Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Posting of the Boston AAS Panel Discussion Video

In a previous post I provided a teaser of the information presented during our Boston AAS panel discussion on 'Transforming Cultural Norms: Mentoring and Networking Groups for Women and Minorities".

Thank you again to our panelists for their thoughtful responses. Our panelists were:
  • Marcel Agueros -- astronomy faculty and Director of Columbia University's Bridge to PhD program in the Natural Sciences
  • Ed Bertschinger -- Chair of the MIT Physics department and deeply involved in a number of mentoring, networking, and cultural change initiatives, member of the CSWA
  • Kim Coble -- physics/astronomy faculty at Chicago State University, a minority serving institution in Chicago, deeply involved in mentoring and pipeline issues
  • Meredith Danowski -- astronomy PhD student and co-founder of Boston University's women in STEM mentoring and networking program
  • Jim Ulvestad -- NSF-AST director, head of astro2010 demographics study group, and former member of the CSWA
Below is the videotape we made of this special session (thank you BU graduate student!), split into 3 parts.

I strongly recommend viewing the higher quality version, posted here.
(This blog site only supports very small file sizes.)

-L. Trouille

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Journey though the “Milky Way”: Nursing past a year and astrophysics

This is a continuation in a series about breastfeeding and being an astrophysicist. Note that all of us have a role in being supportive of mothers who wish to nurse their babies. Just as a reminder, breastmilk is best for babies and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends nursing until 2 years of age. Thus far, I have been very proud of astronomy as a discipline for being a leader among the hard sciences in sensible workplace practices and attention to diversity issues. Breastfeeding awareness is part of this!

My April 2011 blog was entitled “taking my own advice” in that I always encourage new mothers to not try to figure out nursing on their own. Nearly everyone has difficulties at the beginning and it does not mean that you are faulty and need to move to formula. I have been encouraging mothers to reach out to other nursing mothers to compare notes and support each other. After all, it used to be that everyone did this well past a year... it was not expected that you would figure this out on your own!

So, realizing that at nearly 15 months I could use some advice, I asked for mothers to share their stories of being astrophysicists and nursing past a year. I got several wonderful (long!) replies. I heard from tenured faculty, postdocs, instrument builders, etc.

Note that according to Baumgartner’s “Mothering Your Nursing Toddler”, the most intensive period for nursing is the time period from 12 months to about 18 months. It turns out that if you do offer, toddlers want to nurse. It continues to be very beneficial to both mother and nursling.

Interestingly, the women who wrote in were encouraging of me to keep it up. They were all astronomers. One mentioned that she was determined to make it to a year and after that, just took it a few months at a time. That is where I am right now. The women who replied nursed 20 months – 3 years and noted that weaning was something that happened fairly gradually, with nursing dipping to once per day or less often near the end.

I loved this quote from a woman who nursed her child to 2 years during grad school: “It is wonderful to cuddle them, and know you have a secret weapon that helps chill them out as their brains grow and grow.”

Folks definitely mentioned that the unwelcome comments increase during the second year. There was more unsolicited advice about weaning. According to Baumgartner, these comments actually peak during the second year. If you make it past the second birthday, I guess people have figured out you aren’t going to be swayed by their weaning advice.

Covering up becomes more challenging (one person noted that the child was doing “flips” during nursing). I recall being concerned about this just yesterday on a plane back from Boston. I had two male colleagues on the plane and made a point to sit next to strangers (Southwest! Choose your seat!) so if my daughter decided to put on a show at least it wasn’t seen by my colleagues.

From another astronomer came this, about the role we ALL play in supporting nursing:

"Supportive words from other women astronomers were also greatly appreciated -- in this respect, I was very fortunate that my advisor was a woman with a toddler, but even casual comments by senior women at conferences along the lines of "well, you just need to nurse during take-off and landing" were helpful. My husband accompanied me to a couple of conferences with my son in tow (in order to bring my son to me to be nursed during breaks), and I know that he was very pleased when MALE astronomers occasionally approached him and said things like "It's great that you and your wife have come to this conference with your baby... when we had our kids, everyone told us it was too hard".

There was quite a bit about the cuddling and re-connecting after a work day. One female astronomer mentioned that their son would crawl into bed to nurse and they would lounge around as a family, drinking tea together. This mirrors some mornings I have with my husband, our dog and my daughter. I don't have to get up to get some early-morning breakfast for our daughter, she can nurse and hang out for a while.

Several women expressed that after a year it was less stressful to nurse as their child wasn’t completely dependent upon them for nourishment. It was mentioned that when trauma in one’s life came up, that having this connection really helped them to nurture their child when in other ways it was or would have been difficult.

Several people mentioned seeking out support. This is still important after a year. Several people mentioned to me that I could do it. Yes, it really is possible to maintain an astrophysics career and nurse!

Speaking of seeking out support, at this point I would like to give a shout-out to the Chandra X-ray Center for amazing accommodation of my 15-month-old nursling this past week. I made it through 2.5 intensive days in Boston without having to pump as my mother-in-law was there and I was able to nurse my daughter at all the breaks. Several people on the CXC staff made sure we were well taken care of (my mother-in-law was able to eat meals with us, we had a refrigerator and crib, etc.). I think their policy is pretty smart: if they ask me to do something for them again, you know I'm going to be inclined to do it!

The All-Male Planetary Science Club

The top 11 institutions that have all-male planetary science tenured or tenure-track faculty, and at least four planetary science faculty, are ranked below in order of most-to-fewest faculty numbers:

1. UC Santa Cruz
2. Washington University
3. California Institute of Technology
4. Cornell University
5. University of Central Florida
6. Boston University
7. Brown University
8. Princeton University
9. Rice University
10. University of Maryland
11. University of Michigan

Is the problem with the above listed institutions their hiring practices? These statistics imply that men are hired for tenure-track and women are hired for non-tenure track planetary science positions at the above-listed institutions. If institutions have all male faculty, how likely is it that a women will be interviewed and hired? Is what women planetary science faculty have to offer considered not worthy at the above listed institutions? If so, why?

