Thursday, April 26, 2012

Guest Post: Bekki Dawson on Why all astronomy departments should think of themselves as women’s astronomy departments

This week's guest blogger is Bekki Dawson. Bekki Dawson is a graduate student in the Astronomy Department at Harvard University. Her research focuses on the dynamics of planetary systems.

Why all astronomy departments should think of themselves as women’s astronomy departments

H. Kim Bottomly, president of Wellesley College, recently wrote a Washington Post editorial "Why all colleges should think of themselves as women’s colleges." President Bottomly focused on the mission of universities to produce women political leaders, but many of her arguments could apply to producing women scientists. As women's college alumna and graduate student at a co-educational institution, I began to wonder if the status of women in astronomy would improve if every astronomy department (or physics department or research center) considered itself a "women's astronomy department."

Women's colleges have long been successful in recruiting and training astronomers, from Annie Jump Cannon to astronomers today in every stage of the pipeline. Here I consider the reasons behind this success and how they inspire practical steps for co-educational astronomy departments. But my main message is not practical but philosophical: a department should adopt the goal increasing the representation of women astronomers as part of its underlying mission. With the department's creativity and dedication channeled toward advancing this mission, practical steps become more natural and obvious. Moreover, if a debate arises over whether a particular measure coddles students or is unfair to men, perhaps we should ask, "What would a women's astronomy department do?"

Monday, April 23, 2012

Gender Politics

I would, ideally, like to keep politics out of this blog. However, given that this is an election year, politics seems to be butting its way into everything, so here goes.
The CSWA works hard to advocate for women in science. One issue that comes up over and over again is the problem of balancing career and family -- an issue for any working mother, really. A key to that balance is the ability to plan when and how many children to have -- something that many of us, like myself, take for granted.
So when a Republican-controlled House Committee convenes an all-male panel to discuss coverage for birth control, it's hard not to take it a little personally. It's bad enough that dependent care coverage is a real issue for many young astronomers, particularly grad students and postdocs, but to not even have coverage for birth control?
More recently was the whole kerfuffle between Ann Romney and Hilary Rosen about whether or not Romney "has actually never worked a day in her life." Given that Rosen was speaking specifically about women in the paid workforce, Romney's response that raising children was "work" sounded to me a lot like "gravity is only a theory."
Yes, raising children is a lot of work. So is being a scientist. Force times distance is also work. At any rate, why is it that stay-at-home mom are lavished with praise and put on pedestals, while working moms are frowned at? And, by the way, where is dad in all this?
It's great to be talking about getting more girls interested in science and math, since they are certainly smart enough. But girls are also smart enough to see the barriers ahead. If they can see that they won't be able to raise families on their own terms, no wonder they drop out.

AASWOMEN for April 20th, 2012

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of April 20, 2012
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Take the 'work' out of networking

2. White House Panel - Women and Girls in STEM

3. Interacting Galaxies & Binary Quasars - Gender Statistics

4. The Matilda Effect in Science

5. 2012 World Development Report - Gender Equality/Development

6. Nominations - Outstanding Undergraduate Science Teacher

7. U.S. News STEM Solutions 2012

8. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter

9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter

10. Access to Past Issues

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Guest Post: Deanna Ratnikov on Taking the "Work" Out of Networking

Our guest blogger this week is Deanna Ratnikova. Deanna Ratnikova is the Women and Education Programs Administrator with the American Physical Society. In this role, she works on the Women in Physics program and provides administrative support to the Education and Diversity Department. She earned a B.S. in Chemistry at Austin Peay State University and a Master of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Take the “work” out of networking: 5 tips for students and early-career professionals
by Deanna Ratnikova, American Physical Society

If the idea of networking makes you cringe, you’re not alone. When we discuss networking, we often talk about approaching unfamiliar people and trying to establish rapport with them in a relatively short period of time. We then have to follow up and nurture the relationship. This process can be awkward and may seem insincere, and most of all, it’s a lot of work.

Don’t give up on networking, however. It is one of the most powerful tools for advancing your career. Many job openings are not advertised, and in those cases, you need to know someone to find out about them. This is where networking comes into play—it helps you build contacts that, one day, may call you when they hear of a job opening appropriate for your interests and expertise.

If you want to network but don’t know where to start, here are five tips for taking the “work” out of networking.*

  1. Get to know the people around you — your classmates, advisors, colleagues. Let people know what your goals are and ask them about theirs. Politely ask others to keep you in mind if they hear about an opportunity or know someone who could help you with the next stage of your career. Be sure to share information with them about opportunities you hear, so they will do the same for you.

