Help us cross the finish line today

Donate here: https://experiment.com/projects/gender-representation-on-mathematical-sciences-journal-editorial-boards

Dear all,

We care deeply about the grievous underrepresentation of women in the mathematical sciences. One week ago, Shilad Sen and I launched a crowdfunding effort to support our research in this area. Though we are optimists, never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that in just one week we would reach 80% of our funding goal.

We are so close to the finish line. The moment we cross it, we can continue to finishing our data collection, and very soon thereafter, analyzing the data and submitting our results for publication.

Can you help us cross that finish line? Can you help us achieve 100% funding TODAY? So far, we have 84 backers with an average pledge amount of about $57. We are about $1200 away from our goal and welcome donations of any size! If 40 people each donate $30, or convince someone else to, we'll be done. So please, make a donation and/or share the link to our project with a few friends via email, Twitter, or Facebook. If we succeed today, research will continue tomorrow. And please -- when you share the link, send a brief personal sentence to your friends about why you chose to back our project.

https://experiment.com/projects/gender-representation-on-mathematical-sciences-journal-editorial-boards

Today, I am working on this project for my 7 year old daughter who loves math, and for my Ph.D. and postdoc advisors. These are three of the most amazing women I've ever met, and though one is a first grader and the other two haven't officially been my advisors for many years, they all inspire my work every day.

Thank you again for your support,

Chad

STEM gender bias: a personal story

Ann, a backer of our project, shares the following story about why she supports our efforts:

I will never forget the horrifying feeling of my calculus teachers taking my pencil from me in high school and college to "teach" me how to do a problem. I validated -- many times over -- neither (male) teacher every did that with the male students. I will also never forget the look on his face the day I took my pencil back and very confidently educated him that he "doesn't need my pencil to teach me."

Please support women in STEM by sharing your stories, by contributing to our project, and by sharing the link so others can do the same. We are trying to reach 60% funding by the end of today (April 15).

https://experiment.com/projects/gender-representation-on-mathematical-sciences-journal-editorial-boards

Gender representation on mathematical sciences journal editorial boards

PLEASE CONSIDER BACKING OUR CROWDFUNDED RESEARCH PROJECT:

https://experiment.com/projects/gender-representation-on-mathematical-sciences-journal-editorial-boards

By many measures, gender balance in the mathematical sciences is not improving. For example, the percentage of female mathematics Ph.D. recipients has been fluctuating around 28% for 15 years. Currently, women account for 15% of faculty in mathematics departments at doctoral degree granting institutions, and merely 11% at the tenured level. [See these statistics from the U.S. government and from the American Mathematical Society.]

Because research publication is crucial for placement in and advancement through careers at academic institutions of many types, it is crucial to examine the representation of women on the editorial boards that determines the final acceptance or rejection of research articles. Indeed, it has been hypothesized that editorial boards may operate in a biased manner, and furthermore, that gender imbalance on these boards deprives women of valuable professional experiences, thus hindering their social-professional networks. Few studies of editorial board gender makeup have been performed; a handful of examples come from the fields of managementmedicine, and archaeology. To our knowledge, systematic data in STEM fields is nonexistent, and this includes the mathematical sciences.

In the first stage of our work, we use crowdsourcing to gather 600 journal editorial boards, including each editor's name, title (e.g., Associate Editor), institutional affiliation, and address. In the second stage, we use crowdsourcing to classify the gender of each editor. We will analyze our data set to quantify gender balance and examine associations with mathematical subfield, journal impact factor, and more.

We have already performed pilot studies demonstrating that both stages of work can be carried out using the Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform. Once funded, we estimate completing data collection within 2 weeks, and an additional 1 - 2 months to analyze data and write up results. To share our work with the public, we will submit it to a rapid-publication, open-access venue.

Women in Math, but not on the AMS Notices cover

I've written about representation of women in math so many times (here's my favorite) that I am actually getting tired of hearing myself on this subject. But I feel compelled to note that the June/July 2015 cover of the American Mathematical Society Notices is covered with 13 photos depicting mathematicians all of whom present as male, and most of whom present as white. They are featured because of their association in a particular mathematics project. I am sure they are lovely people, and brilliant too. But what message is the AMS sending by making the totally voluntary choice to devote their cover to these images?

