Monday, December 30, 2013

How this is Related to Astronomy?

As part of my role as Blogger-in-Chief for Women in Astronomy, I cross-post blog articles to groups on various social networks. Cross-posting has been great at getting wider exposure for this blog, and our readership has increased dramatically since I've started doing this.

However, with increased readership and exposure, we also get increased feedback, criticism, and frustrating responses to our posts. As the person who posts these blog articles to these communities, I get notified when people comment, and its been very interesting to see how many people don't believe that discrimination, harassment, or biases exist in scientific communities, or don't think information about these issues is relevant to them.

Below are some examples of these discussions, with links to the threads on Google+ and Facebook. I encourage those of you who read this blog to participate in these discussions (mostly in the Facebook Astronomers Group and the Google+ Science Community although there is also discussions in the LinkedIn Groups Association for Women in Science, APS Physics, Women in Physics, and American Astronomical Society.  In my opinion, the fact that people vocalize these views means that we have much more work to do.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Microloans to Benefit Women in India

The holiday season is a great time to spend time with family and friends.  The conversations range far and wide from new boy and girlfriends for the kids to world wars and peace.  I have a "sister", Shermali, from Sri Lanka who's astronomer father was  a colleague of my dad and she lived with our family through undergrad and grad school years.  She now comes to my parent's house in Tucson with the rest of us for Christmas.  This year the topic of microloans in India came up in our discussions.

Organizations make small loans to rural families in India to allow them to get started in business.  There are hundreds of millions of people who can not get credit because they have few assets for collateral   Many of them are women who often have less education and not as many business connections as the men in the village.  The loans are typically $100 to $200.  A common use of the money is to buy a cow or a sewing machine.

The program is an excellent idea, but it sadly had difficulties.  In some cases, the loans were not well researched.  A spending plan was not developed or tracked.  People used the loans to pay for urgent family needs or, in the worst cases, gifts and un-needed items.  Also, for-profit companies got into the loan business with the main objective to make money.  Even with repay rates of >90%, the bad cases grabbed the headlines and the national government shut down the program in 2010.

Things are now looking up.  India's central bank released national guidelines for microlenders in 2011 and set up a licensing system.  Interest rates are now capped and people with defaults are barred for further loans.  Through the program, women are becoming empowered and having a larger say in their villages.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What Can I Do? Share Advice & Resources

Today’s suggestion comes from CSWA alum, Caroline Simpson. Caroline is an associate professor at Florida International University. She works on star formation and evolution in dwarf galaxies. She also edited CSWA's weekly e-newsletter, AASWomen, from 2006-2013.

Spread the word in casual conversation, in class, wherever it seems appropriate, about resources online for women in science. Have links on your own webpage to them. Good examples would be the CSWA Advice page and the CSWA Resources page . Post your favorites in the comments section so the rest of us can share them.

Make sure your department webpage and/or Facebook page occasionally donates some time and space to women-related issues, items, resources, and news announcements. This doesn’t need to be limited to items directly related to your department; include national and international items that indicate that your department is conscious of the challenges facing underrepresented minorities. If you have policies or benefits that are of particular interest to women or dual-career couples, highlight that.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Maternity news

This map is from @Amazing_Maps, and it surprised me.  I knew that our maternity (and paternity) policies in the US are far behind those of Europe, especially the Nordic countries.  But we're no more advanced than Suriname, Papa New Guinea and Liberia? That's news.

Yes, there is a value judgment here, namely that in order to achieve and sustain excellence, organizations and societies that help women and men balance family and work are preferable to those that do not.

Mary Ann Mason, Nicholas Wolfinger and Marc Goulden have written a book Do Babies Matter: Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower, which presents a comprehensive picture of how career and family intersect over the course of an academic career.  Maternity leave is a small part of the story, and it is well worth the time of any academic or university administrator to read this book.  It's my top recommendation for holiday reading!

