Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Career Profile: Astronomer to High-School STEM Educator

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 Hannah Krug, an astronomer turned high-school STEM educator.   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

Monday, December 28, 2015

A remarkable year

2015 was the most remarkable year for social justice and equity in science and society that I can remember over more than 50 years. I was a child during the civil rights era of the 1960s and recall my wonder at the marches and protests of those days, the social upheaval, and the juxtaposition of hope and sorrow. The last two years have brought a similar sense of wonder, and as I reflected on this year, I realized that so much has happened the only historical comparison I have is with the events of my childhood. For women, men, and gender-nonconforming people in astronomy and in society, the remarkable pace, breadth and depth of change this year is worth remarking on in these pages.

AAS President Meg Urry summarized much of the 2015 gender equity in astronomy experience in a recent column. As one of the organizers of the first Women in Astronomy meeting in Baltimore and coauthor of the Baltimore Charter, and now as AAS President, Meg has set the standard for impact as a scientist and leader. Her perspectives on what has been accomplished, and on what remains to be done, should be read by every scientist and engineer, in every field.

2015 was the year that sexual harassment in astronomy finally became something spoken about boldly in public rather than nervously in private. Geoff Marcy's resignation from UC Berkeley has put not only harassers, but the universities that employ them, on notice that the scientific community will not accept sexual harassment. The CSWA, especially its former chair Joan Schmelz, have played a major service in helping bring to light such harassment. However, this is not a time to celebrate the end of harassment, it is a time to continue rooting out predatory and discriminatory behavior from astronomy and other professions.

2015 was also a year for the advancement of not just heterosexual cisgender women, but lesbian and transgender women. The US Supreme Court's ruling in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges was a remarkable step forward for our nation. The first laws protecting gay marriage were passed and upheld only about a decade ago in Massachusetts; few of us expected such rapid acceptance by law and culture. Transgender rights still are not fully covered, but the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner has done much to advance the conversation. Although these events are not directly about astronomy, they affect the experience of people in astronomy, and raise the standards for our profession to be inclusive and welcoming of all people. The Inclusive Astronomy conference was a major step forward in advancing the concept of full inclusion in the scientific profession. In hindsight it is possible to see this as a pioneering conference just like the inaugural Women in Astronomy conference of 1992.

And let us recognize the power of social media and protest in furthering human rights, not merely in the developing world, but in the most developed nations. In 2015, many of us at colleges and universities in the US have witnessed the power of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its spinoff demands to eliminate racism on our campuses. This year, the native Hawiian movement has halted construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

These movements go beyond gender equality, but they surely impact women and men in astronomy, and provide a remarkable legacy from which others will look back in 50 years.
. She was one of the five original organizers of the first “Women in Astronomy” meeting in Baltimore, was coauthor of the “Baltimore Charter” and persuaded the AAS council to endorse the charter’s goals. She also organized the second of these meetings in Pasadena in 2003. - See more at:
he was one of the five original organizers of the first “Women in Astronomy” meeting in Baltimore, was coauthor of the “Baltimore Charter” and persuaded the AAS council to endorse the charter’s goals. She also organized the second of these meetings in Pasadena in 2003. In addition to encouraging many young women s - See more at:
he was one of the five original organizers of the first “Women in Astronomy” meeting in Baltimore, was coauthor of the “Baltimore Charter” and persuaded the AAS council to endorse the charter’s goals. She also organized the second of these meetings in Pasadena in 2003. In addition to encouraging many young women s - See more at:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Discovery Program Series: Lucy (PI: Hal Levison, Southwest Research Institute, Managed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

This post is part of a series discussing the recent NASA Discovery Program mission selections for further refinement.  From the 27 proposals submitted in November of 2014, NASA has selected 5 missions for further refinement in the next year. Part 1 of the series focused on the overview of the Discovery refinement selections and an interview with the Lead Program Scientist for the Discovery Program, Dr. Michael New. Part II focussed on the Psyche Mission (PI: Linda Elkins-Tanton, Arizona State University, Managed by JPL). Part III will focus on the NEOCam Mission (PI: Amy Mainzer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Managed by JPL).  Part IV will focus on the Lucy Mission (PI: Hal Levison, Southwest Research Institute, Managed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center).

