Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Petition, Please Sign, Family Leave Policies for Astronomers

In the interest of fully supporting the intellectual efforts of astronomy graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, we* have created a petition to encourage the establishment of family leave policies by Astronomy Departments and Fellowship Committees. These policies will provide astronomers with the freedom necessary to excel in academic pursuits while raising a family.

Please indicate your support by signing the petition at:

Update: Since posting this message on Tuesday (Dec. 13), over 590 astronomers have signed. Thank you for this support. And thank you for forwarding the message to your departments and institutions. Let's particularly encourage faculty (currently 13% of signatures), staff scientists (currently 8% of signatures), and other mid/late career astronomers to sign.

We will then share the document with all Fellowship program officers and Department chairs and move on to the next phase of this effort.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please email:

Thanks for your support.
*Emily Freeland, Aaron Geller, Nick Murphy, Laura Trouille
and the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy

To add to the wiki of current departmental and postdoctoral fellowship family leave policies, please visit:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Impostors Welcome

My title is one of the slogans proposed to increase awareness of Impostor Syndrome by a group of faculty, staff, postdocs, and graduate students who participated in a facilitated conversation about this subject in my department. Impostor Syndrome is the feeling of not deserving to be in the position you are, and of being afraid that advisors, instructors, or peers will come to realize that you are not as capable as you may seem. The effect can be harmful when it selectively reinforces negative messages and causes people to try less hard because they are convinced they are incompetent when they are not. Conversely, the ability to identify and counter these feelings with positive reinforcement and determination can be very helpful in increasing ability through effort and practice.

I experienced Impostor Syndrome vividly when I started teaching as a faculty member at the very university that rejected me for undergraduate admission. How could I ever hope to teach such brilliant students? Although no one had told me about the syndrome, I knew instinctively that I just had to persevere through my fears. Experience and hard work came to my aid. The lesson? Persistence matters.

When postdoc Kathy Cooksey proposed leading a discussion of Impostor Syndrome in my department, I was delighted that others would learn and share from our collective experience. We also benefitted from an informal survey of graduate students conducted by Stanford Professor Margot Gerritsen. (See her presentation at a career development workshop for graduate students and postdocs in the geosciences.) The survey was not officially endorsed by Stanford nor were the survey questions vetted by experts. Nevertheless, its results ring true and point out a concern for gender equity: women appear to experience Impostor Syndrome more than men. 43% of males surveyed and 62% of females surveyed "often or always" think "I'm afraid to be found out" while 30% of males and 15% of females never or rarely felt that. Responses to these feelings also show gender differences: 52% of males who admitted such feelings felt that their performance was negatively affected compared with 87% of females; 27% of males with such feelings reacted positively ("work harder") while only 7% of females did. Even though the statistical significance of these differences cannot be established, the results are concerning.

It's important for educators to be aware of Impostor Syndrome as well as preventative and palliative measures. It's endemic at my university and maybe at yours. We should educate students that they're not alone in having these feelings and that there are helpful responses. As Kathy suggests, having a malleable rather than a fixed mindset is helpful. Successful people everywhere learn that failure is the first step towards mastery.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." We must not allow ourselves to retain feelings of inferiority. Had I succumbed to that response 30 years ago, I would not be writing here today.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Women at Conferences

The CSWA has been making an effort to keep track of the percentages of women speakers at conferences. Recently, we featured a conference with a very high percentage of women speakers, right here on this blog. It's great to see that we are making progress. So, when I received the November 14th mailing from the AAS about the upcoming January meeting in Austin, I couldn't help but read the following enthusiastic description about the invited speakers with some amount of dismay:

"After a weekend of workshops and Historical Astronomy Division (HAD) sessions, the main part of the meeting kicks off Monday morning with the Kavli lecture by Lyman Page (Princeton University) on neutrinos and the cosmic microwave background. Over the next four days we'll hear about award-winning research from other eminent astronomers, including HAD Doggett Prize winner Woodruff T. Sullivan III (University of Washington) on the early days of radio astronomy, High Energy Astrophysics Division Rossi Prize winners Peter F. Michelson (Stanford University) and W. B. Atwood (University of California, Santa Cruz) on doing science with the Fermi Large Area Telescope, and Heineman Prize winner Robert P. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) on Type Ia supernovae and the accelerating universe.

Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg (University of Texas) and Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, will explore the intersection of science, society, and economics in their two invited lectures. Astronomer-astronaut Steven A. Hawley (University of Kansas) will take stock of challenges and achievements in 50 years of human spaceflight. And Linda Tacconi (Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics) will close out the week's plenary presentations with her Berkeley Prize lecture on molecular gas in star-forming galaxies in the early universe."

After a bit of investigation, I realized that no, there was actually more than one woman invited to speak at the meeting. It just so happens that only two of the prize winners were women, and it just so happens that one of those women is receiving the woman-only Cannon award, and the other is speaking in the last time slot on the last day of the meeting. That still leaves the question: even if the invited speakers list for the AAS meeting is somewhat gender balanced, why aren't the prizes?

In a similar vein, Female Science Professor proposes boycotting conferences with all-male slates. I wonder if that would really do any good, though, since that might have the effect of skewing the gender balance at that conference to even more all-male. Then again, direct complaints to conference organizers also have a tendency to fall on deaf or denying ears. But then, that's why the CSWA established the conferences webpage in the first place.

EDITED TO ADD: I want to make it clear that I am not at all advocating a boycott of the upcoming AAS Meeting. In fact, I am going myself and look forward to the meeting. (Come see me at the CSWA Special Session on Monday at 2pm!) And I do know that the AAS is sensitive to diversity issues and makes a real effort to achieve diversity of speakers. However, the email advertising the slate of speakers was unfortunate, as it did not give that balanced point of view. So the moral of the story is two-fold: nominate women for prizes, and remember to advertise women as well as you advertise men.