If you don't have time to read the book, I encourage you to see the movie: Professor Mason has given a lecture about it here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Values Affirmation and You: What You Deeply Care About Affects Your Ability to Do Science (Now Featuring Peer Review!)

Today I am sharing a guest post from Dr. Sarah Ballard. Dr. Ballard completed her PhD in Astronomy & Astrophysics at Harvard University in 2012 and is now a NASA Sagan fellow at the University of Washington.

It was only several years into graduate school that I learned that language already existed to describe my academic experience in science. I’m an unusual astronomer in some ways, having arrived in the field only after devoting my early undergraduate studies to Peace and Conflict Studies and Gender Studies. I was inculcated in the early years of college with language that describes the human experience. I was literally tested on phrases such as “intersectionality of oppression” and “safe space.” Value is assigned in these disciplines, in the form of grades, to a student’s ability to articulate ideas of bias and privilege. I wrote essays in exam rooms, after poring over assigned articles, on how wrongs get righted within human group dynamics. I thought and wrote about the activities people undertake to restore feelings of dignity and agency to underserved groups: this was once my major. 

Let me describe to you here why this is relevant to you, an astrophysicist. Let me describe a way that you can leverage the knowledge other fields accrue about imperfect human functioning under high pressure. Let me make the argument to you that reflection on self-worth can alleviate distress and underperformance in yourself, your colleagues, your mentees.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Faculty Search Committee

What can we do about unconscious bias? First, we have to be aware that it exists. Then we need to establish policies and put them into practice. Finally, there needs to be accountability. We can illustrate this process with an example: A Faculty Search Committee. How do we typically start a job search for a new faculty member? There are several standard steps: (1) the department chair forms a search committee; (2) the committee writes an ad targeting a specific sub-discipline; (3) the position is advertised; and (4) the committee members go about their business until the applications begin to pour in.

Monday, December 16, 2013

One Person’s Advice on the Two-Body Problem

By Annika Peter, from the June 2013 Issue of Status: A Report on Women in Astronomy

My husband and I recently found a long-term solution to our two-body problem after seven years of hopscotching through job seasons. When we entered into the job season last year with the goal of permanence in mind, I asked many faculty people for advice on how to approach the job search as a couple. The advice was all over the place. From this experience, I gleaned that there is no established protocol for solving the two-body problem; each couple's set of circumstances makes each search and solution look a little different. And actually, this is one of the lessons I would like to impart to you — there is no one, straightforward, established path to a two-body solution.

Nevertheless, there were a few bits of advice that we found extremely useful and appeared to be pretty generally applicable, and there were some things we learned along the way. The focus of this advice is on academic solutions at the faculty/staff level. However, a lot of this advice is applicable at a postdoc level, or at the faculty level even if you are looking for only one job, not two!

AASWomen Newsletter for December 13, 2013

AAS Committee on the Status of Women AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of December 13, 2013
eds: Michele M. Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, Nick Murphy, & Nicolle Zellner

This week's issues:

1. Childcare at the 2014 AAS Winter Meeting

2. Is science is in the eye of the beholder? [Hint: NO]

3. ADVICE: Workplace Bullying in Astronomy III

4. Gender Progress(?)

5. NSF's Career-Life Balance Initiative: A Small Success Story

6. Factors that affect the physical science career interest of female students

7. Stephanie Slater is the December CSWP Woman Physicist of the Month

8. Women in Science: Standing on the Edge

9. The Huffington Post's Girls in STEM Mentorship Program

10. New Email List: Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics

11. 2014 Katherine Weimer Award

12. 2014 Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week's First-to-Solo Challenge

13. Job Opportunities

14. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter

15. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter

16. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is science is in the eye of the beholder? [Hint: NO]

This week we have another guest post by Renee Hlozek, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University. Take it away, Renee!

