Issue of October 22, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery
This week's issues:
1. The Legacy of Anita Hill
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
Anita Hill is back in the news this week. It reminds me of the bad old days and how much worse it was for women in astronomy before her testimony at the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. When I was a graduate student, my thesis advisor did not discriminate against me based on my gender; he never said, "Sleep with me if you want an 'A'." What he did to me was much more subtle, but what he did to me did not have a name . . . not until Anita Hill testified before congress. Now it's called sexual harassment.
Thank you, Anita Hill, for giving a name to what happened to me.
When I was a grad student, my own husband did not understand why I couldn't work all day, why I couldn't listen to my advisor, and why I had to write my thesis without supervision. Several years later, he sat glued to the television following every twist and turn of the Thomas confirmation hearings. "Now I understand what you went through," he said when the hearings ended.
Thank you, Anita Hill, for helping my husband to understand what happened to me.
When I was a grad student, many observatory/computer staff offices were decorated with pin-ups of naked women. It was hard to ask for help/socialize/even just say "good morning" in such an environment. All those posters disappeared after the Hill-Thomas hearings.
Thank you, Anita Hill, for transforming my workplace into a more professional environment.
Every university, corporation, and government lab now has a sexual harassment policy and procedure. I personally was involved in writing to procedure for the AAS. Sexual harassment still happens, but at least victims now have recourse.
Thank you, Anita Hill, for having the courage to change society.Back to top.
2. Policies on Student-Professor Dating
From: Meg Urry [meg.urry_at_yale.edu], Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
The last two issues of AASWOMEN contained items related to Student-Professor dating. The recently adopted policy of Yale University is among the strongest we have seen, and may represent the way of things to come. We feel that it is only a matter of time before universities sign on to a policy where professors are not allowed to have sexual/amorous relationships with undergraduate students, period, (and relations with other students are not allowed for anyone in supervisory or potentially supervisory role with respect to that student). The policy statement goes to some effort to explain the reasoning, so it is quoted in full below.
Students don't often think of themselves as vulnerable, but we each know of several Student-Professor relationships that have destroyed the student's future. A relationship with an undergrad is inherently too unequal, and it is the job of university policy to protect the students.
Yale University Policy on Teacher-Student Consensual Relations
The integrity of the teacher-student relationship is the foundation of the University's educational mission. This relationship vests considerable trust in the teacher, who, in turn, bears authority and accountability as a mentor, educator, and evaluator. The unequal institutional power inherent in this relationship heightens the vulnerability of the student and the potential for coercion. The pedagogical relationship between teacher and student must be protected from influences or activities that can interfere with learning and personal development. Whenever a teacher is or in the future might reasonably become responsible for teaching, advising, or directly supervising a student, a sexual relationship between them is inappropriate and must be avoided. In addition to creating the potential for coercion, any such relationship jeopardizes the integrity of the educational process by creating a conflict of interest and may impair the learning environment for other students. Finally, such situations may expose the University and the teacher to liability for violation of laws against sexual harassment and sex discrimination. Therefore, teachers (see below) must avoid sexual relationships with students over whom they have or might reasonably expect to have direct pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities, regardless of whether the relationship is consensual. Conversely, a teacher must not directly supervise any student with whom he or she has a sexual relationship.
Undergraduate students are particularly vulnerable to the unequal institutional power inherent in the teacher-student relationship and the potential for coercion, because of their age and relative lack of maturity. Therefore, no teacher shall have a sexual or amorous relationship with any undergraduate student, regardless of whether the teacher currently exercises or expects to have any pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities over that student.
Teachers or students with questions about this policy are advised to consult with the department chair, the appropriate dean, the Provost, or one of his or her designees. If an alleged violation of this policy cannot be resolved informally, a student may lodge a complaint with the dean of the school in which the student is enrolled or where the teacher exercises his or her supervisory responsibilities.
Violations of the above policies by a teacher will normally lead to disciplinary action.
For purposes of this policy, "direct supervision" includes the following activities (on or off campus): course teaching, examining, grading, advising for a formal project such as a thesis or research, supervising required research or other academic activities, serving in such a capacity as Director of Undergraduate or Graduate Studies, and recommending in an institutional capacity for admissions, employment, fellowships or awards. "Teachers" includes, but is not limited to, all ladder and non-ladder faculty of the University. It also includes graduate and professional students and postdoctoral fellows and associates serving as part-time acting instructors, teaching fellows or in similar institutional roles, with respect to the students they are currently teaching or supervising. "Students" refers to those enrolled in any and all educational and training programs of the University. Additionally, this policy applies to members of the Yale community who are not teachers as defined above, but have authority over or mentoring relationships with students, including athletic coaches, supervisors of student employees, advisors and directors of student organizations, Residential College Fellows, as well as others who advise, mentor, or evaluate students.Back to top.
3. Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
I recently read Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. The premise of the book is basically that those we consider geniuses didn't really get there strictly on talent alone. Rather, luck, opportunity, and hard work play as much, if not a larger role than any innate ability.
An example of luck might be being born just after the cutoff date for youth sports teams: Gladwell demonstrates that NHL players' birthdays are heavily biased toward the beginning of the year for precisely this reason. Opportunity is like Bill Gates' middle school PTA buying a computer. Hard work is summed up in Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule, which says that it takes that many hours of practice to become and expert at something.
It isn't too far a stretch to apply the same ideas to the question of women and minorities in science. If factors such as luck, opportunity, and hard work play such a large role in creating geniuses, then unluckiness, misguidance, and discouragement clearly play a role in preventing people from achieving as well.
Let us consider the case of a hypothetical Jane, who is quite bright, but whose parents never even consider that she might use a computer, who is encouraged to follow her proclivities in writing rather than science, who pays a high social cost for devoting herself to her studies, and who experiences hostility from her male peers for beating them at what they consider their own game. Her brother John, who is equally bright, might be presented with different opportunities and encouragement. Would it then be any wonder that Jane might be directed toward becoming an English major while John studies math and science?
All this supports arguments that expanding opportunities for minorities and women and encouraging them to pursue math and science are effective ways to increase their representation. The question, really, is how to put that into practice.Back to top.
4. Best Policies for Gender Equity?
From: Ed Bertschinger_at_women_in_astronomy_blog
I've been having lots of discussions with gender equity allies around my university about how to make academic careers more attractive to women and how to help level the playing field for women once they are on the faculty. We are now seeking to reduce barriers through intelligent policies at the level of universities or research organizations and in the federal funding agencies. A group of us met recently with the new NSF Director, Subra Suresh, and were pleased by his interest in these issues.
Three areas seem to me especially challenging and ripe for policy improvements: maternal or family leave, child care, and accommodations for dual career partners.
Many organizations now have some form of family leave exceeding the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act, at least for faculty-level employees. What about for graduate students? Postdocs? Staff? What are examples of best practices? For example, should universities or funding agencies provide for paid leave? What about for postdoctoral fellows, who are not employees and therefore not subject to the same regulations as employees? Are these issues that have to be solved at the top level (e.g. university-wide) or can smaller units make initiatives? Are there examples of the latter? What should federal agencies do?
Child care is generally unaffordable for graduate students and places a financial strain on postdocs and staff. Many organizations have subsidized day care, however there are far too few spots for the demand. Should universities or funding agencies provide portable child care benefits? Some places do; what are examples of best practices?
Some university systems have made serious efforts to accommodate trailing partners in dual career couples, with obvious benefits to their hiring success. How important is this and what kind of accommodations work best?
Are there other topics you consider similarly important, where policies or funding can make a real difference?
I welcome suggestions from AAS Women and gender equity advocates.Back to top.
5. The Cost (and Value!) of Breastfeeding and Doing Astrophysics
Only now do I realize that while folks were sharing stories with me about breastfeeding and working, no one said it would be easy. My own mother, who has been an elected judge for over 30 years, breast-fed all three of us for a year. For some reason I figured it wasn't too hard. The answer is, it isn't too hard (it is possible to do this).
I also remember reading quite a bit about how much less expensive breastfeeding is than formula-feeding. This is quite true, but those figures don't take into account the real cost of traveling with an infant. Disclaimer: I am traveling with my daughter. I know it is possible to pump and bring the milk back, but I made the choice (an expensive one) to keep her with me. This is an account of things you need to consider if you want to do the same.
I just embarked on a major international trip for a 10 day astronomy conference. We spent substantial additional money to pay for my husband and daughter to attend with me to keep breastfeeding going during the trip (note: children held on your lap are not free on flights, you have to pay hundreds of dollars in airport taxes/fees). Since I needed my daughter nearby, we didn't find a cheaper hotel, we stuck with the conference hotel, which was a larger drain on my research grants. I was harassed a bit by airport security in Athens, Greece about my breast pump (what is this? Can we take it apart to scan it! Answer: NO!).
The expense and headache did yield results: I got to ask questions about accreting X-ray binaries, pop into the coffee break to chat, pop into the hotel room to nurse a fussy Anya, and then pop back into the conference. I nuzzled my daughter at lunchtime and I nursed her at night. So, it was a real pain and our bank account is now depleted, but I am very glad we did it that way.