AASWOMEN for November 18, 2011

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of November 18, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. The Blame-the-Victim Strategy

2. Advice for an Anonymous Individual

3. Meeting with Extremely High Percentage of Women Speakers!

4. Winterbourn Receives New Zealand's Top Science and Technology Honour

5. "Women on Mars" Conference Speaker

6. Addressing the Shortage of Women in Silicon Valley

7. Jobs at Georgia State University

8. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

10. Access to Past Issues of the AASWOMEN Newsletter

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dramatized examples of bias: do they help?

Although bias is inescapable in human dynamics, I believe it can be recognized and partially corrected like the use of a personal equation by astronomers measuring stellar magnitudes by eye on photographic plates. Dramatized bias refers to dramatic plays that make bias plain enough for anyone to see.

Implicit or explicit bias remains a problem, and refusing to acknowledge it does not make it go away. Sometimes it is as obvious as a sexist remark in a faculty meeting, other times it is the observation by a search committee that "the candidate's research style doesn't match the department". If we're going to achieve equity for all in astronomy (and especially in physics) then implicit bias must be acknowledged and confronted in hiring, promotion, awards, etc.

Many faculty members don't like to hear this. It's the job of a department chair to ensure that equity is not ignored. The question is how to best to assist the chair in communicating these issues to faculty in a way that will be respected.

I've seen three different groups of actors present small plays highlighting implicit bias in the workplace: the Michigan CRLT players, the Harvard Bok players, and CSW Associates. Each group has professional actors who do interactive theater. The first two groups play-act a scene such as a faculty hiring or tenure committee review in which bias is clearly present. The scene is stopped, the audience discusses it, and audience members are invited to replace one of the actors to attempt a more equitable process. CSW Associates doesn't bring audience members into the play, but the actors interact strongly with the audience and reveal their inner thoughts in some powerful moments that help reveal the origins of hidden bias and the complexity of multicultural, real-world situations.

These kinds of workshops have been well received by those who attend voluntarily, or in organizations where employees or students can be "required" to attend -- for example, many business schools are using them as part of required communications and conflict resolution classes. I've certainly enjoyed and benefited from seeing these groups on multiple occasions. Have any readers seen them in astronomy departments or conferences where more than the equity advocates attended? How was that arranged? Could we bring one of these groups to a AAS meeting?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Meeting with Extremely High Percentage of Women Speakers!

As you've probably seen from previous posts and mailings, the CSWA (with input from all of you) has been keeping track of the percentage of conference invited speakers who are women (see

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Jorge Moreno, who is organizing a conference on "Interacting Galaxies and Binary Quasars: A Cosmic Rendezvous" (see announcement below). I wanted to highlight here that 76% of the invited speakers for this conference are women (13 women and 4 men).

Jorge explained to me that he is delighted to see so many female astronomers in the list, as well as a few speakers from developing countries. He worries that we are still a long way from gender equality in science, especially in places like his country of origin (Mexico), but he is glad to know that many people are taking steps in the right direction. He feels very lucky to be in this position. He also mentions that he wants to make sure nobody can tell his daughter Camila that she can't pursue a career in science (or in any field she desires).

---------------- Conference Announcement from Jorge--------------------------------------

Dear Colleagues,

On behalf of the SOC & LOC, I am glad to announce the workshop "Interacting Galaxies and Binary Quasars: A Cosmic Rendezvous", organized jointly by SISSA and ICTP, in Trieste (Italy). The dates are April 2-5, 2012 and the venue is the Kastler Lecture Hall, on the ICTP campus, next to the sea and a few steps from the Miramare Castle. Registration is now open with December 10, 2011 as the deadline. Please note than in order to keep this event intimate, the meeting will only 40-45 participants in total. Therefore, early registration is desirable. Applications from women, minorities and people from developing countries is particularly encouraged. For more details, please visit the conference website:

Interacting Galaxies and Binary Quasars: A Cosmic Rendezvous.

Interacting galaxies are among the most spectacular events in the cosmos. They affect morphology and may funnel gas into the central regions, thereby triggering star formation and nuclear activity. Likewise, the discovery of binary quasars has accelerated to unprecedented levels in the last few years. The aim of this workshop is to bring together observers and theorists working on either interacting galaxies or binary quasars. By discussing these phenomena from diverse points of view, several interesting science questions will addressed.

Trieste, Italy
April 2-5, 2012

December 10, 2011.

Monica Colpi, Francoise Combes, Deborah Dultzin, Tiziana Di Matteo,
Sara Ellison, George Djorgovski, Julie Comerford, Kelly Holley-Bockelmann,
Phil Hopkins, Lisa Kewley, Stefanie Komossa, Jennifer Lotz, Lucio Mayer,
Adam Myers, Patricia Tissera, Marta Volonteri & Qingjuan Yu.

Please forward this announcement to your colleagues and anyone else potentially interested. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions (

Best regards,
Jorge Moreno

Note: This meeting is paid entirely by a SISSA Young Research Scientist Grant.

SOC: I. Aretxaga, V. Avila-Reese, A. Benson, J. Bullock, J. Cohn, M. Geller, Y. Krongold & J. Moreno.
LOC: G. de Lucia, A. Lapi, J. Moreno, P. Salucci & R. Sheth.

Friday, November 4, 2011


One of the risks of being on the CSWA is that my friends regularly send me email that makes me angry.* Like the link to the "Womanspace" article in Nature, as reported on in AASWOMEN last week. The comments were particularly interesting to read. I was glad to see the outpouring of criticism of the article, going on at length about the harm of perpetuating stereotypes, particularly in a high impact journal such as Nature. The letter from Lucianne Walkowicz in this week's AASWOMEN is also well worth a read. All these commenters say what needs to be said better than I ever could.
But the most interesting comment is from Ed Rybicki himself. He completely misses the point of the comments. The article was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, he says. Even my wife found it funny!
Which makes me wonder, do men like this ever see what's wrong in their actions? Is this why people like Herman Cain can claim that they were wrongly accused of sex harassment, because maybe they honestly believe that? I would like to believe that men who commit misogynist behavior, whether it's telling sexist jokes or sexually harassing someone, can be led to see the error of their ways, and that they can learn to become better people. Someday, I would like to see a man say, "yes, I did something wrong. But I've learned from that experience, and it will never happen again." Recovering alcoholics learn to do this, why can't harassers?
I fear that as long as perpetrators of sexism can get away with calling themselves the victim and deflecting responsibility for their actions, this culture will remain "manspace," whether you are talking about scholarly science or political discourse.

