Thursday, May 19, 2022

Crosspost: UW researchers study health outcomes of Black women in academia

Written by Cate Reilly for The Badger Herald
LaShawn Washington (pictured above) is a fourth-year PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison researching the development of identity among Black women in academia. Credit: Terry Foundation
Preliminary results of a University of Wisconsin partner study indicate the high-stress environment of higher education may play a role in the negative mental and physical health outcomes seen among Black women in academics.

The UW School of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis received a grant to expand a study on how racial stress impacts Black women who work in higher education, which started in 2020 in conjunction with the University of Texas-Austin. The study is a mixed-methods format, with the team at UT-Austin doing the quantitative research and the UW team doing the qualitative side via interviews.

In the U.S., Black women’s risk of adverse health outcomes is disproportionately higher than that of white women because of structural inequities within the health system and beyond. The researchers aim to see what these patterns mean for Black women in higher education.

Friday, May 13, 2022

AASWomen Newsletter for May 13, 2022

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of May 13, 2022
eds: Heather Flewelling, Nicolle Zellner, Alessandra Aloisi, Jeremy Bailin and Sethanne Howard

[We hope you all are taking care of yourselves and each other. --eds.]

This week's issues:

Mae Jemison in her astronaut suit  (NASA)
Mae Jemison (NASA)
1. Crosspost: A Life of Transdisciplinary Science, The Expeditions of Mae Jemison
2. e-book: Mothers in Astronomy
3. Three-part series profiles Women Who Lead the National Science Foundation
4. Zoom event! 4,000 Years of Women in Science
5. The toll of menopause: how universities can help
6. Job Opportunities
7. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
8. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
9. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

An online version of this newsletter will be available at at 3:00 PM ET every Friday.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Crosspost: A Life of Transdisciplinary Science, The Expeditions of Mae Jemison

Written by Michelle Hampson for AAAS

Dr. Mae Jemison—doctor, engineer, and Star Trek fan—was the first Black woman to travel into space.
In 1992, newly elected AAAS Fellow Dr. Mae Jemison was doing an experiment where she injected several female African clawed frogs with a hormone to induce ovulation. After harvesting and carefully analyzing batches of eggs under a microscope and fertilizing the healthiest looking ones, she would periodically re-assess the embryos and take microscopic images to document their development. This protocol was part of standard experiments to study reproduction – except that it was happening in space.

Jemison was one of 15 selected from 2,000 applicants to serve in NASA’s astronaut corps and later became the science mission specialist on board the STS-47 Spacelab-J, in partnership with the Japan Space Agency. Over the course of the eight-day space mission, Jemison was tasked with many experiments, including this research project to investigate how frog embryos develop in the ultra-low gravity conditions of space.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Committee On INclusiveness in SDSS (COINS) -- an interview with Rachael Beaton and Amy Jones

Carnegie-Princeton Postdoctoral Fellow, Rachael Beaton (RB), and Space Telescope Science Institute researcher, Amy Jones (AJ), are part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), and co-chairs of the Committee On Inclusiveness in SDSS (COINS). CSWA member and Associate Professor at the University of Alabama, Jeremy Bailin (JB) sat down with them over Zoom to talk about inclusiveness in large collaborations.

Rachel Beaton (left) and Amy Jones (right) are co-chairs of the Committee on Inclusiveness in SDSS (COINS). 


To start off, I'm wondering if you can introduce yourselves and tell us about your scientific interests.


I'm currently working at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) as a Staff Scientist II, Science Support, part of the Instrument Division, and I work on the Hubble Space Telescope Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) branch. I'm in charge of doing a lot of the user support and calibration type work for the instrument. In addition to that, I'm also still a part of SDSS, which is now mostly SDSS V, working on the Local Volume Mapper and helping develop their sky subtraction module in their data reduction pipeline.


