Tag Archives: women in math

Women in math: accountability

I’ve talked about women in math a lot on this blog and maybe you think of me as someone who is aware of and resistant to sexism in our profession.  But what if we look at some actual numbers?

My Ph.D. students:  2 out of 15 are women.

Coauthors, last 5 years: 2 out of 23 are women.

Letters posted on MathJobs, last 2 years:  3 out of 24 are women.

That is sobering.  I’m hesitant about posting this, but I think it’s a good idea for senior people to look at their own numbers and get some sense of how much they’re actually doing to support early-career women in the profession.

Update:  I removed the numbers for tenure/promotion letters.  A correspondent pointed out that these, unlike the other items, are supposed to be confidential, and given the small numbers are at least partially de-anonymizable.


Is philosophy worse for women than math is?

My philosopher friends today are all talking about the resignation/firing of Colin McGinn, a pretty well-known philosopher as I understand it, who as it turns out has been sending e-mails to his graduate students describing…. well, there’s no real reason for me to describe it, I leave that kind of filth for the Chronicle of Higher Education.  

Philosophy and math have roughly the same male-female ratio, but philosophy has blogs like What Is It Like To Be A Woman In Philosophy? and math, as far as I know, does not.  Is that because math has actually created a culture friendlier to women than philosophy has?  Or is it because philosophy is closer to the social criticism tradition and philosophers are more likely to want to talk about these things openly?

I have one small data point.  I once heard a philosopher give a talk in which there was a weird joke about you have to be careful not to sleep with your graduate students because [some philosophy joke I didn’t get and don’t remember.]

Or rather, it read as weird to me, because I think it’s highly unlikely that someone would say something like that in front of a roomful of mathematicians under any circumstances.  Or if they did, there would be a burst of murmurs and everyone would be looking back and forth with the “Did he say that?” look.  On this occasion, only I was looking back and forth.  Nobody seemed to think it was weird, not the women, not the men.  It was an informal, jokey kind of talk.  But still.



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The NSF should fund conference daycare

I was pleased to see that this year’s Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego offers subsidized on-site childcare for participants in the meeting.  But even after the subsidy, it isn’t exactly cheap; at $14/hour, a mathematician who wanted to attend the conference full-time would easily spend over $300 on childcare.

Can you use your NSF grant to cover this $300?  Nope:

Can NSF award funds be used for travel and associated dependent-care expenses for dependents of individuals funded on an NSF award?

NSF award funds may not be used for domestic travel costs or associated dependent-care expenses for individuals traveling on NSF award funds. Travel costs associated with dependents may be allowable for International travel in accordance with Award and Administration Guide Chapter V.B.4, which contains several stipulations, including that travel must be continuous for a period of six months or more.

What about organizers of NSF-funded conferences?  Can we offer to use NSF money to cover childcare costs for attending mathematicians?  That’s another nope:

Can conference/workshop awards or travel funds from research awards be used to support child care at conferences and workshops?

NSF award funds may not be used to pay for travel costs or expenses related to onsite care (e.g., daycare) for dependents of participants at NSF-sponsored conferences and workshops. NSF-sponsored conferences and workshops are encouraged to consider child-care services to ease the burden on attendees, but the costs of such services are the responsibility of those that choose to utilize the accommodations.

For me to go to a conference requires me to buy a plane ticket and book a hotel room.  NSF wants me to go to conferences, so they allow me to charge these unavoidable expenses to my grant.  If I’m a single parent of a 1-year-old child, going to a conference requires me to have childcare available at the conference location.  No childcare means I don’t go to the conference.  If NSF is willing to pay two hundred bucks a night for my hotel room, why not a hundred bucks a day for childcare?

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Would the death of the journal system be good for women in math?

I am not one of the most radical signatories to the “Cost of Knowledge” statement:  there are certainly some among us who look forward to a world without commercial journals, or even a world without journals at all.  I don’t yet see a clear path to that world.

Nonetheless, I want to add one possible item to the case against journals.

There is lots of inequity in the way mathematicians are assigned status — we all have researchers we think are underappreciated (and some people are quite willing to talk about who they think is overappreciated.)

One very simple source of inequity — but I’ll bet a pretty large one — is that authors decide what journal to submit to.  Some people “aim high” — their method is to ask “what’s the best journal where this paper would fit?”  Others “aim low,” asking something more like “what’s the median journal where papers like this appear?”  You can’t get in the Annals unless you submit to the Annals, and you won’t submit to the Annals very often if you aim low.

Women in the workplace are socialized not to ask for things.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are disproportionately many men in the “aim high, why shouldn’t my paper be in the Annals?” group.  (And of course, for those who get het up whenever I talk about women in math, this applies just as well to any group of mathematicians disinclined to push for their own work.)

Would things be different if papers in the Annals were selected from all papers, not just those whose authors decided to nominate themselves?  Then publication in a top journal would be a little more like being invited to speak at a prestigious conference.  Would that be an improvement?


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Why Laba is not on Math Overflow

A thoughtful post from harmonic analyst Izabella Laba about why she isn’t participating in Math Overflow (and, by extension, why other women in math might not be.)  The comments are good too.

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