AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of September 15, 2006
eds. Patricia Knezek, Jim Ulvestad, & Joan Schmelz
This week's issues:

1. How to be a Better Advisor I: Top Ten List

2. How to be a Better Advisor II: Student Tears

3. Beyond Bias and Barriers -- Invitation

4. Motherhood: the Elephant in the Laboratory 

5. Where the Girls Aren't 

****** The following position was taken from WIPHYS **********

6. Experimental High Energy Astrophysics, U of Iowa

7. How to submit, subscribe, or unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

1. How to be a Better Advisor I: Top Ten List
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelzmemphis.edu]

[This item was distributed originally in the August 4, 2006 issue of AASWOMEN. 
We decided to send it out again as the new academic year begins -- eds.]

How do we learn to be a good advisor? Our grad students don’t come with an 
instruction manual, but perhaps they should! Sometime we learn to be a bad 
advisor because we had a bad advisor. Sometime we expect our students to know 
everything we do. Sometimes we make the same mistakes over and over again.

A recent discussion at the CfA Women in Astronomy group led to a Top 10 list of 
how to be a better advisor. Special thanks to Kelly Korreck, Andrea Dupree, Saku 
Vrtilek, Lisa Kaltenegger, Stephanie Bush, and Lynn Matthews for feedback. 

Please feel free to post this list on bulletin boards and web sites. You can 
make copies and put it in department mail boxes. If you’re a grad student, make 
sure your advisor has a copy. If you’re an advisor, make sure you follow *all* 
the rules, not just the ones you’re good at. Also, we would like this list to 
evolve and improve, so please send comments and suggestions.

Top 10 Ways to be a Better Advisor for Graduate Students

Joan Schmelz
Professor of Physics
University of Memphis

1. Try to see each student as an individual; they will all have different 
backgrounds, talents, and goals. Do not expect them to be 'just like you' or 
like people you work with. It is crucial to realize just how important their 
work with you will be to their career.

2. You are responsible for guiding your students' research: helping them to 
select a topic, write a research proposal, perform the research, evaluate it 
critically, and write the dissertation. Set up a weekly meeting with your thesis 
advisee to give *constructive* (not personal; not necessarily positive) feedback 
on research work.

3. Identify student's strengths and build on them; identify weaknesses and help 
students overcome them.

4. Students need to know what to expect; these expectations will change as the 
student gets closer to graduation, but some important considerations include 
coursework, degree requirements, funding, comprehensive exam, thesis, etc.

5. For new students: help them set up their class schedule for each semester so 
they fulfill their requirements for (a) graduation and (b) the comprehensive 
exam in a timely fashion. Help students find the right balance between 
coursework and RA/TA duties.

6. Take your students to conferences and introduce them to your colleagues. Do 
not assume that they know how to network; they will need your help to develop 
this vital skill.

7. Encourage your students to present posters at a conference starting from 
their first year.  Make them rehearse until they are comfortable with the 
material and the background. Ask them *why* they did this work. Ask them 
questions that you know they might be asked. Bring colleagues over to their 
poster and introduce them. Then stand back and let them do the presentation; 
step in only if they need you.

8. Your students rely on you for financial support: RAs and TAs, but you can 
also help them to find fellowships and summer positions.

9. Your job continues as graduation approaches: help them to find and apply for 
postdoctoral positions, faculty positions, and/or jobs in industry. They will 
need letters of reference. Have the student write ~3 bullets with short 
paragraphs explaining their work and its importance. Use this information in 
your letter. Do *not* include personal descriptions like 'she's cute.' Do not 
send a generic letter that you use for all students who ask for references.

10. It is *never* appropriate to develop an intimate relationship with one of 
your students. If this should happen, you must not continue to advise that 
student (whether the relationship continues or not).

2. How to be a Better Advisor II: Student Tears
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelzmemphis.edu]

[This is the current summary of advice for advisors on the subject of grad 
student tears. -- eds.]

What should an advisor do when a grad student comes into her/his office and 
breaks into tears?

-- Drop what you’re doing and treat this situation seriously; give the student 
your full attention.

-- Hand the student the box of tissues that you (always!) keep in your office.

-- Say something reassuring like “take your time” or “we’ll sort this out 
together;” then give the student time to collect her/himself.

-- There were mixed opinions about open/closed office door. I personally would 
not suggest closing the door, unless your office is in a busy corridor where 
there is no privacy. Closing it 7/8 of the way may be a good compromise. If 
there is a window in your office door, do not block it.

-- It's not appropriate (in the US) for an advisor to initiate touch even in 
emotionally difficult situations, so no hugs.

-- If the phone rings, ignore it if you can. If someone knocks on your door, 
tell them you’ll get back with them later. 

-- The student will eventually calm down and tell you what's wrong. Focus and 
listen. Don't interrupt. Never belittle the student or the problem.