*But angry in a good way. Keep those emails coming!

AASWOMEN for November 4, 2011

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of November 4, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. 1000+ Subscribers to AASWomen

2. Repercussions for Sexual Harassment

3. Offensive Article in Nature - Your Responses

4. APS/IBM Research Internships for Undergraduate Women

5. SMART Scholarships for BS, MS, and PhD

6. Amelia Earhart Fellowship

7. Women in Aerospace Scholarship

8. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter

9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter

10. Access to Past Issues

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Go to Brazil in December!

The CSWA was just informed of this opportunity for early career women scientists to go to Brazil. The deadline for nominations is TOMORROW, so act fast! Here is the announcement of opportunity:

>>> Sandra Laney 10/26/2011 1:07 PM >>>

The Secretary's Global Women's Issues Office needs help identifying 8-10 young American women scientists (early to mid career level) to participate in an reverse exchange program with Brazil. Unfortunately there is a rapid turn-around time, so they need nominations by Friday. The nominee (perhaps yourself or someone you know) should be someone planning to stay in the science field because the focus is on 'retention of women in science'.
The trip is scheduled for Dec 5 -13, airfare is paid by S/GWI and the remaining costs will be hosted by Brazil.
I have pasted in Varina's email request below. Please send Varina & Rakhi (WinderVJ@state.govand the bio of the nominee and her contact information. (Please make sure that she would be available for travel on those dates.)

Varina's email:
I hope this email finds you well. I received your contact information from my colleague Tricia, who mentioned you would be great people to reach out to about an upcoming reverse exchange program we are planning with Embassy Brasilia under the Women's MOU.
As you probably recall, we hosted eight young Brazilian women scientists last March - I believe most of you met with them. They visited U.S. universities and attended the 55th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the theme of which was empowering women and girls through STEM.
In December of this year, we've recently agreed to send 10 young American women scientists to Brazil as part of the second half of the exchange program. Brazil will pay for everything once the women land in Recife; we will cover the flights.
We would very much like your help in identifying 8-10 young American women scientists, of various backgrounds (government, private sector & academia) and focus areas (different aspects of STEM) we can invite to participate in such an exchange. The focus on retention is key; one of the key themes of the Brazilian women's visit was their identification of a need for continued mentoring in order to keep young women in the field. We'd therefore like to invite promising women who are in early or middle stages of their career. We are also reaching out to EPA.
Since this program is coming up quickly, could you please send us names and relevant info (contact/resume/bio if possible) for these women by mid next week (October 26)?
Thank you very much.
Varina Winder
Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues (S/GWI)
U.S. Department of State
Phone: (202) 647-6036
Fax: (202) 647-2600
This email is UNCLASSIFIED.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Professional Development at AAS 219 in Austin

Guest post by Kelle Cruz, AAS Employment Committee

The 219th AAS Meeting in Austin, TX from January 8-12, 2012 is coming up, and as continued tradition, thanks to the growing community involvement and NSF funding, professional development workshops, seminars, and special sessions will once again be offered. This year, more than ever!

The interactive workshops offered on Sunday are:
1) Becoming a more effective research mentor
2) Structuring your scientific paper
3) Science tools for data intensive astronomy

On Monday, there are two Career Workshops. On Tuesday, there will be a workshop on Personal Finance in Turbulent Times.

In addition, special sessions will be held on the following arenas:
1) Giving better oral presentations
2) Increasing diversity in your departments
3) Professional ethics in astronomy
4) Working in space policy
5) The astrophysics post-doc job market
6) Careers in media for scientists

There will also be a career panel on Monday discussing various career paths.

Full descriptions and how to register are posted at the astrobetter wiki.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A metric for workplace environment culture: How long do mothers nurse?

If you think you have a positive culture at work for families, how would you measure it? One might be to determine how long, on average, the mothers of young children nurse their children. The workplace environment has a significant impact on the nursing relationship (availability of lactation rooms, flexibility in scheduling, maternity leave policies, etc).

There is a lot of literature showing that women tend to persist in nursing when they have peers who are doing the same. So, a lactation room, beyond just providing the legally required space for pumping milk, provides a networking location for your employees.

Approximately 17 months ago I began pumping milk at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the lactation room there. At that time, my daughter was about two months old and there were several other women with older babies pumping milk. Over the last 19 months, women have had babies and joined the room. I see them logging in day after day. Now something interesting is happening. People are continuing to pump milk up to the year mark and beyond. This means women are not rotating out of the room as new ones come in. Within the next week, a second lactation room will be opened in our building to prepare for two more women to come off maternity leave.

We have three women pumping milk for children over a year old right now! Knowing how rare that is in the U.S. right now I would take it as a very positive indicator of the success of our lactation program and therefore of how good our workplace environment is for mothers of young children.

It is smart for institutions to be supportive in this way. Babies who receive breastmilk get sick less often and less severely and there is thus less absenteeism. Nursing is a source of comfort that provides a very fast means of emotional reconnection between mother and child at the end of a work day. Happier employees make happier bosses, right?

So, if you’re wondering how to make your workplace environment family-friendly, invest time, energy and resources into having a great lactation room, like my institution did.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thoughts on Work-Life Balance

My subtitle is: How will academic institutions improve work-life balance?