I am at the University of Central Florida (number 5 in the list) in a non-tenure track line and the only female in that planetary science group. Statistics imply that I'm not worthy of a tenure-track line at my own institution and, with their hiring practices, not likely to be worthy. Why is teaching multiple astronomy-related courses per semester, writing blogs, writing newsletters, publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals, reviewing papers in peer-reviewed journals, writing proposals, evaluating proposals, owning a technology company, ghost-writing a book, co-authoring other books, ghost-advising PhD candidates, presenting at conferences/workshops, sitting on LOC or SOC of other conferences/workshops not considered worthy??? Of course this does not even include being a single parent which is also time-taxing (but worth it). Why do non-tenure track women have to be superwomen and still not be considered worthy?

[Data for this post comes from]

Thursday, June 16, 2011

One Up, One Down

Communicating in a Male Dominated Field -
Several weeks ago I asked a tenured male colleague to review a paper I was writing, the subject of which he knew well. I proposed some basic physics that applied to a specific subset of exoplanets with ~100% certainty, physics not previously considered by anyone. The response I got was a diatribe. Although no argument was on the basic physics introduced, some of the interpretation of the results was the sink to the harangue. The shock of such a response to the entire paper inevitably caused me to stop work. Why would a colleague be so mean to me regarding a result that most definitely affects his (and his post doc's) work?

Upon further review, I realize I have been in this situation before with similar reactionary results: Men, being typical recipients of my communications, return communication unkindly and I react by stopping work. After all, why should I to share what I know when men are so insulting. I have no problem taking what I know to the grave.

I have recently learned that males communicate via One Up, One Down. In this mind game, one tries to make another feel inferior thereby gaining one-up in status. Women, in general, do not communicate this way. Since I am in a male dominated field, I am told I have to ignore the insults. I would think a better outcome is to have men provide constructive criticism. After all, men should have to learn to communicate even if the field is male dominated as women sometimes are the recipients of their communications.

Two Body Problem

I'm not actually a huge fan of talking about the two body issue - the question of finding two jobs for both members of a couple, that is, not the college physics orbital dynamics problem. Unlike the physical problem, there is no one-size-fits-all analytical solution to the two body issue in employment.

The two body problem often refers only to dual academic couples. Certainly, a good many scientists are married to fellow academics. In some ways, this problem is the most straighforward to solve, since it involves a single employer: the university. But universities can be large or small, public or private, urban or rural, all factors that can impact their ability to accommodate a dual academic couple.

Because two body issues are so diverse and different, perhaps it is worth talking about them in terms of specific anecdotes and individual solutions rather than trying to define prescriptive remedies. So here I'll talk about my own search for a solution to the two body problem. The decisions we've come to have been a result of much talk and discussion and negotiation and soul-searching. So I am not looking for further suggestions or advice, but simply want to lay out our scenario and the various factors that have played into it.

My new job will be in a small department in a small college town in a sparsely populated state. My husband is not an academic. The nature of his field is that when he posted his resume on, he immediately got swamped with phone calls from the greater metro area of where we currently live, but not a one from where we plan to move to. When he did get a phone interview at a company an hour from my new job, they wanted him to start the next day. As it stands, we are moving in less than two months, but he still has yet to find a job. However, the time scale between applying for a job, getting an offer, and starting the new job is a lot shorter than the academic cycle, so we aren't too worried.

It does, however, leave us with some amount of uncertainty as to where to live. Telecommuting is not really on the table. The best concentration of jobs appears to be about two hours away from the university, so we are splitting the difference by buying a house in a city an hour away from the university. Fortunately, the city has other features to recommend it to us. However, it will likely mean that both of us will have hour long commutes.

This whole exercise of negotiating where we buy a house (down to which side of the city we'll live!) has given me a lot of insight into why the two body problem can be such an issue when departments are trying to hire women. If my husband had been an academic, the university might have been able to find a position for him. Since he is not, however, there was not much they could do to help. There simply aren't companies in this small college town where my husband would fit. In an urban area, this would be much less of a problem. I had thought that my husband's job was pretty portable, but it turned out to be less portable than I thought. If my husband and I had not be able to compromise, if his job were less portable, then it might really have come down to a choice of career or family. And who knows, another woman might have left the pipeline.

-by Hannah

Thursday, June 2, 2011

AAS Prizes – Self-Nominations

You have probably realized that the deadline for nominations for AAS prizes has shifted earlier, to June 30. This means you still have a few weeks to submit nominations. Those of us who are frustrated at the continued dearth of women prize recipients should know that this is because of a dearth of nominations (so I am told by prize committees) – indeed, there are few nominations of anyone, but especially women. So, it would be great if we could rectify that.

What you may not know, because it is a newer change, is that for the first time, and for a 5-year trial period, self nominations will be enabled for the Warner and Pierce prizes. In order that self-nominations not be visibly different from colleague-nominations, the prize package will consist of the 3 letters of support, not including the usual nomination letter. It was felt by the AAS Council, who took this decision, that the nominee pools for these prizes are usually too small, and that senior astronomers may not know the junior candidates eligible for these prizes well enough to fix that problem, whereas self-nominations will almost surely lead to a larger (and we hope more divers) pool of candidates – which can only enhance the luster of the prize.

So, young astronomers: please do not be shy! Nominate yourself or ask a colleague to help you. All you need to do is line up 3 letters supporting your nomination. Rules for all prizes can be found on the AAS web site:

From: Meg Urry []