Harmonics Can Make Metals Flux

I’m sitting on the bus, on my way to the LA Times Festival of Books. I’ve opened my notebook to maybe sketch a face or two, but then I spot an algebraic error on a page from a few days ago, so I set about correcting it….(you know, either for those historians who will argue about my intentions while poring over these once-lost manuscripts…. Or more likely for me in a few weeks, likely to get confused by my own blunder-in-haste with a kindergarten level variation.)

20140412-122335.jpgA bearded fellow had boarded the bus and sat next to me while I was doing this. He eventually glances my way, then away, then he does a double take. I’ve been watching him out of the corner of my eye. He starts to speak to me.

Calc or Trig?
Excuse me?
Calc or trig?
Er…. Physics.
What are you studying?
I’m not…studying. It is my research.

Silence from him for a few beats, then:

Into what?
Charged black holes.

I should say at this point that I get this a lot. No matter who I meet out there in the random world, or what they see me writing, the assumption is always that I am taking a class in high school mathematics. Why is that? People, at least guess for some of the time that I might be at least teaching it, even if you can’t imagine people doing research in this area. The grey hairs in my beard are a guide to your assumptions.

Another gripe: if you see someone writing words, and want to engage them in conversation about it, you don’t assume they are practicing the basic structures… Imagine the analogous exchange: Are you practicing joined-up writing madam, or spelling? Neither, I’m writing poetry.

Anyway, back to the conversation. So, as you recall, I said Charged black [...] Click to continue reading this post

No, That’s the Other Guy…

sam_jackson_tvNo, I’m not Neil deGrasse Tyson. Yes, we both talk about science on TV. Yes, we both happen to be black… but no, we are not the same guy. Also: No, I am not Jim Gates. He also sometimes shows up on TV talking about physics, and he is also black.. but no, he isn’t either me (Clifford) or Neil… He’s Jim.

This attempt at humour is inspired (in part) by real conversations I’ve had (less so in recent years, thank goodness – people are maybe better about googling first?). But mostly it is inspired by this (familiar) sad, funny, and stunningly awkward conversation from Monday* (the first 2 minutes 10 seconds): [...] Click to continue reading this post

Hurdles

I noticed that over on Backreaction, Bee talks about a letter she wrote to Time Magazine to respond to a spectacularly uninformed remark by Jeffrey Kluger about women in physics. It was made in one of the “Person of the Year” runner-up articles surrounding a description of Fabiola Gianotti, one of the physicists who presented the Higgs particle discovery announcement at CERN last year. The spectacularly uninformed remark? Here it is:

Physics is a male-dominated field, and the assumption is that a woman has to overcome hurdles and face down biases that men don’t.

But that just isn’t so. Women in physics are familiar with this misconception and acknowledge it mostly with jokes.

I should say that it is nice to see an article about physics in this context (Time, person of the year, etc) since it gets the general public interested, but it is dismaying to see such a hugely important issue brushed over. I don’t think it helps the younger people trying to get into the field, and it certainly is frustrating and unhelpful for people already in the field who are having to deal with all the preconceptions and [...] Click to continue reading this post

Becoming Engaged…

It turns out that a really great way of passing the time when listening to someone give a talk is to do some sketch practice. [... wait, what? The post title? Oh! No, no, don't be silly. Ok., let me continue ...] If the subject matter is right, it’s a good thing to do while you focus on what’s being said. This last couple of days I’ve been in Aspen, Colorado, and I’m starting out my visit here with a three day conference entitled “Becoming Engaged: Initiatives That Can Change Science Education”. You can see more about it on a dedicated website hosted by ICAM. One of the people behind it is David Pines, and we’ve had many conversations about science outreach and science education over the years, and so he invited me to participate. I’m supposed to be here at Aspen for my visit to the Aspen Center for Physics, and so I’m only partially attending, opting to to listen to some talks, and take part in some discussions… then going back over to the center to hear some LHC and Higgs chatter on the LHC workshop that is starting up this week.