I'm thrilled that astronomers are having so much impact in highlighting the need for policies that make it easier for young people to begin careers and families in science and technology (see Hannah's post of October 6). It was exciting to hear about the NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative announcement at the White House, and to see Michele Obama and Tina Tchen promote the arguments that our amazing colleagues gave after WIA-III. The policies announced by the NSF are a step in the right direction, and the NSF Director is to be commended for his dedication to long-term change.

The important question now is: who else will listen and act?

Earlier this week I held a luncheon at MIT for faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students to discuss work-life balance and to ask how universities should respond to the NSF steps. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of interest in this topic, especially from postdocs. Unfortunately, nearly everyone who showed up was female. This is ironic because nearly all of my faculty members who have benefited from parental leave are male. I'm delighted that some men are starting to play a significant role in advocacy and policy in the AAS and elsewhere. It makes a huge difference for all of us.

At MIT, we are talking about possible ways to make childcare more affordable and to ask the thorny question of maternity leave for postdocs. In the life sciences, such steps would require drastic changes in the funding model. I don't feel that fact should deter us from improving the conditions for postdocs in the physical sciences, but universities have great inertia. Change will require greater advocacy within.

About a decade ago, after gender equity studies showed how discrimination was holding back women in science, universities responded with parental leave policies, on-site daycare, and tenure clock extensions. While these policies have helped to lessen gender inequity at the faculty level, they gave little relief to the postdocs who become tomorrow's faculty members. I wish I could start a new department with all the great talent that left the field because balancing work and family meant falling behind. We've got to stop the brain drain.

The NSF has taken first steps in a 10-year plan. It's time for universities and other grant-receiving institutions to take the next steps. What will it be? Loans or fellowships for childcare? One-year postdoc extensions for childbirth? How can we raise money for these?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Speaking Truth to Power

Almost exactly two years ago, I was on the organizing committee for the Women in Astronomy and Space Science 2009 Conference. We were organizing a tour of the White House for early career astronomers, and we managed to arrange a meeting with Tina Tchen, the Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. I soon found myself in charge of facilitating the discussion, a bit of a daunting task to say the least!

I knew that we had only a limited amount of time to get a few key points across, so I decided to put together a presentation for Ms. Tchen. I met with the White House tour participants over lunch to brainstorm our key concerns, including action items that the federal government could take to help women in astronomy. I also enlisted the help of Bethany Cobb, Meredith Danowski, Laura Lopez, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, and Angie Wolfgang to help draft a document that we could leave with Ms. Tchen.

When the time came, the six of us spoke about our key talking points: health care, family leave, conscious and unconscious bias, education and public outreach, and mentoring. I came away feeling like we had a sympathetic ear in Ms. Tchen, and that the presentation had been very effective - much more so than a free-form discussion would have been. Still, a cynical voice in my head would sometimes pipe up with doubts than any real action would ever be taken.

Fast forward to last week - Tina Tchen announced in the Washington Post that the NSF would be adopting a number of policies that would allow grantees to take time off for parental and family leave. (See also this item in last week's AASWOMEN.) Our message had been heard after all!

The lesson I've taken away from this is that change is possible, no matter how daunting the obstacles may seem. You might imagine that the vast bureaucracy of federal government might be too resistant to change, or that your voice might fall on deaf ears, but if you craft your message well and deliver it to the right person, change can happen. I am so pleased about the policy changes being implemented at the NSF. Too many times I've heard of inflexibility of grants interfering with the careers of women with families, and I'm glad to hear that some of those barriers are falling.

-by Hannah

Monday, September 26, 2011

Parental Leave Policies

The website AstroBetter has kindly agreed to host a wiki on parental leave policies for different astronomical institutions and for the national postdoctoral fellowships at the following site:

The goals of this wiki are: (1) to allow astronomers at different career stages (graduate students, postdocs, research staff, and faculty) to easily compare parental leave policies, and (2) to encourage institutions to enact better parental leave policies by showing how they compare with peer institutions. The listing should not be limited to institutions in any particular country, and should include all stages in the career paths of astronomers.

This page is a wiki so that as many people as possible can contribute. We hope that this page can be made useful to those of us applying to graduate school and looking for jobs in the coming months. To edit this page, you must first register on AstroBetter. A small number of schools and fellowships are currently listed, and we encourage you to include information on and links to parental leave policies at your own institutions.

Nick Murphy (CfA)
Emily Freeland (Texas A&M)
Laura Trouille (Northwestern University-CIERA)

AASWOMEN for September 23, 2011

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of September 23, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. History of the CSWA

2. How Things Have Changed (for the Better!)

3. Which countries have the highest proportion of female graduates? -- A Response

4. A Postdoc's Guide to Pregnancy & Maternity Leave

5. Seeking Stories on Quantitative Skills Important for Physics Majors

6. Nomination for Excellence in Astronomy Education Awards

7. Aspen Center for Physics, Winter Conferences - 2012

8. International Observe the Moon Night (Oct. 8)

9. Job Opportunities

10. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter

11. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter

12. Access to Past Issues

Friday, September 23, 2011

Coasting during the time of a child’s life that she may not remember

I have a full-time job as an astrophysicist. Currently I am working on a draft of a paper to submit to the Astrophysical Journal, hopefully within the next couple months. Life is challenging as I am also the mother of an 18-month-old. Last night I was up nursing her three times. She will not remember me nursing her three times, but after an evening out at a meeting of a professional organization to which I belong, I was very happy for the snuggling and reconnection.

Recently I have recognized that while my career is still going along just fine, it is not shooting upwards like it seemed to be right before my daughter was born. This is described sometimes as a coasting period. It is not a break. You are still working. However, you are not able to jump at every opportunity. It isn’t possible. You might sleep, preserve your marriage, do research, serve on committees, be active in your worship community if you have one, travel occasionally to visit family or for work, and make room for quality time for your children, but at some point you hit that 24 hours per day limit and some choices have to be made.

