Athena Swan

Athena Swan promotes and supports the diversity of all staff in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and aims to address gender, race and sexual orientation inequalities and imbalance in these disciplines and, in particular, the under-representation of certain groups in senior roles.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Over on Twitter - how not to review a paper (especially one on gender bias)

Twitter feeds are emotive things - they can make you laugh, cry, and sometimes bang your head on the wall in exasperation. One of these last situations is currently racing around the gender balance community, as Fiona Ingleby, a researcher at the University of Sussex, has released snippets from comments one reviewer gave to her paper on gender differences at the PhD-postdoc transition point. Now, we've all had papers rejected, but this reviewer concluded:

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 Said (anonymous) reviewer continued:

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And three weeks on, the journal (so far unnamed) and editor have yet to respond to Fiona's challenge.
For the full story - and the storm of supportive and astonished responses, head over to Fiona's Twitter feed. And keep everything crossed that this journal sees the light of day...

Update 22:56: Science Magazine has picked up on the buzz, and the journal is revealed to be in the PLOS family, who 'regret the tone, spirit and content of this particular review'.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

In the news - workplace biases from the geoscientist's perspective

Anyone who is a member of the EU's many mineralogical, petrological or geochemical societies will be familiar with Elements magazine. For those who aren't, it's a bi-monthly themed publication, with a range of plain-language research articles within that theme, society news and opinion pieces. April's edition, on the theme of arc magmas, includes an opinion piece on 'Recognizing Biases That Affect Women Geoscientists in the Workplace', written by three colleagues at the Research School of Earth Sciences, ANU. They summarise the three main types of bias women face, as well as key methods for reducing the impact of this bias for the benefit of all staff, backed up with key references. Above all, the authors emphasise that we all have biases, and prejudice against women happens even in 'good' departments where it is not immediately obvious. They argue that, rather than dismissing the need to address these problems, they should be tackled consistently and continuously for best effect.

Women are underrepresented in the geosciences. Many different factors affect a woman’s ability to continue and succeed in science. These include a lack of senior women role models; the need for people in partnerships to decide whose career to follow and then to obtain satisfying long-term jobs; inescapable career interruptions for women who choose to have children; and a social bias and expectation that women will take on signifi cant family responsibilities. Programs have been initiated worldwide to try to improve the representation of women in science, and many organizations have aspirations to increase diversity and the fair treatment of women in their workplaces. Yet gender diversity continues to be a systemic problem in the geosciences. In this article, we focus on biases – presumptions that we all have and that we can learn to recognize and actively manage. Many studies show that we impede women’s advancement through inadvertent biases in our decisionmaking, judgment and day-to-day actions (e.g. Ross 2008). How does this happen in the workplaces of “good,” well-intentioned scientists, of all genders, who are trained to think rationally and systematically?

Read more here.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Funding - MSA grant for student research in mineralogy and petrology

The Mineralogical Society of America announces the 2016 Grants for Student Research in Mineralogy and Petrology.

The Grants for Student Research in Mineralogy and Petrology are funded by an endowment created by contributions from the MSA membership. The grant comprises two awards of up to $5,000 each for research in mineralogy and petrology. Students, including graduate and undergraduate students, are encouraged to apply. However, all proposals are considered together. The award selection will be based on the qualifications of the applicant, the quality, innovativeness, and scientific significance of the research, and the likelihood of success of the project. Applicants may not apply for both this and the MSA Grant for Research in Crystallography in the same year. The grant is for research-related expenses only.

Proposal submissions for the grant are to be made online. Further information and application form are available at

Completed applications must be returned to the MSA Business Office by June 1, 2015.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Academic press - Unconscious bias in reference letters

Although only now storming the Twitter seas, a 2007 paper entitled 'A Linguistic Comparison of Letters of Recommendation for Male and Female Chemistry and Biochemistry Job Applicants' was among the first to highlight the different ways potential candidates are described in their letters of recommendation. This study, published in the journal Sex Roles, found that 'standout' words and ability were emphasised in male candidates, while 'grindstone' words dominated letters written for female candidates. The authors provided a list of the words they considered fell into each category:

Standout words: excellen*, superb, outstanding, unique, exceptional, unparalleled, *est, most, wonderful, terrific*, fabulous, magnificent, remarkable, estraordinar*, amazing, supreme*, unmatched

Ability words: talent*, intell*, smart*, skill*, ability, genius, brilliant*, bright*, brain*, aptitude, gift*, capacity, propensity, innate, flair, knack, clever*, expert*, proficient*, capable, adept*, able, competent, natural*, inherent*, instinct*, adroit*, creative*, insight*, analytical

