Sunday, March 29, 2009

Newsflash: Women Walk on Water!

Just a little humor.

I spent yesterday shooting some video at local wetlands and at one site, the boardwalk was under water--providing an opportunity for a little fun.

I also wanted to test out the option on this blog to post video clips. If any of you have video (that you wish to share with the world) of women in wetlands, send it and I'll post it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The "Black Box" of Peer Review

At the Inside Higher Ed, there is a review of a new book called How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment (go here to read the review).

The author claims to expose what goes on behind the closed doors of review panels, mostly for grants and fellowships. Not having read the book yet, I can't comment on its contents.

However, I have served on review panels for major funding agencies. Most panelists try to be fair, but there can be some bias on occasion (for/against colleagues, institutions, or certain topics). I know because I've seen it happen.

However, I make it a point to speak up promptly whenever I see bias creeping into the deliberations. In a recent instance, a panelist on a national review panel tried to push a proposal (written by a buddy, although there was no clear conflict of interest) up in the ranking. The proposal in question had been initially ranked low because it did not address the stated priorities of the funding program (whereas all the top-ranked proposals had managed to do so). This panelist argued that we should not hold this against an otherwise good proposal. He made a pretty convincing case.

When the program director (and the other panelists) seemed to become swayed by this panelist's argument, I spoke up. I agreed that the proposal in question was a good one based on other criteria, but failed in this key area. My view was that a high ranking for this proposal would not be fair to the other proposers who did restrict themselves to the stated priorities.

When the panel member tried to dismiss my concerns, I said a bit more emphatically that "it's not fair to change the rules in the middle of the game, and particularly without telling any of the participants. If word gets out about this, the reputation of this program will be damaged." ( I usually try to avoid using "sports analogies", but I sensed that the mostly male participants would more likely understand my point if I used one here).

Fortunately, the program director came to his/her senses and backed me up. Had I not been on the panel, I have no doubt that this undeserving proposal would have been funded, and one of the deserving proposals would have lost out.

Deciding how to react when faced with obvious bias or even outright unethical behavior is difficult--especially if it puts you at odds with someone in authority. But failing to do something about it is far worse.

I guess my point is that we can bemoan the problems associated with the review process, but it's really up to us, individual scientists, to ensure that it's a fair process. Think about this the next time you are asked to serve on a panel or act as a reviewer of a proposal or manuscript. These are opportunities to influence the review system--and science--for the better. You might also learn how to write a better, more effective proposal or paper by seeing what constitutes an excellent, successful one from one that is rejected. More about this later....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dance Your Dissertation--Huh?

OK. I can't resist telling about this and pointing you to a video on YouTube.

AAAS and Science host a contest in which scientists interpret their dissertation research in a dance video. The idea is to combine science and art. You have to prepare the video, post it on YouTube, and provide an abstract explaining it. This year's winner (in the professor category) is LSU professor Vincent LiCata for his video, "A Molecular Dance in the Blood, Observed". His video, featuring himself and three students/colleagues has had over 45,000 views on YouTube. An article describing his win is featured on the LSU homepage and his video entry can be viewed here on YouTube.

Regardless of what you may think of this idea, you have to admit that these researchers know how to have fun!

Next fall, LiCata is teaching a course on science in the theater and movies. I may sign up.....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How (not) to ask questions at seminars, etc...

There is an interesting discussion over at another blog (Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde) about how (not) to ask questions at seminars, conferences and so forth. This topic is of particular interest for women scientists, since many of us are somewhat intimidated about speaking up in front of large groups.

Most of us are familiar with the guys who always ask questions--not because they really have a burning desire to know everything, but more to speak up about their views/work/accomplishments, etc. and basically to call attention to themselves. That approach is something everyone should avoid, lest you be pegged as a pest.

However, it's important to develop one's presence (and voice) by speaking up at gatherings of scientists. When I was less experienced, I never asked questions or spoke up--and was consequently overlooked when people were asked to participate in workshops, conference symposia, and other events. A carefully thought-out question or offer of additional information during a question-and-answer session can go a long way toward establishing yourself as knowledgeable in your field (and will boost your confidence).

Along the same lines, women should learn how to speak with confidence when giving presentations or leading groups. I heard a great talk by Dr. Judith Swift (University of Rhode Island Communications Studies and Theater) who spoke at the 2007 ERF Conference in Providence, RI. The title of her presentation was “Communicating Science Through the Filter of Gender.” She had a great many insights and tips to share, in an often amusing delivery.

One of her suggestions was to "claim your space", which men seem to do naturally. How many of you stand very still and try to be as inconspicuous as possible when speaking to an audience? Swift gave a very amusing demonstration contrasting the timid speaker who huddles behind the podium (female) vs. the confident speaker (male) who through broad gestures and by moving out in front of the podium, claims more space.

