Thursday, October 25, 2012

Assorted evidence of insanity

I woke up at 5am on Tuesday, and as I rolled over to drift back to sleep, a little voice reminded me that my grant proposal needs to be submitted a week before its official deadline.  And then I started counting backwards from the official deadline, and jumped out of bed.  It's due at the end of this week.  Not next week.  Stupid, stupid voice in my head.  So I spent the next two hours writing.  And guess what I'm doing tomorrow morning?  

Speaking of writing, I have far too many writing projects looming over me, and I don't seem to be able to finish any of them.  All those projects are really stressing out that same little voice in my head -- the one in charge of keeping things organized and running on time.  It can't keep track of what needs to be done and when, and it is lashing out against me in its frustration.  I'm not quite sure what to do with it.  To make things worse, the writing projects themselves keep bothering me, too.  They all clamor for my attention, and when they don't get it, they pile on the guilt -- at least the work projects do.  The fiction projects don't just pile on guilt.  They scream at me to do something about them.  And unlike the work projects, which stay down when I tell them to except for a whimper of guilt, the fiction ones climb after me, and attack when my guard is down, such as when I'm drifting off to sleep, or walking over to work.  If I were this single minded about work projects, I'd be winning my Nobel prize.

Jonathan needed a Wednesday after school program.  So I volunteered.  I offered to run a math program for kids, grades 3 through 6.  I have taught it three times so far.  There are too many kids.  There are so many kids that even the simplest example takes forever to explain.  And every kid has an idea for an answer to every question.  Or if they don't have an idea, at least they have something else that they really really need to share.  And if I don't have a question for them to answer?  Then they have one for me!  They talk on top of each other and on top of me.  And they generate random, unexpected answers that I have to think about, and that I have to ask everyone else to think about, but it's hard to think when you really really need me to call on you.  Oh!  Oh!  Please!  Please let me spew something random!  Me, I come home totally wiped out.  But I don't think there is anything I can do about it.  How could I justify squelching such enthusiasm, especially for math, of all things?  

Today I forgot my keys.  I biked to school in the rain, and then went to lock up my bike and found my keys were not in my pocket.  So I looked at my watch.  I had to teach class in eight minutes.  Home was a 15 minute bike ride in the wrong direction.  So I wheeled my bike up to my department office, begged to borrow the master key, let myself into my office and parked my bike behind my desk, and ran off to do my teaching.  Later in the day, someone saw me wheeling my bike out of my office, and said I was very smart to have brought it in out of the rain.  Except that I felt like a complete idiot for having forgotten to bring my keys.  

I think I'd better stop.  I am coming up with too many items that point to my insanity, and I can't afford the time to see a therapist.  Must write....  Aaah!  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Gender bias

Soon after my birthday, I read a couple of articles that I found extremely depressing:

From Scientific American:  Study shows gender bias in science is real.  And from Inside Higher Ed:  Study shows scientists are biased against women.

I read the Inside Higher Ed article first.  The article depressing in and of itself:  Scientists were given identical resumes for hypothetical students, with just the names changed.  One name obviously female, one obviously male, and asked to rate the students.
... [T]he scientists were asked to rate the students' competence on a 5-point scale. Male faculty rated the male student 4.01 and the female student 3.33. Female scientists rated the male student 4.10 and the female student 3.32. On salary, the gaps were also notable. The average salary suggested by male scientists for the male student was $30,520; for the female student, it was $27,111. Female scientists recommended, on average, a salary of $29,333 for the male student and $25,000 for the female student.
That's bad. The scientists didn't think they were being sexist. They just honestly thought that Jane wasn't as competent as the identical John.  Which makes me wonder (a) do I do this?  I hope I do not.  I must be vigilant and try to make sure I do not.  And (b) am I a victim of this?  Would I ever know if so?  Is my work valued less because I have a very distinctly feminine name?  (I have wondered in the past, but what can you possibly do?)

The most depressing thing about the article, however, was the comments.  The blog from Scientific America summed it up best:

[M]ost people who read this will have one of four reactions:
1) This is not surprising, but I’m glad we have something concrete to show what we’ve known all along.
2) This is surprising and disturbing.
3) Figure 2 is misleading because the y-axis does not start at zero. Therefore, I will reject everything else exposed by this study.
4) Equally qualified women should be discriminated against, because they could go off and get pregnant. 
On the Inside Higher Ed blog, which is supposedly of interest to my academic colleagues, there seemed to be a huge number of comments #4.  And also comments along the line of "The women are rating the female students just as badly as the men, so it can't really be sexism."  And "Yeah but maybe the women looked the same on paper, but they wouldn't be as good later in life because women never are the best of the best.  Those are the men."

These are comments from educated people, the educators of America.  Sometimes America sucks.

You know what, American educators?  (1) It's none of your business if they go off and get pregnant.  And the fact that they might doesn't make them less effective workers and poorer scientists.  (2) Women can also be sexist to women.  In fact, historically women have been our own worst enemies (see for example women's suffrage).  (3) Studies show over and over that it isn't the gender that's holding the women back from performing at the top.  It's the culture.  A relatively recent study published in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, for example, showed that we Americans are hurting both our men and our women in science by our cultural attitudes.  Sure math is great later in life, but you're a loser if you're good at it as a kid.  The peak performers in the highest tier math competitions in high school and college are both male and female, but they're coming from other countries where kids and adults value math as much as basketball.

As I have mused about this in the past, the advice I receive is along the lines of, "just put your head down and do the best work you can and don't worry about it."  Which is excellent advice, and how I've lived my life.  But sometimes things need to be worried about.  But I'm not big enough to do all the worrying on my own.

Reader, please go worry for me.  Thanks.  That's much better.