Hurries for humans in physis

I was asked to comment on a blog post by particle physicist Sabine Hossenfelder about open access, however I decided to comment first on her recent post Hurdles for women in physics.



Bee wrote: “As I have said many times before, I don’t understand why academia basically doesn’t have the normal middle ground of average-pay permanent contracts.”

A main problem in this whole discussion seems to be the question: “How do I deal with “unproductivity”*? (due to pregnancy, sickness, age, care for others etc.)”

That is the tenure was sought on one hand as a mean to give “good” researchers more freedom for (in terms of possible profitable outcome: high risk) research (however if the teaching load is exorbitant high then “being tenured” doesn’t help much), on the other hand tenure is a kind of social insurance (mostly against unemployment, old age or sickness unproductivity and old age poverty). So if one focuses on the aspect of social insurance the “getting tenured” process is with respect to this aspect a big gamble on getting a good social security (or not) within a certain time slot. And if women want to have children then those women clearly have less chances to compete in this “gamble”, since they more or less need to get pregnant within this time slot. It is also clear that if people should get “unproductive” (like by being pregnant, by having to care for small children, by having long term sicknesses etc.) then it is easier to get rid of them with short term contracts.

Without an exeption, all women I have talked to and who have succeeded in math/physics academia either managed to get a permanent or social secure position (Sabine how likely is getting tenure at your place?) before getting pregnant (rather rare) or had a partner with enough social security (i.e. a good job). I think this should also be statistically visible.

So clearly there is a “hurdle” (as Sabine calls it) which affects women more than men, because on average up to now there are more women getting pregnant than men :) .
There are of course also other aspects, but I leave these out for the moment.

In my case one of my short term academic contracts ended right after the birth of my second child, so the corresponding department didn’t need to deal with a possible “unproductivity” on my side, like due to child care. Problem solved :) .

I would though be cautious with “the normal middle ground of average-pay permanent contracts”. These are country-wise VERY different. I have a girl-friend who was recently “fired” after many years of work on such an “average-pay permanent contract”. (The reason for the firing seems to have been a “restructuring” within the company, that is she was not the only one who was fired but a whole section of that company was “fired” including parts in Britain and Germany). She was fired in the sense that she was escorted out and wasn’t even allowed to get her lunch packet from her office. The corresponding fired people of that section in Germany however were back in their office after 3 hours due to the current german employment/firing regulations which the mangement seemed to had somewhat forgotten about :) ) .

I actually also got the feeling that since the overall job market got fiercer and since the social nets are more and more eroding that there were/are more people – who might be less suitable for the respective academic tasks – who have been trying to take part in that “tenure social insurance gamble”.

* I had made the quotation marks, because “hard work” and “productivity” are quite debateable terms.

remark added 13.12.2017:
I wrote: “Without an exeption, all women I have talked to…”
here is a typo: an exception -> any exception

another omittance to be corrected:
who have succeeded in math/physics academia ->
who have succeeded in math/physics academia while having (a) child(s)

That is I know women, who didn’t have any childs.
I don’t know any women in math/physics academia who had adopted a child.

31 Responses to “Hurries for humans in physis”

  1. L. Verstrauch Says:

    I think she is provoking you again. That is she posted a link to an open access journal where

    The APC is £3,150 or $5,200 +VAT (or local taxes.)

    APC is article processing charge.

  2. morphnoch Says:

    I think she is provoking you again. That is she posted a link to an open access journal where

    The APC is £3,150 or $5,200 +VAT (or local taxes.)

    That sounds as if there is a problem with an APC?

    That is you can always look for sponsorship, if you a re a distinguished scholar than this should be no problem and for newcomers there are many competitions like for example the Brain Corporation Prize by Brain cooperation (not to confuse with “smart brain cooperation” :) ).

    For scholarpedia, which as I understood is owned by Brain Coporation, to receive sponsorship seems even a prerequisite! But I don’t know how much of that goes into an APC.

    Or with the words of Leo Trottier before he started his “Clever Pet Kickstarter”: on the scholarpedia blog:

    After Gutenberg built his printing press it took more than 200 years before the first scholarly journal was established. The chief obstacle to learned inquiry in those times was not inadequate media, but instead the practices and conventions of researchers. Boyle solved the problem of his age by introducing new modes of scholarly communication that encouraged greater openness and trust, and in doing so helped spark the Age of Enlightenment. Perhaps the solution to our challenge is similar.

    By the way scholarpedia is looking for volunteers.

  3. Joe Says:

    I think she is provoking you again.

    I think nad doesn’t want to answer because she is jealous that the video promoted
    on her blog, the time video has not had even 400 visitors and Sabine Hossenfelders video got within a few days already 600 youtube views.

  4. Silvia Says:

    L. Verstrauch wrote:

    I think she is provoking you again. That is she posted a link to an open access journal

    Joe wrote:

    I think nad doesn’t want to answer because she is jealous that the video promoted
    on her blog, the time video has not had even 400 visitors and Sabine Hossenfelders video got within a few days already 600 youtube views.

    This post has nothing to do with open access or music videos. It is about women in science. I find it thus more annoying that in the post it is not mentioned wether nad is pro a women quota or not. I think Sabine Hossenfelder is against a quota and I agree – a quota would mean that you artificially force scientific institutiions to take from the pool of “inefficient” (that is how nad called them themselves!). There is a good reason that Grosse-Böhmer said here:

    “Wir haben konkrete Vorstellungen, was sein sollte und was nicht sein sollte. Nicht sein sollte eine weitere Belastung der Wirtschaft durch die Frauenquote”

    . (We have concrete imaginations about what should be and what should “not be.” It should “not be” that economy is further burdened by a women quota.)

  5. Rogg'n Roll Says:

    think nad doesn’t want to answer because she is jealous that the video promoted on her blog, the time video has not had even 400 visitors and Sabine Hossenfelders video got within a few days already 600 youtube views.

    I just say: Sabine is about 17 years younger than nad…..

  6. quota Says:

    I think nad doesn’t want to answer because she is jealous that the video promoted
    on her blog, the time video has not had even 400 visitors and Sabine Hossenfelders video got within a few days already 600 youtube views.

    This post has nothing to do with open access or music videos. It is about women in science.

    I think in some sense there is a connection through connectivity. Sabine Hossenfelder appears to be well connected in the scientific community, so (especially since her videos are science related) she will probably gain youtube viewers faster than nad who is -as I understood- now a housewive and I don’t know about Tim. So the number of youtube viewers may not necessarily be related to the quality of the videos.

  7. Dr. Seltzam Says:

    So the number of youtube viewers may not necessarily be related to the quality of the videos.

    Well – it is an “open secret” here in Berlin that this “time” videofilm is a fail. In particular you might want to know that the video was submitted to the

    23. International Music Video Clip Competition by the Federal Association of Film authors (Bundesverband Deutscher Film Autoren and it received grades which were not even in the mid range.

  8. Dr. Seltzam Says:

    by the way here a link to the winner clip by Cosma Nova

  9. quota Says:

    Dr. Seltzam wrote:

    it received grades which were not even in the mid range.

    The webpage of the 23. International Music Video Clip competition doesn’t list any grades or other rankings than the winners, so your assertion is unproven and it could be rather reputation-damaging.

  10. Rogg'n Roll Says:

    …..and nad is rather at the breaking point – scales-wise….

  11. Silvia Says:

    Sabine Hossenfelder ist not only against a women quota, but also against
    women-only positions in particular in physics:

    https://twitter.com/skdh/status/939386660583854080/photo/1

    I already said above that I think that nad should say, what she thinks about
    quotas for women in science.

  12. Silvia Says:

    I mean I guess I don’t need to inform about the situation like at US universities:

    https://www.aps.org/programs/education/undergrad/faculty/making-the-case.cfm

    In this era of tight budgets, university administrators and state higher education boards have been taking aim at physics departments as a means to cut costs. Physics programs have been closed or have faced threat of closure in states such as Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Idaho.

    more details here:
    https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201112/backpage.cfm

    The Crisis

    49% of all public institutions

    58% of all institutions

    100% of all public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) (and all but two of the private HBCUs)

    These are the percentages1 of undergraduate physics programs that would be closed if the recently enacted standards in Texas are applied throughout the country.

    What was the criterion used? For an undergraduate program to survive, it must graduate 5 majors per year averaged over the past five years.

    Nobody wants to study physics and by the above it becomes clear that especially woman and minorities feel repelled!

  13. spieglein, Spieglein außer Rand und Band Says:

    @Silvia said:

    Nobody wants to study physics and by the above it becomes clear that especially woman and minorities feel repelled!

    Sorry but then why do you think that quotas mean to “take from the pool of inefficient”? – as you said above?

    Because it is clear – what is missing are role models.
    So it is good that the european comission has compiled
    a website of profiles of successful young female scientists, like for example
    mathematician, physicist and philospher Lisa Schowe says:

    I did not face any problems to enter the world of science as a girl. I don’t think there are any big differences.

    That is encouraging !

    And although it received many critics, I also find that this promotion video shows that science can be cool. Good (audio)visuals are key!

  14. Silvia Says:

    speiglein above:

    “Sorry but then why do you think that quotas mean to “take from the pool of inefficient”? – as you said above?”

    Women and minorities feel repelled because it is difficult for them. See for example the discussion about James Damore.

  15. nad Says:

    Silvia wrote: “I already said above that I think that nad should say, what she thinks about
    quotas for women in science.”

    I think quotas are sometimes justified, but one has to be very careful in how they are i applied.

    So -sorry I can’t give an easy yes for a pro-or-against quota statement, and likewise not for the female professors.

    When I was a student and postdoc at TU Berlin’s math department there was a women quota and I was supportive of it and a few times I even substituted our “Frauenbeauftragte” (something like a gender equality official). The “quota” was however not a simple percentage quota as the ones usually discussed, like in politics. The quota was based on the given “pool”. That is if there where 10% female students then the there was a quota of 10% female assistants (which were on step up the ladder of professional maturity and hierarchy), if there were 7% assistants then there was a quota of 7% professors. By this mechanism it was clear that there were enough “capable” females, because of course it may happen that a given pool is too small for a quota to be fulfilled in a meaningful way. I should add that at my time there were no female professors, neither in math nor in theoretical physics at TU Berlin.

    Why was I supportive ? (I don’t know about the current situation there, but I could imagine that I still would be supportive even now)- Because of course if you have a group of a certain kind then this groups selects according to what it thinks would fit in nicely. And this makes sense, because finally these people have to work together. But it is clear that there is always a “selection bias”. Problems arise if the selections are not necessarily motivated by professional necessities. And this is not necessarily a gender problem. Like even Nobel Laureate Werner Heisenberg didn’t get a job in munich as a successor to Sommerfeld: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werner_Heisenberg#Career

    Is it a professional necessity to e.g. have female professors? Depends. Female star mathematicians like Emmy Noether worked unpaid for years:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmy_Noether#University_of_Göttingen
    Was she stupid? Was she just uncomfortable negotiating? (https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2014/03/31/job-seekers-8-tips-to-negotiate-your-starting-salary/#78f070c53d4a) Not really. In particular -unlike as in many businesses- the quality of basic research is not so easy to evaluate, there are not necessarily fast “outcomes” etc. It is only through her (and some other females) in retrospect “valuable” contributions and -important- the acknowledgement of her male peers that their contributions were indeed valuable – that it dawned on (parts of) society that it might be stupid to leave out women in basic reasearch. So at least in Germany there is somewhat of a consense that one has to scrutinize and eventually counteract against “selection bias”. Quotas are a method, maybe not the most sophisticated, but it is not so easy and usually rather expensive to set up other schemes. And as described above there are different kinds of quotas.

    But yes even in Germany -it is a “still discussed” societal topic with highly diverging opinions about the effectiveness of quotas against “selection bias” and by the way still disputed whether there exists a possibly damaging selection bias.

    I will now describe one situation I experienced at TU Berlin math department in order to give you an insight about the involved controversies.

    At TU there were socalled “terminal rooms”, where computer terminals were alighned on tables along the wall. At these days the room was usually open, the terminals could be used by graduate students and other academic personel. I think I was a diploma student at that time, that is the terminal room was not that of the geometry group, but one floor below on the other side of the building. i.e. I am rather certain that this happened before I was a PHD student.

    I was sitting at a terminal writing up some scientific text. There was another male student sitting to my right at a distance of about 2m 50 at the same table row. He sat right at the window. If I remember correctly there was one empty seat between us. Back then I knew the student only fairly and I don’t remember who he was. If I remember correctly the room was empty otherwise. Suddenly one professor burst in the door, ran to me and placed himself very closely to my right, facing his front to my head (remember I was sitting and starring at the screen) and yelled at me the sentence: “Jetzt hat schon wieder jemand keinen Job gekriegt, weil er einen Schwanz hat” (translation: “Again someone didn’t get a job because he had a dick”) and then the professor rushed out.

    I remember how the other student made a comment like : “Jesus, what was that!” and I was just shock-freezed. I didn’t even know what the professor was referring to. It was only later that I learned that he probably must have just rushed out of a job candidacy meeting, where apparently his favoured male job applicant failed against a female one. At this time I put this incident mentally into the drawer: “OK he was in a rage” and tried to forget it. It was only very later after I got to know about other, in particular career harming incidents, which took place with this professor that I saw it in a different light in retrospect.

