Issue of July 8, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery
This week's issues:
1. Women Speaker Numbers at Solar Physics Division Meeting 2011
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
In the last two issues of the AASWOMEN newsletter, we have had seemingly conflicting reports of gender statistics. As a former SPD committee member and current CSWA chair, I feel a personal responsibility to get this right.
As readers of this newsletter will know, CSWA has begun compiling statistics on % women invited speakers for astronomical meetings. CSWA focuses on this number because it is so important to the careers of all astronomers. We have certain criteria (we count prize lectures; we do not count public lectures; etc.) that apply to all meetings so we can compare across the board. By these standards, the percentage for the 2011 SPD meeting was 16.7%.
I've known the organizers of the 2011 SPD meeting personally for many years. I cannot imagine that any *conscious* gender bias affected the stats of the meeting (see below), but we know that *unconscious* bias affects almost everything we do. See, for example, the plenary talk by Dr. Abby Stewart at the January 2011 AAS meeting in Seattle, WA:
This unconscious bias by the SOC of any meeting can have the effect of keeping the % of women invited speakers low. It can also result in having the same invited speakers in meeting after meeting. In solar physics, a common opening line by an invited speaker is to apologize to audience members who also attended meeting XXX or YYY, because the talk to follow will be the same. The responsibility of coming up with a diverse set of speakers who are not the same as meeting XXX or YYY rests with the SOC.
At the January 2011 AAS meeting in Seattle, WA, CSWA hosted a Town Hall on, "What Can Men Do to Help Women Succeed in Astronomy?" See:
One important issue is related to SOC membership. Don't leave it to the women (woman?) in the group to bring up the issue of gender diversity or to ensure gender diversity of the invited speakers. Most SOC members want to do the right thing. You can bring up the subject by pointing the SOC members to the table and statistics on % women invited speakers, maintained by CSWA member Nancy Morrison:
Finally, there was a mistake in the numbers provided last week by Rick Fienberg and Craig DeForest. The statistical analysis was based on an early version of the meeting spreadsheet, which indicated *requested* talks/posters. Here is the revised gender breakdown for first authors of contributed presentations:
Total Requested Poster Requested Talk Gave Talk M 229 (74%) 120 (52% of M) 109 (48% of M) 54 (50% of req. M; 24% of all M) F 81 (26%) 48 (59% of F) 33 (41% of F) 16 (48% of req. F; 20% of all F) All 310 (100%) 168 (54% of all) 142 (46% of all) 70 (49% of req.; 23% of all)
The good news is that there appears to be no gender bias, conscious or otherwise, for the 2011 SPD contributed presentations. The numbers reveal a different problem for the SPD, however, one that has been building for several years now: the pressure for contributed talks. I personally have heard a lot of grumbles from SPD members who requested a talk and got a poster. The SPD has resisted moving to a 5-minute talk (like the AAS), to parallel sessions, or to a longer meeting format. The SPD committee may have to face the fact that one or more of these unpopular options may need to be implemented in the near future.Back to top.
2. Improving Faculty Searches
From: Edmund Bertschinger_at_women_in_astronomy_blog
A faculty search is one of the most important processes overseen by a department chair. I've been involved with faculty searches, either as search committee member or chair, or as division head or department head, for 20 years. Over these years in my department the attention to affirmative action has grown. This absolutely does not mean less-qualified candidates are interviewed or hired. It means that we work to assemble the largest and most diverse pool of qualified applicants that we can, and we strive to identify the most promising candidates regardless of race, gender, or other qualities unrelated to the job description. We do so with explicit awareness of factors that discriminate against underrepresented groups -- in particular, our own implicit biases. Here are some of the things we have done, and my assessment of their utility.
For several years, search committee chairs have met with an Assistant Dean to review university affirmative action procedures and to be alerted to implicit bias and best practices for faculty recruitment based on the Michigan STRIDE materials. Last year I required all search committee members to attend a similar session which I led. Some faculty bristled but I let them know it was required. I will repeat this for new committee members as I am optimistic about its educational value over the long term.
