Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why So Few? Department Climate and Culture I

The 2010 report entitled, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), investigates climate and culture in science and engineering departments at colleges and universities. These areas are especially important for women - both students and faculty.

The graph shows that among first-year college students, women are less likely than men to say that they are interested in majoring in a STEM field. The difference is most pronounced in engineering (shown in green) and computer science (shown in red). However, women are more likely to major in the biological/agricultural sciences.

Monday, August 18, 2014

‘Women in Science’ Groups as Instruments of Change

Reposted from the July Issue of Status: A Report on Women in Astronomy.  By Meredith Danowski, Ph.D. Student, Department of Astronomy, Boston University

There are grants that need to be written, data that need to be analyzed, and courses that need to be taught. Juggling the every day work of science can be difficult, but it is often the tasks that fall outside the job description that cause the most stress. Maybe you’re searching for childcare, eldercare, or healthcare. Maybe you watch laundry pile up next to the remnants of a long-lost hobby. Maybe you are experiencing a harassing work environment. It is in those moments of frustration and difficulty that we realize that we need friends, we need mentors, and we need a supportive community.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Career Profiles: Astronomer to President of a Defense Industry Company

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 Eric Rubenstein, an astronomer turned President and Chief Technology Officer for Image Insight Inc., a company he created which develops software products for radiation detection. He left academia at age 37 to work in private industry. Along the way he developed an astronomy-based procedure to detect ionizing radiation threats and began to build first the technology then the business. 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 Thursday.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

All Sparks Are Good Sparks

I ran across a Scientific American web article from 2012 that had nice graphs relevant to CSWA ... my favorite type of information!  The piece was about different types of experiences that spark the interest of women and men in science and tech fields.  The results were based on a survey that Dr. Adam Maltese (Indiana U.) and Scientific American took of men and women at various universities pursuing STEM fields.  The results showed interesting differences in motivating factors.

The results become clear looking at the main graph.  It shows what factors motivated students to pursue STEM fields.

Women are more influenced than men by classes in school and specific teachers than men.  On the other hand, men are more motivated by building and tinkering.   From the article " … women were more likely than men to select a teacher, a class at school, solving math problems and spending time outdoors, whereas men were more influenced by tinkering, building and reading."


The survey found that men and women are not different in their reasons for staying in the field.  In both cases the motivation is passion for science and technologies.

What I take away from this piece is that there is a diversity of factors that influence people's thinking as they grow from youth to early adulthood.  There are different motivations for women and men to become interested in science and technology, which is great.  All sparks are good sparks.  It is useful to know that there are difference, not to pigeon-hole people into categories, but to make a variety of avenues available to students.

Here is the link to the article:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Report from 5th International Conference on Women in Physics

Conference PosterLast week I had the privilege of attending the Fifth International Conference on Women in Physics at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada, as part of the US delegation.  The conferences have been held every three years starting in Paris in 2002, followed by Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, and Stellenbosch (South Africa).  The most recent conference attracted about 250 attendees (more than 95% women) from over 50 countries.  It was my first time attending the series although not my first time attending a conference on women in physics or astronomy.  The bottom line is that this was a wonderful experience that gave me many new ideas, friendships, and connections that will help me advance gender equity in physics and related fields.

These conferences are organized by the Working Group on Women in Physics of IUPAP, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics.  Roughly, IUPAP is to physics what the IAU (International Astronomical Union) is to Astronomy.  Its mission is “To assist in the worldwide development of physics, to foster international cooperation in physics, and to help in the application of physics toward solving problems of concern to humanity”.  To that end, IUPAP organizes conferences, presents prizes and awards, and makes recommendations to members and observer organizations including the American Physical Society and the European Physical Society.

Like many scientists, I have attended numerous international conferences and enjoy the fact that science knows no borders.  Nowhere is this more clear than at ICWIP.  It was amazing to meet women physicists from every continent, and to see how diversity and excellence go hand in hand through the tremendous variety of backgrounds represented at the conference.  Although every plenary lecture was outstanding, I was most impressed by the one on Biophotonics by Dr. Patience Mthunzi of the National Laser Centre in Pretoria, South Africa.  Her presentation made me think of the Next Einstein Initiative of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, which seeks to develop the scientific potential of Africa.  Dr. Mthunzi is already making that dream a reality.  When asked by an audience member what advice she would give to a young girl who wanted to be her, Dr. Mthunzi replied, “I would advise any young girl not to be me but to supercede me.”  She is brilliant in more than one way.

The conference showcased initiatives undertaken by many countries to advance women in physics and related fields.  I was especially impressed with Project Juno of the UK Institute of Physics, which challenges and recognizes physics departments to promote gender equity.  The initiatives undertaken by the Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (roughly the equivalent of the US National Science Foundation) are also impressive, including their funding of prize chairs for women and their support for family and medical leave, which are more extensive than similar efforts by the NSF. The US and other countries can learn from the efforts of these organizations and others.

In addition to the uplifting stories, there were many deeply moving stories of struggle and lost potential.  In Finland -- the first country to give women the vote --- women are still excluded from some key decisions made by men in sex-segregated saunas.  Although more women are entering physics than before, the glass ceiling appears to be universal.  And so the IUPAP Working Group on Women in Physics, like CSWP and CSWA, has to continue education and policy efforts to improve the status of women.  To this end, the conference is preparing a set of resolutions and recommendations for IUPAP.  One of them may be to adopt a statement similar to the Baltimore Charter of the AAS, along with an implementation guide similar to the Pasadena Recommendations.

Although the context of women in physics and astronomy varies widely around the world, and cultural sensitivity must be part of our toolkit, ICWIP shows that we have much more in common than in distinction.  The underrepresentation and underutilization of women in physics and astrophysics is a common experience around the world.  Fortunately, women and men unite at ICWIP and in many other settings to advance the status of women, so that we will gain the talent and contributions of countless women around the world who seek to pursue careers in physics.