Side note: The past couple months haven't been great for women in science and science journalism. This post links to all the stories of racism and sexism as as experienced by Danielle Lee (#standingwithdnlee!!) and the sexual harassment allegations made by Monica Byrne and Hannah Waters. To be honest, I am pretty overcome by the stories of late. I (like a surprisingly large number of female scientists I know) have experienced sexual harassment, albeit of a rather different kind to that discussed in the articles. While I have lots of thoughts on the pieces, I'm going to save those thoughts for another time and discuss something perhaps a little less obvious. I was actually pretty nervous to discuss even this one for fear of the usual comments it might elicit, but that makes me all the more decided to do so.

We all have bias. If you think you don't, try this eye-opening test on implicit bias from Project Implicit. It'll make you think. 

But while we're getting much better on average at identifying obvious forms of bias and sexism (at least I feel there is forward momentum!), one form of sexism is much more subtle: benevolent sexism. Rather than just giving a definition of the term, I'm going to try and relate what happened to me as an example and explain how this well-meaning person made me so angry and frustrated that I had to take a few (many) moments away from my colleagues to calm myself.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

ADVICE: Workplace Bullying in Astronomy III

This is the final post in a series on workplace bullying. It is about the delicious fantasies of revenge. Remember the old adage, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” This tells us that the best payback is the one that comes with planning. Revenge can be sweet (and tempting!), but be careful. If you are in a position to plan revenge, make sure that your scheme will not backfire and put you in an even worse situation. Here are a few sweet revenge stories from a great reference on workplace bullying entitled, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert I. Sutton.

Monday, December 9, 2013

NSF's Career-Life Balance Initiative: A Small Success Story

Guest Post: The below post was submitted anonymously by an astronomy post-doc. 

I recently was in one of those exciting conversations with an NSF Program Officer in which s/he is providing feedback from the review panel that is suggestive that your grant has been approved for funding given a few minor tweaks.

Then the bomb dropped. NSF would like the start date to be in the coming few months and the program to launch this summer. PANIC. I am a post doc just ending the first trimester of my first pregnancy, I haven't yet told my advisor who is also on the phone, and I am due at the start of the summer, exactly when the NSF would like for the program to launch.

Friday, December 6, 2013

AASWomen Newsletter for December 6, 2013

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of December 6, 2013
eds: Michele M. Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, Nick Murphy, & Nicolle Zellner

This week's issues:

1. Perhaps You Should Consider Wearing Racier Clothing
2. Why So Few? Scientific Workforce
3. Evaluating a Diversity Research Program
4. ADVICE: Responding to workplace (and other) bullies
5. Science: A Creative Outlet
6. Congratulations to the new AAAS Fellows!
7. Women’s Adventures in Science
8. Science Camps for Young People
9. Job Opportunities
10. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
11. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
12. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Perhaps You Should Consider Wearing Racier Clothing

This video, by Emily Graslie of The Brain Scoop, has been making the internet rounds this week.


Emily does a good job of summarizing some of the reasons why it's hard to find women role models in science. A lot of it boils down to the fact that women frequently get judged based solely on appearances, and that the feedback we got often has more to do with how "hot" or "sexy" we are rather than the content of our work.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why So Few? Scientific Workforce

The 2010 report entitled, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), finds that women’s representation in the STEM workforce is uneven. This graph shows the percentage of women in selected STEM occupations between 1960 and 2000. In general, women’s overall representation has increased in all these occupations since the 1960s; however, in 2000, although women were well represented among biological scientists, for instance, they made up a small minority of engineers. These data come from the census, so the most recent data available are from 2000. Also, the definitions of the different occupations have changed slightly with each census.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Evaluating a Diversity Research Program

Guest Post by Sarah Schmidt, astronomy postdoctoral fellow at The Ohio State University

The Pre-Major in Astronomy Program (Pre-MAP) at the University of Washington (UW) was designed to increase the number of under-represented students who chose to major in STEM fields. The main component of Pre-MAP is a seminar that gives freshman and first-year transfer students the chance to learn astronomy research methods and apply them to real projects. Students work closely with research mentors (graduate students, post-docs, or professors) and with each other. At the end of the quarter, each Pre-MAP student presents their work to the department. Beyond the seminar, we offer many other opportunities to Pre-MAP students such as one-on-one academic mentoring, cohort building, a yearly field trip, and tours of research labs around campus. 

