Young women scientists: screwed by the F word

Plus Ian “the gent” Young and the other winners of the week

Happy to help

PUP senator for Western Australia Dio Wang was at UWA yesterday, hearing about the university’s “new vision for engineering”. Given Senator Wang is an engineer I am sure he was all ears. I wonder if host, corporate affairs chief David Harrison offered to assist the senator on anything else, say the details of deregulation. Not that Senator Wang needs outside assistance, what with former Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations president Chamonix Terblanche on his staff.

Screwed by the F word

Applause to the Australian National University for terrific timing in helping young women scientists facing up to the F word – f for family that is. On Wednesday the 2014 Future Fellowships were announced; showing us the face of the future is a bloke. Sure, women were more successful than men, with 19 per cent of sheilahs who applied winning fellowships compared to 17.5 per cent of blokes. Problem is that there were only 262 female applicants compared to 563 men. So where did all the girls go after their doctorates? Rhetorical question really – a bunch of them are working part-time or are in jobs that do not stretch them so they can focus on family.

To lose the potential for great science from the half of humanity who bear and more often than not care for kids, is insane, so good on ANU in announcing the Whitworth Fellowship yesterday. Named for medical researcher Judith Whitworth the fellowship pays two years salary plus research funds to a woman to get research up and running after “career disruption” caused by maternal/parental leave. The first winner will be announced in January. Yes it is only one, but it is one job for a potentially great scientist that wasn’t there before.

Pi fight

One of the many attractions at Monash University’s open day will be a talk on “how to survive a zombie apocalypse using pure maths.” If deregulation occurs it will probably make up an entire degree – anything to attract fee-paying students.

 Fee earning dragons

And if zombies have arrived it must mean winter is coming. Yes, the University of Virginia has a course on Game of Thrones, which will surely be copied here. I doubt you could pay undergrads to read Shakespeare’s plays about the Wars of the Roses, but stick a few dragons in and I bet universities will charge a premium.

Precedent no bonus

Stephen Parker’s promise to spread the wealth if his University of Canberra exceeds profit targets has gone down like a lead-lined cash box with the local National Tertiary Education Union. ACT secretary Stephen Darwin tells me that the reason I could not find the bonus in last year’s Enterprise Agreement is because it isn’t there. However management responds Professor Parker emailed all staff on November 22 last year, stating that a bonus scheme would be put in place if staff voted for the EA. None of which impresses Mr Darwin who makes three points to explain why staff really will not want the bonus when they think about it. For a start, the income any bonus would come from is public funding sourced from the state and students. As such it should be used for university programs. Second, it would be divisive with casual and sessional staff excluded. And thirdly, it would be a precedent. “Should the ‘bonus’ model succeed, it is likely to lead to this becoming the position of UC management for salary increases in the next Agreement,” Mr Darwin warns. As to the existing enterprise agreement he says it requires management to consult on new policies, “so this is a matter we will be pursuing.” You can bet on that.

Bomb them with blather

Defence Department media people are not especially popular with hacks, given their habit of saying as nothing, after deadline. An official once told me that the armament of a warship was classified, but I could look it up in Jane’s Fighting Ships. They certainly were up to standard yesterday with a media statement on a new program involving universities and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. So what is the program about? Well, according to DSTO head Alex Zelinsky, it “ensures a consistent approach to intellectual property and cost sharing.” Good-oh, which means? Um, “we will work with our university partners to also promote careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” Terrific, and what will everybody be doing? Ah, “the program will play an important role in fostering a more robust innovation system.” So that’s all clear then.  I don’t know why we are buying F-35 fighters when Defence can bore enemies into submission with meaningless press releases.

Copywriters of the Caribbean

Some of Deakin University’s student recruitment advertising looks like the work of agency Beige, Brown, Bland and Associates. But BBBA was obviously replaced by the Jack Sparrow Partnership for a new Deakin effort, around yesterday. “University: for when your dream career of pirate doesn’t work out.”  Gold.

Winners of the week

Stars align for Allan

Becoming chancellor of Charles Sturt University makes Michele Allan a winner this week for all the right reasons. It adds bush-based education to her collection of agribusiness appointments across the country. Charles Sturt seems in sound shape under VC Andy Vann’s leadership – making this an excellent opportunity for Dr Allan to help a growing institution. She will certainly have more fun than whoever takes over the other vacant country chancellorship, at the University of New England where one former chancellor Richard Torbay has disappeared from public life and another John Cassidy faces allegations in the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Young’s nice timing

ANU VC Ian “the gent” Young also had a good week, both as an individual and as the bloke who collects the kudos and cops the crunches for the university. On Wednesday ANU picked up 16 future fellowships, rating equal second (with UoQ) behind the University of Melbourne. A major future fellowship failing is the way women are under-represented, which made ANU’s timing perfect on Thursday when it announced a new fellowship for a woman researcher whose career is interrupted by maternity/child care responsibilities. Young the man also won with a profile of him in ANU student paper Woroni by Areti Metuamate This is a first rate piece of work (Mr Metuamate can write) which presented the VC as a decent bloke – as close to praise from students as any VC can ever expect.

Fred’s top billing

Two words made it a great week for Fred McDougall, VC of private provider Torrens University in AdelaideBill Clinton. President Clinton popped over from the AIDS conference in Melbourne to speak at Torrens. Sure he is honorary chancellor of its owner, the Laureate chain but even so how many Group of Eight universities get a president in for a chat and pic op?

 Exonerated

Jenni Brand Miller (and research partner Alan Barclay) also did well – being cleared of research misconduct by an independent inquiry for the University of Sydney. Economist Rory Robertson argued that papers by the pair showing Australian sugar consumption went down while obesity increased included data which is wrong. The inquiry fond them innocent of the allegation but that, at worst, they had been snippy in their response to Mr Robertson.

Still standing

Kevin Donnelly ends the week still running his review – which makes him a winner, of sorts. The co-chair of Christopher Pyne’s school curriculum review upset all sorts of people, including colleague Ken Wiltshire, with his statement that he could see a case for teachers administering corporal punishment. That was bad enough, what was much worse was when 167 education academics demanded on Monday night that Minister Pyne sack him. “In a community where neglect and violence against children has been on the increase, corporal punishment must be seen as a totally inappropriate and ineffective behaviour management strategy for school … harking back to community standards of more than 30 years ago has no relevance to the realities of today or 21st century community expectations,” they wrote. And yet at week’s end Dr Donnelly is still there. A win,of sorts.

Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au