A biggie is choosing between work and parenthood. A very senior person in the field commented recently that children do not remember anything before they are five years old or so, so that is a great time to work very hard. A colleague of mine close to my age said that isn’t really the case. She traveled internationally with her child when she was tiny, but the stories, which the child remembered through the mother in all likelihood, stuck with the child. On future trips the child “recalled” them proudly.

Another big choice concerns how much work travel you will do. I have blogged on this recently, as has my fellow blogger, Hannah. Before I had the kid, and for quite a while thereafter, my approach was to take her with me wherever I went. In our field, giving talks at conferences and collaboration meetings, even in-person coffee break discussions, are really important. So I lugged her with me and spent the money and energy to do so. It is not an easy choice and now I am occasionally traveling without her.

Recently, two colleagues of mine, one male and one female, told me that their decision not to travel, a decision made because they each had two children (two different families and cities, FYI), had a serious impact on their career. Both expressed to me that it was difficult for them professionally. They had seen moments pass them by when meeting in-person would have made a big difference. However, they both commented about how they get to know their children and the chance will come later to travel again.

My own mother, who is an elected judge, did not work full time for several years when my brother and I were young. She also "coasted", teaching in the evening and doing legal aid work, keeping her credentials current and her resume’ honed. She, like the senior person who made the comment mentioned earlier, has had a pretty amazing career and you don’t see anything negative about the coasting now. Neither one would give up that coasting period if they had to go back.

This morning I took my daughter out on the deck and we looked at birds. She was smiling and delighted. This moment slowed me down getting to work, and she won’t remember it, but I will and I will tell her about it. It was also the right thing to do, so I think I will just enjoy this coasting while I can. It won't last forever.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Families and Conferences

Last week, I attended a conference in Grand Teton National Park. At one point, a friend noted, "there are lots of families here!" And there were. Why not use a conference in a spectacular location as an excuse to bring the family along and make a vacation out of it? And perhaps it even means that astronomy is getting more family-friendly.

Then I realized that almost all of the families belonged to men attending the conference. Most of the women that I knew who had kids had left them at home, including myself. Perhaps it's simply a matter of statistics: there are more men than women in astronomy, and a greater percentage of male than female astronomers have children. But I think it's also the case that many women find that bringing their families to a conference is too distracting: I certainly learned that the hard way. I think many of us are also instinctively aware that working mothers are judged differently that working fathers and so we choose to keep them out of sight.

I'm also not really convinced that families showing up at conferences are necessarily a good indication of the family-friendliness of the profession. This conference was on exoplanets, a young and growing field. This means that a lot of exoplanet scientists are in the right demographic group to be starting families, and until they are old enough to start school, why not bring them along to a conference in a cool location. There's a long way to go in terms of policy before we can say that astronomy is family-friendly overall.

On the other hand, whenever I see a woman scientist bringing a baby to a conference (like my fellow blogger, Ann!), I make a little cheer. After all, we do serve as role models for younger scientists who aspire to have it all. And, maybe, just maybe, the more we demonstrate that we can be successful scientists and mothers a the same time, the more we can smash stereotypes about working mothers.

-by Hannah

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Top 5 Myths About Girls, Math, and Science

LiveScience debunks the top 5 myths about girls, math, and science:

The days of sexist science teachers and Barbies chirping that "math class is tough!" are over, according to pop culture, but a government program aimed at bringing more women and girls into science, technology, engineering and math fields suggests otherwise.

Below are five myths about girls and science that still endure, according to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Research on Gender in Science and Engineering (GSE) program:

Myth 1: From the time they start school, most girls are less interested in science than boys are.

Reality: In elementary school about as many girls as boys have positive attitudes toward science. A recent study of fourth graders showed that 66 percent of girls and 68 percent of boys reported liking science. But something else starts happening in elementary school. By second grade, when students (both boys and girls) are asked to draw a scientist, most portray a white male in a lab coat. Any woman scientist they draw looks severe and not very happy. The persistence of the stereotypes start to turn girls off, and by eighth grade, boys are twice as interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers as girls are. The female attrition continues throughout high school, college and even the work force. Women with STEM higher education degrees are twice as likely to leave a scientific or engineering job as men with comparable STEM degrees.

To read more:

From: Joan Schmelz []

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How Things Have Changed (for the Better!)

The last issue of the AASWOMEN newsletter included a story from Katy Garmany illustrating how much things have changed for women in astronomy. I asked AASWOMEN readers for other examples and received to following contribution from Kathy Mead, editor of STATUS from 1995-98.

Kathy wrote: "When I first observed at NRAO on Kitt Peak in 1980, there were “Playboy” magazines *everywhere.* They were in the control room as well as in the trailers. Not just a current and couple of back issues, but piles of them. At first, I just tried to figure out how to act like I didn't really notice or care. Guys there read them right in front of me. Later, as I became more bold, I asked about them and was told that an observer had given a subscription to the observatory. To me, this sounded like a clueless justification. They could have declined the subscription. Even if there were zero women at the telescope, how is pornography appropriate in the workplace? Working with state of the art equipment should be enough to keep even a man's mind occupied for the work day. But hey, I wanted a career in Astrophysics, and that was the culture so I made up my mind to live with it. After a few years, the magazines disappeared. However, many years after that, after they built new lodging, I found a stash of them in a non-prominent place in one of the buildings."

Kathy’s story reminded me that pornography was common in the astronomical workplace in the 1980s, not just at Kitt Peak. The problem was so widespread that the Oct 1986 issue of STATUS had advice on how to get your male colleagues to take down their nude pin-up posters! I remember computer printouts (on the old green and white striped paper) of naked women in many places, mainly in the offices of the NRAO computer operators. I never saw a pile of “Playboys,” but after years of observing at Arecibo, one of my friends (a telescope operator) showed me the local collection – it was in a file drawer in the control room. All the guys know about it.

I remember precisely when things changed: it was after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings on Capitol Hill, and the federal government began taking the issue of sexual harassment more seriously. I had visions of word coming down from the observatory directors to get those posters off the wall. The pornography disappeared practically overnight.

From: Joan Schmelz []

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To travel with the kid or without, this is always a big question.

Every mother has her own unique path through navigating career and parenting. I am sure that many women maintaining a career while caring for children struggle with the issue of professional travel. Up until now, my nursing relationship with my child dictated (for me) that I take her with me, but now I am finding I can get away with a few days away and frankly, she is now running and napping slightly less. At 17 months, she isn’t the portable person she used to be.

So, I have just decided recently that I am not bringing my daughter with me at all to the AAS High Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD) meeting. I had thought that I would spend the first three and a half days of the meeting running around like mad (I am an elected officer), attending sessions and meeting with people on all my breaks. On day four I was going to meet my husband at the airport to bring the family to the meeting. I’ve been traveling a lot recently, and bringing my daughter with me (as I type, the kid is in my office taking paper out of my recycling bin, we’re headed out to the Metro station soon to head to Chicago). I am that person on the DC Metro with the toddler in the backpack, two bags over her shoulders and one larger roller bag headed for National airport.

Ironically, I am part of the executive committee that brought childcare grants to HEAD to help people travel with their children. I realize that a $400 grant is just a step in the right direction as the full cost is much greater and is not measured purely in financial terms. One of my colleagues told me “no one should expect raising kids to be free.” I certainly didn’t expect that, but I think before I had kids I didn’t realize the impact of traveling with (or without!) a kid. You still have to pay the daycare back home in either case. If you leave the kid behind, chances are you return to an exhausted spouse after having exhausted yourself at a conference/review/etc. If you take the kid with you, just try going out to dinner.

Okay, it is possible to go out to dinner. One option is of course that you bring a family member with you (my mother-in-law and my parents have both been wonderful about traveling with me) but generally if you are spending all day in the meeting/review/etc. you may not want to ditch your family member and your child in the evenings every evening as well. You might have one negotiated evening out, and to be clear, the negotiation is as much with your conscience as with any family member.

Those dinners out are of course very important. We all know this, but I think when you suddenly can’t go out as freely at night you really realize the impact. Let’s include happy hours too. Oh heck, let’s throw in coffee breaks. When I travel with the kid, I generally am spending all those breaks checking back in with the kid and the caretaker. Many of the most important discussions at a conference occur during those casual interaction times. There is a cost associated with missing this informal interaction time that is difficult to quantify.

Granted, there is a cost in missing your kid too. I do like my daughter. She giggles when I do silly things like chase her around the house or hold up a scarf in front of my face. She is now attempting to put her own shoes on and says the word “shoe”. At 17 months she still nurses a few times a day, which is a peaceful connection between us (that also transfers protein, antibodies and hydrating liquid!) that both of us enjoy. When I travel, I often end up dumping a bit of that liquid gold down the sink after pumping, a true waste (but it isn’t practical to carry back more than 48 hours worth of milk currently).

However, for the first time in those 17 months (17.5 by the time I make the trip), I find I “need” to have 4 days to just be an astronomer and do my job. I will check in via Skype. I will miss her. I’ll return before the last session ends.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Genesis of CSWA

The Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) was created in June 1979 by the AAS council. The events that led to its formation are described in detail in an article by former CSWA chair, Sue Simkin, in "The American Astronomical Society's First Century" (Simkin 1999). According to Simkin, the status quo was challenged in 1971 when Margaret Burbidge refused to accept the Cannon Prize because "the prize, available only to women, was in itself discriminatory." The council's response was to set up a committee, the "Special Committee on the Cannon Prize," which not only dealt with this issue but also recommended that the AAS review the status of women in astronomy.

In May 1972, the council set up the "Working Group on the Status of Women in Astronomy," which consisted of a large number of volunteers. The steering committee included Anne Cowley (Chair), Roberta Humphreys, Beverly Lynds, and Vera Rubin. Their report was presented to the council in Dec 1973 and published in BAAS in 1974 (Cowley et al. 1974). The statistics contained in the report indicated that the percentage of women in the AAS was the lowest that it has been in the history of the Society. In addition, women were underrepresented as AAS officers, committee members, prize recipients, invited speakers, session chairs, and journal editors.

Despite the findings of the 1974 report, the council waited till Jun 1978 to appoint an ad hoc "Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy." This committee included Martha Liller (Chair), Anne Cowley, Paul Hodge, Frank Kerr, and Nancy Morrison. Their update of the 1974 report concluded that "the status of women (in the AAS) has changed very little since 1973" and recommended that "the Council authorize the appointment of a standing Committee on the Status of Women." Their report was published in BAAS in 1980 (Liller et al. 1980).

CSWA was established in June 1979 with Anne Cowley (Chair), Frank Kerr, Martha Liller, Bruce Margon, and Catherine Pilachowski. Their charge, to "Recommend to the Council practical measures that the AAS can take to improve the status of women in astronomy and encourage their entry into this field," was adopted by the council in Jun 1980.

In advance of the unveiling of our new ‘History’ web page, we have compiled what we think is a complete list of CSWA alums:

Thanks to all the alums for their excellent work in building CSWA into the organization it is today. We do indeed stand on the shoulders of giants!

Cowley, A. et al. 1974, BAAS, 6, 413
Liller, M. et al. 1980, BAAS, 12, 624
Simkin, S. 1999 in "The American Astronomical Society's First Century" (American Institute of Physics/Springer Verlag) - David DeVorkin editor.

From: Joan Schmelz []

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Census: Women in Astronomy/Science Groups

This post is the sixth in a series on starting up and supporting a Women in Astronomy/Science group at your university or national lab. Click here, here, and here for previous posts by guest-blogger Meredith Danowski and here for my post on the AAS Spring panel discussion on this topic.

Recently a friend asked for advice on creating a website for the WOWSAP (Women of Wisconsin Strengthening Astronomy and Physics) mentoring and networking group at UW-Madison*. She wondered if there were websites for other Women in Astronomy/Science groups she could model hers on.

