Gender balanced conferences – we all need to try harder!

gender equal opportunity or representation

Recently a conference on Phylogenetic Comparative Methods was advertised online, and quickly the Twitter community noted that all six of the plenary talks were being given by men. Normally my response to this kind of thing would be some grumpy tweeting and then I’d let it go. However, this time was different; I know one of the organisers, several of the plenary speakers are my collaborators and this is the field I’ve dedicated the last eight years of my career to. Therefore I didn’t think I could let this pass by unchallenged.

I emailed the organisers to complain and got a prompt response. Note that I’m not trying to vilify the organisers of this conference. They were really understanding and genuinely felt bad about the situation. They said they were aware of the problem and had tried really hard to get women to speak, but the women they asked said no. This problem was exacerbated by the fact the conference is linked to a new book they are publishing in which only around five out of 30 plus authors are female (many more women – including me – were asked to write chapters but declined). In the past when people have given me the “we tried but failed” response I’ve taken their word for it. However, this time I had first hand experience of the issue, because I co-organised a symposium with Rich FitzJohn at Evolution 2014 on Phylogenetic Comparative Methods at which we decided to have at least 50% female speakers. SPOILER ALERT – we succeeded, but it was hard. Really really hard.

For our symposium we decided to focus on the assumptions and biases inherent in the methods we use. As such the pool of speakers was quite specialised – we were looking not just for people who *use* phylogenetic comparative methods, but for people who try to understand them and think deeply about their interpretation and correct usage. Unfortunately it is difficult to work out if people do this as most people’s websites and publications tend to focus on empirical questions rather than methods questions, even for people I *know* think about this stuff all the time. We also decided to try and stray away from the “usual suspects”. There are a couple of female speakers (and even more male speakers!) who always seem to speak in conference symposia, so we wanted to give other people a chance (as it turns out I think virtually all the women we avoided asking for this reason are speaking in one of the other symposia…). However both myself and Rich felt we knew the field quite well so finding speakers wouldn’t be too hard.

At this point we encountered our first problem – this didn’t leave a lot of women on our invite list! I suppose in the back of my mind I always knew the field was male-dominated (excuses 1 & 2; see the end of the post for an explanation!), but it wasn’t until I actually started looking for female speakers that it really hit home. We checked through the references in Brian O’Meara’s and Matt Pennell & Luke Harmon’s recent reviews of phylogenetic comparative methods and were fairly horrified by the low number of female authors, and particularly the low numbers of papers with female first authors (excuse 6). This is worrying as if you don’t see female authors in the literature, especially in review papers, then they don’t get invited to speak at symposia or join working groups, so fewer people know about their work, so they don’t end up in literature reviews (excuse 6)! It’s a vicious circle. We also tried a slightly different tack, emailing all our more senior colleagues to ask for suggestions. They came up with some extra ideas, but mostly they overlapped with each other, and all mentioned the “usual suspects”.

After some time we came up with a list of women (and men) we thought would give good talks. The men said yes immediately. Many of the women turned us down (excuse 3), but always for perfectly valid reasons. However, after some effort we got a line up we were happy with and sent off our proposal. We were really excited when it got accepted and proud of our efforts to ensure gender balance. This is when we encountered our second problem – one of our female speakers dropped out (excuse 4). This was through no fault of the speaker, she just couldn’t travel to the USA in June. We then had to start the search process all over again! Luckily the conference organisers were very understanding and said we didn’t need to confirm speakers for a while anyway, so we ended up letting it slide while I did a big chunk of teaching. Eventually the organisers asked for confirmation of speakers and titles, so we emailed the remaining speakers to ask for titles. This is when we hit our next problem – another one of our female speakers dropped out (excuse 4) stating that part of the reason was she was over-committed and burnt out from speaking at lots of other conferences (excuse 5).

At this point we had a real panic! We had sold the idea of the symposium partly based on the line up of women, and now there were only two female speakers left (and one of them was me!). We went back through our lists from months ago, and came up against the same problems. Some people weren’t relevant for the symposium (excuse 1), and many of those we asked declined (and frustratingly would recommend male speakers to replace them; excuses 2 & 3). Eventually just before the deadline for confirmations I cajoled April Wright into speaking (and still feel a bit guilty about adding to her already huge workload!) and we added another male speaker to the line up. This meant we still managed 50% female speakers, but just barely.