There are a lot of interesting people talking about science education, and science outreach, many describing their various approaches and projects in short talks and presentations. (I will tell you about some of them in future posts.) It is great to meet several people who are passionate about outreach too, and see what others are up to and share ideas… so this is a valuable time. Hopefully, some action ideas will come of this meeting that [...] Click to continue reading this post

Inspiration and Dedication

jaime_escalante_by_robert_gauthierYou might not have heard of him, so I thought I’d mark the passing, on Tuesday, of the mathematics teacher Jaime Escalante. (Photo on right by Robert Gauthier.) He was an extraordinary teacher who passionately believed in the abilities of the many East Los Angeles students from disadvantaged and traditionally ignored backgrounds he taught, enduring the ridicule of his colleagues to press on with the job of teaching them as well as he could, challenging them to reach impressive heights of mathematical ability, especially considering given the circumstances. Some people might know some [...] Click to continue reading this post

Not Entirely Alone

Does this description seem familiar?

Black scientist, born in 1968. Born in London to immigrant parents. Spent a fair amount of time in their school years convincing teachers to not assume that they are supposed to be in the “B” group in all their subjects by default. Did a physics degree at Imperial College, London University. Now a successful practicing scientist. Doing a lot of science/education outreach as well (was on the radio twice in the last week or so, for example).

All familiar so far, right? Ok, a bit more…

Was on BBC Radio 4′s Desert Island discs last week talking about their life and selecting eight favourite pieces of music, a book, and a luxury item they’d like to have on said island (chose telescope).

About to have a daughter.

Oh! [...] Click to continue reading this post

Back on the Trail

griffith_park_hike_2So have you been to Griffith Park recently? I went for a short hike there this morning for the first time in a month or so. The first time this year. (I’ve not been hiking much the last month due to several things, including waiting for a full recovery from my mysterious vertigo which still pops up from time to time…)

Well, I had a nice hike, and cleared away some cobwebs in my head, which was nice to do. I’m in the middle of writing two research papers, and reading a great deal of material for a search committee I’m on (meeting imminent) and so a bit of clearance is good.

The thing is this. The park was with teeming with people, of a broader range than is usual for the park, in those numbers. Not sure why, but it was good to see. Is it all those New Year’s resolutions? People resolving to use the city’s wonderful park areas [...] Click to continue reading this post

Michael Jackson and D-Branes

A D-braneWell, I bet you have not read any articles connecting Michael Jackson and research in string theory before. No, even though I spend a lot of time and effort trying to bring science into everyday conversations people have about the broader culture, I cannot claim credit for this one. I was reading an excellent article* in the Village Voice written by Greg Tate, and to my surprise, there it was. It is by far the most thoughtful and insightful of any of the articles on Michael Jackson that I’ve read, and I’d already concluded that before noticing any mention of physics. I strongly recommend it, especially if you don’t know what all the fuss is about, or if you think that the fuss is only about some pop music.

Tate examines not just the impact of Jackson on the culture, and where he sits in the pantheon of black people who have made such impact (he’s mostly focusing on America), but also the role of adversity and struggle in focusing talent in a way that produces people who create at such a high level and which such seismic effect. He [...] Click to continue reading this post

Apollo

I’ve been running around so much today I forgot to actually mention the event for which I’ll be acting as host tonight, here at USC. This is how I quickly described it to my colleagues, but bear in mind that it is open to all:

apollo poster
I’d like to remind you one last time about the Apollo Visions and Voices event today. Whether it interests you or not, please encourage your students to go. It is the College Dean’s V+V event for the semester, and was chosen to have a focus that would attract science and engineering students and faculty to sit with our friends and colleagues from the arts and humanities. It is at 7:30 pm in Bovard, with a reception at the end. I think that it will be very interesting and enjoyable.

Information about it is here.

It should be fun!

-cvj

Click to continue reading this post

When Worlds Collide IV: The Verdict is…

casino royale shootSo you’ll recall the shoot last year, right? Casino Royale theme? Where I got all dressed up in a Tuxedo at a club in New York that was kitted out as a Casino playing blackjack and so forth (click right) and getting very cosy with Ms Moneypenny? (Wait, that last bit didn’t happen.) Along with some actual stars, from entertainment, sport, fashion, etc? You don’t recall? Well, that’ll teach you not to use the blog’s archives more during your coffee breaks…

