Wednesday, October 28, 2009

WiA 2009: criticisms

By and large, the Women in Astronomy and Space Sciences last week was a success. This is not to say that it was perfect. Among the criticisms I've heard:
  1. The continuing emphasis on faculty jobs as the ideal career trajectory. From Alyssa (aka Mrs. Comet Hunter):

    The thing that bothered me was the implication that people who took these careers only did so because they couldn’t get a tenure-track position for whatever reason (children, geographical location, health, having to work part-time, etc.). Why is it so hard to understand that some of us actually want these jobs? That we strive for them from very early on? It’s not a consolation prize for us. Please stop treating us like second-class citizens just because we don’t want an academic job.

    (Read more about her views here and here.)

  2. The lack of a discussion about how the current economy will affect women and minorities in astronomy. I've discussed this some myself. The best way to promote diversity in science is to encourage more people to study science. However, if there aren't enough jobs for everyone, are we misleading all these people we are training to become scientists?

  3. The exclusivity of the White House tour. I feel like I fielded more complaints about this subject than any other. A few weeks before the conference, we finally got word from the White House about our tour request. We were given a grand total of 40 slots for the tour, but the conference attendance was more like 250. An executive decision was made to invite about 20 senior women. We felt it was important to also include the views of junior astronomers, so the remaining invitations were extended to recipients of the early career travel grants, because they had already gone through a review process. Because of security issues we had to finalize the list one week ahead of time. Perhaps this could have been handled better to make fewer people left out, but decisions had to be made quickly during crunch time.

Any other criticisms about the meeting out there? Now's your chance to get that bee out of your bonnet!


Alyssa said...

I whole-heartedly agree with your point #2. I think we should focus our efforts on creating a scientific literate society, not a society of scientists. Not everyone is meant to be in science, or wants to be, but we do need the general public to have a better understanding of the basics. This would greatly reduce overreactions to stories and rumors perpetuated by the media (the measles vaccine causing autism, for example).

I want to go on record that I loved the conference - this might not be evident from my post on my personal blog, but I had a more positive outlook on the NN post. It was a wonderful experience!

One more suggestion I have for "next time" is to have more time for discussions - especially during the panel sessions. Unfortunately, many people weren't able to ask their questions.

amydove said...

The criticism that I heard, and agree with, was that there was not really an outcome from the meeting. The theme seemed to be that the next step is societal and institutional change, but not much talk of what that would entail. For example, encouraging policies that make parenthood easier, like no evening seminars, specific techniques to bring a child to work, etc. We also talked about how the culture of academia doesn't make sense anymore, but we didn't offer any ways of changing it for the better. If there had been more time for questions and discussions we might have come up with some ideas.

I also agree with the first complaint, only I would say that faculty at non-research institutions were basically ignored. Again it is seen that you failed if you don't get a research faculty job, but some of us actually like teaching and want a small college experience. Why are we counted as leaving the pipeline?