Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crying at Work

Time Magazine recently published an article about the benefits of crying at work.  This article resonated with me because I have cried several times in professional situations.  I cried in my thesis adviser's office when a project I had been working on for many years seemed to have failed.  I cried in my undergraduate adviser's office as I struggled to write my honors thesis and felt the deadline looming.  Most recently, I cried at work when a coworker asked about the loss of my relationship, and I was unable to stifle my emotions about it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

APS CSWP Climate for Women in Physics Site Visit Program

This week's guest bloggers are Susan Blessing, CSWP Chair and chair of the Site Visit Subcommittee, and Deanna Ratnikova, CSWP staff liaison and administrative coordinator for the Site Visit Program. CSWA is proposing to implement Climate Site Visits for Astronomy Departments, and Susan and Deanna were kind enough to write this description of the highly successful and much in demand CSWA program.

Since 1990, the American Physical Society (APS) Committee on the Status of Women in Physics (CSWP) has conducted site visits to physics departments at research institutions and national laboratories to assess and improve the climate for women. Through the Climate Site Visit Program, a team of physicists visits physics departments or labs to catalogue the problems that women face and to suggest potential improvements. The site visit program has been heralded for leading the physics community to a deeper understanding of the climate for women physicists in academia.

CSWP conducts site visits at the request of a department chair or lab director. The site visit team leader assembles a team of physicists from a variety of subfields. Teams consist of typically three to five members for academic visits and six to nine members for national lab visits, and starting in 2012, men are allowed to serve on teams (but not as the team leader). The team and host coordinator decide on a date and work together on travel and lodging arrangements (which are covered by the host facility).

Prior to the visit, the team asks students and employees to complete a confidential survey for the team's use only. On the day of the visit, team members meet with individuals and groups: the physics department chair or lab director, physics faculty members, research staff members, administrators responsible for faculty appointments or hiring, postdocs and graduate and undergraduate students. The goal of these meetings is to provide the team with the quantitative and qualitative information they need to assess the climate in the host facility. At the end of the visit, the team makes a preliminary report to the department chair or lab director as part of an exit interview.

After the visit, the team writes a report for the department chair or lab director, detailing its findings and offering simple, practical suggestions on improving the climate for women and others at the facility. The team encourages the chair or lab director to share the report with the rest of the department or lab. Approximately 18 months after the visit, the department chair or lab director is requested to submit a written report to CSWP, describing actions taken to improve the climate.

After several years of the program, the CSWP compiled a list of best practices that can lead to more welcoming and female-friendly departments. The list is available for free download at here. To date, nearly 60 site visits have been conducted. A list of these site visits, as well as further details on the program, can be found here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lessons from Women in Emerging Markets

I heard a fascinating story on the radio this morning, on gender equality in emerging markets.
Naively, one might expect that women might be doing poorly in the business world in countries like Brazil, Russia, India, and China [BRIC], but that doesn't seem to be true:
"In India, 11 percent of CEOs of the top companies are female," economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "The figure here is 3 percent. In Brazil, 12 percent of CEOs are female. It's also a country with a female head of state. So we have to understand that in some ways, women in these emerging markets are pointing the way."
They talked about few reasons for the difference in women's successes in other countries, including an ambition gap, but the one that struck me the most was this one:
"We found, for instance, in India, that the combination of ... extended family and low-cost domestic help meant that child care was really not a problem," she says. Women in the BRIC countries are able to return to work sooner after having children, while many women in the U.S. disengage from the workforce completely while their children are young. "That means that they lose about 18 percent of their earning power permanently, because it's so hard to get back in."
Now, let's consider the case of a woman in astronomy pursuing a career in astronomy in the US. She'll start out going to grad school for at least 5 years, probably in a place far from her extended family, simply because there are a limited number of universities with graduate programs in astronomy. The she'll probably do a few 2-3 year postdoc stints, and she will be strongly encouraged to do them at completely different institutions, so she'll be moving every few years, making it difficult to become part of a community. If she's married, she'll want to find a job in the same location as her spouse. This means she's like to be in an urban area because jobs are more plentiful. Which means that childcare will also likely be more expensive. And again, chances are, there's no extended family nearby.
So if children are part of the picture, it will often be the case that she will compare her salary to the cost of childcare and decide that staying home or finding a job outside astronomy is the best idea. It's rare that it's the husband making that calculation, for a myriad of reasons.
It's almost as if career paths in astronomy are structured so as to set up women to fail. It's not really fair to say that women "choose" to leave astronomy for family reasons when so many choices are made for them already.
So despite the advice that's abounding about whether to lean in or settle for good enough, I think many of the discussions are missing the point. We need to ask why men don't ask them selves the same questions, and figure out how to make it easier for parents of both genders able to succeed in their careers.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Career Profiles: Astronomer to Video Game Programmer

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the AAS Employment Committee have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.