Hi, my name is Rachael Beaton, and I am a Carnegie Princeton Fellow, physically located at Princeton University, but I'm also affiliated with the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena. Scientifically, I use stars, groups of stars, and populations of stars as a tool to help learn about cosmology. Lately I've been doing a lot with the Hubble constant, using the Tip of the Red Giant Branch technique, but I'm also broadly interested in how we can use stars to probe dark matter, dark matter halos, galaxy properties, things like that. I am part of SDSS in the Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE-2), where we're collecting medium resolution spectra of stars to determine stellar parameters and chemical abundances, as well as get radial velocities. And we do a lot of different things with that.


How and when did COINS form within the SDSS collaboration?


The whole idea of pushing for inclusion, and a recognition of the need to think about inclusion, actually started when SDSS-III was preparing to move into SDSS-IV. If folks don't know, SDSS has a number of different phases and each phase is funded independently. So it goes through a process of designing projects and then proposing for them. About a quarter of the funding for these projects usually comes from the Sloan Foundation, and you kind of need their seal of approval to go forward. The process involves having them approve a project and then you go and collect institutional members. And so, in the transition from SDSS-III to SDSS-IV, the Sloan Foundation noticed that there was a dramatic underrepresentation of women in SDSS generally, and also in SDSS leadership roles and leadership positions. And the Sloan Foundation said that despite having a focus on inclusion and doing a lot of things from the scientific side -- we post projects, we post papers, we have paper authorship policies, things like that that are really focusing on the science and the output from the science -- that we weren't actually putting real resources towards the issue of inclusion and representation in the project. So the Sloan Foundation made gender balance and the overall inclusiveness -- very specific on gender balance, to give the collaboration a goal -- an existential issue that had to be addressed by devoting real resources to it.

That was in the 2011-2012 timeframe. Then there was a formation of a committee in 2012-2013 called the Committee on the Participation of Women in SDSS that collected information about the participation of women in SDSS, their perspectives, how things might be biased or not biased, whether it's overt or not. That became a standing committee in SDSS-IV. Then we went under an external review, a site visit from the American Institute for Physics. They do this for departments, too, and this was one of the first times they had done a collaboration, something that doesn't have a physical space where everyone goes, where we're not all technically employees of our overarching organization -- there's a bunch of differences in collaborations. In that process, there was also a demographic survey that was distributed amongst the collaboration. They made some recommendations, which we'll talk about here.

But after that, there was a recognition that having a committee on the participation of women wasn't enough. We also need to have a committee on the participation of minorities. That was focusing, I think, mostly on racial minorities at the time. And it became quickly clear that having two committees doing related work was a bit much to try to sustain. So the committees were merged into the Committee On INclusiveness in SDSS (COINS). And we take on broadly all axes of inclusivity: gender, racial demographics, sexual orientation, socioeconomic factors... we have a whole list, but the focus is very broad. So we've been in place since 2016 in SDSS-IV, and we're currently transitioning into SDSS-V. So the SDSS-IV collaboration is ramping down and we've been serving both collaborations to our best ability, and then we're going to hand off to a new committee soon. Diogo Souto (Universidade Federal de Sergipe UFS-DFI Campus São Cristóvão, Brazil) is slated to be the new SDSS-V COINS chair and that committee is starting to ramp up its operations.


When and how did each of you become involved?


I joined back in 2015 when it was still CPWS, the Committee on Participation for Women in SDSS. So I also was part of the process of trying to merge with CPMS on minorities to join to form COINS, and kind of oversaw that whole process when we got approved to be now COINS. And then I've been part of COINS ever since, on and off as co-chair.


Amy is really indispensable. She says she "sticks around", but we want her to stay around! 

I joined later, in the 2018-2019 membership recruitment cycle, and I became co-chair in 2019. So I came in more holistically when a lot of stuff was in place and we had a bigger view of what was going on, whereas Amy's been around for a lot of the achievements that we'll talk about.


What role does COINS play within the Sloan collaboration?


The important role is that it makes sure that you're setting aside space in the collaboration to actually think about inclusiveness, and you're also setting aside space in  agendas, potentially in an effort for people to actually proactively think about how the collaboration is working.

