and money to generate, I would much, much rather there be too many publications than too few (especially given modern search engines and electronic databases).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Teaching Undergraduates--Observations of a Newbie

In my department at Prodigal U, professors are guaranteed to keep classes they develop for 3-5 years, though sometimes they keep them for longer (less popular to teach classes, particularly good classes, untenured profs) or shorter (sabbatical or other leave replacements, course just not working out). I teach one grad class (enrollment ~15 mostly senior majors/grad students) and one large undergrad class (required class, enrollment 200-220 mostly premeds). I'll talk about my grad class in a future post.

I am at a big research intensive school. Research is the key thing for tenure here, however bad teaching can also block tenure. My colleagues are (mostly) very interested in doing a good job teaching, and our department has several award winning teachers, so the expectation is that new profs will be at least adequate, and hopefully much better than that. My department is a core science (think physics/chemistry/biology/math) so we have a lot of large classes for non-majors. Personally, I care a lot about my teaching, and not just because I tend to want to succeed at everything I do. I moved from National Lab specifically to work with students, so I have a lot of self-motivation in this area.

For my big undergrad class, I teach from Powerpoint slides on a tablet. My handwriting is pretty bad and I can't draw well, so my slides have important equations, plots, and illustrations on them. I mark them up a lot during my lectures. I make my slides available before and after class. I also have a Web discussion board, and post homeworks and solutions on the Web site as well. I don't grade homework, but I have simple electronic quizzes once per chapter or so covered (10 total, drop 2) worth a small fraction of the grade. My course has two midterms and a final. I tried to do one YouTube demo video a week to illustrate key concepts, which was pretty popular.

I was a bit nervous about running my own class for the first time, especially such a big one. I did OK--my evals were near the departmental average, even though this is an unpopular class, so I think that is pretty good for the first time through! So, as I look through and start to think about revising for next year, what did I learn?

1. The course overhead eats up a TON of time. Dealing with questions, problems, concerns, and grading is a huge timesink. To save my sanity, I only see students during my two office hours a week or right after class ends, though I hold open office hours on the day of exams. I do not take student phone calls, just email. To decrease grading disputes (particularly at the end of the course) I took a colleague's advice, and made grades permanent one week after handing back the exams.

2. Preparing exams takes a really, really long time (and I still missed a few typos!). I was as nervous on the day of my exams as the students! I was really lucky, and had a few exams from previous instructors to use as a guide to the appropriate question difficulty level. (Some) of the students have all the exams from this course back for a 15 year period, so I didn't worry too much if a question I liked was on a prior exam. In fact, I often just slightly modified assigned or related homework problems and/or problems I worked in lecture, and the course average was still a 68.

3. During the actual exam, there is a fine line between being helpful and being a distraction. The students will often ask lots of dumb, obvious questions when I am there, so just a peridioc walk through the exam room(s) is much better than hanging around any specific amount of time.

4. I wasted a lot of time before the semester started prepping lectures. Next time I develop a course, I will make a detailed outline, but only try to get a week ahead with specific lecture slides (since the course dynamic changes a lot).

5. Very few students come to office hours (even the open hours on the day of the exam), so having open office hours is a cheap way to show you care. Holding office hours and answering questions was my favorite part of the course!

6. People write really nasty things on teaching evaluations. Even though it is anonymous, I was really surprised by this. I also had a lot of good things (one person said they changed majors to my field partially due to my course--yay!), but the negative remarks can really get in your head.

7. Students expect a TON of stuff I never had as an undergrad (lecture notes posted, lectures recorded and online, unlimited 24-hour email responses from professors, individual appointments on demand). How demanding some of them were was a huge surprise.

8. Clear rules and expectations are very popular, even if you are a hardass. Almost every non-"worst prof ever" evaluation comment mentioned this and my availability for extra help as big pluses.

9. Incorporating some recent research results to supplement the textbook is a nice way to keep the top students interested and curious about the material. I did this, especially in places where I was really familiar with the material. Another "enrichment" thing that students like is some historical information about how measurements were actually made and about the personalities involved. This stuff was also praised in my evals.

