Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

Readings for undergraduate women in STEM?

Posted by Melissa on August 14, 2012

One of my roles this summer has involved coordinating weekly lunches for Carleton’s Clare Booth Luce (CBL) Scholars program. This is a three-year, grant-funded program supported by the Clare Booth Luce Foundation aimed at increasing the number of women computer science and physics majors at Carleton by providing early research experiences and developing a supportive cohort.

The weekly lunches are part of the effort to create a sense of community within the CBL cohort. Each week, I selected a reading that formed the basis for discussion or activities relevant to the topic at hand. I found choosing the topics for reading and discussion to be extremely difficult, in part because this program aims both to prepare the students to be successful at Carleton and also to help lay the foundation for success in the wider world beyond Carleton. And the world beyond Carleton has a lot more places where the old boys’ network is still strong and where others might judge you by your gender, not by your abilities.

Now that I’ve been at Carleton for a while, I’ve begun to see a trend. Women-in-science topics rarely come up in my discussions with current students, but fairly regularly, I get phone calls or e-mails from female alums who have found themselves in chilly grad school climates or uncomfortable work situations. I’m always happy to have conversations with alums and do what I can to support them, but I also wonder what we can do for current students so that they are better prepared when they encounter difficult situations after Carleton. I certainly don’t want to paint a doom and gloom picture for current students when, by luck of their choices and circumstances, they might never experience discrimination based on their gender. However, I also don’t want students to be blindsided when they encounter the difficult realities that still exist for some women in physics and computer science. I’m unsure of how to raise awareness of potential challenges without seeming either unnecessarily discouraging or out of step with the experiences students have had to date.

I kept coming back to that difficult balancing act when I was trying to decide on readings for the summer. Here are the topics/readings that I settled on:

Week 1: Research experience expectations. Reading: “The importance of stupidity in scientific research” by Martin Schwartz.

Week 2: Mentoring. Reading: Selections from CWIT Mentoring Tool Kit, Center for Women & Information Technology, University of Maryland Baltimore County and from the Mentoring Guide, Center for Health Leadership & Practice, Public Health Institute.

Week 3: Negotiating. Reading: Introduction and Chapter 1 from Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.

Week 4: More on negotiating. Gender schemas. Reading: Chapter 1 from Why So Slow? by Virgina Valian.

Week 5: Gender schemas and stereotype threat. Reading: Selections from Whistling Vivaldi by Claude Steele.

Week 6 and 7: Career exploration. Readings: Step by Step: Your Career from Undergrad to Postdoc from ScienceCareers as well as other discipline specific web resources for CS and physics.

Week 8: Work-life balance. Reading: Peruse the Atlantic‘s on-line collection of articles on the myth of work-life balance.

Do you have favorite readings that I should have included instead of those outlined above? Do you think we should do more to try to prepare students for chilly climates they might encounter after Carleton, or do we do enough by trying to provide a supportive undergraduate environment?

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5 Responses to “Readings for undergraduate women in STEM?”

  1. I have no reading suggestions, but here is a possibility: you could have recent female alums visit to talk to current students about their experiences in the real world. You wouldn’t even have to make it about bias or any specific topic – I bet that would come up naturally! A few groups at Rice do this to inform students about different career possibilities after undergrad or grad school.

  2. Marie said

    I think this article has some good suggestions:

    Indiana Jane and the Temples of Doom: Recommendations for Enhancing Women and Racial/Ethnic Faculty’s Success in Academia
    by Chris D. Erickson and Ester R. Rodriguez

    I hope to see you soon!

  3. Bitsy said

    I might have them critically watch http://blog.ted.com/2010/12/21/why-we-have-too-few-women-leaders-sheryl-sandberg-on-ted-com/ . I would look for something by Nancy Hopkins, maybe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQUB3LeJEJE or http://video.mit.edu/watch/a-conversation-with-nancy-hopkins-7705/ or something from http://web.mit.edu/gep/about.html . I know talking about things that in the area of sexual harassment seems like a real drag and being down on the world, but coming across peoples lude comments about other women, etc. have been the biggest shocks for me.

  4. Melissa said

    Thanks everyone for the suggestions!

  5. [...] at a Higher Level blog (Melissa Eblen-Zayas, Carleton College physics professor): Readings for undergraduate women in STEM? Share this:EmailMoreShare on Tumblr Pin ItDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry [...]

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