Thursday, April 11, 2024

Career Profile: Jörg Matthias Determann Records Modern Science History

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy has compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers, planetary scientists, etc. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.

Below is our interview with Jörg Matthias Determann, a professor and historian of science in the Department of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. He holds a doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and two master’s degrees from the University of Vienna. He is the author of five books including Islam, Science Fiction and Extraterrestrial Life and Space Science and the Arab World. He is also co-editor of a volume on Islamic Theology and Extraterrestrial Life. In February 2024, we profiled his book Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Astronomy; see a summary here.


What were the most important factors that led you to study the history of science / astronomy?

Matthias poses at work
Matthias in the Qatar National Library.
Credit: Kateryna Reshetova
My family was a very important factor. My paternal grandfather Fritz Determann was a mathematician who spent most of his career working for Carl Zeiss AG, inventing optical systems and developing software. Although mostly based in Germany, he also contributed to observatories in Iraq and Japan and to a planetarium in Denmark. Even decades after his retirement, he used Fortran to calculate orbits of satellites on his personal computer. Through countless conversations, he cultivated in me an interest in astronomy and science more generally. At the same time, other family members, including my mother Sibylle Determann (a trained historian), inspired me to study history. As an undergraduate at the University of Vienna in Austria and later as a graduate student at the University of London in the UK, I found out I could combine my interests in the natural and the social world by taking courses in the history of science.

How have you been able to parlay that interest into your career?

In 2013, a year after completing a doctoral thesis in history, I was very fortunate to be offered a faculty position in the Department of Liberal Arts & Sciences on the Qatar campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. This department has physicists, mathematicians, and scholars of the humanities all under one roof. It has been a perfect place for me as someone who has been interested in both history and science.

If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?

My first job after my undergraduate education was to teach German at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While I greatly enjoyed working at a university, I wanted to pursue history. After a year in this position, I thus enrolled in a doctoral program in history at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications?

During my graduate studies at the University of London, I completed a Graduate Teaching Assistant Training Programme accredited by the Higher Education Academy in the United Kingdom. This has provided me with a very useful basis for subsequent professional development as an educator.

Describe job hunting and networking resources you used and any other advice/resources.

As I was finishing my doctorate, I started applying for jobs in Europe, Asia and the Americas. After first gaining a postdoctoral position in Germany, I had interviews for faculty roles at universities in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. I would advise graduate students interested in an academic career to apply for jobs internationally as well.

What has been your career path since you completed your degree?

After completing my doctorate at the University of London in 2012, I was a postdoctoral researcher at Zentrum Modern Orient and Freie Universität Berlin. In 2013, I was lucky enough to become an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. I have been there ever since and was very grateful to be promoted to associate professor in 2019 and full professor in 2023.

What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?

My doctoral studies gave me the skills of managing a multi-year research project and producing a book-length object as a result. This is what I still do, just on different topics.

Matthias at work
At the University of Vienna's Astronomy library
during the covid-19 pandemic in 2021.
Describe a typical day at work.

As a historian, I probably spend more time in libraries and archives than a typical astronomer. However, as is the case for astrophysicists, my data increasingly exists in digital form. So, when I am not teaching in the classroom or meeting students and colleagues in my office or conference rooms, you probably find me sitting at my desk in front of my laptop. For good reason, my four-year-old daughter Maria’s mental image of me “at work” is me at my computer.

I am very lucky that neither I nor my boss count
my hours. However, I am working full-time with
added 
voluntary service. Additonally, my salary
is based on that of a full-time faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University’s campuses in the United States. It is supplemented by different allowances in accordance with the laws of Qatar. I am highly satisfied with my job. I have had wonderful supervisors and departmental colleagues who have always supported my teaching, research and service. 

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job and the work environment?

I love teaching the most. My classes at Virginia Commonwealth University are small, consisting of around fifteen students on average. This allows me to get to know my course participants very well. Many of them also continue to live in Doha after graduation and stay in touch with me. This gives me the chance to mentor them over many years.

