Friday, September 29, 2023

AASWomen Newsletter for September 29, 2023

AAS Committee on the Status of Women           
Issue of September 29, 2023
eds: Jeremy Bailin, Nicolle Zellner, Sethanne Howard, and Hannah Jang-Condell

[We hope you all are taking care of yourselves and each other. --eds.]

This week's issues:

1. NASA's Hubble Fellowship Program
2. NSF supports the Council of Graduate Schools in efforts to broaden participation in the nation’s technology workforce
3. Astronomers push back on new IAU harassment polic
4. Natural Inspiration   
5. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
6. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
7. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

An online version of this newsletter will be available at http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/ at 3:00 PM ET every Friday.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

NASA's Hubble Fellowship Program

By Antonino Cucchiara (NASA HQ) and Patricia Knezek (NASA HQ)



Summary: The NASA Hubble Fellowship Program (NHFP) seeks input from the astronomical community and, in particular, from early career colleagues, in response to the 2021 NHFP program review and recommendations. This feedback form will be available until October 21st, 2023.



Background: The NASA Hubble Fellowship Program, the umbrella program that currently includes the Hubble, Sagan, and Einstein Fellowships, has been critical in providing talented and scientifically productive early career researchers the necessary tools to pursue groundbreaking discoveries while becoming leaders in the field of astronomy. The NHFP was created in 2018, but when considering its impact in combination with fellowships (e.g. Chandra, Spitzer) previously funded by NASA's Astrophysics Division, the role the fellowships have played cannot be understated: many fellows reached leadership positions in academia, federal agencies, and research centers and were awarded research grants, and prizes earlier than many of their peers.


In 2021, NASA Headquarters (HQ) initiated the first-ever review of the NHFP with the main objectives of identifying areas of improvement. While the charge of the review panel was to focus on two major areas (the NHFP success under its current structure and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of the program), the report included 32 recommendations that span a wide range of topics (e.g., the Mission of the NHFP, the management of the program, the review and application processes, Diversity and Accessibility, and the support of the fellows).


The report was published in December 2021 and showed the impact and aura of prestige that surrounds the program, its participants, and the key role within the astronomical community in providing resources to emerging early career researchers.


Nevertheless, under the broader lenses of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) 2020-2024 Science Plan and the adoption of Inclusion as a NASA core value (in addition to the values of Excellence, Integrity, Teamwork, and Safety), the NHFP report highlights the need for change in several aspects of the NHFP, some of which were already underway at the time of its publication.


Actions: NASA HQ created a task force, which included the NHFP program leads and management personnel at NASA, as well as personnel at Goddard Space Flight Center, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, and the Center for Astrophysics, to address the recommendations. Over the first year, the task force crafted a response to the report and identified recommendations that were already implemented or would be implemented by the 2023 Fellows cycle (e.g., providing funding for non-research career development activities, and extending the 4-year post-PhD eligibility criteria). This response can be found here.


Also, in the summer of 2022 a Community Feedback form was delivered to the astronomical community to gauge which of the 32 recommendations should be prioritized, while considering their impact on the program and the fellows’ experiences. The responses on the aforementioned form came from community members who identify along multiple diversity axes, from early career to more senior colleagues and also included members from institutions and private sectors. While all recommendations were included in the feedback request, key takeaways from the response was that the community was split in its consideration of the importance of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA, as defined in the report and in NASA SMD Strategic Plan) and the role this should play in the various aspects of the program (e.g., from the definition of a program Mission statement, to selection criteria, to the need for funding fellows’ career development initiatives). Many of the 32 recommendations, though, require financial commitments that will naturally delay their implementation, as well as require fundamental changes in financing the program’s day-to-day operations (e.g., policies, reviews, etc.). 