Next up, I head to Cambridge, MA for the Chandra User's Committee meeting. I am learning about day care in other cities. I had no idea how expensive this can be! Rates in Boston and Chicago (the two cities I've checked) range from $12-$20/hour and if you're using a service there is an agency fee ($20-$40/day). To do the math, it can cost you a cool $140-$160/day for reliable child care in another city if you have to make a 'cold call'. Lucky for me, I have a grandmother that I could fly in for $190 for a Southwest ticket. At these prices, it becomes worth it to call everyone you are related to and that you know well to find out if there are other options. However, all those phone calls and emails cost you time. Again, no one said this would be simple.
Part of the solution is to turn down some of the travel, which I have done too. However, my decision at this stage of my astrophysics career is that it would be detrimental not to travel at all. I also feel (my opinion!) that being separated from my daughter for more than an overnight right now is not good for the breastfeeding relationship. So, my decision is to do both.
Luckily, it is not too hard.Back to top.
6. Smith College Executive Education Program for Women
From: Ann Hornschemeier [Ann.Hornschemeier_at_nasa.gov]
This program was one that a few of us from NASA attended a few years ago. It is an excellent program and I want to make sure other astronomers knew about it. It is for people who find themselves transitioning to leadership positions within organizations and is run by the excellent Smith College executive education program. I received this note from the organizers:
"We would be delighted to welcome any interested women to the From Specialist to Strategist: Business Excellence for Women in Science, Technology and Engineering program. Attendees do not have to be affiliated with SWE, but we do offer complimentary annual membership to those who would like to join. Our 2011 brochure is in production and I'll be sure to get this out to you as soon as it is ready.
Program dates are June 5 - 10, 2011. The tuition is $6,900 and includes program materials, housing, and most meals. For more information, please visit our web siteBack to top.
7. Padova Postdoctoral/Predoctoral Position
From: Bianca Poggianti [bianca.poggianti_at_oapd.inaf.it]
The INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova (INAF-OAPd) invites applications for a postdoctoral/predoctoral research position in the field of "Star formation in clusters and superclusters". A copy of the announcement (in Italian) is available at:
(click on Selezione...."STAR FORMATION IN GALAXY . . . ")
Applicants should fill the application forms and send them, together with a full CV, a complete list of publications and a statement of research to:
Director of the Astronomical Observatory of Padova Assegno di Ricerca - DD42/2010 vicolo dell'Osservatorio 5 35122 Padova Italy
Candidates should have obtained or should be in the process of obtaining a Ph.D. in astronomy, physics or equivalent by the time of starting the position. They should arrange for at least two letters of reference to be sent to bianca.poggianti_at_oapd.inaf.it before the deadline for application: 15 November 2010.
The appointment is for one year with a possible renewal depending on the availability of funds. The annual salary will be about 19400EUR.
Women, Minorities, and Disabled Persons are encouraged to apply.Back to top.
8. STScI Education and Public Outreach Content Specialist
From: Denise Smith [dsmith_at_stsci.edu]
The Space Telescope Science Institute is seeking a motivated Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) content specialist to conduct and lead astrophysics-related projects for the Office of Public Outreach (OPO). OPO manages the E/PO efforts for the Hubble Space Telescope and the future James Webb Space Telescope, and assists NASA in defining and coordinating its space science E/PO efforts through the Astrophysics Science Education and Public Outreach Forum (SEPOF). OPO has recently been awarded the contract to conduct the E/PO program for the newly established Virtual Astronomical Observatory (VAO). OPO is looking to hire a content specialist who can split their time between the SEPOF (40%) and VAO (60%) projects. Further information, including duties, requirements, and application process, may be found online at
The Space Telescope Science Institute, located on the Johns Hopkins University Campus in Baltimore, Md, offers a competitive salary and generous benefits.
Qualified candidates should have an advanced degree in Astronomy, Astrophysics, Physics, or closely related discipline. Ph.D. preferred. Minimum of three years related experience in the creation and dissemination of Astrophysics E/PO content and programs required. Web-based information sharing and Web-based resource experience critical.
Interested candidates are requested to complete an on-line application, attach a resume in the "Resume Upload Section." Please include job #10-0093 in the filename. Applications received by November 15, 2010 will receive full consideration. Women and minorities are strongly encouraged to apply. EOE/AA/M/F/D/V. Additional relevant education or experience for stated qualifications may be considered.Back to top.
9. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN
[Please remember to replace "_at_" in the below e-mail addresses.]
To submit to AASWOMEN: send email to aaswomen_at_aas.org. All material sent to that address will be posted unless you tell us otherwise (including your email address).
To subscribe or unsubscribe to AASWOMEN go to
If you experience any problems, please email itdept_at_aas.orgBack to top.
10. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN
Past issues of AASWOMEN are available at
Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered.Back to top.