24 January 2014

We’ve got to nominate!

Posted by Jessica Ball

Or, why I’m embarrassed that I’ve never submitted (or supported) a nomination for the AGU Honors Program – and why I’m going to make an effort to change that.

Note: If this post looks familiar, it might be because it was republished (in a more formal tone and with a few more supporting references) in Eos on March 4 – you can read that version here. The message, however, remains the same!

One of the things that happens to you when you start volunteering for things (Thriving Earth Exchange, anyone?) is that you get asked to volunteer for more things. Which is fine, because it’s a nice little feedback loop of getting noticed for thing X and invited to do thing Y, as long as you manage your time. That’s basically how I ended up on the AGU Science For Solutions Award committee. (It’s a very new award for young/early career researchers who have made “significant contributions in the application and use of the Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.” We just did the first round of evaluation/awarding this year – you can see the whole process here, if you’re ever interested in getting involved in an awards committee.)

As an Honors Program committee member, I got to look over the report from their meeting at this year’s Fall Meeting. Lots of interesting things in there, including some information about new awards and overall AGU demographics. But when I got to gender, I actually did a double-take. And a triple-take. Here’s why – first, let’s start with the overall gender breakdown:


See that? AGU is made up of at least 22% women. This is skewed in favor of males (even if we assume that a chunk of the “no answer” category might identify as female), but that’s not hugely surprising given the academic history of the geosciences as male-dominated. It’s encouraging that those reports indicate that geosciences tend to come out ahead of other physical sciences and engineering, but there’s still a significant gap.

Now look at the gender statistics for the AGU Honors Program:


I was pretty gobsmacked by these numbers. (My initial reaction actually involved some words that I probably shouldn’t print here, but be assured that it wasn’t positive.) Not only do we have, among the nominators, six times as many men as women, but there are also more than six times as many male nominees as female. And the supporters are even worse – that’s almost a seven-to-one ratio. None of these are even close to being in proportion with the membership numbers! The actual honoree statistics have a five-to-one ratio of males to females, which is more in line with AGU membership overall, but that’s no excuse for ignoring the nominee-nominator-supporter numbers. I don’t talk about gender issues all that often on this blog, but I couldn’t just let this one rest. These numbers are ridiculous.


What’s equally as startling to me as a young scientist is the distribution of ages among the female honors participants of any flavor:


Notice what I don’t see there? Anyone in the under-30 category. And – I checked this – that’s because no females under 30 nominated, supported or were nominated for an award. And no females in the 30-39 age group nominated anyone for an award, either.

This is not to say that there’s any active bias against women or young people here. Obviously when a committee gets nominations, they have to work within the group they’re given and base the final award on those merits, so it’s not like they can go out and demand more people to even up the gender balance – nor should they; it’s not their job. What I suspect I’m seeing is the result of us not doing our part to be active in nominating and supporting women for these awards. Especially those of us in the 30-39 (or under) age group, which is just pitiful. We make up over 40% of AGU’s female membership! Yes, it’s a time commitment and you have to put some effort into it, but really, good grief. Those numbers are pitiful, and we can fix them. I’m including myself in this category, because I’ve never taken the initiative to nominate someone for an award and now, frankly, I’m embarrassed that I’ve just sat back and assumed that other people are going to do it.

And it’s not just the awards numbers that reflect an imbalance – it’s the numbers for AGU elected fellows in the past six years. (Not longer-term, which, given the history of the geosciences, I might have expected to be skewed.)




Six to one. Six to one. Even for 2013, it’s still four to one – and even this is the most women chosen to be Fellows in the history of the program:


It’s clear that there’s a change in progress, but if I hadn’t seen these numbers I never would have realized it’s happening so slowly.

We – and I’m including myself here – have got to be more active about changing these proportions. I’m especially looking at my generation of geoscientists – the ones who are in increasing danger of losing federal support for our research, and who are fighting to find jobs that might not be there for us. If we don’t laud our own peers, how are we ever going to show future employers, policymakers, etc. that we’re a generation worth investing in? (At the very least, you can think of it as resume-building.) Now is not the time to be humble. Go out and nominate someone – heck, ask someone to nominate you! Those deadlines are coming up, and it would be really awesome if we had a lot more diversity of ALL kinds in the nominations pools for these awards.

Here’s the timeline for awards this year:

31 January 2014 Nominations Open
February 2014 Two Training Webinars (to be scheduled)
15 March 2014 Nominations Close
15 March – 15 April 2014 AGU staff reviews nomination packages for eligibility and completeness, and prepares nomination materials for Union Awards, Medals, and Prize Committees review.
30 April 2014 Nomination materials are sent to their respective Union Awards, Medals, and Prize committees for review.
1 May – 1 June 2014 Union Awards, Medals, and Prize committees review nominees through a series of evaluations, and select honoree.
1 June 2014 Union Awards, Medals, and Prize committees’ recommendations due to the Council Leadership Team for approval.
15 June 2014 All committee recommendations provided to Council Leadership Team for review
27 June 2014 Council Leadership Team reviews Union Awards, Medals, and Prize committees’ recommendations for approval.
30 June 2014 AGU officially announces the 2013 Union Awardees, Medalists, and Prize recipient.
17 December 2014 AGU formally recognizes the 2013 Union Awardees, Medalists, and Prize recipient during the Honors Tribute, held at the Fall Meeting in San Francisco, California


Nominations open in only a few days and March 15th will come up quick, so please, start thinking of people you can nominate before midterms and spring break roll around! And if you get the chance, tell me – or AGU, or both! – what would help make it easier for you to nominate or support someone for an award. It shouldn’t be a chore but an opportunity to cheerlead for your field, so go read through the award list, requirements and the FAQ and see what you could do to recognize people. And I’ll be right there with you.