It's really important to have a committee rather than a single person or two people, because then you have a range of identities and a range of different types of participation  within the collaboration. SDSS has people who work on data, data infrastructure, instrumentation at the telescope, people who work at the telescope and people who work at two telescopes (the DuPont telescope in Chile and at the Sloan Foundation Telescope in New Mexico). Having a committee where we can have a lot of different identities expressed and a lot of different views on the collaboration itself expressed, has given us broad access to the different types of things that we need to think about. It also lets us lean on each other and talk, distribute work, and get a wide range of thoughts whenever we need to make some decisions or take action.


We typically have between 10 and 20 members at a time. So that way we can do all those things.


We're lucky that our committee holds a lot of leadership positions in SDSS , so we see a lot of diffusion of ideas from the committee discussions into the practical work of the collaboration. That's not a perfect structure, because we're missing some of the groups. But our conversations seem to have a pretty big impact.

We also write white papers on different topics. All of those are available publicly on our GitHub (, where you can fork our inclusivity package and have a starting place for your own collaborations or departments, et cetera! But there's a balance between the policy in the white papers and the day-to-day actions. By having a committee, we're trying to normalize different inclusive behaviors and spread that across the collaboration.


Two places where I think that COINS has played a big role in SDSS is conducting and trying to analyze the demographic surveys, which we now do every two years. That's quite important, so you actually have data and can see if things have improved and what areas to focus on and stuff like that.

And then we also put in a lot of effort into making sure that our meetings are inclusive and accessible, which includes focusing on making sure new members feel welcome and integrated. We have several events just targeting that particular topic. We make sure everyone knows that people are encouraged to use pronouns and add them now virtually onto their Zoom names, inclusive chairing, and those type of techniques. We really emphasize that kind of stuff and make sure that the meetings run as smoothly as possible. We've had a lot of good feedback from doing that, both in-person meetings before and the virtual meetings over the last two years.


Sometimes when I go to a non-SDSS meeting, I forget how much we've normalized a lot of inclusive practices, and I just expect certain things, like having microphones and folks introducing themselves when they have questions, waiting and giving some space for people to actually think of questions, not just taking the first hand, and then actively promoting questions from early career researchers, which we define as graduate students and postdocs.

And also the explicit training that we do in advance. We have documents written up where it says "This is what we expect you to do as a chair. These are your responsibilities." We prepare it and give it to people in advance as opposed to the 30 seconds before you chair a session, you're getting all the intel on how things are going to work. It makes a really big difference at the meetings, and I think people also can focus. You hear "focus on the science" a lot, but when you do these inclusive practices, you actually can. Everyone can “focus on the science” because we've set up a space where it's good to do that.


Are there any other concrete effects that you think you've had?


Yes. It's a mix of things that COINS has done, and things that were set up by the recommendations from the AIP site visit.

We have a set of ombuds, and these are people who you can talk to. They are senior people, but they're not in a key leadership position in SDSS, so it's not like you're talking to a manager. They're a bit separate, but they are invested in the project and the success of the project, and they serve as our primary way to discuss conflict or issues when they arise in the collaboration. They are Jill Knapp & David Weinberg in SDSS-IV, and will be Jill Knapp and Michael Wood-Vassey in SDSS-V, in case people want to contact them. We've had those in place for all of SDSS-IV, but we do have to keep working to make sure that people know about them and know how to contact them and also work on building trust between those folks and people in the collaboration who might be on a different continent and have never met them. From our demographic survey, we know that about one in five actually don't know about the ombuds. So that tells us that even though we feel like we're always introducing them over and over again, we have to keep doing it to make sure we're reaching as many people in the collaboration as possible and also making it clear that it's a resource for everyone.

Another recommendation was a standing committee to focus on inclusion, which is what we are here to talk about. The other thing is that we clarified the management, so there are posted organizational charts, and we're trying to have more clear expectations of what the different roles are doing, who you contact in different situations. You really see this carried forward in SDSS-V where there's been a big effort to make it very clear what different roles are doing and what's expected when you take those roles. And then management positions are filled a lot like formal hiring. There's an open call and you can apply with a letter of intent and then there's an interview.

It was recommended in 2013-2014 to have a code of conduct, which we now have in place. I think those are getting to be a lot more common, but we should note that it took until 2016-2017 before it was finally ratified because there's a lot of institutional inertia that we had to go through because we were a collaboration that already existed versus someone starting out new. Departments working on codes now probably also feel that inertia.


