Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Inclusive Astronomy 2015: Update #1

This guest post is composed by the organizers of the Inclusive Astronomy meeting.

The inaugural Inclusive Astronomy meeting is coming up in less than three months: June 17-19, 2015 at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee!  This meeting is being planned in response to the reality that marginalized people face -isms and -phobias which function as barriers to their participation in astronomy.  As organizers, we are excited for this meeting and hope that it will be the first of many.  

The content of the meeting is being organized under four broad topical areas:
  • Barriers to access;
  • Inclusion and access to power, policy, and leadership;
  • Creating inclusive climates; and
  • Establishing a community of inclusive practice.  

Each broad area will contain plenary presentations, breakout sessions, and workshops.  Some of the topics to be addressed are: intersectionality between racism, ableism, cissexism/transphobia, heterosexism, and sexism; campus/workplace climate; accessibility; addressing harassment and sexual violence on campuses and in workplaces; allyship; strategies for developing bridge programs; developing the skills to influence astronomy policy; and the societal boundary conditions that impact work toward equity and inclusion in astronomy.  The plenary presenters include Chanda Prescod-Weinstein on intersectionality; Kenjus Watson on creating inclusive environments; Lydia Brown on disability justice, autistic self-advocacy, and the intersection of ableism with racism; David Helfand on why policy matters; Rachel Ivie on demographics; and a panel discussion by Ebony McGee, Casey Miller, and Richard Pitt on science identity in students, problems with the GRE, and stereotype threat.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Join the Party!

Today’s guest blogger is Brittany Kamai. Brittany is currently a Ph.D. student in physics at Vanderbilt University. Her research is on the Fermilab Holometer, an experiment designed to test whether a fundamental description of space-time has large scale measurable effects. She is a National Academy of Sciences Ford Fellow, a NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Fermi National Laboratory URA Scholar and Kavli Institute of Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago Visiting Graduate Student. Brittany got her B.Sc. degree at the University of Hawaii and her M.A. at Fisk University.
Let's re-think this -- the academic world is a giant party! At first glance, you may not see what I mean, but here is a way I have reframed the situation to make it less intimidating. What I reference here as "the party" is the scientific world itself. It's a strange new environment that doesn’t make sense. Party goers may appear unapproachable and may even be speaking a different language. The party itself may seem daunting and overwhelming. Forget all that!
Invite yourself to the party!
You need to invite yourself to the party. Yes, this is a nerve racking experience because you may feel out of place and awkward. The reality is that the party is where you need to be! You are an intelligent, interesting scientist who the host maybe hasn't met yet. You may have slipped under the radar, and the organizers aren't fully aware of what you can bring to the table. In most cases, it wasn't a personal slight towards you. They just weren't paying attention and missed giving you an invitation.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Women of Color in Academia: A Conference

The following post is from the January 2015 Issue of Status: A Report on Women in Astronomy. The author is Nancy D. Morrison, The University of Toledo, Department of Physics & Astronomy.

In the spring of 2012, the AAS was invited to contribute a supporting document, or “testimony,” in preparation for a conference, Seeking Solutions: Maximizing American Talent by Advancing Women of Color in Academia, which was organized by an ad hoc committee of the National Academies. We were asked: to provide statistics on the education and employment of women of color in astronomy; to describe the barriers and difficulties facing women of color in our profession; and to recommend policies for professional societies and funding agencies.

In response to the invitation, the AAS convened representatives of the CSWA and the CSMA to prepare a document. From the CSMA, the authors were Dara Norman, Jedidah Isler, and Hakeem Oluseyi, who were mainly responsible for the content. The CSWA authors — Caroline Simpson, Laura Trouille, and myself — played mainly a supporting/editorial role. Our document was posted on line before the conference, along with testimonies from 27 other scientific, engineering, and professional societies and federal agencies. It has also been reproduced in the CSMA’s Spectrum newsletter and most recently on the Women in Astronomy Blog. The conference was held on June 7–8, 2012, in Washington, DC.