To recap (but please read properly about the background here), it was a photo spread with short bios for an annual piece called “Coming Kings” for a men’s magazine called “King”. I’d got the call out of the blue from them, and decided to do it since it’s an opportunity to do something a little different. To put some awareness of science and scientists in places where you normally don’t find much (if any) of it, rather than only targeting the more traditional crowds. It’s all about, as I said: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Haitch

There was a sweet, sweet moment during the afternoon Cosmology, Gravity, and Relativity session on Friday. (See here.) I don’t think I’ll be able to convey its full intensity to you, but I cannot let it go unmarked. The background comes from a personal place. In addition to my being, for many years, somewhat of a relative anomaly in being a black theoretical (high energy) physicist, there’s another component to that rare situation. My parentage is West Indian (or “Caribbean”, I might say, since in my experience the other term often does not register with many people from the USA), and until recently, I’ve not really known (m)any other such people in theoretical physics*. What struck me on Friday was a single syllable.

chanda prescod-weinsteinChanda Prescod-Weinstein (left), a graduate student at Waterloo/Perimeter, who has commented on this blog from time to time, and who I met for the first time on Thursday, was giving an excellent overview of her project to begin research on Doubly Special Relativity. Some of the motivating remarks involved simultaneously taking Newton’s constant, G and Planck’s constant \hbar to zero (the idea is that quantum gravity’s Planck length might remain finite in this limit, and thus remain in the physics as a new scale that breaks Lorentz invariance at [...] Click to continue reading this post

DC Crossover

I find myself in Washington DC for two and a half days, attending an interesting conference. It’s the annual meeting of the National Society of Black Physicists* (NSBP), and I’ve been invited to give a talk (which I gave a few hours ago, entitled “The Dynamics of Flavour in Gauge/Gravity duals”, with a focus on what we can learn about experiments and observations of strongly interacting nuclear systems using string theory. Post about that here). I’m here for more just the talk, however. I also want to talk – in the sense of converse. Basically, it is of interest to me to get a feeling for what’s going on with the issues of underrepresented minorities (in this case, people of African descent) in Physics. As you know, the numbers are vanishingly small, and as you also know from reading my writings, I am very interested in this issue, and of course, how to make it not an issue, by helping more people find their way into the field and have as much opportunity to do well as the next person.

    nsbp banquet nsbp banquet

(Scene from the opening banquet on Thursday night. The featured speaker (no, not on stage in photo) was 2006 Physics Nobel Laureate, John C. Mather. Click for larger.)

It has been years since I came to one of these, and I must say it is a real pleasure to be here. There seems to be a lot of contrast to how I remember things from the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Planck Meets Fleming

So yesterday at Pinewood Studios they announced the name of the upcoming second James Bond film in the new series that (excellently, in my opinion) re-envisions the Bond movie universe. Last year’s first one was “Casino Royale”, you may recall. Did you hear what the next one will be called? [...] Click to continue reading this post

NSBP and NSHP

nsbp and nshp conference logoI learned from Chanda Prescod-Weinstein* (an occasional commenter here) that it is time to register for the joint NSBP and NSHP (National Society of Black Physicists and National Society of Hispanic Physicists) conference. It’ll be in Washington DC, February 20th-24th. (Actually, it has been time to register, for some time, but I’m late to the party, as usual.)

Chanda’s been working on some of the organization, and she says on her blog (go there for more):

This year’s conference will feature a plenary on Cosmology and Quantum Gravity, organized by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and starring Abhay Ashtekar (Penn State), Lenny Susskind (Stanford), and Meg Urry (Yale).

[...] Click to continue reading this post

Some of What Matters

Below I’ve reproduced the text of the approximately 20 minutes of that which I presented at the What Matters to Me and Why event on Wednesday. I mentioned my preparations for it in a previous post. The event was well attended, in an excellent setting (a hidden campus cafe I’d somehow not known about before, Ground Zero). There were students, faculty, staff, alumni, and several others. I chose to give a structured address to start so as to make sure that I did not go on for too long, as I might in a more off-the-cuff delivery. I very much wanted to leave plenty of time to interact with the audience through their observations and questions. I delivered it partly from memory and partly from reading, and wanted it to have a bit of a feel of being read a story, rather than a formal speech. I don’t know how successful that was, but it was fun for me. I think I might try that approach again some time.

Overall, I think the event worked well, and I had a great time. A number of people (kindly) said at the end that they had a good time, and I hope everyone else did too!