Does our program meet its goal of increasing the number of under-represented students who choose to major in STEM? Over the past year, a group of us have been working to evaluate the program through use of the UW student database. We find that we succeed in attracting students with a range of ethnicities and pre-college experiences. Our students perform similarly to the overall UW population both in and out of STEM fields and are significantly more likely to pursue STEM degrees than their peers. 

A short paper describing our evaluation can be found on the arXiv. If you have questions, please contact Sarah GarnerMichael Tremmel, or Sarah Schmidt. For more information on Pre-MAP at UW, you can see the program website and look at the DIY Pre-MAP tools.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

ADVICE: Responding to workplace (and other) bullies

As previous blog entries have discussed, bullying behavior is a vexing problem in academic communities as it is in other environments.  Often bullying is an abuse of power, and the most vulnerable are those with the least power.  Conversely, when the bully is a powerful faculty member, even supervisors are frustrated in their efforts to change or block the behavior.  Ignoring a problem may have the effect of rewarding the bully, so intervention is highly desirable.  Changing behavior is very difficult, and academics are generally untrained in these matters.  Here are a couple of strategies I've been trying lately.

1. Call out the bullying behavior - directly when possible, through allies when practical, and always through intervention by institutional leadership including the bully's department chair, dean or other supervisor.  Major employers and universities generally have anti-harassment policies which empower such intervention.  I'm not talking about a formal complaint process, although that is always an option; however, in most cases the required time and effort create a disincentive to filing a formal complaint.  Instead, a quick verbal response, perhaps along the lines described in Speak Up, lets the bully know that infringement of others' rights is inappropriate behavior.  It's very important that allies speak up for those harmed by bullying behavior.  Become an active bystander.

2. Support the bullied.  Listen, show empathy, and provide micro-affirmations to counter micro-aggressions (or macro-, as the case may be).  How much better would our days be if we showed kindness daily?  Doing so is as helpful to the giver as to the receiver.

Those with privilege - institutional leaders - have the greatest responsibilities in these matters, and should understand the power they wield to shape workplace culture.  But the burden for responding to bullies and supporting the bullied must not rest on their shoulders alone.

Further suggestions on response to bullying are welcome.  Meanwhile, please tell me what you think of the Speak Up booklet.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Science: A Creative Outlet

Today’s guest blogger is Eilat Glikman. Eilat is an assistant professor of physics at Middlebury College in Vermont.  She studies dust reddened quasars and their role in quasar/galaxy co-evolution, as well as faint quasars at high redshifts. Eilat has two young children ages 8 and 5 and is dedicated to finding that elusive formula for work/life balance.

When I was a postdoc at Yale, I participated in a program intended to expose middle school girls to science via a hands-on approach that made science accessible and fun.  The program, Girls’ Science Investigations (GSI), brought middle-school girls to Yale four Saturdays a year to explore topics in science.  Some girls came because they were into science and wanted to get more of it, others came with school groups, others still were brought there by their parents as an enrichment activity.  So, while most of the girls were already science fans, there were many girls that were reluctant about the whole thing.  When I volunteered, I especially enjoyed speaking with the reluctant girls.  I wanted to find out why they weren’t interested in the activity.  What was it about science that turned them off?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Game-Changing Approach to Unconscious Bias

I was really interested in the Washington Past article about unconscious bias that Joan Schmelz blogged about on November 19.  It was an interview with Kent Gardiner, chairman of the law firm Crowell & Moring, who is starting a sponsorship program to promote better diversity in his company.  His program gives a fresh approach that might be a game changer.