10. There is no point in arguing about lame excuses. I don't have makeup exams--if someone can't make it, their points just get redistributed. I had a few off the wall excuses for missing exams. In general, unless the excuse was real (and the student had actually been studying and keeping up), students who missed midterms went ahead and flunked the final, so it all took care of itself. Dropping 2 of 10 quizzes also saved me a lot of grief.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Academia and Pyramid Schemes

I've been thinking a bit about the whole "pyramid scheme" thing when it comes to academia. There are many people who bitterly accuse professors of actively setting one up and/or exploiting their students and postdocs who will "never get jobs". I don't think this is really true, and never did (even when I ran screaming from academia). For one thing, the unemployment rate among science PhD holders (going by statistics from professional societies like the APS, ACS, MRS, etc) is much lower than the general unemployment rate. All those PhDs not joining the TT are also not joining breadlines. For another thing, many PhDs are not even interested in an academic career (recently noted by GMP here).

I guess I don't really see much difference between academic job hunting, and job hunting in general. Starting out with undergrad admissions, there are many more qualified people for desirable positions than available slots. Who gets those slots is a matter of hard work (to get qualified) and luck (to be one of the qualified people who is "chosen"). So how is the TT any different from grad school admissions (in ANY prestige program), law firm partnership, company CEO, professional artist/athlete/performer, attending physician, investment banking, etc? The pool of qualified applicants is many times larger than the number of slots, and there are desirable perks to success (money/prestige/fame/security/intellectual freedom) making the supply of those willing to try for the goal pretty much infinite.

Maybe I have rose colored glasses on because I have always been lucky enough to find a position in research, but there are no guarantees in life. When I was interviewing in industry, I saw many really interesting jobs available to science PhD holders that were not in research. If I hadn't gone to National Lab, I would have been happy to take on one of those instead. Sure, my life would be different, but it wouldn't make my PhD a waste of time or a failed opportunity.

I've been telling my students that loving science isn't enough--they need to think about what they want to do with their PhDs, and start preparing for that before they are looking for a job so they can tailor their PhD experience appropriately (more teaching/writing/industrial partners/whatever). My current crew is undecided about what they want to do next. I do ask them periodically, though because 5 years goes by fast.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

On Titles and Gender

The recent discussion on gender in science at FSP's blog (inspired by FSP's column at CHE) have got me rethinking on a pet peeve of mine: students and titles. At Prodigal U, the departmental culture is such that students call the professors "Dr. Professor" unless invited to use something else. I have my group members call my "Prodigal", but I don't mind being called "Dr. Academic" or "Professor Academic" if they prefer.

When I teach my large undergrad class, many of the students call me "Miss", which drives me UP THE WALL! Even worse is when they call me Miss in email, after sending on a forwarded mail where they called a colleague "Dr. MaleProf". I sign my emails to students as "Dr. Academic", I call myself "Dr. Academic" on the first class, and I refer to all other profs as "Dr. Colleague". This year, I have the added service requirement of being the adviser for our incoming majors, so I anticipate even more "Miss" than ever before.

I am looking for a way to correct them (I would even prefer "Prodigal" to "Miss", which I hate! Outside academia, I use "Ms" anyway) without sounding like a pompous ass. I don't want to get more hate in my teaching evals (which go in the tenure file) than I already do for being a strict female prof. Any advice, or should I just suck it up until I have tenure?

In some ways, it is not all about me. I also want to get them properly socialized--I have been to several conferences where the session chair has called all the male presenters "Dr." and all the female presenters "Ms.", even when the female presenters are professors, and some of the male presenters are students. Getting them away from this at a young age seems like a good idea!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Work-life Balance

A topical storm has been raging through my corner of the blogosphere on men, women, and work-life balance (see posts by Jim Austen, Dr. Isis, Janet D. Stemwedel, PLS, and unbalanced reaction) culminating in a interesting discussion over at Scientist Mother's blog, with a response by DM at his place. I saw this interesting article at Slate on how much time fathers spend with their kids, and how what they say about it has changed with time, and had the urge to add to the fray. Maybe we are in a generational shift--that would be awesome for my kids. But what does that say about now?