For several years, I have required search committees to assemble lists of promising women and underrepresented minority postdocs to be invited for visits (which the department pays for), and who should be encouraged to apply to faculty searches. This process has led to some success, although the numbers to date are few. I strongly believe this proactive search process is important to building a strong faculty. In the words of Shirley Malcom of the AAAS, it converts a "sort committee" into a "search committee".
To read more:Back to top.
3. Payne-Gaposchkin Medal and Prize
From: John Leibacher [leib_at_email.noao.edu]
Professor Yvonne Elsworth of the University of Birmingham won the 2011 Payne-Gaposchkin Medal and Prize for the development of Helioseismology into a unique quantitative tool probing the deep interior of the Sun, illuminating stellar structure and evolution and the solar neutrino problem.
Yvonne Elsworth created a quantitative spectroscopy to study the deep interior of the Sun from the pioneering work of the 70's and 80's on global solar oscillations. The global autonomous network of observatories she initiated has provided the definitive data on several substantial issues. Initially in the early nineties it revealed that the solar core was consistent with a standard solar model - providing the first indication that in the Solar Neutrino problem solar models were not in error, which led to the deduction of neutrino masses. Secondly her work showed the core of the Sun rotated more slowly than the surface, necessitating a dramatic theoretical re-evaluation and having consequences for the angular momentum evolution of stars.
An enduring theme continuing to the current day is studying the solar cycle in the deep interior and relating this to the magnetic activity on the surface. The network itself is the most successful autonomous such entity and has set the standard for others to emulate.
More recently there have been important developments in Professor Elsworth's work. Firstly, that new solar abundances are inconsistent with the helioseismology data both in the core and convection zone. This remains an important challenge to theory, as abundances underlie all stellar models. The studies of the solar activity cycle have taken on great topical interest as there is evidence that the Sun may be heading for another long-term minimum in activity. Secondly, there has been a major extension of the work into the study of solar-like oscillations on other stars including red giants - the fate of our Sun. See:Back to top.
4. Richard Dawkins and Male Privilege
From: Geoff Clayton [gclayton_at_fenway.phys.lsu.edu]
Over the weekend, a full-blown scandal erupted in the skeptical movement atheist and skeptical communities* over sexism and attitudes about sexual harassment. It started with a fairly straightforward story about a clueless man putting a woman in an uncomfortable situation. The conversation about it was interesting, to say the least. An important point that came up multiple times is that many men do not truly understand what women go through in such situations.
This point was driven home when Richard Dawkins spoke up about it. Through his own words, he proved quite clearly that a lot of men just don't get it.
Here's what happened, boiled down from a video post Skepchick Rebecca Watson made about this (she tells this story starting at 4m30s into the video at that link). Rebecca was a speaker at a conference recently. After her talk and a late evening of socializing with attendees at the bar, she got on an elevator to go to her room. She found herself alone on the elevator with a man presumably also an attendee. He said he "found her very interesting", and would she like to get some coffee in his hotel room? Rebecca turned him down, and in her video talks about how uncomfortable that made her feel.
If the story ended here there would be obvious things to say about it (obvious to me, at least, but not everyone, as will become quite clear). This man may have had nothing but noble intentions, but that doesn't matter. Being alone in an elevator with a man late at night is uncomfortable for any woman, even if the man is silent. But when he hits on her? There's no way to avoid a predatory vibe here, and that's unacceptable. A situation like this can lead to sexual assault; I just read in the news here in Boulder that a few days ago a relatively innocent situation turned into assault. This isn't some rare event; it happens a lot and most women are all-too painfully aware of it.
To read more:Back to top.
5. Statistics of Women in Planetary Science - a Correction
From: Editors of AASWOMEN
The item on "Statistics of Women in Planetary Science" in the June 24 issue was incorrect regarding faculty hiring at the University of Maryland during the 2010-2011 academic year. The Astrophysics Job Rumor Mill indicated that the University had hired a man in planetary science, but this information was not only incomplete but incorrect. As of July 1, 2011, the University of Maryland planetary science tenured/tenure-track faculty includes two men and one woman.
The editors regret this error and wish to announce a new policy: the AASWOMEN newsletter will never again reference the Astrophysics Job Rumor Mill.Back to top.
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