Thursday, December 29, 2016

Events at the 229th American Astronomical Society Meeting

Several key events will be occurring at the 229th American Astronomical Society meeting, held January 4th-8th at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Conference Center in Grapevine, Texas. Danny Barringer posted to Astrobetter for the upcoming meeting, and Jason Wright had previously written a first timer's guide to the AAS meeting for Astrobetter.  The AAS has posted an important update for the winter meeting (after receiving feedback from the 227th meeting), which includes "Grab & Go" Meals and Restaurant Discounts, Complimentary Shuttle Service, Bigger Badges for Accessibility, and Enhancements to the Exhibit Hall (including the announcement of the STARtorialist booth).

Below are highlights for events that may be of interest:

1. Student Pavilion and Mentoring Events:
The Student Pavilion, located in the exhibit hall, will provide a unique space for students to meet, network, and collect information. The AAS will provide table space and well as mentoring opportunities. Mentoring sessions will be held Wednesday-Friday (January 4th-6th) at 9:30-10:00 AM, 5:30-6:00 PM, and 6:00-6:30 PM each day, as well as Saturday morning (January 7th) and will include mentors form various backgrounds (more information on mentors will be available at the Student Pavilion). The sign up sheets will be available starting at the UG Orientation Reception and will then be available at the student pavilion.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

#AAS229: Making the Most of the AAS Winter Meeting with Twitter

It can be intimidating to attend the AAS winter meeting, especially the first time. This winter ~2500 astronomers will gather in Grapevine, Texas to exchange ideas, discuss research, and network with other professionals in astronomy. The program can be overwhelming, with thousands of oral and poster presentations as well as dozens of workshops and events. But for our relatively small community, it’s also a fun week to reconnect with friends and meet new people who may become lifelong colleagues. 

This guide is for those who are looking to expand their AAS experience by utilizing the power of Twitter. We highlight some great ways to connect digitally at the conference.  If you have further suggestions for how to make the most of AAS+Twitter, please contact Nicole or Jessica and we will add them to this post.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

AAS Equity Survey Responses

We present the responses to a community-led questionnaire for candidates for AAS election on their views of issues relating to inclusion and equity in astronomy. The questionnaire (which was not endorsed or sponsored by AAS or its committees) was sent out to candidates on Dec 4, requesting a response by Dec 14. This short time scale was set by a desire to collect responses before the AAS election, voting for which has now opened. We recognize that this was also a time when many candidates (as well as the folks who helped put together this survey) faced many pressures and demands from the end of the semester and final exams. We are grateful to all of those candidates who in this busy time were able to make time to respond. Given the limited time frame, we accepted responses to part or all of the questionnaire, as well as free-form statements on candidate views of equity and inclusion. As the first effort of this type, we hope that feedback will improve similar efforts in the future. We would also love to see other interested folks in the community take the lead in expanding similar questionnaires (or in asking AAS to provide more direction for the statements written by candidates) in order to address not only equity and inclusion, but other issues that matter to us as astronomers, so that we can all vote in a more informed way.

Also included in this folder is a read-me document that shares the instructions given to the candidates for their participation. We invite you to read and consider all of these candidate responses, and to use them to engage the candidates and our elected AAS representatives in a continuing conversation about these important issues.

Finally, we are especially grateful to other AAS members, many junior, who wish to remain anonymous but assisted greatly with brainstorming and executing this survey.

Prof. Rebekah Dawson
Prof. Elisabeth Mills
Prof. Jorge Moreno
Dr. Nicole Cabrera Salazar
Prof. Sarah Tuttle

Monday, December 19, 2016

Taking Action on the Gender Bias in STEM

Malaysia Primary School Girls
Today’s guest blogger, Anne Virkki, works as a postdoctoral research scientist in the planetary radar group of the Arecibo Observatory. She is originally from Finland, received her PhD from the University of Helsinki, and soon after defending escaped the dark and cold weather to the heat of Puerto Rico.

In the last AAS Division for Planetary Science meeting in October I joined the Women in Planetary Science lunch and discussion event. We discussed the small number of women in many of the spacecraft science teams as well as editorial boards of scientific journals and even smaller numbers of women from the different ethnic minorities. I find the event useful but felt that the discussion never got into the very core of the problem or practical actions on how to tackle it.

