Conference Presentations and Career Advancement

Apr 26 2008 Published by under Careerism, Diversity in Science

I'm a little late to the "gender bias in particle physics" party, where Zuska, DrugMonkey, YoungFemaleScientist, and others too numerous to mention have been tossing back some brewskis and fending off the slobbering gibberish of ridiculous misogynist douchewheels like Gerard Harbison. (BTW, dude, what the fuck is up with that picture of you on your faculty Web page!? You really think anyone is going to mistake the size of that huge shaft in your hands for the size of your schlong?)
Anyhoo, I really just have one narrow point to make about the whole thing, and that relates to the idea that there is a need for "further study" of the relationship between conference presentations and career advancement in science. Are you fucking kidding me!?


Some blog called Okham made the following assertion concerning the relationship between conference presentations and career advancement:

[C]onference presentations, in and of themselves, are only a modest "reward" for one's scientific accomplishments. It is commonly accepted that the main objective of a postdoctoral researcher, is not that of speaking at conferences, but rather landing a university faculty position. Towers' case of GD is ultimately about jobs, not invited talks. Thus, the importance of any imbalance in the allocation among researchers of conference presentations, depends on the (real or perceived) impact of presentations on the main professional aspiration of a postdoctoral scientist. If only a tenuous connection with career advancement can be established, a charge of GD based on conference presentations alone is not likely to be seen of much interest, nor substance.

Dude, what the fuck have you been smoking? Conference presentations are not a "modest reward" for scientific accomplishments. Conference presentations are a hugely important venue for post-docs to make themselves and their work known to the big-ass scientists who control access to the faculty jobs that are the required next step in career advancement.
The mere fact of giving a conference presentation establishes your credibility, and how you perform has a massive influence on how other scientists in your field perceive you. Post-docs who get invited to give presentations are perceived as the "annointed". There is absolutely no question whatsoever about this.
All of these things have a major influence on the hiring process. I have walked up to post-docs at meetings after hearing their outstanding talks, and asked them: "So. You on the job market? Make sure you send your application to us."
I have sat in search committee meetings and said: "Oh, yes! I saw her give a presentation at a meeting a few months ago. It was outstanding!" And how is such a candidate perceived compared to: "Hmm. I've never heard of her"?
"Oh. We need a well-controlled statistical study to determine whether there really is a connection between giving conference presentations and securing faculty positions." Bullshit! This is just fake-ass scientific-sounding apologetics for continued male privilege in science.
The connection between giving conference presentations and getting a faculty position is about as tenuous as the connection between walking into Kentucky Fried Chicken and walking out with a bag of extra fucking crispy!

9 responses so far

  • BM says:

    Hello PhysioProf, this bias is disturbing, but in my mind it's not quite for the reasons you point out. There are some field-specific details to account for before translating "conference talk" into "job prospects/exposure".
    Basically, particle physics is weird. Because the collaborations are so large, quite a lot of your potential-future-employers/referees/evaluators are likely to be at your experimental collaboration meetings. In a field with only 2000 people, a collaboration meeting/workshop with 700 attendees is really quite a lot like a conference. There are talks, there's an agenda, and there's the "Hey, Dr. X, interesting talk, can you collaborate with us on a related problem? Did you know U of Y is hiring?" networking. People know one another's names and reputations through these channels.
    As such, those internal talks/papers/memos are extremely important to one's reputation; they're very different than the internal meetings and such in smaller labs. Before I had publications, I listed my Internal Notes on my CV.
    These internal reputations end up sort of substituting for papers-and-citations based quality measures, since the 700-author papers have sort of erased those measures for us. Unfortunately, this puts one's career even more in the hands of an old-boys network; in particle physics, if there's a race- or gender-related ceiling on your informal performance rating, there isn't an objective measure like papers/citations/impact to fall back on. That's why this result has me worried; not that the conferences themselves are a job disadvantage, but that the same internal networks that assign conference talks are the ones that judge everything else.

  • Schlupp says:

    PhysioProf, it is unfair to put Okham and Harbison into the same category. Okham disagrees with the paper, but he peppered both his blog post and his comments with lots of statements to put this into context. He is also reasoned and polite. Harbison on the other hand....

  • msphd says:

    Indeed. Nicely put.
    Also check out the comments from a piece of work named Paul Kantorek in response to the article in Nature.
    We'd like to think these intentional gender fuckwits were all so old as to be already dead, but we're not that lucky.
    Long live the blogosphere. Still waiting for the real world o catch up. Sorely wishing I could send these articles to the men I work with who would benefit from having the tops of their heads blown off and all their sexism vacuumed out.
    Someone should invent an appliance for that.

  • Marxist Plague says:

    lol re: Schlong, but check out the size of his _magnet_!

  • PhysioProf says:

    That's why this result has me worried; not that the conferences themselves are a job disadvantage, but that the same internal networks that assign conference talks are the ones that judge everything else.

    Well, yeah. The existing power networks in all areas of science control both the allocation of conference presentations and all the other shit we need for career advancement. So, unfair allocation of conference presentations is not only a partial cause of unfair allocation of faculty positions, it is also a symptom of a more fundamental disease that causes unfairness in both.
    Regardless, there is no fucking way in any field of human endeavor that the opportunity to stand in a position of intellectual authority in front of a room of people engaged in that same endeavor and expound on your interests does not positively influence the perception of the expounder (if she does a decent job of expounding). This is just a very basic fact of social reality: people who stand up in front of an audience and speak with authority are perceived as having authority.

  • Zuska says:

    PP, you have a way of putting things that is like nobody else. You are awesome!
    Sorely wishing I could send these articles to the men I work with who would benefit from having the tops of their heads blown off and all their sexism vacuumed out.
    Someone should invent an appliance for that.

    MsPhD, I nearly spilled my coffee from laughing so hard! I know some engineers who would surely love to work on this project.

  • PP:
    I'm not sure what I find sadder, that a 'NIH-funded basic science faculty member at a private medical school' doesn't recognize an NMR probe, or that said individual thinks a narrow-bore probe is a 'huge shaft'. Heaven forbid you ever see what we use in a wide-bore magnet. You'd probably want to make votive offerings to it.
    It is amusing, though, that a very common and mundane piece of scientific equipment gets you so, ahem, exercised. Maybe you should switch fields. No, forget that, you'd need to know some quantum.

  • I may be going out on a limb here.... something tells me that you are not impressed with some of my arguments.... maybe it's just my impression... yeah, it must be, I am getting so paranoid these days...
    Dude, what the fuck have you been smoking? Conference presentations are not a "modest reward" for scientific accomplishments. Conference presentations are a hugely important venue[...]
    "Oh. We need a well-controlled statistical study to determine whether there really is a connection between giving conference presentations and securing faculty positions." Bullshit! This is just fake-ass scientific-sounding apologetics for continued male privilege in science.

    Wow... Well then, that's the end of the story, if you say so.... what do I know...
    It's really a shame though, S. Towers wasted so much of her time actually trying to study this very thing, going through the trouble of collecting data, looking at correlations... and to think that she could have just asked you... and you know what else is really funny ? Her data show that for men there is almost no correlation between invited talks and jobs... What a crazy "dudette"... could she be smoking the same stuff I am ? Eh, whatever it is, it's probably legal in Canada anyway.

  • PhysioProf says:

    She's doing everything she can to document this shit as best as possible because she knows that the worlds of science and law are still hugely dominated by privileged douchemonkeys who walk around with their heads up their asses when it comes to gender discrimination and misogyny:
    "We have a very egalitarian workplace. It is a meritocracy. Blah, blah, blah."

Leave a Reply