There is lots of talk about "lucky" people with equal partners, and on choosing the "right" partner, but I submit that this is not actually possible. NO ONE knows how they will behave in the long term for real. I know lots of people who thought they would do more housework, who meant to do their share at home, but then when they had to make a choice, they chose something else. "I need to work an extra hour a few nights this week, so can you cook dinner for me" becomes the status quo. Or "your job is more flexible than mine is, so you pick up the sick kid" becomes true for doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers, etc. Or "just until I make partner/get tenure/find a permanent position" becomes forever. So choosing an equal partner at age 25 or 30 doesn't mean that they partnership stays equal at 35 or 40. And once your life is intertwined with someone else's, and there are kids or pets or a house or shared sacrifices or whatever else, it is hard to walk away over the laundry.

My own two cents on the "calling out" kerfuffle--I agree with Scientist Mother that more men need to contribute to the discussion so that work-life balance moves off of the Style pages in the NYT and into the main section. At the same time, I think DM can and should blog about whatever he wants to. But if not the popular male science bloggers, who will take up the challenge? I personally have declined to be the pioneer woman on the TT at one of the places I received an offer, so I am not throwing any stones here. It is just something I think about--when should I step up and do something uncomfortable to make things easier for people that follow after me, and when can I let others do their share?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New PIs and Postdocs

Prof-like Substance hosted an interesting discussion on fresh PIs mentoring postdocs (starting in the comments here and continuing in a separate post), prompted by the observation that some funding agencies are reluctant to fund a postdoc for a new PI. In terms of funding agencies, I have gotten that exact criticism myself--no postdoc for you, you are too new.

In terms of new PIs as postdoc mentors, I think that this depends a lot more on the person than on the career stage. Dr. Girlfriend is strongly opposed to the idea of allowing people new to the TT to mentor postdocs. She says:

I still do not get how someone who has no experience in running a lab and managing staff can be a good mentor to someone aspiring the this role.

A new PI can be an excellent mentor for graduate students because they are hands-on and heavily invested in their success.

However, a postdoc does not need training regards doing research - they require only experience in this respect.

Getting a job requires a good publication record, but getting tenure requires much more. A postdoc need to learn how to become a group leader and develop a project to take with them.

An associate and full professors will have current experience of interviewing and the tenure process because they are serving on search committees.

I will grant her point about managing personnel--this is something I am learning on the job. But in terms of actual experience with looking for an academic job, a person new to the TT will have given this far more thought recently than a more established mentor (after all, they just did it themselves). I was told that for this reason, new profs are sought out for search committees (my experience, shown here and here, and blogged about by Gerty-Z).

I am far, far invested in my students' success than a more established professor with a large lab. As a new professor, I need everyone to do as well as possible to show productivity for tenure. Personally, I have no track record, so I am highly motivated to help my lab folks get the best jobs they can.

I also highly object to the notion that a new PI will not allow a postdoc to develop a project they can take with them. I allow my lab peeps to do whatever they want to for at least part of their time. There is work that must be done, of course, but certainly this doesn't take up 100% of anyone's time. While I do expect to reap the benefit of the intellectual abilities of those in my lab, I am confident enough in myself and my creativity that I certainly would not force someone to leave behind a pet idea.

In addition, I (like many others) had to start from nothing (couldn't take anything from my National Lab, since it all belongs to the Fed Gov), so this is not the kiss of death for new faculty. Second, this can be a crutch and a major disadvantage. When we interview people who plan to continue work started in their previous lab(s), we wonder if the idea is theirs or the PIs. We also worry that they as a new PI will be directly competing for funding with their established mentor's lab, at least in the eyes of funding agencies.

Taking a postdoc in a new lab is certainly risky, since the new lab has no track record. But it is also much more open, since all the projects are brand new. I found this attractive to my first 2 students (they wanted to have their own projects right from the start), and I imagine that some postdocs would feel the same way. Other postdocs might value the connections/mentoring on running an established lab that a more experienced professor can provide. This seems like a personal decision, not a place for a hard and fast rule.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

After the Offer--Negotiation and the TT

PhD job seeker asked if their is negotiation around a TT job offer, and if so how it is done. This was my experience.

