Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘academia’

Women in Science Forums: Beyond Parenting

In academia, academic management, women on June 9, 2011 at 10:57 am

I was reading a blog post about academic panels focused on women in science, and how they often largely focus on balancing being a woman in science with being a mother. I think this is a great question, especially in light of a recent report that suggests that three quarters of all women who leave engineering do not leave because of this. I have long wondered whether part of the answer to this question is a potential discomfort in talking about the issues that might face the other three quarters so we over focus on discussing that one quarter. I’ve wondered about this because my own experience of women’s forums tends to mirror the situation described by the blogger. But looking at the 4 questions the panelists chose to answer, and the 100 or so questions that the organizer of the panel that would result received I have changed my mind, somewhat.

I now realize that there are a whole set of questions that I don’t think should be hard to talk about, but do not get quite the same air time. And I now understand that’s because of the importance to so many people of having children. That came out in one of the answers that led me to this blog post in the first place.

But, I think it might be useful for all of us to keep an eye on the balance of conversation. Because looking at those 100 or so other questions there are some really important issues in there. And some of them might be harder to talk about. Take the one about broader impacts, the person notes that on a grant they are a broader impact as well as a PI and then asks whether that reinforces patterns of assuming that women are present based on their gender rather than accomplishment. This is something I’ve wondered too, and I find it hard to talk about because I do not want to admit in front of my colleagues, particularly while being in system where promotion turns on accomplishment rather than gender (or other demographic characteristics). Then there are likely questions that are just hard to discuss, harassment and discrimination for example.

So I now think that we discuss children because they are a profound experience for so many. And that the passion and wonder that they create leads to this focus. I do though think its important to keep an eye on the balance and I would like to create a space for both other and harder conversations that we ought to have.

And I also think it might be useful to have forums for parents, where men and women can come together and discuss lives balancing science and parenthood (I am not aware of any). I say this motivated in part by listening to some men recently describe their own anxieties and even sorrows about how they balanced their career with being a parent. And perhaps it would make more space for these other conversations.




A Question about Research Statements

In academia, academic management, discipline, research on February 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm

One of the pieces of writing that is required in academia is the research statement. The research statement describes your research agenda and the impact and outcomes of that agenda. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. I admit to liking its reflective quality, it’s an opportunity to look back over the career and synthesize what one did and why. And it’s non-trivial.

But I have a genuine question based on a hypothesis.

(Note: To all my former colleagues please do not read this as a dissatisfaction with the collaborations, you collectively were the best part of the experience and you’ve taught me more about research excellence, passion, perspective.)

My hypothesis is that having worked for three employers, my research statement is more complicated. Two of the three employers played an active role in determining what I worked on. At Bell Labs, I was in a Software Engineering research department as an HCI person. I wanted to maintain my presence in HCI, so I tried to pick problems or work on ones that were available that would serve two masters, Software Engineering and HCI.Then I went to PARC, and I was given strong encouragement to work on particular projects. PARC was going through a particularly exciting time, it was spun out from Xerox into an independent company, PARC Inc. Everyone was doing their very best to pick the types of projects and outcomes that would support the transition to a revenue generating PARC.

At both Bell Labs, and PARC Inc, I think my research agenda was a negotiation between myself and my employer (a negotiation that turned on that corporation’s goals for sponsoring a research division, and both employers goals changed over the course of my time there, and neither were ever the same as each other — that’s a *whole other post*). By contrast, at Georgia Tech the management of my research program feels different. There are choices, funding for example, influences activities. But, I think I am in charge of my research agenda. Indeed, I think that is my employer’s requirement, I don’t negotiate a compromise between my goals and my employer’s goals, I am expected to have my own goals by my employer.

So, I’ve shifted from two, and DIFFERENT, employer negotiated research agendas to the expectation and responsibility of having my own agenda. And I think the research statement as a genre of writing looks far closer to the latter than the former.

So my question? Does my hypothesis hold any water?

Does it change over time (in the span of my career, the time spent in each place is 4, 4, and 7 years, so a quarter of my research was driven by Lucent, a quarter by PARC Inc, and now a half by Georgia Tech).

Is it compounded by having had two previous employers?

What do you Love about your Job?

In academia, academic management on November 23, 2010 at 9:58 am

I am quite sure I am not alone when I say that feel so busy I don’t feel like I have much time for anything other than the long list of things that need to get done. But, I had a conversation with someone and he asked me what do I love about my job. I paused. I’ve told many people that being an academic at Georgia Tech has been my favourite job to date. (It’s not that I have not enjoyed my two previous jobs, just in summary not quite as much as this). In fact, i’d just said it again. I love been an academic. Why, came the reply. Pause. Er…

Why is it that I can easily enumerate the challenging parts. If I look at this blog I see a pretty sizable enumeration. So, this post is an attempt to address that.

Diversity in activities. The three elements of being an academic, research, teaching and service, mean that I have variety in my job. Most days I spend in some combination of the three. In the short term this can feel chaotic, in the longer term though it means that I am exposed to a variety of activities. I feel stretched by these activities, and that can and does mean learning (as I prepare, say, for another lecture in the new to me class I am teaching this semester).

Grant Writing. Grant writing pushes me to think about the important intellectual problems I want to solve, and articulate their import and the best conceivable approaches to solving them. After writing one I am almost always eager to get on with the research described within.

Writing. Writing takes time. I like the difference between what sounds good in my head and what reads coherently on paper. Setting things down on paper makes me realise how much more there is to structuring an argument than what is in my head when I start. I like the process of wrestling with text. I’d prefer not to have to do it more than once of course, but that is the way of reviewers!

Mentoring. Wow. I love mentoring. I’m not always sure that the people I provide advice too like it or find it helpful, but I love giving advice. It is humbling to be asked, always intellectually demanding and rewarding when in my mind I find the “right answer.” Sometimes, as I am sure my students know all too well, I have to talk-out-loud and through it to get to an answer.

Knowing the Mission. I worked for two companies both of whom would change their mission statements. I still remember spilling my coffee over the book that Lucent published to help me understand it and what the corporate values were (there was a poster included so that you could hang the concise edition on your cubicle wall). I remember wondering “how do I fit in?” What I like about academia is that the mission statement seems clear. Educate. That includes teaching, but also research. It involves the students, it involves the State and the public. Educate. Really simple, and when I see the students running from one class to another (in the 10 minutes that Georgia Tech allocates for this), there it is, mission statement alive. As I squeeze into thTech Trolley, there it is again.

As I look at this list, and I am sure that there is more it’s all about learning (research, teaching and even service). That’s the skill that our Ph.D. training emphasizes. Research in the short term can feel like a series of to-dos. Meetings. Grants to be written. Papers to submit to conferences and journals. Reviews. Rebuttals. Rejections. And of course other people’s validation of your ideas in each of these events. Perhaps that’s why reflection gets lost. I am driven to do what I do for a love of research. I guess the conversation was a reminder that I need to spend more time thinking about what it is that I am passionate about.

What about you?