faculty

Why Academic Job Listings Data Matter

Academics on the job market pay a lot of attention to disciplinary societies’ job listings, but just how useful are those data? Are they really an accurate snapshot of the market? A new analysis posted on the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Data Forum and accompanying commentary from Ronald G. Ehrenberg, the Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics and director of the Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University, suggest that they are. You can read the academy’s analysis -- which shows that job listings in most humanities fields are down at least 30 percent since their peak in 2007-08 -- along with Ehrenberg’s thoughts on why these numbers (while flawed) matter here.

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Controversial Climate Change Scientist Defends Work

Wei-Hock Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, issued a statement Monday defending his work, which has been under sharp attack, The New York Times reported. Soon has published articles and spoken out questioning the scientific consensus that climate change is real. A previous Times article noted that he has received extensive financial support from the fossil fuel industry, but has not reported that financial connection in his journal articles, even though many of the journals require such disclosure.

In his statement, Soon attacked his critics. “This effort should be seen for what it is: a shameless attempt to silence my scientific research and writings, and to make an example out of me as a warning to any other researcher who may dare question in the slightest their fervently held orthodoxy," he said.

 

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Essay calls for ending the 'leaky pipeline' metaphor when discussing women in science

For decades, debates about gender and science have often assumed that women are more likely than men to “leak” from the science and engineering pipeline after entering college.

However, new research of which I am the coauthor shows this pervasive leaky pipeline metaphor is wrong for nearly all postsecondary pathways in science and engineering. It also devalues students who want to use their technical training to make important societal contributions elsewhere.

How could the metaphor be so wrong? Wouldn’t factors such as cultural beliefs and gender bias cause women to leave science at higher rates?

My research, published last month in Frontiers in Psychology, shows this metaphor was at least partially accurate in the past. The bachelor’s-to-Ph.D. pipeline in science and engineering leaked more women than men among college graduates in the 1970's and 80's, but not recently.

Men still outnumber women among Ph.D. earners in fields like physical science and engineering. However, this representation gap stems from college major choices, not persistence after college. 

Other research finds remaining persistence gaps after the Ph.D. in life science, but surprisingly not in physical science or engineering -- fields in which women are more underrepresented. Persistence gaps in college are also exaggerated.

Consequently, this commonly used metaphor is now fatally flawed. As blogger Biochembelle discussed, it can also unfairly burden women with guilt about following paths they want. “It’s almost as if we want women to feel guilty about leaving the academic track,” she said.

Some depictions of the metaphor even show individuals funneling into a drain, never to make important contributions elsewhere.

In reality, many students who leave the traditional boundaries of science and engineering use their technical training creatively in other fields such as health, journalism and politics.

As one recent commentary noted, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel were leaks in the science pipeline. I dare someone to claim that they funneled into a drain because they didn’t become tenured science professors. No takers? Didn’t think so.

Men also frequently leak from the traditional boundaries of science and engineering, as my research and other studies show. So why do we unfairly stigmatize women who make such transitions?

By some accounts, I’m a leak myself. I earned my bachelor’s degree in the “hard” science of physics before moving into psychology. Even though I’m male, I still encountered stigma when peers told me psychology was a “soft” science or not even science at all. I can only imagine the stigma that women might face when making similar transitions.

The U.S. needs more women and men who use their technical skills to improve social good. Last summer, I participated in a program to help students do just that -- it was the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship.

For this fellowship, I worked with two computer science graduate students and one bioengineering postdoc on a “big data” project for improving student success in high school. We partnered with Montgomery Public County Schools in Maryland to improve their early warning system. This system used warning signs such as declining grades to identify students who could benefit from additional supports.

This example shows why the leaky pipeline narrative is so absurd. Many leaks in the pipeline continue using their technical skills in important ways. For instance, my team’s data science skills helped improve our partner’s warning system, doubling performance in some cases.

Let’s abandon this inaccurate and pejorative metaphor. It unfairly stigmatizes women and perpetuates outdated assumptions.