What we did discuss was the unconscious bias, but mainly on the level of employers choosing the future employees and how to make everyone included at the work places.  

However, a gender bias exists in the lives of many of us from a much earlier stage; it is a legacy carried by parents and teachers to children in societies where conservatism lives strong. The elders conserve the gender roles they learned from their own elders as values they either consciously or unconsciously pass on to their children: Girls should be seen but not heard, boys are better in mathematics and technology than girls, girls should learn to knit and cook and clean while boys should learn handiness like fixing the car or other “traditional forms” of engineering. For many families these stereotypes are fortunately history but for many others they are very present up to this day, and will affect the career choice of the children. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Gender Identity Policies Affecting Astronomers

By Jessica Mink, AAS CSWA+SGMA
When people think about the integration of transgender people into an academic environment, they tend to stop at the use of public facilities. That is the focus of people and groups who are in fact opposed to our identities and in the end, by denying us access, to our very existence. But we need other kinds of support. In my September Women In Astronomy post, I asked readers to help the American Astronomical Society Committee on Sexual orientation and Gender identity Minorities in Astronomy (SGMA) assess institutional gender identity and expression policies in their institutions. In one of the responses to a Facebook post of it, I learned that Campus Pride had conducted a much larger survey, though I found that it did not differentiate between identity and expression. It provides links to anti-discrimination policies at 998 institutions of higher education which include at least one, usually gender identity, but I don't have the time to ferret out specific wording from all of these. We also wanted to include some of the other institutions which employ astronomers in our survey, and a few of those came in.

Since November 8, local anti-discrimination rules have become more important as at least one member of the newly-elected U.S. administration has vowed to remove LGBT protections from Federal Regulations: In May, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence released this statement, the significant sentence of which I have underlined:
I have long believed that education is a state and local function. Policies regarding the security and privacy of students in our schools should be in the hands of Hoosier parents and local schools, not bureaucrats in Washington, DC. The federal government has no business getting involved in issues of this nature. I am confident that parents, teachers and administrators will continue to resolve these matters without federal mandates and in a manner that reflects the common sense and compassion of our state.
Many of my transgender friends are worrying that our Federal protections will disappear. Those protections have been mostly instituted by regulation and court interpretation since Congress has failed to pass an explicitly inclusive anti-discrimination law. Possible changes in regulators and judges could change our available rights. We are hurrying to correct the gender in our Social Security records and to get passports with the correct gender, things which have been made possible by changes in regulations during the Obama administration. Those of us who work for the Federal government or its contractors fear the loss of coverage of gender corrective medical care in our health insurance plans, which has only recently been required.

In that context, the results of our small survey are given here:

Institution                         Date          Gender_Protection
Wesleyan University                 9/30/2016     identity,expression
American Museum of Natural History  9/29/2016     identity,expression
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center    9/27/2016     identity,perceived_gender
University of Michigan              9/23/2016     identity,expression
University of Delaware              9/23/2016     identity,expression
University of Pittsburgh            9/22/2016     identity,expression
University of California            9/22/2016     identity,expression
Arizona State University            9/22/2016     identity,expression
Penn State                          9/22/2016     identity,sex_stereotyping
University of Colorado              9/21/2016     identity,expression
American Astronomical Society       9/21/2016     identity,expression
Smithsonian Institution             9/29/2016     identity,gender_stereotyping
Harvard University                  10/3/2016     identity
Johns Hopkins University            10/11/2016    identity,expression

The on-line version of the policy of each institution is linked from its name. The date is that on which the policy was checked. Policies change: my employer, the Smithsonian Institution added "gender stereotyping" between the time I wrote the original survey post and the time I started putting together the responses a week later.  Because this survey is the beginning of SGMA's effort to get employers of AAS members to meet the same standard, I wondered how "stereotyping" differed from "expression" and asked the National Center for Transgender Equality. They responded:
"Sex stereotyping" or "gender stereotyping" is something some federal agencies are using for some nuanced reasons having to do with the Justice Department's equivocal position on whether federal sex discrimination laws cover sexual orientation. So, you often see it used in this way: "race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity and gender stereotyping), sexual orientation, or disability." It's a somewhat confusing legal term and we don't recommend it as a substitute for gender expression. Similarly, "perceived gender" is not the same as gender expression. We believe nondiscrimination policies always cover a perception of someone's characteristics (like if your boss harasses you based on assuming you're Muslim but you're not actually Muslim), and that if "actual or perceived" language is used it should be applies to all covered characteristics. 
For private businesses and state and local policies, we still recommend "gender identity and expression" or "gender identity and gender expression."
10 out of 14 compliant employers is a good start, and we'll be fortunate if we can hold on to the partial protection of the two federal installations in the survey. We still have to work to move every institution toward the simple standard of forbidding discrimination based on either gender identity or gender expression. Then we'll be on to insurance coverage, the details of which are much harder to ferret out unless the institution is in a state which requires coverage of transgender-related services.

