Monday, September 26, 2011

Parental Leave Policies

The website AstroBetter has kindly agreed to host a wiki on parental leave policies for different astronomical institutions and for the national postdoctoral fellowships at the following site:

The goals of this wiki are: (1) to allow astronomers at different career stages (graduate students, postdocs, research staff, and faculty) to easily compare parental leave policies, and (2) to encourage institutions to enact better parental leave policies by showing how they compare with peer institutions. The listing should not be limited to institutions in any particular country, and should include all stages in the career paths of astronomers.

This page is a wiki so that as many people as possible can contribute. We hope that this page can be made useful to those of us applying to graduate school and looking for jobs in the coming months. To edit this page, you must first register on AstroBetter. A small number of schools and fellowships are currently listed, and we encourage you to include information on and links to parental leave policies at your own institutions.

Nick Murphy (CfA)
Emily Freeland (Texas A&M)
Laura Trouille (Northwestern University-CIERA)

AASWOMEN for September 23, 2011

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of September 23, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. History of the CSWA

2. How Things Have Changed (for the Better!)

3. Which countries have the highest proportion of female graduates? -- A Response

4. A Postdoc's Guide to Pregnancy & Maternity Leave

5. Seeking Stories on Quantitative Skills Important for Physics Majors

6. Nomination for Excellence in Astronomy Education Awards

7. Aspen Center for Physics, Winter Conferences - 2012

8. International Observe the Moon Night (Oct. 8)

9. Job Opportunities

10. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter

11. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter

12. Access to Past Issues

Friday, September 23, 2011

Coasting during the time of a child’s life that she may not remember

I have a full-time job as an astrophysicist. Currently I am working on a draft of a paper to submit to the Astrophysical Journal, hopefully within the next couple months. Life is challenging as I am also the mother of an 18-month-old. Last night I was up nursing her three times. She will not remember me nursing her three times, but after an evening out at a meeting of a professional organization to which I belong, I was very happy for the snuggling and reconnection.

Recently I have recognized that while my career is still going along just fine, it is not shooting upwards like it seemed to be right before my daughter was born. This is described sometimes as a coasting period. It is not a break. You are still working. However, you are not able to jump at every opportunity. It isn’t possible. You might sleep, preserve your marriage, do research, serve on committees, be active in your worship community if you have one, travel occasionally to visit family or for work, and make room for quality time for your children, but at some point you hit that 24 hours per day limit and some choices have to be made.

A biggie is choosing between work and parenthood. A very senior person in the field commented recently that children do not remember anything before they are five years old or so, so that is a great time to work very hard. A colleague of mine close to my age said that isn’t really the case. She traveled internationally with her child when she was tiny, but the stories, which the child remembered through the mother in all likelihood, stuck with the child. On future trips the child “recalled” them proudly.

Another big choice concerns how much work travel you will do. I have blogged on this recently, as has my fellow blogger, Hannah. Before I had the kid, and for quite a while thereafter, my approach was to take her with me wherever I went. In our field, giving talks at conferences and collaboration meetings, even in-person coffee break discussions, are really important. So I lugged her with me and spent the money and energy to do so. It is not an easy choice and now I am occasionally traveling without her.

Recently, two colleagues of mine, one male and one female, told me that their decision not to travel, a decision made because they each had two children (two different families and cities, FYI), had a serious impact on their career. Both expressed to me that it was difficult for them professionally. They had seen moments pass them by when meeting in-person would have made a big difference. However, they both commented about how they get to know their children and the chance will come later to travel again.

My own mother, who is an elected judge, did not work full time for several years when my brother and I were young. She also "coasted", teaching in the evening and doing legal aid work, keeping her credentials current and her resume’ honed. She, like the senior person who made the comment mentioned earlier, has had a pretty amazing career and you don’t see anything negative about the coasting now. Neither one would give up that coasting period if they had to go back.

This morning I took my daughter out on the deck and we looked at birds. She was smiling and delighted. This moment slowed me down getting to work, and she won’t remember it, but I will and I will tell her about it. It was also the right thing to do, so I think I will just enjoy this coasting while I can. It won't last forever.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Families and Conferences

Last week, I attended a conference in Grand Teton National Park. At one point, a friend noted, "there are lots of families here!" And there were. Why not use a conference in a spectacular location as an excuse to bring the family along and make a vacation out of it? And perhaps it even means that astronomy is getting more family-friendly.