In summer 2023, the task force developed a more focused feedback form, whose aim is to narrow down some of the key aspects of the program review (and relevant recommendations) to gauge community inputs regarding possible changes to the NHFP that could support future needs of the fellows. The task force will brief the community on the results and outcomes of the current feedback form at a Special Session on the NHFP at the 243th AAS in New Orleans, in January 2024.


2022 NHFP Symposium


Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Story Behind the Book, “MOTHERS IN ASTRONOMY"

We welcome contributions from our readers! This week’s guest post was written by Dr. Paola Pinilla, an associate professor at University College London (UCL), who works on planet formation. Dr. Pinilla is passionate about learning to increase diversity in Astronomy and looks to her mother as a role model.

It was Autumn of 2021 when my second child was just a few months old, and my colleague and good friend MarĂ­a Claudia (Macla) Ramirez-Tannus approached me to ask me questions about combining motherhood and academia. Macla had just had her first baby earlier that year. We are both astronomers, and at that time we were both working at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Germany. I was a research group leader and Macla is a MPIA post-doctoral fellow. She was not the first mom in academia who approached me to ask me these kinds of questions, and for many of them I did not have any actual answer.

I remember very well the circumstances in which Macla asked me her questions. We were in a restaurant trying to have lunch, breastfeed, distract our babies; trying not to make everything dirty; and all at the same time. I asked Macla: how many moms do you know who are astronomers? And she replied “You”, and we laughed. We took some minutes to think about moms who can be role models in astronomy, especially for scientists in early stages of their career. We compiled around a dozen names. We knew about their research, but almost nothing about their life as a mother, especially after long periods of social distance and confinement during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I went back home feeling a little bit sad, thinking about the very few mom role models in our careers. I started to search for information online, and I found the inspiring organization of “Mothers in Science”, and I started to learn about some research demonstrating the current bias and discrimination against mothers in science. Reading this information reminded me how I felt when I had my first child in summer 2018, when I was continuously pondering if I will be able to make a career in academia while being a mother.

I was (and still am) facing situations that are very common for mothers in academia, such as being far from family who can help at home and with child responsibilities, or being in a country (in 2018 in the USA) that gives only a few days of paternity leave and only a few weeks for mothers. I remember feeling lonely and scared, and at that moment I wished that no other mother in astronomy or science would feel like this. Three years later, after Macla approached me with her questions, I thought that it is totally possible that some (or even several) mothers of young children in astronomy feel overwhelmed, scared, worried, and lonely.

I remember that I came back to Macla a few days later, telling her we need to do something to learn about how mothers in our field manage their daily routines and to inspire mothers of young children who are struggling in their academic career. Macla also found it important to raise awareness in our non-parent colleagues about the challenges that mothers face at their workplace, as many of those challenges are still unspoken in our community.

Macla and I planned to collect as many stories as possible of mothers in astronomy and share them in a free digital book. We contacted the science communicator Martha Irene Saladino for help in the editing and design of this digital book. Another important goal of our project was to highlight the positive impact of motherhood in our careers, with the aim of creating collective empowerment by supporting
Book cover
each other.


Our digital book contains the stories of 75 mothers in astronomy at different stages of their career, with the answers to the following questions:
  • What do you enjoy the most about being a mother?
  • What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced when combining motherhood and academic career?
  • Has the covid-19 pandemic impacted your career and family in the last couple of years?
  • Which positive effects has motherhood had on your career?

The responses are from mothers working in 16 different countries, who have between one and five children. Most of them are mothers in staff/permanent positions (85%). All the stories are very inspirational and give a positive (but honest) view of being a mother in academia. Several mothers concede that motherhood has had a positive impact in their career for several reasons. For one, children keep us grounded and more focused at work. Motherhood also makes us better people because we learn about ourselves and our limits and become more empathetic, supportive, compassionate, organized, open-minded, and patient- qualities that are used in our daily work routines. In addition, as mothers, we tend to forget irrelevant problems, be better teachers, be unafraid of questioning standard practices, and be ready for the unexpected (that usually brings the most joy).

