Thursday, September 9, 2021

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) Strategic Plan and its Implementation: What are we doing and how can you help?

Written By: Gregory Rudnick
Background for the Strategic Plan
In 2019 the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) initiated a Strategic Planning process. This significant investment of time was motivated by a few factors. As we moved into the 2020s, it became apparent that the landscape of challenges and opportunities had significantly evolved in many ways from the dominant issues that were the focus of the CSWA in years past. For example, the #MeToo movement shined a harsh light on the pervasiveness of harassment in our discipline and society - long known but seldom publicized - and demanded a coordinated and forward-looking response from the astronomical community. As a committee and community we also became more aware of the ways that we had failed to treat intersectionality in our advocacy for the CSWA constituency, thus rendering valued colleagues and friends invisible and marginalized. Addressing these and other issues required data, a plan, and a set of actionable items to implement the objectives of that plan. In this blog I outline the main components of the CSWA Strategic Plan, the process by which it was created, the implementation steps that we are undertaking, and a call to action among the community to help us with our goals.

The Strategic Plan is designed to guide the long-term activities of the CSWA and to provide continuity for successive generations of CSWA members. The plan is also designed to serve as a tool that the CSWA can use to help in its decision making process surrounding new opportunities or issues. Given the limited people power that the CSWA members and its constituents can bring to bear, a plan can help us determine the most efficient use of our resources to accomplish our larger goals.

The plan was informed by a community survey issued by the CSWA in 2019. The purpose of this survey, which combined Likert-scale and free-response questions, was to guide the CSWA in its future activities and priorities. The in-depth survey was fully anonymous and had 340 responses. The results from this survey informed our writing of two white papers to the Astro2020 Decadal Survey, one which addressed Advancing the Career Development of Women in Astronomy and one which addressed Eliminating Harassment in Astronomy. The survey has also been used to construct a set of recommendations to the AAS in the form of two BAAS papers (Wexler et al. in prep), and as a resource for constructing our Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan was developed over the course of a year by a subcommittee of the CSWA, was discussed multiple times in front of the whole CSWA committee, was sent to the other AAS and Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) Diversity committees for comments, was iterated on and eventually approved by the CSWA, and was finally sent to the AAS Board of Trustees for final approval.

The Strategic Plan has four main focus areas: Harassment & Bullying, Creating Inclusive Environments for an Ethical Workplace, Professional Development, and CSWA Operations and Interactions. Each of these areas has a set of associated high-level objectives that define the main scope of work in each of these areas.

Strategic Plan Projects and Their Implementation
The “work” of the CSWA in the context of the Strategic Plan is to carry out specific projects to accomplish these objectives. These projects represent the implementation portion of our plan. Using the initial survey data and discussions within the subcommittee and CSWA, we decided on a list of example projects and on an initial prioritization of these projects. We also classified projects as requiring short-term (<1 year) or long-term (>1 year) effort. While the focus areas and objectives are viewed as static for the lifetime of the Strategic Plan, the project list is dynamic. The list of example projects is given in Table 1 of the Strategic Plan, but it has always been the intention that this list could be added to, changed, or reprioritized. These projects involve working with different groups. Pursuant to the mission of the CSWA, most involve work within the AAS, both with the Board of Trustees and with the other committees. We also have projects focused on the AAS journals as well as projects that are more inward looking and involve CSWA activities. All projects were conceived with an explicit focus on intersectionality, intentionally taking a broad and inclusive view of our constituency.

We offer a range of projects from collecting demographic information on PhD student retention to coordinating with other AAS committees, like the CSMA and SGMA, to develop cross-committee goals. I encourage you to take a look at Table 1 of the Strategic Plan itself to find more detailed information on the range and scope of projects offered by the CSWA. Naturally, there are far too many things to do for even a very active committee to address simultaneously. We prioritized the projects to both reflect our internal committee ranking and also to ensure that there was a mix of long and short-term projects as well projects in every one of our focus areas. Ultimately the projects that we are actively working on are dictated by the interest and available effort of our committee members.

These projects form a significant component of the total ongoing and planned CSWA effort and their implementation and coordination is handled within a separate CSWA subcommittee, composed of those members who are actively working on projects. This group meets monthly to update everyone on project status and to use the other members as a resource to discuss problems and brainstorm solutions. We report our progress regularly to the larger CSWA.

Assessment is a critical part of any project implementation. In some cases the assessment of a project is straightforward and we have some examples of assessments in the Strategic Plan. For other projects, however, the most useful form of assessment is only apparent once the project is started. It may also be that the development of proper assessments lies outside the realm of expertise for committee members. For this reason we therefore construct assessments once the projects gain some steam and we more appreciate the subtleties in project execution. In a shared document we keep track of all projects, the people working on them, the status of the projects, and the status of the assessment.

