Thursday, September 9, 2021

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) Strategic Plan and its Implementation: What are we doing and how can you help?

Written By: Gregory Rudnick
Background for the Strategic Plan
In 2019 the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) initiated a Strategic Planning process. This significant investment of time was motivated by a few factors. As we moved into the 2020s, it became apparent that the landscape of challenges and opportunities had significantly evolved in many ways from the dominant issues that were the focus of the CSWA in years past. For example, the #MeToo movement shined a harsh light on the pervasiveness of harassment in our discipline and society - long known but seldom publicized - and demanded a coordinated and forward-looking response from the astronomical community. As a committee and community we also became more aware of the ways that we had failed to treat intersectionality in our advocacy for the CSWA constituency, thus rendering valued colleagues and friends invisible and marginalized. Addressing these and other issues required data, a plan, and a set of actionable items to implement the objectives of that plan. In this blog I outline the main components of the CSWA Strategic Plan, the process by which it was created, the implementation steps that we are undertaking, and a call to action among the community to help us with our goals.

The Strategic Plan is designed to guide the long-term activities of the CSWA and to provide continuity for successive generations of CSWA members. The plan is also designed to serve as a tool that the CSWA can use to help in its decision making process surrounding new opportunities or issues. Given the limited people power that the CSWA members and its constituents can bring to bear, a plan can help us determine the most efficient use of our resources to accomplish our larger goals.

The plan was informed by a community survey issued by the CSWA in 2019. The purpose of this survey, which combined Likert-scale and free-response questions, was to guide the CSWA in its future activities and priorities. The in-depth survey was fully anonymous and had 340 responses. The results from this survey informed our writing of two white papers to the Astro2020 Decadal Survey, one which addressed Advancing the Career Development of Women in Astronomy and one which addressed Eliminating Harassment in Astronomy. The survey has also been used to construct a set of recommendations to the AAS in the form of two BAAS papers (Wexler et al. in prep), and as a resource for constructing our Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan was developed over the course of a year by a subcommittee of the CSWA, was discussed multiple times in front of the whole CSWA committee, was sent to the other AAS and Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) Diversity committees for comments, was iterated on and eventually approved by the CSWA, and was finally sent to the AAS Board of Trustees for final approval.

The Strategic Plan has four main focus areas: Harassment & Bullying, Creating Inclusive Environments for an Ethical Workplace, Professional Development, and CSWA Operations and Interactions. Each of these areas has a set of associated high-level objectives that define the main scope of work in each of these areas.

Strategic Plan Projects and Their Implementation
The “work” of the CSWA in the context of the Strategic Plan is to carry out specific projects to accomplish these objectives. These projects represent the implementation portion of our plan. Using the initial survey data and discussions within the subcommittee and CSWA, we decided on a list of example projects and on an initial prioritization of these projects. We also classified projects as requiring short-term (<1 year) or long-term (>1 year) effort. While the focus areas and objectives are viewed as static for the lifetime of the Strategic Plan, the project list is dynamic. The list of example projects is given in Table 1 of the Strategic Plan, but it has always been the intention that this list could be added to, changed, or reprioritized. These projects involve working with different groups. Pursuant to the mission of the CSWA, most involve work within the AAS, both with the Board of Trustees and with the other committees. We also have projects focused on the AAS journals as well as projects that are more inward looking and involve CSWA activities. All projects were conceived with an explicit focus on intersectionality, intentionally taking a broad and inclusive view of our constituency.

We offer a range of projects from collecting demographic information on PhD student retention to coordinating with other AAS committees, like the CSMA and SGMA, to develop cross-committee goals. I encourage you to take a look at Table 1 of the Strategic Plan itself to find more detailed information on the range and scope of projects offered by the CSWA. Naturally, there are far too many things to do for even a very active committee to address simultaneously. We prioritized the projects to both reflect our internal committee ranking and also to ensure that there was a mix of long and short-term projects as well projects in every one of our focus areas. Ultimately the projects that we are actively working on are dictated by the interest and available effort of our committee members.

These projects form a significant component of the total ongoing and planned CSWA effort and their implementation and coordination is handled within a separate CSWA subcommittee, composed of those members who are actively working on projects. This group meets monthly to update everyone on project status and to use the other members as a resource to discuss problems and brainstorm solutions. We report our progress regularly to the larger CSWA.

