Female Nobelist only an associate professor

I just read the NY Times story on Nobelist Donna Strickland. Only the third female physicist to win a Nobel the article mentioned that she was an associate professor at the University of Waterloo. Perfect illustration of the difficulties of women in academia. Incidentally, the work for which the prize was awarded was published 33 years ago.

Indeed. And reading about this, I’ve personally benefited from this. My laser eye surgery was made possible by her research. To say nothing of the laser etchings that created the CPU in my computer, or the high-speed fiber optic cables that transmit Internet posts.

Strickland was also president of the Optical Society of America in 2013 (having been Veep in 2011). I agree, you’d think she’d be more than Assistant Prof by now, even without the Prize. Hopefully, that’ll help change things.

I just missed being a contemporary of hers at Rochester. I knew Gerard Mourou. (I used to pass his office, with his nameplate on it, and think “The Office of Dr. Moreau”)

She’s an associate professor. She was hired as an assistant professor in 1997, so she’s received the one( pretty standard )promotion. Still after ~21 years at the university and in her late 60’s you’d kinda expect her to be a full professor by now. I expect she will become one shortly - it would be odd indeed if she wasn’t.

In this interview, Strickland says,“I never applied,” when asked about becoming a full professor.

Her Wikipedia page was rejected in May because she hadn’t gotten enough outside mentions on the Internet.


That kind of thing can happen when someone has the temerity to care more about science than self-promotion, h-indices, and providing comments to the New York Times. Rampant sexism doesn’t help either (though of course these days there is no barrier stopping women from engaging in aforementioned self-promotion, and many do). Nothing new here.

It’s also a lot of work. Associate Professor comes with tenure and going for full professor is essentially like gettting tenure all over again. There’s a big benefit for being tenured, but the benefit for being a Full Professor is typically just in wages and if she was able to negotiate a fair pay scale without being a Professor, it might just not have been worth the bother.

Depending upon the department, you’re probably looking at 2-5 papers published in top journals per year. Looking at her CV, she had a weak publication history when she was first hired and likely missed her first tenure window. I see a big run up in 2008, so that’s probably when she got tenure. Since then she has been spotty and it looks like only maybe 2 major papers since 2008. My guess is that she just doesn’t want to play that game and is making enough money that she doesn’t feel the need for promotion. The fact that she still says she isn’t sure she wants to apply for it probably tells you all you need to know about her motivations. My guess though is that her department is going to give it to her without even bothering with her application. If I were their provost, I would be beating down the doors of her chairperson and have a promotion meeting with or without her application. Sometimes the rules can be bent and now that she’s a Nobel, she’s going to have job offers out the wazoo. Every non-Ivy in the country will be offering her big bucks and guaranteed professor title to even work part time for them.

If she hasn’t applied, it may simply be that being a full Professor just isn’t the direction she wanted to go in. If she’s got lots of coin and is happy doing hands off stuff, why bother?

As a Nobel laureate, senoy is right; either Waterloo or another school will offer her a full professorship and a bag of money and let her do whatever the hell she wants, but it’s kind of like an honorary Oscar.

I read that about her Wikipedia page and was amused. And then I checked and almost all of the edits were after the Nobel Prize announcement.

Something else that bothered me about this year’s physics prize is that half the award went to Arthur Ashkin, who is now 96 years old and it’s for work he did fifty years ago. I once read Nobel’s will, in which he laid out the criteria for the prizes and it was supposed to be given for recent work, like stuff one did last year. I know that hasn’t been the case in a long time, but still.

At least she got her Nobel Prize unlike Jocelyn Bell

As I understand it, it’s a fair amount of work to assemble the package of materials needed to apply, the bump in compensation is not typically that big, and there would be considerably more administrative responsibilities.

I have a relative that is a teacher’s aide. She has all of the education to become a teacher in her district. She chooses to be an aide, as they are the ones who do most of the teaching. The teachers do all of the required paperwork & attend meetings, which can take up most of the day. While she is good at the paperwork, she despises useless meetings. She prefers to interact with the students. The pay would be nice, but the trade offs are a deal breaker.

My guess is that Donna Strickland feels the same way. If so, she made the right choice.

I don’t know anything about Ashkin’s work, but how would it work if someone did some groundbreaking work say… 50 years ago, and it was only recognized recently and capitalized on recently? So in say… 1968, it wouldn’t have been very impressive- just some esoteric paper, but in 2018, it might be the underpinning of smartphones or something.

Her post-tenure performance is that of a professor who fits in the “people we regret having tenured” category. At least for a research university. They end up teaching undergrad mechanics and taking up real estate.

That’s nonsense. I never applied either and I was a full prof at 35. You don’t apply (although you might pressure your chair to push the case). Within five or six years of her promotion to assoc. prof., they should have automatically examined her for promotion to full. No application necessary. I spent my entire career in academia and I know how it works.

Not every institution works the same. What you deceive would not happen at mine.

Waterloo is a Canadian Institution and requires an application. It looks just like the tenure process, so a process that I’m sure many people would not be eager to repeat.

It’s unremarkable at my institution for someone to decline to go up for promotion to Full. There is a process here that requires application and fairly significant documentation, even at the level of instructor applying for promotion to associate. (There’s no difference in teaching load or research expectation between those roles here, although ordinarily there would be. Here it’s a cosmetic title change.) I don’t doubt that your institution operates quite differently.

That’s certainly not how it works at my institution (and I’m on the institute-wide tenure and promotion committee, so I’m painfully aware of the procedure).