Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Accidental Mentoring

So, we all know the importance of mentoring, especially for underrepresented minorities. What we may not realize is that mentoring can take many forms. Sometimes, we "mentor" unknowingly...

Recently, I received email from a former undergraduate student (whom I will call Hypatia) who is now a graduate student elsewhere. While she was an undergraduate in our (physics) department, I interacted with her very little -- I didn't teach any of her courses, and she was interested in nanotechnology, not astronomy. However, she told me in this email that I had started her down the path she was now on, and she wanted to thank me! I was stunned, to say the least. I hadn't had any long talks with her about her future or given her any advice about much of anything. We'd pretty much just said "hello" to each other when we passed in the hallway. So what happened that she felt that she owed me a "huge debt of gratitude?"

Here's the history: Several years ago, I covered a lecture for one of my colleagues (the class was Intro Astronomy for non-majors) that this student was taking. One lecture. That was it. Unbeknownst to me, I made a strong impression on Hypatia because I was a "female scientist who was so enthusiastic about her work." (I might add that the male colleague I was covering for is one of the most enthusiastic scientists I know, by the way.) That one lecture led her to seek me out to talk about women in science, and ask for help on her "quest to find nanotechnology research" at our university. I remember this visit - a very confident, self-possessed young woman came into my office, said "I want to do nanotech research" and asked me for advice. She clearly knew what she wanted to do, she just didn't know how to get there. I introduced her to one of our physicists who does that kind of research, and the rest, as they say, is history. Hypatia started working in his lab, he recommended her for a summer internship at a major university, and that helped her get into the grad school of her choice where she is now happily pursuing her Ph. D.

I don't know about you, but sometimes hearing, yet again, that it's important that I make time to mentor just feels like one more extra thing I need to do because I'm a female scientist. Followed immediately by a sense of guilt that I can feel resentful about my duty to mentor. So it was nice to get a reminder that mentoring doesn't have to be a huge, onerous, time-consuming, emotionally draining (and yes, rewarding) task. Sometimes, it just requires that I be myself. Now that I can do.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How to Stand Out in a Large Collaboration

Collaborations in astronomy seem to be getting larger and larger. The quantity and quality of data needed to push the boundaries of our science are becoming ever greater, and many of us find ourselves part of projects that have dozens of colleagues from all over the globe. This makes sense for the health of the project: we can combine specialists at every wavelength and experts on every science subtopic and theorists with every type of technique at their disposal and create massive onslaughts against the challenges and issues of our field. These types of collaborations can be exciting and enriching, but how do you stay involved in such projects as a young female scientist, say at the postdoc level, without becoming lost in the pack?

In some senses, large projects allow postdocs to truly shine. The postdocs are likely to be the ones closest to the data, first in the design and construction of the observations, and later reducing, troubleshooting and analyzing before sending it on for use by the greater team. Or as theorists, the postdocs are likely to be the ones testing the boundaries of the simulations or code and making sense of the initial output. As such, the opportunities for individual contact with many members of the team are great, increasing chances for collaboration. As the first to see the new results, the postdocs also have the chance at brand new discoveries or at formulating new science ideas, carving out space for their own interests piqued by the dataset. But there is also the risk that data reduction, analysis, or other team duties might result in a loss of time for conducting science and writing papers. Being acknowledged for those duties is important, but being seen as a productive member of the team in terms of science is even more important for continuing on in the field, for future jobs, and so on.

As a member of two relatively new large teams, I've been scouting about for ideas on exactly this topic: how to be a productive, cooperative member of a team, good at 'pitching in', while still maintaining a great publishing record and contributing to the science goals.

Here's the advice I've received so far, and I would be glad for anyone to add (or subtract!) from these.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate: vol. 2

Continuing my summary of the Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate that I began last week:

When scientists try to address a problem, we focus on the data. So a good bit of the meeting was devoted to data on postdocs, or at least what there is of it. It turns out that it's fairly hard to even count the number of postdocs in the country. Even within a single institution, it might be hard to count the number of postdocs, because titles and funding sources are not uniform. Nevertheless, some statistics do exist, and those sources include the NSF's Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) and Survey of Doctoral Recipients (SDR); and Sigma Xi's "Professionalizing the Postdoctoral Experience, with highlights summarized in Doctors Without Orders. I wasn't able to write down all the statistics presented, but the presentations should all be made available online eventually.