[This press release from GLAD, GLBT Legal Advocates and Defenders (of which I am on the Board) came out while I was writing this post. Covering an agreement on accommodation of transgender students in Massachusetts' community college system, it gives us some further goals.]

Monday, December 12, 2016

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

Well, it has been quite a year.

Semesters and quarters are winding down around the globe. Students and teachers alike are stumbling towards a tired finish line, and we have all settled into the short days that tell our brains and bodies that maybe now would be a great time to hunker down for a break. 

I’m trying to make this a period of contemplation. Although I am often the happiest when things are overwhelmingly busy (who doesn’t love falling into bed physically exhausted with a quiet mind?), my best thinking often happens when I find that quiet place where my brain can drift haphazardly. Unsolved problems get solved, weird ideas get spawned, and crushed, and made anew. The heavy lifting often happens in these quiet times when I can’t distract myself with busy work. 

A lot of things matter a lot, but time keeps passing too. For me it is hard not to just stagger to the end of the term and the year. Here are a few things I'm focusing on as we come to the end of another trip around the sun.

Reflection: This is the end of my first quarter as a tenure-track faculty member, which is still even a weird thing to write. It has been a great big adjustment - figuring out managing my time, recruiting, managing people, and planning for the longer term (is what I’m doing today going to help me tomorrow? In two years? In ten years? OH GOD WHAT AM I DOING??) I’m trying to take some time to both plan and reflect both weekly and quarterly. Getting swept up in the passing of time is too easy, and I want to at least steer the boat some of the time. 

Data: I’m working on being an honest tracker of activities and time. Sure, I’m not a lawyer, and no one cares what I’m doing with my time except me. But hey, we’re scientists. I want to know if I’m spending my time the way I think I am. The human brain is a beautiful disaster, and we operate in stories more often than we’d like to admit. Pushing back with data when appropriate is useful for me to keep myself accountable. I think this also helps me to be reasonable when thinking about my expectations for others. 

Rest: I suck at this. I should have learned this lesson a long time ago. I am resistant to this lesson. But joking aside, our brains and our bodies need rest. Some people don’t need a ton, some people need a bunch, but we have signed on to a career where some amount of “suffering for your science” is seen as a badge of honor. You should do what feels right for you, but as someone who now supervises people - it is important for me to model living in a way that isn’t destructive. And it is important for my students and staff to know that I value not just their contribution to our science, but them as people. 

Risk: I’m better at this, but am working on my intentionality here. We didn’t become scientists to check boxes or march through our days like zombies. I can definitely get worn down by the repetition. How is it December, for example? I want to make sure that I’m not just choosing the easy path, but something that feels like a meaningful contribution. I want to take enough intellectual risks that I flirt with failure. Especially with the pressures of narrowing funding opportunities it can seem wise to try for “sure things”, or make choices that we justify with being pragmatic. I tend to be a pretty pragmatic person so have to resist the urge. I don’t want my group to exist to keep existing. I want us to push into new understanding of the universe.

Forgiveness: I did not finish everything I hoped to finish. I did not meet all the goals I set. I could have handled some situations better than I did. I am working a lot on learning the lessons I can learn, finding space for forgiving myself, and moving forward. I am definitely guilty of being locked in past mistakes or patterns in an indulgent way sometimes. The excuses are familiar and comfortable. Forgiveness involves facing things head on and owning them, rather than glancing at them out of the corner of my eye and avoiding them. 