Mission Overview: Lucy

Lucy is a survey of the Trojan asteroids.  Because of their location near Jupiter's orbit, Trojans are a unique resource for deciphering the history of the outer Solar System, which includes the formation of the giant planets and Kuiper belt, planet migration, and delivery of volatiles to the terrestrial planets.  Theories predict that these objects formed throughout the outer planetary system and were captured in their current orbits as the planets grew and moved around. This is evidenced by the fact that we see three distinctly different types of objects in the Trojan swarms. Thus, in order to truly understand what these objects are telling us about the history of the Solar System, we must survey this diversity - Lucy is designed to do just that.  Lucy will flyby at least 4, and probably 5, Trojans covering all the known spectral types in both the L4 and L5 swarms.  It will visit the largest member of a catastrophic collisional family, thereby supplying vital clues about accretional process.  It will also study a near-equal mass binary, which may be a rare survivor from the first generation of planetesimals.  Lucy's payload includes a high resolution panchromatic camera (based on New Horrizon's LORRI), a color imager and NIR spectroscopic mapper (based on New Horrizon's Ralph), and Thermal IR spectrometer (based on OSIRIS-REx's OTES).

Monday, December 21, 2015

Why So Few? Unconscious Bias II

The 2010 report entitled, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), finds that women continue to experience more overt discrimination, as well as the more unconscious bias, in science and engineering. Research by Dr. Madeline Heilman at New York University shows that women in so-called masculine jobs or nontraditional fields, which includes science and engineering, often find themselves in a double bind.
First, women in these “masculine” jobs are often judged to be less competent than their male peers, unless the women are clearly successful in their work. But when a woman is clearly competent in a “male” job or position, she is often judged to be less likable. Because both likability and competence are needed for success in the workplace, women in STEM fields can find themselves in a double bind. Therefore, the implications of these findings are enormous. Being seen as either less competent or less likable can affect relationships with peers, evaluations, and recommendations for promotion and salary increases.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Alcoholic Astronomer

The below is a guest contribution from a regular reader of our blog who wishes to remain anonymous.

It's been almost 12 years since I last drank alcohol. At this point most of my friends and colleagues have never seen me drink. When I first stopped drinking (probably because it was such a behavior change and I was in my early twenties) people asked me all the time why I wasn't drinking. These days, most people don't really seem to notice or care. But every once in a while, someone asks me why I'm not drinking. When they ask, I usually say one of the following (all of which are true): I don't like the way it affects me; I'm on a medication which conflicts with alcohol; alcoholism runs in my family; I just don't feel like drinking tonight. But sometimes (depending on my mood and how close I am with the person) I say the more honest answer: I used to drink and it was a problem. I find it easier to not drink at all than try to control my drinking.

Anyone can be an alcoholic, even a PhD astronomer.

Monday, December 14, 2015

On LGBTQ Visibility at Colloquia

Today's guest post is by Dr. Jane Rigby. Jane Rigby is an astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, a contributor to Astrobetter, and a member of the AAS’s Committee for Sexual-Orientation & Gender Minorities in Astronomy (SGMA)).  This is one of a series of regular monthly posts from SGMA.

You know the experiment where you give first graders crayons and ask them to draw a scientist. They draw white men with beards. Given that, if we want to make STEM more inclusive, we need to change the “scientist” cartoon in peoples’ minds. On average and generalizing, my female colleagues give more public talks than my male colleagues. In part, I think this is a conscious effort on their part to make female scientists more visible to the public.

A while back, my colleague Jason Wright (at my Alma Mater, Penn State) asked me a question about visibility for LGBTQ speakers in particular, and I responded. We did not come to any conclusions, so here we hope to start a broader conversation on the topic here that could inform LGBTQ colloquium speakers and their hosts. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

AAS President's Column: Rethinking the Role of the GRE

This post, by Meg Urry (President of the AAS) was originally posted by the American Astronomical Society.

An Open Letter to Chairs of Departments That Grant Degrees in the Astronomical Sciences:

I am writing about an issue of concern to the American Astronomical Society (AAS), namely, graduate admissions. In January, the AAS Council will discuss and vote on whether to issue a statement on behalf of the Society (appended at the end of this letter) that makes a case for why the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and the Physics GRE (PGRE) should be optional; or, if they are used, why there should be no fixed cutoff score; and why the demographics of the applicants may need to be taken into account explicitly. I write in advance of that action because the season of graduate admissions is upon us. I hope you will read this letter and draft statement and circulate it to your graduate admissions committee. If you have any comments or concerns, I hope you will send them to me and/or

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Taking a Mental Health Break from My Dissertation

Today's guest post is by Nicole Cabrera Salazar. Nicole is an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at Georgia State University. She plans to pursue a career in science communication/outreach focusing on equity in STEM. 

About a month ago, I got sick with a simple cold. I was in the middle of writing the third chapter of my dissertation and had just taken time off to get over another cold two weeks before. I was also behind on the timeline to defend my thesis next year, and more delays didn’t seem like the best idea. So I did what any other grad student in my position would: I tried to power through.

Ten days later, my cold was still going strong. I was worried because I had been waking up with panic attacks in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, hyperventilating and shaking uncontrollably. Sick, sleep deprived, and anxious, I gave in and went to the doctor. I burst into tears as soon as she came into the room. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Discovery Program Series: NEOCam (PI: Amy Mainzer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Managed by JPL)

This post is part of a series discussing the recent NASA Discovery Program mission selections for further refinement.  From the 27 proposals submitted in November of 2014, NASA has selected 5 missions for further refinement in the next year. Part 1 of the series focused on the overview of the Discovery refinement selections and an interview with the Lead Program Scientist for the Discovery Program, Dr. Michael New. Part II focussed on the Psyche Mission (PI: Linda Elkins-Tanton, Arizona State University, Managed by JPL). Part III will focus on the NEOCam Mission (PI: Amy Mainzer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Managed by JPL).

Mission Overview: NEOCam 

The Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) mission will permit the most comprehensive inventory ever made of our solar system’s small bodies (asteroids and comets) using a space-based infrared survey telescope. NEOCam will detect millions of asteroids, enabling unprecedented understanding of their origins, evolution, and physical properties, and significantly reducing the risk of an unwarned impact on the Earth. NEOCam will detect approximately ten times more near-Earth objects (NEOs) than are known today, making significant progress toward the direction given to NASA by the U.S. Congress to discover more than 90% of near-Earth objects large enough to cause significant regional damage.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Guest Post: Gift Giving Guide from STARtorialist creators Emily Rice and Summer Ash

Today's guest post is by Emily Rice and Summer Ash. Emily and Summer created STARtorialist, the astronomy-fashion blog “where science meets fashion and scientists get fabulous!” in 2013.

Emily Rice is an assistant professor at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. Her research focuses on the atmospheric properties of very low mass stars, brown dwarfs, and directly-imaged exoplanets. You may recognize her from Astronomy on Tap NYC and those parody songs that get stuck in your head.

Summer Ash is the Director of Outreach for Columbia University’s Department of Astronomy. Having been both a rocket scientist and a radio astronomer, she’s now harnessing her powers for science communication. She is the "In-House Astrophysicist" for The Rachel Maddow Show and has written for Scientific American, Slate, and Nautilus Magazine.

As we approach northern hemisphere winter solstice and Earth’s perihelion, we also begin customary exchange of benefaction in many hominin clade cultures.

Translation: it’s winter holiday season, and that means presents! Here at STARtorialist, Summer & I have been curating astronomy-inspired fashion, decor, and more for nearly two years, and the WiA blog has asked us to share some of our favorites with you. The Universe of astrofashion seems to be affected by dark energy so it was a challenge to keep this short.  