After I received my offers, I was given 2 weeks to accept or decline. During that time, at least one University flew spouse and I out so spouse could see the area upon request. One of the realities of a TT job search is that the candidate applies for many positions, likes some more than others, and is constrained by the varying schedules of different departments. As a candidate, you need to look out for your own interests, because no one else will.

In my case, one department was hiring for multiple positions. They met promptly after my interview, and I received an offer in less than a week (my first!). I was still interviewing at other places, and had at least one department that I was more interested in show an interest. As soon as I had the written offer in hand, I notified all the departments I was still interested in that I had an offer to try to speed up their time tables. In one case, I got an expedited interview. In another, the department still had one more candidate to interview, but I was currently their top choice. They gave me a firm date on which they could give me a decision. A third department had expressed verbal interest, but was dragging their feet on a written offer. My existing offer put their feet to the fire so to speak, and greatly sped up the process.

The offer I had in hand was good. I would have taken it happily if I hadn't decided I would strongly prefer Prodigal U. To give Prodigal U more time, I asked for another week to decide, while negotiating my salary and startup package for the offer I had in hand. Chaining offers like this is a fact of TT job search life, if a candidate is lucky enough to have more than one offer. Some people think it is unethical, but I see nothing wrong with it as long as you would actually take the job. It is a waste of time to negotiate and stall if there is no way you would take the offer. This can make the department lose out on their 2nd and 3rd choice candidate (if they in fact exist--in our searches, that hasn't always been the case). If I thought a job at Offer U was worse than my job at National Lab, I would have turned it down outright.

I eventually got an offer from Prodigal U. At this point, I had declined one offer and had another offer in hand (for more money!). This greatly strengthened my negotiating position, as did the fact that I already had a permanent job I liked. However, even if you receive 1 offer and your postdoc funding ends tomorrow, it is worth negotiating, especially for things that will help you be successful. Keep in mind, though, that a counteroffer technically declines the original offer, so be careful!

I asked for a much higher salary than my initial offer, which was scary (see above statement about counteroffers!). To justify the increased salary, I compared my current salary to the offer, I mentioned my higher offer elsewhere (but did not ask for a match--I definitely did not want to give the impression that I was all about the money, and my other offer was in an Engineering department, which generally pay better than a Science department like the one at Prodigal U). I also brought up my track record in competing for funding relative to a typical fresh postdoc (that's where being at a National Lab was a huge benefit). I was able to negotiate my starting salary up 15%, which is a pretty big deal, and definitely due to the fact that I was more experienced than a typical new TT hire. All future raises come as a percentage of base salary, so it is important to start out at a decent salary. I did take a pay cut from National Lab, though.

The major things I negotiated for were actually not salary related at all. Some other things I asked for: extra startup funds to cover user fees until I could buy my own equipment, 3 years of summer salary, support for 2 students for 2 years, doing my teaching in the Fall (when I would be ordering stuff) rather than in the Spring (when all the stuff would hopefully arrive) my first year, separate sample prep and instrument space, a spot in on campus daycare, a specific instrument lab location due to environmental issues impacting measurements, etc. This depends on your research needs. It was nerve-wracking to ask for stuff, and I hated it. I kept it professional and provided justifications for the things I was asking for, rather than trying to extract every last drop from my new department. Some things I got (extra startup for user fees, wet/dry labs), some things I didn't (daycare spot).

Something to remember is that in the cases I saw, the Chair was negotiating with the Dean on my behalf. It is to the Chair's and department's benefit to have the new TT member be successful. I got some good advice on things to ask for from some of the places I was interviewing at/negotiating with!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Interviewing (from the perspective of a faculty member)

I meant to post this as a followup to this post sooner, but got distracted by other issues.

Although I am a new faculty member, this year I have interviewed 14 candidates for 3 positions in 2 departments. Interviews at Prodigal U take 2 days. On both days, most of the time is reserved for 1-on-1 or small group discussions. On day 1, the candidate gives an open seminar to the department. On day 2, the candidate gives a closed talk/has a detailed discussion about their research plans. This depends on how the search is being run. In one department, the search committee makes a recommendation, but the whole faculty discusses each candidate and votes on whether to make an offer. In this case, the research plan is a very informal talk given to the department members. In the other department, the search committee decides who to make an offer to, and the department is not directly involved, other than to submit comments. In addition, our candidates are usually hosted for 2 lunches and 2 dinners as well.