And then the integration of new members. Mike Blanton, the director of SDSS-IV, created a welcoming email. So that way new members, when they sign up for the wiki, they also get a lot of information that's hopefully quite useful. We also encouraged having "Getting Started" pages for the different surveys. So again, it's easier for new members to actually be able to access the data and know who to contact and all that kind of stuff that can be really difficult at the beginning. And then, at the actual meetings, we normally have New Member Bingo, although that's more of an in-person thing.


So you get a card -- you go around meeting people and the card has a bunch of elements on it like "I have been to Apache Point" or "I am on this committee". There's a lot of focus on interacting with leadership on that one.


The last time, in Mexico, one of the previous COINS co-chairs, she actually handmade the prizes at the end. And they were really cool.


They were like scrubbed pieces of instrumentation. It was very cool.


So we do try to incentivize people actually filling out their bingo cards and meeting people. The last three meetings we've tried "speed geeking" where people are partnered up for three minutes to quickly meet each other. So a new member or more junior member partnered with a more senior member. Again, this allows newer members or more junior members to quickly meet a lot of people that they might find more intimidating. That has been quite successful and well-supported too by the management. We usually get a lot of senior people joining, which has been awesome.


We've also found the speed geeking works really well in Zoom -- we just use random shuffle breakout rooms to do this. A lot of these things were really designed for interacting in person, but that was one that translated to virtual really well. This is  intentional networking that we build into the conference. Not just assuming people are going to meet up and go to dinner or go to lunch, but actually building it in, as part of the conference activities, within the nine to five of the conference, activities that are for networking.


Do you have any suggestions for people getting involved in Sloan or other big collaborations?


I think the first thing is that integrating new members is something that at least in SDSS, we're doing very consciously. When you sign up for various accounts, you're going to get an email from the director explaining different policies and procedures and where to go and where to find things.

Then the science working group chairs are asked to have these getting started guides on the wiki to help people get involved and also to keep track of projects where if someone doesn't know how to help or how to get involved, there might be something that they can sign on to. All of our projects are in a database that is public within the collaboration, and people are able to join any projects that they want. You can contribute to papers through our publications policy. It's very open. You don't have to have a paper or a project approved by a council or anything like that. You just declare your science. We do ask that people, if there is a project that is extremely similar, to try to contact those folks first and see if maybe you could work together or, as we all know, sometimes you have the best intention to work on a project and it just doesn't happen. So sometimes actually, that new person coming in is what keeps the project going. We try to encourage all of that and also, as leadership, model those behaviors intentionally to try and help everyone else feel comfortable sending that email to potentially hundreds of people saying, "Hey, is anybody working on this?" understanding that can be a big barrier.


I think our more general advice is just that joining a large collaboration can definitely seem very intimidating and very opaque at first. But then you can try to see if they have these lists of projects, if other collaborations have something similar to that. That's a good way to try to get more involved and figure out where you fit within the collaboration.


That bureaucracy can feel overwhelming as well. SDSS  has been around for over 20 years because it actually has a process of recognizing the different steps in the process of doing science and making it overt as opposed to covert. Also setting clear expectations for what's expected and how people can contribute. And we have a lot of policies around making sure that contributions to software, to instrumentation, to raising the money that makes the collaboration happen -- all of those things are recognized contributions that qualify you for authorship on papers.


And including also service work. Working on COINS also counts.


A lot of what we've been saying has been specific to SDSS . And the things that we're highlighting are things that we think are fundamental to the success of a big collaboration. But we're also consulted somewhat regularly, and/or our members, especially our members who were in the extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBOSS) cosmology portion are now in the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) sphere. As they move on into other collaborations, they're building COINS-like efforts that are looking into inclusiveness and interpersonal concerns because these can be as important as the scientific policies that we're all more familiar with. And so we're happy to consult with those groups and to help get those efforts going. Whether it's grassroots, just a bunch of people interested in doing it that want some advice, or whether it's speaking at a meeting to try and encourage why something like COINS is really important.  There's a whole wide range of how these things happen.