Synergy with the Strategic Plan of the AAS
The AAS recently made public their Strategic Plan for 2021-2026. The CSWA plan was developed prior to the AAS plan, involved a significant amount of community input, and was carried out independently from the AAS Plan. Given this independent development process, it is therefore heartening to see the significant synergy between the two. All of the goals under Strategic Priority 2: Build equitable, diverse, and inclusive (EDI) practices within the astronomical community align with objectives of our plan, as do goal 4 of Strategic Priority 3: Support astronomy education, professional development, and dissemination of astronomical science.

In addition to high-level agreement between the two plans, there is also significant overlap in the AAS Actions and CSWA Projects. For example, Actions under Staff Support, Access and Participation, and ​​Justice and equity in ethics, policies, and practices in Strategic Priority 2 of the AAS plan directly correspond to CSWA projects. There is additional overlap in CSWA projects with the AAS Strategic Priority 3 Actions Professional development for education, mentoring, and outreach and Journals and Publications.

From the standpoint of the CSWA, it is a good sign that the resources and will of the AAS is fully behind the goals of our constituents. This is already being reflected in the close work that various AAS officers are undertaking with our committees, and in the dedication of budgetary resources to the CSWA to carry out its Strategic Plan Projects.

Call for Volunteers and How You Can Help
Our ability to carry out projects and accomplish our goals is limited largely by the amount of time that CSWA members can commit. Indeed, it was always the intention that our constituency within the AAS would be solicited for help implementing projects. The CSWA serves its constituency, but is most effective when we can enlist the active participation of interested community members.

What might this effort look like? It may be that you could volunteer to help out with an existing project. Either you could assist one of the committee members who is already leading a project, or you could take up the leadership of a new project. You could even propose a new project (subject to CSWA approval) if you think it addresses one of the Strategic Plan Objectives. It is also possible that the CSWA could procure funds to support some of these activities, as we know that time is precious and that compensation is important. In other words, please don’t let resource limitations prevent you from entering a discussion with us.

If you are interested in helping out or if you have any questions, please contact me (grudnick@ku.edu).

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Astronomers for Planet Earth: Imani Mairae Ware

This feature is part of our ongoing series about the amazing women at Astronomers for Planet Earth (A4E),  a global network of astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts dedicated to offering their unique perspective to the fight for climate justice. For this post, we'll hear from Imani Mairae Ware, an undergraduate student studying astrophysics at San Francisco State University (SFSU).

If you're interested in learning more about A4E's work combating global climate change and want to get involved, join them here at: https://astronomersforplanet.earth/join-us-1. And be sure to check out A4E's white paper on what astronomers (like you!) can do to address the climate crisis: Astronomers for Planet Earth: Engaging with the Public to Forge a Sustainable Future

Imani Mairae Ware is an undergraduate at SFSU and the co-founder of Astronomers for Planet Earth 

What is your current career and how did you end up there?

Right now, I am attending San Francisco State University to study astrophysics for my Bachelor’s degree. I decided to study astrophysics after taking a couple of physics classes in high school with my amazing and inspiring teacher, William Lemei. Our class watched a TEDx talk by astrophysicist Dr. Alex Fillipenko about his dark energy discoveries and after that, I knew I wanted to study astrophysics. Although I love studying the sky and the physics of the universe, I also love to build structures and design real-world systems, like an engineer. So to get the best of both worlds, I planned to study astrophysics to get a more fundamental understanding of aerospace engineering to take to an industry job. Little did I know that astrophysics was more than a fundamental understanding of aerospace, but an in-depth analysis of physical and theoretical micro and macro systems. I’m so happy I chose this route because I now know more about this world and the universe than I could have ever imagined back in high school.

What is your role in Astronomers for Planet Earth (A4E)?
I am one of the original members and co-founders of Astronomers for Planet Earth (A4E). While President of the Women in Physics and Astronomy Club, I helped organize A4E’s official debut panel session at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s 131st conference hosted at San Francisco State University in 2019. From there the co-founders and I worked on recruiting other astronomers passionate about climate activism and setting the foundation for this blossoming organization. As the word spread, we joined forces with a Europe-based group of astronomers focused on climate change, and from there we have coordinated social media content, membership events, conference talks, and calls to action for observatories around the world. As an undergraduate student taking online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, I haven’t been as active as I wanted to, but have contributed in any way I can. My next step is to focus on administrative structures to help streamline the onboarding process of new members.