Assessment is a critical part of any project implementation. In some cases the assessment of a project is straightforward and we have some examples of assessments in the Strategic Plan. For other projects, however, the most useful form of assessment is only apparent once the project is started. It may also be that the development of proper assessments lies outside the realm of expertise for committee members. For this reason we therefore construct assessments once the projects gain some steam and we more appreciate the subtleties in project execution. In a shared document we keep track of all projects, the people working on them, the status of the projects, and the status of the assessment.

Synergy with the Strategic Plan of the AAS
The AAS recently made public their Strategic Plan for 2021-2026. The CSWA plan was developed prior to the AAS plan, involved a significant amount of community input, and was carried out independently from the AAS Plan. Given this independent development process, it is therefore heartening to see the significant synergy between the two. All of the goals under Strategic Priority 2: Build equitable, diverse, and inclusive (EDI) practices within the astronomical community align with objectives of our plan, as do goal 4 of Strategic Priority 3: Support astronomy education, professional development, and dissemination of astronomical science.

In addition to high-level agreement between the two plans, there is also significant overlap in the AAS Actions and CSWA Projects. For example, Actions under Staff Support, Access and Participation, and ​​Justice and equity in ethics, policies, and practices in Strategic Priority 2 of the AAS plan directly correspond to CSWA projects. There is additional overlap in CSWA projects with the AAS Strategic Priority 3 Actions Professional development for education, mentoring, and outreach and Journals and Publications.

From the standpoint of the CSWA, it is a good sign that the resources and will of the AAS is fully behind the goals of our constituents. This is already being reflected in the close work that various AAS officers are undertaking with our committees, and in the dedication of budgetary resources to the CSWA to carry out its Strategic Plan Projects.

Call for Volunteers and How You Can Help
Our ability to carry out projects and accomplish our goals is limited largely by the amount of time that CSWA members can commit. Indeed, it was always the intention that our constituency within the AAS would be solicited for help implementing projects. The CSWA serves its constituency, but is most effective when we can enlist the active participation of interested community members.

What might this effort look like? It may be that you could volunteer to help out with an existing project. Either you could assist one of the committee members who is already leading a project, or you could take up the leadership of a new project. You could even propose a new project (subject to CSWA approval) if you think it addresses one of the Strategic Plan Objectives. It is also possible that the CSWA could procure funds to support some of these activities, as we know that time is precious and that compensation is important. In other words, please don’t let resource limitations prevent you from entering a discussion with us.

If you are interested in helping out or if you have any questions, please contact me (

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Astronomers for Planet Earth: Imani Mairae Ware

This feature is part of our ongoing series about the amazing women at Astronomers for Planet Earth (A4E),  a global network of astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts dedicated to offering their unique perspective to the fight for climate justice. For this post, we'll hear from Imani Mairae Ware, an undergraduate student studying astrophysics at San Francisco State University (SFSU).

If you're interested in learning more about A4E's work combating global climate change and want to get involved, join them here at: And be sure to check out A4E's white paper on what astronomers (like you!) can do to address the climate crisis: Astronomers for Planet Earth: Engaging with the Public to Forge a Sustainable Future

Imani Mairae Ware is an undergraduate at SFSU and the co-founder of Astronomers for Planet Earth 

What is your current career and how did you end up there?

Right now, I am attending San Francisco State University to study astrophysics for my Bachelor’s degree. I decided to study astrophysics after taking a couple of physics classes in high school with my amazing and inspiring teacher, William Lemei. Our class watched a TEDx talk by astrophysicist Dr. Alex Fillipenko about his dark energy discoveries and after that, I knew I wanted to study astrophysics. Although I love studying the sky and the physics of the universe, I also love to build structures and design real-world systems, like an engineer. So to get the best of both worlds, I planned to study astrophysics to get a more fundamental understanding of aerospace engineering to take to an industry job. Little did I know that astrophysics was more than a fundamental understanding of aerospace, but an in-depth analysis of physical and theoretical micro and macro systems. I’m so happy I chose this route because I now know more about this world and the universe than I could have ever imagined back in high school.