As a faculty member, and member of two search committees, I can say that searching is very time consuming for the department. Everyone takes this very seriously, since making a bad choice can potentially have repercussions for 30+ years. So what are we looking for?

By the interview stage, all of the candidates are well-qualified on paper. Once we invite someone to campus, we want them to wow us. We are already impressed with the candidates' accomplishments, now we want to see their polish. They have all had research success in the past, and all have some interesting ideas for the future.

The first thing we want to see is that the candidate "walks the walk, not just talks the talk". We all know people who have been carried along by a successful PI and/or research group who have great hands in the lab, but lack that creative spark required for a good research plan. Thus, it is really important that the candidate demonstrate their creativity/scientific thinking as well as their breadth and depth of knowledge. Giving a good seminar is critically important. However, it is also important that the candidate can discuss their work coherently, and not just in the context of their job talk. We give a fair bit of importance to how the candidate answers questions and to how they discuss science in the interview meetings.

In discussion of the planned research we want to see short, medium, and long term plans. These plans should be differentiated from the work done as a PhD student or postdoc. The candidate should have some idea of how big their ideal group would be, and also to know what they absolutely need equipment-wise to be successful. Better still is a list of big ticket items and an estimated cost. Especially for candidates coming from large and well-funded labs with access to unusual equipment, it is important to know what infrastructure the planned research requires. If Prodigal U doesn't have it, there is no point in coming here. Two questions that commonly get asked in these sessions are "who else is working in this area?" and "what is your angle that makes your work unique/different?"

In terms of fit, we want the candidates to be reasonably pleasant and polite (berating the departmental administrators is not a good idea), to have given some thought as to how their future work will fit in with current research in the department, and to refrain from outright sexist/racist/homophobic/anti-Semitic/etc. comments and behaviors (this should go without saying, but you would be surprised). We look at candidates energy level--are they excited by their work, or is it just something they do. We are looking for someone we wouldn't mind having in the office next door.

The fit thing cuts two ways. We want there to be enough overlap in research interests that the candidate can find collaborators in the department, but not so much that there is direct competition for students and funding. This can be a fine line. The optimal amount of overlap can vary from person to person. I enjoy collaborating with my colleagues, so I am fairly tolerant of research overlap. One of my colleagues is more territorial, and would prefer to have almost none. At the same time, we don't want to hire someone whose research is very far from everyone else in the department, as lack of sharable equipment and difficulty attracting students can be fatal to a new lab.

Of the 14 candidates I saw, 5 performed "below the bar" and would not have been hired under any circumstances. I've been told this is not atypical. For 3 of them, their research talk was awful (hey maybe that was me in year 1 of my search!) The other 2 did not have convincing or realistic research plans. Another 1 who was above the bar prompted questions because the proposed research was incredibly similar to work done in their PhD and postdoctoral groups.

For the remaining candidates, there is nothing they did wrong. It is just "right place/right time" luck that gets them the job or not. Of the other 8 candidates, 3 accepted offers elsewhere and 2 accepted offers here. The remaining 3 candidates were ranked below the 2 that we hired. 1 search went unfilled (and will be redone next year).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Old data and moving on

I have three more publications planned to write up from my old National Lab. All of the data is relatively old, and some is ancient. I've decided to get this done this summer, so I can remove this as clutter from my brain. The extra publications on my CV won't hurt either!

It is kind of bittersweet--I am just about done with the most interesting of the three. This is data I took 5 years ago that is really exciting, but difficult to interpret. We always intended/tried to get some theoreticians on board to help us figure out why we see what we see, but it never worked out for various reasons. The funding ended, and so did the project, though the results are still interesting and novel 5 years later. So now I am writing it for a really good specialty journal, rather than a top-tier discipline-wide one. I really want the data to see the light of day. I am just about done with the first draft manuscript, mostly cleaning it up to send on to my old collaborators at National Lab. I am falling in love with my old data again, seeing why I always wanted to try to explain it better and try for a top tier journal. At the same time, I clearly need to move on to the things my lab is focusing on, so I am not sad to finally get a publication out of it.

Project #2 is similar--nice data that would have benefited from some additional measurements that were never made. This one should go into a good journal for my field, and I will write it as such, since this is the sub-area in which I am best known. Although this is not a major thrust in my new lab, I need to keep publishing in this sub-area because I will likely find very strong people to write letters in support of my tenure bid in this area. I have one student working on something related, so I am looking to see if there are any last measurements my student can do to improve what I already have.

Project #3 is really ancient--the last data was taken six years ago at the tail end of another project. I don't really need to write this one, but I had two summer (undergrad) REU students who worked on it, one of whom is now in a PhD program. I would like to get it done for them, even though it might not even be worth the effort, and will likely go to a minor specialty journal. I feel guilty enough as it is that I never got around to finishing this up. But data is data, and papers are papers, so I will probably spend a week or so on it. It also seems a shame to have data that tells a complete story (no matter how minor and unimportant to me now) go to waste.

I wonder how many projects like these get lost in the shuffle? How much interesting (and already paid for in money and blood) data is sitting in people's old lab notebooks?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Breaking up with a collaborator

Managing collaborations is one aspect of science I find difficult. Social skills do not come easy to me in general, so I feel a little out of my element. I am not talking about the science part--the data discussions, the planning, the experimental designs. That part is all fun. I am talking about the social/political side.

In a collaboration, like in a friendship or romance, one day you can just realize you are just going through the motions. The science may be interesting, but the collaboration isn't working anymore. Maybe you are doing too much of the heavy lifting. Maybe your interests or goals have drifted apart. Maybe the work of maintaining a long distance relationship is no longer balanced by the benefits, or the specialized knowledge your collaborator had is now available in your lab. At that point, it might be time to end it. Especially for me now, newly on the TT when I am trying to establish myself for tenure, I can't afford to have collaborations in name only. Sure, I get some extra papers (maybe) as a middle author from their lab, but I need to have papers that are from my lab alone, and that makes the bar for collaboration a little higher, especially for work that doesn't require specialized knowledge or equipment.

It is hard to let go. I find myself wondering if I made the right decision. In the short term, we are now racing to finish a set of experiments before they do something similar. In the long term, the door is still open to work together again, but I am pretty sure it won't be on this particular project. So for today, I am letting myself wallow in doubt and loss, and tomorrow I will pick myself up and get cracking on the science!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The silence of the editors

Another week, and still no word on our paper. Why is it when I review for this journal, I get 2 weeks to send in my review (and tons of emailed reminders), but when my stuff is being reviewed, it takes 3-4 months?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Thoughts about women in science

Fueled by a recent set of posts by geekmommyprof and DrDrA, Ihave been giving this issue some thought. I've read many studies on gender in science and in Western society, since this is a long term interest of mine. This post is more about life as it is lived for women today, rather than the studies that are out there.

On discrimination. A quick look around the blogoverse, and particularly at blogs by women in science shows that many (but not all) women have experienced sexism, both overtly and subtly as part of a pattern that is only noticed over time/after talking to others. I too have experienced this in my life (on the receiving end and as an observer). One of the reasons I decided to start a blog is because reading about the lived experience of all these other women is a huge benefit to me, making me realize that it isn't just me, that I am not alone, and that I am not crazy (an issue with subtle sexism). I think that is why there is such a high proportion of women bloggers with respect to their representation in STEM fields.

I also notice that many of the women who state that they have never experienced sexism are younger. This also is consistent with my experience. In my first few years as a PhD student, I would have said the same thing. As I move up the totem pole, sexism becomes both more noticeable and more of an issue in my life. In retrospect as well, I can see that as a women in a male-dominated field, I was expected to conform to (male) social norms, and that this is a form of sexism as well. Venting via the Internet and reading others' posts helps me to process these issues in my life.