Qatar has a very diverse population, which is also reflected in the body of students and employees on Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus. I have had colleagues from all continents and many different religions. Moreover, VCU’s building is part of an Education City that also includes branches of other American universities, such as Cornell, Georgetown and Northwestern. I am thus in close proximity to other excellent institutions with interdisciplinary programming. Between 2019 and 2023, I was a guest lecturer at a seminar at Georgetown University entitled “Interstellar Relations: Science Fiction and Politics,” for example.

What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?

I am blessed with many opportunities for creative initiatives that bridge different disciplines. In 2022, for example, I hosted a conference on “Islamic Perspectives on Exotheology” which resulted in an edited volume entitled Islamic Theology and Extraterrestrial Life: New Frontiers in Science and Religion.


Tell us a little bit about work-life balance. What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?

child in museum
Matthias' daughter at the Al Thuraya
Planetarium in Doha (2021).


I am very satisfied with my work-life balance. Although parts of the academic year can get very busy with teaching and service opportunities, I have downtimes during breaks. My book on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Astronomy was a multi-year project, and in between the different deadlines, I had considerable flexibility in how to manage my time.

As for advice, don’t procrastinate and get your work done early so that you can fully enjoy other activities! As for having children, my wife Jeanne Vaz, who has always worked full-time as well, would say: “Focus on the reality you want and then work towards that.” I have always wanted a child whom I could take to my office or to a lecture. From an early age, we thus cultivated discipline in our daughter Maria, including the ability to sit quietly for long periods and draw. At the same time, we stimulated her interest in astronomical topics, so that she would not get bored when listening to a presentation of mine. Her bedroom is space-themed and her shelves full of children’s books about science and science fiction.


How family-friendly is your current position?

My position is very family-friendly. I am on a generous expatriate contract that includes medical insurance and an annual travel allowance for my wife and daughter. I enjoy long summer breaks from teaching and administrative meetings, which coincide with my daughter’s school holidays in July and August. Finally, my work does not require much travel, as I am able to gather most data for my research via the Virginia Commonwealth University libraries, the Qatar National Library and the internet. Virtually all of my interviews for my book on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Astronomy were conducted remotely.


What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?

I love swimming. In Qatar, it is warm enough for outdoor water sports for much of the year. The infrastructure in the country is excellent too, with professional facilities built for the 2006 Asian Games and the 2024 World Aquatics Championships. Science fiction in its different media, from literature to film and video games, has been a hobby as well as professional interest of mine. I greatly enjoy reading children’s science fiction books to my daughter Maria. In my volume on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Astronomy, you will find many references to Star Trek.


Can we include your email address for people who may want to contact you directly about your specific career route?

Yes, please. My email address is jmdetermann_at_vcu.edu. They can also get in touch with me via social media. I am on X (formerly Twitter) at @JMDetermann and on Instagram at @jmdetermann.


Check out more of Matthias' work:

Friday, April 5, 2024

AASWomen Newsletter for April 5, 2024

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of April 5, 2024
eds: Jeremy Bailin, Nicolle Zellner, Sethanne Howard, and Hannah Jang-Condell

[We hope you all are taking care of yourselves and each other. --eds.]
CSWA logo

This week's issues:
1. Sexism in academia wastes public funding and is bad for science 
2. Women Eclipse Chasers
3. Meet 5 women pushing the boundaries through NOAA’s work in space 4. Meet the Two Women Leading Space Station Science 
5. We asked over 50 women space leaders for words of inspiration. Here's what they told us 
6. The State of Girls in STEM: A Conversation to Plan Action
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 http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/ at 3:00 PM ET every Friday.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Sexism in academia wastes public funding and is bad for science

By Nicolle Zellner


In their article for Nature Reviews Materials, Sexism in academia is bad for science and a waste of public funding, Nicole Boivin, Susanne Täuber, Ulrike Beisiegel, Ursula Keller, and Janet Hering write that higher education and research institutions "are critical to the well-being and success of societies, meaning their financial support is strongly in the public interest. At the same time, value-for-money principles demand that such investment delivers. Unfortunately, these principles are currently violated by one of the biggest sources of public funding inefficiency: sexism."

Using cross-European-Union data, the article describes stages where women leave the fields of science and the subsequest compounding economic losses.

Read more at


sexism & science
Image Credit: Chemistry World

Further reading:




Thursday, March 28, 2024

Crosspost: How Charlotte Moore Sitterly Wrote The Encyclopedia of Starlight

By Elizabeth Landau, for Smithsonian Magazine


Charlotte Moore works
Charlotte Moore Sitterly working at her desk at the
National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C.
Image Credit: Michael Duncan via the M.D. Moore Family


Charlotte Moore could smell the coal burning in the furnace below her back-room workspace at the Princeton University Observatory. With a meager starting salary of $100 per month, she worked as a “computer” for the famous astronomer Henry Norris Russell, helping with calculations to describe how stars evolve and what kinds of materials burn inside them. Her boss’s mind seemed to run too quickly for anyone to follow, and the short, quiet woman he hired fresh out of college in 1920 was initially overwhelmed.

“I felt that he must think that I was the most ignorant person that ever showed up at his house,” she told space historian David DeVorkin in 1978.

At a time when few women had opportunities in the physical sciences, and fewer still received recognition for their efforts, Charlotte Moore Sitterly, as she was known after her marriage, was a pioneer in a field that has touched nearly all scientific disciplines: spectroscopy. 


Read more about the woman who worked tirelessly for decades to measure the makeup of the sun and the stars at

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Alenush Terian: The “Mother of Modern Iranian Astronomy”

Excerpted from IranWire


Terian at telescope
Alenush Terian at Sorbonne University (Credit: IranWire)


She is called the “Mother of Modern Iranian Astronomy” and for good reason: she was a cofounder of the first solar observatory in Iran and the first female professor of physics in the country. Her achievements become much more impressive once we learn that, besides being a woman in a patriarchal society, she also belonged to a religious and ethnic minority.

Alenush Terian was born in Tehran on November 9, 1920, to an Armenian family. Her father, Arto Terian, and mother, Varto Terian, were two famous faces in the city’s Armenian theater. Arto owned a drama workshop and had studied theater and acted in Moscow. Varto was a graduate of literature and rhetoric and became one of the first Iranian women to direct a play.

Her parents supported her choice of engaging in a different career path, Alenush said in an interview: "My parents had a very clear and modern mindset, and weren’t the type to prevent me from studying or impose a certain field of study on me. Since they were artists and I had some writing experience, they had hoped I would pursue a degree in literature. But when they found out that I wanted to study physics, they didn’t show any opposition, and always encouraged and supported me on this path."


Read more at

Friday, March 15, 2024

AASWomen Newsletter for March 15, 2024

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of March 15, 2024
eds: Jeremy Bailin, Nicolle Zellner, Sethanne Howard, and Hannah Jang-Condell

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

This week's issues:

1. Cross-post: They were astronomers
2. Call for SGMA Committee Members
3. NA-ROAD Women and Girls in Astronomy Program
4. Francesca Primas recognised for promoting gender equity
5. ASTRON Director Jessica Dempsey: 'The time when we didn't want women in science is over'
6. Dr. Patricia (Trish) Henning: Leading the Way in Radio Astronomy
7. Discover the pioneering woman scientist who mapped the moon
8. Interviews with women at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center
9. Canadian Physics Counts: An exploration of the diverse identities of physics students and professionals in Canada
10. Indigenous women find their stride in physics
11. Why retaining women in science is a major challenge
12. There is no cookie cutter female scientist
13. Hundreds of Upcoming Women Scientists Call for More Inclusivity in STEM
14. Job Opportunities
15. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter
16. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter
17. Access to Past Issues

An online version of this newsletter will be available at http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/ at 3:00 PM ET every Friday.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Cross-post: They were astronomers

By Kristine Palmieri for Physics Today


women astronomers @ Yerkes
Some of the female employees, graduate students, and volunteer researchers at
Yerkes Observatory in the summer of 1916. Names and image credit in the link below.