Some have argued that my research indicates bad news because the gender gaps in persistence were closed by declines for men, not increases for women. However, others have noted how the findings could also be good news, given concerns about Ph.D. overproduction.

More importantly, this discussion of good news and bad news misses the point: the new data inform a new way forward.

By abandoning exclusive focus on the leaky pipeline metaphor, we can focus more effort on encouraging diverse students to join these fields in the first place. Helping lead the way forward, my alma mater -- Harvey Mudd College -- has had impressive success in encouraging women to pursue computer science.

Maria Klawe, Mudd’s first female president, led extensive efforts to make the introductory computer science courses more inviting to diverse students. For instance, course revisions emphasized how computational approaches can help solve pressing societal problems.

The results were impressive. Although women used to earn only 10 percent of Mudd’s computer science degrees, this number quadrupled over the years after Klawe became president. To help replicate these results more widely, we should abandon outdated assumptions and instead help students take diverse paths into science.

David Miller is an advanced doctoral student in psychology at Northwestern University. His current research aims to understand why some students move into and out of science and engineering fields.

Study finds instructors with Asian last names receive lower scores on Rate My Professors

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Instructors with Asian-sounding last names receive lower ratings on Rate My Professors than others. Why?

Rhodes College professor finds himself targeted by ISIS

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Academic at Rhodes College, who in the past has been criticized by right-wing American groups, is featured in magazine of the Islamic State as example of an apostate who should be killed.

UNC board kills 3 centers amid criticism that the action violates academic freedom

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Vote follows vocal protests and sets off more opposition. Head of poverty research center, one of the targets, announces that he has raised private money to continue work -- and dares board to try to stop him.

Bentley U. Adjuncts Approve Union Bid in Second Round

Adjunct faculty members at Bentley University in Massachusetts voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union following an earlier, narrow vote against unionization, they announced Thursday. Adjuncts approved the bid by a 2-to-1 margin; their new bargaining unit of 220 adjuncts joins four other SEIU part-time-faculty unions in the Boston area: those at Boston, Lesley, Northeastern and Tufts universities. (Note: This sentence has been updated from an earlier version to include Boston University.) Organizers at Bentley attributed their about-face since the last Bentley union vote in 2013 in part to seeing adjuncts on other campuses form unions and, in the case of Tufts, gain wins in their contract. Bentley released a statement about the vote saying that while it “consistently stated its belief that having a union is not in the best interest of the faculty or the university, the university will, of course, bargain in good faith over the terms and conditions of employment for unit members."

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Academic Minute: Finding Exo-Planets

In today's Academic Minute, Brad Hansen, physicist and astronomer at the University of California at Los Angeles, explores a new method for locating habitable planets in deep space. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


 

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Colleges award tenure

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The following individuals have recently been awarded tenure by their colleges and universities:

Cedarville University

  • Elisha Injeti, pharmaceutical science
  • Austin Jacquith, music theory and composition
  • Sandra Yang, music history

Colby College

Column on program in Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism at the New School

Whenever young writers have asked for advice over the years, the only thing I could think to tell them was to practice saying, “Where’s my check?” into the telephone, at various degrees of loudness, mixing in suitable expletives if they felt comfortable doing so. “You’ll probably be saying that a lot,” I'd tell them, generalizing from painful experience.

But as accumulated wisdom goes, it’s pretty well out-of-date. Communication by phone has lost much of its immediacy (half the time it involves leaving a message asking, “Did you get my e-mail?”), and besides, much of the work done by a novice writer, if not all of it, now goes unremunerated. Publication is supposed to be its own reward.

Exaggeration? Sure, but it’s how things look to a writer who began publishing at the close of an era when that meant print and nothing but print. Someone starting out today enters a public sphere with a very different composition and structure -- and does so with a tacit understanding that it, too, will be reconfigured over time. We Gutenbergian geezers must adapt to such changes or else forgo reaching much of our potential audience. Writers emerging now, by contrast, face an arguably more difficult problem: establishing a durable public presence (i.e., readership) at all, in an environment where sustained attention is the scarcest of resources.