On diversity. It makes a huge, huge difference if the leadership is committed to diversity rather than giving lip service. My old division at National Lab was a great place to work partially due to the diversity in my colleagues. This clearly came from the top, as the division leader promoted women and underrepresented minorities into leadership roles, which attracted top female and minority candidates in job searches, which led to improved diversity in the division, which reinforced all of this. When my spouse came to a work-related award ceremony, an unprompted direct quote was "wow--the other divisions are a lot whiter and maler than yours is."

When I was interviewing for faculty positions, I noted the number of women and underrepresented minorities on the faculty and in the student body. Several departments had just one woman and no visible underrepresented minorities. This was hugely unattractive to me, especially after working in my diverse division at National Lab. My current department has almost 20% women and several underrepresented visible minorities on the faculty. This was an important secondary consideration (after research fit and startup package, and on par with location and salary). I definitely prefer to work in my department with many women at all ranks than to be alone or 1 of 2.

This is clearly a recruitment edge for my department. I do understand that by not wanting to be a pioneer, this just passes the burden to someone else, and I am grateful to the women who came before me for doing just that. But in this day and age, foresighted departments/workplaces/divisions should get to reap the benefit of their hard work to diversify in the past. The presence of women in positions of leadership in the department and at the university is an important signal, as I learned at my National Lab. As an example, in my department, faculty meetings start at 2, not at 4 or 5 so people who need to be home by 5:30 can see to both work and home obligations.

In my own group, I am fortunate. Although early in my career, I have 3 men and 2 women in my group (in my sub-field about 30% of PhDs go to women). Based on the inquiries I have received for next year, it looks like I will maintain this ratio. I didn't really do anything special to recruit women, though I welcome this outcome. My management style is fairly hands off, and I don't require specific hours (as long as the work gets done in a timely manner), which I think appeals to both men and women. My research is fairly interdisciplinary, resulting in group members with a variety of academic backgrounds, which can be an advantage. I think that diversity recruiting can be a vicious or virtuous cycle, where groups that are all-male can have trouble recruiting female students due to the actual or feared lab culture, and groups that are more balanced are more attractive to women (as in the case for me when I was job searching).

On the leaky pipeline. One aspect of the leaky pipeline is almost certainly lack of role models. As a student, I never had a female professor for any of my science or math classes (in undergrad OR grad school). I never knew a female faculty member with children until I was in my 5th year of my PhD program, and the only tenured woman in the department got pregnant. As a student, I never met an employed women scientist in my sub-field in real life until I was interviewing for jobs--all of the women I knew in my area of interest were students, postdocs, or names on papers. Almost all of the seminar speakers were male, all of the professors in my area were male, and almost all of the students (90%!) were male. It is really, really hard to be the only woman. In fact, in my subfield and department, the graduation rate for women PhDs was 10%. It gives me great sympathy for underrepresented visible minorities (though I know it is not the same thing). I understand why many people, even in the absence of overt discrimination, give up. My department claimed it was because they quit to have babies (bs, btw) or to relocate with a spouse (more plausible, but not 90%). Science is hard enough without stacking the deck against success. Things are better now, but not by much. Not by enough.

Partially as a result, as a student, I didn't want to be a professor. I did, however, want to go into research science. When I was interviewing in industry, I saw many instances of institutional sexism that fairly scream out "Boys Club--No Girls". For example, at one place, I had to sign something stating that I understood that women at a particular worksite were 5-10X more likely to have a miscarriage than the general public. When I asked what happened to pregnant employees, I was told they take their chances, they quit, or they transfer out of research. Gee that is really welcoming. Not surprisingly, there were not many women working there. It is frightening that they thought this type of environmental exposure was just fine, since it only impacted pregnant women (that they knew of). Men never are expected to choose between a family and a career, yet this happens to women frequently, and it is a major source of frustration. The company was otherwise very family friendly, and didn't seem to understand the disconnect here.

Unfortunately, the pipeline problem also is at least partially a societal problem. The culture of research science (and of other high powered careers like partner in a law firm or investment banker) assumes that people are willing to put work first and everything else second. There are many people, men and women, who don't want to do this. At the same time, there is social pressure on women to have children, to cook and clean, and to take care of sick family members. Something has to give--the competing pressures on women only make the decision against unending work occur earlier for women than for men. We will never "fix" the pipeline without "fixing" society to be more balanced.