___________________________________________________________________________________
Hello Everyone.

First let me say that it is an honour to be here. I’d like to thank everyone concerned for inviting me to speak in this series. I imagine that everyone starts their piece by saying that they struggled to find a way of saying What Matters to them and Why in a short time. So I won’t dwell on that, except to say that it’s especially hard when, the day before preparing, you realize that it’s not going to be that hour long presentation you were expecting to squeeze your essence into, but 20 minutes!

Some time ago, when people started mentioning that they’d seen that I was a guest in this event, and that they were looking forward to hearing what I will say (!), I’d respond that I too was curious about what I was going to say, and would also try to show up and find out. This was actually true. The other thing that I (half-)joked was [...] Click to continue reading this post

What Matters?

palm flower frondsI’ll let you know.

Huh? Today, I’ve to think about two things I have to talk about over the next couple of days. I’ve to give a physics seminar on Thursday at UCSB, but more urgently, I have to think about What Matters To Me and Why. Why? This is because in the Spring I agreed to be one of the presenters of the four-times-a-semester USC event of the same title, hosted by the Center for Religious Life. This excellent series is run by Rabbi Susan Laemmle, the Dean of Religious Life, with a committee of students. Here’s how it is supposed to work (extract from their site):

At each WMMW session, the featured guest spends about twenty minutes addressing the topic “What Matters to Me and Why,” and then the floor is opened to informal dialogue for the remainder of the hour. Just as there is no one way to address the topic, so there will be no one direction in which dialogue will proceed. The student contact from the WMMW committee introduces the speaker and makes sure that the session goes forward in a professional yet friendly manner. An indirect purpose of WMMW is to maintain an arena in which people can talk about important, personally charged questions in an open, mutually respectful way.

A typical session is described here. This is going to be a tough one. Not because nothing matters to me but because everything seems to matter, and I cannot effectively rank these things to say what matters most in any way. I only learned yesterday that I only have about 20 minutes to say what it is that matters. This either makes things harder or easier, I can’t decide yet. Probably harder. Now I really have to think.

I jokingly thought a few months ago that I ought to just look at my last few blog posts the day before and just talk about what’s in those. What can I see… Well, there’s public transport, community and the environment, composting and gardening, science and television (and scientific honesty). Not bad. (Good thing I did not do that post on dating. Probably not a good topic for WMMW…) I can probably weave something out of those. Do I blog about those things by accident, or because there are some themes there that are being brought out? What are the big themes in those then? Random scattered thoughts follow…. [...] Click to continue reading this post

Home School

simpsons schoolThis is very interesting to me. I just heard a story (by Nancy Mullane) on NPR’s Weekend Edition about home schooling. (The link is here, and audio will be available at that page shortly). It focuses on the issue that African Americans are the fastest growing group of adopters among minorities in the US. I was also not aware that homeschooling is on a rapid rise.

This raises all sorts of questions for me. Very basic ones. How well does homeschooling work? Does the “product” – an educated person – perform well afterwards, once they’ve rejoined educational settings with the more traditional social environments (colleges and universities). Does the reduced level of social interaction during those homeschooling years have an adverse effect, or is it compensated for by social interaction that presumably takes place after school? Perhaps there are arguments that the reduction in social interaction even helps in some ways? I really don’t know much about this. Do you? I presume there’s all sorts of statistics on this, but I’d be curious to hear a bit of anecdotal discussion in the comments. Perhaps you were homeschooled? Have friends who were? Are homeschooling someone now? Are being homeschooled now? Tell us what you think!

I wonder about this since I’m curious as to whether this results in a different (better, [...] Click to continue reading this post

Good Luck Brittney Exline!

Just spotted this AP article (by Kathy Matheson) about Brittney Exline:

brittney exline[...] at the age of just 15 she is beginning her Ivy League career Wednesday when classes start at the University of Pennsylvania.

Which is very good indeed, but I was especially pleased to see:

She excels at math and science and is really interested in politics, so she enrolled in a Penn program that will award her degrees from both the engineering and liberal arts schools when she graduates in 2011.

Hurrah!

