Prof’s Interest Led to Creation of Research Area
It all started in high school — that’s when Mary Frank Fox became interested in groups, organizations and societies.
“I remember as a 17-year-old, I became interested in whether a student’s social standing at my school was influenced by his or her parents’ standing in the community,” said Fox, the ADVANCE professor in the School of Public Policy and co-director of the Center for the Study of Women, Science and Technology. “With help from a teacher, I actually conducted a study and learned that the female students’ social standing was much more influenced by their parents’ standing than the male students. From that point on, my curiosity was piqued.”
Unlike many of her peers who still didn’t have a clue what they wanted to major in as undergraduates, Fox enrolled at the University of Michigan as a sociology major.
“In graduate school, I zeroed in on studying social inequalities, especially those related to women in the scientific community,” she said. “I really went out on a limb, because although I was interested in the topic, there weren’t any classes offered on it. But my risk paid off.”
Over the years, Fox carved out her own research area, which has evolved into a well-established field. Her research focuses on the study of women and men in academic and scientific organizations and occupations. For example, one current piece of Fox’s research examines the clarity of criteria for tenure and promotion used for men and women faculty members and how factors predicting clarity differ by gender.
“I can’t imagine doing anything that could be better than what I’m doing here at Tech as a professor,” she added.
Recently, The Whistle had an opportunity to learn more about Fox and her time at Georgia Tech.
How did you arrive at Tech?
About 19 years ago, I was recruited to come to the Institute to help establish a program in the study of gender. The wonderful thing about Tech is that it is a living laboratory for my area of research. Not only can I conduct research related to women, men and science and technology — but we can apply the findings here, too.
What does your job entail?
I’m usually working on several long-term research projects at once, and each is at a different stage in the process, ranging from data collection to writing articles for academic journals about the results. In conjunction with these projects, I meet weekly with six graduate and undergraduate research partners. I teach courses for both undergraduate and graduate students. I also work on initiatives related to Georgia Tech’s ADVANCE program — originally funded as a National Science Foundation program meant to increase the participation of women in scientific and engineering fields. (The ADVANCE program is now supported through the Office of the Provost.) I also work on the programs for the Center for the Study of Women, Science and Technology.
What do you think about the increasing popularity of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and online learning?
It all appears to be part of our future, but I’m not sure to what extent. Would I teach an online course? I’m not sure. But I’m open minded and think that we all need to be; however, I do think this type of learning should complement what we are doing — not be a substitution for it.
What technology could you not live without?
It would have to be my iPhone, although I have to say that I rarely use it as a phone for incoming calls. I primarily use it for email and outgoing calls.
Where is your favorite spot on campus?
That spot is wherever I’m working with members of my research team on a given day, which is usually on-site in my office.
Where is your favorite place to have lunch?
The Spence. I really enjoy the small portion lunches that the restaurant offers, and getting there involves a nice walk.
If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
Probably Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was an inspiration to my mother and father because of his courage and willingness to found new programs and agencies that others questioned. For that reason, I’d like to get to know him.