What is your role in Astronomers for Planet Earth (A4E)?
I am one of the original members and co-founders of Astronomers for Planet Earth (A4E). While President of the Women in Physics and Astronomy Club, I helped organize A4E’s official debut panel session at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s 131st conference hosted at San Francisco State University in 2019. From there the co-founders and I worked on recruiting other astronomers passionate about climate activism and setting the foundation for this blossoming organization. As the word spread, we joined forces with a Europe-based group of astronomers focused on climate change, and from there we have coordinated social media content, membership events, conference talks, and calls to action for observatories around the world. As an undergraduate student taking online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, I haven’t been as active as I wanted to, but have contributed in any way I can. My next step is to focus on administrative structures to help streamline the onboarding process of new members.

What goals do you have for your role in A4E?
Since a large portion of my time in A4E has been setting up a structure and foundation to make operations easier in the future, the activism side of our mission has been slow to start. One of my goals is to initiate events and meetings to focus on implementing action-based movements. Most companies and organizations that flaunt their eco-friendly initiatives are all talk, no action. I do not want A4E to become one of those organizations and intend to push for more front-line climate activism. I also want to involve more youth and underrepresented groups in the organization to diversify the voices we include in the climate conversation. Since I am still one of a handful of undergraduate students active in A4E, I want to facilitate outreach events to bring more youth activists into A4E and foster a safe space for open discussion. Astronomy is for everyone and everyone is affected by climate change. Anyone who values both astronomy and climate change, regardless of age and background, should have their voices heard in A4E.

Mid-hike at Zion National Park, Imani Mairae Ware takes a moment to appreciate the beauty of the sandstone cliffs.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection between your passion for astronomy and the urgency of fighting climate change.

I don’t really have a specific moment when I made the connection, but after learning that traveling to other planets outside of our solar system is still science fiction, I knew we need to take care of Planet Earth since it’s the only one we have. There really is no Planet B. Most of the other planets and moons in our solar system are currently uninhabitable and will take decades before any colony could be established on those with promising terrain. Of course, interstellar travel is a future possibility, but right now, that technology doesn’t exist. That is why we must take care of our planet and mitigate anthropogenic climate change so we can eventually build the interstellar technology of sci-fi fantasies. We only have a couple of decades to even get close to righting the wrongs we’ve inflicted on this planet. After realizing that the climate change problem is more urgent than interstellar space travel, I decided that the astronomical perspective on climate change could help bring humanity’s focus back from the fantasies of the stars to the realities of the earth.

How does your career in astronomy intersect with the fight against climate change?
Astronomy and fighting climate change are not often connected, but since they are both passions of mine, I made sure to bring these two worlds together. One connection I can think of is that effectively observing space from the ground requires good atmospheric conditions, but as climate change makes the atmosphere less predictable, astronomers must advocate for the planet like we advocate for space science.

How can the astronomical community engage with the climate crisis movement?
Since astronomers have a unique perspective on the climate crisis, we should first create and share educational tools to provide cosmological context to our global problem while presenting effective, concrete solutions. The most effective space astronomers have to share this information is in the classroom and academic community. But since the love for stars and space is not limited to members of academia, astronomers also have the ability to inspire and include everyone into the conversation through the wonderfully curious lens of astronomy.

If you weren’t in the field of astronomy, what would you be doing?
If I weren’t in astrophysics, I would probably be studying aerospace engineering at another university since SFSU doesn’t have aerospace engineering. I would still be volunteering as a climate activist, regardless of my career path, since climate change is everyone’s problem to solve.

In her free time, Imani enjoys snowboarding on the slopes in Pinecrest, CA

Do you have any advice for future astronomers who might also be interested in addressing the climate crisis?
Check out the resources and information pages on the A4E website, join A4E, explore our slack space to connect with other members, and continue to apply climate solutions as often as you can! You are not alone in this fight!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Crosspost: ‘She astonishes me’: How an astrophysicist is helping the Oakland A’s fine-tune their pitches

Written By: Shayna Rubin for The Mercury News

Dr. Samantha Schultz, an astrophysicist turned pitching analyst for the Oakland Athletics, is shown here in the field with Oakland A's pitcher, Lou Trivino. Credit: Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group.

Samantha Schultz called her mom from college in the middle of a meltdown, frustrated with the complicated math she needed to master for her degree in astrophysics from St. Mary’s College.

