Thursday, March 31, 2011

Senior Women: Physics & Astronomy Departments

CSWA would like to expand their recent study of Senior Women in Astronomy departments to include those in Physics & Astronomy departments. At this time we are only considering departments in the US with a PhD program.

I need your help to compile these data. If you work in a Physics & Astronomy department (in the US with a PhD program), could you please send me a list of senior faculty (tenured professors only) with a designation for male or female? For any joint appointments, I would also need the fractional commitment of that individual to the Physics & Astronomy department.

These data should be for the entire department, not just the astronomy component of the department. Note: assistant professors, research professors, junior members, part-time instructors, soft-money researchers, postdocs, emeritus faculty, etc. should NOT be included in this list.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions and comments.

--Joan Schmelz []

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Request for Guiding Questions/Comments -- 'Transforming Cultural Norms' Panel Discussion at Boston AAS

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women and the AAS Committee on the Status of Minorities are co-hosting a Special Session on Tuesday, May 24th from 2-3:30 pm at the Boston AAS meeting.

A growing number of universities, government labs, and other institutions have established scientific networking and peer mentoring groups for early career (undergraduate, graduate student, postdocs, and new faculty) women and minorities. These groups provide a promising channel for addressing retention and other equity issues. The goals of this panel discussion are (1) to provide information to the community on how to organize, fund, and ensure their sustainability and institutionalization and (2) to present examples showing how departments have managed to change the climate so that mentoring and networking groups become accepted as the norm.

The panelists are:

1. James Ulvestad -- Director of the Division of Astronomical Sciences at NSF, former CSWA member, led the astro2010 demographics study group, and more.
2. Ed Bertschinger -- Chair of the MIT Physics department and deeply involved in a number of mentoring, networking, and cultural change initiatives.
2. Kim Coble -- Astrophysics faculty at Chicago State University, a minority serving institution, and deeply involved in mentoring and pipeline issues.
3. Marcel Agueros -- Astronomy faculty and associate director of Columbia University's bridge-to-PhD program for minority students.
5. Meredith Danowski -- Astronomy PhD student and co-founder of Boston University's women in STEM mentoring and networking program.

We plan to provide the panelists a list of guiding questions prior to the meeting, to help frame their thinking and the subsequent discussion. We'd like to solicit from you, dear reader, questions and/or comments that you'd particularly like to have this panel address or examples of successes or failures you'd like for them to consider.

We'll be videotaping the session and posting it online after the meeting. We'll also use this blog as a space for follow-up. So even if you are not planning to attend the May AAS, you'll have the opportunity to hear the answer to your question and participate in further discussion.

--Posted by Laura Trouille

Friday, March 25, 2011

A first anniversary: motherhood and astrophysics

One year ago today I was in the hospital awaiting the arrival of my daughter. At this point I was realizing the induction might not go as quickly as we hoped. It lasted 40 hours and failed so I had a C-section. Then I struggled to feed my daughter initially. She became dehydrated, losing 11% of her body weight, dipping to below 5 pounds, in the first 2 days. Without any milk yet, I was forced to feed her a tiny amount of formula, for which I have no regrets as she really needed it. Feeding my daughter those few spoonfuls of formula was the first on a long list of things I thought I would never do as a parent.

My research area is the study of X-ray binary populations in galaxies. I'm a tenured astrophysicist at NASA and have been involved with a variety of NASA missions. As you might imagine, I was not thinking about X-ray binaries, X-ray instruments on NASA missions or anything like that during the time described above. Maternity leave really isn’t like any other leave I have ever taken. One of my senior female colleagues told me to be gentle with myself and now I can see what she meant. It took some months for me to return to any semblance of the productivity I had before and to enjoy my work again like I did before.

My daughter has now grown to 18 pounds and still nurses regularly. She is starting to walk, she waves at us, says “uh oh” and “bye bye” and does many amazing things. A decent fraction of the time I still can’t believe she exists.