  2. Use a connector at networking events. If you are attending a reception with a friend or colleague, ask him/her to introduce you to someone present that he/she knows.

    Another example is when you find out or someone informs you of a contact who will be at a conference you will be attending. Ask your friend or colleague, if he/she could help you arrange a meeting with this individual. Alternatively, if you do not get the opportunity to set up a meeting, you can still approach this person while at the conference using your connector’s name as a starting point for the conversation. A good ice breaker for such a situation may be, “Hello, Dr. Einstein. I’m Deanna Ratnikova from Small Town College; Professor Planck encouraged me to meet you. I’m interested in working for Big City Company and would like to ask you about your research and role with the organization.”

  3. Volunteer at events and conferences related to your interests and goals. In addition to positioning yourself at an event with many people who share your interests, volunteering has several perks. For starters, you usually receive free access to the event. Also, as a volunteer, people often approach you to ask you a question about the event (When will the speaker give his/her speech? How late is the event scheduled to run?). You can sometimes use this opportunity to start a conversation: “The speaker will commence at 7pm. She will be talking about exoplanet mission technologies; do you work on related research?”

    Volunteering also helps you build visibility. Even if you are not working the room and talking to everyone, people still see you at the event and you see them. You can use this as an ice breaker the next time you see someone: “Hi, you look familiar; were you at the science café downtown last month?”

  4. Join a professional association. The American Astronomical Society (AAS), for example, provides members with many resources to keep them up-to-date and in touch with the astronomy community. AAS also hosts semi-annual meetings which give you the opportunity to meet and connect to others in the field.

    Professional associations often ask members to contribute articles for a newsletter and/or participate in smaller interest groups (like the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy). Participation with the society and its smaller groups will help you become more visible in the community.

  5. Create a LinkedIn profile and fill it out thoroughly. LinkedIn allows you to display your education, work experience, skills, publications, goals and interests—it is essentially a virtual CV. Similar to making “friends” on Facebook, you build “connections” on LinkedIn.

    Even if you do not know a person well, you can send a personal note when you ask to connect stating your reasons for adding him/her as a connection. A sample note is, “I saw that you are also a member of the American Astronomical Society group. I’m interested in meeting other astronomers and I would like to add you to my network.” If they agree to connect, you can then try to start an online conversation. Inquire about their work, educational background or any other topics that would help you establish similarities you might share.

    As a bonus for your hard work building your LinkedIn profile, you can include a line on your business card informing others of the web address of your LinkedIn profile. If someone forgets your face or what you were talking about, they can refresh their memory by referencing your card and checking out your LinkedIn profile.

*While testing out these networking tips, make sure you are providing value to your new connections because networking is as much about helping other people as it is about helping yourself.

Do you have networking tips to share with the Women in Astronomy community? Found a way to overcome your fear of striking up a conversation with a stranger at a networking event? Tell us in the comments section!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Evaluating How We Present Role Models in STEM

Posted by L. Trouille

Univ. of Michigan social psychologists Diana Betz and Denise Sekaquaptewa recently published a thought-provoking article that I thought might be of interest to our readers -- "My Fair Physicist? Feminine Math and Science Role Models Demotivate Young Girls."


Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are labeled unfeminine, a costly social label that may discourage female students from pursuing these fields. Challenges to this stereotype include feminine STEM role models, but their counterstereotypic-yet-feminine success may actually be demotivating, particularly to young girls.
  • Study 1 showed that feminineSTEM role models reduced middle school girls’ current math interest, self-rated ability, and success expectations relative to gender-neutral STEM role models and depressed future plans to study math among STEM-disidentified girls. These results did not extend to feminine role models displaying general (not STEM-specific) school success, indicating that feminine cues were not driving negative outcomes.
  • Study 2 suggested that feminine STEM role models’ combination of femininity and success seemed particularly unattainable to STEM-disidentified girls.
The results call for a better understanding of feminine STEM figures aimed at motivating young girls.

In reading this article, I came across a great site for Women in STEM articles. Check out -

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Guest Post: Meredith Hughes on What YOU can do to promote gender equality in astronomy

This week's guest blogger is Meredith Hughes. Meredith is currently a Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley. Her research involves using millimeter-wavelength interferometry to study the process of planet formation.