Have a look at the AP story for quotes, information about her background, other [...] Click to continue reading this post

Still So Far To Go

Sometimes one deludes oneself into thinking that progress has been made on some important social issue, and then out of the blue, there’s a reminder of just how far things still have to go. Check out this post – supposedly a report on the contents of a physics seminar given by a woman – on the blog “A Quantum Diaries Survivor”, and get a reminder of what women in physics are up against. Near the beginning of the post he spends one of the longest paragraphs of the piece talking about how her hair was done, how fit and attractive he thinks she looks, wondering whether she works out…(!) It’s so completely awful to do this sort of thing and he does it so spectacularly completely that I actually thought it was meant to be a parody of some sort! From his comments in response to people pointing out the inappropriateness of it, it turns out that he really does not get it at all. Not a bit.

It is really sad. It is so embarrassing too, when anyone female shows up in a physics context and guys just start behaving like they’ve never seen a woman before. That silliness alone is simply embarrassing, but this is quite a bit worse I would say, since it is damaging to the cause of women in the field.

I really shouldn’t go on, and I will risk sounding preachy and self-righteous (and I’ll just get yelled at and nobody will learn anything) but it’s important, so I will try some words:

Of course there are contexts in which we can discuss things about each other that take note of (even celebrate) our differences in gender, race, and so forth. I’ll be so bold as to say that with appropriate care, we can even legitimately talk about whether we [...] Click to continue reading this post

When Worlds Collide, III

Well, the cat’s out of the bag. Since Tuesday, in fact. What am I talking about? I’m going to get so beaten up in the playground for this…

casino royaleWell, I did a post a while ago about a trip I did to New York to take part in a day long shoot for a magazine, all dressed up in my tuxedo on a “Casino Royale” themed set. You can read about it in full here. What was the point? Reaching out. More science in the public domain, and on the lips of the regular person on the street. The usual things you know (from my writing here and elsewhere) that I’m passionate about. The readership of the magazine in question is not commonly exposed to images of scientists. The world of science and practicing scientists hardly intersects with the world of R&B, hip-hop, sports, fashion, the primary foci of this magazine and many others. I see no reason why not, but those who work in the media that control most of the images we see think otherwise.

Except for some creative people at King magazine. King magazine is a men’s magazine aimed primarily at young African Americans. (See a Wikipedia summary here, and the magazine website here. Warning! This is a men’s magazine aimed at a very specific demographic/readership, and while it does not warrant being on those shelves in the store that are behind the black glass, it is decorated from cover to interior in a manner that is… shall we say “somewhat differently” from the magazines I usually point to, such as SEED, National Geographic, or Scientific American! Ok?)

Every year, King magazine does a feature shoot of a group of people making interesting noises in their respective fields, people that you’ve either heard from (if you’re into those fields, and sometimes even not) or that they expect you’ll hear from soon. It’s all glossy and fun and so forth, and they decided (to my lasting surprise) to call me and ask if I’d take part. Hence the New York trip. The magazine is out on the stands now, and you can go and look at it.

I took the liberty of making some scans of the pictures for you (I hope the magazine’s staff don’t mind!), since I’d teased you so much in the last post with some of the shots I took, but could not reveal details about who was in the group, etc. There’s more in the actual magazine, such as quotes from the subjects about their work, life, etc.

So here goes:

[...] Click to continue reading this post

Candace Partridge: Women in Physics at USC

Rather than just sit around and wring our hands about the severe underrepresentation of women and minorities in science and engineering, it’s worth getting out there and trying to do things to help make a change. Here at Asymptotia, I describe things of that nature from time to time. At other times, I like to just shut up and listen, since (for example) it is also important to hear about the opinions and experiences of a range of different people who are trying to make their way in some aspect of these fields.

candace partridgeToday we have a guest post from Asymptotia regular commenter Candace Partridge (clickable image on right). Candace is doing an undergraduate degree in Physics at the University of London (Birkbeck College), having come to study the subject at this level rather later than is traditional, and having studied other subjects, and worked professionally in another career. This gives her an unusual perspective, and one that is of considerable value. Candace attended the Women in Physics conference that was held at USC in January, and of which I spoke earlier. She tells us a bit about it below, along with some thoughts about her own path in Physics. There is some overlap with an article she wrote for Inkling, but Candace has expanded on several aspects for her post here.