-- What you say next depends on the problem. Here are several examples:

	- Personal: Suppose the student has just learned of a death in the 
family and wants to go home. Go online and get her/him a ticket. Take her/him to 
the airport, or get a friend to.

	- Work: Perhaps the student can't get past a bottleneck. Get her/him to 
explain the work to you in detail. Say something reassuring like, "It's okay to 
be frustrated; this is a tough problem." If it's something that is difficult for 
you, commiserate with her/him.

	- Sexual harassment with a professor or another grad student: Every 
university has a plan. Know yours. Help your student go through the procedure.

	- General unhappiness: Avoid acting like a therapist. Advisors are not 
(in general) trained for this. Help with the things you know how to do, like 
science. Suggest work habits, like making detailed outlines of papers, etc. If 
the problems seem serious, it may be appropriate to suggest counseling, but not 
when the student is in a highly emotional state; if counseling seems 
appropriate, wait a few days and initiate another (private) conversation to 
suggest it.

Contributions from Cara Rakowski, Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, Heidi Newberg, David 
Helfand, and several anonymous sources are greatly appreciated.

3. Beyond Bias and Barriers -- Invitation
From: Amy Simon-Miller [simonlepasm.gsfc.nasa.gov]

The National Academies will be releasing the report, Beyond Bias and Barriers: 
Fulfilling the Promise of Women in Science and Engineering, on September 18, 

The release event will be held at 10am at the Barbara Jordan Conference Center, 
located at 1330 G Street, NW, Washington DC. This facility is 1 block from the 
Metro Center train station.  Presenting the report will be committee members 
Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami and former Secretary of 
Health and Human Services; Ana Mari Cauce, Executive Vice Provost and Earl R. 
Carlson professor of psychology at the University of Washington; and Maria 
Zuber, head of the department of Earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences at 
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Those attending the event will receive a free pre-publication report; the report 
will also be available on the National Academies Press Website.

For more information on the study and to register to attend the release, please 
see the study website at 


4. Motherhood: the Elephant in the Laboratory 
From: WIPHYS September 8, 2006

Emily Monosson is editing a book about women, science, and family, tentatively 
titled Motherhood: The Elephant in the Laboratory and is currently collecting 
essays for possible inclusion. 

An excerpt from the proposal follows:

“The aim of this book is to initiate a national discussion about science, work, 
and motherhood, by highlighting the unique accomplishments and challenges of 
women, as scientists and as mothers, with the ultimate goal of redefining the 
concept of “career” scientist. Scientists with families, particularly women with 
young children, find it difficult to achieve a balance between work and family 
in these highly competitive often male dominated fields. But many do. They work 
part-time or full-time, they opt-out, and opt back-in, they become 
entrepreneurs, they job share, they get creative. Along the way, many feel they 
have become an invisible, under-utilized and misunderstood work-force.”

If you are interested in contributing and would like more information or would 
like the full proposal, please respond to: 


5. Where the Girls Aren’t 
From: WIPHYS September 8, 2006

Linley Hall is writing a book about women in science and engineering that will 
be published in 2007. The book will include interviews with a wide range of 
women scientists, from undergraduates to retirees, the struggling and the 
successful. Using women's stories as a jumping off point, she will discuss the 
joys and challenges that women scientists experience at different stages in 
their careers and how the world of science can become more welcoming to women. A 
fuller description of the book (working title, “Where the Girls Aren’t”) is 
available on her website at 


Linley is looking for women scientists in all disciplines and all stages of 
their careers to interview. Anyone who is interested in contributing her story 
to this book should contact her through her website. 

6. Experimental High Energy Astrophysics, U of Iowa
From: WIPHYS September 15, 2006

The Department of Physics and Astronomy 


at the University of Iowa is seeking a tenure-track assistant professor to begin 
Fall 2007 to enhance the Department’s new program in high energy astrophysics.  
We invite applications from persons experienced in space-based high energy 
astrophysics, specifically in the development of instrumentation and the 
analysis and interpretation of observations. The Department and the College of 
Liberal Arts and Sciences are strongly committed to diversity and maintain close 
ties to programs on campus which provide a supportive environment.  The 
strategic plans of the University, College, and Department reflect this 
commitment to diversity; the Department is especially interested in increasing 
its gender and ethnic diversity.  Duties of the position will consist of 
teaching courses at all levels, establishment of an active research program, and 
pursuit of external funding.  A Ph.D. in astronomy, physics, or a related 
discipline is required.  Post-doctoral research experience is desirable.

Interested applicants should send a CV, statements of research and teaching 
interests, and the names and contact information of three references to:

Astrophysics Search Committee
Department of Physics and Astronomy
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242-1479

Applications should arrive prior to January 15, 2007 to receive full 
consideration. Electronic applications in pdf format are acceptable and can be 
sent to christine-stevensuiowa.edu. The 
University of Iowa is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. Women 
and minorities are encouraged to apply.

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