Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Can I Do? Inspirations from Women in Astronomy III

We found that many postdocs and graduate students would like to do something to promote women in astronomy and help create a female-friendly workplace, but their time was limited. Here are some suggestions.

1. Get your department/company/ organization to endorse the Pasadena Recommendations.

Start by going to the web site and printing out the brochure

Note: it is not important that all the recommendations are currently followed; it is important that the principles are supported.

2. Invite your department chair/boss/ research supervisor to attend a CSWA-sponsored session and/or Town Hall at the next AAS meeting.

This information is available on the AAS meeting web site.

3. Get a friend/colleague to subscribe to AASWOMEN, CSWA’s weekly electronic newsletter.

Simply send e-mail to, with message in the BODY: subscribe aaswlist your_email_address

4. Comment on a Women_in_ Astronomy blog posting.

5. Attend a career development workshop at an AAS meeting.

6. Get your friends/colleagues to read STATUS, CSWA’s semiannual publication. It consists of original and reprinted articles on topics relating to women in astronomy, in science and/or in society. Then get together to discuss an article.

7. Create a brochure of the family-friendly policies at your institution.

8. Put together an e-mail list of the postdocs in your department/ research group and invite them all out for coffee. (Suggested by Amber Straughn, GSFC)

9. Present a lunch talk in your department/research group summarizing the info and outcomes of the Women in Astronomy III conference. (Suggested by Laura Lopez, UCSC)

10. Make a suggestion to add to this list.


Edmund said...

Thank you for encouraging signature of the Pasadena Recommendations based on spirit rather than strict adherence. I've been discussing them with my colleagues and we have mild concerns with a few:

1. Two advocates on each search committee At MIT our committees typically have three members, and only one person -- the committee chair -- is charged with affirmative action advocacy and review. As Department Head I require the committees to conduct an open search and to construct pre-search invitation lists including women and underrepresented minorities. The AA report is then reviewed by both myself and a Dean's appointee. I believe this meets the spirit of the recommendation without charging two members of a three-person committee to the same task.

2. Accommodating dual career couples We always try to assist spouses and partners, but it's hard to accommodate everyone unless the university adopts spousal hires. MIT does not hire to the faculty a spouse or partner who fails to meet our appointment standard.

3. Promotion as an open process This is troublesome for research universities -- confidentiality of reference letters means we cannot fully open the process. Our tenure standards are described here. I discuss the process with all new junior faculty. It seems like the Pasadena Recommendations are asking for more, and I would value the thoughts of readers about this.

The rest of the recommendations push us to do better, and I appreciate the encouragement.

Ed Bertschinger, email edbert at

Joan Schmelz said...

Search Committees: I think that what MIT is doing meets the spirit of the Pasadena Recommendation. Many search committees have 5-7 members, where having two affirmative action advocates makes more sense. Are the steps you take in Physics formalized policy at MIT? If not, they should be!

Edmund said...

Thank you very much for the feedback. Most of our AA search procedures are formalized policy. I've introduced the pre-search invitation process and will make it a formal policy of the department.

We also have more details on our promotion and tenure process here.

Patricia said...

As one of the Pasadena Recommendation authors, I concur with what Joan posted addressing Ed's first point. Here are a follow-up comments on points two and three. I appreciate Ed's taking the time to comment on these, so we know that clarification is necessary!

#2- We weren't advocating spousal hiring policies if one spouse fails to meet the appointment standard. That doesn't serve anyone. Of course, if the partner/spouse *does* meet the standards, working to make the hire happen would be a good step. But this is also intended more generally - if a department/institution wishes to hire someone who has a partner that will need to find employment, having in place the infrastructure to facilitate
that would be important. Ideas off the top of my head - having available information on the types of businesses located in the vicinity, help finding out information about job opportunities, etc. This may be less critical in a locale like Boston (then again, it could be overwhelming for people considering moving there, too) than a smaller place. (Where
Tucson can qualify as smaller - given that we have 1+ million residents, we don't have much of a diverse business community on the large scale.) For a place with multiple colleges/universities, I could imagine that establishing contacts and being willing to work together might expand the options.

#3- We weren't advocating for all information
to be public in the promotion process. Confidentiality issues are important. We were more
concerned that the steps in the *process* be clear to everyone, that the measures of success be clear to everyone, and that there be regular monitoring and mentoring of those going through the process so that they don't suddenly feel blind-sided. The standards Ed pointed to are clear, but as someone going through the process, the things I would be concerned about would be more detailed: What are the expectations and relative merits for teaching load and student reviews, bringing in grant money, mentoring and training students, participating in
community service, publication rate, etc? Is the balance at all flexible? (e.g. just to be provocative, suppose a young faculty mentor developed a highly successful program to improve the diversity of the students in the program, but did not obtain a lot of research grant funding and perhaps had fewer research publications? How would that be valued?) It doesn't have to be as rigid as 60% research and grants, 25% teaching, 15% community service or anything, but every department has some relative ranking, and if someone is going to try and do something outside the box, there should be discussion ahead of time about how it will be viewed. (Hence the regular monitoring and mentoring.) Are the steps Ed is taking in Physics part of formal MIT policy? As Joan noted, if not, they should be!

Pat Knezek