What goals do you have for your role in A4E?
Since a large portion of my time in A4E has been setting up a structure and foundation to make operations easier in the future, the activism side of our mission has been slow to start. One of my goals is to initiate events and meetings to focus on implementing action-based movements. Most companies and organizations that flaunt their eco-friendly initiatives are all talk, no action. I do not want A4E to become one of those organizations and intend to push for more front-line climate activism. I also want to involve more youth and underrepresented groups in the organization to diversify the voices we include in the climate conversation. Since I am still one of a handful of undergraduate students active in A4E, I want to facilitate outreach events to bring more youth activists into A4E and foster a safe space for open discussion. Astronomy is for everyone and everyone is affected by climate change. Anyone who values both astronomy and climate change, regardless of age and background, should have their voices heard in A4E.

Mid-hike at Zion National Park, Imani Mairae Ware takes a moment to appreciate the beauty of the sandstone cliffs.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection between your passion for astronomy and the urgency of fighting climate change.

I don’t really have a specific moment when I made the connection, but after learning that traveling to other planets outside of our solar system is still science fiction, I knew we need to take care of Planet Earth since it’s the only one we have. There really is no Planet B. Most of the other planets and moons in our solar system are currently uninhabitable and will take decades before any colony could be established on those with promising terrain. Of course, interstellar travel is a future possibility, but right now, that technology doesn’t exist. That is why we must take care of our planet and mitigate anthropogenic climate change so we can eventually build the interstellar technology of sci-fi fantasies. We only have a couple of decades to even get close to righting the wrongs we’ve inflicted on this planet. After realizing that the climate change problem is more urgent than interstellar space travel, I decided that the astronomical perspective on climate change could help bring humanity’s focus back from the fantasies of the stars to the realities of the earth.

How does your career in astronomy intersect with the fight against climate change?
Astronomy and fighting climate change are not often connected, but since they are both passions of mine, I made sure to bring these two worlds together. One connection I can think of is that effectively observing space from the ground requires good atmospheric conditions, but as climate change makes the atmosphere less predictable, astronomers must advocate for the planet like we advocate for space science.

How can the astronomical community engage with the climate crisis movement?
Since astronomers have a unique perspective on the climate crisis, we should first create and share educational tools to provide cosmological context to our global problem while presenting effective, concrete solutions. The most effective space astronomers have to share this information is in the classroom and academic community. But since the love for stars and space is not limited to members of academia, astronomers also have the ability to inspire and include everyone into the conversation through the wonderfully curious lens of astronomy.

If you weren’t in the field of astronomy, what would you be doing?
If I weren’t in astrophysics, I would probably be studying aerospace engineering at another university since SFSU doesn’t have aerospace engineering. I would still be volunteering as a climate activist, regardless of my career path, since climate change is everyone’s problem to solve.

In her free time, Imani enjoys snowboarding on the slopes in Pinecrest, CA

Do you have any advice for future astronomers who might also be interested in addressing the climate crisis?
Check out the resources and information pages on the A4E website, join A4E, explore our slack space to connect with other members, and continue to apply climate solutions as often as you can! You are not alone in this fight!


Thursday, September 2, 2021

Crosspost: ‘She astonishes me’: How an astrophysicist is helping the Oakland A’s fine-tune their pitches

Written By: Shayna Rubin for The Mercury News

Dr. Samantha Schultz, an astrophysicist turned pitching analyst for the Oakland Athletics, is shown here in the field with Oakland A's pitcher, Lou Trivino. Credit: Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group.

Samantha Schultz called her mom from college in the middle of a meltdown, frustrated with the complicated math she needed to master for her degree in astrophysics from St. Mary’s College.

Her post-graduate plan had been to get her Ph.D. in particle physics. That wasn’t her plan anymore. Through tears over the phone, Schultz told her mother the new one: to work in baseball.

Huh?

That her science-obsessed daughter wanted to go in another direction was shocking enough. But getting where she wanted to go in baseball was harder than math.

“You look at the front office names, and going off first names, 98 percent of women are in marketing or something similar — not baseball operations,” Schultz’s mother, Elizabeth Baldwin, said last week. “I told her, ‘You might have to start out with something boring like cricket, or hockey.’

“She said, ‘Nah, I’m gonna do baseball.’”

Now 26, Schultz is a pitching analyst for the A’s. In four years, she has gone from the Big Bang to the big leagues.

“She was confident it would be baseball and not some other sport she had minimal interest in — and she did it,” Baldwin said. “She astonishes me.”


First love

When it came to baseball, the Giants were Schultz’s first love.

While other baseball fans in the Bay Area and around the globe were engrossed by Barry Bonds’ home run chase and enigmatic stardom, Schultz was drawn to the pitching — Jason Schmidt, Robb Nen and, later, Matt Cain and Sergio Romo. But it was the undersized Tim Lincecum, with his powerful delivery and the supernatural movement on his pitches, that gave flight to her love of pitching.

“It was the dominance,” she said. “Watching him be dominant with mechanics that are not routine and something you wouldn’t teach. The beauty of his changeup. The way he used his pitches, it made me fall in love with pitching as its own art form.”