What YOU can do to promote gender equality in astronomy
Sometimes when I think about how to promote gender equality in astronomy, I feel a bit inadequate. My personal life is relatively uncomplicated and I've had a blessedly easy time on the job market so far -- so as a mentor or a crusader, I don't have a lot of experience overcoming adversity to draw on (knock on wood). And I'm already working hard to make a career for myself as an astronomer, so I'm not exactly jumping up and down to start a second career as an activist. At the same time, issues of equality are deeply compelling to me. I've seen friends and colleagues affected by the cultural and sociological barriers that disproportionately limit women's participation in the field. I twitch every time I hear affirmative action backlash. I want to do something. And I imagine I'm not the only one. But what? How can I best use the time, skills, and experience that I have to promote gender equality?
I think that there are a lot of men and women out there who want to promote gender equality, or at least want to know more about it, but haven’t been galvanized by any particular issue, and don't have gobs of time to devote. So I thought I'd take this opportunity to throw out a few of the solutions I've found for myself, and to ask for ideas from the rest of the world. I'd love to hear from other people about their own personal strategies. Here are mine:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Stop Sexual Assault and Violence

American women and men in astronomy are generally safe against personal violence. However, sexual harassment, assault and other forms of misconduct are a continuing problem for men and women, especially against women. Moreover, our sisters elsewhere are subject to state-sponsored, gender-based violence and discrimination that must not be forgotten. It is fitting that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Universities are not immune to allegations of sexual abuse, including but not restricted to recent high profile cases involving sports coaches and teams. Is this a taboo subject in the astronomical community? I hope not, and was pleased to see that the Yale Women's Faculty Forum, currently led by astronomer Priya Natarajan, was able to increase awareness of and effect change in policies concerning sexual misconduct at Yale. Other universities would benefit from the example of institutional change accomplished by the Yale women described at Change Magazine.

Gender-based assault and violence takes a different and more sinister form in countries whose laws and policies do not give women equal rights. In Iranian courts women are counted as half the worth of men: if a man and a woman receive equal injuries in an automobile accident, the woman receives half the compensation of the man. The testimony of two women in court equals that of one man. Yet women are the majority of law students in Iran. I learned these facts yesterday from Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Shirin Ebadi, who gave a lecture at my university on "Women's Rights in Iran and the Islamic World." She promotes democracy and nonviolence as the necessary force for social change. Dictatorships do not last long, but cultures do.

The U.S. academic culture does not tolerate sexual abuse but there are still victims. The culture promotes equality but there is still inequality. How should we respond? With courage and perseverance, like the examples cited above.

Guest Post: Nick Murphy on Why sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression must be considered together

This week's guest blogger is Nick Murphy. Nick Murphy is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. His research is on solar physics, including the role of magnetic reconnection in solar eruptions. He is active in several community groups in the Boston area that are working for gender equity and racial justice.

Why Sexism, Racism, and Other Forms of Oppression Must Be Considered Together

It is a long term historical trend that liberation movements tend to leave behind members of other marginalized groups. For example, as pointed out by authors such as bell hooks and Audre Lorde, the feminist movement through much of the last century focused on issues most relevant to white middle class women, and the Civil Rights movement did not sufficiently challenge sexism and patriarchy in the African American community. Both of these movements largely left behind women of color.

Intersectionality is the idea that different forms of oppression (such as sexism, racism, heterosexism, and transphobia) are interconnected and thus cannot be considered in isolation. The racism experienced by men of color differs from that experienced by women of color, and the way sexism plays itself out depends strongly on many other identities such as sexual orientation. Intersectionality is a powerful concept because it can help our community avoid excluding people who are members of multiple marginalized groups.

To make progress, we in the astronomical community must work to understand the ways that different forms of oppression intersect with each other, and how members of our community who are not traditionally represented by the CSWA might be excluded. For example, the focus of the CSWA is primarily on astronomers, but this also leaves out the members of the astronomical community who do things other than astronomy: administrators, janitorial and support staff, systems administrators, and so on. These people are often affected by sexism and racism within our community, but in different ways than we are used to thinking in terms of. Additionally, the Pasadena Recommendations for Gender Equality in Astronomy make no mention of transgender inclusivity. To remedy this would require amending these recommendations to directly address transphobia and employment discrimination.

Changing the culture within astronomy and throughout our society to be significantly more inclusive can only occur on generational time scales. Even so, I am optimistic that by working hard we will be able to make the changes we need to.