How do you find the $$ for Child Care at Scientific Meetings

Yesterday, between book chapters (and right now you all are probably asking yourselves what the hell I’m doing BLOGGING), I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful seminar given by a scientist whose work was highly influential in my graduate career- and that was really enjoyable. But going to seminar has other great benefits besides hearing someone you totally admire talk about their great science.  Primary among these benefits, of course, is running into colleagues who normally inhabit other parts of campus, that you really really REALLY need to talk to.

I saw one such colleague come into the seminar and was only too happy to have a lengthy conversation with him at the reception after the seminar. Said colleague is trying shamelessly to entice me into coming to a particular meeting later this year (he’s organizing)…and I get the feeling he’s trying to recruit a few other scientists who happen to be young women with children as well. Our conversation took an interesting turn when he mentioned that he would like to be able to set aside resources, and find funding sources, to be able to provide child care for this meeting. We all know that women still provide the majority of child care, and this can be a barrier keeping women with families from attending scientific meetings- right?

Although I have two children, I do not take them to meetings with me. For me this is a purely personal decision, I have difficulty focusing on meeting material when I’m multitasking kids on site, and now they are school age anyway so we can’t just pull them out of school whenever we feel the urge. I emphasize that this is just my personal preference though, for those of you that choose to take your children with you to meetings, I support your decision.  Now, with that said- leaving the kids at home with DrMrA does put a pretty strict lock on his hours while I am away…. and it would be great to get him a few hours of child care support when I am away. This restriction on the other working care giver’s schedule, in addition to just not wanting to be away from the kids too much, limits the amount of traveling that I do in a given year.

As for what I have seen available for child care at meetings, the large society meeting that I attend has a child care option built in, but I haven’t been able to figure out from the preliminary program whether there is an extra fee for this. I don’t recall that any of the smaller meetings that I have attended have offered any child care, or assistance finding child care, or financial assistance to defray the cost of child care.

So here is the question,  if you want to encourage women in science who happen to have kids to participate in scientific meetings, what can you do to address child care issues that might otherwise keep them away? Throwing money at the issue is a good way, I think- it allows women (and yes, whimple, all people with kids- but let’s agree that women are generally disproportionately affected) at least to lower the barrier on this issue. If you were organizing a meeting and providing funds to defray the cost of child care to attendees with children  is your chosen avenue to remedy- how do you come up with the $$ to fund such an effort? Secondly, if you are the organizer of a small meeting- how do you fairly distribute these funds, and how far do you go in setting up child care arrangements (i.e. do you have an organized child care on site, or do you simply provide funds to allow individuals maximum freedom to set up their own arrangements)?

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Conversation Killer

Does this ever happen to you?  I was at a meeting recently and I was walking around one of those infernal mixer type deals, that they always have at these things, chatting with people.  And for the most part, that was all fine, and I’m usually quite comfortable with the random chit chat and walking up to complete strangers and starting a conversation about projects, or some other mutually interesting topic.

But then I had one of those weird socially awkward moments. I walked up to a good friend (a man), who was standing with a big group of men, senior in my field, that I had not previously been introduced to. My friend was lovely, and he introduced me to all the other men in the group one by one.  Then, all the group conversation totally stopped DEAD. I felt incredibly awkward- it was as if I didn’t know the secret handshake or the men had to use some other language to deal with me. I suppose this incident sticks out in my head because I was the only woman in the group, and junior in the field.

When I think about this incident though, I realize that it isn’t all that rare in my existence. I have a few male colleagues who, when we are together in a ratio of men:women >1, converse amongst themselves. I somehow just can’t seem to get my foot through the door and open up the conversation. The thing that always kind of shocks me when this stuff happens, is that I am one of the more outgoing and socially comfortable people that I know  (not to mention just plain loud– a couple of you regular readers out there who know me have SEEN me in action). I’m left trying to figure out why this happens: Is it specific to the personalities involved? Is it a gender thing- do men in a large group related differently to each other than the do to a woman in the group? Is it a junior career stage thing- that the senior guys talk around your head as though you are not really to be reckoned with? Is it a little of all of that?

This kind of thing might seem like a little, unimportant thing  to you, but I spend, probably 95% of my professional existence in groups where I am the only woman (or one of a very small handful), and it is awful that science conversation comes to a dead halt for me in these situations.

Anyone familiar with this site: Under the Microscope?

I noticed these guys following me on Twitter- so I followed the links to their site which can be found here.  Their mission is to:

Under the Microscope collects stories from women involved with science, technology, engineering, and math with the goal of publishing a survival guide for young women in science. Under the Microscope also publishes news, tips, interviews and profiles.

More specifically:

Because women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineeringand math, the goals of the Women Writing Science project are:

  • To increase for young women and the general public the visibility of women working in scientific fields and engineering.
  • To raise awareness about how women enter scientific careers inside and outside traditional pathways.
  • To provide young women with role models, images and accounts of women working in STEM fields.
  • To provide young women with widespread access to essential STEM concepts in especially interesting and socially-relevant ways.
  • To help parents and teachers use their influential positions and wisdom to encourage young women to pursue STEM fields.

Go on over there and have a look around if you have a minute!

No it’s not the history, it’s the missed opportunity…(Updated)

I haven’t stepped out into many blog controversies lately, but looking through all the stuff in my Google reader this morning I found this really excellent post from Tara at Aetiology, further commenting on this post by Dr. Hgg, and yet a third post from Sheril on her blog.

All this text is about a new book out ‘The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing‘…ala Dawkins, and the current subject of all of these fine posts is that out of the 83 excerpts in the book- only 3 are written (actually 2 are written and 1 is co-written) by women. Hmmmm, surely there are a few more fine science writers out there who are women…. and why are they missing?!