Many of the stories show how several mothers felt or feel behind in their careers compared to their peers, who generally have more energy and can work more hours in their jobs. Several of the senior moms encourage the junior moms to hang-in there during the challenging times of the first years of motherhood, and give hope that we will eventually catch-up. With these stories, however, members of committees that evaluate grant proposals, observing proposals, and job candidates can become more aware of the challenges and inequalities that young mothers face in our field, and can decide how to better accommodate practices and policies to provide more inclusion of mothers in astronomy across all career levels. 

Quotes from "Mothers in Astronomy"
I received from Macla a printed version of our
Mothers in Astronomy book. Personally, all these stories have helped me in difficult moments that I face as a mother and they are a good reminder that “stars and planets will wait”. Reading the book made me feel less alone and more empowered towards my career, and this is why I share this story with you today.


**If you are a mother in astronomy and want to share your story with us, please contact me at p.pinilla_at_ucl.ac.uk. We will be happy to include your story in our book.





For more information, see:



Friday, September 15, 2023

AASWOMEN Newsletter for September 15, 2023

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of September 15, 2023
eds: Jeremy Bailin, Nicolle Zellner, Sethanne Howard, and Hannah Jang-Condell

[We hope you all are taking care of yourselves and each other. --eds.]

This week's issues:

1. The Other Woman: At the Intersection of my Astronomical and Gender Identities
2. Meet Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for JWST and advocate for LGBTQ+ astronomers
3. Giant leap for women: early ‘lady’ astronomers have asteroids named in their honour
4. Planet Talk with Sanika Iyer
5. These highly trained scientists and doctors were making history. Reporters kept asking them sexist questions
6. 2024 NASA Heliophysics Mission Design School Applications Due October 13, 2023
7. Job Opportunities
8. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter
9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter
10. Access to Past Issues

An online version of this newsletter will be available at http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/ at 3:00 PM ET every Friday.


1. The Other Woman: At the Intersection of my Astronomical and Gender Identities
From: Andie Vanture via womeninastronomy.blogspot.com

"As I sit here writing this it is the last weekend of Pride. At this time last year, a friend and former student asked me about the intersection of my identities as an astronomer and a transwoman. It is one of those questions that stumps you, and I was unable to drag forth an immediate answer. I have never thought of my identity as an astronomer in the same light as my identity as a transwoman. With the exception of the planets in our solar system, in particular Venus and Mars, we don’t gender astronomical objects. But astronomer is an identity as deep as one’s gender identity."

Read more at:

http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2023/09/the-other-woman-at-intersection-of-my.html

Back to top.


2. Meet Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for JWST and advocate for LGBTQ+ astronomers
From: Sethanne Howard [sethanneh_at_msn.com]

By Lisa Grossman for Science News

"One of a telescope operator’s primary jobs is to keep any stray light out of the instrument. Earthly and other unwelcome photons can swamp the cosmic light from distant stars and galaxies. During more than a decade as a project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, Jane Rigby obsessed over minimizing light leaks — with extraordinary success. The sky looks darker to JWST than most anyone had hoped.

Rigby herself, now the senior project scientist for JWST, is a source of light."

Read more at:

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/rigby-scientist-jwst-lgbtq-astronomers

Back to top.


3. Giant leap for women: early ‘lady’ astronomers have asteroids named in their honour
From: Sethanne Howard [sethanneh_at_msn.com]

by Donna Ferguson

"They charted the stars for pitiful wages, knowing their observations about the universe would be attributed to male colleagues, and died in relative obscurity, their scientific achievements unrecognised and overlooked.

Now, in a tribute to trailblazing British female astronomers, two asteroids have been named for Annie Maunder and Alice Everett, among the first women in the world to earn a living in astronomy."

Read more at:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/sep/10/giant-leap-for-women-early-lady-astronomers-have-asteroids-named-in-their-honour

Back to top.


