Monday, August 3, 2015

Women in Astronomy, 1000 Posts Later

Today marks our 1000th blog post on the Women-in-Astronomy (WiA) blog. I thought I'd use this post to talk about some of the blog's history and where I see our future. Former Bloggers-in-Chief Hannah Jang-Condell and Laura Trouille as well as CSWA chair Joan Schmelz also contributed to this piece. 

This blog was started in 2008 by former CSWA member Hannah Jang-Condell in an effort to reach out to a younger, more socially networked audience. While the CSWA already had a weekly newsletter (AAS Women, sign up here) and a quarterly magazine (Status: A Report on Women in Astronomy), Hannah felt that more informal, shorter posts, would engage a different audience. 

Initially the blog consisted of posts by Hannah sharing her thoughts about women in science, and providing commentary on news items that crossed her path.  It wasn't too long before she realized that she needed help and recruited other members of the CSWA to contribute to WiA.  In 2009 Joan Schmelz and (then-CSWA-chair) Geoff Clayton started contributing posts and Hannah became the first 'Blogger-in-Chief'.

Joan hates to admit that she was silently skeptical about the role and effectiveness of this blog, but nevertheless helped Hannah and was one of the first writers for the blog. After overcoming some initial technical hurdles, Joan became the biggest individual contributor to the blog, having written over 125 posts. Her series "Why So Few" and her advice posts are incredible resources and continue to get page-views years after their original posting.

The prelude to the current blog rotation was established in Fall 2010, with regular posts by Ed Bertschinger, Ann Hornschemeier, and Hannah Jang-Condell and frequent additional contributions by Michele Montgomery, Joan Schmelz, and Laura Trouille.

In 2011 Laura took-over as Blogger-in-Chief. As a joint member of the CSWA and the Committee on Employment, Laura started the astronomy career profiles that regularly appeared on the blog for most of her tenure. The career profiles drew much traffic to the blog at a time when the recession, cuts in funding, and fewer jobs meant that many early-career astronomers wanted to understand their various career options with an astronomy degree. 

During this time Joan and Laura started working with guest bloggers to contribute to the blog. This was a way to get a wider set of ideas and view points on the blog as well as engage a wider set of our community in the activities of the CSWA. In fact I (Jessica) was not aware of the CSWA nor the blog before I was asked to contribute to WiA as a guest blogger. Having guest contributors to the blog was also a way to establish connections with graduate students and other potential CSWA members before asking them to join the committee, and many of our current committee members were guest contributors to the blog before joining the CSWA. 

In 2012 I became a member of the CSWA and started regularly contributing to the blog. As the youngest and most junior member of the committee at the time (I was in my last semester of graduate school), I represented the 'target audience' that Hannah was trying to reach when creating the blog.  

Upon graduation, I started working in the tech industry for a social networking company and I began to learn a lot about social virality. At the time we were promoting the blog posts through our AAS Women Newsletter, AAS_Women Twitter handle, and CSWA Facebook page, but were not getting very many views on our blog posts (we were happy if we reached 200 page-views on any given post). I started experimenting with 'cross-posting' in Facebook Groups, Google+ Communities, Linked-In, Reddit, as well as my personal social media accounts. I soon found that my post were getting consistently more page-views than the rest of WiA's articles. While I would have loved to have attributed this to my exceptional writing, I knew it was merely that more people were aware that my writing existed because of the extra exposure they got on social media. 

In 2013 I was asked to take over as Blogger-in-Chief and I began cross-posting all WiA pieces on social media. When I started doing this the readership of the blog, as well as our followers on Facebook and Twitter, started to really take off. It turned out the astronomy (and STEM) community were really interested in learning about these issues, they just didn't know we were talking about them! Below shows our readership growth over the history of the blog. We now regularly get thousands of page-views on our blog posts. We were extremely excited when WiA topped 1,000,000 all-time page-views on 4/23/2015!
Monthly page-views for the blog. Below are some milestone events for WiA:
[1] First post to "go viral" due to cross-posting on social media.
[2] WiA starts cross-posting all blog posts to social media.
[3] Fed-up with Sexual Harassment series goes viral.
[4] #ShirtGate post goes viral.

The blog-posts have generated a lot of online discussion since we started cross-posting, mostly in various astronomy Facebook Groups and science communities on Google+.  Some feel that these conversations do not belong in "science-themed" groups, while others (mostly straight, white, men) feel that astronomy does not have these problems anymore.  The blog has also come under criticism for not representing a diverse and inclusive set of perspectives and people have challenged us (and the CSWA in general) to take a more intersectional feminist approach

My goal for the future is to use the blog as not just a place to talk about problems, but organize people towards solutions. Astronomy Allies is a good example of a proactive approach of addressing the problem of sexual harassment at conferences. I would like our community to do more of this, and for the blog to be a way to connect people and publicize solutions.  I also want us to work more closely with other AAS committees/groups (CSMA, WGLE, and the currently-forming disabilities-focused working group) to help the blog (and the CSWA in general) to become more intersectional and have more diverse perspectives. 

Do you have ideas for blog posts or suggestions for how to improve the blog? 
Please contact Blogger-in-Chief Jessica Kirkpatrick.