Tuesday, May 27, 2014

ADVICE: Suggestions for Serving on a Scientific Organizing Committee

Today’s advice comes from Nancy Brickhouse, the Senior Science Advisor at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a member of the AAS council. Her research interests include solar and stellar coronal physics, plasma spectral modeling, atomic data for astrophysics, UV to X-ray spectroscopy of diverse objects, and physical processes in astrophysical plasmas. She is a leader of the ATOMDB Project, which uses collisional and radiative atomic data to generate spectral models needed for high-energy astrophysics.
How do SOC members ensure an appropriate level of diversity among conference invited speakers if the committee chair does not provide leadership? Here are some suggestions.  
•When asked to serve on a SOC, make sure you understand the ground rules at the beginning.
•Ask what the schedule for decision-making is, and make sure there is enough time to think through issues of balance; put the schedule on your calendar and check with the SOC chair if you haven't heard back by the date promised.
•Make sure that you have time to participate fully.

•Insist that the full SOC will be allowed to review the program before a final decision is made.
•Make sure the committee as a whole considers speaker diversity along all relevant axes: subfields within the scope of the conference, senior vs junior, gender, racial/ethnic, institutional, national/international. This is a good discussion to have with the full SOC before coming up with speaker suggestions. Ask the organizers what their goals are for achieving diversity.
•If you are not satisfied that the organizers plan to ensure diversity (if they respond "we just want the best speakers") consider declining to serve.
•It's appropriate for the SOC to recruit people to submit contributed talks for consideration.
•Remind SOC members of the CSWA website that indicates the % of women invited speakers at various meetings; and other surveys/statistics (AIP, for example) that demonstrate the availability of good women speakers.
•The CSWA statistics can be used to help set diversity goals for meetings; in subfields where the demographics are significantly different from astronomy/astrophysics in general, it may be more reasonable to set goals based on subfield statistics, if known.
•Imagine sitting in the audience "to be" and noting whether the speaker demographics match the audience demographics. Make sure you are happy with the draft speaker demographics.
•Following up on this last suggestion, revisit the comparison once you are at the meeting. How close were the imagined audience demographics to the actuals? This exercise will inform you when you serve on your next SOC.
Contributions from Andrea Dupree, Caty Pilachowski, Roberta Humphreys, Lee Anne Willson, and Lynne Hillenbrand are greatly appreciated.

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