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

 Advocacy & Public Policy Newsletter   ~   April 2013
In This Issue
Revamping STEM Ed Funding and Walking on Asteroids
President Obama rolled out the FY2014 budget earlier this month. While not a concrete funding plan because Congress will have to develop its own budget, it is helpful for understanding the administration’s priorities. There were winners and losers, both expected and surprising. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) all saw cuts. Climate change and alternative energy research received boosts through the Department of Energy. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was allocated funds for a big push to increase high tech manufacturing. The National Science Foundation (NSF) got a surprisingly large boost compared to most of the other agencies with a recommendation to increase funding 10.8% above the current operating budget for FY2013. And a little surprisingly, NASA got a big bump to study asteroids with the intent of learning how to redirect any future ones that may threaten Earth (I am not permitted to make any jokes or references to Armageddon, but please do so at your leisure).
One of the biggest changes is the result of a study performed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that examined STEM programs funded by the government. In 2010, $3.4 billion was invested in 209 programs across 13 federal agencies. The study concluded that 83% of these programs demonstrated overlap with at least one other program. The study emphasized the need to more effectively coordinate programs and evaluate outcomes for STEM education as well as to better align the programming. Consequently, in an attempt to better align outcomes and planning, the President’s budget proposes shifting 90 programs at 11 agencies, worth $180 million, into the Department of Education, Smithsonian, and NSF. However, that is only 5% of the more than $3 billion budgeted so it remains to be seen how effective the effort would be.
There does seem to be solid support for the proposed NSF budget from the left based on a letter of support from Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) that got many signatures from fellow members. However, on the right, there seems to be an increased desire for government to have more oversight on what Congress regards as "valuable” research. Coming on the heels of the House bill that cuts all political science funding not directly related to national security, this increased interest by Congress to determine what is "valuable science” is very worrisome. In his opening statements during a hearing last week with Dr. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as Dr. Cora Marrett, acting director of the NSF, and Dr. Dan Arvizu, chair of the National Science Board, the Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chair Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said, "It requires recognition that we might be able to improve the process by which NSF makes its funding decisions."  A bill currently being put forth by that committee, scheduled for markup after next week’s recess, would seriously damage basic research in this country with the stipulation that that NSF funded research projects "is ground breaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large.” One hopes that with a general lack of bipartisan consensus on anything at the moment, this will not be the piece that helps both sides of the Hill set aside their differences.
ADVANCE Funding Continues to Decline
Based on the President’s recommended funding level, the NSF released its own budget. As was previously mentioned, examining the allocation of resources based on a proposed budget is helpful in understanding the priorities of the agency. The goal of the ADVANCE program is to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers. The amount allocated for ADVANCE, one of two remaining programs committed to gender and science, continues to be on a downward trend, taking it to nearly 2002 levels. However, when one considers that the rate of inflation from April 2002 to March 2013 is 29.46%, it reflects a serious failure to sustain those levels let alone invest in that program. Furthermore, $250K of the ADVANCE funding is being set aside for the Career Life Balance initiative.
All grant proposals submitted to NSF are evaluated based on two merit review criteria: intellectual merit and broader impacts. While the majority of funding from NSF goes towards basic and applied research, roughly 11% of the total budget is dedicated to programs that focus on broadening participation in science and engineering. As a percent of both the money for the total NSF budget as well as the Broadening Participation budget, ADVANCE has seen a steady decline.
Grant Allocations for Dependent Care Costs
Although the distribution of caretaking is more equitable in many households these days, the burden often still falls more heavily upon women. When it comes to advancing one’s career, attending conferences is crucial for sharing ideas, networking, building collaborations, and seeking out new opportunities. This results in one of the many small factors that wind up having a large, cumulative impact on one’s career progression and thus one’s likelihood of remaining in or leaving the academic pipeline. To this end, as a part of clarifying and updating the rules about the use of federal grants, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has released a new report, "Proposed OMB Uniform Guidance: Cost Principles, Audit, and Administrative Requirements for Federal Awards.”

The document is currently available for public comment and there are three points that are likely to be of interest to anyone with dependent care. The three points are:
• Family-related leave is an allowable Fringe Benefit.
• Temporary dependent-care costs directly resulting from travel to conferences is an allowable cost.
• The identification of locally available dependent-care resources for conference planning is an allowable cost.
While the OMB states that these policies have been the case for some time, they are contingent upon an institution-wide acceptance of this policy and not implementable on a lab by lab basis. However, clarification of these points does increase the opportunity to encourage universities to adopt better family friendly policies for all their employees.