Then I realized that almost all of the families belonged to men attending the conference. Most of the women that I knew who had kids had left them at home, including myself. Perhaps it's simply a matter of statistics: there are more men than women in astronomy, and a greater percentage of male than female astronomers have children. But I think it's also the case that many women find that bringing their families to a conference is too distracting: I certainly learned that the hard way. I think many of us are also instinctively aware that working mothers are judged differently that working fathers and so we choose to keep them out of sight.

I'm also not really convinced that families showing up at conferences are necessarily a good indication of the family-friendliness of the profession. This conference was on exoplanets, a young and growing field. This means that a lot of exoplanet scientists are in the right demographic group to be starting families, and until they are old enough to start school, why not bring them along to a conference in a cool location. There's a long way to go in terms of policy before we can say that astronomy is family-friendly overall.

On the other hand, whenever I see a woman scientist bringing a baby to a conference (like my fellow blogger, Ann!), I make a little cheer. After all, we do serve as role models for younger scientists who aspire to have it all. And, maybe, just maybe, the more we demonstrate that we can be successful scientists and mothers a the same time, the more we can smash stereotypes about working mothers.

-by Hannah

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Top 5 Myths About Girls, Math, and Science

LiveScience debunks the top 5 myths about girls, math, and science:

The days of sexist science teachers and Barbies chirping that "math class is tough!" are over, according to pop culture, but a government program aimed at bringing more women and girls into science, technology, engineering and math fields suggests otherwise.

Below are five myths about girls and science that still endure, according to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Research on Gender in Science and Engineering (GSE) program:

Myth 1: From the time they start school, most girls are less interested in science than boys are.

Reality: In elementary school about as many girls as boys have positive attitudes toward science. A recent study of fourth graders showed that 66 percent of girls and 68 percent of boys reported liking science. But something else starts happening in elementary school. By second grade, when students (both boys and girls) are asked to draw a scientist, most portray a white male in a lab coat. Any woman scientist they draw looks severe and not very happy. The persistence of the stereotypes start to turn girls off, and by eighth grade, boys are twice as interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers as girls are. The female attrition continues throughout high school, college and even the work force. Women with STEM higher education degrees are twice as likely to leave a scientific or engineering job as men with comparable STEM degrees.

To read more:

From: Joan Schmelz []

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How Things Have Changed (for the Better!)

The last issue of the AASWOMEN newsletter included a story from Katy Garmany illustrating how much things have changed for women in astronomy. I asked AASWOMEN readers for other examples and received to following contribution from Kathy Mead, editor of STATUS from 1995-98.

Kathy wrote: "When I first observed at NRAO on Kitt Peak in 1980, there were “Playboy” magazines *everywhere.* They were in the control room as well as in the trailers. Not just a current and couple of back issues, but piles of them. At first, I just tried to figure out how to act like I didn't really notice or care. Guys there read them right in front of me. Later, as I became more bold, I asked about them and was told that an observer had given a subscription to the observatory. To me, this sounded like a clueless justification. They could have declined the subscription. Even if there were zero women at the telescope, how is pornography appropriate in the workplace? Working with state of the art equipment should be enough to keep even a man's mind occupied for the work day. But hey, I wanted a career in Astrophysics, and that was the culture so I made up my mind to live with it. After a few years, the magazines disappeared. However, many years after that, after they built new lodging, I found a stash of them in a non-prominent place in one of the buildings."

Kathy’s story reminded me that pornography was common in the astronomical workplace in the 1980s, not just at Kitt Peak. The problem was so widespread that the Oct 1986 issue of STATUS had advice on how to get your male colleagues to take down their nude pin-up posters! I remember computer printouts (on the old green and white striped paper) of naked women in many places, mainly in the offices of the NRAO computer operators. I never saw a pile of “Playboys,” but after years of observing at Arecibo, one of my friends (a telescope operator) showed me the local collection – it was in a file drawer in the control room. All the guys know about it.

I remember precisely when things changed: it was after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings on Capitol Hill, and the federal government began taking the issue of sexual harassment more seriously. I had visions of word coming down from the observatory directors to get those posters off the wall. The pornography disappeared practically overnight.

From: Joan Schmelz []