4. Planet Talk with Sanika Iyer
From: Jeremy Bailin [jbailin_at_ua.edu]

by Sanika Iyer

"Witnessing the dazzling Neowise comet in the sky piqued my initial interest in the topic of astronomy. This phenomenon made me curious about our universe and realize how much is yet to uncover in the cosmos. Furthermore, the recent images from the James Webb Space Telescope have invigorated the study of deep sky objects and inspired me to continue my study. I began looking for opportunities to further immerse myself in this discipline and took a few introductory courses in astronomy. To capture my learnings, I started my blog, 'Planet Talk.' In this blog, I publish articles about space and earthly phenomena for my viewers to read."

Read more at:

https://awis.org/resource/planet-talk-sanika-iyer/

Back to top.


5. These highly trained scientists and doctors were making history. Reporters kept asking them sexist questions
From: Jeremy Bailin [jbailin_at_ua.edu]

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN

"The exchange from a news conference just a few weeks before NASA’s 1983 space shuttle Challenger launch is one of many fascinating and cringeworthy scenes unearthed and detailed by author Loren Grush in her new book, 'The Six: The Untold Stories of America’s First Women Astronauts.'"

Read more at:

https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/12/world/nasa-women-astronauts-the-six-scn-cec/index.html

Back to top.


6. 2024 NASA Heliophysics Mission Design School Applications Due October 13, 2023
From: Karly Pitman [pitman_at_SpaceScience.org]

2024 NASA Heliophysics Mission Design School Applications Due October 13, 2023

Enhance Your Early Career! NASA’s Heliophysics Mission Design School (HMDS) is a 3-month-long career development experience for Doctoral candidates (requires advancement to candidacy), Post-Docs or early career researched within 10 years of receiving their Ph.D., Junior faculty within 10 years of receiving their Ph.D. and with a continuous teaching faculty role in that period, and Non-research Engineering Master-level students within six to nine months of graduation who are not planning to pursue a Ph.D. will be considered on a space-available basis. U.S. Citizens or legal permanent residents (and a limited number of Foreign Nationals from non-designated countries) are eligible. Applicants from diverse backgrounds are particularly encouraged to apply. Diversity, equity and inclusion are important to us, and we strive to create a welcoming environment where participants’ contributions and unique perspectives are valued.

Learn the process of developing a science hypothesis-driven robotic space mission in a concurrent engineering environment, while getting an in-depth, first-hand look at mission design, life cycle, costs, schedule & the trade-offs inherent in each. A NASA Science Mission Design School, HMDS is led by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in collaboration with Goddard Space Flight Center & Applied Physics Laboratory.

2024 HMDS: Preparatory Sessions February 12 – April 19. Culminating Week with JPL’s Team X April 22 – April 26.

Roughly equivalent in workload to a rigorous 3-hour graduate-level course, participants spend 11-12 weeks in preparatory webinars acting as a science mission team, prior to spending the final culminating week being mentored by JPL’s Advance Project Design Team, or “Team-X” to refine their science mission concept design, then present it to a mock expert review board.

An informational webinar and Q&A about HMDS will be held on Thursday, September 14, 2023, at 9:30 am PDT. We’ll describe the HMDS program, discuss tips, and learn best practices for submitting an application to this competitively-selected experience. Registration is required.

A recording will be made available for those who were unable to attend live.

To learn more & apply, visit http://go.nasa.gov/missiondesignschools

Back to top.


7. Job Opportunities

For those interested in increasing excellence and diversity in their organizations, a list of resources and advice is here:

https://aas.org/comms/cswa/resources/Diversity#howtoincrease

- Future Faculty in the Physical Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowship at Princeton University
https://puwebp.princeton.edu/AcadHire/position/31881

- Postdoctoral research positions in Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University
https://www.princeton.edu/acad-positions/position/31924

Back to top.


8. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter

To submit an item to the AASWOMEN newsletter, including replies to topics, send email to aaswomen_at_lists.aas.org .

All material will be posted unless you tell us otherwise, including your email address.

When submitting a job posting for inclusion in the newsletter, please include a one-line description and a link to the full job posting.

Please remember to replace "_at_" in the e-mail address above.

Back to top.


9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter

Join AAS Women List through the online portal:

To Subscribe, go to https://aas.simplelists.com/aaswlist/subscribe/ and enter your name and email address, and click Subscribe. You will be sent an email with a link to click to confirm subscription.

To unsubscribe from AAS Women by email:

Go to https://aas.simplelists.com, in the "My account and unsubscriptions", type your email address. You will receive an email with a link to access your account, from there you can click the unsubscribe link for this mailing list.

Back to top.


10. Access to Past Issues

https://aas.org/comms/cswa/AASWOMEN

Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered.

Back to top.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The Other Woman: At the Intersection of my Astronomical and Gender Identities.

We welcome contributions from our readers! This week’s guest post was written by Andie Vanture, a tenured instructor at Everett Community College. She holds a BA in Physics and an MS and PhD in Astronomy. Her research interests are stellar nucleosynthesis and astrobiology. Andie has been teaching undergraduate students physics and astronomy for 32 years. She lives in Seattle with her wife of 39 years and their son. Occasionally, when the rain clouds part she gets to see the Sun, Moon and stars. She can be reached at avanture_at_everettcc.edu.


 

Andie Vanture Photo courtesy of Diana Canzoneri
Andie Vanture (Credit: Diana Canzoneri).
As I sit here writing this it is the last weekend of Pride. At this time last year, a friend and former student asked me about the intersection of my identities as an astronomer and a transwoman. It is one of those questions that stumps you, and I was unable to drag forth an immediate answer. I have never thought of my identity as an astronomer in the same light as my identity as a transwoman. With the exception of the planets in our solar system, in particular Venus and Mars, we don’t gender astronomical objects. But astronomer is an identity as deep as one’s gender identity. As astronomers, not only do we learn the tools of our trade but we also confront the vastness of the Universe and the profound questions that poses. Seeking to answer these questions shapes our lives as deeply as other experiences of our lives. All of us have had that “pale blue dot” experience which affects in larger and smaller ways our experience of the world around us. There is no single answer to my friend’s query. My various identities are tightly interwoven—the becoming of one affects the becoming of all the others. However, pursuit of a career as a professional astronomer has impacted my struggle with my gender identity. In turn, that struggle informed the path of my career as a professional astronomer. Particularly impactful in my struggle with gender identity and my desire to have a career in astronomy.

Discussions of identity often challenge one’s own identities, particularly among people who are not members of the identity being examined, leading to feelings of discomfort and defensiveness. So, I wish to make a few points clear before I go into detail about those impactful events I referred to in the previous paragraph. I am not young, at least chronologically. The sign marking the exit ramp to retirement is clearly visible ahead of me. I did not come out and transition until I was 54 years and did not let my transition be known in the wider astronomical community until about two years later. Most of my life and career in astronomy, I was perceived as a cisgender, heterosexual, white man and had all the accompanying privileges that I obtained with that identity. So, often, I am reluctant to speak up in women’s spaces, being keenly aware that I have not shared many of the experiences of my cis-sisters. In addition, there have been times in these spaces where my womanhood has been policed, which has added to my reluctance to speak up. Second, I am not going to name specific people or institutions. I am sure that a little sleuthing will allow you to figure out some identities, but I would encourage you not to go down that road. It makes it too easy to scapegoat those involved and not examine the broader, important points here. The events I describe could apply to any institution and set of people during the late 80s and early 90s. All the people involved are friends, colleagues, teachers, and most importantly good people. Their friendship, support and mentorship have enhanced my life in ways I cannot begin to describe. Lastly, essays such as this can at times seem to be a grievance. While I have had to process many things about my life as I write this, and it is at times painful, this is not a forum where I wish to share that pain, though it may peek through here and there. I hope you will be understanding when it does and realize that I think I have an important perspective to share with our astronomical community.

For reference, I earned my PhD in 1992. It was the height of the AIDS pandemic; gay men were fighting for survival and there was no such word as “transgender” that I could apply to myself. In the media, transwomen were depicted as prostitutes if we were “lucky”, and at worst, as a caged psychopathic killer being interviewed by Jodie Foster1. Astronomers were making efforts to include women in the profession and largely getting it wrong. All the societal messages made it difficult to figure out that I even had a gender identity issue. 

Many of the experiences I will describe involve the presence of an openly transwoman who was a visiting graduate student in our department and as I was given to understand, was there to transition before returning to her home department. My interactions with her were limited. Mostly, I was a spectator. Hers is not my story to tell--I don’t know her struggles. However, as her ship passed in my night, her presence had a great impact on my view of myself as a transwoman astronomer.

A heart wandering downstream in a creek near our home. (Credit: Andie Vanture)
A heart wandering downstream in a creek near our home
(Credit: Andie Vanture).

I am embarrassed to say that I don’t remember her name. For reasons known only to my subconscious, I think of her as the “other woman.” Perhaps you have ideas why. However, for ease of discussion I will refer to her as Celeste, which seems an appropriate name for an astronomer. I passed her in the hall at times, but she did not spend her time in the graduate offices so I only knew her by sight.  Most of my experiences of her presence were rumors and gossip. I did not engage in these conversations and feigned disinterest for fear of outing myself by being seen as too curious. The one time I did speak up was during a conversation around me in the graduate student offices. Sitting at my desk, working, and trying not to pay attention to the conversation going on around me, I was drawn into the conversation as my fellow students kept referring to her as “it.” At some point it was too much for me and I had to say something. I opined that referring to a person as “it” was exactly the kind of dehumanization that let the Nazis round up and exterminate Jews. Needless to say, the comment shut down the conversation and we all returned to doing our astronomy. However, it did make it very clear to me how transpeople were viewed. 

A second occasion, vivid in my mind, is a conversation that occurred over lunch. A recent alum of the department and a group of us graduate students were having lunch together at a local pub. Somehow, the topic turned to Celeste and whether she would be eligible for scholarships designed to promote the participation of women in astronomy. Our guest was a member of some scholarship committee, in my remembrance an AAS committee, but I could be wrong. It was a long time ago. He explained that this topic had been considered by the committee and it was concluded that transwomen were not eligible. The consensus of the committee was that transwomen were men before transition and had not faced the historical barriers experienced by ciswomen. In retrospect, there are so many things to unpack here that I will not attempt to do so here. 

The last occasion, though not directly a conversation about Celeste, but perhaps prompted by her presence, occurred during a group outing to celebrate the granting of one of us their PhD degree. The conversation turned to gossip about a professor in the department who had long ago been stabbed by a graduate student. My advisor had been department chair at the time and described going to the student’s apartment with the police, finding wigs and women’s clothing—shadows of the trans villain.  At some point Celeste left, went back to her home institution, and conversations about her disappeared.  I did not expect to cross paths with her again. Based upon my observations, I didn’t think she would have a career path in astronomy.

To my great surprise, I crossed paths with Celeste two more times. Once at a AAS meeting, in Berkeley I think, I saw her from across the exhibition hall having an animated discussion with another young astronomer. The second time was more personal. I was leaving my first job as a visiting assistant professor at a small college. Though I could not be a member of the hiring committee, being the only astronomer in the department, I was asked to interview the candidates and give some feedback. To my great surprise, one of my colleagues showed up at my office with Celeste in tow. She and I spent about a half hour discussing her teaching philosophy and experience, and her plans to include students in her research. I didn’t mention our graduate education connection, thinking that in the context of an interview this might make her feel uncomfortable, disrupt her concentration and of course, be inappropriate. Later that day, a colleague commented on the size of her hands, so I knew they knew. Celeste was not offered the position. When I asked the department chair why she had not been hired. I was given a vague answer about the committee feeling that she would not be able to connect with the students. However, the underlying reason seemed clear to me. At this point in my life, I felt I had been presented a clear message about the compatibility of being an openly transwoman and a professional astronomer. To have a future in astronomy, I knew that I could not risk being outed or to out myself. I spent almost my entire career deep in a dark closet unseen. It was only after my career as a research astronomer was clearly over and my life hung in the balance that I did what I needed to do and transitioned.

