Grad Adviser asks:
I’m hoping that you have some ideas for resources that might help the graduate students in my department. First, a little background.
The female graduate students in my department are in the process of raising the issue of an uncomfortable (I don’t know that they would say hostile) climate – there isn’t one specific incident that strikes anyone as completely outrageous but there is a pattern of behavior that they find dispiriting. Hopefully this will lead to a discussion among the faculty about what to do – including changing what we do in the classroom to foster a better climate and what we can do to help the graduate students be aware of these issues (so that they behave more professionally while students and then be a part of the solution, rather than the problem, once they are faculty members themselves). But, when we get to that point – assuming we can convince my colleagues that there is a problem – the question is what to do. The female students say that they are interrupted more, and talked over more, than the male students, and that this leads to them not speaking up as much in seminars. Then they get criticized by the faculty members for not talking enough. (Some of them also feel uncomfortable during seminars because of inappropriate sexual statements from male graduate students, though I heard about this third-hand so don’t know that it is appropriate for me to bring it up, or to whom, or in what context. It’s a problem, though.) The female graduate students say that they are not encouraged to pursue [important mathy stuff] as much as the male students are, and that if they express any doubt about their abilities (which women are more apt to do), it changes how the faculty see them (in ways that does not seem to occur with the male students). Classroom dynamics seem particularly bad in the [mathy] classes, except for the one that I teach.
Do you have suggestions of books/articles/online resources that address managing the graduate classroom in a gender neutral way? (I’m not even sure that ‘gender neutral’ is the best phrase to use.) Or that address advising and mentoring as well, now that I think about it?
It might help if we had a more diverse department, as well – one of you mentioned, in one of your posts or in a comment somewhere, that search committees in your department follow some kind of ‘best practices’ that allow you to mitigate problems of implicit bias etc. somewhat – we don’t do anything like that but I would like to suggest it as something we ought to be doing. Do you have suggestions of good sources of information about this?
I have tried to look for material on these issues, but most of the classroom-related content I’ve found is about primary or secondary education, and I’ve seen a few outdated (or, pretty old) websites about hiring. I was hoping that you would have better suggestions.
Some initial thoughts. We’ve found that things that work in secondary education also tend to work in collegiate education. 20-somethings aren’t that different than teens, even the motivated ones. And, several of the studies from the 1980s+ are actually still valid today, at least the ones that you’re likely to have come across are still valid. So don’t completely discount them.
The hiring stuff we do is to a priori decide what the important things we’re looking for in the search are– Research fit, Scholarly publications, Teaching, Diversity, or whatever you want (it doesn’t actually matter so long as it isn’t something that has disparate impact!). Then each faculty member ranks each resume (or each resume that makes the initial cut) on a Likert (1-5 or whatever) scale for each of these items. This ranking serves as a check to each faculty member’s implicit biases– you don’t put the numbers together and average them or anything. It’s just a way for people to see how they’re stacking up the candidates against each other and they can notice when they’re giving someone (usually a guy) with 5 top articles a higher score on research than someone (usually a woman) with 7 top articles. It’s a little extra paperwork but pretty eye-opening. (There’s mixed research on whether or not asking people to justify their answers helps or hurts– I would not add that step in here.) And I should have citations for you, but unfortunately I refereed that paper when home on house arrest and it didn’t end up getting accepted to the AER or wherever I was reviewing it for, even though it was really good. So I can’t find it. :(
The other step is that after you’ve made a short list, you simply look at the highest ranked woman and the highest ranked targeted minority groups and compare them to the lowest ranked person on your short list. Sometimes you’ve accidentally overlooked someone good because of implicit bias. Sometimes the pool just isn’t very good and the next highest ranked woman or minority is a standard deviation below. That’s ok, the point is just to make that check. If it turns out that the woman or minority is equal or better, then you replace someone or add another person to the short list.
Since you are in an NSF-defined STEM field (for readers at home, NSF includes several social sciences in their definition of STEM along with engineering and sciences, but does not include most interdisciplinary departments like B-schools, Med schools, etc.), one good place to start looking for more up-to-date information is from ADVANCE. ADVANCE is an NSF-funded program to transform the climate for women in academia in the STEM fields. They’ve funded many colleges and universities around the country to study and fix these issues. Check out their list of who they’ve funded and see if there are any schools whose ADVANCE centers you’d feel comfortable asking for information, particularly if there are any that are geographically close to you that could send someone out to do training. You may even some day want to put forward your own ADVANCE grant, though that would be a university-wide thing, not just for your department. In addition, they have some resources through their webpage, including this one from VT. Best hiring practices can be found here and here. Here’s a pamphlet for your chair. There’s lots more.
I’m not finding much on teaching, though, possibly graduate students are not ADVANCE’s main focus. There was recently a study on Harvard business school that made a lot of news…
#2 should have some information on this though… except I don’t. My suggestions involve things like asking people to read and discuss articles about the effects of subtle biases (e.g., this one), especially this one, and Virginia Valian’s book, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women. There are pedagogical techniques for working with classrooms where some students dominate and interrupt other students and so those other students don’t get to contribute; you can find out about these things from places like teaching websites or even maybe google how to run a good meeting as a manager. Strong role models of female full professors who can prepare students of all genders for the challenges of science and academia are what really helped me, and you may have to be proactive in seeking out speakers and getting students connected with positive mentoring through their professional organizations.
Come to think of it, seek out the professional organization(s) for your area and see what resources they have for students and early-career faculty. Often sciencey orgs will have some sort of gender program with resources (e.g., Society of Women Engineers). You should check out whether AAAS has programs — if they don’t, they should. Their publications sure have put their foot in it enough! This article has a bunch of links to resources that may help you.
Do our readers have any suggestions on literature about how to run a gender neutral classroom? How about best practices in hiring?