Her post-graduate plan had been to get her Ph.D. in particle physics. That wasn’t her plan anymore. Through tears over the phone, Schultz told her mother the new one: to work in baseball.


That her science-obsessed daughter wanted to go in another direction was shocking enough. But getting where she wanted to go in baseball was harder than math.

“You look at the front office names, and going off first names, 98 percent of women are in marketing or something similar — not baseball operations,” Schultz’s mother, Elizabeth Baldwin, said last week. “I told her, ‘You might have to start out with something boring like cricket, or hockey.’

“She said, ‘Nah, I’m gonna do baseball.’”

Now 26, Schultz is a pitching analyst for the A’s. In four years, she has gone from the Big Bang to the big leagues.

“She was confident it would be baseball and not some other sport she had minimal interest in — and she did it,” Baldwin said. “She astonishes me.”

First love

When it came to baseball, the Giants were Schultz’s first love.

While other baseball fans in the Bay Area and around the globe were engrossed by Barry Bonds’ home run chase and enigmatic stardom, Schultz was drawn to the pitching — Jason Schmidt, Robb Nen and, later, Matt Cain and Sergio Romo. But it was the undersized Tim Lincecum, with his powerful delivery and the supernatural movement on his pitches, that gave flight to her love of pitching.

“It was the dominance,” she said. “Watching him be dominant with mechanics that are not routine and something you wouldn’t teach. The beauty of his changeup. The way he used his pitches, it made me fall in love with pitching as its own art form.”

After leaving St. Mary’s with her astrophysics degree and math minor, Schultz enrolled in the sports management program at Columbia University. It was there, while working with the baseball team, that opportunity began to knock. And knock. And knock.

The woman who had worked without pay for the St. Mary’s baseball team, serving as official scorer and in any other capacity, had been recruited by Major League Baseball’s diversity fellowship program. She had an internship with the New York Mets and was juggling offers from the Tampa Bay Rays and the San Diego Padres. She had been a runner-up for a uniformed position as a traveling analyst with the Cincinnati Reds, which would have made her the first uniformed woman on an MLB coaching staff — a few years before Giants trailblazer Alyssa Nakken.

In a baseball landscape where teams are constantly looking for a unique edge and expertise, an astrophysics background was proving attractive.

Read more about Samantha Schultz's fascinating career turn from astrophysicist to pitching analyst for the Oakland A's and how her extensive math background has helped pitcher, Lou Trivino, improve his game:

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Astronomers for Planet Earth: Dr. Adrienne M. Cool

This is the seminal post for a series of features on the incredible women from Astronomers for Planet Earth (A4E), a global network of astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts dedicated to offering their unique perspective to the fight for global climate justice. To kick things off, we'll hear from Dr. Adrienne Cool, a faculty member at San Francisco State University's Physics and Astronomy Department. 

If you're interested in supporting the effort to combat climate change, join A4E's amazing community here: Really, really interested? Read the white paper, Astronomers for Planet Earth: Engaging with the Public to Forge a Sustainable Future, to learn more about what you (yes, you!) can do right now to tackle the climate crisis.

Dr. Adrienne Cool is an observational astronomer at SFSU and the director of the SFSU Observatory and Planetarium. 

What is your current career and how did you end up there?
I've been a faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at San Francisco State University for more than 20 years. I started there after doing a postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley.

What is your role in Astronomers for Planet Earth (A4E)?
I'm one of the founders of the organization. Since we began in the fall of 2019 I've been doing a range of things, e.g., working on the website, doing intake as part of the membership working group, coordinating weekly meetings of the North America group, participating in monthly international meetings, helping organize conference sessions and symposia, giving talks, and... learning to appreciate Slack when working with people in 15 different time zones!

What goals do you have for your role in A4E?
It's been very meaningful to me that nearly 1200 astronomers from more than 60 countries on 6 continents have joined A4E in the relatively short time since we were founded. As we grow we need to be creating structures and mechanisms that will enable more and more of our diverse members' voices to be heard. Students are also critical and have been leaders from the start; A4E wouldn't exist without them. I look forward to continuing to work with the amazing, caring, and committed people who have joined and are leading this organization as we shepherd ourselves through the next transition.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection between your passion for astronomy and the urgency of fighting climate change.
The US election in 2016 was a wake-up call for me. The climate crisis had been on my mind, but the outcome of that election made me think much harder about what I could and should be doing. That's when it hit me that astronomers have an unusual perspective on our planet that could be harnessed in the struggle to combat the climate crisis. Who else knows quite as viscerally as we do just how far away the stars and their attendant planets are, not to mention the delicate set of conditions that lead to habitability? And though astronomy is a relatively small field, we have a surprisingly big reach. Astronomers all over the world interact with millions of people every year in classrooms, planetariums, and more. Putting those two things together--the astronomical perspective and the reach we have--can be powerful, I think.

How does your career in astronomy intersect with the fight against climate change?
I'm fortunate to work in a university with a diverse and engaged student population and a strong commitment to social justice and activism. So it's not a stretch to see how working on astronomy, the climate crisis, and climate justice all intersect.

Dr. Cool teaches the next generation of astronomers at a sidewalk astronomy event for Mercury's transit across the sun on November 11, 2019.

How can the astronomical community engage with the climate crisis movement? 
There are many ways we can engage. Fundamentally, A4E exists in order for astronomers to help one another find ways to engage effectively with the climate crisis movement and make meaningful change. One way of course is to work to make our own field sustainable. That includes observatories, astronomical institutes, universities, science museums, planetaria and more. Another is to use our voices as educators and public speakers. When we're talking and teaching about astronomy and astronomical discoveries, we can make a practice of making the link between what we're learning about the cosmos and what it means about the preciousness and vulnerability of our own planet. There's more, but those are two main strands I see.

If you weren’t in the field of astronomy, what would you be doing?
I'd probably be a carpenter. Or maybe a school teacher. I've always loved teaching and building things. 
Do you have any advice for future astronomers who might also be interested in addressing the climate crisis?
Join us. Astronomers for Planet Earth needs your ideas, your voice, and your help!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The experiences of women in graduate physics and astronomy programs - an interview with Ramón Barthelemy and Melinda McCormick

Written By: Jeremy Bailin

Left: Dr. Melinda McCormick, assistant professor at Western Michigan University's School of Social Work; right: Dr. Ramón Barthelemy, assistant professor at the University of Utah's Physics and Astronomy Department

Ramón Barthelemy (RB) and Melinda McCormick (MM) have been doing research on the experiences of women in graduate programs in physics and astronomy for the past decade. Dr. Barthelemy is an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah Department of Physics and Astronomy, and Dr. McCormick is an Assistant Professor at Western Michigan University in the School of Social Work. Jeremy Bailin (JB) sat down over Zoom with them to talk about their work.


I'm wondering if you can talk about the research that you've been doing on women in graduate astronomy programs.



So Melinda and I have been working together now for almost a decade on this project. The original study was a series of exploratory interviews with 21 women in their graduate physics and astronomy programs. They all had passed their qualifying exams, so all of them were near the dissertation phase and all of them were going to R1 institutions that had strong programs in both physics and astronomy. So we tried to control as much as we could to make a cohort that was fairly similar to each other. The interviews were all done in person on location. We used an open ended protocol structure, so there were five questions. The interviews were conversational in style, so it was more just like discussing their experiences, and I would use follow up questions as necessary. Once we had all of those wonderful interviews, we transcribed them and then Melinda and I met weekly to analyze them line by line to look at the results about their educational trajectories, experiences as undergrads, experiences in graduate school, experiences with mentorship, as well as probably what has been most interesting and something we've discussed the most, which is their gendered experiences with a focus on micro aggressions and sexual harassment.



The results for me were the really exciting part. As a qualitative researcher, I love getting into reading what people are talking about in terms of their experiences. My background is I have a Ph.D. in sociology and I'm a social work professor. So I bring a very different viewpoint to Ramón's work. But one of the first things that I got excited about was figuring out -- Ramón, you remember that paper where we talked about capital? So we figured out that a lot of these women who had gotten this far, it was because they had all of this social capital going into the programs. And I just felt like that was a really important thing to talk about because, you know, we want to think that that myth of American meritocracy really matters. And what was coming through again and again was how well positioned most of these women were to be in graduate studies.



I think one of the interesting things about our collaboration is that I'm a Ph.D. in physics education research. Dr. McCormick has a Ph.D. in sociology and does awesome work on LGBT youth outside of our collaboration. But bringing together our two viewpoints has been really powerful. And it's actually pushed me a lot as a researcher because in the sciences, we oftentimes think that there is an absolute truth, right? But from the social work and the sociology perspective, Melinda's really pushed me to think about how truth is more squishy than what we'd like to think it is, and that the narratives and things that we say, you know, like the meritocracy, the idea that anybody can do physics and astronomy if they want to isn't necessarily true. As Melinda and I wrote about, we looked at social capital, but we also looked at educational capital and monetary capital.



Ramón and I were both doing this when we were grad students ourselves. And I can remember reading some of these women talking about how many schools that they were applying to. And Ramón and I are both going "I couldn't even have afforded to apply to that many schools." So that's when some of the capital stuff became much more evident. And then even figuring out who they are exposed to in their lives, people who are already in academics who could then help them navigate this trajectory. Whereas Ramón and I were both first generation college students. So that part really stuck out for us as well.



To what degree was having the capital especially important, given that they were also women?



My initial reaction to that is even though they had all these forms of capital, they still had to go through the gendered experiences. When we look at this, we have to be able to understand both privilege and discrimination all wrapped up into one. Because as individuals, we can have a lot of privilege that gets us to where we are. But then we can still experience discrimination, right? We can hold these two concepts and ideas at the same time. So I think what's interesting is even though these women were incredibly accomplished, had went to the best schools, had been trained by family, friends that were astronomers or their parents were scientists, even though all of these factors had played in their favor, they still experienced micro aggressions, gender discrimination and other problems with mentorship in communities in graduate education. I would argue that, and this is just pure conjecture, but I would guess that if they had not had any of that capital, those forces probably would have pushed them out. And the fact that we interviewed very few people that really came from the same first generation working class that Dr. McCormick and I come from was a little bit telling. One of my concerns at the end of the project was how do we give voice to the people who weren't represented in this sample and the people who aren't included.



Because giving voice to those folks, I mean, that's a lot of the work that Ramón and I both do, is we want to give voice to folks who are in underrepresented and marginalized communities. That's the underpinning, I think, of a lot of our work. And then finding that who we ended up talking to were not in that group.


But nonetheless their experiences were very telling, especially in terms of the field. Because recently I was invited to speak at the AAPT (American Association of Physics Teachers). They invited me to come talk about how to talk about sexual harassment. And that came directly out of my work with Ramón. I just think it's fascinating. Like, here's this sociologist, social worker, coming in to try to help people understand what it is, what it looks like, and then how do we address it in reality?


I feel like our most important paper was really the one on the micro aggressions and the sexual harassment. It's a hard thing to talk about because if people aren't aware of micro aggressions, it's really easy for them to be dismissive of them. But I think it was really important for us to do that article so that people could make the connections between what the definition of a microaggression is and then see how it impacts women based on their gender over and over within their educational programs in physics and astronomy. And we had a couple of women who talked about more extreme experiences of actual sexual harassment that were pretty horrifying to hear about, and the fact that this has been able to go on for so long in this field, it's problematic. So I'm glad that we're able to bring something --- hopefully more people than you are reading what we're doing!



Were there any people who had other intersecting identities that affected their experience?



Oh, yeah, absolutely. But the sample was overwhelmingly white and was overwhelmingly upper class. But of the 21 participants, there were one or two that came from the working class. There were a few that were people of color, not necessarily underrepresented in physics, but they were people of color. And then we also had women in the sample who were also parents. We had people that were in the process of having children. And we did see that these things impacted their lives.


I think one of the more powerful things is the follow up interviews that I'm now conducting, because one of these women that we're talking to again, 10 years later, she actually came out as bisexual and queer in the process of the ten years since I had spoken to her. And one of the startling things is when she came out as queer, it dramatically impacted her career in physics and astronomy. And not in a positive way, unfortunately. It had a very negative impact on the relationships that she was in personally, which impacted her career, but then also impacted how she was being treated at the place that she was working. And I think that's one of those things is identity isn't stable, so as we talk to these folks 10 years later, we see that their identities change, and in this changing of identities, you see the impacts. And what was really interesting is I've only interviewed six of the original 21 so far, but two of those six talked about their whiteness. They talked about how they have been doing alright. They've had gendered problems, but they felt like their whiteness has been something that has strongly supported them in their careers, because as they've gotten on in their careers and they've worked with more women of color, they see that there's these additional barriers. So I think one thing that's really lacking when we talk about gender and sexuality and marginalization and ability and working class is oftentimes we don't talk about how our own privileges impact those experiences. And in particular, when we talk about women in physics and astronomy, we rarely talk about whiteness. But it is the whiteness oftentimes that can allow people to pass and navigate because at least they have that in common with the oppressors.


I think what's surprising too is looking at their visions of success. What were their definitions of success and what did they view as their greatest accomplishment? And I'm asking the same question ten years later so we can look at the change between what they saw as the greatest accomplishments and success in graduate school and what they see now as professionals. And one of the concerning findings was that how people were talking about their experience in graduate school was the same in 2012 as in some of the early papers in 1994, because they talked in terms of surviving. That exact term, "surviving". Even when they talked about publishing a paper, getting a degree, they talked about it in terms of "I just got through this." And that same storyline is also playing out a little bit in the new interviews that I'm doing now six years later.


And looking at gender for some of the people, it has really reified itself. It's become more concrete in their experiences. For one participant, looking back, she talked about things in a gendered lens in a way that she didn't necessarily see at the time. And I think that's been the most interesting thing is how people's perspective has changed and how, when that perspective changes, they look back at their experiences a little bit differently. And even for the one person I talked to that didn't really have too many gendered experiences, she still discussed it and said flat out, "I got lucky." And it was the fact that she's at this particular institution with a particularly small department where people think about these things constantly. But she would discuss the challenges she knew that her peers had. So even in the rare cases where we have people that didn't report that they had gendered experiences, the ones that I've talked to so far 10 years later are talking about it in terms of "I'm lucky that I'm not having them."



You have kind of a survivor bias in that the people that you were interviewing were already people who had successfully gotten into a graduate program. Do you have any feeling for what might be missing from those who never got that far?



Yes, my answer to that is yes. So only something like 30 percent of undergraduates actually go into graduate school and then physics graduate programs are notoriously difficult. So then you have a further amount of people that leak out at that point. I don't like that word "leak out". But you have a number of people that are forced out at that point. So the sample in the study, it's just like any scientific study, you have to limit it to the sample that you have. And in our sample there is survivorship bias because there's no possible way not to. So we wanted to look at it and say, OK, these people made it through the program. They're highly successful, incredibly competent. They have the skills to be good physicists and astronomers, but yet they still experience these things. So our study really in a lot of ways is a best case scenario.



I know that you've noted that the numbers in physics are much worse than the numbers in astronomy as far gender balance. And of course, a lot of astronomy happens in physics departments. Do you know whether the experiences of women who are graduate students in astronomy, in physics departments or physics and astronomy departments is different from those in pure astronomy departments?



It's important to remember that astronomy is a large factor smaller than physics. So there's also a numbers game that's going on with that. But I think one of the most startling things in this study is originally I did want it to be comparative between physics and astronomy. But then when we read all the physics and astronomy papers, and a series of our papers were specifically just on women in astronomy, but like the sexual harassment paper, it was the same across the groups. And the microaggressions, there wasn't any difference.


The only difference that I could really come up with, and this is anecdotal, it's not a trend, is when people experienced the most egregious, as Melinda said, horrifying examples, the only one that found any restitution was a person who was in astronomy. And it was because a woman found out what happened. It was originally brushed off. And oftentimes they would report these things, and it was brushed off by men. To the point we had one participant who had this man who was effectively stalking her, and whenever she came to the building, he would get violent and he would start punching walls. And the department chair didn't care. He didn't think that it was a big deal. So she ended up having to take action to protect herself. We saw this over and over again where the individual students had to take actions to protect themselves. And the only case where we had an egregious example where the individual didn't have to protect themselves was in astronomy. But that being said, you know, I can't say that that's a trend, because when I talk to these women 10 years later, one of the women that's in astronomy had different but similarly egregious experiences in their new workplace. So my conclusion from this study, if we were to extrapolate, which again could be problematic because of the small sample size, is that there isn't a difference.



You know what I do recall being different, reading the two? I loved the descriptions of some of the women about why they went into astronomy. They were just so beautiful. It was really, I don't know, there's just this real depth of feeling and pull towards that field that really stood out to me.



Yeah, I agree with that. That's one of those really positive things.