What does this all say about the intersection of my identity as an astronomer and my gender? If I had the courage and bravery of Celeste, what would my career have been? That is hard to say. I can’t rewind time and redo the experiment while changing that one parameter. I don’t know if I would have thrived or failed as an astronomer. As it was, I survived and managed to continue doing research for almost two decades and have had a long and successful career as a community college professor. Year after year I have been able to share my love of astronomy with students and hopefully inspire a few to pursue astronomy as a career. One thing I do know is that a great deal of my emotional and intellectual energy has been absorbed in arriving at a place where I can accept my gender identity. At least some of that energy would have ended up in my astronomy if I had not had to worry about being accepted for who I am in the world. 

Showing pride at our home. Photo courtesy of Andie Vanture
Showing pride at our home
(Credit: Andie Vanture).

One impact of my transition, something I imagine I share with many of my colleagues who are women, BIPOC or differently abled, is the dreaded modifier. So often in interacting with the world, the identity modifier that comes before astronomer, somehow inserts a question mark of legitimacy. People love astronomy and there is a level of joy that comes with the unmodified astronomer identity when interacting with others. However, at this point in my life I have made peace with that modifier. That intersection of my trans identity and my astronomical identity grants me a uniquely privileged vantage among the eight billion people on this planet. I am extremely lucky that I have been able to pursue my astronomical identity and now to be able to express my true self.

My life has been my life. It is only one among many stories of trans people and astronomers on this planet. However, I think there is a point that can be derived from my experiences that as a community we need to consider. In February of 2015 I was asked to give the keynote address at a faculty retreat for our college. The topic needed to be something I am passionate about but needed to be linked to teaching and learning. Naturally, things astronomical needed to be the core of my talk and my presentation discussed all those unseen things astronomers study, from nearby, dim stars to dark energy, and the ways we have learned to see them in the darkness. At the end of my talk, I asked my colleagues to consider ways in which the unseen worlds, internal and external, of our students impact the ways in which they learn. Within a few decades the United States will be a “majority, minority” country. Also, astronomy is an international endeavor, so it is worth noting that it has never been the case that the world has been mostly white. Ipsos, a market research firm, recently reported that nearly 20% of people in Gen Z identify as queer. This is twice the rate of the previous generation of millennials and four times that of boomers and Gen Xers2. These statistics are derived from a survey of people in 30 countries. Students of this generation are the future of astronomy. While it is a point that is raised often, I hope my experience might personalize it for you and come to mind the next time you interact with a colleague, a student, or a member of the public. 

My story is one of a young person, unseen, affected by the words of my colleagues. Many of today’s students are in similar situations, masking many of their identities to pursue a career that is their passion. A word spoken out of ignorance or a word of welcome and affirmation can change the course of a life. As we search, we only know of one “pale, blue dot.” Carl Sagan pointed out that speck in the Universe contains all the people who live, have lived, and possibly will live. So, as we continue our communal endeavor to understand the Universe and assuage our species-level loneliness, our future success depends upon inviting people, particularly young people, into our endeavor, and not only as professionals. Words matter. Inclusion matters.

Yours astronomically with pride and love, Andie


1 Silence of the Lambs 2 NBC News (June 1, 2023) “Global survey finds 9% of Adults Identify as LGBTQ", by Julie Moreau.