A recently launched program at the New School for Social Research called Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism (henceforth CPCJ) seems designed with that challenge in mind. The course work, leading to a master’s degree, is intended to teach students “to think critically and historically about book publishing and journalism; to learn about the best practices of contemporary reporting and cultural criticism; to appreciate the business aspects of production and distribution; and to acquire an ability to work collaboratively in the writing, editing, design and publication of texts on a variety of platforms, both print and digital.” (The full program launches this coming fall, but three core courses are being taught this semester.)

The head of CPCJ, James Miller, a professor of politics and former chair of the New School’s liberal studies program, calls it “a frankly experimental program” that is off to a quiet if promising start. “The program has only been up and running for a few months, and without much in the way of advertising so far,” he told me in an e-mail. “We already have in hand 12 finished applications, and another 80 or so people that have started apps or expressed interest via e-mail inquiries or visits to our classes this semester.”

The roster of faculty and guest speakers listed on its Web site is clearly the program’s biggest draw for now, and it’s hard to think of anyone more suited to running it than Miller, who has published monographs on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Maurice Merleau-Ponty as well as pieces in Rolling Stone and The New York Times. At a much earlier stage of his career, Miller was one of a number of professors in government who were denied tenure by the University of Texas at Austin -- in part, it was said by their supporters, because they leaned to the left, but also on the grounds that they were writing for the popular press as well as scholarly journals. Such, at least, was the word going around when I arrived as a freshman in 1981, and it tracks fairly closely with what Texas Monthly reported the following year, in a cover story called "The Trouble With UT."

Miller was very much a felt absence among some of us, and when the last of his circle was denied tenure, we ended the school year by occupying the liberal arts office in protest. (You never forget your first political arrest.) By then Miller had joined Newsweek as a book and music critic, and also went on to write "Democracy Is in the Streets": From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago (1987) and The Passion of Michel Foucault (1993) and to edit the journal Daedalus, published by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

A remarkable skill set, then -- assembled mostly in predigital days but supplemented by Miller’s feel for what the would-be public intellectual, magazine editor or literary publisher would need to know in starting out today.  Part of the core curriculum, for example, is a lab where students can expand their multimedia literacy by learning Adobe Suite, WordPress, HTML, EPUB and so on.

You could acquire some of those tools at one of the city's many journalism/publishing degree programs -- or, for that matter, at the Learning Annex, I suppose. But the instructor for the lab is Rachel Rosenfelt,  a founding editor of the cultural journal The New Inquiry and someone with a deep interest in the uses of multimedia for serious commentary and debate. Another instructor is Juliette Cezzar, an assistant professor of communication at the Parsons School of Design and president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts/New York, whose course on the history and theory of publication design also involves studio work. While overlapping somewhat with established programs in writing, publishing and design programs, CPCJ integrates them in a specific and, as far as I know, unique way.

A memo by Miller indicates that the M.A. work culminates in “an individualized capstone project that can take a number of forms: from an edgy short story or long-form book review to a piece of investigative reporting, from a business plan for a new literary quarterly to design work that demonstrates a student’s ability to create an engrossing reading experience and shows an awareness of and empathy for today’s reader of serious writing.”

For a reader of serious writing, it’s good to hear this -- especially the part about students designing “a business plan for a new literary quarterly.” Does that sound crass? Well, someone said that you can tell who the poets are at a party, because they’re the ones in a corner talking about money. (The lack of it, presumably.)

My one major worry is that the program could end up as a conduit supplying still more unpaid labor to the voracious maw of the New York culture industry. At some point CPCJ really ought to offer a course on organizing interns to demand fair pay. It's an experimental program, after all, and that's an experiment worth making. All together now: "Where are our checks?"

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