Below is our interview with Amy Nelson, an astronomer turned software engineer. She writes software for Disney’s online virtual worlds, manages a small team, and is very satisfied with her work-life balance within a family-friendly environment. If you have questions, suggestions, advice to share, etc. about this career path, please leave a comment below.

For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit We plan to post a new career profile to this blog every first and third Thursday of the month.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

AASWomen for April 12, 2013

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of April 12, 2013
eds. Caroline Simpson, Michele M. Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, and Nick Murphy

This week's issues:

1. Science and Women-in-Science Colloquia

2. AIP: Strategies for Improving Diversity

3. Tips from Nature 'Women in STEM' Articles

4. CERN Offers UN Advice on Bringing Women into Science

5. AWIS: Investing in Women in STEM: Because Girls Grow Up

6. Women in Physics is the theme for Winter 2012-13 SPS Observer

7. 2014 CUWiP Sites Announced

8. IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics proceedings now available

9. Child Care Grants for the 222nd AAS Meeting in Indianapolis

10. The Dory Yochum Scholarship : MentorNet to award $5000 to an outstanding woman protege in STEM

11. Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM)

12. Job Opportunities

13. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter

14. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter

15. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter


1. Science and Women-in-Science Colloquia

From: J. Schmelz via

I have recently given “twofer” colloquia* -- one talk on a science topic and another on a women-in-science topic -- at CfA, Caltech, JPL, and Indiana. During these twofer visits, I have also met with students, postdocs, managers, professors, and scientists, both individually and in groups. We have talked about both science and CSWA-related issues. The visits were so successful and so rewarding that I would like to encourage all of you to consider doing these twofer colloquia (get invited to give a science talk and offer to give a women-in-science talk as well).

I would also like to advertise the possibility of these twofer colloquia to universities and organizations other than those where I happen to have friends and colleagues. I would be more than willing to give my twofer colloquia at other places, including yours!

To read more, please see:

ADVICE: Advisors, How Do You Deal with Student Tears?

This is the second in our new series of ADVICE posts as CSWA tries to ensure that information gathered over the years remains available to the current generation of students, postdocs, and faculty. This month, we ask, “What should an advisor do when a student comes into her/his office and breaks into tears?” Here are my answers to this question:

-- Drop what you're doing and treat this situation seriously; give the student your full attention.

-- Hand the student the box of tissues that you (always!) keep in your office.

-- Say something reassuring like "take your time" or "we'll sort this out together;" then give the student time to collect her/himself.

-- There were mixed opinions about open/closed office door. I personally would not suggest closing the door, unless your office is in a busy corridor where there is no privacy. Closing it 7/8 of the way may be a good compromise. If there is a window in your office door, do not block it.

-- It's not appropriate (in the US) for an advisor to initiate touch even in emotionally difficult situations, so no hugs.

Monday, April 15, 2013

First Woman Astronomer Hypatia: Paying Dearly for Her Beliefs

There is a growing interest in the history of astronomy, and I caught the bug.  This week we will go back to 4th century Egypt to consider Hypatai, often called the first female astronomer.  She came to a tragic end due, in large part, to her influence as a scholar, but first let's hear about her life and accomplishments.

Hypatia lived in an enlightened era of Egyptian history when reason and philosophy were highly respected.  Her father, Theon, was a mathematician, astronomer and philosopher.  He was director of the Museum of Alexandria and widely respected.  Hypatia was born in about 370 AD. She was well brought up and sent to Athens for schooling.  There she was educated in the philosophies of Plato and Plotinus.  She returned to Egypt and became head of the Platonist school of Alexandria.

Egypt had a tradition of equality of the sexes since ancient times and Hypatia became an important scholar of her age.  She was described by a contemporary in this interesting quote that I found on Wikipedia:
"There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tips from Nature 'Women in STEM' Articles

This week's guest blogger is Johanna Teske, who is finishing her fifth year as an Astronomy graduate student at the University of Arizona, Steward Observatory (applying for jobs this fall, hint hint!). Johanna investigates the chemical connection between stars and planets and also dabbles in education research.

As many of you know, and at least one other recent post here has highlighted, the 7 March 2013 issue of Nature contributed to the theme of Women's History Month, "Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics" with a series of articles describing the current status of women in STEM across the globe, what progress has been made towards equality, and the disparity and injustices that still exist for women in science. In this blog post, I focus on the possible solutions that the Nature articles discuss; this is not meant to be a summary! Some (most) of these solutions seem obvious, but I interpret their continued appearance in articles/discussions as an indication that they have yet to penetrate the consciousness of most people…or at least those making big decisions. I cannot encourage you enough to read all of the articles themselves -- none are very long, and all are jam-packed with much more information than what I highlight. The link to the articles is here. As you read the articles, and this post, think critically about how you and your colleagues, organization, and institution can work toward implementing some of these goals and making STEM fields a friendly, motivating, and exciting environment for everyone. Also, please share your efforts in the comments or as a separate blog post – it’s important to both set good examples and evaluate each other’s best-practices for potential improvements.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Science and Women-in-Science Colloquia

I have recently given “twofer” colloquia* -- one talk on a science topic and another on a women-in-science topic -- at CfA, Caltech, JPL, and Indiana. During these twofer visits, I have also met with students, postdocs, managers, professors, and scientists, both individually and in groups. We have talked about both science and CSWA-related issues. The visits were so successful and so rewarding that I would like to encourage all of you to consider doing these twofer colloquia (get invited to give a science talk and offer to give a women-in-science talk as well).