Afterwards, I wondered about the outcome of the conference. The rewarding experience of working on the document whetted my appetite to learn more. Indeed a report has been published, including the 28 society testimonials and two commissioned research articles as well as a summary of the conference itself.  The report and the rich array of reference materials on the conference web site are a great starting point for learning about women of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In this article, I’ll summarize the research reports that were commissioned in preparation for the conference and then the conference report itself.

Read the full article in Status:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Diversity in Large Scientific Collaborations

Large scientific collaborations or teams are becoming more common in astronomy and present particular opportunities and challenges for diversity.  They have been the norm in some areas of physics, such as particle physics, for years and can be as large as 1000's of members.  Sizes in astronomy are more typically 100's, although larger teams are on the horizon.

The special attributes of a large collaboration that can affect diversity include election or appointment of collaborations leaders, organization of sub-teams, collaboration meetings with large numbers of attendees, papers with large numbers of authors, and presentations at conferences decided by committees.  In the context of the Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy, I will concentrate here on issues for women.  I was motivated to write this piece by an excellent discussion of such diversity issues at a recent LIGO-Virgo collaboration meeting.

Even if the fraction of women in a collaboration is not much different from the fraction in astronomy / astrophysics in general, the representation in leadership positions is often lower.  This can be due to the female fraction being younger on average than the more senior members who are largely male.  Another factor can be the way the positions are chosen, either by election or appointment, that may favor previous leaders.  When unbalance exists, it ca be hard to change.

On the other hand, there is opportunity here and large collaborations can provide a means for advancement of women and other under-represented groups.  Since there are many members, there are also a good number of leadership positions.  These include the collaboration executives and leaders of the sub-teams.  If an effort is made to be conscientious in recruiting among the qualified women for top positions, they can be highly visible and provide motivation examples for young people.  A snow-ball effect an occur that produces a growing representation.  Particularly motivating is when the accomplishments of a successful woman are recognized by a leadership position.  Below are pictures of a few notable examples.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Math and Verbal Performance of Men and Women Under Competition and Time Pressure

The following post was reproduced (with permission) from the June 2014 Issue of Status: A Report on Women in Astronomy. The author is Nancy D. Morrison, The University of Toledo, Department of Physics & Astronomy.

Recently, we've heard a lot about the gender gap in wages: the full-time median salary for women is lower than that of men in almost all occupations, [1] and a gap persists in many occupations when age and skill level are controlled for. Explanations can be grouped broadly into three categories: bias, whether conscious or unconscious; entry of women into lower-wage occupations because of skills or preferences; and less competitiveness among women than among men.

There are many ways to slice the data. It is commonplace to say that workers in female-dominated occupations generally earn less than those in male-dominated ones. Women being less willing to negotiate is another point; [2] all are aspects of self-selection by women. Discrimination is still a factor. [1] Another recent finding [3] is that the salary gap is greatest in business and law, where per-hour pay for employees working longer hours is greatest, and thus reflects the culture and the structure of the occupation.

In science, we confront all these issues. In addition, the early stages of our careers are strongly affected by math-based tests such as the GRE, both the quantitative general test and the physics subject test, on which women tend to score lower than men. For example, on the quantitative general test in 2006-2007, the median score for women was more than 50 points lower than that for men, and the 75th percentile score was about 30 points lower. [4] This difference is enough to disqualify a significant number of women and minorities from graduate admission if a hard cutoff score of 700 is used, as it often is in elite programs. If we assume that women are just as good at math as men, then why the difference?

Interesting research on the performance of women and men on math-based tests has been carried out by Olga Shurchkov, Assistant Professor of Economics at Wellesley College. [5] In lab experiments, she assessed the performance of male and female students who were paid to solve verbal and math puzzles, in competitive and noncompetitive environments and with high and low time pressure. In her analysis, she took care to tease out various effects on the students' performance. She also carried out a labor market analysis to investigate whether her findings on time pressure and competition carry over into the workplace. Her paper provides background on the research area. The rest of this article discusses her methodology and findings, which bear on several aspects of the gender gap outlined above.