-cvj

___________________________________________________________________________________

Ahhh…what’s better than a trip to LA? How about a travel grant to get to LA to attend the 2nd annual Undergraduate Women in Physics conference held at USC? Most students view MLK Day as a sort of bonus extension the to holidays, a way to ease back into the usual routine. However, for 50-odd physics students, this long weekend was a chance to make the journey to USC to meet other female (and a few male) physics students.

Of course, where I’m now from (London), we don’t get MLK day off. In fact, I was only on native soil because I had cleverly timed a three-week trip to visit my parents in Mississippi to coincide with this conference. After all, once I’ve flown 5000 miles, what’s a couple of thousand more? No problem! I landed in LAX to bright and sunny weather but with a cold wind blowing out of the north, heralding the arrival of that cold wave that destroyed the citrus crops and brought snow flurries to Malibu. It was far colder in LA than in London that weekend.

This was my first trip to a physics-related conference, and I was a wee bit out of the target demographic. See, I am still a lowly undergrad — I say ‘still’ because here I am a woman pushing thirty who is barely halfway through her BSc as opposed to the young striplings a full decade younger than myself. Also, I was the only attendee from overseas…kind of. But I am happy to mix with people of all sorts, especially other women like me who are studying physics because, let’s face it, some of us are still feeling a little alone over here.

So I’m a female mature student, which in undergrad physics makes me a bit of an [...] Click to continue reading this post

When Worlds Collide, II

I think I ought to explain, as promised, why I am in New York. The first thing to mention is that I wrote the previous post in this miniseries (it was written on a flight to Dublin, and finally posted when I returned) before I knew about any of what I’m about to tell you, so it is rather funny to me…

casino royale shoot

The week that I returned from Dublin I noticed a phone message from an editor of a magazine asking me to return their call. A couple of days later I learned what it was about. It’s a magazine that largely focuses on buzz about people and projects in the entertainment and fashion industry – Music (R&B, Hip Hop mostly), Movies and TV, etc., as far as I can tell, along with some coverage of parts of the business world. Its readership is mostly younger African American males, I think. As far as I can tell, the intention is not to be about those things in particular, but it is largely reflecting the interests of the readership it is targeted at. It’s a major product, jumping out at you immediately when you are in the magazine store (the striking picture of a woman on the front helps it grab your attention, of course).

Each year, the magazine does a special issue featuring a group of individuals who are doing “major things” in the industries I mentioned above. It is a combination of a focus on new talent that’s about to become more widely known, or just bringing to readers’ attention the existence of some of the people who are making significant impact in what they’re doing.

Somehow – I do not know how – they got my name. It turns out that they spent some time reading some of things I’ve written here at Asymptotia too. Now normally, you’d expect things to stop at that point, but in fact it did not. They decided to broaden things out a bit and include me (if I was willing) in this year’s feature issue.

I thought about it for a day. It is quite an honour to be approached, and I’m also impressed that the magazine’s editors are being creative in this way (it would be easy [...] Click to continue reading this post

Show and Tell

Well, it is almost the last day of Black History Month and I am behind on answering the traditional emails I receive at this time of year. As I said last year (with a few modifications):

clifford v. johnson at the board Pretty soon after February starts, the deluge of email I get every day gets enhanced a bit by emails from students from all over America. I become part of an assignment, you see. It seems that these students are instructed to find a black scientist and write something about them and do a presentation to their class about them1.

I’m always willing to help with this sort of thing (see the footnote for why), and so I usually send some links: to my personal webpage (here), or one of two profile pages for me at USC here and here (the latter by Katherine Yungmee Kim), a Daily Trojan news story by Diya Chacko here, or the departmental page on me (here), and a list of publications, and I hope that this is all of some use.

As to the standard “what is your date of birth?” question that is usually asked too, I don’t pass out that information over the web, but if you’re an interested student, you can email me for a bit more information if you wish, although I will not give out the exact date.

For a bit of biographical narrative, students can look on the “My Hero Project” [...] Click to continue reading this post

Women in Science – What to Do Next?

Cornelia Dean has written a very interesting article for the New York Times about the things people are doing to change the current situation concerning the underrepresentation of Women in Science in academia. It continues on from the discussion we were having after the September release of the report by the National Academy of Science on the issue.

