Thursday, October 27, 2011

Go to Brazil in December!

The CSWA was just informed of this opportunity for early career women scientists to go to Brazil. The deadline for nominations is TOMORROW, so act fast! Here is the announcement of opportunity:

>>> Sandra Laney 10/26/2011 1:07 PM >>>

The Secretary's Global Women's Issues Office needs help identifying 8-10 young American women scientists (early to mid career level) to participate in an reverse exchange program with Brazil. Unfortunately there is a rapid turn-around time, so they need nominations by Friday. The nominee (perhaps yourself or someone you know) should be someone planning to stay in the science field because the focus is on 'retention of women in science'.
The trip is scheduled for Dec 5 -13, airfare is paid by S/GWI and the remaining costs will be hosted by Brazil.
I have pasted in Varina's email request below. Please send Varina & Rakhi (WinderVJ@state.govand the bio of the nominee and her contact information. (Please make sure that she would be available for travel on those dates.)

Varina's email:
I hope this email finds you well. I received your contact information from my colleague Tricia, who mentioned you would be great people to reach out to about an upcoming reverse exchange program we are planning with Embassy Brasilia under the Women's MOU.
As you probably recall, we hosted eight young Brazilian women scientists last March - I believe most of you met with them. They visited U.S. universities and attended the 55th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the theme of which was empowering women and girls through STEM.
In December of this year, we've recently agreed to send 10 young American women scientists to Brazil as part of the second half of the exchange program. Brazil will pay for everything once the women land in Recife; we will cover the flights.
We would very much like your help in identifying 8-10 young American women scientists, of various backgrounds (government, private sector & academia) and focus areas (different aspects of STEM) we can invite to participate in such an exchange. The focus on retention is key; one of the key themes of the Brazilian women's visit was their identification of a need for continued mentoring in order to keep young women in the field. We'd therefore like to invite promising women who are in early or middle stages of their career. We are also reaching out to EPA.
Since this program is coming up quickly, could you please send us names and relevant info (contact/resume/bio if possible) for these women by mid next week (October 26)?
Thank you very much.
Varina Winder
Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues (S/GWI)
U.S. Department of State
Phone: (202) 647-6036
Fax: (202) 647-2600
This email is UNCLASSIFIED.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Professional Development at AAS 219 in Austin

Guest post by Kelle Cruz, AAS Employment Committee

The 219th AAS Meeting in Austin, TX from January 8-12, 2012 is coming up, and as continued tradition, thanks to the growing community involvement and NSF funding, professional development workshops, seminars, and special sessions will once again be offered. This year, more than ever!

The interactive workshops offered on Sunday are:
1) Becoming a more effective research mentor
2) Structuring your scientific paper
3) Science tools for data intensive astronomy

On Monday, there are two Career Workshops. On Tuesday, there will be a workshop on Personal Finance in Turbulent Times.

In addition, special sessions will be held on the following arenas:
1) Giving better oral presentations
2) Increasing diversity in your departments
3) Professional ethics in astronomy
4) Working in space policy
5) The astrophysics post-doc job market
6) Careers in media for scientists

There will also be a career panel on Monday discussing various career paths.

Full descriptions and how to register are posted at the astrobetter wiki.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A metric for workplace environment culture: How long do mothers nurse?

If you think you have a positive culture at work for families, how would you measure it? One might be to determine how long, on average, the mothers of young children nurse their children. The workplace environment has a significant impact on the nursing relationship (availability of lactation rooms, flexibility in scheduling, maternity leave policies, etc).

There is a lot of literature showing that women tend to persist in nursing when they have peers who are doing the same. So, a lactation room, beyond just providing the legally required space for pumping milk, provides a networking location for your employees.

Approximately 17 months ago I began pumping milk at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the lactation room there. At that time, my daughter was about two months old and there were several other women with older babies pumping milk. Over the last 19 months, women have had babies and joined the room. I see them logging in day after day. Now something interesting is happening. People are continuing to pump milk up to the year mark and beyond. This means women are not rotating out of the room as new ones come in. Within the next week, a second lactation room will be opened in our building to prepare for two more women to come off maternity leave.

We have three women pumping milk for children over a year old right now! Knowing how rare that is in the U.S. right now I would take it as a very positive indicator of the success of our lactation program and therefore of how good our workplace environment is for mothers of young children.

It is smart for institutions to be supportive in this way. Babies who receive breastmilk get sick less often and less severely and there is thus less absenteeism. Nursing is a source of comfort that provides a very fast means of emotional reconnection between mother and child at the end of a work day. Happier employees make happier bosses, right?

So, if you’re wondering how to make your workplace environment family-friendly, invest time, energy and resources into having a great lactation room, like my institution did.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thoughts on Work-Life Balance

My subtitle is: How will academic institutions improve work-life balance?

I'm thrilled that astronomers are having so much impact in highlighting the need for policies that make it easier for young people to begin careers and families in science and technology (see Hannah's post of October 6). It was exciting to hear about the NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative announcement at the White House, and to see Michele Obama and Tina Tchen promote the arguments that our amazing colleagues gave after WIA-III. The policies announced by the NSF are a step in the right direction, and the NSF Director is to be commended for his dedication to long-term change.

The important question now is: who else will listen and act?

Earlier this week I held a luncheon at MIT for faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students to discuss work-life balance and to ask how universities should respond to the NSF steps. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of interest in this topic, especially from postdocs. Unfortunately, nearly everyone who showed up was female. This is ironic because nearly all of my faculty members who have benefited from parental leave are male. I'm delighted that some men are starting to play a significant role in advocacy and policy in the AAS and elsewhere. It makes a huge difference for all of us.

At MIT, we are talking about possible ways to make childcare more affordable and to ask the thorny question of maternity leave for postdocs. In the life sciences, such steps would require drastic changes in the funding model. I don't feel that fact should deter us from improving the conditions for postdocs in the physical sciences, but universities have great inertia. Change will require greater advocacy within.

About a decade ago, after gender equity studies showed how discrimination was holding back women in science, universities responded with parental leave policies, on-site daycare, and tenure clock extensions. While these policies have helped to lessen gender inequity at the faculty level, they gave little relief to the postdocs who become tomorrow's faculty members. I wish I could start a new department with all the great talent that left the field because balancing work and family meant falling behind. We've got to stop the brain drain.

The NSF has taken first steps in a 10-year plan. It's time for universities and other grant-receiving institutions to take the next steps. What will it be? Loans or fellowships for childcare? One-year postdoc extensions for childbirth? How can we raise money for these?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Speaking Truth to Power

Almost exactly two years ago, I was on the organizing committee for the Women in Astronomy and Space Science 2009 Conference. We were organizing a tour of the White House for early career astronomers, and we managed to arrange a meeting with Tina Tchen, the Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. I soon found myself in charge of facilitating the discussion, a bit of a daunting task to say the least!

I knew that we had only a limited amount of time to get a few key points across, so I decided to put together a presentation for Ms. Tchen. I met with the White House tour participants over lunch to brainstorm our key concerns, including action items that the federal government could take to help women in astronomy. I also enlisted the help of Bethany Cobb, Meredith Danowski, Laura Lopez, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, and Angie Wolfgang to help draft a document that we could leave with Ms. Tchen.

When the time came, the six of us spoke about our key talking points: health care, family leave, conscious and unconscious bias, education and public outreach, and mentoring. I came away feeling like we had a sympathetic ear in Ms. Tchen, and that the presentation had been very effective - much more so than a free-form discussion would have been. Still, a cynical voice in my head would sometimes pipe up with doubts than any real action would ever be taken.

Fast forward to last week - Tina Tchen announced in the Washington Post that the NSF would be adopting a number of policies that would allow grantees to take time off for parental and family leave. (See also this item in last week's AASWOMEN.) Our message had been heard after all!

The lesson I've taken away from this is that change is possible, no matter how daunting the obstacles may seem. You might imagine that the vast bureaucracy of federal government might be too resistant to change, or that your voice might fall on deaf ears, but if you craft your message well and deliver it to the right person, change can happen. I am so pleased about the policy changes being implemented at the NSF. Too many times I've heard of inflexibility of grants interfering with the careers of women with families, and I'm glad to hear that some of those barriers are falling.

-by Hannah