0AA070BE-5C56-4615-9BAF-D426D6349FF6

American Mathematical Society / Math in Moscow

Readers who are AMS members: I hope you will help protect the rights of sexual minorities by writing the AMS about this issue (below). You are welcome to use/adapt the text of my letter if you wish.


Dear American Mathematical Society,

To my dismay, I just opened up the April Notices to see a full 1/2 page devoted to the Math in Moscow program, with this announcement directly credited to the AMS Membership and Programs Department. As you probably know, human rights offenses against LGBT people are now state-sanctioned in Russia.

I know that with regards to AMS meetings, the policy is:

"The Council of the American Mathematical Society wishes to reaffirm the commitment of the Society to the human rights of mathematicians. The Society bears a particular responsibility to provide the participants at meetings of the Society with an environment which is supportive of these rights.

Therefore, the Council resolves that the AMS will make every reasonable effort to schedule its meetings in localities which respect the participants' human rights, including freedom from discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, religion, age, sexual orientation, or disability."

Does this policy extend to other activities besides AMS meetings? To me, it seems difficult to claim support of AMS members' rights and yet at the same time be actively pushing a program in Russia. What's even more concerning to me is that the audience for the Math in Moscow program is young people, and they might be less well-equipped to understand the risks they are undertaking when traveling to Russia.

I hope the AMS will consider ceasing its support for this program. What would be even better is if in doing so, the AMS could use its voice to further protect its members by loudly and actively speaking out against the human rights offenses against sexual minorities in Russia.

Sincerely,
Chad Topaz

Metaphors for learning

This post will be both ironic and trite. Ironic, because I am going to use a team sports metaphor in relation to learning, when I in fact have never been a team sports guy (I am a cardio and yoga guy). Trite, because thousands of people before me have used team sports metaphors in relation to learning.

Nonetheless, indulge me.

Here at Macalester College, our semester starts this week. As many faculty do every term, I am thinking about how to strike the right opening chord with my students. While I believe that teaching them math is important, my experience at a liberal arts college has convinced me that my even greater charge (a superset, if you will) is to teach them something about how to learn. This semester, I decided that to add on to my previous efforts, I should show an incredibly clear visual image on the first day of class that encapsulates the most important messages I have for my students. Here is my attempt.

A colleague of mine recently coined the brilliant term "anectotally," meaning, essentially, "with vehement conviction based on my completely anecdotal evidence." So anectotally speaking, most students begin my class subscribing to a metaphor for learning like the lefthand image in the link above. (Anectotally, and perhaps without realizing it, some faculty subscribe to this as well.) The professor is the bottle of water, each student is a glass, and learning takes place by the professor pouring knowledge (typically, via lecture) into the students. If learning is unsuccessful, it is either because the bottle isn't full enough or the glass isn't big enough.

Thanks to learning science research, we now know that this is not really an appropriate metaphor. The components of a successful learning environment are not a mystery. A wonderful, free book from the National Academies takes a scientific look at how people learn from multiple disciplinary perspectives. A wonderful chapter in that book discusses the design of learning environments. In the future, I'll post in much more detail about this topic. But for now, let me move on to the right-hand image on my slide.

I think a more effective metaphor -- and one that is anectotally surprising to many students -- is that of an athletics team. In the pouring water metaphor, the professor is the main attraction, providing the knowledge. In the team athletics metaphor, the student team is the main attraction. The professor is a coach who is not even always visible. In the pouring water metaphor, the student acquires knowledge passively. In the team athletics metaphor, the students are in action, sometimes as individuals and often as a cooperative group. The team is often on its own, only occasionally receiving guidance from the coach. The coach scaffolds an athletic experience, but the players go through the training regimen and play the game themselves. It is the players' hard work and dedication that are arguably the determining factors for success.

There are certainly many subtleties to this metaphor, and it should not be used too casually. But I am trying to go for simplicity-in-messaging on the first day of class.

Faculty and students, based on your anectotal evidence, what do you think is an apt metaphor for learning?

Am I crazypants?

I'm writing from 30,000 feet, en route back home from the SIAM Annual Meeting. And more specifically, I'm writing to follow up on this post.

I had the opportunity to speak with a number of people at the conference... some involved in the selection of SIAM Fellows, some not. Regardless of whom I was talking to, I was really struck by how unpopular my own particular ideas about diversity seem to be... even with those folks who are active about such issues.

