A flurry of Twitts from Doctor Zen last week drew my attention, eventually, to a report from The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford. The direct link to the report is here [PDF] and an executive summary style Dual Career Toolkit is provided as a PPT file.

There is all kinds of interesting stuff in here, including basic demographics on prevalence (36% of the American professoriate), career attitudes (50% of men say their career is primary, only 20% of women do) and impact of dual hires (performance measures of trailing-spouse do not differ from single hire peers). With respect to the last, the authors conclude:

Thus, our data suggest that productivity levels among second hires are not significantly different from those among their peers after data are disaggregated by field, and gender and rank are accounted for. (p72)

The Executive Summary of the full report emphasizes that dual-hires are seen as both a growing reality and a thorny problem for Universities. It takes no great leap for those of us familiar with such cases to grasp that one of the biggest reasons for pushback and objections is the assertion or supposition that the trailing spouse would not deserve a hire in his or her own right. Analyses such as the above seem to be critical to this issue in my view.

I’ve written on this topic before

Spousal Hiring is Unethical? Puhleeze.

It was one of my more extensively commented posts (107) so I entirely endorse the idea that this is one of the thornier questions of academics at the moment.

By way of a disclaimer, I am in a dual-academic-career relationship. We have not yet had opportunity or need to press dual-hire issues, but this is always possible in the future.

While I’m getting all irate about the pathetic non-response to the Ginther report, I have been neglecting to think about the intramural research at NIH.

From Biochemme Belle:

JeanKing Dr. Jean A. King [webpage] is Vice-Chair of Research and Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School [PubMed; CV]. She completed her PhD in 1988 at NYU in Neurophysiology and conducted postdoctoral training at Emory. Dr. King’s research record is diverse but can be characterized as focusing on neuroendocrine systems, stress, aggression, fear and substance abuse. Her work has also focused on advancing noninvasive imaging techniques in animal models using magnetic resonance imaging, in addition to the papers she has credit on three patents for neuroimaging advances. Professor King is the Director of the Center for Comparative Neuroimaging within the UMass Medical School. A recent paper from her laboratory (open access) applies imaging techniques to investigate white matter structural integrity in the brains of nicotine addicted human subjects that are associated with measures of physical dependence.

Over the years Dr. King’s work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (a RePORTER search illustrates her NIH funding history as a Principal Investigator).

As you would expect for a scientist of this caliber, her expertise has been sought by an array of journals to provide peer review of manuscripts and by the NIH to serve on many grant review panels. I can confirm that Professor King is an excellent and insightful reviewer of grant applications with a persuasive and often humorous demeanor. Her comments were invariable informative, particularly for noob-ish grant reviewers (ahem). Similarly, Dr. King has supervised numerous trainees, participated on many service committees for her University, for the NIH and for multiple academic societies or entities. She has additional service in nonacademic settings. In this record there is a strong addition of service on issues important to women in science and in careers, generally.

I thank you, Professor Jean A King, for your long commitment to advancing our understanding of the brain and of affective disorder.


Disclaimer: I am professionally acquainted with Dr. King.

picture borrowed from http://www.umassmed.edu/Content.aspx?id=96786

Series Note: The Diversity in Science Blog Carnival was created by D.N. Lee of the Urban Science Adventures! blog. In early 2009 she issued a call for a new blog carnival celebrating diversity in science and hosted the inaugural edition. The Diversity in Science Carnival #2 was hosted at Thus Spake Zuska under the theme Women Achievers in STEM – Past and Present. Prior entries from me have focused on Laura O’Dell, Carl Hart, Chana Akins, Percy Julian, Jean Lud Cadet,  and Yasmin Hurd.

I had a thought occur to me over the past few days. It’s been growing along at the back of my mind and is only partially crystallized.

What if PIs of a given class of interest, whether that be sex, ethnicity, nation of origin or whatever, are not randomly distributed across the various topic domains supported by the NIH? What if a PI of characteristic X tends to work on Topic B using Model M whereas a PI of characteristic Y tends to work on Topic A using Model H?

What if the funding rates for Topic X differed from those for Topic Y? Or if applications using Model M consistently succeeded differently compared with applications using Model H?

I didn’t see any covariates for topic domain or even the funding IC in the Ginther report.

Surely someone at NIH is thinking about this. Surely?

I have two anecdotes for your consideration.

First, as with many areas of science, the ones dear to me suffer from a sex bias. There is a huge tendency to do the animal studies in male animals. Any study using female animals is very frequently a sex comparison study and is proposed explicitly or implicitly as a comparison with the default, i.e. male. I’ve talked about this before. The NIH also takes pains to fix the generalized reluctance via their most functional technique, the call for applications for a dedicated pool of money. In theory, the awarding of grants on sex-differences or on issues specific to women’s health will then spur additional work. Perhaps create a sustained program or even a career of work on this topic.

My anecdote is that I’ve noticed over the years (possible confimation bias here) that women in my field have a greater representation than men in these sorts of studies. Sex-differences models and womans’ health issues in my fields of interest seem to have women as the driving investigators more often than their overall representation.

If this generalizes, then we will want to know if the competitive success of such grant applications because of topic is contaminating our estimation of women PI’s success.

The second anecdote is older and comes from my long history participating on the “Diversity” committees of various academic institutions. Back in the dark ages I recall an incident where a Prof in the experimental sciences had to go to war with a Dean who was in charge of undergraduate summer research funds for underrepresented individuals. The Prof had a candidate who wanted to work in the experimental science, but the awards were generally being made to kids who wanted to work on academic topics related to underrepresented groups. The Dean thought this was the most important thing to do. In this case the prof won his battle in the second year of trying, over the objections of the Dean. I keep in touch with some of my undergraduate professors and I can say that said undergrad went on to become a NIH funded investigator (who still fails to work on issues directly related to underrepresentation). I have no idea if any of the other underrepresented summer research students went on to glorious academic careers in their respective disciplines, perhaps they did. But this is not the point. The point is that perhaps I am a little too glib about the pipeline implications of Ginther. Perhaps the grooming of underrepresented minority undergrads for a career in academics is itself not topic neutral. And the shaping and shifting from that very early stage may dictate field of study and therefore the eventual success rate at the NIH game.

Assuming, of course, that Topic X enjoys differential success rate from Topic Y when the grants are under review at the NIH.

Doctoral Degrees to African Americans by topic

In case my comment never makes it out of moderation at RockTalk….

Interesting to contrast your Big Data and BRAINI approaches with your one for diversity. Try switching those around…”establish a forum..blah, blah…in partnership…blah, blah..to engage” in Big Data. Can’t you hear the outraged howling about what a joke of an effort that would be? It is embarrassing that the NIH has chosen to kick the can down the road and hide behind fake-helplessness when it comes to enhancing diversity. In the case of BRAINI, BigData and yes, discrimination against a particular class of PI applicants (the young) the NIH fixes things with hard money- awards for research projects. Why does it draw back when it comes to fixing the inequality of grant awards identified in Ginther?

When you face up to the reasons why you are in full cry and issuing real, R01 NGA solutions for the dismal plight of ESIs and doing nothing similar for underrepresented PIs then you will understand why the Ginther report found what it did.

ESIs continue, at least six years on, to benefit from payline breaks and pickups. You trumpet this behavior as a wonderful thing. Why are you not doing the same to redress the discrimination against underrepresented PIs? How is it different?

The Ginther bombshell dropped in August of 2011. There has been plenty of time to put in real, effective fixes. The numbers are such that the NIH would have had to fund mere handfuls of new grants to ensure success rate parity. And they could still do all the can-kicking, ineffectual hand waving stuff as well.

And what about you, o transitioning scientists complaining about an “unfair” NIH system stacked against the young? Is your complaint really about fairness? Or is it really about your own personal success?

If it is a principled stand, you should be name dropping Ginther as often as you do the fabled “42 years before first R01” stat.

Poster solitude

October 21, 2013

Next time you are at your favorite scientific meeting, take a look at the trainees that are standing forlornly, uncomfortably alone at their posters. Contrast them with the young trainees that have an audience stacked three deep in a semicircle.

Do you notice any differentials in male/female, attractive/unattractive, white/black/asian/latino/etc ?

I think I shall engage in this exercise at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in November.

A twitter observation from @tressiemcphd [her blog]

reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago that encapsulates my position on underrepresentation in science, affirmative action strategies, etc. It is informed by my participation on diversity-in-academia committees at every level so far from undergraduate, to graduate student and as a faculty member. It is also informed by seeing the nitty-gritty of affirmative action decision making when it comes to the hiring of faculty (the “Dean’s Hire“, etc), the treatment of said faculty once hired and the outcome (tenure/denied) of such faculty.

It is also a position that I take in reaction to anyone who goes on about how skin-reflectance based affirmative action policies are bad because it may select individuals for whom this is their only apparent handicap in academia. Thereby overlooking people who don’t share that particular handicap but otherwise beat out this person in the Oppression Olympics. Also my response to people who think that socio-economic lack of privilege is the only justifiable motivation for affirmative action policies.

This originally went up Aug 29, 2008.

Watching Michelle Obama speak at the Democratic Convention this week was awe inspiring and hope uplifting for many Americans and others worldwide. I was feelin’ it myself. But what really hammered home the real message here, for me, was listening to various media interviews with African-American women. They explained in both humble and soaring terms how important it was for their dreams, aspirations and parental hopes that Michelle stood up there, brilliant, black, beautiful, charismatic and, let’s face it, just plain fabulous. Her strength and will as an advocate for the downtrodden, her country and her family alike was a big hit for women everywhere who finally, finally see families that are just like theirs making a serious run at the US Presidency.

This reminds me of a phenomenon experienced by a scientist with whom I am familiar.
“The conversation usually ends with ‘Thanks Doc, it means a lot’.”

It is no news that US research science looks like a little bit of apartheid. White folks are overrepresented in the faculty ranks and overrepresented in the trainee ranks down to the undergraduate level, relative to the general US population. Frequently enough relative to local city or state populations as well. African-Americans and Latino-Americans are considerably underrepresented. [Don’t yeah-but me with your favorite allegedly overrepresented group in the comments, it is irrelevant to today’s discussion.]

In the service ranks, this is a different story. Visit a few Universities around the country, attend scientific meetings in the usual hotspots of Washington DC, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago and unless you are in complete denial or completely oblivious you notice something. African-Americans and Latino-Americans (and some additional nonwhite ethnic groups) are considerably overrepresented in the service ranks. Administrative assistants, janitors, animal care techs, facilities staff, hotel and convention staff..you name it. These national realities are not just anecdotes, of course. Every time we talk about affirmative action issues in the Academy on a national level, the dismal stats are related.

I make my views on casting a wide net and dismantling artificial barriers to success in science pretty clear in my blogging. I argue this both from the perspective of an advocate for my scientific domain who wants progress made and as an advocate for the individual scientist and his/her career.
Michelle Obama and the scientist who receives the “Thanks Doc” conversations remind me of another important, perhaps more important, reason for dismantling artificial barriers to science career success.

It matters that “people who look like me, are like me, have families like me” are a highly visible part of the landscape. It matters a lot. And this is why I will smack down knuckleheads who bleat on about quotas and “taking slots from the more deserving” and crap like that. First, of course, because those types (almost hysterically, unbelievably, overrepresented in the fizzycyst population) display a fundamental intuitive misunderstanding of populations, central tendencies, variance in the distribution and the rarity of extreme talents. Second, because they disingenuously ignore the warm fuzzies, opportunities and biases associated with the vast majority of the Academy looking just like them. Third because these morally shriveled little wankers are just plain fun to tweak and can be tangled up in their inconsistencies and hypocrisy with little effort. But I digress.

Unsurprisingly, the scientist to whom I am referring looks somewhat other than the vast majority of independent scientists at the University in question. Actually, I think people have a fairly difficult time discerning just what ethnic association fits but lets just say “nonwhite”, pointedly underrepresented in science. Of a variety with which many people who work in support roles at the University in question identify. Ethnicity pegging is not helped in that this person does not speak, act, associate, recreate, hobby-ate, idea-ate, iPod-ate, etc in any particularly ethnically-specific or stereotypic ways that I can detect. This observation is quite important. Unlike Michelle Obama, for whom many aspects of the identity package are consistent with the women being interviewed on the radio this week, this scientist basically only looks “like them”.
My subject scientist relates numerous conversations which follow a common thread. Some staff person will drop by the office to say “Thanks Doc. It’s really important to see one of us in this office doing this job.”

That is the crux of the issue. Image is important. Identity is important. It matters to the larger issues of diversity that we have readily apparent, quotidian, barebones diversity. It matters to our social fabric of opportunity and fairness. It matters to the fundamental principles of what it means to be an American citizen when we are talking politics. It matters to the fundamental principles of the Academy as well.

Additional Reading:

A post on why NOT to make too much of visible diversity.

Quotas/no quotas

Underrepresented Imposter Syndrome (no, something slightly different).

Major, Jack, Willie and Warren

Take the Money and Run

Three Techs