The other thing is just to expect that when you're combining people from lots of different cultures, whether that's the broad U.S. culture versus the broad Chinese culture or whether that's just the institutional culture of my institute versus your institute, R1s versus primarily undergraduate institutions and different facets thereof. That can be a challenge because there is a tendency in science for us not to write down our norms or expectations. We just learn them in context. And a lot of times we don't even realize that we've normalized certain behaviors. But by trying to write them down and communicate them, we're trying to establish what our culture is as a collaboration and also explain why and help.

We try to take an approach that mistakes can happen. There is going to be friction when different people come together with different experiences, but that we all try our best and try to do better the next time. And these gray zones, especially when it comes to culture, really do exist. So we just have to work through them together by creating a culture where we can talk about things and express them.


Do you have any other suggestions for collaborations, either large or small, based on COINS's experience?


I think it's important to emphasize that when you're in a large or small collaboration, efforts like COINS needs to be treated with equal weight to technical work or scientific work because there's a tendency to put service oriented things at the bottom of your list because of the "publish or perish" type mentality. So it's really important, especially from the top, to see these types of efforts on equal weighting so people know that they are important. And to put actual effort into doing these things because without that, it goes to the very bottom of your to do list and things never actually happen.


Yeah. Some ways that we've done that in SDSS: the time we spend on the COINS committee counts towards an architect or builder status, which is a recognition that you've put in significant effort into a big project. To different degrees, it can be part of a memorandum of understanding, whether that's between an individual and the SDSS collaboration or an institution and the SDSS collaboration. But again, there's some nuance to how all these things work. Mike Blanton, our director, has been very good at reminding people how important what we do is, that there would not be an SDSS-IV if there wasn't a COINS committee, that's how important it is. And so we also give plenary talks at our collaboration meetings on equal footing with science teams and other groups, which is something that adds to our resume. It's an invited public talk at an international collaboration, and it gives a very public view of what we're doing.

But you do run into a challenge that recognition within a collaboration is not the same as the recognition within your department or your institution. So thinking about how collaborations can ensure that the types of recognition that they are given are valuable for how people are promoted at different types of institutions, both within the United States and globally, is really important. Whether that's the title that you have after your name, or papers or conference proceedings, presentations. And as much as possible, making sure those things come with resource support, like travel funds or publication funds to limit the barriers that people might have for going after these things on their own. As committee chairs, we try to make space for having talks and presentations and even writing conference proceedings to make sure people are building up their, for lack of a better word, "science street cred" as part of their participation.


Is there anything else that you would like to let people know?


I guess we should also say that having done this, we are seeing increased participation from women. We're close to the general astronomy workforce overall, which I think is like 30/70. It's not parity, but we're definitely not not-drawing from the general workforce, both from the IAU and from the AAS, which is good. A collaboration doesn't have much control over the admissions policies or the hiring policies of their individual institutions, so we can only draw from that workforce. But we now know that we're not drawing selectively. We also see participation ramping up towards younger ages or career stages. So you get higher numbers younger, which I think is all consistent with other studies.

We also see a difference in the overall sense of inclusivity between leadership and general population, in that leaders are more likely to think everything is inclusive versus the general population, which is why collecting real data and having these committees is really important because your own perception can be a bit skewed because you're doing the inclusive things. We also see a difference between people in majority groups versus minority groups. Which again, is something to keep aware of.

I think the fraction of women leaders has also improved over SDSS-IV. And the cool thing is that at the AAS press conference, we had only women presenters at the press conference and it wasn't intentional. It just happened. And I've stumbled into all women meetings and it wasn't intentional. It just happened. And so those are all big improvements. There's other demographic axes that we need to work on, but at least that foundational problem is better. It's not solved, but it's better.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Thursday, April 28, 2022

IDEA Actions for Our Science Communities

By Nicolle Zellner and Karly Pitman, CSWA co-Chairs

In the past few years, there has been a noticeable shift in how organizations, institutions, and professional societies (among others) are integrating inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA), justice, and/or belonging into their daily practices. The Women in Astronomy blog has published numerous posts on this topic while highlighting IDEA advocates and allies. In a recent post, Joan Schmelz, director of the Science and Technology Institute and the NASA Postdoctoral Program at Universities Space Research Association, wrote about her approach for intentionally infusing IDEA culture throughout Astronomy.