I’m delighted with the speakers we ended up with, and I’m not annoyed with anyone that turned us down or dropped out. But I wanted to share this story to show that I *do* understand the difficulties involved with getting female speakers (note that I’ve also organised our local seminar series with a 50/50 gender split two years running). Yet my response to “we tried” is that “you need to try harder”! There were many points during this process that we could have just given up and asked one of many men working in the area. But that would have seemed like a betrayal of all the women working in the field. Only having male speakers makes it look like women can’t be methods-developers or advanced methods-users. It also encourages the impostor syndrome that I’m sure contributed to some of our suggested speakers declining our invitations (excuse 7). For the record, none of the speakers who declined invitations, or dropped out, did so due to childcare issues. This problem is *far* deeper than the biological reality that women are the ones who get pregnant and have babies.

Author: Natalie Cooper, @nhcooper123, ncooper[at]

The PCM conference has now, in response to some of this, added a female plenary. They are also trying to attract more female researchers to give “featured” talks. This is a step in the right direction, but really too little too late. Especially as their budget means the “featured” speakers get no financial assistance and also only 15 minutes to talk. Hardly a great achievement to put on your CV…

P.S. The excuses noted above come from the Female Conference Speaker Bingo card. I’ve laughed at this a number of times so was pretty horrified when I realised a lot of these appeared to be valid excuses for our symposium!

1. There aren’t enough qualified female speakers.
2. It’s a male-dominated field.
3. Both women we called were booked/all the women were busy.
4. Both women we booked bailed at the last minute.
5. Female speakers are always burnt out from speaking so much.
6. Who? I’ve never heard of her.
7. Women are shy/Women need to act more like men.

P.P.S. I wrote the above in June 2014 after our symposium. Since then there have been a couple of excellent blog posts detailing similar issues and suggesting solutions: here and here in particular. Come on everyone, let’s fix this!!!

Are men really better than women?

When you imagine a scientist, what do you imagine? The first image that I see, despite never having seen it in real life (thankfully!), is the traditional “mad scientist”. The white lab-coat, crazy hair, glasses or goggles, holding a flask or test tube containing some dangerous-looking substance. This scientist is, inevitably, male (and white, but that’s a subject for another day).

Mad scientist

The lack of women in science has become a cause for concern for many people. Discussions of how to fix the “leaky pipe”, where female students are lost at a disproportionately higher rate than their male colleagues at postgraduate level and beyond, have become increasingly frequent. Some of these potential fixes were discussed a couple of years ago here on this blog.

But why do we want more women in science? Surely science, being so objective and rational, has little need for political correctness? If there aren’t many women in science then that’s just an indication that they aren’t smart enough or don’t want to put in the work required to reach high academic positions and by trying to increase the numbers artificially we’ll end up with poorer science and the advancement of knowledge will slow to a stand-still.

This may sound like hyperbole but it’s not far off what has been argued. Larry Summers, then-president of Harvard, argued that women were less intelligent than men due to genetic differences and that childcare burdens meant women weren’t willing to put in the long hours necessary to advance their careers. The lack of science to support these statements is disturbing from someone in his position. The genetic differences are negligible and the experiences of transgender people show that people’s assessment of intelligence is often linked to their perception of gender. As to women shouldering the burden of childcare, well, personally I see this as an opportunity to make this burden more equal, rather than punish the women for having the temerity to reproduce (a man was involved in this reproduction as well, after all).

Getting back to the question, why does it matter if science is largely dominated by men? A scientist is a scientist and their gender shouldn’t matter. While it’s unfortunate that women have not been welcomed into science, it hasn’t affected what science has been done. Has it? Well, chances are, it has.

A recent paper published in PloS Biology looked at the studies into genital evolution. The paper, by Ah-King and colleagues found a distinct bias in the focus of these studies towards male genitalia and away from female genitalia that was not explained by any obvious cause such as ease of study or taxonomy. Given the tenor of this piece you’ll be forgiven for thinking that I’m going to say “but when they looked at the sex of the researcher they found that women studied vaginas while men studied penises and as there’s more men in science that’s caused the bias” but the researchers looked at this and found that men and women had a similar bias towards researching male genitals.

