Thursday, 19 January 2012

Waiting for the invite

I have just returned from an invitation only meeting to comment on the 5 year strategy of a public funded research organisation in my area. I did the usual headcount at the meeting and counted roughly 6/26 females in the total attendees. However, the directorate of this organisation (comprising some 10 of the people in the room) is entirely male. This means that they had a dramatic difference between the gender balance of the directorate and those they invited to comment on the strategy and suggest changes. This is welcome, as the balance of the invitees is far closer to the gender balance at mid-senior levels as a whole, and I know that the organisation is aware of the issue they have with the directorate. However, at dinner after the meeting, it was quite clear that they would like to co-opt me on to the directorate. PArt of me would welcome this as I believe I can contribute to the science leadership, the rest is thinking, how am I supposed to fit that in???

This is just my most recent example of such a request and echoed by an excellent post on the subject by FSP today.

I have to remind myself that if the invite comes, just because I am a token woman, doesn't mean I have to behave like one, or to accept being treated like one. If I do get asked, and I can fit it in, I will serve the committee to the best of my abilities, just as I would if I were a man.

PS. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Nicely does it...

Since I've known (although hardly anyone else does) that I'll be taking over the management of academic staff here next year, I've found myself smiling more and saying hi to people on the stairs and in corridors that previously I might have just nodded at. This isn't just the people I'll be managing directly, it pervades to everyone from technicians, students, secretarial support and postdocs. Maybe it's because we had a previous head of department several years ago who never said hi to anyone (in fact there were various competitions running to see what we had to do to get him to acknowledge us on the stairs), but that didn't occur to me until I thought about it just now. I guess I also feel like people will officially be looking to me as a leader so I should foster the attitudes I would like others to have...

Of course I could be coming across as a suspicious grinning maniac.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

I don't count!

I am staggered by something I have just read over lunch. In the UKRC Women mean Business brochure published in 2010, there is a reported statistic that in 2008 around 9% of full time professors in SET subjects were women.

Now, I have seen this statistic before, but never really noticed the "full-time" in it. So, since I work 0.8FTE, does this mean that far from furthering the leadership by women in SET subjects, I am not going to count in these kinds of statistics? How many part-time professors are there out there? Are we not good enough?

I can understand that there is merit in using the proportion of full-time professors, but shouldn't an organisation that tells us to improve our family-friendly policies (including flexible working) in order to encourage more women to stay in SET subjects to high levels at least recognise the part-time female professors who are also valuable role models?

It's enough to make me choke on my tea...

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Token women?

Our School has just introduced two new policies regarding the gender balance of seminar series. Firstly for our two main seminar series (one given by externally invited speakers, one by internal speakers) over any year, the list of speakers is to include at least 30% female, 30% male (our gender balance in the department is about 30% at postdoc level, less than this at faculty level and more at PhD). Secondly, any scientific meetings hosted by the SChool should have both male and female speakers (unless this is a very small field and people just aren't there).

A female colleague mentioned that she was thought this was a strange thing to do, as she didn't see how the organisers of such series or meetings had the power to ensure the gender balance is met.

I disagree - it may mean looking a bit harder for female speakers, but in principle certainly for seminar series in our field it is relatively easy to do.

The more complex argument is whether this is the start of quotas for women at various things. We already have some of these imposed by the university - e.g. on interview panels. The school is aiming to have female representation (in the spirit of enhancing diversity) on the main strategic committees and promotions committees. Hence I find myself on two new committees this term. Some would say I was there as the token woman. I have indeed felt resentful of this in the past. But I have a new motto:

"Just because you start as the token woman doesn't mean you have to stay one"

I figure that without women in senior leadership positions, the battle for increased diversity (which has a strong business case) will never be won. So my goal is to learn from and contribute to these committees where I can, and if I really feel that there is no sense for me being on one other than being female, I will say so and resign. Perhaps this is overly naive and aspirational since I haven't yet attended any of the meetings, but it can't hurt to start like this.

Apparently it's an OYCN (offer you can negotiate)

Well, in a previous post I described a dilemna about accepting a senior management position within a year of being promoted to full professor. My main issue was that since I work 0.8FTE, if I took the role (roughly 0.5FTE), this would make my workload unfairly biased towards admin compared to a 1.0FTE person taking the same role. After lots of negotiations and meetings, it appears that we have split off some aspects of the work to another person and so can now demonstrate that 20% of the load has gone. So it looks like I'll be a senior staff manager from Easter. Scary.

They're here...

Of course I don't mean the alien invasion, just that the students are back, oh hang on.. :-)

Actually aside from campus looking like a trash can at the moment, it's nice to see the place restored to (one of) it's primary functions. There was a danger for a week or so that I was about to actually acheive one of my summer research goals but now there's no chance. However, there is definitely a different buzz around the place.

Our new PhD students start today, and as admission tutor I feel excited that I have been involved in giving 15 students opportunities to follow our graduate programme.. but slightly nervous in case any of them turn out not to live up to expectations. For the coming year I wanted to try to get a better comparative measure than their paper applications, but I would have at most 10 mins with each student in which to do it. I wonder about
a) asking some very standard questions to each student (should these be technical or more open-ended e.g. what excites you about the subject X)
b) sending out something to be prepared in advance (e.g. get them to summarise a short paper in subject X)

Either of these would be more objective than a look at their paper application, a general chat, and a "gut instinct". But would they be more reliable?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Fieldcourses: expensive or priceless?

I've just returned from a week teaching 24 undergraduates on a fieldwork course (under the path of ex-hurricane Katia) and have yet again been reminded how rewarding teaching can be under the right circumstances. This course involves staff and students from two different universities and is residential in a remote place which has conditions very different to anything the students are used to. Days are long and intense - usually 7.30am to 9.30pm for students and longer for staff. Students complete several different exercises both outdoors (including a long hike) and indoors and hand in work for assessment before leaving to return home. The work to some extent depends on weather conditions and so there is always an element of "surprise" and crisis management. However, overwhelmingly the students and staff get a lot out of it, and I feel reconnected to teaching and to our undergraduates.

It is obvious that the staff/student ratio here is far better than you would ever get in ordinary teaching - approximately 1 to 6. Plus we use postgrad demonstrators and IT and technical support staff. We have to pay for board and lodging, transport and computers and field equipment. The students make a contribution but it is heavily subsidised by the department. I am increasingly conscious that it looks like a large amount for one module - and the less fieldwork based staff have sometimes questioned the use of resources. However, I will continue to defend field courses like this one because to staff they are refreshing and to students the requirement to combine knowledge across their other modules and the resulting revision ahead of the final year is a unique experience that cannot have a value placed upon it.