The firm is partnering with economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Center for Talent Innovation for this program.  The objective is to confront unconscious bias head-on.  Senior members of the firm become sponsors of new employees.  It is kind of like mentoring, but stepped up to a higher level.  The senior and new employees form a partnership in the young employees future, with both of them on the line for results and both rewarded if there are successes.

Friday, November 22, 2013

AASWOMEN Newsletter for November 22, 2013

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of November 22, 2013
eds: Michele M. Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, Nick Murphy, & Nicolle Zellner

This week's issues:

1. Professional Development at the 2014 Winter AAS Meeting
2. I am sorry this blog post is late
3. Sponsorship: the New Hammer to Crack the Glass Ceiling
4. Women Who Changed Modern American Science
5. Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s Talk at CERN
6. Something about STEM drives women out
7. Diversity in Science   
8. Women Score Lower Than Men on Physics Assessments – Except in This Kind of Classroom
9. HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program
10.  GoldieBlox: The Engineering Toy for Girls
11. Job Opportunities
12. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
13. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
14. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Professional Development at the 2014 Winter AAS Meeting

The number of professional development opportunities at the annual AAS meeting seems to grow every year. And the upcoming January meeting is no exception. This year’s conference features workshops, panel discussions, and talks on everything from Python programming to interviewing skills to changing demographics to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the amazing career and skills development sessions available at the 2014 Winter AAS Meeting! Highlighted in red are a few workshops that may be of particular interest to our WiA readers. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I am sorry this blog post is late

I am sorry this blog post is late. I meant to post it Monday. Yes, the blog is important! But I think my daughter might have lice and I had to deal with that urgently.

I am sorry I can't accept the invitation to speak at the conference. Yes, I do want the meeting to be a success.  But we have four children and the family simply doesn't do well when I am away.

I am sorry that I can't write a letter in support of the promotion. Yes, the candidate is doing great work, and I feel terrible that I can't add my enthusiastic support to assist this junior person. But I get 25 such requests a year, and my weekends are full with math homework, hockey, and girl scouts.

I am sorry I had to leave your colloquium ten minutes before the end. I hope you didn't think I am a jerk for getting up from the front row just as you were about to show the unpublished work. But our day care closes at 5:30pm and it is across town.

I am sorry I can't join the university committee that meets over breakfast at 8am. Yes, I do think we need to rejuvenate our undergraduate curriculum. But I walk my kids to school at 8am, and it is the best part of my day.

I am sorry I am slow to get you comments on your paper. I feel awful that I am delaying the progress at this critical time in your career. I keep thinking I will get to it in the evening after the kids are asleep, but I also need to make time to talk to my wife.

These are all, more or less, true items for which I have apologized recently. Of course, as many of you with kids can anticipate, when I wrote these apologies I left off the last sentence.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sponsorship: the New Hammer to Crack the Glass Ceiling

My recent posts on Unconscious Bias include a personal story, the legacy of patriarchy, schemas, and studies from sociology. You can probably tell that it is a subject that interests me greatly. Therefore, I was delighted to find an article in Sunday’s Washington Post that sheds new light on our biases as well as the importance of “Sponsorships,” which are different from “Mentorships” in ways that are vital to promotion and success. The article is:

By Brigid Schulte

Kent Gardiner, chairman of the law firm Crowell & Moring, sat down to talk about why his firm is partnering with economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Center for Talent Innovation to promote sponsorship of women and minorities in the workplace, how sponsoring is different and why it matters.

Q: Why were you interested in starting a sponsorship program? Women have been graduating from college in greater numbers than men since 1985. Women make up nearly half of all law school students. Aren’t we “there” yet?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Women Who Changed Modern American Science

By Nancy Morrison, from the June 2013 Issue of Status: A Report on Women in Astronomy

The Boston meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in February, 2013, included a session on the history of women in science [1]. This article summarizes the presentation by Margaret Rossiter, which was entitled “Thirty Women Who Changed American Science, 1970–2010” and was based on the third in her series of books, Women Scientists in America. It described the changes these women wrought, not by means of scientific research, but rather by means of political and legal activity. Every woman who began a career in science in the 1970’s and later owes them a great debt.