Grindstone words: hardworking, conscientious, depend*, meticulous, thorough, diligen*, dedicate, careful, reliab*, effort*, assiduous, trust*, responsib*, methodical, industrious, busy, work*, persist*, organiz*, disciplined

which was turned into a word map by Twitter user @EcoEvoEvoEco:

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While the authors of the study left the effect these word choices have on search committees to future research, it is ultimately up to those writing letters to take the lead and change their habits. So if you see some of your own letters in these words, a little bit of effort to do things differently in the future could get your star candidate hired - suggested words, online tools and general advice are available from many sources, including this blog. 

To read the whole article, click here.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Fellow blogger - The Myth of the ‘Myth of Women in Science’

If you skimmed through some articles about women in science recently, you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘problem solved’. A recent study by Cecil and Williams, published in no less august a publication than PNAS, claimed women actually had a 2:1 advantage over men when it came to hiring at tenure track level. Isn’t that fantastic! Hence CNN ran a story claiming it was now ‘the myth of women in science’, implying that those tedious whinging women could now shout up (other outlets ran similar write-ups).
However. Yes, there’s bound to be a however. This claim, which many women would be hard pressed to believe from personal experience, was sure to be scrutinised. If you want an analysis of why the study is not as robust as its abstract (and the CNN article) suggests, take a look at this. This deconstruction of the study highlights a number of shortcomings , not least the fact that respondents being asked if they’d hire someone knew full well the CVs they were sent were not genuine. Why not show how impressively unbiased you are by choosing the minority candidate when absolutely nothing hangs on it?
Now the plural of anecdote may not be data, and indeed hiring decisions could in fact be completely independent of the microinequities people feel justified in making day by day (see Jenny Martin’s recent blogpost if you doubt such things are still ongoing) but nothing I have seen suggests we have yet reached a point when we can relax and think equality has been reached in science. Study after study suggests that women leave the profession at a faster rate than men and that, whatever percentage of women start out at undergraduate level the percentage falls at each successive stage, although the numbers vary between disciplines.

Read more here.

Monday, 20 April 2015

£1000 funding for female undergrads in maths, physics and engineering

Do you know a bright female student either at or applying to university to study maths, physics or engineering? Or someone doing an apprenticeship in the same fields? As long as they have at least 12 months to go from the award date in November, they could be awarded £1000 a year through the WISE Campaign's Range Rover Evoque WISE Scholarship. 

INTERVIEW DATE FOR SHORTLISTED CANDIDATES: To be confirmed but will likely be first week of September
AWARD MADE: 12 November 2015

More info here.

UoP Researchers' Network Speed Networking Event - 11 June, 12-13.30

Researchers' Network Speed Networking 
Thursday, 11 June 2015 from 12:00 to 13:30 (BST)

This meeting will begin with a quick update on the Network and information and resources that are available for Researchers in the University. This update will be followed by 'Researcher Speed Networking'. The aim of speed Networking is to encourage researchers from different groups, departments and even faculties to talk to each other for a short period of time to learn about each other's research and to identify any collaboration potential. Cross Faculty collaborative bids offer a good way to secure internal funding and are often a good starting point for seeking external funding support. Best of all, you will meet new people, hopefully make new friends and discover more about the sheer breadth and depth of research at the University of Portsmouth.
This is event is being hosted by Dr Penny Lancaster (Science - School of Earth and Environmental Science) and Dr Ed Smart (CCi - Centre for Intelligent Data Solutions) - just two of our 14 Researchers' Network Champions.
To sign up, visit

About the Researchers' Network:
The Researchers’ Network is a University-wide platform to allow people in the University to meet and keep up-to-date with other researchers and issues that affect them. The main focus of the Network is on those that are working to build and progress their research careers. This is likely to include post-docs, research staff, fellows, early career researchers, as well as those conducting research within academic roles such as lecturers and senior lecturers. The Network complements the Readers' Forum and Professors' Forum. Join our Google+ page to keep in touch.
N.B: This link will only work if you are signed into your Google account and have activated your Google+ profile. It is easy and quick to sign up for Google+ and taking this step will help everyone keep in touch.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