In responding to her, I thought I’d send the response out into the ether as well. Seeing the events and types of support these groups provide and the topics of discussion they focus on has given us many an idea for our own endeavors.

With that in mind, if you notice any groups, including those without websites, that I’ve missed (of which there are surely many), PLEASE let me know. The info is very useful to us at the CSWA, and I’ll post the final list at our resources link for all to access.

Women in Astronomy Groups:

  • UC-Boulder
  • University of Arizona (website?)
  • CfA
  • NASA (Women@NASA is a great site for EPO, but is there an internal group?)

Women in Physics & Astronomy Groups

Women in Physics Groups

(Many universities have Women in Physics/Science groups, but these websites provide more than just name and bylaws).

Women in Science Groups

Working Groups

*A few years ago a group of intrepid, goat-loving grad students founded WOWSAP, basing it on the UofAz group. It’s a pleasure to see that it continues to serve the department today, because of a few energetic and dedicated women grad students.

From: L. Trouille

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why the AAS Needs the CSWA

I’ve spent some time this summer compiling information on the History of CSWA (more on that in the weeks to come). During this historical journey, I reread some of the old issues of the STATUS magazine and come across an article in the Oct 1987 issue written by then CSWA chair (and current AAS VP) Lee Anne Willson entitled, “Why the AAS Needs the CSWA.”

This is a topic that comes up every once in a while, and Lee Anne’s thoughtful and articulate summary is well worth reading. She summarizes five points:

- provides increased visibility to the community of women astronomers;
-monitors the AAS policies and publications to prevent bias;
-collects and distributes information on careers in astronomy;
-provides a channel for complaints concerning discriminatory policies or practices; and
-promotes discussion and sharing of ideas concerning the extra complications associated with the combination of an astronomical career with the other obligations.

To read more:

I was a newly minted PhD when this article came out in 1987, and in some ways, CSWA is still working on the same issues. Should we be discouraged because we have not made more progress? No! I feel that my career in astronomy has now been long enough to have personally witnessed real progress. Although sexual harassment and discrimination still exist, the number of incidents has waned significantly. It is true that this progress has uncovered a new set of problems, e.g., unconscious bias and astronomical bullying, but we are developing methods to deal with these as well. As I happily cram as much science as possible into what is left of the summer, I realize that I am grateful to Lea Anne and all the other CSWA members who went before me and made it possible for me to do the astronomy I love so much. A full list of all those members going back to the founding of CSWA (and before) is coming soon. Stay tuned!

From: Joan Schmelz []

Thursday, August 4, 2011

How to encourage more girls to enter science?

Women earn the majority of college degrees in the U.S. and, since 2009, the majority of doctorates. This is not the case in astronomy or physics. Why are we different?

The American Institute of Physics has studied the enrollments of girls and boys in high school physics classes and AP exams in a recent report. Physics is important preparation for STEM degrees. The good news is that the percentage of girls taking high school physics has grown more rapidly than for boys. The bad news is that fewer girls are electing to take AP Physics and even fewer are electing to take the AP exams. As AIP authors Susan White and Casey Langer Tesfaye note, "To examine why, we would need to look at factors which impacted these students before their final years of high school. Did something in the earlier science curriculum discourage girls from more advanced physics? Or was it the general belief, widely embraced in our culture, that girls just don’t 'do' hard sciences?"

Although we may not know the answers, I think we know some of the solutions. Girls in middle school -- high school may be too late -- must be shown the value of math and science and encouraged to believe that it offers them exciting career choices. They need to see science as something cool that girls do. They need role models and mentoring. The difficulty is less in identifying solutions than in implementing them.

Here's one more need: universities need to value more the outreach efforts made by some students, postdocs, staff, and faculty to attract more young people to science and engineering. This will require the scientific profession itself to value outreach more highly. Too often it seems to be an add-on to research grants and not valued for its own sake. At my own institution, I'm impressed with the efforts being made by engineers such as the Women's Technology Program in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Physics has almost the same gender balance challenges as computer science, yet I'm puzzled that the field makes less of an effort.

Have you engaged in outreach? Was there a pivotal moment in your own early years that brought you to astronomy? What lessons can you share?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Starting up

It's almost the end of July, and summer is slipping by fast. As a new academic year approaches, some of us are looking forward to beginning new jobs. A perennial question around this time of year is, what advice do you have for brand new faculty members? How do you make the transition from postdoc to professor? I pose these questions to readers of this blog with no small amount of self-interest, I must admit.

While I'm at it, what advice would you give to newly minted PhDs becoming brand new postdocs?

My own advice to new postdocs would be to network like mad and build up your professional connections. Doing research and publishing papers should go without saying, but networking is vital for career development. So knock on doors, strike up conversations, go to conferences, and ask questions during talks.

Now it's your turn: what advice would you give new postdocs? faculty members? What do you wish you had been told when you started your new job?

-by Hannah

AASWOMEN Newsletter for July 22, 2011

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of July 22, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Latest Issue of STATUS Now Available

2. Walmart Women

3. Undergraduate Women Engineers: Race Matters

4. Increasing Diversity in Your Department

5. Summer Conferences

6. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

7. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

8. Access to Past Issues of the AASWOMEN Newsletter

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A journey through the Milky Way: sometimes you just wing it

So, I had a day where managing my work and managing the milk seemed to almost collide. There has been a lot going on, I’ve been concerned about funding my research group (we’re okay right now, but anyone who isn’t at least mildly concerned about funding their research group right now probably has their head in the sand!). It is easy to get distracted and say, forget completely that you are still producing milk for a child!

I started out Monday morning getting dressed and being fortunate enough to have a few more choices of tops thanks to a fun shopping trip with my mother who had been visiting for a week while my daycare was closed. One top in particular was a bit more frilly/girly than I normally wear. I had thought to reserve it for weekends rather than my work at NASA, but at the last moment decided, “what the heck”. I remember having thought that the shirt might also work as one with a built-in nursing cover.

