Thursday, 19 May 2011

Back to Being a Bookworm....

            I met with Dr. Jolly this morning to brainstorm a research project that could be worthwhile and realistic to make progress during the short duration of my visit.  Both of us agree that a cross-cultural study would be especially enlightening and it would be nice to produce a paper as a result of my stay.  However, Dr. Jolly wasn’t aware that every study that involves US human subjects requires approval for the Internal Review Board, which is why I kept bugging her about my research topic in the weeks prior to my visit.  So now collecting data from United States students may or may not be able to happen so I am trying to find a project that is still valuable when only Indian students are considered but gains extra significance when students from my country are considered.  She gave me the day to explore existing literature and we’ll meet tomorrow to try to narrow down the topics.  Dr. Jolly had a background survey and Maryland’s expectation survey that she’s administered to all of her classes.  The survey includes free response questions for why the student chose the major, what the family’s background is, who influenced them to study physics in addition to a self-assessment of their physics-related skills and knowledge.  Of course, the Maryland survey will provide insight to the student’s attitude toward science and epistemological beliefs.
I think I’m probably going to try to start to look for patterns in the existing data set for factors that influenced these females to pursue studies in science and chose their anticipated career path.  Once I find patterns for past students, I can modify existing questions to create a survey that will hopefully elicit cultural differences while formally identifying why students pursue these studies.  So I read all day today, and it looks like besides a brief part of a 2004 INSA study, nothing like this has been completed in India to date. 
Much of the existing literature involves discussing the “glass ceiling” for women scientists, which describes the dramatic drop in women in prestigious research positions past the post-doctorate level.  This fairly steady number of female physics students through graduate school provides an interesting contrast to the “leaky pipeline” problem in the United States, where females start gaining an aversion to the hard sciences as early as 4th grade or so, resulting in decrease numbers of students throughout the educational progression.  Another interesting cultural aspect to explore is the influence of a historically patriarchal Western culture versus a patrifocal culture in India, where the traditional agricultural society lead to family structures and ideology that give precedence to men over women so I would expect to find family to be a more significant influence in India.  I won’t go on in too much more detail but its also interesting that most scientific careers in India have salaries relatively low compared to degrees for lawyers, doctors and engineers despite requiring similar amounts of education and very low compared to people in business and management.  I would expect to find less women here citing economic reasons compared to the United States, where a future in science is usually favorable financially.  There are other interesting factors I want to explore and I look forward to interviewing some of the students throughout my stay to supplement my informal discussions in the mess. 
After lunch, I visited with the physics faculty, who I was surprised to find where all women, until I heard that only women are hired as full-time faculty at Miranda House.  They discussed the progression of course work for the honors degree in physics, which is a three-year program of exclusively physics, math and a chemistry course.  I also talked to them about this year’s switch to the semester system for all of the University of Delhi colleges.  This lead to the faculty and administrative strikes that lead to the examinations finishing in mid-June instead of the usual early April, thus complicating the schedule for camps and teaching training for this summer. 
Not too much else here- Dilli haat was postponed to a later date, as Rehka had faculty meetings to prepare for the INSPIRE workshop next week.  It seems that I have been around long enough for most people to know who I am, so most of the time I walk around everyone greets me by name.  Today, a bunch of girls have showed me their rooms, welcoming the study break.  All this new information is quite overwhelming so I’ve been struggling to remember all their names- its much easier for them to keep track of the tall, blue-eyed, blonde-hair visitor than it is for me to keep track of all of then.  I might have a fighting chance if I had a photodirectory of faces, illustrated menu of the food I’ve been eating and an Hindi-English dictionary.  I’ve been trying to learn some key phrases because the language is beautiful and the girls are eager to teach me but without having the phrases written down, I tend to forget them quite quickly.  But I’ll keep trying!
As they say here quite often, all the best!