I would also like to advertise the possibility of these twofer colloquia to universities and organizations other than those where I happen to have friends and colleagues. I would be more than willing to give my twofer colloquia at other places, including yours!

The women-in-science talk is:

Unconscious Bias in Hiring, Promotions, and Tenure
Abstract: We all have biases, and we are (for the most part) unaware of them. In general, men and women BOTH unconsciously devalue the contributions of women. This can have a detrimental effect on grant proposals, job applications, and performance reviews. Sociology is way ahead of astronomy in these studies. When evaluating identical application packages, for example, male and female University psychology professors preferred 2:1 to hire “Brian” over “Karen” as an assistant professor. When evaluating a more experienced record, at the point of promotion to tenure, reservations were expressed four times more often about Karen than about Brian. This unconscious bias has a repeated negative effect on Karen’s career (Steinpreis, Anders & Ritzke 1999, Sex Roles, 41, 509). The process of eliminating unconscious bias begins with awareness, then moves to policy and practice, and ends with accountability. In this talk, I will introduce the concept of unconscious bias and also give recommendations on how to address it using an example for a faculty search committee.

Here are some comments from colleagues who attended the “Unconscious Bias” colloquium:

“A fantastic talk on a critical topic, well delivered and backed by hard facts . . . tremendously important for human development and for society.”
-Anthony Readhead, Chair, Astronomy, Caltech

“An enlightening presentation . . . it made me more hopeful about the future for women in science and engineering and for my two young daughters (1½ and 4 years old).”
-James A. Smith, Supervisor, Earth, Astronomy & Physics Missions, Granada Hills, CA

The science talk is:

Some Like it Hot: What Observations Can Tell Us About Solar Coronal Heating
Abstract: The actual source of coronal heating is one of the longest standing unsolved mysteries in all of astrophysics. The million degree corona requires a permanent heating mechanism, or the gas would cool down in about an hour. Solar physicists agree that this mechanism involves the Sun’s magnetic field, but few agree on the details of how magnetic energy in translated into thermal energy. Coronal loops, their structure and sub-structure, their temperature and density details, and their evolution with time, hold the key to understanding this coronal heating mystery. A loop had always been thought of as a simple magnetic flux tube, where each position along the loop is characterized by a single temperature and density. Recent results, however, found that this simple picture could not explain the observations and a multi-thermal analysis was required. If we picture the loop as a tangle of magnetic strands instead of single flux tube, then the multi-thermal result is expected and even predicted by some classes of coronal heating models.

Here are some comments from colleagues who attended the “Some Like it Hot” colloquium:

“Who knew that solar astronomy could be so interesting?!”
- John Salzer, Chair, Astronomy Department, Indiana University

“This was the first solar physics talk I ever understood!”
-Caty Pilachowski, Kirkwood Chair in Astronomy, Indiana University Bloomington

My previous twofer colloquia were organized by a colleague, a postdoc, a manager, and a department chair. If you are interested, you can do it too. Just e-mail me or leave a comment to get started.

*The original idea for the “twofer” colloquia came from Kathryn Johnston (Columbia), who did a similar set of seminars at CfA while I was there on sabbatical.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sexual Harassment at Astronomical Observatories

Most sexual harassment rules apply to employees of a company/university/organization. What happens at an astronomy observatory when, for example, a staff member harasses a visiting scientist or the other way around? Or an advisor harasses an REU student or other intern? Or, if the observatory is run by multiple organizations, an employee of one organization harasses an employee of another?

Dealing with sexual harassment is a harrowing experience. If there are also layers of confusing and even conflicting bureaucracy, then reporting an incident gets even tougher. Getting a satisfactory outcome may be next to impossible.

During a recent discussion about sexual harassment with XXX, from company/university/organization YYY, which is running observatory ZZZ, it occurred to me that observatories now face the same type of challenges that the AAS faced ~10 years ago when dealing with sexual harassment. At an AAS meeting, astronomers come from across the country to attend a professional conference. The standard sexual harassment rules did not apply because harassers and victims would be, in many cases, from different institutions.

AASWomen for March 29, 2013

AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy
Issue of March 29, 2013
eds. Caroline Simpson, Michele Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, and Nick Murphy

This week's issues:

1. Mind the Gender Gap

2. Lipsticks and Labcoats

3. Women Faculty: Hiring & Retention

4. Why Is a Woman Who Loves Science So Surprising?

5. Women in Exploration

6. Job Opportunities

7. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter

8. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter

9. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Monday, April 1, 2013