I arrived at daycare that day to nurse Anya and couldn’t find the nursing cover anywhere in the car. That frilly blouse came in handy after all! But, that’s not all I forgot!

I forgot my cooler pack at home. I managed to go beg a bag of ice from the café in my building. I have actually managed to now do this twice this week (its only Tuesday!) and the second time the café had already closed. This time I just slipped the milk into a baggie, and then into my purse, and hoped it would be okay during the 10 minute trip from my office to the daycare (it was fine). I actually have a new bigger purse and found it a bit liberating to not carry around that cooler pack. It was actually nice to walk to the room without the obvious pack (just my purse!). Mental note: in the future when the weather is slightly cooler maybe this can just be the default!

And, when I reached the pumping room I realized I didn’t bring any of my pumping supplies to work. I forgot my pumping supplies (bottles and breast shields). I had back-up supplies and back-up to my back-up (2 sets of shields! Thank goodness!). I’ve made a habit of bringing extras in and it saved me.

It was kinda nice to know that I basically forgot to bring any of the nursing/pumping stuff to work today and I still managed to nurse my daughter today and pump milk.

Sometimes this is chaotic, but it can still work.

AASWomen Newsletter for July 15, 2011

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of July 15, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. NY Times Article Advises, "Don't Fret. Just Ask for What You Need"

2. Call for Nominations: 2012-2015 MIT Pappalardo Fellowships in Physics

3. Three Young Women Crowned Winners of Google Science Fair

4. Inappropriate Article

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

Friday, July 15, 2011

Walmart women

You can interpret the recent Supreme Court ruling on Wal-Mart v. Dukes, where the 5-4 majority denied the right of female workers at Wal-Mart to certify as a class in a class-action law-suit as a pro-business, but I see it rather as an attack on the rights of women workers in general. In the CSWA, we recognize that overt discrimination is not longer where battles are being fought, but rather the pernicious biases of individuals that affect everything from workplace climates to hiring decisions. From the article cited above:
Writing for the court majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that in order to sue as a single class, the women would have to point to a discriminatory policy that affected all of them, and they could not do that. Indeed, Scalia noted that the company has a specific corporate policy against discrimination.
To which I can only respond that a written policy is useless if it is not implemented.

The case for the Walmart women relied on statistics, such as the fact "that women held two-thirds of the lowest-level hourly jobs at Wal-Mart and only one-third of the management jobs, and that women overall were paid on average $1.16 an hour less than men in the same jobs, although the women had more seniority and higher performance ratings." As a scientists, particularly astronomers, we know that statistics often tell the real story rather than any one object. In the case of discriminatory hiring and promotion cases, it's easy to point to a myriad of reasons why any one particular person was overlooked for a promotion or fired or what have you. It's much harder to fight individual cases, which can in the end be blamed on special circumstatnces, than to make a case for an entire group as a whole.

It's notable that all the female justices dissented with the majority opinion. They, at least recognize that unconscious bias is real:
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed to previous Supreme Court decisions holding that a companywide policy against discrimination can be undermined where, as alleged here, local supervisors have so much discretion that decisions are made without standards, often on the basis of biases unrecognized even by the supervisors themselves, for example, assuming that a female employee with a family would not be willing to relocate for a promotion.

Suffice it to say that I will be avoiding shopping at Walmart from now on.

-by Hannah Jang-Condell

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Improving Faculty Searches

A faculty search is one of the most important processes overseen by a department chair. I've been involved with faculty searches, either as search committee member or chair, or as division head or department head, for 20 years. Over these years in my department the attention to affirmative action has grown. This absolutely does not mean less-qualified candidates are interviewed or hired. It means that we work to assemble the largest and most diverse pool of qualified applicants that we can, and we strive to identify the most promising candidates regardless of race, gender, or other qualities unrelated to the job description. We do so with explicit awareness of factors that discriminate against underrepresented groups -- in particular, our own implicit biases. Here are some of the things we have done, and my assessment of their utility.

For several years, search committee chairs have met with an Assistant Dean to review university affirmative action procedures and to be alerted to implicit bias and best practices for faculty recruitment based on the Michigan STRIDE materials. Last year I required all search committee members to attend a similar session which I led. Some faculty bristled but I let them know it was required. I will repeat this for new committee members as I am optimistic about its educational value over the long term.

For several years, I have required search committees to assemble lists of promising women and underrepresented minority postdocs to be invited for visits (which the department pays for), and who should be encouraged to apply to faculty searches. This process has led to some success, although the numbers to date are few. I strongly believe this proactive search process is important to building a strong faculty. In the words of Shirley Malcom of the AAAS, it converts a "sort committee" into a "search committee".

Before short lists are finalized, they are reviewed first by me as department head, then by a committee assembled by the Assistant Dean. Each search committee is required to justify their choices, especially why candidates are not on the short list who would increase the diversity of the pool. Occasionally I call for changes in a short list. The committees know that I have an eye on inclusion and they respect that spirit. I feel that this oversight is important in fields with serious underrepresentation problems (and not just for women). I would recommend this practice to others; it sends a clear signal to the faculty and that, in turn, helps change the climate.

This past year I ran a separate "open search" with no preference for subfield, and with explicit encouragement of applications in any area of physics or astronomy. I had hoped it might encourage talented individuals who feared that other searches in the department were so narrowly focused as to exclude them. In this it succeeded, although it did not increase the gender diversity of our total applicant pool. Most of those who applied were from areas of physics that were not explicitly mentioned in the other searches (e.g., string theory and optics). In astrophysics, our search was broad as it has been for many years. All our searches are open in the sense that we never have determined in advance whom we want to hire. In the future, it may be more efficient not to run a separate wide-open search but instead for the overall departmental ad to mention that candidates in fields not explicitly listed are invited to apply to the most closely related search and to contact search chairs if ever in doubt.