Each category below has links directly to the shops mentioned as well as links to explore related tags on STARtorialist. The survey presented here is definitely biased, but you can use tags on each post to search by store (e.g., Old Navy, Modcloth), item (shoes, hat), or subject (Saturn, stars, galaxy, Hubble image). Or you could browse through all 1200+ posts on our archive! We’ll be posting more startorial gift ideas in the coming weeks so make sure to follow us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, or your favorite RSS reader.

Starstuff Clothing* might as well be the official uniform of professional astronomers. Since a successful Kickstarter in summer 2014, the company has expanded from three prints to over a dozen, all real images from Hubble, Spitzer, WISE, and VLT. With five different t-shirt fits plus tank tops and dress, that’s 115 options, available in sizes XS-2XL. Explore all of our Starstuff Clothing posts.

Caption: T-shirts from Starstuff clothing

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Astronomy Leadership: Applications, Interviews & Jobs


 I didn’t get the job. That’s how this post was supposed to start, but a strange thing happened as I was contemplating the future of my career in astronomy (but more on that later). This was supposed to be a post about the job application process, the invitation I received at the beginning that made all the difference, the boost I got from an anonymous blogger talking about why women don’t apply for high level jobs, the virtual shove I got from my husband at a crucial moment, the help, advice, and encouragement I got from other senior women. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Some of you may know that I was a professor at the University of Memphis with expertise in solar coronal spectroscopy. My department was evolving from physics, where the staff had many different specialties, to materials science. Those of us who worked in other sub disciplines were becoming more and more marginalized. I was unhappy with this trend and was looking to get out. My good friend, Pat Knezek, had just taken the job of deputy director of the NSF Astronomy Division. She asked me if I had ever considered a job as an NSF rotator. I started at NSF in September 2013.

Some of you may also know that I was CSWA chair for many years. It was during that tenure that I met Don Kniffen, a CSWA member. Don was there with me when I (with CSWA’s support) decided to blog about my own experience with sexual harassment. I came out as a victim in February 2011. Through my position at NSF Astronomy, I got back in touch with Don after a hiatus of several years. It was at about the same time that Arecibo Observatory ended up back on my radar. I had spent two years there as a grad student – not happy years, mind you – but I didn’t hear much about Arecibo while I was doing solar physics.

In a very real sense, CSWA provided the means and NSF provided the opportunity for the next step in my career. Because their jobs are temporary by definition, NSF rotators are always thinking, “What’s next?” I was no exception, so I was looking out for possibilities when I attended the AAS meeting in Seattle in January 2015 (OMG – that was this year!). It was there that I ran into  Don. After an exchange of pleasantries, he asked me a question that simply had to be a joke – “You’re not interested in the job at Arecibo, are you?” I laughed. Knowing my unhappy history with Arecibo, I’m sure Don was expecting an answer like, “Not just no, but hell no!” It was a surprise to both of us when I answered, “Wait, are you serious?”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It's Not Just Marcy, and the Grapevine Won't Save Us

The below post was written by a contributor who wishes to use the pseudonym ExUngueLeam. The author is a junior astronomer whose friends and colleagues may be able to identify her from her writing, but who is nevertheless afraid to post this under her real name.

Editor Note: The author of this guest post is not a member of the AAS CSWA, and has not shared any names with CSWA members. The CSWA is not using any information obtained from the author of this guest post to pursue or further Title IX cases against anyone in the astronomical community. The CSWA does not maintain an internal list of "serial harassers" of its own. 

ExUngueLeam states: "The purpose of this post is to explain the grapevine and passing along such lists are *not* the way to deal with the widespread problem of harassment in astronomy, and ultimately don't provide any real protection to the most vulnerable members of the astronomical community. While many members of the astronomical community may already have private lists of people to avoid, sharing these lists with colleagues poses real danger to one's career, and ultimately we need another way of addressing the problem of serial harassment."

Image credit is Jim. C. Hines
November was the month I discovered that the fractional abundance of "known" sexual harassers in the astronomy community is greater than that of oxygen in the universe.

Since the Geoff Marcy case broke I've had a number of overlapping conversations with friends and colleagues trying to discover if there are any "well-known serial harassers" at large in their area of specialization. I've had these conversations with astronomers at all levels of career advancement, from undergraduate students to tenured professors. While many of my senior colleagues were vaguely aware of the conversation about sexual harassment happening in the astronomy community, they never guessed that Marcy was on the list of alleged perpetrators. They were appalled and shocked when they found out.

"I knew about so-and-so, but not about Marcy," one friend confided. "How many more people exist like this in our community? How deep does this rot go?"

Another friend told me: "I keep hearing there are all these 'known' harassers, but I don't know who they are. Is there someone like Marcy in my subfield? I'm worried that in failing to warn my students about these individuals, I could be putting them in actual physical danger."

Friday, November 20, 2015

AASWOMEN Newsletter for November 20, 2015

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of November 20, 2015
eds: Daryl Haggard, Nicolle Zellner, Meredith Hughes, & Elysse Voyer

This week's issues:

1. On Becoming a Woman Astronomer   
2. Accessible Astronomy   
3. Childcare and Dependent Care at the AAS Meeting in Florida
4. Dr. Beatrice Mueller: Find a great advisor, a great support system, and passions outside of science
5. L'Oreal USA For Women in Science Fellowship
6. When women are missing from peer review 
7. Distractingly Sexist      
8. FACT SHEET: Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color
9. Job Opportunities
10. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
11. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
12. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On Becoming a Woman Astronomer

by Jessica Mink, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

A year ago, three years after I transitioned from male to female, I wrote a guest entry for this blog entitled "On Being a Transgender Astronomer", giving a sort of Gender 101, with a few stories of my own experience. At that time, I envisioned a second blog with the same title as this one, thinking that it would be written a lot sooner than this. It turns out that despite having had woman astronomers around me since I was an undergraduate and therefore thinking that I knew what I was doing, it is taking me more than a few years to become a woman astronomer. The woman astronomers I have come to know better since I changed have gone through (and in too many cases are still going through) experiences which, at my advanced age, I may never have. It seems to be a lot easier to be accepted as a woman astronomer than to truly feel like one. "Becoming" in the title does not mean that I'm there yet, only that I am working on becoming a member of that too-slowly growing demographic.

Over the past year, I've gotten more involved in the community of astronomers than I ever was before. My new involvement started in 2012 when I found out that the AAS Working Group on LGBT Equality (WGLE) was looking for a trans astronomer, and I seemed to be the most open one at the time. This led to an interview with Wladimir Lyra and Stefano Meschiar, which made me more
visible in the field as a person, more than simply the author of some widely-used software. WGLE this summer became the Committee for Sexual-orientation and Gender-identity Minorities in Astronomy or SGMA, where SGM is our substitute for LGBTIQQA... This summer, I also became a member of the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and act as the liaison between the two committees. I joined to learn more about the issues of women in astronomy and bring a slightly different perspective to them.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Accessible Astronomy

Today's guest post is by Jesse Shanahan.  Jesse is a graduate student studying astrophysics at Wesleyan University where she studies supermassive black holes and active galactic nuclei with Dr. Edward Moran. In her spare time, she organizes public outreach events at local schools, specializing in special needs and at-risk classrooms. In her first year of graduate school, she founded an astronomy outreach program for kids, which has received attention from press and remains a popular bi-monthly event at Van Vleck Observatory. She also provides virtual and in-home tutoring for K-12 in math, writing, test preparation, and study skills. Throughout her career, Jesse has advocated staunchly for inclusive equity and is a founding member of the Astronomy Anti-Racism Group (AARG!). She continues to be a dedicated disability rights activist and is currently in the process of forming the first working group on disability justice and accessibility in astronomy.   

The more time I spend in astronomy, the more I realize that the ability to just do science is an incredible privilege. Generally speaking, I’ve never experienced this fully due to being a female-presenting astronomer. However, even setting aside gender discrimination and harassment,  I’ve never experienced the privilege of being able to access my workplace, data, or classroom like my coworkers, advisors, and students can.


Well, I have a disability. My first semester in graduate school, I was unable to use any of the telescopes in the observatory, either for research or for class purposes.  They all required the ability to climb steep stairs. My very first physics class was in a lecture hall dominated by stairs. When I did research at Arecibo Observatory and Green Bank Telescope, I had similar experiences. Everything required the ability to walk distances, climb hills, or climb stairs. My first AAS conference, I had to sit in front of my poster rather than stand, and I was harassed for it. People equated my need for a chair with laziness: a common form of ableism. When I received accommodations from my university (which are my legal right according to section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act), several professors responded with similar assumptions. My need for rest or flexible deadlines was consistently interpreted as laziness rather than an actual physical need.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Astronomer to Defense R&D Technical Staff

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 Lisa Wei, an astronomer turned defense industry R&D Technical Staff.   She likes the challenges of exciting new projects, the work environment, and the ability to leave work behind evenings and weekends.  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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Discovery Program Series: Psyche (PI: Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Arizona State University, Managed by JPL)

This post is part of a series discussing the recent NASA Discovery Program mission selections for further refinement.  From the 27 proposals submitted in November of 2014, NASA has selected 5 missions for further refinement in the next year. Part 1 of the series focused on the overview of the Discovery refinement selections and an interview with the Lead Program Scientist for the Discovery Program, Dr. Michael New.  Part II will focus on the Psyche Mission (PI: Linda Elkins-Tanton, Arizona State University, Managed by JPL). 

Mission Overview: Psyche

How did the Earth’s core and the cores of the other terrestrial planets come to be? We cannot observe them directly, but there is one place in the solar system where we can find answers: The metal asteroid Psyche. Every world explored so far has a surface of ice, rock, or gas. Orbiting in the outer main belt at 3 AU, Psyche is large (240 x 185 x 145 km), dense (as high as 7,000 kg/m^3), and made almost entirely of Fe-Ni metal.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What a Just Response to Oppression Can Look Like

The below guest post by Dr. Sarah Ballard has been reproduced (with permission) from Prof. John Johnson's blog: Mahalo .ne.Trash.

“What woman here is so enamored of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face?” – Audre Lorde

I’m writing this piece to say things women of color have already said, and better than I could have. Please read their work.
Our community has suffered a traumatic upheaval this month. I won’t attempt to link to even a representative sample of the articles, think pieces, and anti-harassment policy documents that circulated among astronomers. Trusted colleagues and friends urged folks to care for themselves. The groundswell gave rise to a “widespread ripple of PTSD (or something close to it) through women in the field,” as Lucianne Walkowicz put it. I saw other male astronomers I deeply esteem publicly grappling with feelings of complicity. Every day brought fresh distress as the extent of harassment, and the secrecy and protection of it, became apparent at every level within our academic institutions.

Colleagues had urged me to prepare, before the publication of the Buzzfeed story (both emotionally and with respect to my internet presence), for a GamerGate-like backlash.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Why Gender Equity is Everyone's Business

I thought of starting this blog entry with a top-10  list of reasons, but it is hard to balance humor and earnestness (I'm a diversity geek, after all!), so I'll take the earnest approach. Perhaps with a dash of humor. First, the earnest:

A few weeks ago a faculty colleague at another university asked what fraction of female faculty members are supportive of Women in Science or Gender Equity groups at my university and others. My colleague was struggling with hearing from women who didn't want to associate with such groups. As a result, they are sometimes advised by men!

My back-of-the-envelope estimate is that fewer than 1/4 of women faculty (in fields where women are underrepresented) affiliate with gender equity groups. The numbers of women in astronomy and physics at MIT are too small for a meaningful estimate, so I am averaging over many other departments.

Of course, the fraction of men who affiliate with such groups is much smaller: that is one measure of gender inequity!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

AAS Ethics Task Force Seeks Comments & Suggestions

This post, by Dara Norman (Chair, AAS Ethics Task Force) was originally posted by the American Astronomical Society.

