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AWIS in Action! Advocacy and Public Policy Newsletter January 2013
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AWIS In Action!

 Advocacy & Public Policy Newsletter   ~   January 2013
In This Issue
 
Celebration of Imagination
 
Look around the room and try to identify how many products contained within it have at some point been protected by a patent. Consider the computer before you, the tape dispenser, your cell phone, the lighting, and then reflect on how many different patented items are used to construct each one. Even the decorative martini glass on my shelf is patented. Intellectual property surrounds us all day but most people never think about it, despite the recent heavy emphasis on its role.
 
In order to celebrate the innovative spirit, the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) was created to highlight the achievements of those whose ideas have benefitted humanity or helped progress science or the arts. The NIHF is organized and run by a great foundation called Invent Now. In addition to maintaining the NIHF, this group runs a variety of programs to get youth involved in innovation, from summer school programs and charter schools, to a competition for collegiate inventors.
 
Each year a new class of inventors is inducted at a ceremony in May. The innovations voted upon this year range from those that capture the imagination, a plane propelled by a bicycle for example, to those that fill an existing need in everyday life, such as the Roto-Rooter. The inventions ran the gamut from functional to frivolous, including the original model for a calculator (those who grew up with slide rules couldn’t stress the emphasis of this development enough!), the technology for stabilizing helicopters, the plane enabling tourists to take trips into space, the chemical compound used in polyester clothing, the videogame "Pong”, and the synthesizer. The inventions are honored at the NIHF located in the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, VA, and the newest round of winners will be announced in February. We will give you a hint though, there won’t be any women or minorities inducted as there weren’t any on the list of inductees this year. That is because there weren’t any on the nomination list.
 
AWIS is honored to be repeatedly invited to participate in this celebration of imagination, science, and the human spirit. Our participation this year is particularly poignant as we have been focused via different projects on ways to improve the process of nomination and recognition via the AWARDS project as well as focusing on innovation within the university setting. Our goals are to remind and educate the other panelists of the importance of diversity in inspiring future generations and recommend ways they can broaden their candidate pool. However, by the time we come to the table to vote, the list of nominees has been put together. If women and minorities aren’t nominated, they cannot be inducted and thus never serve as role models who inform future generations that great ideas come from everyone, not just older white gentlemen. The NIHF is looking to broaden the diversity of their group and accept nominations from the public, so if you know a great candidate please submit a nomination. We look forward to a more diverse list of nominees to select from next year!  

AWIS Featured in Presidential Inaugural Festivities
 
As a part of the activities coordinated by the White House and Federal agencies surrounding the inauguration, AWIS was invited to participate on a panel about the importance of mentoring in STEM. January is National Mentoring Month and this event highlighted the importance of this component of successful career training and preparation. Leaders and experts from a variety of fields gathered to talk about the value of mentoring at all stages of one’s intellectual development, from getting kids interested in science to why even senior career level STEM professional can benefit from a mentor. The event was hosted by several different agencies, including the Departments of Transportation, Labor, Education, Energy, Agriculture, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, and Office of Personnel Management.
 
       
 
Opening remarks to the panel in which AWIS was featured were provided by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Ph.D., a Nobel Prize winning physicist, and the newly crowned Miss America, Mallory Hagan. AWIS Public Policy Fellow Erin Cadwalader, Ph.D., spoke about the importance of being mentored for women at all stages of their career development and the benefits of mentoring younger protégés as well. Her fellow panelist was Karen Peterson of the National Girls Collaborative Project, and the panel was moderated by Latifa Lyles, Acting Director of the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor. For more information on mentoring programs offered by AWIS please contact Cindy Simpson or visit our webpage.
 
NIH Plans to Address Training Program Shortcomings
 
Where are several serious concerns with the way we train scientists and advance their careers in this country. Less than a quarter of graduate students in biomedical research currently wind up with tenure-track positions in academics, yet a stigma still remains around training them for anything but that type of job. Much emphasis right now is given to getting more kids into STEM, yet a small but important group has been stressing that right now we are educating more chemists and biologists in Ph.D. programs than there are currently jobs available for in industry, academics, and other employment sectors. A study published in Science last year by AWIS members Donna Ginther, Ph.D. and Laurel Haak, Ph.D., et. al examined the rate at which minorities receive grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and, after normalizing for other factors, found that they are less likely to get funding. Lastly, a study published in December in PLOS One looked at the gender gap in scientific publications across disciplines. The study showed that the more resource-dependent the field (such as biomedical research and chemistry), the less women published, but if the discipline was more theoretical and required little more than a computer, then the gender gap in publishing went away.
 
Last summer an NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) convened to presumably address some of the problems in training, including diversity. Many of the offered recommendations mirror those from a similar panel convened in 1998, having been largely ignored by the NIH when they were first recommended over 14 years ago and many problems remain the same. For example, the 1998 group expressed concerns that we are training more students than there are jobs available after 5-8 years of minimum pay and training of highly variable quality. Since then the number of grad students in training has doubled.
 