Waterfowl genitalia
Waterfowl genitalia. Modified from Brennan et al., 2007, PLoS One

So does this mean that this study actually goes against my hypothesis that the sex of the researcher matters? I don’t think so. This study can’t be taken in isolation, it must be taken in context. The context is that ever since Darwin, males have been perceived as the dominant sex and the ones driving sexual evolution with the females as little more than passive receivers of sperm. While this is now known not to be the case, such attitudes take a long time to die. The researchers discuss this explicitly:

“. . . [we] suggest that the bias reflects now outdated assumptions about the unimportance of, or lack of, variation in female genitalia in sexual evolutionary dynamics.” (p6).

This highlights the problem, not only of not having women in science now, but of having a historical absence of women. As the subject has historically been studied and taught by men to men, many unfounded beliefs have taken hold. The belief that males are inherently more interesting to study is just one example of this. These beliefs become so pervasive that everyone believes them, and may explain why women have the same bias towards studying male genitalia that men have.

The lack of women in science means that unfounded beliefs such as this go unchallenged for so long that they become core tenets of disciplines and trying to overturn them takes immense effort. It allows scientists to say that women are less intelligent than men and use their absence as evidence, in the same way that some use the absence of minorities as indications of their intelligence, ignoring the systematic biases that prevent them from attaining a position of authority within their field, or even entering it in the first place. Neil Degrasse Tyson beautifully summed up the barriers to entry presented to women and minorities, none of which are to do with intelligence and all are to do with cultural expectations and the resistance experienced when you try to surmount those expectations.

Increasing diversity has innumerable benefits and no real downsides (though it may have perceived ones, particularly for those whose positions of authority are being challenged). In a recent NERD club we discussed the benefits of mobility, which included being exposed to new ideas and new ways of doing things in different departments. This exposure to new ideas can also come through increasing the pool of people from which scientists are drawn. When most of your scientists are male, they will be, on average, more interested in male genitalia than female. When most of your scientists are from the western hemisphere, the majority of the research will be biased towards those countries. Increasing diversity increases the field of interests scientists have and will actually accelerate our scientific knowledge. Diversity makes better science.

Author: Sarah Hearne, hearnes[at], @SarahVHearne

Image: Wikicommons



Soapbox Science Ireland




Are you interested in science?

From nano-materials to Martian landscapes, microbiology to neuroscience, immunology to ecology, chemistry to evolution, Soapbox Science Ireland has something for you.

On the 26th of April (this Saturday!), Soapbox Science will join efforts with Trinity College Dublin’s Equality Fund and WiSER to transform Trinity’s Front Square into a hub of scientific learning and discussion. Some of Ireland’s leading female scientists take to their soapboxes to showcase science to the general public. The aim is to dispel the myth that scientists conform to the “mad (male) scientist” stereotype and to promote the fascinating research led by women in Ireland.

Come along to learn, hear some intriguing stories and to be inspired. These are not your ordinary science lectures; think of is as a hybrid between the worlds of street performance and scientific excellence.

Speakers will take to their soapboxes in Front Square (whatever the weather!) from 12-3pm. Each speaker will present every hour for 15 minutes. Follow the event on twitter with @SoapboxScience and we’ll be live tweeting the talks on the day with #SoapBoxScienceIreland.

The speakers and their discussion topics include:


Prof Aoife McLysaght, School of Genetics and Microbiology, Trinity College Dublin  “Evolutionary insights into how genes work”


Prof Emma Teeling, School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin “Batty ideas?” 


Dr. Erin Williams, School of Veterinary Medicine,  University College Dublin “Dairy cow health and fertility”


Dr. Fiona Walsh, Department of Biology, NUI Maynooth  “Antibiotic resistance hunting in the bacteria jungle”


Dr Geetha Srinivasan, School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Queens University Belfast “Ionic liquid – liquid salts”


Dr Helen Sheriden, School of Pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences,  Trinity College Dublin “Nature’s pharmacy: therapeutic gifts from flowers, fungi, frogs and ferns


Dr Jessamyn Fairfield, CRANN, Trinity College Dublin “The little things matter”

Photo Kim Roberts

Dr Kim Roberts, School of Genetics and Microbiology, Trinity College Dublin “What’s the big deal about bird flu?

 Lorna Lopez

Dr Lorna Lopez, Department of Psychiatry, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland “Clues to understanding your brain


Dr Mary Bourke, School of Natural Sciences (Geography), Trinity College Dublin “Snows and flows on Mars”


Karen McCarthy, Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, University College Cork “Microcompartments – Mini Factories for us!”


Prof Yvonne Buckley, School of Natural Sciences and Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research, Trinity College Dublin “Lights, fertiliser, herbivores, action!

Author: Sive Finlay, sfinlay[at], @SiveFinlay

SoapBox Science Dublin!

soapboxlogoAre you a woman in science? Are you passionate about sharing your research with the public and increasing the profile of female scientists generally? Do you let out a sigh when these events are always arranged in London? Well sigh no more, this year SoapBox Science is expanding to other parts of the UK and excitingly, across the Irish Sea to Dublin, Ireland.

We’re looking for speakers from across the island to join us on Saturday April 26th in Trinity College Dublin’s beautiful Front Square. We’re also looking for volunteers (of any gender) to help out with organizing the event beforehand, and to help on the day gathering up crowds, passing round props and holding umbrellas during the inevitable rain! It should be a great opportunity to network with some amazing scientists, learn more about science communication and have fun!

But why do we need SoapBox Science in Ireland? If someone asks you to name a famous scientist working in Ireland, the chances are they’re a middle-aged, white, man. But Irish science is much more diverse than this. Unfortunately the majority of academics in senior positions tend to be male, even though the gender balance is 50:50 for PhD students across most science disciplines. SoapBox Science’s mission is to help eliminate gender inequality in science by raising the profile, and challenging the public’s view, of women and science.

If you’d like to apply to be a speaker at this year’s event please go to, or to get more information please email

Author: Natalie Cooper, ncooper[at], @nhcooper123

Bringing our perceptions closer to reality

mmw_womenscience0716This blog post was originally written and published here on the SoapBox Science blog. The Soapbox Science event showcases UK women in science to inspire the next generation of scientists by making science fun and accessible. This year it will take place on Friday 5th July 12-3pm on the Southbank in London. If you’re in the area why not go and take a look?

First a little thought experiment: without over thinking it, list ten top scientists in your field…now, honestly, what percentage of your list are women?

I’ve been trying this experiment out on Twitter and with various people I meet. The results are exactly as you’d expect; most people name very few women, generally 0-20% (though there were exceptions, for example 30% in plant molecular genetics and 70% in radioecology). To check this wasn’t just an effect of asking people to pick ten scientists, I got our PhD students to list 50 scientists they’d like to invite to speak on our Evolutionary Biology and Ecology seminar series. They only came up with eight women (16%), even though I suspect some of them knew I was playing a gender equality game! What I found more interesting were the reasons that people gave for the low numbers of women, the most common of which was that this accurately reflected the percentage of women within their field. This seemed fair enough, but I wondered if it was really the truth, or just a bias in our perception of the number of female scientists?

To test this idea I did a quick search of Ecology and Evolution (or similar) departments across the UK and Ireland and looked at the percentage of women faculty. There was a large range, but the average was around 27%. I also looked at NERC postdoctoral fellowships awarded in 2006-2011 (the most recent data they had available). 29% were awarded to women. I also found some data from the RCUK “Sustainability of the UK Research Workforce Annual Report 2009” showing that 42.6% of academic staff in Life Sciences (Agriculture, Forestry, Biosciences and Veterinary Science) in the UK were women. Of course this last percentage is biased by inclusion of Veterinary Science, a famously female-biased field. However, the fact still remains that the number of women in academia is higher than most of us actually believe.

Why does any of this matter? Although my thought experiment is simple, in a way it’s what we all do when people ask us to recommend fellow scientists to give seminars, speak at symposia, examine theses, become journal editors etc. All of these things bring kudos to the person involved, give them an extra line on their CV, and may help their chances of promotion or tenure. If we are all unfairly favouring male scientists in our recommendations, then we are all helping to hold women back from top positions and maintaining the current gender imbalance in academia. Seminars and symposia also expose undergraduate and postgraduate students to different scientists. If most of these scientists are male then of course the perceptions of the next generation of scientists will also be male-biased.

So how can we change perceptions? One solution is that people making decisions about who to invite to speak at seminars or symposia etc. need to ask more women, though I recognise that this is easier said than done! However, the responsibility for changing perceptions doesn’t just lie with decision makers; it lies with all of us. We (both men and women) need to make more of an effort to notice and seek out female scientists, and to promote them and their work to our colleagues and students. When we get asked for recommendations for seminar speakers etc. we need to take responsibility for recommending equal numbers of men and women, rather than relying on decision makers to do this for us.

Perhaps female academics should also make the effort to be more visible, rather than hoping that the quality of their science will speak for itself? When choosing speakers to invite, our PhD students chose people they had met or seen speak at conferences, first or senior authors of high-impact papers, and people they had come across on Twitter. This suggests that women are less prominent in these places than men. Again this could be a perception bias, but I’m sure family commitments make it harder for mothers (and fathers) to attend conferences and thus get noticed there. Twitter and blogging may be an excellent way to combat this problem as no travel is required and these media reach an international audience.

Another issue here is that once you’ve identified a woman for a visibility increasing role, how do you get her to say yes? For example, this year in a burst of (naïve) enthusiasm I declared that we would aim to have 50% female speakers in our Evolutionary Biology and Ecology seminar series. Finding eight awesome female evolutionary biologists or ecologists didn’t seem that difficult to me, however, when I started issuing invites I discovered that getting women to say yes was far from easy! All had completely legitimate and understandable reasons and I wouldn’t even have noticed if it had been equally difficult to get men to say yes. Instead I found that women were twice as likely to say no, so I needed a list of women twice as long as my list of men to get 50% female speakers! I suspect this may also be a problem for people making more important decisions such as those selecting committee members or journal editors. Is this impostor syndrome rearing its ugly head? Are women more likely to turn opportunities down because they feel inadequate? Is it an issue of work-life balance (often it is for women with young children, but many men have young families too)? Is it a difference in the priorities of men and women? Or is it because everyone is trying to fill quotas, so female academics are over-subscribed? These are questions we probably need to tackle in the future.

Even with these problems I stand by my plan for a quota of 50% women in our seminar series and hope that other departments, schools and colleges will do the same. I believe such measures are necessary, even if they over-represent the actual number of women in science. I think we can justify this by remembering that everything we do for gender equality is actually being done for the next generation of scientists. So we shouldn’t bemoan the fact that the 50% of women in this committee or that symposium is an inaccurate reflection of the way things are, nor should we be offended when invited to be on committees or give talks just to fill a quota. Instead we should embrace it as an optimistic view of how things will be in the future.


Natalie Cooper: ncooper[at]

Photo credit

Academic CVs: Dos, don’ts and maybes


At a recent session of NERD club, our weekly research group meeting for the Networks in Ecology/Evolution Research Dynamic, we discussed academic CVs. Four academic staff members (including myself) showed their CVs to the group and discussed what was in them. This was interesting because we all had such varied opinions! I thought I’d write a short blog post to highlight some of our main agreements and disagreements.

General advice for PhD students

You should have some form of academic CV in preparation even if you are in the early stages of your PhD. Why? (1) It’s a great place to put bits of information that you’ll use in CVs at a later date. (2) It prevents you from forgetting things that may prove crucial later e.g., titles of presentations and posters and details of demonstrating/TA-ing/teaching that you may not need for post docs but will want to discuss for faculty positions later on. (3) You never know when you’ll be asked to give someone a CV at short notice, for example at a conference. Being prepared is always a good idea!

Tailoring your CV to the job in question

You should send a different CV to (almost) each job you apply for. If it’s a teaching job, put your teaching near the start. If it asks for certain skills, put those skills near the start and emphasise them. This was the most important piece of advice we had for everyone, so make sure you bear this in mind when considering our other points.

Make sure your key skills stand out

Feel free to use bold type to emphasise the main points, remember your CV is probably in a pile with 30 or 40 other CVs, so make sure your key qualifications stand out. Switch the order around so that the really important things are on the front page.

What headings to include?

We included headings such as education, research experience, teaching experience, research statement (see below), awards and grants (or just grants and awards separately), publications, research projects, outreach and impact, academic service etc. Again these will vary depending on which job you are applying for. For research jobs, the ability to get grants is generally considered important, though publications are key (see below). Outreach can include blogging, twitter and any other informal discussion of your work. Academic service generally includes reviewing for journals, acting as lab manager or project manager, roles on committees or societies, professional society memberships etc.

Research statement

Each of us had a different take on this. One of us has a two sentence description of what he does and what his interests are at the very start of the CV (I don’t have this at present but I like this idea, it immediately lets the potential employer know what you do). The others had full paragraphs on their research interests and skills later in the CV. This made it easier to expand on the things they had done and what their key skills were. One also included a list of representative publications.


The maximum length should be 3 or 4 pages INCLUDING your publications list (unless your publication list is incredibly long). I’d argue for 3 pages max, but everyone else was happy with 4. Again remember that your CV is just one on a pile of 30-40 (if you’re lucky!). The shorter it is, the more likely it will be read right to the end.

Typos and grammatical errors

These are annoying and can let you down badly. Why would I entrust research to you if you’re too sloppy to even write your CV properly? Get your friends, family and peers to read your CV and check it carefully for typos before you send it out. This may save you much embarrassment and heartache (trust me, I have a typo in the first sentence of my MSc thesis abstract; it still makes me cringe to this day!)

Publications – where do they go?

We all place our publications at the end but as one of the students pointed out, there is no real reason to do this. If we attend to our main piece of advice of writing each CV for the job in question, then for research jobs it may be better to have publications on the first page to make them stand out immediately. We decided this was a good idea if you can fit all your publications on page one. Otherwise leave them at the end. This is where I would expect to find them, so if they were on page 2 I may leaf through and miss them entirely. Another suggestion was to have some “representative” publications on page one, probably as part of a research/personal statement. This seems like an excellent idea to me!

Publications – what did you do?

It’s fairly clear if you’re first author on a paper that you did the bulk of the work. If however, you have papers where you’re the middle or even last author it’s worth adding a short explanation of what your role was. It may be that you did a huge amount of work, but equally you may just have contributed data, so if you did something substantial point it out. It’s also worth explaining last author positions. In the UK and Ireland this tends to indicate the project leader or PI, but this isn’t true across the world. So if you are last author as project manager make it clear that you had an important role.

Publications – Impact Factors? Citations? Altmetrics?

This is a science-politics hot potato at the moment so I’ll tread carefully. Some of us put the ISI Impact Factors next to our publications and the number of citations each has received. Again I think this depends what kind of job you’re applying for, and who will be reading your CV. You don’t need Impact Factors if your CV will be read by someone in your field who can judge the quality of the journals and your papers without this information. The reason we had these on our CVs is that for promotion at TCD Impact Factors are required. Many people would argue that it is the quality of the paper that matters and not the journal. I completely agree, BUT in a situation where I’m reading through 30-40 CVs I am not going to stop and read every single paper, so I need some way to judge who has the better publications. We don’t have a good way of doing this yet which is why Impact Factors persist. I’d be equally happy however to see a CV with altmetrics for the papers, perhaps citation counts or, even better, a link to the applicant’s Impact Story account. For now I’d advise a bit of research into who will be reading your CV – if they’re an altmetrics fan then don’t put Impact Factors down. If they’re more traditional then use Impact Factors.

Description or brevity?

Often CV gurus recommend that you make your CV short and snappy and only mention your PhD title and advisors. We think it’s better to describe your PhD (and Postdocs) briefly to explain what you did and why they make you an ideal candidate for the job. In particular, focus on what you FOUND in your PhD, rather than just methods and skills (though these may be appropriate to highlight for jobs that require you to use these methods). Also on what you LEARNT or GAINED from the PhD. This is particularly important if your PhD (or Postdoc) is very different to your stated research interests or the research area of the job you’re applying for. Note that some of this description could be moved to the research statement instead (see above).


One of the academics includes a photo on his CV. His reasoning is that if a potential employer sees the photo they will be more likely to recognise you at conferences etc. and to engage in conversation with you. If you choose a photo, make sure it is a passport photo not a cropped picture of you out with your friends, or (even worse) a glamour shot. I personally wouldn’t include a photo. It may engender unconscious bias, or even conscious bias(!), and I doubt I would recognise anyone from a CV photo.

Marital status and family

With my cynical gender equality hat on I’d advise not putting either of these pieces of information on your CV. Much like the photo discussion above, I fear it could lead to unconscious bias, or maybe even conscious bias. For example, an employer may worry that a married woman with no children is planning to start a family soon, or someone with a family is likely to work less overtime, or that a married individual may have issues moving to a new place. Having said this, if you’re young and single this bias may work in your favour! Of course judging people in this way is illegal, and I agree that being married and having kids are major parts of your life so should be considered when applying for jobs. However, you can make a point of informing people at interview about your family life; what you want to avoid is being thrown out of that initial pile of 30-40 CVs for something the potential employer doesn’t even realise they have a bias about. In an ideal world, CVs would be stripped of all personal information before they are read to avoid these kinds of problems.


Everyone agreed that including hobbies on an academic CV was unnecessary. However, we did realise that they were useful in certain circumstances. For example, one of our postdocs is a qualified Dive Leader. She always puts this on her CV for positions that may require her to dive to collect data. Another student wants to apply for a field work position after graduating and wants to make it clear that he is able to do the required heavy lifting and long hours. He therefore includes his outdoorsy hobbies. The consensus was that although its fine to keep hobbies on there early in your career, they are definitely the first things to lose when your CV goes over 3/4 pages. We warned everyone away from including hobbies like “socialising”, “reading” and (our personal favourite) “cooking (with herbs)”.

I hope this gives people some pointers, but also emphasises that there is no right or wrong way to write an academic CV. Feel free to add comments if you have any suggestions I’ve missed!


Natalie Cooper: ncooper[at]


Photo Credit

wikimedia commons

A vision for the 21st century workplace

I feel a bit of a fraud complaining about the discrimination of women in science because in my current job I’m one of four women in a discipline with only nine faculty members, our head of school is female and so is our head of discipline. I also don’t have any children so I haven’t had to deal with the problems that go along with that. However, I’m not blind; I can see there is a problem! I don’t want to re-hash the problems women in science face in this post; particularly as they’ve been so well covered elsewhere (there have been lots of really cool blog posts about this following the recent Moss-Racusin et al. paper in PNAS). Instead I want to think about potential solutions.

In March I attended a WiSER (Women in Science & Engineering Research) workshop where over 30 professional women drafted a “Vision for the 21st century workplace”. Some of these I agree with, some I don’t. Some will be easy to implement, others will be extremely difficult. In summary we proposed to:

  1. Provide options for flexible working hours and part-time work to all staff without endangering their career progression.
  2. Evaluate staff based on performance and results achieved rather than on number of hours worked.
  3. Implement family friendly policies for men and women.
  4. Promote female role models (I think this is REALLY important! It’s scary to name the top people in your field and realize most of them are male…).
  5. Employ a temporary quota of 50:50 women:men at leadership levels (I’m not so sure that biasing things this way is a good idea, surely we want the best person for the job? But see 10).
  6. Introduce transparency on salaries.
  7. Achieve transparency on promotion criteria.
  8. Arrange on-site childcare.
  9. Facilitate staff with a work from home option.
  10. Ensure recruitment and interview processes are gender blind (this is really important given the Moss-Racusin et al. paper which shows these processes are currently biased against women, even when women faculty are in charge!)


Flexible working is clearly something we all want (points 1, 2, 3, and 9 are about flexible work hours) but we need to think about how to do this effectively. The problem with working from home (or at unusual hours) is you can’t do everything from home, e.g., meetings with students and colleagues, and of course teaching. You also miss out on vital opportunities to socialize with your colleagues and students (my best ideas always happen at lunch time or in the pub). I feel like this is a loss not only to the individual, but to the functioning of whole departments. How can we solve this problem? Skype? Online lectures? What do you think?

A big question then is can any of these actually be done? Well our school (Natural Sciences) and the School of Chemistry have been chosen to pilot some new ideas at TCD over the coming year. We’ve even got some money to spend on it! So watch this space…


Moss-Racusin, CA, Dovidio, JF, Brescoll, VL, Graham, MJ, Handelsman, J (2012) Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI:***

Centre for Women in Science & Engineering Research (WiSER)


Natalie Cooper


Photo credit

Towards Women in Science and Technology