I have been in a bit of a groove as of late in that I work on research all morning, dash over to nurse her (what a nice break to hang out with her now!) and then return to work in the afternoon. I also have a nice new motivational tool: I ask myself if the work I am doing is worth not being around my daughter (of course when I ask myself that I am thinking of her in her cheerful state!). I find that this helps me get back to data analysis and writing more quickly.

I also have started asking for help more. Thankfully I knew to ask for help with nursing. Many people told me to join La Leche League and I am very glad that I started going before my daughter was born. I knew many people struggled at the beginning with nursing.

With the rest of the "baby stuff" (besides nursing) and with my research I made the mistake of not asking for help. My husband and I were alone for most of the first 3 weeks of our daughter’s life, when I was recovering from the surgery and she needed to nurse around the clock. We needed help then and we had friends who would have helped us but we waited before we told them. Then the casseroles arrived en masse, people had been trying not to bother us, waiting for something to do.

Months later I was wondering how I was going to get my research back on track when I felt so exhausted. I had this epiphany: I would ask the postdocs for help! It is not easy when you’re supposedly a tenured scientist “at my level” to ask for help. One of my male colleagues reminded me that what I was describing was what many people just refer to as collaboration. I felt strange asking younger scientists for help, but it was just fine when I did. Information was shared and the project moved along much faster. I felt better about it too.

So I guess that is one major thing I learned (or remembered?) this year. ASK FOR HELP. Plenty of us are going to chip in and help you.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Status of MIT Women Faculty in Science and Engineering

[Note: This is a copy of a post at]

MIT has just released an important new report, A Report on the Status of Women Faculty in the Schools of Science and Engineering at MIT, 2011. This report, prepared in association with the upcoming MIT150 celebration and the Symposium Leaders in Science and Engineering: The Women of MIT, is a sequel to the famous 1999 MIT Report on Women Faculty in Science and the 2002 report of the Women Faculty in Engineering. The new report shows that there has been remarkable progress for women faculty in science and engineering at MIT since the previous studies but that issues remain that will require the continued efforts of the central administration, working collaboratively with women faculty.

The report shows that great progress has been made in addressing the discrimination, bias, and inequities in leadership opportunities that existed a decade ago. I’m heartened by the facts that the numbers of women faculty members in science and engineering have almost doubled in a decade, that women now occupy many leadership positions, and that most women faculty view MIT as an excellent place to work and a friendlier and more supportive place than is perceived from the outside. Some of the senior faculty are amazed by these improvements. For me, MIT’s success over the last decade indicates a good prognosis for further progress towards full gender equity, if we remain focused on continuing improvements.

Continued improvements are needed because the numbers of women faculty in many fields (including my own) are still very small and they still have to deal with problems that men do not – such as being told falsely that they were appointed because of affirmative action. For all the appointment and promotion cases I know in recent years, I am certain this is not true. The women to whom we have made faculty offers, promoted and granted tenure all meet the very high standards of MIT, and it has always been so. If anyone doubts this, consider the percentages of full professors in the School of Science who in 2010 were Members of the National Academy of Sciences: 31% of men and 40% of women. The younger women faculty are an equally impressive cohort.

When women – or any group – are unhappy with the climate, they will not come or, if they do, may not stay. The result is a disheartening and avoidable brain drain as well as harm to the individuals who suffer through the system. The solution is obvious: address concerns, improve the climate, value people for what they do, support them to do their best. Not only will this stem the brain drain, it will also help the faculty be even more successful. As the quintessential academic meritocracy, MIT will achieve its best as an institution by helping all of its community members to achieve their best.

This report encourages us to stay the course of improvements which has brought us so far in a decade. It also gives specific advice about improving mentoring, reexamining family policies, monitoring the equity of service work, and helping dual career couples. Male faculty members are lucky that the women have articulated these issues, which are important to both genders.

I’m grateful to the women faculty for giving MIT’s academic leaders encouragement and the means to further reduce gender inequality at MIT. The steps we take will benefit all faculty members and will help MIT and its faculty to remain Leaders in Science and Engineering.

Ed Bertschinger

AASWomen for March 18, 2011

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

This week's issues:

1. Senior Women: A Comparison of Astronomy Departments

2. Grad School Rankings: How Important is Diversity?

3. Univ. of Wisc.-Milwaukee Study: Work Climate Discourages Women Engineers

4. Leaders and Science and Engineering: The Women of MIT

5. NY Times Crossword with a Women-in-STEM Theme

6. Peer Mentoring

7. Women in Science

8. How to Submit to AASWOMEN

9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

10. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Senior Women: A Comparison of Astronomy Departments

% Women # Women # Men University Department Joint Appts.
42.9 3 4 Indiana Univ. Astronomy
33.3 4 8 Univ. of Washington Astronomy
33.3 1 2 Case Western Reserve Univ. Astronomy
29.2 3.5 8.5 Caltech Astronomy
28.0 1.75 4.5 Univ. of Wisconsin Astronomy 1 at 0.75; 1 at 0.5
23.8 5 16 UCSC Astronomy & Astrophysics
23.1 3 10 Univ. Michigan Astronomy
23.1 3 10 Columbia Univ. Astronomy & Astrophysics
22.4 3 10.4 Ohio State Astronomy 1 at 0.25; 3 at 0.05
20.0 2 8 Univ. of Minnesota Astronomy
20.0 4 16 Univ. of Arizona Astronomy
19.0 2 8.5 Princeton Univ. Astrophysical Sciences 1 at 0.5
16.7 3 15 UCLA Astronomy & Astrophysics
15.0 3 17 Univ. of Colorado Astrophysical & Planet. Sci.
14.3 2 12 Univ. of Florida Astronomy
14.3 2 12 UMass Astronomy
12.5 1 7 Univ. of Illinois Astronomy 2 at 0.5
12.5 2 14 Penn State Astronomy & Astrophysics
11.8 2 15 UC Berkeley* Astronomy
10.0 2 18 Univ. of Texas, Austin Astronomy
9.5 2 19 Cornell Univ. Astronomy
8.3 1 11 Harvard Univ. Astronomy 4 at 0.5
7.7 1 12 Boston Univ. Astronomy
7.4 1 12.5 Univ. of Maryland Astronomy 1 at 0.5
4.7 1 20.5 Univ. of Chicago Astronomy & Astrophysics 3 at 0.5
0.0 0 13 Univ. of Virginia Astronomy

Senior woman in astronomy provide us with mentors and role models. They can sometimes change or even transform the culture, dynamics, and environment of a university department. They can stand with us and fight for us if we find ourselves the victim of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, or unconscious bias. They can make a department more female friendly.

CSWA has compiled a list of % women on the senior faculty (tenured professors only) for PhD astronomy departments in the US. For joint appointments, we attempted to include the % time devoted to the astronomy department. Numbers and percentages were confirmed by a member of each department except where noted. Please feel free to contact me with any changes, updates, and questions.

For comparison, 18% of full members of the AAS are women. In addition, 30% of named postdocs have been women for the past 20 years; these represent some of the most highly qualified potential candidates for faculty positions.

From: Joan Schmelz []

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Peer Mentoring

I first encountered this term "Horizontal Mentoring" in the article "Horizontal Mentoring Alliances: Resonant Phenomena" that appeared last fall in the Gazette, published by the American Physical Society's CSWP. But the concept is not strange to me. In fact, I wrote about it a couple of years ago, when I referred to it as "Peer Mentoring."

In fact, I have been a part of a peer mentoring group myself for almost two years now. The four of us come from various fields of science and all of us have children, and when we started meeting, we were all postdocs. Although the Gazette article cited above talks about peer mentoring at the senior faculty level, I would argue that horizontal mentoring is valuable at any level. Since the time we started meeting, two of us have given birth with a third on the way, and 3 of the 4 of us have landed permanent positions. Simply based on those statistics, I'd say our group has been a huge success!