  16. Fempower Says:

    This story is very bad. Why didn’t you report?

    Was this professor a sexual predator of the Harvey Weinstein type?

    Is this sexual predator thing very common in math ?

  17. nad Says:

    Fempower wrote:

    “This story is very bad. Why didn’t you report?”

    Of course I talked with people about that incident, probably including the Frauenbeauftragte (if I knew about her existence back then, I don’t remember). This incident was clearly quite on the borderline of being acceptable, but then these were also other times.

    So for example at the beginning of my studies it happened not very often but it did happen that especially in physics lectures (I forgot wether this happened also in math) that when I went to the blackboard that male students would catcall behind me – just to give you an air of the overall atmosphere. That is this incident was rather regarded as a minor problem and as said I myself tried to forget it. You probably would have gotten get crazy if you would have brooded too much about all those incidents.

    Was this professor a sexual predator of the Harvey Weinstein type?

    Not that I know of. In his case the problem seemed to have been more or less mean, sometimes rather subtle and above all unpredictable agressions against lower ranks, which were somehow not behaving in a way he thought they should. The agressions could be in particular damaging as he excerted them also in evaluations. I should say there were also rumors that this type of agression was to a greater extend most often directed to females and by the way also to people, where male homosexuality played a role. I was actually warned of him and epecially this evaluation problem (like he would unexpectably issue bad grades), but I wouldn’t first believe it. Stupid me.

    Is this sexual predator thing very common in math ?

    I didn’t get around too much in the math world and thus didn’t get to hear too much. But it was strange that although the faculty in Berlin was at that time completely male-only that homosexuality was never mentioned. It was only at the end of my stay there, that there was a young professor who was openly gay. And despite there were very, very few women in math in Berlin I know of one case where a french guest professor most probably had an affair with his female PhD student and a case were a Berlin professor had an affair with a female postdoc which he had hired as far as I know, this affair resulted even in a pregnancy. So in my personal history this means two severe cases of sex with dependents out of a sample size of maybe about 10 females.

    In general all these things were not really discussed openly and by the way also not more general, non-relationship type cases of academic misconduct. And my impression is that this didn’t change much. The problem is, that groups know that if there is a problem of misconduct or even only a problem with discontent about procedures which becomes openly visible as a “group problem” then this would most probably result in funding problems for the whole group. So this is usually covered up.

  18. spermafrost delivery Says:

    Who do you think is interested in those old stories? – as if “Mother Nad” would be a role model of celibacy…

  19. nad Says:

    Who do you think is interested in those old stories?

    The grading procedures related to my Ph.D. thesis had an impact on my career path so for me this is not an “old story”, but I am more or less forced to deal with all the consequences.

    as if “Mother Nad” would be a role model for celibacy…

    Again mentioning the above cases was certainly not about forbidding agressivity, sex or relationships. On the contrary I do think that you even shouldn’t talk them away – that is it is necessary to discuss problems within those human components in a matter of fact way. Like in particular I do think that the extreme pressures some people are sometimes subject to may eventually have severe effects on those components and may lead to severe escalating problems, like it e.g. seems to be the case for Harvey Weinstein, who allegedly even threatened to kill. It is a question to be asked, how those escalating problems could have been averted, and in the case of Harvey Weinstein – despite all the media limelight.

    So amongst others the above comments were to discuss who is entitled to what how and why and how to find ways to decide on all this without falling back on more or less atavistic power methods.

  20. Bibi Says:

    Don’t you think that it is a little exagerated to say that if your advisor is unhappy with your work and thus grades you accordingly that this is an “atavistic power method”? Especially since I guess there were possibilities to appeal against the grading.

  21. nad Says:

    @Bibi
    Its the procedures around the grading and not only the grade itself which play a role here. Moreover the grade itself is by the way not really bad -per se it is an acceptable evaluation- it is only that if your are below a summa cum laude, i.e. if you are “only” very good in Germany then things get already not so easy in academia and if you are on step below that it is considerably more difficult to defend your hiring.

    Moreover it was not that my advisor was unhappy with my work, and my evaluation was lowered only a few points as from what I expected, which however resulted in a different grade.

