Culture, Society & Family Learning & Education Student researchers

Gender gap at top U.S. universities for women scientists

Lincoln2.jpgAccording to the National Research Council in 2006, women earned 44.7 percent of the doctorates awarded in the biological sciences between 1993 and 2004. Yet women comprised only 30.2 percent of the assistant professors at the top 50 U.S. universities.

In physics, the gap is far wider. Anne Lincoln, assistant professor of sociology in SMU’s Dedman College, is researching the reasons for the gender disparities.

In September Lincoln received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s Research on Gender in Science and Engineering program.

Lincoln will examine women’s and men’s reasons for pursuing academic science careers as well as their perceptions about women’s contributions to academic science.

Lincoln and a team of four sociology undergraduate students are nearing the completion of the sampling database. They have been preparing a list of all faculty and graduates students at top-20 biology and physics graduate departments in the United States. From that they will randomly select 2,500 to participate in an Internet-based survey.

ecklund.jpgA subsample of about 150 respondents will later be selected for more in-depth interviews, which will take place in 2009.

“In 2010, we will be wrapping up the study and mostly running analyses on the data,” she says.

Lincoln’s co-investigator is Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University.

In addition to expanding recent scholarly findings related to the role perceptions have in the decision to pursue a career in academic science, Lincoln’s research is expected to provide the “necessary research underpinnings to build university policies and practices that encourage women’s interest in science majors and careers.”

Related links:
Anne Lincoln
Elaine Howard Ecklund
SMU Department of Sociology
National Research Council
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences

Culture, Society & Family Learning & Education Mind & Brain Technology

Extreme reality: Women avoid sexual assault in virtual zone

avatar-01-web.jpgSMU’s Department of Psychology and The Guildhall at SMU have joined forces against dating violence.

Psychology Professors Ernest Jouriles and Renee McDonald, with Guildhall Lecturer Jeff Perryman and Deputy Director Tony Cuevas, are collaborating on a role-playing program that combines virtual reality with behavioral insight to help teach and test sexual assault avoidance techniques.


The program’s environment of a rain-lashed car parked in an isolated area immerses women into not just a location, but also a “conversation” with a potential attacker.

It is the first step in what developers hope will be a program to help women practice strategies for averting sexual assault in a controlled situation that is safe, yet feels realistic.

“This is a potential breakthrough opportunity for gaming technology to help solve an important social problem,” Jouriles says.

During one session, the experience starts in a small, nondescript office where two automobile seats are bolted to a raised platform: An actor sits in the driver’s seat, and a woman sits in the passenger seat to his right. When she puts on video goggles and a headset, she suddenly finds herself in a parked car during a howling rainstorm. Rivulets of water stream down the windshield, flashes of lightning illuminate the interior of the car, and thunder beats a steady cadence.

She doesn’t see the actor beside her, she sees a three-dimensional video game character at the wheel of the car. She is drawn into small talk, but the driver turns increasingly aggressive, eventually demanding sexual intimacy. It is nothing short of frightening and, oddly enough, very real.

Role-playing is a well-established method for teaching people to deal with complex social situations, says Jouriles, professor and chair of psychology in Dedman College. But he hit a wall in his research when he tried the method to teach relationship violence avoidance techniques to a high school health class in the late 1990s.

“The role-playing produced giggles,” Jouriles says. “And from my perspective, it didn’t capture the imaginaton of the students.”

SMU psychologists Ernest Jouriles and Renee McDonald.

Jouriles and McDonald, associate professor of psychology in Dedman College, joined the SMU faculty in August 2003, when a handful of psychologists around the country were beginning to experiment with virtual programs to treat anxiety disorders, such as allowing people who were afraid of flying to “practice” without boarding an airplane.

They wondered whether SMU’s newly opened Guildhall could help teach and test sexual assault avoidance techniques by immersing a woman into not just a virtual location, but also a “conversation” with a potential attacker.

“We created an enclosed environment,” says Perryman, Guildhall lecturer, who worked on the program with Guildhall’s Cuevas.

“We wanted our participant to feel powerless. The rain was added to isolate her. The car is particularly creepy. We worked hard at that,” says Perryman.

The simulation requires participants to wear a head-mounted video display with tracking technology that senses head movements and an audio headset, which transmits the voice of the avatar “driver” and other sounds from the virtual environment. The avatar’s lips move in sync with the voice of the actor, who controls the character’s facial expressions and movements through a video keyboard. The virtual driver can be made to nod, shrug, even pound the steering wheel in anger when he is rebuffed.

Jouriles, McDonald and their team studied the responses of 62 undergraduate women who were randomly assigned to traditional or virtual reality role-play and outfitted with heart monitors. All were asked to complete questionnaires afterward on their moods and experience.

The women who donned the headgear and went through the virtual scenario rated the experience’s realism higher than those in the traditional role play group. Behavioral observations also suggested that women experiencing the virtual car scene appeared more angry and afraid.

