Retention of female STEM students

Check out this really interesting article summarizing recent research at Ohio State on why women stay or leave graduate school.  One of the largest factors is the number of other women in the program.

A new study found that the fewer females who enter a doctoral program at the same time, the less likely any one of them will graduate within six years.

In the worst-case scenario – where there’s just one woman in a new class – she is 12 percentage points less likely to graduate within six years than her male classmates, the study found.

Astronomy’s undergrad major is pretty skewed, with only about 20-25% of students who are women.  And it’s even worse in Physics, where our majors take most of their classes.  Statistics don’t indicate that women leave the Astronomy major more often than men do, but that does not mean that the climate itself is not a barrier to success.

I’d love to hear your comments on the article or on the way gender imbalance manifests itself in the program.  If you prefer, you can write to me privately; any comments sent by email will remain confidential.


“Find your passion”

A common piece of advice from your teachers and mentors is to “find your passion.”  Certainly it helps to be enthusiastic about your studies, since that can motivate you to do the hard work required for success.

But this advice is not as straightforward as it might seem.  Check out this article from the Atlantic, called “‘Find Your Passion’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does.”  For me, the money quote is this:

Young people routinely mistake “find your passion” to mean “pick your interest early and do not waver from it,” rather than “constantly search for the things that make your soul alive and pursue them diligently.”

I’d like to hear your reactions to this article, which contains many thoughtful reflections on the idea of passion for work or a career.  Use the comment mechanism below.

Advice to a young scientist

Here’s an article I set aside some time ago for posting on this blog.  It is called Advice to the Young from Pioneering Astrophysicist Ceclia Payne-Gaposhkin.  Spoiler: tenacity and a sense of purpose are important factors for success in our field.

The short summary at the top of the article is particularly interesting:

Work with love, embrace the unexpected, let no one else make intellectual decisions for you, and always remain in direct touch with the fountain-head.

At the end of the article there are a number of links to very interesting reads on similar themes.  Check out one of them, and give us your thoughts in the comment section.  I’d love to hear your opinions about whether advice articles like these are helpful.

Facing Anxiety

Whether or not you have issues with anxiety, or whether these get in the way of your studies, you might want to check out this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education.  It begins:

Anxiety eclipses depression among college students, and the number who say it’s overwhelming them is on the rise. Campus counseling centers confront many challenges in trying to serve students, not the least of which is that mental health still has a stigma on campuses.

It’s worth educating yourself about this condition, because you probably know many people who have it – whether you know it or not.

Many students have undiagnosed problems with anxiety or other mental health matters.  If you are concerned about anxiety and other issues in your life, a couple of good resources for you are:

Comments are always welcome on this post, and any others.

Good luck with your finals!

The end of the semester is finally near, and with it the dreaded final exams.  It’s especially important to take care of yourself, and to be in good shape so you can communicate what you’ve learned and how much you have grown academically.

If you want a few minutes distraction, check out this video on Why Perfect Grades Don’t Matter and comment below.  Like all of my fellow students back in the day, my grades were far from perfect (don’t ask).  But even so we held on to our dreams and sooner or later an opportunity appeared where we could show off our talents.  So keep plugging away, making improvements where you can, and remember that you are not defined by your grades … Astronomy is probably the coolest subject there is.  Even if it is hard sometimes, do try to keep up your enthusiasm and excitement.

How to live wisely

Here is an interesting article from the New York Times series Education Life called How to Live Wisely.  It raises some good questions, including

What does it mean to live a good life? What about a productive life? How about a happy life? How might I think about these ideas if the answers conflict with one another? And how do I use my time here at college to build on the answers to these tough questions?

Give it a read, and comment below on your thoughts about being productive and happy in college.