Project to study gender in #AAS223 talks and questioners

by Guest on December 31, 2013

This is a guest post by Jim Davenport, a grad student at University of Washington studying stellar populations. He also did an internship at Microsoft Research last summer. The original post appeared on his blog, If We Assume. Be sure to check back there for updates.

If you’ll be attending the upcoming AAS 223 in Washington DC, could you help me collect data for a project? This is for my “AAS Hack Day” idea.

The project stems from an anecdotal observation I made at a recent meeting I attended: the gender ratio of speakers did not appear to be the same as the gender ratio of the people who asked them questions. Part of this was due to a good mix/balance of age and gender in the talk lineup, and part of it because “gray beards” (with a known gender skew) often ask questions from the audience. This begat a slew of other questions: e.g. do women prefer to ask women questions? Do some subfields have better gender parity in speakers vs questioners? Does the questioners gender ratio match the AAS attendance as a whole?

Data is clearly needed to study this…

So I’m reaching out to you, dear colleague. I need 2 things:

1. Help me collect data on the genders of speakers versus questioners!

2. Help me spread the word so I can sample many different sessions/subfields!
The data I need is simple:

  • AAS Talk # (e.g. 123.45)
  • Gender of the speaker
  • Gender of the people who ask questions (a simple string of “MFMFMMFF” etc. is fine)

You can get me the data any way you like! Tweet it at me (@jradavenport), facebook msg me, email me (jrad – a t –, scribble it on a cocktail napkin, carrier pigeons…. or best of all use this handy webform (many thanks to Morgan Fouesneau for putting this together!)
I’ll be posting more about this study of gender equality in scientific talks in the future, and will be shamelessly posting reminders/pleas for help throughout AAS223! If you have any thoughts on the project please let me know!

And please, if you like this idea (even if you’re not attending AAS), share it online with your fellow astronomers! Thanks!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Caitlin January 1, 2014 at 9:24 am

We informally recorded data like this as the Aspen Center for Physics this past summer at a meeting that was well-balanced in speakers’ and attendees’ gender (~50 people total). Sadly we noticed that no matter who was speaking (male vs. female, junior vs. senior), men asked questions TEN times more frequently than women even though men only made up ~60% of the attendees. It would be great to get this kind of data for AAS (kudos!) and other conferences, large and small. [I'd advocate for the online form to be a bit more flexible though, allowing for quantified questioners of each gender, e.g. 4 questions from men, 2 from women for talk X]


2 Jim Davenport January 2, 2014 at 1:18 am

Cool that you guys have similar data, I look forward to comparing it to this AAS study.

My hope is that people will record all the questions for each talk, using strings of letters like “MFMMM” for male, female, male, male, male, etc

3 Nicolle January 10, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Another interesting study would be *how many* questions were asked of each gender speaker. Are male speakers asked questions more often than female speakers? Are senior speakers asked questions more often than junior speakers?


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