Rossiter opened by remarking, “It goes without saying that we live in historic times.” In all fields of science, both the percentages and the absolute numbers of women students and degree recipients are rising. Employment is also going up, partly as a result of epoch-making legislation passed in March and June 1972. Before that time, nonprofit organizations, universities, and governments were exempt from equal-opportunity cases; their employees had no standing to sue. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 [2] changed this situation. At the time, it received virtually no publicity, and even avid newspaper readers were barely aware of it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

ADVICE: Workplace Bullying in Astronomy II

In last month’s ADVICE post on Workplace Bullying, I mentioned that there are many ways for a bully to bully. Here is an incomplete list of bullying tactics adapted from Wikipedia and modified for the astronomical community. Your bully may employ one of more of these tactics or he/she may have invented others. Unfortunately, there is no check list for workplace bullying in astronomy. You cannot study this list, check 5 or 10 items, and then link to recipe XYZ to solve the problem. Advice really does need to be tailored to the details of a specific situation.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why I'm happy and why it matters - guest post by Renée Hlozek

While I was still working at Caltech earlier this year Renée Hlozek (pronounced "logic") --- Princeton astrophysicist, cosmology theorist and astrostatistics expert---stopped through Pasadena to give a science talk. During her visit she gave me advice for mentoring women astronomy students and we also shared our thoughts on the underrepresentation of women in astrophysics, particularly at the faculty level. One important aspect that we identified was the environment provided by various departments, and how some work environments are caustic for women (and minorities) while others are extremely welcoming. Renée identified Princeton Astronomy (good ol' Peyton Hall) as an exemplar among astronomy departments in offering a healthy atmosphere for women astronomers. I asked her to elaborate and she was kind enough to put together this guest post.

I'm about to start the third year of a postdoc in the department of Astrophysics at Princeton University, and I love my job. And I love coming to work. And I am a woman. It may not seem like loving my job my gender would be related, but for a while now I've been thinking that my love for my job is at least partly linked to my department's policies about young researchers and towards women in science.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Career Profiles: Astronomer to Research Analyst in the Defense Industry

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the AAS Employment Committee have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.

Below is our interview with Eileen Chollet, an astronomer turned Research Analyst in the defense industry. If you have questions, suggestions, advice to share, etc. about this career path, please leave a comment below.

For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit We plan to post a new career profile to this blog every first and third Thursday of the month.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Women's Lunch at the 2013 DPS Meeting

I recently went to the DPS (Division for Planetary Sciences) meeting in Denver, and attended the Women's Lunch organized by Kelsi Singer. Kelsi put together a terrific program centered around a workshop on leadership development.

What I liked about this lunch was that it was more than just an open-ended free-form lunch, or listening passively to some speaker. Rather, it was more of an informal workshop that got us all talking to each other in a constructive way and actively engaged us in thinking about how to better ourselves. It's not unlike the difference between traditional lecturing in classrooms versus active learning techniques that ask students to solve problems during class, come to think of it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why So Few? Transition to College

The 2010 report entitled, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), finds that despite the overall positive trends in high school, the transition to college is a critical time for young women in STEM. Women are less likely than men are to plan to declare a STEM major in college. In 2006 (the most recent data available), only about 15% of first-year female college students compared with more than a quarter (25%) of first-year male college students planned to declare a major in the physical sciences, mathematics or statistics, engineering, computer science, or the biological/agricultural sciences. If, for a moment, we did not consider the biological/agricultural sciences - indicated here in blue and the STEM area women are most likely to major in - only about 5% of first-year female students intend to major in a STEM area in college.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Center for Urban Science and Progress

The below post was submitted by an anonymous guest contributor:

I'd like to share with this community what I learned from a talk about the recently-established Center for Urban Science and Progress at NYU. Steve Koonin, the Center's director, is a MIT-trained physicist with a strong track record in both research and public policy, serving on the Caltech faculty and as Undersecretary for Science in the Department of Energy, among many other things. Steve gave an engaging talk presenting examples of CUSP research as well as a sales pitch for his new center.  If you are interested in non-astronomy-professor job opportunities for astronomers, read on.