The key point under discussion? From the article:

Since the 1970s, women have surged into science and engineering classes in larger and larger numbers, even at top-tier institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where half the undergraduate science majors and more than a third of the engineering students are women. Half of the nation’s medical students are women, and for decades the numbers have been rising similarly in disciplines like biology and mathematics.

However…

Yet studies show that women in science still routinely receive less research support than their male colleagues, and they have not reached the top academic ranks in numbers anything like their growing presence would suggest.

In fact, it is only in the social, behavioral or life sciences that the proportion of women full professors has risen into double digits – 15 percent or so. Something goes wrong. What is it?

at each step on the academic ladder, more women than men leave science and engineering.

The current article reports on a number of gatherings on various campuses – conferences organised to network, share, and brainstorm a bit on the issue. There are interviews with several people, and experiences and anecdotes are shared. Very much worth your time to read. Discussed are a wide range of topics, the most central being that it is still the case that women are judged by different standards than men. Even though often times it might seem to be something as simple as what to wear to a meeting – it makes a difference. These things all add up. Other things mentioned are the two-body problem, mentoring, letters of recommendation, children and motherhood, and negotiating skills, among others.

I’ll let you read the article, but do come back and let us know what you think. We’ve been through a lot of this discussion before, so one aspect I’d like to hear about is the following: What are you doing about the issue in your own sphere of influence? Are [...] Click to continue reading this post

Those Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

You may recall that we were recently discussing stereotypes as a result of an earlier post. Particularly, I was talking about the effects those sterotypes can produce as a result of modifying the expectations of others, making it hard for some people to be taken seriously, and resulting in them having to go that extra mile (or several) as a result.

Well, I’d like to point your attention to a recent study about the direct effects of those stereotypes on the stereotyped. Quoting from an article by AP science writer Randolph E. Schmid:

[Steven J.] Heine and doctoral student Ilan Dar-Nimrod wanted to see how people are affected by stereotypes about themselves. They divided more than 220 women into four groups and administered math and reading comprehension tests between 2003 and 2006. Their results are reported in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

What they actually did was to provide the different groups with different images and reading materials before they did the tests. They seem to have found significant differences in the results that suggest that having a negative stereotype of yourself in mind actually makes things worse. In other words:

It’s a process psychologists call a stereotype threat, Heine explained. “If a member of a group for which there is a negative stereotype is in a position to test the stereotype, they are likely to choke under the pressure.”

So reminding them of the stereotype affects them.

Here’s what they found: [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Yankovic Singularity

So I actually had no idea that Weird Al Yankovic was still doing his, er, particular brand of music. (Singular, one might say.) I actually thought it stopped a long while ago, not long after the Thriller parodies. Well, not long ago he did a video/song called “White and Nerdy”. I looked at it, and so can you, on Myspace video (wow, I had no idea they had a video service). Here is the link.

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Among the things featured in the video’s visuals are Schrodinger’s equation, Stephen Hawking’s BHOT, M C Escher (It’s a rap video, so…) Here are some stills (click for larger):

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I laughed, I’ll admit. I find his fresh-faced and cheerful style quite funny at times. But then I got thinking. I can’t decide whether I should be depressed at the potency of the stereotypes he is playing with, or just carry on giggling. For example, why did the guys who were representing the complete opposite of being nerdy (and into science, reading, and the like) have to be cast as black? Worse than that (or at least equally as [...] Click to continue reading this post

On The Potential of Women Scientists and Engineers in Academia

Today, the National Academies released their long awaited report on the potential of women scientists and engineers in academia. The title is “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering”, and it can be obtained here. This is a hugely important topic, and they seem to have done quite an extensive amount of work on this. Here are some quotes from the press release, and then I’ll make some comments of my own at the end:

“Women are capable of contributing more to the nation’s science and engineering research enterprise, but bias and outmoded practices governing academic success impede their progress almost every step of the way,” said Donna E. Shalala, president of the University of Miami, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “Fundamental changes in the culture and opportunities at America’s research universities are urgently needed. The United States should enhance its talent pool by making the most of its entire population.”

Much the same can be said (and has been said in, e.g., my earlier blog posts on CV) about the largely untapped talent pool of minorities in general, of course. Quoting further [ ... ] Click to continue reading this post