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Issues of Tenure and Gender to Be Discussed in Workshop

By Jennifer Chung
Associate News Editor

For faculty, the key to job security is tenure. The steps for achieving this level of security, however, are not always clearly laid out, and may be even less so for women and minorities. To address these concerns, a forum examining strategies for getting ahead in academia, and how those strategies apply to women and minorities, will be presented in a workshop open to the MITcommunity this Friday.

The workshop will examine the three stages of employment leading up to tenured professorship. Three sub-workshops will feature talks by authors Richard Reis and Virginia Valian. Reis, a professor at Stanford University, is also author of "Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering," an acclaimed guide for faculty seeking tenure which will be the basis for his talk. Valian, a professor at Hunter College and the City University of New York Graduate Center, is author of "Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women", which she will also be presenting as part of theauthors@mit series on Thursday night. The forum will be moderated by Professor of Electrical Engineering and ComputerScience Cardinal Warde.

Plan allows for possibilities

Reis will kick off the workshop by presenting the recipe for attaining tenured professorship he outlines in his book. He said that "astrategy for achieving your goals is necessary because you have limited time, energy, and material resources," Reis said.

Reis' strategy involves a three- pronged approach. One component is for one to be able to place their area of expertise in a broad context. Secondly, those who wish to be professors should demonstrate that they are ready to meet the challenge of becoming a professor as graduate students or post-doctoral students.

"It used to be okay if you just showed potential," Reis said. "Now you have to demonstrate ability."

Thirdly, Reis recommends that while a student is exploring the option of a career in teaching, the student should also explore other options outside academia.

"The plan should be flexible enough to allow you to explore different possibilities," Reis said "and at the same time prevent you from running into too many dead ends."

Despite the book's target on strategies for PhDs, the workshop itself will be aimed at three groups of people: students considering academic careers; PhDs seeking faculty positions; and junior faculty members seeking tenure. The talk is also aimed at faculty recruiters who want to watch out for inadvertent bias in hiring and promotion practices.

Strategy is important for women

While what Reis may propose seems like a simple recipe that anyone can follow, Valian will argue later on in the forum that the rules Reis outlines do not necessarily apply to minorities and women.

"No matter how egalitarian, deans and chairs will probably be mislead by the belief that they are truly unbiased," Valian said.

"It is very important for women, even more so than for men, to have a strategy," Valian said."Women need to realize that small things will matter."

Valian said that gender schemas, "non-conscious beliefs had about men and women," can interfere with the process. "People tend to overrate men and underrate women in social situations," she said.

The gender schema can be something very small, such as not listening to something a woman says, but listening to a man when he later says the same thing, Valian said.

The coordinator and host of the workshop, Judy Jackson, ombudsperson in the President's Office, offered another example. She said that college students were given a series of photographs which featured a man and a woman standing next to each other. The student had to identify which person was taller. Even when both the man and the women were the same height, Jackson said, and even when their heights were written underneath the photograph, the student would still perceive the man as being taller.

Small things like these tend to accumulate, Valian said. "Men are able to accumulate advantage more than women are Even if [a man and a woman] start out equal, there will be a gradual show of disparity" in things like income and whether people receive tenure.

Additionally, "women tend to be out of the loop of what is needed for success," Valian said. Men know more about what is necessary for advancement because older male professors give them more information, she said. "Women need to do things to compensate for what men get naturally," Valian added. Data shows that only approximately 6.2 percent of engineering professors and 20.1 percent of science professors nationwide are women. Even less are minorities.

The workshop will start in Twenty Chimneys on Friday with a talk by Reis targeted toward students. Two afternoon sessions in 6-120 with both Reis and Valian will be targeted toward PhDs and junior faculty members.