Aside from the fact that most of us live in cities and thus care at least a little bit about urban planning and infrastructure, I found his presentation to be of particular interest from the standpoint of applying the tools of astronomy to problems cities face.  There are currently enormous -- and growing -- data sets characterizing the urban landscape, ranging from images of various parts of the city to GPS tags on taxis and cell phones to numbers collected by public utilities.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Career Profiles: Astronomer to Research Scientist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the AAS Employment Committee have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.

Below is our interview with Christine Jones, an astronomer turned research scientist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO). She is the Consortium director for the Smithsonian Grand Challenge of Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe. If you have questions, suggestions, advice to share, etc. about this career path, please leave a comment below.

For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit We plan to post a new career profile to this blog every first and third Thursday of the month.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why men should advocate gender equity

Recently I was asked to speak about gender equity at the Institute for Theory and Computation at Harvard.  I chose to elaborate a theme that has been on my mind lately.  In three brief parts:

I. Why men should advocate gender equity
  1. Women are half the potential talent pool for any organization.   Broadening the talent pool increases the talent.  Conversely, excluding or discouraging women can only weaken an organization whose mission is not exclusionary.  This applies to individual faculty research groups, academic departments, universities and the entire scientific enterprise.
  2. The same practices that improve gender equity improve success and satisfaction for everyone. A good climate for women is a good climate.  Your competitors will be happy to absorb the talent you can't retain.
An example: By working hard to improve the climate and to more effectively recruit women who previously were preferentially declining our offers in favor of the competition, MIT successfully increased the percentage of women graduate students in physics from 13.7% in 2007 to 19.8% in 2013.  We now exceed the national average and our students are better than ever.  This is a good beginning, but significant progress towards full representation requires encouragement and support of women in physics more widely, including at the undergraduate level.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How Do We "Demand Equality"?

Today’s guest blogger is Elizabeth Rivers. Elizabeth is a postdoc on the NuSTAR team at Caltech, studying X-ray spectral properties of Active Galactic Nuclei. Here, she responds to two questions that have come up repeatedly in the wake of the New York Times article, Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?

1) How are we supposed to “demand equality” when we are only graduate students (or undergraduates, or postdocs); we have no power; what can we possibly do?
2) Why should we keep at it when we know from all these data that we are going to have to work twice as hard for half as much recognition, less money, and fewer job opportunities?
In response to the first question I have compiled a list of advice I have heard from other female physicists and observed in my own life.  It is by no means comprehensive, but I hope to give you some strategies you can try.  Don’t forget that “demanding equality” doesn’t have to be aggressive, but sometimes you do need to make yourself heard and, more importantly, understood.
Problem: Women are perceived as less competent than men.  
Solution: Give great talks. So many scientists underestimate the importance of practicing public speaking.  You need to practice, do it in front of people, and then get feedback.  Repeatedly.  If you still do not feel confident in your ability to present your work, try a public speaking workshop or an improv acting class.  You will quickly learn that what all these things really give you is confidence.  When I was gearing up to defend my thesis my advisor told me, “You are the expert on this topic.  No one else in the room knows as much about it as you do.”  Which is a good thing to remember, especially when you are being bombarded with questions.  Don’t apologize, don’t let yourself be bullied, and if someone is being truly obnoxious just move on.  And don’t forget, most people form their overall impression of you in the first few seconds, so start confident, dress well, and if possible, make sure the person introducing you has material to talk you up with. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Preventing Sexual Harassment at Science Fiction Conventions

This week's guest blogger is Nick Murphy. Nick Murphy is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. His research is on solar physics, including the role of magnetic reconnection in solar eruptions. He is active in several community groups in the Boston area that are working for gender equity and racial justice.

