Friday, August 31, 2012
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Today's guest post is by Bekki Dawson, a graduate student in the Astronomy Department at
Harvard University. Her research focuses on the dynamics of planetary systems.
The battle for gender equity is sometimes waged at picnic tables, during the sliver of Boston summer weather pleasant enough for someone to bother rounding up a few of us to eat outside. The table gradually fills as people emerge from the building with their microwaved Tupperware. One colleague pauses as he approaches the table. "I hope I'm not interrupting a Women in Science Meeting."
I hadn't noticed until now that all four of us seated at the picnic table are women. For a moment, no one says anything and I should definitely say something, but not just anything, and I don't know how to respond, only how not to. My list of How Not to Respond goes like:
- For goodness sake, don't “overreact”.
- But whatever you do, don't just pretend like nothing happened! This is exactly that sort of remark that can subtly cause women to feel like they don't belong in our field. Go on, champion some gender equity!
- Also, don't spend the rest of the lunch distractedly dissecting your sandwich as you try to put yourself in his shoes. You'll find it hard to empathize, because your own experiences with skewed gender ratios are off by a couple orders of magnitude: like at the packed physics seminar, when you look around and see only one other woman in the audience and realize, with a mixture of unease and glee, that you're Not Supposed to Be Here. "I hope I'm not interrupting a Men in Science Meeting."
Maybe, despite my attempts at adherence to How Not to Respond #1, I am overreacting. Maybe this is just like if all four folks at the picnic table were wearing khakis. Someone wearing corduroys might feel awkward.
If one little innocent joke can unnerve me for hours, it's no wonder that some astronomers feel like they're walking on eggshells. They're kind and well-meaning people full of hearty good humor unbounded by political correctness; they find themselves unable, despite their excellent intentions, to comply with whims and dictates of the sensitive and easily-offended.
I have a message for anyone who thinks that women in astronomy advocates are often overreacting: I hear you. The feeling that you're walking on eggshells, that people are taking offense at what you say and do with your best intentions, is legitimate. But any advocate for overturning the status quo is by definition “overreacting”.
When I first came to the Center for Astrophysics, I got lost a lot; a century of remodeling has produced a network of buildings with unexpected dead ends and floor numberings that don't line up. Even as an Nth year graduate student, I still get lost on occasion, and it rattles me to be somewhere so comfortable and familiar and then suddenly, disorientatingly have no idea where I am. When you've endeavored to be a good person all your life and then find yourself inadvertently offending people, I imagine it's sort of like getting lost in your own astronomy department.
But sometimes you have to embrace getting lost. Getting lost makes me realize that though I think I know the Center for Astrophysics well, all I actually know is just my own flawed, inaccurate perception of it, that doesn't include a second entrance to the library or a neglected corridor on the first floor. If you -- reader who struggles to walk on eggshells -- can embrace the idea that sexism and unconscious bias sometimes make the astronomical community a disheartening place for women and others from underrepresented groups, perhaps you'll recognize that those eggshells you find yourself walking on don't represent fragile, shoulder-chipped egos primed for a fight but a delicate, budding sense of belonging, a feeling of Not Being Not Supposed to Be Here, something that is worth taking care not to crush.
Let's turn now to the related situation in which you wish -- with the best of intentions -- to discuss something related to underrepresentation in astronomy, but you're worried about offending someone. What to do? Here are some of my suggestions, and I hope that others will share their own suggestions in the comments:
- Listen as much as possible. In the case of women of astronomy, many have experienced not being able to get a word in edgewise -- or of speaking but not being heard -- so it would be particularly frustrating to have that happen in a conversation about women in astronomy.
- Instead of soliciting an opinion on a sensitive topic in front of a group, forcing someone to serve as a spokesperson for an underrepresented group, consider having a conversation one-on-one.
- Demonstrate your trustworthiness by keeping personal stories confidential unless the person you're speaking with gives you explicit permission to share. But see what they would prefer -- maybe they would like to spread the story to raise awareness.
- Even if your first reaction is skepticism (for example, to someone's claims of discrimination) try to be open-minded. All you have to judge by are your own perceptions and experiences, and there may be parts of the building that you've never discovered.
Monday, August 27, 2012
When I joined the CSWA last year, I jumped at the chance to move this issue forward. Of course the entire topic of paid parental leave for employees in the US is enormous and perhaps baffling to our colleagues in any of the 178 other countries that have national laws guaranteeing some form of paid leave for new mothers (50 of these also guarantee paid leave for new fathers). While the US Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 does mandate up to 12 weeks of (potentially unpaid) leave for workers, many students are not considered employees and hence it isn't even clear if the FMLA applies. And besides, one might ask, aren't leave policies at a University the purview of the upper administration (in discussion with the various funding agencies), and thus the desires of the relatively small pool of astronomers students a modest consideration?
Well, I would like to make the case that there is good reason to think that we are going to see some rather interesting developments on this question over the next few years. At the start of 2012, I mailed a letter to the chair of each of the 28 departments of astronomy and/or astrophysics that offer the degree of PhD, asking for the details of their parental leave and childcare policies for graduate student parents. And, I was delighted when fully 100% of these recipients sent me a reply! My first pass at the data indicates that we are in a time of rapid change and the current policies vary tremendously between institutions: A number of universities have recently adopted a paid leave policy for all graduate student parents, while others offer no paid leave but do allow students to retain benefits such as health care and students housing; some do not even have an official policy. I also learned that solutions needn't be University wide: The Department of Astronomy at the University Wisconsin Madison has recently implemented a paid family and medical leave policy that is entirely home grown. Way to go Badgers!
My own university could surely do much better, and I point you to the excellent article by two former Harvard graduate students of astronomy, Sarah Ballard (now a Sagan fellow at the University of Washington) and Gurtina Besla (now a Hubble fellow at Columbia University), which was definitely an inspiration to me on this topic both here at Harvard and nationwide.
I do think we need to shift this discussion from one in which the students and postdocs advocate for their own needs to one in which senior faculty, department chairs, and deans advocate on their behalf. With that in mind, Laura Trouille (CIERA fellow at Northwestern University) and I will host a Special Session on Family Leave Policies and Childcare for Graduate Students and Postdocs at the upcoming AAS meeting in Long Beach (this blog post addresses only graduate student leave, but the special session will include leave for postdocs). The speakers will include AAS President David Helfand, Ed Ajhar (Program Director for the the NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral fellowships, as well as the Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology Research Grants), Chas Beichman (Executive Director of the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, and director of the Sagan fellowships program), as well as Natalie Gosnell (graduate student) and Bob Mathieu (Department chair) from the University Wisconsin (who will tell us how they put their plan into action). I will also present the results from my national survey. The session will be Monday, January 7th from 2:00-3:30pm.
While I hope that many graduate students and postdocs will attend, it is essential that the more senior individuals who are in a position to change policy at their respective institutions participate as well. So, if you are such a person, please consider attending. If you are a student or postdoc, might I suggest you ask your department chair to identify the faculty member who will represent your department? The goal will be both to inform about current practices, and to discuss specific means by which departments and funding agencies can adopt more supportive policies.
I hope to see you in Long Beach!
Friday, August 24, 2012
Issue of August 24, 2012
eds. Caroline Simpson, Michele Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, and Nick Murphy
This week's issues:
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
AstroBetter advice post on how to organize a Career Panel at your home institution
Facebook Group -- Jobs for Astronomers
LinkedIn Group of 'former astronomers who now work outside of academia'
AstroBetter Career Paths Wiki
Additional resources that have been around for awhile:
AAS Career Resource Page
Academic and non-academic career networks
If you know of additional useful resources, please post them!
Note: Besides serving on the CSWA, I am the liaison with the AAS Employment Committee (EC). Thanks to Kelle Cruz, new chair of the AAS EC, for sharing these!
Monday, August 20, 2012
Friday, August 17, 2012
A major goal for this blog is for it to be as useful a resource as possible. One way we can improve its impact is by increasing the participation in the 'comments/discussion' section after each post. For example, when I read FemaleScienceProfessor, oftentimes I get as much from the reader comments as I do from the post itself. I would love for our CSWA blog to similarly benefit from all the knowledge and thoughtful ideas of our readers.
One change to the blog we thought might help is to once again allow anonymous posts. We disabled the feature because of the abundance of spam we had to reject, but we've decided to give it a new try. We want you to feel as comfortable as possible sharing your opinions, and so now you have the option to post under your own name or anonymously.
If you have other thoughts on how to increase reader interaction with the blog, please let us know.
If you have other favorite science or women in science blogs that you'd recommend we try to cross-post with (to increase visibility, impact, and readership), please let us know.
Thanks and happy reading!
Issue of August 17, 2012
eds. eds. Caroline Simpson, Michele Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, and Nick Murphy
This week's issues:
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
There's an interesting report out by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research entitled "Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know" (Schiebinger, Hernderson, & Gilmartin). The report is rather lengthy, but the authors examine data on academics and their partners, examining differences in academic positions based on gender, minorities status, sexual orientaion, occupation of the partner, and more.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, women faculty are more likely than men to be single, or to have an academic partner. On the other hand, men are much more likely to have a stay-at-home partner. However, the report also notes that many of these men are part of the older generation, having completed their graduate in the 1970s or earlier.
The demographics of faculty are changing, so it's important for universities to acknowledge that in their hiring practices, particularly in regard to dual career couples. Universities stand to lose valuable talent, particularly among under-repsresented groups, by being inflexible with regrad to couple hiring. The report makes a number of recommendations, including:
- Develop a dual-career academic couple hiring protocol
- Think of the university as an intellectual and corporate whole
- Use dual hiring to increase gender equality
- Budget funds for dual hiring
- Communicate with faculty
- Make the partner issue easier to raise
- Interview potential partner hires
- Negotiate partner positions fully up front
- Develop dual-career programs
- Collaborate with neighboring institutions
- Evaluate dual-career programs
(hat tip: Socialogical Images)
Monday, August 13, 2012
I will find it very helpful in this new role to understand more about the audience of this blog and what topics people are interested exploring here.
There are "women in science" topics that have regularly been blogged about (i.e. two-body problems, work-life balance, mentoring, sexual harassment, unconscious bias). I am interested in not only continuing to explore these topics, but also branch out into other areas. I would love your suggestions of topics.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, please comment below to let me know who you are, and what you are interested in reading about here. If you don't feel comfortable posting a comment below, you can also email me (berkeleyjess at gmail).
I am very excited to contribute to this community!
Friday, August 10, 2012
Issue of August 10, 2012
eds. Caroline Simpson, Michele Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, and Nick Murphy
This week's issues:
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
1. Count how much of your time has been "research active" (i.e., equivalent full time research), and
2. Present your productivity relative to the time you've *actually* had for doing research. This will always make your case substantially stronger: E.g., if you've been employed in a research-only position for 3 years, then had 12 months to have a baby, then returned to a position where you were doing an 80% admin/teaching load for 2 years, then had a 50/50 research/support position for 2 years, you've been "doing research" for 8 years, but you've actually only had 4.4 years of research time.
Monday, August 6, 2012
The author begins with the important first step of self-examination as to one's strengths and weaknesses, career goals and interests. One of my first recommendations to graduate students, postdocs and faculty (even department chairs) is that they read or re-read Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker, published in the Harvard Business Review in 1999 and reprinted in January, 2005. (Search for a pdf version online.) The article is 10 pages and packed with the kinds of insights and questions a good mentor will provide.
Although sciencementor does not (as of this date) discuss the importance and difficulty of learning good time management skills, that is second on my self-mentoring checklist. At the very least, one should know the difference between important and urgent. I recommend that mentees adopt some of the strategies in time-management classics like "Getting Things Done" by David Allen; in particular, email inbox and calendar management are essential for most professionals. My favorite synthesis of self-management is "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen R. Covey. These resources are not just for business school graduates; I believe that all professionals will be more effective and experience less stress if they learn the skills portrayed in these books.
The self-mentoring blog next describes the formation of an Individual Development Plan: a structured outline of career objectives and action steps to achieve these objectives. My institution, like many others, has adopted a postdoctoral review process that involves the formation and annual review of such a plan; sciencementor provides several excellent templates. These plans also provide the key elements of the postdoctoral mentoring plan now required for NSF grants.
The second section of sciencementor's self-mentoring guide concerns building a professional network. The approaches used here are somewhat field-dependent; in academia, conference attendance and travel to give seminars and colloquiua are more important than career fairs. However, the latter are a good idea too when approaching critical transitions where having alternatives can be helpful. Sciencementor also mentions LinkedIn; while I don't believe it is currently widely used in academic astronomy, the connections available therein can be very helpful in general. LinkedIn is how I learned about sciencementor's self-mentoring blog in the first place!
Friday, August 3, 2012
Issue of August 3, 2012
eds. Daryl Haggard, Michele Montgomery, Nick Murphy, and Caroline Simpson
This week's issues:
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
As mentioned in last week's AASWOMEN, the time has come for me to step down from the CSWA and make room for new blood.
I'd say I'm doing it to "spend more time with my family" but that's not really true. (Why this phrase is a euphemism for "I was fired" merits it's own discussion, but not here!) It's simply that the end of my second three-year term has come up, and I'm become too busy in other areas of my life to give the attention to the CSWA that it deserves.
I started this blog back in 2008 as a way for the CSWA to reach a wider audience. It grew out of my own efforts at keeping a personal blog, which was fun and rewarding, at least at the time. Fast forward to 2012, and I'm not finding the time to blog anymore. Part of that is simply being busy, but I've always been busy. Part of it is also that I have more to blog about when I'm feeling dissatisfied, and now that I have a tenure-track job, I am a lot more happy with life.
Stepping down from the CSWA means that I will be stepping down from the Blogger-in-Chief role, although I will still be contributing to the blog regularly. I'll be leaving management of the blog in the capable hands of Laura Trouille. We have plans for a fresh rotation of regular and guest bloggers, whose posts I'm really looking forward to reading. We are still trying out ways to get our message out via new media, such as on Facebook and Twitter. If you have other suggestions on how to reach out to people, do let us know!
I've had a wonderful time serving on the CSWA for the last six years. It's been a great experience. I learned a lot about issues facing women in astronomy, and did my best to educate others about those issues, too. It's been great meeting people at conferences who recognize me for my work on the CSWA. Please keep saying 'hi'!