AWIS is currently drafting a letter to submit our comments about why we support these measures. However, as part of the way to raise awareness about the importance of making dependent care and family-related leave an accessible option for families in order for individuals to advance their careers, we are encouraging anyone who is interested to provide your own comments here on how institution-wide policies regarding the use of grant money for family-related leave and temporary dependent-care costs for travel to conferences would help you, your colleagues, or your lab members or how they are already working at your institution. If you need suggestions on what to enter or more information on the details, please visit our Dependent-Care OMB Guidance Toolkit.
 M3 The Maddening Monthly Mention
 * Silly Solutions to Serious Problems *
Earlier this month we published a piece on the obstacles faced by women in STEM and the opportunity cost of failing to retain women on the Huffington Post. Much of the feedback was positive, but there were the typical naysayers who feel that the reason there aren’t as many women in STEM is that girls just aren’t interested in playing with chemistry sets and computer games. What these people don’t apparently realize is that from an incredibly early age in this country we consciously and subconsciously spell out gender roles. It’s incredible how challenging it can be to find gender-neutral colored outfits for a baby shower. JCPenney stopped selling the girls t-shirts which said things like "I’m too pretty to do homework”, and Gymboree pulled their "Smart Like Daddy” and "Pretty Like Mommy” shirts after public indignation ensued, but other companies continue to produce similarly themed messaging, such as this recent Avengers shirt which says "I need a hero” for girls and "Be a hero” for boys or the shirts from Space Camp, which encourage boys to "achieve” and girls to "dream”. Which one suggests success? While individually people mock those who express their outrage, telling them to get a hobby or lighten up, this perpetual onslaught of messaging reinforces these gender divisions.
Last week the Wall Street Journal was delighted by a report about new toys to cultivate in girls an interest in STEM by emphasizing spatial relation development via building and by teaching them simple circuitry. And that sounds great because when a gap is detected in spatial relations between men and women, it is frequently traced to what we play with in our youth. Then you look at the products and realize they are all about music boxes and doll houses, in lots of fun pastel colors. So instead of creatively breaking the mold, they are largely just reinforcing these "girly” gender roles. Girls play with dolls and houses, boys play with electronics. Additionally, the journalist goes on to say, "The spatial-skills gap between boys and girls is a function of biology,” an assertion that is not backed up by the body of peer-reviewed research but rather is misinformation that only further reinforces the idea that girls are fundamentally different from boys.
Part of the problem is that women in science and engineering are still seen as outliers in a sense. In one of her comic strips from 1985, Alison Bechdel proposed what has become known as the "Bechdel Test” for film. The three qualifiers to pass the test are that a film must have at least two women, they must talk to each other, and they must talk about something besides a man. Nearly 30 years later, startling few films pass this test. In a similar vein, last month a journalist proposed to avoid qualifying women’s scientific accomplishments in profile pieces with a metric she calls "The Finkbeiner Test”, named for a fellow journalist. Most newspaper and magazine profiles highlight the fact that the subject is a woman, she manages to balance work and life, and she’s a unique role model, etc. which all serve to undermine the quality of the science and make it seem like there are very few women doing science in any particular field. What this really boils down to is that in the media, and thus in society, we are still "women scientists” and "women engineers.” You don’t hear people saying "male scientist” or "male entrepreneur” because it is implied. The reinforcement of these gender roles is so pervasive that most of the time we don’t even notice it. In countries where there is less of a stereotype associating men with science, there is no performance gap between 8th grade boys and girls in science and math achievement, indicating that cultural cues reinforce these stereotypes. So it’s not a woman or girl problem, it’s an American problem. All of this suggests that if we really want to try to encourage more girls into STEM fields where women are underrepresented, we need to re-evaluate what we are showing them as a society. We have been investing heavily in STEM K-12 for three decades now but in the last decade the percent of women earning engineering degrees has gone down as has women’s representation on other fields, like computer science, as well. Pastel-colored Legos are not going to be sufficient to move the needle. We need to take a step back and look at the big picture and examine the way we stereotype and represent scientists and engineers, both male and female.
Another part of the problem is that as a society we still generally depict scientists as white males. Earlier this month at an event at the White House, President Obama announced the BRAIN initiative, which AWIS attended. The Obama administration does a good job of engaging women and underrepresented minorities at events aimed specifically at these groups. However, when it comes to real science, the room is overwhelmingly full of white males. The picture at left shows the view I observed while waiting to head into the East Room. While the administration understands the need for positive role models, there seems to be a disconnect between talking the talk and walking the walk. Furthermore, while the project is being co-chaired by a male and female team, the rest of the roster is almost exclusively men. It would be great if this was an isolated case, but it isn’t. The Stand UP to Cancer teams, recently featured in a TIME magazine article, are also nearly exclusively male while the leadership of the foundation is entirely female! On their website, they advertise a sexy, windblown model in a tank top, stating that "Now you can Stand Up to Cancer like Heidi Klum.”  I’d love to see an ad that features one of the real women doing cutting edge research who are the ones actually standing up to cancer. Women make up nearly 25% of professors in the biological sciences and these days earn more than half of the PhDs, yet to look at these groups one might conclude that only men are working on the mapping the brain and fighting cancer. Furthermore, there is an increasing movement towards funding these sorts of cross-institutional, multi-disciplinary research projects which presumably arise when one person wants to collaborate with someone they think they can get along with professionally from another institution. Singular Male PI’s or all male teams make up over 60% of the INSPIRE grants supported by the NSF, a program highlighted specifically in the President’s budget as an area to increase funding because it is multi-disciplinary and transformative research. It is easy to see how women may be excluded from these networks. How can we move the needle when the only efforts made to show the broad range of minds and bodies that are actually doing science occurs when we are focused on talking about diversity? When are we are as a nation going to get serious about the real reasons girls don’t think STEM jobs are for them and women leave the pipeline? We are 50% of the population and the fact that we as a nation aren’t offering serious solutions, like changing hostile workplace climates, offering paid maternity leave, and giving women equal pay to name a few, is an outrage. 

In This Issue


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