There are plenty of resources out there and multiple ways to become educated about best practices, lessons learned, and practical applications. This week, Advancing IDEA in Planetary Science is taking place. The goal of this virtual conference is to “ensure that the planetary science community can take giant leaps in advancing IDEA principles in the workforce over the next decade.” The conference is free and registration is open. Whether a planetary scientist or not, the talks and workshops are sure to be engaging, informative, and inspiring. There will also be two working sessions (Apr. 28 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. CDT and Apr. 29 from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. CDT) to develop detailed and tangible recommendations for the community.

NASA’s DEIA Strategic Plan (2022-2026) includes multiple key performance goals. For example, one aims to ensure that recruitment plans focus on underrepresented individuals and members of underserved communities and individuals with disabilities. Others aim to build a diverse future science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce by engaging students in authentic learning experiences; implement a continuous pay equity assessment process; and develop and implement automated, analytic products centered around measuring demographic representation and trends (among others). NASA’s Equity Action Plan will focus on increasing integration and utilization of contractors and businesses from underserved communities; enhancing grants and cooperative agreements to advance opportunities, access, and representation for underserved communities; leveraging Earth Science and socioeconomic data to help mitigate environmental challenges in underserved communities; and advancing external civil rights compliance. The National Science Foundation has also recently updated its Strategic Plan (NSF 2022-2026) and diversity is mentioned in several places, drawing from the National Science Board's Vision 2030 recommendations. While many diversity working groups and institutions don't necessarily have the budgets to execute to the scale of the funding agencies, actions at the federal level should serve to inspire individuals and institutions that are funded by NASA in developing their IDEA goals.

The American Astronomical Society itself has also infused IDEA into its own Strategic Plan (2021-2026), with the goal of implementing recommendations made by recent IDEA task forces and consortia. Members of its inclusion committees, CSWA, SGMA, WGAD, and CSMA, meet regularly and collect and publish resources to help advance careers of AAS members in general.

But perhaps the biggest sea change in encouraging the implementation of IDEA practices occurred when the National Academies required that both the Astrophysics and Planetary Science and Astrobiology decadal surveys include a study of the state of the profession. The Astro2020 decadal report, Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s, urges federal agencies to ensure that their scientific integrity policies address harassment and discrimination by individuals as forms of scientific misconduct. The report also encourages federal funding agencies to establish a consistent format and policy for regularly collecting, evaluating, and publicly reporting demographic data and indicators and then consider using that information in the evaluation of funding awards (e.g.,  individual investigators, project and mission teams, third-party organizations that manage facilities). In a similar vein the just-released Planetary Science and Astrobiology (PS&AB) Decadal Survey, Origins, Worlds, and Life, also recommends collecting data concerning workplace climate, as well as data on the size, identity, and demographics of the PS&AB community; broadening opportunities to advance the state of the profession; and recognizing the need for an inclusive and inviting community free of hostility and harassment. That the decadal reports of both of these closely related scientific communities make similar recommendations means that the importance of a diverse and healthy workforce is finally being acknowledged. Now it’s up to us - members of these communities - to capitalize on this momentum and take action to bring these recommendations to life.

Here are some ways that you can take action in the short term: 

  • Participate in upcoming events at the 240th AAS meeting in Pasadena, CA

    • CSWA splinter session, June 13, 5:30 - 7 pm PT

    • Other sessions TBD, so check the schedule when it’s published

  • Volunteer to be a part of the AAS inclusion committees

  • Be a mentor on AAS’s new mentoring platform, Mentoring365


WGAD, AAS Working Group on Accessibility and Disability 

SGMA, AAS Committee for Sexual-Orientation & Gender Minorities in Astronomy 

CSMA, AAS Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy

CSWA, AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the American Geophysical Union

International Astronomical Union, Astronomy for Equity and Inclusion

Statement by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific