Tag Archives: women in science

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urieTND50 years later, recalling a founder of Head Start                                                                          A half century ago, Cornell developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner gave Congressional testimony that eventually led to the creation of the Head Start program.
Language-loss study reveals early signs of AAlzheimersWord_465x170lzheimer's disease                                               Loss of early childhood language skills, rather than those skills attained later in life, might be a predictor for Alzheimer's disease, according to a new Cornell study.

Ceci-TND70x70Stephen Ceci elected to National Academy of Education                                             Stephen Ceci, Cornell’s Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology, has been elected to the National Academy of Education for his outstanding scholarship on education.

Chancel Award Metal18 Cornellians win SUNY Chancellor's Awards for Excellence                                    Eighteen students, faculty and staff in Cornell's contract colleges have won State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor's Awards for Excellence for 2015.
Chinese_flag_(Beijing)_-_IMG_1104Lehman Fund makes 10 awards for China Study                                                                           Fourteen Cornell scholars received 2015 awards from the Jeffrey S. Lehman Fund for Scholarly Exchange with China. 
older people dancingPrevailing over pain                                                                                                                               Human Ecology's Translational Research Institute for Pain in Later Life, received a $1.95 million grant from National Institute on Aging.
Anthony BurrowAnthony Burrow among faculty saluted by OADI
Cornell’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives held its second annual awards, named after George Washington Fields and 9 other Cornellian trailblazers.

Students in the News

Anna Zhu Smart choice:  Award-winning app connects patients and hospitals
Department of Human Development graduate, Anna Zhu '14, developed an app to help patients find the hospital that best matches their health needs.
great minds 3.400HD Students present their research at 30th CURB forum
HD students were among the 120 undergraduates who presented their research at Duffield Hall as part of the annual event hosted by the Cornell Undergraduate Research Board (CURB)

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> How children develop the idea of free will

 New Resources

Urie mag_cover_200x258
Urie: The scientist who remade the field of human development                                                                     Fifty years after the launch of Head Start, Urie Bronfenbrenner-one of the architects of the federal program for underserved families-is remembered as a giant in his field. Former students, research partners, and Cornell faculty members share their thoughts on the late Bronfenbrenner's legacy as a scholar, mentor, researcher, and champion for youth and families. Also in this issue: A tour through 150 Years of Big Red fashion; gerontologist Karl Pillemer's latest book, sharing elder wisdom on love and marriage; long-running, legendary courses in the College of Human Ecology; alumni and campus updates and special sesquicentennial content.
> The Memory Factory


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great minds 3.400

Zoe Katz HD, '15

Nineteen Human Development undergraduates presented their findings at the 30th annual Cornell Undergraduate Research Board spring forum April 22.

Project topics, supported by faculty members, ranged from language acquisition in Korean infants to mother and child health in Kenya to understanding how young adults assess risk. The forum allows students to present research projects that they have designed and led during the academic year.

Read more about the event in the Cornell Chronicle.

View a slideshow of Human Ecology presenters, listed below, on Facebook.

Yeo Jin Ahn ’15, HD

Chelsea Brite ’15, HD

Ashton Conner ’15, HD

Rachel Cooper ’17, HD, and Kate Goldberg ’17, HD (presenting together)

Olivia Ellers ’15, HD

Zoe Katz ’15, HD

Aaron Lee ’16, HD, Olivia Dieni ’16, HD, Xi Richard Chen ’18, HD (presenting together)

Devin Massaro ’15, HD

Brian Meagher ’15, HD

Grace Monks ’15, HD

Catherine Liang ’15, HBHS and Kimberly Batcha ’15, HD (presenting together)

Julie Barbera ’17, HD, Jeanie Gribben ’15, HD, Masrai Williams ’15, HD (presenting together)

Colleen Sullivan ’16, HD, Azraa Janmohamed ’16, HD (presenting together)


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By Ted Boscia
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, April 13, 2015

For decades, sexism in higher education has been blamed for blocking women from landing academic positions in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

But a new study by Cornell psychologists suggests that era has ended, finding in experiments with professors from 371 colleges and universities across the United States that science and engineering faculty preferred women two-to-one over identically qualified male candidates for assistant professor positions.

Published online April 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the paper, “National Hiring Experiments Reveal 2:1 Faculty Preference For Women on STEM Tenure Track,” by Wendy M. Williams, professor of human development, and Stephen J. Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology, both in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, argues that the academic job market has never been better for women Ph.D.s in math-intensive fields.

Williams and Ceci conducted five randomized controlled experiments with 873 tenure-track faculty in all 50 U.S. states to assess gender bias. In three studies, faculty evaluated narrative summaries describing hypothetical male and female applicants for tenure-track assistant professorships in biology, economics, engineering and psychology. In a fourth experiment, engineering faculty evaluated full CVs instead of narratives, and in a fifth study, faculty evaluated one candidate (either a man or identically qualified woman) without comparison to an opposite-gender candidate. Candidates’ personalities were systematically varied to disguise the hypotheses.

The only evidence of bias the authors discovered was in favor of women; faculty in all four disciplines preferred female applicants to male candidates, with the exception of male economists, who showed no gender preference.

In some conditions, Williams and Ceci also matched applicants on job qualifications and lifestyle characteristics such as marital and parental status and used contrasting lifestyles in others. They examined attributes such as being a single mother, having a stay-at-home partner and past choices about taking parental leave. These experiments revealed that female faculty preferred divorced mothers over married fathers and male faculty preferred mothers who took leaves over mothers who did not.

“Efforts to combat formerly widespread sexism in hiring appear to have succeeded,” Williams and Ceci write. “Our data suggest it is an auspicious time to be a talented woman launching a STEM tenure-track academic career, contrary to findings from earlier investigations alleging bias, none of which examined faculty hiring bias against female applicants in the disciplines in which women are underrepresented. Our research suggests that the mechanism resulting in women’s underrepresentation today may lie more on the supply side, in women’s decisions not to apply, than on the demand side, in anti-female bias in hiring.”

“Women struggling with the quandary of how to remain in the academy but still have extended leave time with new children, and debating having children in graduate school versus waiting until tenure, may be heartened to learn that female candidates depicted as taking one-year parental leaves in our study were ranked higher by predominantly male voting faculties than identically qualified mothers who did not take leaves,” the authors continue.

Real-world academic hiring data validate the findings, too. The paper notes recent national census-type studies showing that female Ph.D.s are disproportionately less likely to apply for tenure-track positions, yet when they do they are more likely to be hired, in some science fields approaching the two-to-one ratio revealed by Williams and Ceci.

The authors note that greater gender awareness in the academy and the retirement of older, more sexist faculty may have gradually led to a more welcoming environment for women in academic science.

Despite these successes, Williams and Ceci acknowledge that women face other barriers to entry during adolescence and young adulthood, in graduate school and later in their careers as academic scientists, particularly when balancing motherhood and careers. They are currently analyzing national data on mentorship, authorship decisions and tenure advice, all as a function of gender, to better understand women and men’s decisions to apply to, and persist in, academic science.

Ted Boscia is director of communications and media for the College of Human Ecology.

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ciws-header-home_3By H. Roger Segelken
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, November 4, 2014

A newly published examination of reasons for female academics’ ongoing underrepresentation in math-intensive fields analyzes a very long list of purported culprits – before coming to a surprising conclusion.

Cornell’s Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams, both of the Department of Human Development, are joined by economists Donna K. Ginther of the University of Kansas and Shulamit Kahn of Boston University for a whole-issue report, “Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape,” in the October 2014 journal, Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

Ceci and colleagues address numerous factors alleged to be responsible for the shortage of women in math-intensive fields of academic science. The 67-page article first reviews older data, then undertakes new analyses of factors alleged to be responsible for the dearth of women in these fields.

Alleged factors include biased hiring, chilly climate, productivity, hours worked, math aptitude scores, average impact ratings, job satisfaction, and promotion and tenure rates. Their conclusion may surprise some readers whose opinions are based on media headlines.

They find that, with some notable exceptions, the playing field is now level for women and men in terms of hiring into tenure-track appointments, tenure, impact, promotion, job satisfaction and remuneration.

The single biggest change, the authors believe, has been time itself: In contrast to women’s status several decades ago, today women and men fare comparably in the academic science pipeline – again, with some exceptions that the authors describe.

Observed sex differences have their roots long before application to tenure-track jobs, starting in adolescence and amplified in high school (where fewer women take advanced placement courses in calculus and physics) and in college.

The authors summarize their findings by urging readers to go beyond the rallying cries of the past and focus on current challenges facing women: “We conclude by suggesting that although in the past, gender discrimination was an important cause of women’s underrepresentation in scientific academic careers, this claim has continued to be invoked after it has ceased being a valid cause of women’s underrepresentation in math-intensive fields.”

Consequently, the authors continue, “current barriers to women’s full participation in mathematically-intensive academic science fields are rooted in pre-college factors and the subsequent likelihood of majoring in these fields.”

They recommend that “future research should focus on these barriers rather than misdirecting attention toward historical barriers that no longer account for women’s underrepresentation in academic science.”

Related Links

The Paper
New York Times: 'Academic Science Isn’t Sexist'
Association for Psychological Science: 'Gender Fairness Prevails in Most Fields of Academic Science'
Stephen Ceci
Wendy Williams
College of Human Ecology

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By Rebecca Harrison
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, July 1, 2013

“Life is not a straight line,” as a former NFL lineman-turned-engineering professor will be the first to admit regarding the direction his career took – similar to many of his students, and even his own daughter.

Matt Miller, professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and his daughter, Chaney Miller ’14, a Cornell civil engineering major, addressed prospective science and engineering students in a film for a seminar on “Thinking Like a Scientist,” one of many workshops held during this year’s annual 4-H Career Explorations Conference, June 25-27. The conference hosted 600 high school students and chaperones from 45 New York counties.

Growing up, Chaney Miller shared a similar quality to many engineering students: She always liked building things. Like many students, though, her path changed in high school. “I got really involved in Spanish,” she said. “I had a really great teacher. She really got me fired up on languages, so that kind of stemmed into Mandarin. It was something that I really liked and wanted to pursue at Cornell.”

Said Matt Miller: “After she was admitted [to Cornell], she had decided to reinvestigate the possibility of being an engineer.”

During her first semester, Chaney Miller said she “just kind of got body slammed by a few of the exams.” Reminded by her father that “This is the way it goes; this is the process,” she persevered.

Charlotte Sweeney ’04, M.A. ’08, Ph.D. ‘13, discussed with students at the workshop how Chaney Miller’s success in languages led to an aptitude for engineering and how this could apply to a many career decisions. As one student observed: “We don’t think of languages as symbols, but a sentence is a little bit like an equation. I don’t think her leap was that giant from Mandarin, especially to engineering.”

Through exploring many Cornell programs, Chase Thomas, a junior at Oneonta High School and aspiring engineer, “saw that Cornell was a beautiful campus with smart and engaging teachers, where students can learn literally anything. They even have a particle accelerator under the campus!”

According to conference coordinator Nancy Schaff, there is a tradition of 4-H members coming to Cornell in June dating to 1922. “Lots of kids say it has made a difference in their college decisions and ultimately their career,” Schaff said. “Students stay in the dorms, eat in the dining hall and learn what college is like.”

This year, 10th to 12th grade students had an opportunity to explore nearly 20 programs ranging from permaculture to computer science, while eighth and ninth graders participated in the “University U” program, a broader sample of career-oriented workshops.

At the end of the conference, Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development, advised students: “… understand that you’re on a pathway. It’s hard for us to think of it like this. Life feels like a photograph looking at you in one point in time. But, you’re a movie. It’s dynamic; you’re moving. You got here for a reason. You came to career explorations for a reason. Why? Think about that.”

Rebecca Harrison ’14 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

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Cornell psychologists Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams with two of their three daughters

A new paper by two developmental psychologists on the dearth of women in academic science argues that the cause of the gender imbalance is much easier to identify than most researchers have posited. The solution is also more obvious, they say, although that doesn't mean it will be easy to implement (see sidebar). Not surprisingly, their provocative assertions, in a paper titled “When Scientists Choose Motherhood,” have stirred the pot in an already contentious field.

Writing in the March/April issue of American Scientist, Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci of Cornell University argue that the traditional view of female underrepresentation as a complex mixture of discrimination, differential abilities, and career preferences misses the mark. Instead, say the husband-and-wife team, the evidence from studies stretching back more than a decade points overwhelmingly to the primacy of “the dynamics of family formation in Western society,” or, in a word, motherhood. Read the full story

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By Susan Kelley
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, February 14, 2012





Women with advanced degrees in math-intensive academic fields drop out of fast-track research careers primarily because they want children -- not because their performance is devalued or they are shortchanged during interviewing and hiring, report two Cornell professors.