@EverydaySexism Twitter feed

Following on from yesterday's post about quantifying the impact of subtle (and not-so-subtle) sexism on underrepresented groups, a relevant Twitter feed has come to my attention which demonstrates the scale and scope of the problem like no study possibly could. @EverydaySexism allows people to post their experiences, and, while there is always a risk of these things getting off-kilter, some of the posts just couldn't be made up. So, do you recognise any of these posters' experiences? Have you yourself said some of them, and didn't realise the effect you had on the recipient? It is only by getting these experiences out in the open that a sensible discussion can be had, and ultimately real change be made.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

In the news - Subtle Sexism, Mansplaining and Manterruptions No Longer Tolerated

Studies have shown what women have been saying for some time: sexism is often hidden, and multiple high profile gaffes have illustrated this point. Men interrupting women, policing the language and tone of women and condescendingly explaining things to women, as opposed to explicitly abusing women through slurs and harassing acts, are increasingly well documented in the media.
An often-overlooked form of sexism is the rate at which men interrupt women during verbal communications. Colloquially termed “manterrupting”, research on 20 men and 20 women under experimental conditions at George Washington University found that “when speaking with a female, participants interrupted more and used more dependent clauses than when speaking with a male.”
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt repeatedly interrupting his panel colleague, the United States’ Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, provided a lesson in this phenomenon to the SXSW audience and the global media. He was even called out for it during the panel, embarrassingly by his own company’s Global Diversity and Talent Programs manager, Judith Williams.

Read more here.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Have your say - How much personal cash do you spend on your science?

A new survey is asking all scientists over 18 - students, post-docs, professors - to spill the beans on how much they pay out of pocket to support their careers. Are you able to afford all your conferences and field gear on your/your supervisor's grants? Does it take so long for your university to reimburse you that the credit card interest fees are nearly as much as the conference bill itself? Have you skipped a conference/field trip/course because you just couldn't afford it? Now is the time to do something about it - and you may be shocked at just how much you've spent.

Although academic research is predominantly funded by grants, scientists—like teachers and people in many other professions—sometimes dip into their own wallets to cover job-related expenses, such as conference travel or open-access publishing fees. Just how much personal finance pours into professional science isn’t clear, but two scientists are now trying to tally some numbers.

Read more here.

Award news

A big congrats to PhD student Orla Bath-Enright, who has been awarded £500 from the British Sedimentological Research Group (BSRG) through their Steve Farrell Memorial Fund. Her award will support fieldwork in the Burgess Shale, Canada for her project entitled “The Burgess Shale: Short distance bustling commuters or long distance serene surfers?”.

In the news - Women best men in STEM faculty hiring study

The 'leaky pipeline' towards gender balance at the highest levels of academe has many holes, but one of the largest drop-offs for underrepresented groups is the transition from contract work (post-docs) to permanent posts. A new study suggests that training against the unconscious biases which pervade the hiring process (chiefly, that people tend to hire people like themselves - so a committee of all white men will tend to hire more of the same) may be having the desired effect. So is this the dawn of a new age? Or simply the start of a different set of problems? Either way, the debate is sure to continue.

A woman applying for a tenure-track faculty position in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at a U.S. university is twice as likely to be hired as an equally qualified man, if both candidates are highly qualified, according to a new study.
The results run counter to widely held perceptions and suggest that this is a good time for women to be pursuing academic careers. Some observers, however, say that the study—which involved actual faculty members rating hypothetical candidates—may not be relevant to real-world hiring. And they worry the results may leave the incorrect impression that universities have achieved gender parity in STEM fields.

Read more here.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

2015 WISE Awards for Inspirational Women in STEM

DEADLINE: Monday 17 August 9am

The WISE Awards are intending to achieve the following objectives:
  • Celebration of excellence and contribution women make to Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Manufacturing
  • Stories to inspire others, especially those that would otherwise consider that these subjects/careers were for not for “people like me”
  • Recognises the critical role of organisations and individuals have in influencing the choices girls and women
  • We expect the winners to actively work with us to achieve the goal of “1 million more women in STEM”
The categories are:
Apprentice Award – sponsored by Rolls-Royce
Girl Award – sponsored by Intel
Hero Award – sponsored by Babcock
Research Award - sponsored by Thales
Lifetime Achievement Award – sponsored by Halliburton
Employer Award – sponsored by AWE
Influence Award – sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering
Health & Safety Award – sponsored by Amec Foster Wheeler
Inspiring Young People Award – sponsored by Atkins
Tech Start-Up Award – sponsored by Goldman Sachs
Campaign Award – sponsored by Network Rail
Bloomberg Open Technology Award – sponsored by Bloomberg

So if you know someone who should be recognised for their contributions to STEM, be sure to read the full rules and specs here.