AASWOMEN for March 19, 2010

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of March 19, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson & Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Anti-Harassment Policy and Procedures for AAS Meetings

2. What to Do When YOU Are the Chair

3. Neither Men Nor Mice

4. WISE WOMEN: Girls Learn the Value of Science, Math in Novel Program

5. Teacher Aims to Get More Girls Involved in Science

6. Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate

7. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

8. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate: vol. 1

Last week, I attended the National Postdoctoral Association's Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate, which was held in Philadelphia last week, on March 11-12. I started writing up my thoughts about the meeting, and it started to get really long, so I've decided to break it up into a series of posts. The presentations will all be made available on the web eventually, but I'll present some highlights (and my own personal take on things) here.

Since my last post on employment sparked a bunch of discussion, I thought I would start by discussing the postdoc in terms of career trajectories. The upshot of the comments on my previous post is that there are plenty of valid career options for PhDs in astronomy, and that both early career astronomers (i.e. grad students and postdocs) and those training them need to be aware of the options, and to not view a research faculty positions as the be-all and end-all of a successful career.

Monday, March 15, 2010

AASWomen for March 12, 2010

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of March 12, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, & Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. WIA Blogspot: AAS Employment Session

2. International Women's Day 100 Year Centenary 1911-2011

3. Gender Balanced Scienitific Publications

4. Now Seeking Nominations - Outstanding Undergraduate Science Teacher

5. MacGillavry Fellowship

6. 12 month, Assistant Professor or Lecturer Position, Mount Allison University

7. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

8. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

AASWomen for March 5, 2010

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of March 05, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson & Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Meet the (New and Continuing) Editorial Staff of STATUS

2. AAS Childcare

3. Too Busy: A Comment

4. Blewett Scholarship

5. Four Funding Opportunities

6. MIT Poster Contest for Mentoring in Research

7. Outstanding Undergraduate Science Teacher

8. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

9. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

AASWomen of February 26, 2010

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of February 25, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson & Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. AASWomen You tube: Women in Astronomy

2. Do we try to "protect" busy women by not inviting them?

3. Nominations sought for National Medal of Science

4. Women in Physics events at the APS Annual Meeting

5. Particle Physics Meeting, Blois, France


6. Postdoctoral Position, Syracuse University

7. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

8. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

AAS Employment Session

I am writing this on my way to Philadelphia, where I will be attending the Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate, hosted by the National Postdoctoral Association. I'll post a report on the meeting next week, but for now I'll (finally!) post a summary of the Employment session at the AAS Meeting.

On Monday morning of the AAS Meeting, I went to the special session on Employment, organized by Anil Seth. (Full disclosure: I am a co-author on Anil's decadal white paper on Employment & Funding in Astronomy.  There were four speakers on the Panel, Beryl Benderly, a writer for ScienceCareers at Science Magazine; Rachel Ivie, a statistician from the American Institute of Physics, well-known for her studies on women in physics and astronomy; Jim Ulvestad from the Employment Committee at the AAS; and Steve Beckwith, chair of Research for the U of C schools.

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day!

Happy International Women's Day!

A Russian-American friend of mine used to email me and all her female friends on this day every year to tell us about how in Russia, women would be showered with gifts and flowers.

While gifts and flowers are nice and all, I'd be much more appreciative of equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, and affordable quality childcare.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chilcare at 215th AAS Meeting

Don Kniffen of the CSWA has the following report on childcare usage at the January 2010 AAS Meeting:
In an effort to make the AAS meetings more family friendly, at the 215th Meeting in DC in January 2010 there was an on-site childcare facility made available for a nominal rate of $8 per hour per child. The CSWA and the AAS advertised this service to ensure that all who wished to take advantage of this program were aware of its existence. It appears the initial use was modest (see statistics below) and the AAS and CSWA hope that, through increased awareness and use by the community, it will become a regular feature of AAS meetings. The following data were provided by the AAS on usage of the facility.

AAS Child Care Program Usage Statistics
January 3 - 6:00 pm to
10:00 pm
 2 children total, 2 infants
January 4 - 8:00 am to
 6:00 pm
10 children total, 2 infants
January 5 - 8:00 am to
 6:00 pm
10 children total, 1 infant
January 6 - 8:00 am to
 6:00 pm
10 children total, 1 infant
January 7 - 8:00 am to
 6:00 pm
 2 children total, 1 infant

The ages of the children ranged from 6 months through 12 years old as follows:
0 - 2 years old: 2 (25%)
3 - 5 years old: 4 (33%)
6 - 8 years old: 4 (33%)
9 - 12 years old: 1 ( 9%)

A total of 12 children from 8 families were signed up for the program. The CSWA is encouraged by this initial response. If members can confidently count on it being available, it will serve the society and its members with young children well.