So how do you go about setting up a peer mentoring group? We loosely based ours on Every Other Thursday by Ellen Daniell, with a number of modifications that we either agreed to in advance or evolved naturally as we went along. From there, it's a matter of recruiting people who are willing to commit to regular meetings, maintain confidentiality, and contribute to group problem solving.

I was re-reading my earlier blog post and was particularly struck by my prescience:
While I think the idea of support groups for women in science is great, it only works if you live in a region with high PhD density. Daniell worked at Berkeley, where there are more universities per square foot than perhaps anywhere else in the country. What if you live in a big rectangular state and work in a department with only one woman?
Good question! Because that's exactly where I'll be this fall! However, I have to revise my earlier pessimism about maintaining a useful peer mentoring group at a distance, because of the success of the group highlighted in the Gazette article. I've also already made some connections with some terrific women in other science departments at my institution-to-be, so maybe we could even set up our own network.

My peer mentoring group recently threw a Women in Science Party, getting together as many women scientists we could think of in the area so we could network with each other and talk about forming more peer mentoring groups, because this is really too good an idea to keep to ourselves. I hope to replicate the event at my new digs this fall and see if I can continue to spread the idea. After all, women scientists need mentoring even in big rectangular states.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

We are Equals. Aren't we 007?

A very interesting question posed by the boss of 007 to Daniel Craig, the latest Bond male secret agent of the British Secret Service (i.e., MI6). However, as M points out (played by Judith Dench), the odds are against it.

If you have not yet watched this Youtube short, you need to see Daniel Craig trying life as a female (in heels, a blond wig, and makeup, no less!):

As Judith Dench narrates, the numbers are against us: Women are responsible for 2/3 of the work done worldwide yet earn only 10% of the total income and 1% of the property. In the January 31 AASWomen Newsletter, we reported to you that the Census Bureau estimates women in the USA still receive only about 78 cents for every dollar that men get for doing equivalent jobs.

The data extends to tenured faculty in academia: From an NSF report in 2007 (see #6 in the March 11, 2011 AASWomen), <20% are women professors of science and math at top research institutes in the USA. As Hannah Jang-Condell points out in the March 8, 2011 Women in Astronomy blog, only 11% of tenured faculty are women as noted in the Astro2010 Decadal Survey.

So are we equals? "Until the answer is 'yes,' we must never stop asking." - M

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

100th International Women's Day

Today is the 100th International Women's Day!

It's a good time to remember how far women have come in astronomy. It's a far cry from the days when Margaret Burbridge had to apply for telescope time in her husband's name. Some would argue that we've come so far that the fight is over.

But to declare the fight over would ignore those who still face discrimination or harassment even now. While women make up a third of astronomy graduate students these days, only 11% of tenured faculty are women (numbers taken from the Decadel Survey). Not to mention that the brightest girls are often discouraged from living up to their full potential. On the other hand, having female role models goes a long way toward keeping women and girls in science.

Anyway, Happy International Women's Day to all the women in astronomy out there! Reach for the stars!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Update on Coming Out as a Survivor of Sexual Harassment

A special thanks to everyone who commented on my “Coming Out” article from the 18 Feb 2011 issue of AASWOMEN. I’m in the process of getting back to all of you. Some of you posted public remarks on Facebook or on the blog, but most of you e-mailed me directly. It is indeed true that sexual harassment remains a very private thing. Many of you thanked me for sharing my story, and some of you even called me “brave” and “courageous.” Thank you SO MUCH for the support and encouragement. A few of you forwarded the story to women you know who are victims of sexual harassment. A couple of you even admitted that you were victims or survivors.

I feel that one of the reasons our community is still dealing with sexual harassment is because so much of what happens is surrounded in secrecy. We are afraid to come forward because of the long tradition of blaming the victim, which goes back at least as far as Anita Hill. In addition, many of the victims are in the most vulnerable positions, i.e., students and post docs. They _should_ be anonymous (or at least as anonymous as possible) when they are courageous enough to either ask for help or come forward with a complaint.

As a full professor and a senior astronomer, I no longer feel the need to be anonymous. So now that I’m out (of a Different Type of Closet), I can tell you that it is a relief. Some of the old frustrations about this period of my life seem to have dissipated as a result of telling my story. So, let me issue this invitation to survivors of sexual harassment: join me! Tell your story to friends, colleagues, and the people you love. You can even share with AASWOMEN (anonymously, if that is your choice).

There appears to be a lot of us, survivors and supporters, but perhaps geographically isolated (like me) who have never had the opportunity to come together in force and stamp out this plague on our community. I feel that we are the nodes of an as-yet unformed network. For those of you that already have an active Women-in-Science group in your department/institution/research group, I’m envious!

I have a suggestion for the rest of us – a way to start small. Recently, I asked two other women in my department to coffee. I did it reluctantly, feeling somewhat bad that we would all be taking time away from our research, but even I was surprised at how much we had to talk about! We continued meeting every month or so and have now expanded our get-togethers to include female students. I invite all of you who want to insure that sexual harassment fades from the collective memory of the astronomical community to try this bottom-up approach.

Joan Schmelz []

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Taking Advantage of Partnerships - The GWISE Example

Post by guest-blogger Meredith Danowski*, PhD student in Astronomy at Boston University.

There's a stack of papers to be graded, a grant proposal that needs some work, a paper that needs to be written, and a class that needs to be prepared. There are family commitments, all those half-deserted hobbies, and some laundry to do. Why on top of that, should you spend time active in a women in STEM organization?

Being "an activist" is often stigmatized. The time I spend planning events could instead go into my research, right? People might assume that because I spend time that is not directly related to my science, I've got misplaced priorities (or a time machine). But as with everything else in my life, my work for women in science is about being efficient and effective.

It makes me a more effective scientist in the long run, if I have a network of scientists I can turn to with questions, if I have a large pool of collaborators-in-the-making, if I have skills beyond data analysis. It makes me a more effective scientist if sometime down the road, I won't have to worry about needing more than twice the publications my male counterpart has, in order to be judged "competent". One of my undergrad professors once said, "you can't be a physics major by yourself." Science does not flourish in a vacuum-- collaborations are often the key to success, the best way to use our time and promote progress. And what works with science, works elsewhere—specifically, collaborative partnerships help one efficiently accomplish the goals of an organization.

For Boston University's GWISE, we are working to build partnerships with other women in science groups to best utilize the available (and scarce!) resources. We hold joint events with the faculty WISE group-- not only do both groups benefit individually, it encourages mentoring and networking and fosters a sense of community. We're also teaming up with the women's organizations in chemistry and biology to bring in speakers and to share not only monetary resources, but womanpower too!

Within the local community, we're harnessing even broader networks. We advertise the events of the women's groups at Harvard and other local institutions-- giving members access to more resources than we alone could provide. Most of our board members are also members of Massachusetts chapter of the Association for Women in Science and have participated in their Mentoring Circle Program. Designed to bring women in STEM together across disciplines and career-levels, the Mentoring Circles have helped us gain access to the wonderful community beyond the borders of our universities. This makes the work of planning events easier & more efficient-- we can draw from a broader network of contacts with diverse ideas and resources.

And finally, we're starting to grapple with the question raised about community and WISE at AAS- What can men do to help? Beyond supporting the cause or getting involved in advocacy, we can, as a first and fundamental step, share the work of helping each other become better scientists and professionals. To this effect, we recently co-hosted our first professional development event with the Student Association of Graduate Engineers. By sharing the work and costs, both groups benefit, and professionally we stand together as the future of the STEM community.

Utilizing networks and partnerships with other organizations is essential to our success. We benefit from collective knowledge and sharing the work, lightening the load on individuals. With a small commitment from many people, we can efficiently manage our time and resources to allow individuals to flourish scientifically and professionally, while achieving a broader impact.

*Meredith Danowski is a PhD student in Astronomy at Boston University and this is her third guest-post on the WIA blog describing her experiences with GWISE. In previous posts she discussed how to get an organization like GWISE started and how to find & utilize institutional support.