Those of you familiar with fiddler crabs will recognize this ritualistic behavior (go here to see a video). The male crabs have an exaggerated claw that they wave at other males, presumably to say, "This is my spot and the rest of you better take notice!" The evolution of this very large claw emphasizes how important it must be for male success. Having larger appendages has its downside, however. Females can feed with both (small) claws, but males can only feed with their one smaller claw--and consequently, have to work much harder to get sufficient sustenance.

Seriously though, I'm not so sure how well emulating male behavior works for women. We seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to social behavior of scientists. Do we copy how males behave or do we stick with our own feminine ways and risk being judged as not very confident, or worse, not competent?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ideas for WiW Logo

Another logo (above) submitted anonymously.

See the suggested logo sent by Beth Walton. Thanks, Beth!

Let's have some more suggestions!!!

Women Scientists: Life in the Trenches

Another article on the AAAS Careers website is found here.

This article suggests that the biggest factors in academic success are "driving ambition and incredible efficiency". The author goes on to describe many female scientists as being tired of "handwringing" and wanting to instead focus on solutions. There is also a good discussion of mentors.

It's important to be aware of obstacles, both obvious and subtle, in order to succeed. This does not mean being paranoid, but simply cognizant of things (and people) that might lead to discouragement and early burn-out.

As moderator of this blog, I hope to focus attention on solutions and to provide guidance to the next generation of female wetland scientists and managers.

Career Advice at AAAS

There are numerous articles of interest to women in science at AAAS "Careers".

One article in their series on careers highlights a survey conducted of postdoctoral fellows of the US NIH (National Institutes of Heath). The data showed women lagging behind men in terms of grants, research dollars, and grant renewals. The article describes programs being initiated at various universities (and funded by NSF) to change the culture of academic science and increase the representation of women on the faculty at highest ranks (the idea is to make changes starting at the top instead of the "fix the woman" approach). See the entire article here

Another article entitled "A Double Bind: Minority Women Scientists in Europe" describes some issues faced by women who work or study in other countries (where they were not born). See entire article here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Women's History Month

Note that this is Women's History Month with various Federal agencies and other organizations celebrating the role of women in protecting the environment.

The following is an excerpt from a memo sent out by the acting director of the National Park Service to employees this week (thanks to Joy M. and Dr Wetland for forwarding it):

"March is Women’s History Month. The observance began as Women’s History Week in 1978 and expanded to the entire month of March in 1987. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet.” We honor women who have taken the lead in the environmental or green

President Obama in his March 3, 2009, proclamation designating March as Women’s History Month stated, “These women helped protect our environment and people while challenging the status quo and breaking social barriers. Their achievements inspired generations of American women and men not only to save our planet, but also to overcome obstacles and pursue their interests and talents. They join a long and proud history of American women leaders, and this month we honor the contributions of all women to our Nation.”

The Garden Club of America, historically a women's organization, strongly supported the creation of the National Park Service. Women were at the forefront of the movement to preserve Mesa Verde. They were active members of the Sierra Club and other organizations that worked to protect Yosemite, Glacier Bay and other parklands. Marjory Stoneman Douglas dedicated her life to protecting and restoring the Florida Everglades. Her book, The Everglades: Rivers of Grass, published in 1947, led to the preservation of the Everglades as a National Park."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

We need a logo

Someone suggested early on that we develop a logo and t-shirts for the Women in Wetlands section. I think this is a good idea, especially with the meeting in Madison coming up. I can't recall who suggested this, but if any of you have been involved in getting t-shirts for SWS or other organizations, we could use your input.

Please post any ideas you have regarding the logo and/or t-shirts. If you have any ideas or designs in mind, send them to me and I'll post them.

If we can select a design in time, we might be able to have t-shirts available in Madison. The proceeds could go to our section and/or to set up a scholarship fund.

Any other ideas?

Monday, March 2, 2009

To Blog, or Not to Blog

That seems to be the question for some scientists.

For those of you wondering why anyone would spend time blogging or reading blogs, there are a few discussions out there by scientists who've started blogs. The links below offer some well-reasoned and well-written commentary on the topic.

One of the most compelling reasons is that blogging helps sharpen writing skills, particularly with respect to developing well-reasoned arguments or explaining your science to non-scientists. I find that students and many early-career scientists have great difficulty explaining their work in everyday language.

This blog entry explains how to start a blog and some pros and cons: go here

For those of you in tenure-track positions, here is an interesting blog entry by someone (female) in the process (her tenure package included her blogging activity as a positive example of scholarly activity): go here

And here is the result of her tenure review.