Dear Colleagues:
In her President's Column on 15 October, Meg Urry addressed the need for our community to examine lessons learned and next steps following the news about Prof. Geoff Marcy. She also acknowledged that the current AAS ethics statement needs to be updated; it uses vague language and gives no guidance on procedures either to file a complaint or to follow up on one. In response to this recognition, Meg has appointed me (Dara Norman, AAS Councilor), to chair a task force whose charge is to revise the ethics statement. The other members are Jack Burns (AAS Vice-President) and Christine Jones (AAS President Elect).

Friday, October 30, 2015

AASWOMEN Newsletter for October 30, 2015

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of October 30, 2015
eds: Daryl Haggard, Nicolle Zellner, Meredith Hughes, Elysse Voyer, & Heather Flewelling

[This week's AASWOMEN guest editor is Mike Boylan-Kolchin. Mike is an assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on near-field cosmology, galaxy formation theory, and numerical simulations of cosmological structure formation.]

This week's issues:

1. Making Our Workplace a Place of... Work

2. Finding the Face of Genius

3. Taking the Long View on Sexism in Science

4. Famous Astronomer Accused Of Sexual Harassment At His Previous Job, Too

5. Zero tolerance. Period

6. A New Twist in the Fight Against Sexism in Science

7. AIP Statistical Research Center's "Physics Trends"

8. Facts, Instinct, and Gender: A Recent Case Study in the Media

9. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter

10. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter

11. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Making Our Workplace a Place of... Work

I have been thinking recently on how different my perception of my workplace is from the one experienced by many of my junior colleagues who are women.

For myself and (I think) most of my senior male colleagues, the Observatory is exclusively a place of work. I type on my computer. I discuss ideas with colleagues. I participate in committees. I attend seminars. OK, that's sounding awfully dry! But of course it isn't dry at all: Many of my colleagues are also friends, and over coffee, lunches, and hallway conversations, I take joy in their company as we work together on astronomy and the general educational mission of an academic department.

However, for many of the junior women in our department, I worry that the Observatory isn't just a place of work. Yes, they also type on their computers, discuss ideas with colleagues, and attend seminars. But, some of them tell me, they need to become adept at dealing with occasional amorous advances (I'm using amorous here as it appears in the policy I'll discuss below.) Sometimes these are from their academic peers, and, yes, sometimes these originate from those who are higher up on the academic ladder. For these junior colleagues, the workplace isn't just a place of work. It's a place in which a seemingly normal day (or week, or year) of work can suddenly be interrupted by attention of a sexual or gendered nature.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Finding the Face of Genius


Today’s guest blogger is Bala Poduval. Bala is a research scientist in the field of Space Weather, studying solar wind conditions in the near-Sun region and at Earth. She is a research affiliate at Space Science Institute, Boulder.

[This post was inspired by an essay written by Avi Loeb entitled, How to Collect Matches that Will Catch Fire – eds.]
                        Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best.
                        Genius must always have lapses proportionate to its triumphs.
                        -Max Beerbohm, essayist, parodist, and caricaturist (1872-1956)
I am not sure if I agree with this quote or how it could be incorporated into the evaluation methods used to select promising scientists. How do we identify these individuals before they make their groundbreaking discoveries?
I think one of the key aspects is the method of evaluation. Even after entering the Space Age and High-tech Era, we still haven't updated our methods of evaluation (though, whatever be the methods, groundbreaking discoveries are future events - has scientific progress ever been predicted?). How do we make a wise selection of scientists in a scenario where the number of scientifically literate individuals with advanced degrees is on the rise while artificial intelligence and mechanization tend to lower the number of job opportunities?
A person is usually evaluated for qualifications such as consistency (of performance), scientific productivity, and dependability. These qualities could be categorized under "known circumstances," and the evaluators are, knowingly or unknowingly, looking for "self-replications" (to borrow a phrase from Loeb’s essay). To be more quantitative, consider two researchers X and Y: Researcher X has 10 publications in 5 years, and researcher Y has only 4. The general tendency is to select X for an open research or teaching position where both X and Y have applied. And, then, years later, you realize that there hasn't been any impact on scientific progress and wonder why.
Let's take a look at the two candidates in retrospect. Researcher X has 10 publications but is the lead author on only two of them. Take a deeper look - none of X’s papers has been cited in any peer-reviewed publications! Now look at researcher Y. Y is the first author of all four papers and they have more than 10 citations each! That is curious, right? Now go deeper still. X has been working in the same field, applying the same techniques with only minor updates, over and again. As a result, X appeared to be the expert in that particular narrow field and technique. How about Y? Y has some expertise in one field, but Y has also branched out to tackle entirely different problems, acquired new skills in limited time, and produced first author papers that have been well received by the scientific community.
Now, if you assign points to all these parameters and then make an assessment (differential assessment?), where would you place the higher probability of seeing some innovation or discoveries? You should have hired Y!
While it is not always true that the type-Ys are the visionaries or the innovators, the point is that outstanding or groundbreaking discoveries are not guaranteed by the type-Xs either. When we look into the future, we talk in terms of "probabilities." To have an unbiased (or least marginally biased) sample, it is necessary to include some (with a sense of proportion) higher-probability Y's in the cohort. Inaccurate eliminations of the type described above may be one of the key points to be kept in mind to have a pack of "matches that will catch fire" without lighting them first. To emphasize: the problem may not be who you hired but who you eliminated.
The number of publications (of a person) over a given period of time shows more of his/her productive capability and not necessarily talent or level of innovation. One of the reasons for this type of evaluation is the necessity (by the funding agent, the host institute, even the society) for a quantitative description of the "profit" of funding a person. While it is important and necessary to have some standard of scientific productivity there is more to it than merely counting papers. Scientific productivity and the "profit" of scientific funding need to be better defined because the current approach is not sufficient to achieve the scientific progress we envisage.
It seems the wealth of scientific knowledge of the 19th and 20th century has been used in all possible ways towards improving human life in the form of medical and technological breakthroughs, making the world, in general, safer and healthier than it has ever been. To take the innovations to a higher level and for further betterment of human life, it is necessary to revive science (physics) from the apparent stall. Our efforts in this regard are reflected in the realization of having a cohort of promising scientists capable of making those discoveries that the world seems to be badly in need of.
Genius, as it is expected to be the trait of these promising scientists, does not imply being extraordinary in just one particular attribute but a unique and rare combination of many different qualities -- diligence, purposefulness, relentlessness, methodicalness, curiosity, open-mindedness, imagination, attentiveness -- that happens one in a million or so. Genius may not only require extraordinary intelligence, but exceptional creativity/imagination and perseverance as well.
To unearth such genius is a formidable task. In light of the discussion of the selection criteria above, we are forced to consider the implications of the opening quote: how to prevent losing a genius if we encounter him/her during the periods of the lapses. Geniuses were not born with a prophecy; it is an attribute that stays dormant waiting for favorable circumstance.
Consider an analogy where a professor gives a test where all the formulae, theories, and tools are provided - something like an open book test. The students then solve problems using all possible resources. So, rather than testing knowledge of memorized theories and formulae, the professor is able to test how the students make use of that knowledge to invent new ideas and solve problems. Creating the open-book equivalent to evaluate job candidates is not an easy task, but in my opinion, it is this kind of evaluation that may be required to identify real genius. In other words, the panel itself must have high level of ingenuity to identify genius.
Meanwhile, another possible solution would be to have more centers of excellence, government (public) funded institutes dedicated for fundamental research. These centers would offer long-term (if not permanent) positions where the researchers are free to pursue problems of their choice but falls within the general interests of these institutions. This would certainly avoid the unnecessary administrative duties of independent researchers and the uncertainty of continued research funding that can terminate many significant research projects prematurely.
Postscript: Discoveries (often) happen serendipitously. It may take a touch of genius to identify genius.