Jouriles calls those results “very promising.” The next step, he says, is to develop a virtual scenario that can test techniques to avert sexual assault. He hopes to see some variation on the virtual program developed for use in high schools and colleges. — Kim Cobb

Related links:
SMU Profile: Ernest Jouriles and Renee McDonald
Ernest Jouriles
Renee McDonald
Jeff Perryman
Tony Cuevas
SMU Guildhall
SMU Department of Psychology
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences

Culture, Society & Family Health & Medicine Student researchers

Happy families can help child fight obesity

An estimated 18 percent of adolescents in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Robert Hampson, associate professor of psychology in Dedman College, wants to know what role families can play in reducing that rate.

In collaboration with The Cooper Institute and the Family Studies Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and with funding from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, Hampson has been comparing two group interventions for obese girls and their families.


After 16 weeks, neither group saw significant changes in body-mass index, but both reduced daily caloric intake.

“We learned that education does help and that mothers in particular were glad to be involved in their daughters’ treatment,” says Hampson, who is also director of graduate studies. “Perhaps in the long run, the change in eating behavior will prove more important than short-term body-mass index loss.”

The study showed, as hypothesized, that family competence, by such measures as healthy emotional interaction and teamwork, had some impact on body-mass index. There were, however, unexpected differences across racial groups: White girls in the highest-functioning families lost the most weight, while African-Americans gained, regardless.

“Going forward, we’ll look at tailoring the intervention to the racial group, and some families will need more individualized help,” Hampson says.

Related links:
Robert Hampson
Heather Kitzman
SMU Department of Psychology
The Cooper Institute
Family Studies Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center
Hogg Foundation for Mental Health
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences

Culture, Society & Family Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Student researchers

Family Research Center helps children of family violence

Each year more than 1 million children in the United States are brought to shelters to escape family violence. Each of their families reports, on average, more than 60 acts of aggression at home during the past year, ranging from pushes and shoves to hits and kicks. More than half of the families report an incident involving a knife or gun.

“Research that studies children who witness violence in the home is fundamental to helping them,” says Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place in Dallas. The Family Research Center, a new program of SMU’s Psychology Department in Dedman College, works with shelters such as The Family Place to address the mental health problems of children facing domestic violence.


Family violence affects children’s physical health as well, says Candyce Tart, a second-year Ph.D. student in SMU’s clinical psychology program. Tart’s years of experience in pediatric nursing, mostly in inner-city school environments, sparked an interest in the psychology of her patients’ families.

“Many of these children’s illnesses were made worse by stress at home,” she says. “All sorts of psychological factors in their lives seemed to impact their lives more than physical health.”

Tart studies conduct-disordered children from dysfunctional or abusive families through the Family Research Center as part of her dissertation on biological and physiological underpinnings of behavioral problems.


“I’d like to know why some children come out of these violent households with more behavior or emotional problems, and others more resilient,” she says.

SMU’s faculty, especially its revitalized clinical psychology program under Psychology Department Chair Ernest Jouriles, had a lot to do with Tart’s decision to attend the University, she says.

“Ernest Jouriles is developing a fantastic research program with the facilities and support for doing research,” says Tart. “We have so much equipment available, as well as access into shelters and other community and clinical locations. And it’s a very collaborative environment. Not all schools have that.”

Related links:
Family Research Center
Candyce Tart
Ernest Jouriles
Department of Psychology
The Family Place
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences

Earth & Climate Technology

Wave research sorts earthquakes, blasts, nuclear testing

SMU seismologist Brian W. Stump has travelled far and wide to better understand the sound waves and vibrations that occasionally burp and shudder through and around the Earth.

The past several years, Stump, the Claude C. Albritton Jr. Chair in SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in Dedman College, has expanded his research to China and South Korea.

His scientific view also has broadened to include the role played by the atmosphere as well as the Earth in wave propagation, an area of expertise. And serving on the board of directors of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, or IRIS, has transformed him into an advocate for the increasingly collaborative discipline.

Collaboration is one purpose of a joint U.S.-China research project, “Study of Regional Broadband waves from Earthquakes and Man-induced Events in NE China,” north of Beijing where Stump has focused research attention since 2002.

Sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, SMU researchers and those from the China Earthquake Administration’s Institute of Geophysics have deployed a network of 15 seismic instrument stations to record broadband waves radiating 100 to 1,000 kilometers from earthquakes and such man-induced events as mining explosions.


The study sites incorporate areas of frequent earthquake activity, including Haicheng, where the first successful earthquake prediction was made more than 30 years ago. As forecast, a magnitude 7.3 quake struck Haicheng February 4, 1975, whereupon 90 percent of all buildings there collapsed. But “as a result of the prediction and evacuations in the days preceding the event,” Stump recalled in a Dedman College Master Lecture delivered last year, “no lives were lost in a region of three million inhabitants.”

In late July the following year, however, without any warning a magnitude 7.8 quake hit Tangshan, a city southwest across the Gulf of Liaoning from Haicheng. Nearly 250,000 people died.

