Wednesday, October 21, 2009

WiA 2009: Wednesday Part 3

The best part of any conference are the interactions you have outside the talks, and this one is no exceptions. So you'll have to forgive me if I don't hear all of every single talk.

Nick White's opening remarks after the lunch breaks talked about hiring in the Science Exploration Directorate at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. He noted that the Astrophysics division probably won't be hiring until after the Decadal Review.

Panel Discussion: How the Professional Community can Impact Percentages and Retention
The panel discussion featured Meg Urry, Jim Ulvestad, Debra Elmegreen, Matt Mountain and Lee Anne Willson.
Jim Ulvestad noted that more PhDs are produced than faculty jobs, so we all have to think broadly about career choices.
Debra Elmegreen put in a plug for AASWOMEN (go sign up!) and talked about hiring at Vassar.
Matt Mountain talked about why all the women left STScI in the 1990s (where he is now director), citing a hostile environment as the primary cause.
Lee Anne Willson talked about hiring practices at a big state university
Meg Urry noted that in putting together the 1st WiA in 1992, she had to prove that there was a problem with women in astronomy!
During the question session, it was noted that one good department chair can make all the difference, and their departure can make a big change as well.

Lily McNair: STEM at Spelman
Spelman is a women's HBCU (Historically Black College/University). It is the #2 undergrad institution of black PhDs in STEM, with #1 being Howard U.
"I want my daughter to be able to deal with the real world." Response: the faculty is very diverse.
Intentional development and growth of sciences: originally there was only math and chemistry. External funding made a difference: NASA, NIH. Scholarhips, mentoring, peer-tutoring.
Proved that you can do good science at a small liberal arts college - they bring as much research $$ as a research university.
All-women schools do provide a good environment for women to learn -- "this place was built for me"

One message that I'm getting from this meeting is that women have come pretty far in astronomy, but minorities are where women were in the 1970s. Also, mentoring, mentoring, mentoring.