I hope you all can take a moment between finishing classes, and wrapping presents, and laying on the floor to mark the passing of time, and all the successes you’ve had this year. It is human nature to minimize our triumphs as we push forward. Take a moment to enjoy even the small moments of growth and victory. See you all on the flip side. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

AAS Candidate Questionnaire

Community members interested in issues of equity & inclusion have authored a survey for AAS members running for elected office, to request additional details on their policy positions and plans related to their prospective offices. The full questionnaire appears below. It was constructed with input from the community on issues that are important to all of us as we cast our votes.

A star (*) appears by the 5 questions that the authors consider the most important.

Survey responses will be made publicly available to AAS voters in read-only Google documents, and the availability of these responses will be advertised on the Astronomy in Color blog and here on the Women in Astronomy blog.

AAS Candidate Questionnaire

1. In a few sentences, what does equity and inclusion in astronomy mean to you?

2. In terms of racial, sexual, gender, and disability equity in our field, what do you believe the AAS is doing well, and what does the AAS need to improve?

3. (*) As part of the AAS leadership, what equity issue do you most want to address? What challenges do you believe the AAS will need to address in the next three years?

4. How do you see the AAS leading our field to racial, sexual, gender, and disability equity while respecting the self-governance of universities, departments, and other employers?

5. (*) Beyond its astronomy-specific responsibilities, do you see the AAS responding to more general threats to the rights or welfare of marginalized groups in the U.S., even if it risks political backlash?

6. What can the AAS do or continue doing to aid the professional development and employment opportunities for its growing population of junior members from minoritized groups?

7. (*) How will you work with the AAS Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA), the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA), the Working Group on Accessibility and Disability (WGAD), and the Committee for Sexual Orientation and Gender Minorities in Astronomy (SGMA) to ensure that the AAS is continually progressing toward making astronomy equitable for all?

8. (*) What background and experience in inclusion, equity, and accessibility work would you bring to this position that would help you make progress on these priorities? What personal experience would help inform your stance on these issues?

9. (*) Given recent publicized revelations of sexual harassment by senior astronomers, how do you believe that the AAS could help improve the climate in our field to better protect members from experiencing harassment along all axes (including race, disability, sexuality, and gender identification) and to support those who have experienced it?

10. Do you support at least one plenary AAS session per year (either at the winter or summer meeting) that addresses community issues related to equity and inclusion? How would you use your position as AAS leadership to ensure there is ample time and support for this type of plenary?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Cross-post: DPS/EPSC 2016 Plenary on Unconscious Bias by Dr. Patricia Knezek

This is a cross posting from the Women in Planetary Science blog.

The new DPS Sub-committee on Professional Culture and Climate implemented many ideas at the 2016 meeting in Pasadena, some of which were: a plenary talk featured in this post, more prominent displays of the anti-harassment policy at the meeting entrances, a hotline for reporting harassment incidents, and additional questions about the meeting climate on the post-meeting survey. The meeting survey will be e-mailed to attendees in the near future, please take a moment to fill it out!

knezek_patricia-100x150Dr. Patricia Knezek insightful talk outlines the prevalence and importance of unconscious bias, what it is (and what it is not), demographic data (including some for planetary science by Julie Rathbun and others), and what we can do to mitigate unconscious bias.
Her slides are available here.

If you have not already taken the Harvard Implicit Association Test, it is an interesting way to test your own biases (and not just for gender bias!)

Thanks to Patricia for this talk, and for the members of the DPS Professional Climate and Culture sub-committee for all of your efforts towards making the meeting a comfortable space for all.

Friday, December 2, 2016

AASWomen Newsletter for December 2, 2016

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of December 2, 2016
eds: Nicolle Zellner, Heather Flewelling, Christina Thomas, and Maria Patterson

This week's issues:

1. 500 Women Scientists
2. 2016 Holiday Gift Guide   
3. Cross Posts: On the US Election: Inclusion, Allyship, & Solidarity in Astronomy & Planetary Science
4. Now Open: L'Oreal USA For Women in Science Fellowship Application      
5. Next Scholar Program Accepting Applications  
6. Berkeley Students Are Challenging How Faculty Harassment Is Handled
7. The Search for Hidden Figures (contest announcement)
8. High School Girls Have Designed Africa's First Private Satellite
9. Children Learn Early On That Scientists Are Men
10. Job Opportunities  
11. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
12. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
13. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter