Wednesday, May 26, 2021

How One Astronomy Department Took on Internal Bias

Written by JoEllen McBride, PhD

After the Inclusive Astronomy 2 conference in 2019, the Women in Astronomy Blog team reached out to Dr. Alexandra Pope to share her experience introducing a journal club series exploring diversity, equity, and inclusion issues facing astronomers to her department. This article stems from an interview with Dr. Alexandra Pope on Friday, April 9, 2021.

Gender and racial bias in Physics and Astronomy departments have moved to the forefront of meetings, conferences, and discussions that were before exclusive to scientific research. There have been numerous studies over the decades that quantify the effects our internalized biases have on the recruitment and retention of people with underrepresented identities in STEM fields. And many workshops, seminars, and trainings have been given at our institutions and meetings in efforts to raise awareness. But most of these events are voluntary. The people putting them on volunteer their time and energy and the attendees make a conscious choice to attend.

In order for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts to work, entire departments need to recognize the effects internalized biases have on the recruitment and retention of astronomers. Currently, our physics and astronomy departments still skew heavily towards older, white, cis-gendered, and able-bodied men meaning that hiring decisions, student mentoring, and teaching is predominantly done by this group of people. In the same way ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, you can’t change what you don’t know is causing harm.

Alexandra Pope, Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, found that instead of convincing senior faculty and researchers to attend bias training or expecting them to attend meeting spaces built for underrepresented groups, bringing the bias training to them is one way to foster a more inclusive and supportive department. Using an already established course that had department-wide support, she created a familiar environment for faculty and students to engage with studies of internalized biases and has seen real transformation happen as a result.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Women of Arecibo: Dr. Tapasi Ghosh

This post is part of our ongoing Women of Arecibo series, which highlights the achievements and experiences of women who built their careers around the 305-meter telescope at Arecibo Observatory, as well as the professional and personal impact of losing an instrument which was of utmost importance in their careers.

The following post features Dr. Tapasi Ghosh, who has been a Staff Scientist at the Green Bank Observatory since 2018. Previously, she worked as a Staff Astronomer at NAIC/Arecibo Observatory from 1992 - 2018. We asked her about her work with Arecibo and the impact of the facility.

How did you become a radio astronomer/work at Arecibo?
Dr. Ghosh on the platform of
Arecibo in 2012
I was born and brought up in Kolkata India, and did my Masters in Physics from the University of Calcutta. Then, in 1983, I went to the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore to join their "Joint Astronomy Program" for my graduate studies.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Open Letter from Astronomers for Planet Earth

Astronomers for Planet Earth is a volunteer network that invites scientists, educators, and astronomy students to join in the effort against climate change and for climate justice. With more than 1000 members, this international organization of astronomers recently penned an open letter, published on Earth Day, in hopes of mobilizing support and building community around the common goal of sustainability. Below is an excerpt of the open letter.    

An Open Letter to Astronomy Departments, Institutions and Societies: Adopt Sustainability as a Primary Goal 

We, astronomers, astrophysicists, and global citizens, recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and our impact on it. We also recognize that we have the power to change our current practices. We call on astronomical institutions worldwide to set an example for the field in mitigating our contribution to climate change: naming sustainability as a primary goal, putting in place specific sustainable practices to lower carbon emissions, and clearly communicating these changes both to their own members and the general public. 

Comprehensive scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that we are living in a climate emergency that calls for urgent action. Both the Paris agreement and the 2020 United Nations Emissions Gap Report outline the imperative to halt global heating and ocean acidification. Only through immediately effecting a significant and continuous reduction in global emissions can we achieve this goal. Without doing so, we will face both a biodiversity crisis through mass extinctions, and a humanitarian crisis from increasingly inhospitable living conditions. At our current rate of emissions--even despite the Covid pandemic--we are failing to prevent this disaster. 

Read the full open letter and sign:

Learn more about Astronomers for Planet Earth:

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Crosspost: Black women’s experiences in STEM inspire an annual workshop

By Bryné Hadnott

When LaNell Williams arrived at Harvard University in 2017 to begin a graduate program in physics, several of her peers told her she had been admitted only because she was a Black woman—her 3.9 GPA, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and two coauthored scientific papers notwithstanding. During an open house for the incoming class, she asked her fellow students why they thought no other underrepresented racial minority woman had been admitted to the physics department that year. “We [women of color] hear many different things in those conversations, one of them being that we’re not interested in physics, which isn’t true,” Williams says. “Or that some of us don’t have the pedigree, which is also not true. And then the last thing is that we don’t apply—and in some cases that is true.”

Photo courtesy of LaNell Williams

In Williams’s experience, however, many women of color had both the grades and the aptitude for physics, but they were discouraged from applying to graduate programs by their professors, advisers, and classmates. “I wanted to prove them wrong,” she says of her peers at Harvard. She was determined to show just how many talented candidates there really are. “I wanted to say to those women that you are as good as, if not better than, some of the people who might be applying to graduate school,” Williams explains.

In 2019 Williams founded the Women+ of Color (WOC+) Project, an annual three-day workshop that encourages women and gender-nonconforming people of color to pursue advanced STEM degrees and provides resources on how to apply for and succeed in graduate school. The WOC+ Project has gone on to win the Materials Today Agent of Change Award. Now, Williams, graduate students L. MichĂ© Aaron and Ayanna Jones, and several other graduate student volunteers are working to expand the workshop’s scope to support women of color throughout their academic careers.

Read the rest of the article at: 

Friday, May 7, 2021

AASWOMEN Newsletter for May 07, 2021

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
From Item 3
AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of May 07, 2021
eds: Heather Flewelling, Nicolle Zellner, Maria Patterson, Alessandra Aloisi, and Jeremy Bailin

[We hope you all are taking care of yourselves and each other. Be well! --eds.]

This week's issues:

1. Women of Arecibo: Dr. Flaviane Venditti

2. The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir

3. Shining a Light on Women in STEM with THE CURIE SOCIETY

4. 'Raven the Science Maven' encourages students to find their voice in STEM

5. Fighting algorithmic bias in artificial intelligence

6. Strategy to get more women in STEM jobs falls flat

7. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter

8. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter

9. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

An online version of this newsletter will be available at at 3:00 PM ET every Friday.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Women of Arecibo: Dr. Flaviane Venditti

This post is part of our ongoing Women of Arecibo series, which highlights the achievements and experiences of women who built their careers around the 305-meter telescope at Arecibo Observatory, and the professional and personal impact of losing an instrument that was of utmost importance in their careers.
Dr. Venditti at Arecibo.
The following post features Dr. Flaviane Venditti who joined the Arecibo staff in May 2017 and is currently the group lead for planetary radar. She started her science career as an undergraduate in Physics/Astronomy at the University of Sao Paulo, where she was part of the Polarimetry Group working with optical polarimetric observations to study the interstellar medium at the National Laboratory for Astrophysics (LNA) in Brazil. Her interest in celestial mechanics and space missions led her to pursue a Master’s and PhD degree in Space Engineering at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Brazil, with a focus in astrodynamics. During her PhD she worked with orbital maneuvers around asteroids, developing a method to model the gravitational field of asteroids using Arecibo’s planetary radar data. She was a postdoctoral scientist for one year at the same institution, working on a methodology to study orbit perturbation around small bodies. After that, she moved to Canada for another postdoctoral appointment to work with the dynamics of asteroid deflection at McGill University. Her research interests include radar observations, orbital dynamics, asteroid modeling, and asteroid impact mitigation techniques.