In January 2013, I attended Arisia, a sci-fi convention in Boston. For most attendees, Arisia is a fun excursion where fans can dress up as their favorite sci-fi character, play board games for hours on end, and speculate about whether or not the Borg developed a taste for Earl Grey tea after attempting to assimilate Captain Picard. Less appreciated is that for authors, editors, and vendors, it is also a workplace and a professional environment. Amazing work is being done within the sci-fi community to prevent sexual harassment, and these strategies provide insight into what we in the astronomical community can do.

Anti-harassment work began months before the convention when representatives from the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center held a workshop on how to respond when people report being sexually harassed or assaulted. The first response is critical in setting the course for a survivor’s recovery. By making this workshop open to everyone, the organizers helped ensure that the community as a whole is holding itself responsible for ending sexual harassment.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

AAS Women for October 25, 2013

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of October 25, 2013
eds: Michele M. Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, Nick Murphy, & Nicolle Zellner

This week's issues:

1. The Career-Life Beer Hour
2. Unearned Advantage
3. Raising the Bar in Physics Graduate Education   
4. End Harassment
5. Career Profile: Astronomer to Non-Tenure-Track Lecturer
6. Professional development at the 2014 Winter AAS Meeting      
7. Job Opportunities
8. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
10. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Career Profiles: Astronomer to Non-Tenure-Track Lecturer

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the AAS Employment Committee have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.

Below is our interview with an astronomer/astrophysicist turned non-tenure track lecturer at a large research 1 institution. If you have questions, suggestions, advice to share, etc. about this career path, please leave a comment below.

For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit We plan to post a new career profile to this blog every first and third Thursday of the month.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Career-Life Beer Hour

I am currently visiting the Leiden Observatory, and last night I shared a beer with some of the students and postdocs. The topic quickly moved to Women in Astronomy.

That morning I had been reflecting on the really rotten education in Women-in-Physics culture I had received in my youth.  Book? "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman". Movie? "Real Genius". Good grief!

Had I really enjoyed and even recommended those?

But my faith was restored by the thoughtful discussion at the pub. I left feeling that it was all going to be okay, that the future was of our making, and that with students and postdocs like these we were going to change the landscape for women and men in astronomy.  Of course, a pint of beer always can inspire overconfidence. But the gathering itself got me thinking as I walked home past canals and careening bicyclists.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Unearned Advantage

Unconscious bias goes hand-in-hand with the concept of unearned advantage. The two kids on the seesaw start out at the same level and can play together. As time goes by, however, one accumulates advantage and the other disadvantage. Any one slight may seem minor, but small imbalances and discrepancies accrue. Not only will they no longer be able to play together in future, but these disparities can have major consequences in salary, promotion, prestige, and advancement to leadership positions (Merton 1948; 1968).

There is no such thing as an unimportant small difference because they all add to the total. Success comes from creating and consolidating these small gains, and successful people seem to know how to take advantage of this. “Mountains are molehills piled one on top of the other” (Valian 1998).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Raising the Bar in Physics Graduate Education

By Meg Urry, Yale University (Department of Physics and Department of Astronomy) 

The following is adapted from a keynote address given at the APS Conference on Graduate Education in January, 2013.  

Reproduced from the June 2013 Issue of Status: A Report on Women in Astronomy

I am pleased to be addressing (and attending) this conference and I also know this audience is deeply committed to graduate education, so you probably don’t need to hear what I am going to say. Nonetheless, I thought a keynote address should be provocative, so I’ve done my best to push some buttons...

The invitation to speak tonight came shortly after the election last November. Front and center in the news was the Republican party’s concern about the shifting demographics in the United States: talking heads and columnists described the vanishing white male, the increasing diversity of the American population, and the sense that modern political parties have to adjust accordingly.