Focus on Research
Penn State Intercom......February 15, 2001

A half-time tenure track could
level the academic playing field

By A'ndrea Messer
Public Information

Despite the increased numbers of women receiving Ph.D.'s, the percentage of tenured female faculty in U.S. colleges and universities has increased at a snail's pace, but a proposal for a half-time tenure track might not only allow more women to compete, but also provide an equitable solution for all untenured faculty with work/family issues, according to a University Park researcher.

"Women have failed to rise in academics because traditionally, the ideal professional worker is someone who works for 40 years with no career interruptions, taking no time off for childbearing or child-rearing," said Robert Drago, professor of labor studies in The College of the Liberal Arts.

"However, the childbearing years coincide with the tenure track years. Although women enter graduate programs in roughly eResearch_Drago_Robqual proportions with men, they hold fewer than 15 percent of all tenured academic posts," said Joan Williams, professor of law at American University.

Recently, some institutions have implemented policies to aid childbearing couples. These policies may include parental leave policies, reduced workloads for new parents or temporary stoppage of the tenure clock.

"However, raising a child takes 20 years, not one semester," Drago said. "American women, who still do the vast majority of child care, will not achieve equality in academia so long as the ideal academic is defined as someone who takes no time off for child-rearing."

Drago and Williams propose a redefinition of the academic worker. They suggest, "any tenure-track faculty member with care-giving responsibilities for children, elderly or ill family members of partners could, with sufficient notice, request that he or she be placed on half-time status for a period of one to 12 years. Workload, including teaching, research, advising and committee work, would also decline by half."

The tenure clock would run at half-time, but so would salary, benefits and advancement.

"Given the financial penalty involved, we expect that most academics would use the part-time policy for between two and six years," Drago said.

A faculty member who went half-time for two years would have a tenure decision at the end of seven years rather than six, and the maximum time for a tenure decision would be a set number of years. The researchers suggest 12, but admit that if individual institutions thought that was too long it could easily be altered.

"A half-time tenure proposal would also benefit colleges and universities," Drago said. "Current practices artificially reduce the talent pool by eliminating a hefty percentage of qualified candidates -- most mothers -- from reaching for or achieving tenure."

Consensus helps diverse
management teams perform well

Diverse management teams can perform well if teamwork is allowed to develop naturally among members and if there is no push to achieve immediate consensus of ideas, a Penn State management expert said.

"People often assume that bringing together individuals diverse in ethnicity, age and job specialization will help assure diverse thinking, which in turn will contribute to increased team performance," said Martin J. Kilduff,
professor of management in the
University's Smeal College of Business Administration. "In a direct test of these ideas, we examined data from 35 simulated firms run by a total of 159 managers attending executive education programs. Our data revealed that the only background diversity variable to affect firm performance was age. Paradoxically, the greater the age diversity among team members, the better the team performed."

Kilduff and fellow researchers published their findings recently. Co-authors were Reinhard Angelmar, professor of marketing at the European Institute of Business Administration at Fontaine-bleau, France, and Ajay Mehra, assistant professor of management at the University of Cincinnati.

"Teams that guided their firms to high performance tended over time to show higher levels of shared understandings and perceptions among members, even though they generally began with low levels of shared understandings," Kilduff noted.

'Molecular rulers' enable
of nanoscale items

By Steve Sampsell
Eberly College of Science

Scientists have discovered an effective and precise way to make ultraminiature metal wires in very close proximity to each other. Their work -- important because nanoscale construction methods have been limited to structures with larger, less controlled spacings -- is expected to be useful in the effort to further miniaturize electronic and opto-electronic devices used for circuits, high-density data storage and sensors.

The results describe the use of organic molecules as "molecular rulers" that permit the fabrication of useful wires dozens of times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. The scientists measure their results in nanometers, equal to one billionth of a meter, and micrometers, equal to one millionth of a meter. They have proven they can make extremely thin wires from 15 to 70 nanometers wide and a few micrometers long that are spaced 10 to 40 nanometers apart.

Paul Weiss, associate professor of chemistry, and Amat Hatzor, a post-doctoral fellow, co-authored a paper describing the project.

The "molecular ruler" construction process requires some existing nanoscale structures to "grow" in order to produce the even smaller structures. The scientists started with two parallel gold nanostructures on a silicate substrate. Those structures were formed by electron-beam lithography, one of several widely used nanoscale construction techniques. Layers of organic molecules then were applied atop the initial structures to make them bigger and wider, at the same time reducing the gap between the structures.

Imagine two cookies rising beside each other while baking, with the space between the cookies getting smaller as they cook, and you get a sense of how each of the initial structures grows by the addition of organic molecules and how the space between the structures gets narrower.

Because the scientists knew the size and spacing of the initial structures and the thickness of the layers of films created by the molecules atop the structures, they could calculate the size of the narrowing space between the structures. As a result, the organic molecules, which selectively bind to each other and to the substrate materials, provide "molecular rulers" that precisely determine the size of the resulting space between the initial structures. Scientists use the resulting space for forming even smaller wires by filling the space with gold.