After leaving St. Mary’s with her astrophysics degree and math minor, Schultz enrolled in the sports management program at Columbia University. It was there, while working with the baseball team, that opportunity began to knock. And knock. And knock.

The woman who had worked without pay for the St. Mary’s baseball team, serving as official scorer and in any other capacity, had been recruited by Major League Baseball’s diversity fellowship program. She had an internship with the New York Mets and was juggling offers from the Tampa Bay Rays and the San Diego Padres. She had been a runner-up for a uniformed position as a traveling analyst with the Cincinnati Reds, which would have made her the first uniformed woman on an MLB coaching staff — a few years before Giants trailblazer Alyssa Nakken.

In a baseball landscape where teams are constantly looking for a unique edge and expertise, an astrophysics background was proving attractive.

Read more about Samantha Schultz's fascinating career turn from astrophysicist to pitching analyst for the Oakland A's and how her extensive math background has helped pitcher, Lou Trivino, improve his game:
https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/08/14/how-an-astrophysicist-is-helping-the-oakland-as-fine-tune-their-pitches/

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Astronomers for Planet Earth: Dr. Adrienne M. Cool

This is the seminal post for a series of features on the incredible women from Astronomers for Planet Earth (A4E), a global network of astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts dedicated to offering their unique perspective to the fight for global climate justice. To kick things off, we'll hear from Dr. Adrienne Cool, a faculty member at San Francisco State University's Physics and Astronomy Department. 

If you're interested in supporting the effort to combat climate change, join A4E's amazing community here: https://astronomersforplanet.earth/join-us-1. Really, really interested? Read the white paper, Astronomers for Planet Earth: Engaging with the Public to Forge a Sustainable Future, to learn more about what you (yes, you!) can do right now to tackle the climate crisis.

Dr. Adrienne Cool is an observational astronomer at SFSU and the director of the SFSU Observatory and Planetarium. 

What is your current career and how did you end up there?
I've been a faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at San Francisco State University for more than 20 years. I started there after doing a postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley.

What is your role in Astronomers for Planet Earth (A4E)?
I'm one of the founders of the organization. Since we began in the fall of 2019 I've been doing a range of things, e.g., working on the website, doing intake as part of the membership working group, coordinating weekly meetings of the North America group, participating in monthly international meetings, helping organize conference sessions and symposia, giving talks, and... learning to appreciate Slack when working with people in 15 different time zones!

What goals do you have for your role in A4E?
It's been very meaningful to me that nearly 1200 astronomers from more than 60 countries on 6 continents have joined A4E in the relatively short time since we were founded. As we grow we need to be creating structures and mechanisms that will enable more and more of our diverse members' voices to be heard. Students are also critical and have been leaders from the start; A4E wouldn't exist without them. I look forward to continuing to work with the amazing, caring, and committed people who have joined and are leading this organization as we shepherd ourselves through the next transition.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection between your passion for astronomy and the urgency of fighting climate change.
The US election in 2016 was a wake-up call for me. The climate crisis had been on my mind, but the outcome of that election made me think much harder about what I could and should be doing. That's when it hit me that astronomers have an unusual perspective on our planet that could be harnessed in the struggle to combat the climate crisis. Who else knows quite as viscerally as we do just how far away the stars and their attendant planets are, not to mention the delicate set of conditions that lead to habitability? And though astronomy is a relatively small field, we have a surprisingly big reach. Astronomers all over the world interact with millions of people every year in classrooms, planetariums, and more. Putting those two things together--the astronomical perspective and the reach we have--can be powerful, I think.

How does your career in astronomy intersect with the fight against climate change?
I'm fortunate to work in a university with a diverse and engaged student population and a strong commitment to social justice and activism. So it's not a stretch to see how working on astronomy, the climate crisis, and climate justice all intersect.

Dr. Cool teaches the next generation of astronomers at a sidewalk astronomy event for Mercury's transit across the sun on November 11, 2019.

How can the astronomical community engage with the climate crisis movement? 
There are many ways we can engage. Fundamentally, A4E exists in order for astronomers to help one another find ways to engage effectively with the climate crisis movement and make meaningful change. One way of course is to work to make our own field sustainable. That includes observatories, astronomical institutes, universities, science museums, planetaria and more. Another is to use our voices as educators and public speakers. When we're talking and teaching about astronomy and astronomical discoveries, we can make a practice of making the link between what we're learning about the cosmos and what it means about the preciousness and vulnerability of our own planet. There's more, but those are two main strands I see.

If you weren’t in the field of astronomy, what would you be doing?
I'd probably be a carpenter. Or maybe a school teacher. I've always loved teaching and building things. 
 
Do you have any advice for future astronomers who might also be interested in addressing the climate crisis?
Join us. Astronomers for Planet Earth needs your ideas, your voice, and your help!