Tuesday, June 18, 2013
One of the most difficult decisions facing professional women is whether to have children and, if so, when. In practice women in astronomy have chosen a variety of solutions, ranging from delaying or interrupting graduate school or postdoctoral fellowships, delaying child rearing until after tenure, or even abandoning the idea of having children. These decisions usually have a considerable impact on the career path of a professional woman. The following points summarize the views of the panelists and members of the audience: When is the best time to have kids?
1. All times are equally good, meaning that you need to have kids when the time is right for you. Women cannot always count on waiting until 'the time is right' to get pregnant. Nature doesn't always oblige on a schedule and if you wait too long into your late 30's or early 40's, it may be too late.
2. If you have a choice in the matter, then having kids during grad school might have the least impact on your career because it is easier to take some time off. When you are a postdoc you are usually on a two-year clock and when you are tenure track, you usually on a five-year clock.
Monday, June 17, 2013
I was recently drafted by my son's Boy Scout troop* to help them get their astronomy merit badge. It turns out to be quite an endeavor! The requirements can be summarized as follows:
- Learn how to pack for observing.
- Learn about light pollution.
- Learn about how telescopes work.
- Identify 10 constellations at 8 stars
- Learn how planets move across the sky.
- Learn about the moon.
- Learn about the sun and other stars.
- Visit a planetarium or observatory.
- Learn about careers in astronomy.
Out of curiosity, I tried looking up requirements for an equivalent Girl Scout merit badge for astronomy, since activities like the ones described above would be great for getting any kid interested in astronomy, regardless of gender. Now, keep in mind I know little about Girl Scouts, since I only have boys, and I never did much with them when I was young, either.
I found very little in the way of any useful information. All I managed to find was something called "Sky Search" for Junior Girl Scouts, who are 4th-5th graders. By contrast, the Boy Scout troop I'm working with has 6th-12th graders. For this, they need to do six activities from a list that includes
- Learn to use a star map
- Identify planets in the night sky
- Identify 6 constellations
- Find the North Star
- Learn stories about the night sky
- Learn why some stars are brighter than others
- Learn when certain constellations are visible only seasonally
- Learn about the Solar System
- Learn about the motion of the sun
- Learn about the moon
- Visit a planetarium or talk with an astronomer
- Plan an astronomy night
If this is an example of how differently Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts treat the sciences, no wonder there are fewer women in science! Now, perhaps I'm just missing something? Maybe there are good programs out there to introduce astronomy and other sciences to Girl Scouts, and I'm just missing something? It's very easy to look up merit badge requirements for Boy Scouts, but I am finding it very difficult to find similar information for Girl Scouts. This makes it difficult for interested volunteers like myself to offer resources to local Girl Scout troops.
Does anyone out there have better information on how an astromer can help out local Girl Scout troops, especially at the middle school and high school levels, where girls start dropping out of science at high rates?
* And I have to say that I'm so pleased that they are now allowing gays to become Scouts. Now I'm just waiting for them to allow LGBT adult leaders.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
Issue of June 14, 2013
eds. Caroline Simpson, Michele M. Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, and Nick Murphy
guest ed. Elysse Voyer
This week's issues:
1. CSWA seeks your help
2. Men, Women and Self-Promotion in Astronomy
3. Unconscious Bias: A Personal Story
4. Challenging the Status Quo in Utah
5. The Versatile PhD
Thursday, June 13, 2013
The CSWA is an active committee. We blog a lot, we collect advice, we gather information resources, and we organize special sessions at the biannual meetings of the AAS. Our activities are similar to, but distinct from, the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics. We're larger, with 12 members, including a number of postdocs. We try to make a difference.
Before I ask you readers what you would like to see the AAS and the CSWA do to promote gender equity, I will share some issues that are on my mind, and which may be on yours. A big one is how to increase the number of women faculty members in astronomy (and especially physics), and to ensure that they thrive and advance. It's unsatisfying when women are 30% of astronomy prize fellows but only 11% of full professors. The situation is worse in physics - multiply those percentages by about 0.6 or 0.7. It's a concern beyond you and me; outgoing Princeton President Shirley Tilghman has been a champion of diversity and equity, and has also struggled to diversify the graduate student, postdoc and faculty populations. This issue is much on my mind as a department head who has struggled to make a difference, and found that it is slow and difficult.
We’re running the fifth .Astronomy conference later this year in Boston. .Astronomy is a small (and awesome) conference for astronomers, where you must apply to participate. Although the tone is relaxed, spaces at the event are in short supply (there are only 50 places). You don’t have to talk at .Astronomy, and there are only a few speaking slots, but it’s a pretty friendly crowd and you can talk about a wide variety of things. So why did only 2 women submit an abstract (out of 27 female applicants) versus 30 men (out of 65)?
We would like to create a broad group of speakers but it’s hard to select talks that don’t exist. Did we inadvertently create a bias toward male speakers by soliciting abstracts on the sign-up form? If so, that’s a worry because it’s how a lot of conferences do this.