A Sound Specialist
JHM: How did you get involved in
Busch-Vishniac: They had this game plan in my family. The idea
was that my sister was supposed to become the doctor, I was
supposed to become the lawyer, and my brother was supposed to
take over my father's business. Now, my sister is a doctor. My
brother is in the process of taking over my father's business. So
I guess I'm the black sheep in the family because I did not go
You've said that being a woman both
and closes doors in engineering. What's been your personal
Let me start with the positive. When you are female in a
male-dominated field, it's much harder to get lost in the crowd.
People notice you. That worked to my benefit when I was a junior
faculty member. It also worked to my detriment because my
mistakes were much more visible.|
In general, though, I have not encountered many difficulties that I could categorically say were related to my gender. On occasion, I have wondered whether the reactions I have been getting would be the same that my male counterparts might get. But it's speculation. I know that I am aggressive. I'm young. I am female. And it's hard to know which of those things people are responding to.
In Texas, which is where I come from, a lot of the engineering jobs are related to the oil industry. That is a community where they're not used to seeing women, particularly in the field. I've had women students over the years who have told me they wanted to interview with Exxon or Texaco or one of the other major oil companies, and they were literally told at the interview that they would not be hired because everybody had to start out on an oil platform in the ocean, and that women weren't going to be put out there. I had a lot of trouble with that. On the other hand, I know lots of women who have risen in the [petroleum] industry. So I think things are changing. But saying things are changing at the top doesn't necessarily mean that the field engineers going out to look at the wells aren't going to encounter some harassment, some difficulty. Every woman I've talked to has at least one story to tell.
There are only a handful of women
engineering faculty at JHU. Do you plan to try to increase that
First, the Whiting School is a small engineering school, and the
fact that there are relatively few women faculty could just be
the statistics of small numbers. Also, nationwide, there are not
large numbers of women on engineering faculties, even in areas
like computer engineering and chemical engineering, which have
tended to have larger numbers of women students. I think it is
very hard for engineering schools to compete with the industrial
offers that women are receiving. The last time I checked the
statistics, which is at least five years ago, maybe 10, women
engineers actually got paid more than men. So the offers women
were receiving from industry were simply so compelling that it
was hard to convince them to go to graduate school. And if you
don't go to graduate school, you're not going to get a faculty
What are some of your other
I'd like to see Hopkins become more visible nationally. We're now
ranked nationwide something like 20th among engineering schools.
We have the potential to be in the top 10. It won't happen
overnight, but it can happen over a period of years. My goal is
to do everything I can to see that happen.
You have said you would like to be a "bridge builder," building bridges between the Whiting School and industry. How can this best be done? The way to start, in my opinion, is through the Society for Engineering Alumni--Hopkins graduates in industry who are currently helping students find industrial internships. I also need to find out more about industries in the area. Not just to have my hand out and say, 'Give us money,' but to forge programs that would benefit both the industry and our students and faculty. Some of those interactions would be for research, and some would be through the part-time engineering program. The transfer of technology is a very key issue. There is now no real technology transfer office at the Whiting School. There are no set policies for how you decide what to pursue patents on, and whether or not faculty can have ownership in a company that spins off the research they do. These issues need to be thrashed out.
Will you make teaching more of a
at the Whiting School?
There are faculty members who think that teaching on the
undergraduate level is simply not acceptable. I certainly got a
taste of this through the interview process. I was here three
times for interviews and I was asked almost everything you can
imagine. What no one asked me was what I felt about teaching,
what I taught, and what I want to do here in teaching. I thought
that was indicative of a bit of a problem.
RETURN TO SEPTEMBER 1998 TABLE OF CONTENTS.