Fewer women choosing such fields in the first place means children take an especially heavy toll on math-intensive departments, where women full professors number only between 4 percent and 13 percent, report Cornell human development professors Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci in the journal American Scientist (100:2).

Female postdocs are twice as likely as men to choose to leave the academic pipeline once they have children. "For those women in math-based fields, who had the ability and commitment to persist through doctoral and postdoctoral training, this loss to the academy is especially salient," says Williams. "Moreover, we found that childless women fare as well professionally as men with or without children, while women who remain in the academy after having children fare worse."

In other words, the researchers conclude: "Motherhood -- and the policies that make it incompatible with a tenure-track research career -- take a toll on women that is detrimental to their professional lives. Even just the plan to have children in the future is associated with women exiting the research fast-track at a rate twice that of men.

"It is time for universities to move past thinking about underrepresentation of women in science solely as a consequence of biased hiring and evaluation, and instead think about it as resulting from outdated policies created at a time when men with stay-at-home wives ruled the academy," said Williams, who founded the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, a research and outreach center that studies and promotes the careers of women scientists.

The academic system presents women with a harsh reality: They face the most challenging period of their careers during their peak childbearing years, the authors say. Women must deal with pregnancy, childbirth and child care while simultaneously accumulating an impressive portfolio of work to earn tenure. "Women are making active decisions to leave academia in a world that juxtaposes biologically determined fertility opportunity with the period of critical, early career growth," Williams added. "Due to the inescapable reality of biology, this is a choice men are not required to make."

For the study, Williams and Ceci analyzed data related to the academic careers of women and men with and without children in academic fields, including math-heavy ones. They found that before becoming mothers, women have careers equivalent to or better than men's. "They are paid and promoted the same as men, and are more likely to be interviewed and hired in the first place," Williams said.

The study has implications for university policymakers, the authors assert. Universities could pump up the number of women in fields where they are in short supply by updating policies to accommodate childrearing. Strategies could include, for example, offering women with children part-time tenure-track positions that segue to full time once children are older. Colleges could also stop the tenure "clock" for parents who are raising children, reduce teaching loads for parents of newborns and offer emergency childcare. The authors also note the need for more research into gender-specific aspects of women's professorial lives.

"In a time of limited resources, universities should direct attention toward solving the critical current problem: policies and procedures that make academic lives incompatible with motherhood," Williams said.

The study builds on previous research by Williams and Ceci published in 2011 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that women in math-intensive fields did not face discrimination in hiring, publishing or funding.

The current research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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Several recent articles and interviews have covered research by Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci on the choices women in science make and how it is these choices, rather than discrimination, that affects their careers.

Quoted in Social scientist sees bias within, New York Times, February 7, 2011.

BBC Science in Action Series interview with Williams for a segment on Women in Science, March 11, 2011.

The myth of gender discrimination, interview by Ceci and Williams for New Hampshire Public Radio, February 15, 2011.

Universities need to do more for women in math fields, interview by Williams and Ceci for The Innovation Trail, March 22, 2011.

Family Planning Issues Siphon Women From Sciences, interview by Williams for WNED-AM 970 NEWS, April 11, 2011.

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Wendy Williams


Stephen Ceci


It’s an incendiary topic in academia – the pervasive belief that women are underrepresented in science, math and engineering fields because they face sex discrimination in the interviewing, hiring, and grant and manuscript review processes. In a study published online Feb. 7 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cornell social scientists say it’s just not true.

It’s not discrimination in these areas, but rather, differences in resources attributable to career and family-related choices that set women back in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, say Stephen J. Ceci, the H.L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology, and Wendy M. Williams, professor of human development and director of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, both in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

The data show that women scientists are confronted with choices, beginning at or before adolescence, which influence their career trajectories and success. Read the full story

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female mathematicianWhy aren't there more women math professors? Or engineering professors, or physics professors, or professors of computer science or economics? Why aren't there more women tech entrepreneurs? If a field involves lots of numbers, why does it seem to involve so few women? Some people say it's discrimination, others say socialization and few, including a former Harvard university president, have said ability has something to do with it. (That's largely why he's "former.")

Now a husband and wife team, both academics (with three daughters), have analyzed the cognitive data and decided it's not really any of these. It's mostly about female preference and motherhood. Read the full article