    But yes, back then I actually wrote a complain about the grading and went to that professor (who was not my advisor, but he was involved in the grading), who I mentioned above (the one who yelled at me) and told him that I think that I am going to make this into an official appeal against the grading. As far as I remember my complain was mostly referring to his written synopsis of my work. He told me that if I am going to do this then things will be way worse for me and that in particular if he would have been alone in charge for the grading then the grade would have been way worse and that everybody e.g. in the math physics community would agree with him, because it is very obvious that my work is flawed. I perceived his words as rather menacing.

    I refrained from handing in the complain and thus from appealing against the grading judgement.

  22. Fempower Says:

    and that in particular if he would have been alone in charge for the grading then the grade would have been way worse and that everybody e.g. in the math physics community would agree with him, because it is very obvious that my work is flawed. I perceived his words as rather menacing.

    I refrained from handing in the complain and thus from appealing against the grading judgement.

    Can’t believe that you finally bowed out like a scaredycat. This type of behaviour is really disappointing especially in view of global feminist struggles. You could have given a proof of how females are oppressed in this patriarchal, technocratists world. I mean he obviously tried to destroy your carreer.

  23. E.T. nach Hause Says:

    I think there is no reason to freak out just because ones marks are not supernice.

  24. nad Says:

    fempower wrote:

    Can’t believe that you finally bowed out like a scaredycat.

    I didn’t “bow out” because I was scared of his menaces. That is he said in that menacing context even something in the vein of that “he will let everybody know how bad the work is” (where you have to know that the involved math phys community in Germany is/was quite small and so people from other universities would eventually ask how this and that student is) and I was quite convinced that he would probably do so anyways, whether I file a complaint or not.

  25. nad Says:

    E.T. nach Hause wrote

    I think there is no reason to freak out just because ones marks are not supernice.

    Well the aspect of “freaking out” or let’s say the “surprise reaction” depends of course on expectations. A Ph.D. thesis grade is not about missing out some points on a problem set. That is usually there should be some kind of feedback before the thesis defense and I perceived a big difference between previous feedback and the final judgement after the defense.

    Another aspect is how much does such a grading block you in your plans (which are usually based on expectations). As I tried to outline above in Germany the grade does play a role in job recruitment and in particular it does play a role if the people who eventually want to hire you depend on the evaluators, like e.g. because they don’t know you (like for most industry jobs) and thus depend to a great deal on the judgement of the evaluators or because potential coworkers see that there is not everything perfect with the thesis evaluation for whatever reasons and so eventually better try to avoid any sort of trouble with the thesis evaluators etc. But as said the grade is not totally terrible so this is a greyzone. Moreover there are of course some workarounds against reduced job chances like leaving Germany or find a person, who is more interested in the concrete things you have done, than what grades you have etc.. There are of course also other strategies, which not so rarely happen especially in academia like brown-nosing – but these kind of strategies were never an option for me.

  26. Fempower Says:

    nad wrote:

    “I didn’t “bow out” because I was scared of his menaces. “

    It seems you had a 3 years post doc position right after your Ph.D. at the very same university (!). Surely it is not so pleasant to not be installed in such a position – like if one protests openly against overcome patriarchic structures!

  27. FITRGRRL Says:

    SMH

    @Fempower JZ good u found out!
    TMS ts time publicliy name crngers in comfy public jobs——–
    down with sickophancy
    shut up KYS nad
    YOYO!!!!

    pseudo whining CHX should be chopped AIR?
    fempower u shld post ts on rddt

  28. nad Says:

    @fempower
    @FITRGRRL

    I also didn’t “bow out” because I expected to (not) get a 3 years post doc position after my Ph.D. at the same university.

    In particular this position was financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) as part of a set of Ph.D. positions and postdocs and other money, which were part of a socalled “Sondeforschungsbereich” and as far as I remember this position was “ad personam” (if I understand correctly that meant the DFG wanted me to get this particular post doc position). I don’t remember though when exactly the expert jury had met. Back then I wondered about this strange “quota” and didn’t really know why it was there.

  29. Eheberatung Ditteriecht Says:

    nad wrote:
    “Back then I wondered about this strange “quota” and didn’t really know why it was there.”

    What do you mean by “quota” here? A quota is for a group like for females and not for a single person.

  30. Fempower Says:

    @Eheb…:
    Crucial question here is whether this is a gender quota and not what is the number of persons.

    @nad:
    then why didn’t you sue him?

  31. Eheberatung Ditteriecht Says:

    “..and not what is the number of persons.”
    @Fempower
    What ?!?!?!
    So nad got a “quota” because she’s e.g. from an ethnic minority which consists of one person? Sorry but that makes no sense. Ever seen a tribe with just one member?

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