Last month the NIH responded to their recommendations of the ACD from this summer. Sally Rockey, Ph.D., deputy director of the NIH, shared them on her blog and Francis Collins, Ph.D., director of the NIH, was interviewed in Nature. Some of the "suggestions” the NIH will address include supporting greater diversity through stronger mentoring opportunities, increased awareness of implicit bias in the peer review process, and, theoretically, a new Chief Diversity Officer position for a NIH intramural program scientist. Another component will be to improve the training experience for graduate students and post-docs, which brings us back to the 1998 study. In the former, they voiced concern about the lack of opportunities for graduates and the concern that increased funding from research grants, rather than training grants, would enable primary investigators to treat trainees as worker bees. To this end, the NIH has suggested it will try to adopt individual development plans, increase the postdoc stipend by $3,000, and increase the number of K99/R00 and early independent research awards. However, none of this really addresses the actual problems, like training more people than there are jobs and the failure to encourage and provide opportunities to trainees to develop their skill set beyond work done in front of a bench or computer. Then again, a hallmark of politicking is "recommending” or "encouraging” change, while things fundamentally remain the same.
 
 M3 The Maddening Monthly Mention
 
 * Violence Against Women *
 
This past week, in an exciting move for equity, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced that women would now be allowed in active combat roles. While many appear to feel this may be a matter of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Pentagon kowtowing to public sentiment, the reality of the situation is that warfare these days is very different and in the guerilla style conflicts in which we are engaged overseas, where our troops are more frequently attacked in caravan ambushes and roadside grenades than confrontations in open fields, there is rarely a way to distinguish between the front lines and support staff.
 
Over 200,000 jobs for which women were not eligible will now be made accessible to all who are qualified and not limited to their chromosomal arrangement. This should only benefit the armed forces by allowing them to tap into a deeper pool of talent to find the best candidates. Combat experience is viewed as an important stepping stone to promotions and with only one four-star general who is a woman there is obviously room for improvement. Furthermore, women in combat was one of the stumbling blocks to passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and one can hope that with one more obstacle removed, the passage of that amendment may yet be an achievable goal. Maybe.
 
But returning to the women in combat, many are unhappy. Not too many journalists are coming out and saying it, but one need only read the comments at the end of the articles to see how very concerned the men in this country are that more women are going to get raped. They are very concerned about this and see it as a very legitimate reason why women shouldn’t be allowed in combat situations. And it is not an unfounded concern, Secretary Panetta himself has described the way the military handles rape cases as "an outrage.”  However, as most of the sexual assaults against women in the military are perpetrated by their comrades in arms, rape by the enemy is probably less of a worry for most women considering entering combat. In fact, it is such an epidemic in the military that nobody is sure what a reasonable estimate of the number of sexual assaults is, and only a small fraction of those reported are prosecuted. Many never come forward because they fear retaliation.
 
All this concern about rape in combat units strikes me as a red herring because where were all these worried denizens earlier this month when the 112th Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for the first time since it was introduced in 1994? This bill supports victims of domestic violence and, you guessed it, rape. It is a piece of legislation that has helped give resources and protection to battered women all over this nation and consequently helped save countless lives, too. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have at some point in their lives been raped. What percent of the population do you think needs to be infected for something to count as an epidemic? Do you think it’s higher than 20%?
 
Last week there was a huge story about an alleged victim of fraud, a Notre Dame football player, who had an imaginary girlfriend that died of leukemia (I apologize, there is no way to restructure that sentence to make the story more intelligible) and it made headlines around the world. And the freshman at Notre Dame who committed suicide after allegedly being sexually assaulted by a player on the football team, and subsequently harassed by texts from friends of the attacker, while the University failed to follow up with, arrest, or even interview the alleged attacker? Oh, you didn’t hear about that? Yes, as a nation we are very concerned about rape. Don’t even get me started on the politicians and how "forcible rape,” a redundancy by definition, became a term.
 
Reporting a rape can be a traumatic experience on its own these days, particularly if the accused is a part of some bigger institution revered or beloved (the military, college sports, high school sports, etc.). It is understandable why it is difficult to get a good sense for the prevalence of sexual assault; there are many reasons why women are reluctant to report them. But we must believe that someone is looking out to protect those who cannot defend themselves, this is part of why we elect people to make laws to keep us safe. And Congress wants to, as long as the victim isn’t Native American, LGBT, or an immigrant. A new bill introduced this week by Representatives on either side of the aisle resolves a procedural issue involving revenue generation that was one of the problems the GOP raised against VAWA, but it remains to be seen whether this version will garner enough support to pass. Preventing violence against women should be a nonpartisan issue, but it seems not only do members of Congress who allowed the bill to fail think Thomas Jefferson was really only referring to the XY winners of the genetic lottery when he wrote that "all men are created equal”, but that even amongst us women, some are more worthy than others of protection against domestic abuse. If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.
 
In This Issue
  

 

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