Brian W. Stump

“Earthquakes in that region aren’t understood very well,” says Stump, who earned his Ph.D. in geophysics from the University of California, Berkeley. That knowledge deficit has spurred project scientists to better understand the seismicity of that part of the world, with hazard reduction as one ultimate goal. More immediately, however, “the major emphasis is trying to understand the crust and mantle in this area,” he says.


Back to China
Stump returns to China in July for an American Geophysical Union conference in Beijing. Post doctoral fellow Rongmao Zhou will present a paper on the crust and upper mantle at each site. Stump identified Zhou, a 2004 SMU Ph.D. recipient from China, as “the key person” on the project. Zhou says he chose SMU over other universities because of Stump’s personality and reputation.

“He always is supportive of his students and colleagues,” Zhou says. “And he encourages us to explore new ideas and directions.” Although Stump and fellow SMU geophysics professors “make our geophysical program notable to the world,” Zhou says, it isn’t only with peers that Stump shares his enthusiasm.

Rongmao Zhou

Aileen Fisher served as Stump’s teaching assistant last fall for an introductory class, Earthquakes and Volcanoes.

“Even though the students were freshman and sophomore nonmajors, he made the class interesting and versatile,” Fisher says. “I know he spent at least two or three hours a week outside of class talking with some of these intro students who were just interested in the topic.”


Since 1999 another topic of interest to Stump and fellow SMU scientists has been a research project in South Korea, in which some experiments focused skyward. They followed sound waves through the atmosphere with acoustic gauges, as well as vibrations through the ground with seismometers.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and conducted jointly with the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, the project follows the pioneering work of SMU’s Schuler-Foscue Professor of Geological Sciences Eugene Herrin in combining seismic and acoustic observations, Stump says.

“We call it seismo-acoustic analysis,” he says.


The South Korea project initially focused on locating and identifying industrial blasting events because Herrin had discovered that certain wave generators, including explosions and earthquakes, create not only seismic waves but also infrasound waves. Based on that discovery, Herrin was one of the first proponents of using seismo-acoustic analysis to identify mining explosions.

“Every country in the world uses mining explosions every day,” Stump says.

Eugene Herrin

Because blasts, a standard mining practice, are so prevalent, particularly as “small events below magnitude 4,” the ability to distinguish their wave characteristics from those of earthquakes is important, he adds. Equally important is the ability of seismologists to differentiate mining detonations from nuclear weapons tests.

Stump says that he knows of no weapons tests that have occurred since India detonated five underground nuclear explosions in May 1998, and Pakistan six. However, two seismic stations installed and operated by SMU continue in service to the International Monitoring System of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna. One is in the Big Bend area of Texas and one in Nevada.

North Korea’s recent announcement to obtain and build nuclear weapons “makes understanding such a test event even more important,” Stump says.

“Certainly stating that they will develop the weapons and actually testing are two different things,” he says. “This difference drives the continuation of negotiations with the Koreans.”


New projects ahead
Stump, who in 2004 was honored with the yearlong Dedman Family Distinguished Professorship, joined SMU in 1983.

From 1994 to 1996 he assisted in the development of nuclear test-ban verification technology for the Department of Energy at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Stump also served as a Department of Energy technical adviser to the U.S. delegation to disarmament negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland.

That experience made it logical for the Seismological Society of America to tap Stump as one of two experts to convene special gatherings at a significant meeting in San Francisco in April.

Brian W. Stump

For the 100th Anniversary Earthquake Conference Commemorating the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Stump and William R. Walter of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory assembled studies and presenters for the “Nuclear Explosion Monitoring Anniversary Sessions.” The sessions took a retrospective look at nuclear monitoring seismology, the branch of science that came into being when seismographs detected the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico in July 1945.


Looking forward, Stump expresses excitement about EarthScope, a more than $200 million initiative to study North America’s crust and mantle as well as the processes that control its earthquakes and volcanoes.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, EarthScope brings together space, geoscience, telecommunications, and other specialists to compile a 3-D portrait below ground using seismometers, global positioning satellite receivers, satellite radar imagery, strain meters, and other collection and analysis instruments.


IRIS is a consortium of university and not-for-profit organizations committed to seismological research. Stump is a member of its board. The consortium manages the data sent in from a network of 100 fixed and 400 transportable EarthScope seismic stations.

“It’s only through collaboration and multiple participants that EarthScope is able to be accomplished,” Stump says. “The collaboration is improving the way seismology is being done. This is exciting because it changes the way my profession does business.”

Related links:
Brian Stump’s research
Brian Stump
Rongmao Zhou
Aileen Fisher
Eugene Herrin
SMU Geophysical Imaging Laboratory
SMU Geophysics Research Archives
Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology
Explainer: Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
Geotimes 2002 CTBT article
Explainer: Industrial mining and explosions
GeoScience World: Mining explosion article
Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences