Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Career-Life Beer Hour

I am currently visiting the Leiden Observatory, and last night I shared a beer with some of the students and postdocs. The topic quickly moved to Women in Astronomy.

That morning I had been reflecting on the really rotten education in Women-in-Physics culture I had received in my youth.  Book? "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman". Movie? "Real Genius". Good grief!

Had I really enjoyed and even recommended those?

But my faith was restored by the thoughtful discussion at the pub. I left feeling that it was all going to be okay, that the future was of our making, and that with students and postdocs like these we were going to change the landscape for women and men in astronomy.  Of course, a pint of beer always can inspire overconfidence. But the gathering itself got me thinking as I walked home past canals and careening bicyclists.

I think that when I get back to the Center for Astrophysics, I am going to start a monthly Career-Life Beer Hour.

One of the concerns that I heard at the pub was that many of the panel discussions that are convened to discuss Career-Life balance are organized by Women in Science groups. While in principle anyone can attend, the audience is almost always comprised nearly exclusively of women. But the main audience we are failing to engage are the men! I have a hunch that many men feel that they shouldn't attend a Women In Science event, and perhaps that a panel type event may be a little intimidating.

The other concern I have is that these events are almost always organized by junior folks. (For the record let me state that I really value Women-in-Science events organized by students and postdocs! But as a professor I am asking myself how I leverage my position to help. I am hoping that by organizing something myself it might indicate that, of course, the senior staff deeply value this issue too.)

I am hoping that a more casual setting might provide a space for discussions that might not otherwise occur. Heck, I bet the attendance might even have a gender balance that matches the population! It would also be a place to pontificate and to gripe as we see fit, perhaps in a format of a guided discussion. But, above all, I am hoping it is a place to leave feeling that the future is of our making.