Here are two things I experienced.

1. Most people I spoke with feel that the solution to the problem of insufficient diversity amongst the Fellows is to get SIAM members to nominate more women and minorities. I somewhat disagree. I think this is an important part of the solution, but not the whole solution. I would like to see SIAM (the SIAM governance, that is) work actively to increase diversity rather than just say "we just need to encourage more members," which strikes me as punting. Many people pushed back directly against my contention, though.

2. Most people I spoke with believe (as communicated through implicit or explicit statements) that the make-up of the Fellows should proportionally represent the field at large. I stringently disagree. I want to see my professional society's Fellows have a more diverse make-up than the field. This way, the field at large gets sent a message. The choice of fellows is aspirational, from a diversity standpoint. In short: SIAM should lead, not follow. When I said this to people, I frequently got the pushback "we can't lower the standards for Fellows" which I find to be extremely offensive. I believe there are way more people qualified to be Fellows than there are slots for Fellows. We should choose a subset of the qualified people in such a way as to represent diversity.

Am I crazypants? Please tell me. I am asking because I really want to know.

Professional societies and diversity

Today's rant -- a letter to my main professional society -- is posted below and needs little introduction. I am grateful to the people who have inspired me to speak up about diversity issues. For those who haven't yet spoken up, I hope you will consider doing so.


Dear President [removed], Executive Director [removed], and SIAM Fellows Selection Committee,

As I am so fond of telling my colleagues, I love SIAM. As a fifteen-year SIAM member, I've attended SIAM conferences; judged SIAM poster competitions; read, refereed for, published in, and edited SIAM journals; and, this year, won a SIAM best paper prize. Obviously, I have benefitted substantively from the excellent opportunities SIAM offers. But because I love SIAM so much, I find it necessary to ask some difficult questions related to SIAM Fellows selection and issues of diversity.

Just like I do every summer, this summer I am advising a cohort of undergraduate research students. It so happens that this summer, all four of my students are women. To boot, they are talented, hardworking, mathematically promising women working on advanced topics such as nonlocal PDE, correlated random walks, and more. These are women who have the interest and the ability to have future careers as applied mathematicians.

Besides working with my students on research, I expose them to other aspects of life as an applied mathematician. Yesterday, I found myself in the awkward position of trying to explain to them the 2013 SIAM Fellows list disseminated in the "SIAM Unwrapped" email I received. As we looked through the list of Fellows, we noted that merely two of the 33 new Fellows are women. One of my students commented "that's pretty grim" -- an assessment met with concurrence from the rest of the room.

Previous years are nearly equally grim. Based on my quick scan of data on the SIAM website, here is a tally of the representation of women amongst SIAM fellows:

2009: 194 fellows, 16 women (8%)
2010: 34 fellows, 3 women (9%)
2011: 34 fellows, 2 women (6%)
2012: 35 fellows, 7 women (20%)
2013: 33 fellows, 2 women (6%)
Overall: 330 fellows, 30 women (9%)

What am I to tell my students? What message are they meant to receive from looking at the Fellows roster? Is SIAM's contention that the dismal percentages simply are not a problem? Is the contention that in 2013, there were really only two women applied mathematicians qualified to be named Fellows? Or that because fellowship depends on a nomination process, there's just nothing SIAM can do if women aren't nominated?

One might have idealistically hoped that the Fellows program would strive to provide a little remedy to the underrepresentation of women in the field at large. It appears this is not the case. Furthermore, while I recognize that it is a dicey proposition to judge diversity based on inferences from a list of names and photos, the SIAM Fellows roster appears to include exceedingly few members from other groups (besides women) that are also traditionally considered underrepresented.

Please know that I am tremendously grateful for the hard work you do on behalf of SIAM. Also, I am in an odd position writing this email as an approaching-middle-aged white guy who has undoubtedly benefitted from the social privilege conferred by those demographics. But still, on behalf of young women and minority students, and with concern for the scientific potential that might be lost when some of them leave a field that appears to pay insufficient attention to diversity, I worry.

In case any of you share my worries and feel like discussing the issues I've raised here, I'll be present at the SIAM Annual Meeting in [location] on [date] and free for most of the day (except lunch).

Respectfully,
Chad Topaz
Associate Professor of Mathematics
Macalester College
http://www.chadtopaz.com