Well, one can always say that the contents of this book are the top choices reflect the preferences of one individual, one very learned and powerful individual, one individual that would be excellent to have as an *active* advocate for women in science, Sir Richard Dawkins. Dr. Dawkins actually responded to a comment by Ed Yong on Sheril’s post:

“There is certainly no shortage of excellent female science writers to choose from. One of them writes this blog. Others are linked to in this very post. Olivia Judson, Deborah Mackenzie, Virginia Hughes, Natasha Loder, Linda Geddes, I could go on. Their skill is equal to and often superior to their male peers. . . . You’d be insane to argue that the 83 pieces in this tome are the best 83 articles written in 2008.” (Yong)

2008? Who said anything about 2008? This anthology goes back a hundred years, and not a single contribution is as recent as 2008. It is not an anthology of “science writing”, such as would indeed include Olivia Judson and the other admirable science writers whom you list. It is a collection of writing by good scientists, many of them dead and very distinguished. I am not one of those who thinks men are genetically better equipped than women to become distinguished scientists. Presumably for other reasons, it is a regrettable fact that the great majority of distinguished scientists of the past 100 years, as measured by Nobel Prizes, Fellowships of the Royal Society, numbers of science publications, etc, have been male. That imbalance, and not an imbalance in my preference or my choice, is what is reflected in the anthology. (Dawkins)

Dr. Dawkins-…let’s not focus on the past. Let’s focus on that lost opportunity, however big or small, to actively and positively influence the future of the other 50% of the population to participate in academic science and participate at a high level.  That, in my humble opinion, is what everyone is so upset about. You see, I’m a young(ish) female scientist- and there is a high probability that your book will cross the threshold into my house, like so many of your other fine books. I’m going to read your book, and I’m going to see that great science writers don’t include people like me, hardly at all. Then I’m going to re-read your – hey, sorry,-it’s-not-my-fault-history-is-what-it-is comment up there- and I’m going to have the reaction I’m having right now…. which is- yes, duh- I know you can’t change history- but you CAN influence the future SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

See, I hope the power of this little controversy will be to highlight fact that the future for scientists who happen to be women, and science writers who happen to be women can be different but it *requires* the active advocacy of powerful people.  I’m sure you must have noticed the paucity of women on your list when you were putting your book together (at least I hope you did). If you truly are as you say:

I am not one of those who thinks men are genetically better equipped than women to become distinguished scientists

Then I respectfully challenge you to put the ‘history is what it is’ bit aside and figure out what active role you might be able to play in the future to even out the gigantic gender disparity on display in your book.

p.s. I *truly* and deeply appreciate that much of your time is spent fighting creationism… for which, as a biologist, I’m very grateful… but I suggest that advocacy for scientists who are women (and steppin’ in to advocate with women like these achieve these goals)  is a similarly worthy cause.

**Update** p.p.s Both Drugmonkey and Greg Laden have written their own posts since this morning, and there is also discussion over at Miranda’s blog

Becoming an Ally

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about a lot of cryin’ on the part of senior male faculty about the rate at which their young female grad students were dropping out of science after finishing  their Ph.D.s., coupled with an inability on the part of said faculty to educate themselves to recognize the reasons behind this phenomenon. In private, I did my best to provide the resources to these potential allies so that they might better understand this leaky pipeline… and on this blog, I implored said faculty to get off their asses and do something about that… think outside the box, become an ALLY. I offered a few suggestions, …. turns out you don’t even have to think very far outside the box.

This week I received an email from a colleague, it read:

Dear DrdrA:

I am organizing XYZ meeting, and I was wondering if you could help me out. I was looking over the schedules from previous XYZ meetings, and I was struck by the fact that the list of keynote speakers looked like this:

2008   Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2007  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2006  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2005  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2004  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2003  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2002  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2001  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

2000  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

1999  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

1998  Great Scientist, Woman, Ph.D.

1997  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

1996  Great Scientist, White Guy, Ph.D.

I am sure you can appreciate the paucity of women and minority keynote speakers at past XYZ meetings, and that is so obviously wrong.  I wonder if you could help me identify some great women and minority candidates who might be interested in giving the keynote talk at this meeting.

Thanks for all your help!

Senior Faculty Ally.

HOLY COW!! I couldn’t make up that list fast enough.

I’m totally thrilled that this colleague looked at the data, realized the overwhelming bias in favor of white guys (no offense to you white guys), thought about it, and took the next step to try to even out the balance. So, to add to my previous list of all the ways to encourage young women to stay in science… how about choosing EXCELLENT WOMEN SCIENTISTS and EXCELLENT MINORITY SCIENTISTS as your keynote speakers from time to time. And for all you women (and/or) minority scientists out there, how about making a mental or actual list of excellent women and/or minorities in your field that might be keynote speaker candidates… so that when an ally asks for your assistance, you are ready.

Go Play Gender Bias Bingo

How do you teach people in your academic sphere about gender bias without waving a copy of various books on the subject in their faces and expecting them to actually READ them? ‘Cause- you know, it is pretty darn rare that you can get your colleagues to purchase, or even crack open your copy, of Virginia Valian’s fine book: Why so slow? Hmmm. I think there might be a new approach for this one…

I found this website for the Gender Bias Learning Project this morning, and I promptly started playing Gender Bias Bingo, and taking the little pop quiz. I’m in education, so I’m all about pop quizzes. And because many times I feel like I need an instruction book to navigate some of these biases, the GBLP has also provided a section on strategies for surviving gender bias, complete with short video presentations from some relevant experts. I haven’t watched many of them yet (meetings, manuscripts, and experiments all day), but I will later.

If you find this site useful, pass it on (and I’ll tweet it!). I think this is a great, and quick way to educate about, and teach people to recognize gender bias, in a simple, straightforward, and relatively time sparing way.