Hi everyone! I’m excited to be back at Tenure, She Wrote. I’ve spent my time away from the site using a lot of the advice written here and am very excited to be able to come back to the blog as a new Assistant Professor!
Over the course of my first year in my new job, there have been a lot of opportunities for me to learn more about pedagogy and evidence-based techniques for teaching students in STEM. I went to quite a few of these, since the thought of teaching had me feeling like I’ve been thrown to the wolves. I understand that’s a common experience, especially since many of us spend most of the previous ~decade doing research first as a grad student then as a post doc without learning terribly much on how to effectively teach students.
From the very first one I attended, what really stood out to me was how not-alone I was. In my field, men outnumber women by about 10:1, and I’ve been on experiments where I’m the only woman on the team. The statistics are even worse for minority and marginalized groups, and being a queer and trans woman meant I was it for most of my entire career. But a quick head count at all of these events for new professors revealed the same thing over and over: There’s a far higher percentage of women, people of color, and LGBT people who attend STEM education workshops and conferences than any place within the rest of my field.
Being a scientist, I started with counting the obvious. Using names of attendees to attempt to estimate gender percentages is a very imperfect method, but I started seeing ratios that were 3x, 4x, and higher at these STEM education events than the general population in my field, and even just within my own department. At the most recent event, I was even one of three (!!!) trans professors who attended.
I never thought I’d ask this about something science related, but the question that has been on my mind as I go to each of these is: Where are all the straight white men?
On the one hand, it’s fantastic to finally have a place where I don’t feel completely isolated, but on the other I have never seen more discussions in STEM (that I didn’t start or help organize) around issues of inclusion, addressing racism and sexism, and what it means to be a professor in the USA on stolen indigenous land than I have at any other type of conference.
Why are there so few straight white men there to hear?
Is it related to arrogance and devaluation of teaching for those of us in research universities? Do men think that they’re just great at teaching despite having just as few lessons in effective teaching as I’ve had?
Where are all the straight white men?
Why aren’t they at these events where we learn about effective strategies to not only raise to grades of students, but strategies that have been shown to increase retention and grades of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups? What is it about education events that lead to discussions about diversity and inclusion for an audience who has a much higher percentage of having already bought in to creating change than for those who could really use this research to make our fields better for everyone?
At this point, I don’t really have much in the way of answers, but as with all research and social change, starting with the question seems like a good start. As the next batch of new faculty members starts to come in, I can make sure to really emphasize to the men in the group that they need to go and listen and learn. I can bring up with my Chair and Dean what I was able to get out of these meetings, and make the case for why I think it’s extremely important to change at least our departmental and college culture to value education events to levels closer to valuing research.
It’s a long road, and we’ll see how far it goes, but I really hope that the demographics at these education events starts better matching the current demographics of our field, because I think that is essential for getting the demographics of my field to better match the demographics of the general population.