Do you think there's any practical takeaways that either departments or individual graduate students, either women or other genders, can take away that can help improve the situation?



Yeah, I can speak to that a little bit. In my other life as a physics education researcher, I do graduate program reform. That's generic graduate program reform, not specific to identities, but I think that it's salient here. With the Loom Model, what we found, and that was based on Dr. Barbara Whitten's work from Colorado College, she talked about how you have to have the infrastructure built around students in order to support them, and then you have to actively be engaging with the students and engaging with that culture. Policies are necessary, but not sufficient to improve people's experiences. You also really have to pay close attention to the individual cultures.


So one of the big findings in our graduate program reform is that even though our graduate program changed all of the policies to support students, the individual culture in research groups doesn't change. And until you change the culture in those individual research groups, you're not going to be able to reach every student. But you have to have policies in place that protect students. One of the challenges that our students face is that there's this very hierarchical, linear relationship in physics where your dissertation advisor controls everything. So one policy that we have here at the University of Utah is that every year when you meet with your dissertation committee, there's a moment in the meeting where the dissertation chair actually leaves and then the student can talk one on one with the other committee members, and then we do it vice versa where the committee member comes in and the student leaves so that way they can talk.


So you have to have these policies in place that destabilize power structures, diffuse power structures. This all goes back to queer theory and Foucault, which is this idea that you have to disaggregate power. Those are the important things. You have to have policies and structures in place that are failsafes for students. You have to constantly check in with students to know where they're at in their career trajectories and then provide off ramps. Or not off ramps, but provide pathways. In one of our papers we used a roundabout as an example, because we shouldn't think about higher education as a strict linear pathway. You should think about it as having many different pathways and that students enter and then choose and that all of them are equally valuable, but that they're just different pathways. So putting those policies in place is necessary, but not sufficient. You need to constantly check in with students and then when you hire faculty, you need to hire faculty that actually care about these issues. It's a buyer's market when it comes to hiring faculty. And I would argue it's better to hire the faculty member who clearly is empathetic, understanding and a great mentor that has no grants than to hire the faculty member that has three million dollars in grants because you can teach someone how to get grants. You can professional development that. Teaching someone how to be empathetic, understanding and supportive and culturally aware is a much harder challenge.



Are there any other results of the research that you think would be important to disseminate?



I think I think one of the challenges is this, and I already mentioned this earlier, but when we had the most egregious examples of harassment and even some more egregious micro aggressions, oftentimes people were met with silence. Department chairs, oftentimes straight white men, effectively didn't care. I would argue that they didn't do their job. And a lot of these people were also legally liable. I mean, you can look at this in 10 different ways. We look at it from the well-being-of-the-student perspective. But you also can look at it from a legal perspective, and a lot of these departments could have been sued under the ground for what they did. But what we found is that, like Melinda said, people had a passion for physics and astronomy. They wanted to keep doing it. So they had to find workarounds to survive. But that's not students' responsibility. Students shouldn't have to find workarounds. It's our responsibility. It's students' responsibility to learn physics and astronomy and be passionate. It's our responsibility to make sure that they're safe, protected and in a positive and welcoming and affirming environment.



And when they're met with silence and invalidation of their experiences, that is so harmful. So, of course, that's going to make it harder for women or folks who are being treated badly to be able to step forward. It's partly getting people to just recognize that this happens and it has a negative impact on our students, and if we want students to be there and if we want to help them grow and learn and do the cool things that they have the ability to do in the world, then we have to be looking after them. And I think we can use some of the stuff from Title IX, which is what I talked about in my [AAPT] talk. That's our basis to draw from. You shouldn't be discriminated against based on your sex or your gender presentation. And I think we don't always realize that that gender representation stuff is also included in Title IX because we don't talk about it.


But just that safety piece. Even with microaggressions, we don't always have to do a ton. But we have to, you know, put up posters with women in them, have books that include women's work. That's part of creating that culture. And also just saying, "yes, I hear you that that happened and it's not OK." Because a lot of times when people are mistreated in that way, it's not that they're looking for something huge from us all the time. I think I look for something huge from us as human beings because I want us to be better. But sometimes we just want acknowledgment of what's happened, somebody to say, "yeah, that happened, and it sucked, and I'm really sorry." That can go a really long way.