In astronomy, there was a strong demand for educated women, who were hired as human computers at facilities such as the Royal Greenwich Observatory in London; the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, California (5). But their work was routine and required only a basic knowledge of mathematics, not advanced astronomical or astrophysical training. Those observatories hired women because they provided cheap and reliable labor. At Greenwich, for example, calculations had previously been carried out by boys (6). And at Dudley Observatory in Albany, New York, women without college degrees were preferred precisely because they were cheaper (7).

At Yerkes Observatory, however, a different system emerged. Because it was attached to the University of Chicago, which was coed from its foundation in 1890, women astronomers at Yerkes always had the opportunity to obtain advanced degrees. Emily Dobbin became the first woman to earn an MS in astronomy from the university in 1903. Her thesis, “The orbit of the fifth satellite of Jupiter,” was published in the Astronomical Journal the following year (8).

Yerkes was also unique because its location in the southern Wisconsin village of Williams Bay made it accessible. Not only was the municipality the last stop on a train line that connected the town with Chicago, but the observatory’s proximity to the community also enabled women to find respectable accommodations nearby. That was unusual. 

Read more at

https://pubs.aip.org/physicstoday/article/76/11/42/2918346/They-were-astronomersUnlike-at-most-other

See also


References (from original story)
5. P. E. Mack, J. Hist. Astron. 21, 65 (1990), https://doi.org/10.1177/002182869002100108; M. T. Brück, Q. J. R. Astron. Soc. 36, 83 (1995); E.-J. Ahn, Hist. Stud. Nat. Sci. 52, 555 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2022.52.5.555
6. Ref. 5, M. T. Brück, p. 85.
7. J. Lankford, American Astronomy: Community, Careers, and Power, 1859–1940, U. Chicago Press (1997), p. 339.  
8. E. E. Dobbin, Astron. J. 24, 83 (1904). https://doi.org/10.1086/103567.

Friday, March 8, 2024

AASWomen Newsletter for March 8, 2024

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of March 8, 2024
eds: Jeremy Bailin, Nicolle Zellner, Sethanne Howard, and Hannah Jang-Condell

[In celebration of International Women's Day, we thank the women in our lives for all they do.  --eds.]

Ruby Payne-Scott
Ruby Payne-Scott
(Image Credit: Hall Family) 
This week's issues:

1. Cross-post: The Forgotten Star of Radio Astronomy
2. Unveiling Gender Imbalance, Efforts, and Consequences in Astronomy 
3. Women and Girls in Astronomy Program: 2024 Call for Proposals
4. Women of NASA Langley Research Center
5. Simone Daro Gossner
6. Nature publishes too few papers from women researchers — that must change
7. Save the Date for the October 15-16 2024 Public Summit on Preventing Sexual Harassment! 
8. Call for Presentations for Public Summit on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education
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

An online version of this newsletter will be available at http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/ at 3:00 PM ET every Friday.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1. Cross-post: The Forgotten Star of Radio Astronomy
From: Nicolle Zellner via womeninastronomy.blogspot.com

Australian physicist Ruby Payne-Scott helped lay the groundwork for a whole new kind of astronomy: radio astronomy. By scanning the skies for radio waves instead of the light waves that we can see with our eyes, Payne-Scott and her colleagues opened a new window into the universe and transformed the way we explore it. But to keep her job as a woman working for the Australian government in the 1940s, Payne-Scott had to keep a pretty big secret.

Read more at 

https://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2024/03/cross-post-forgotten-star-of-radio.html

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2. Unveiling Gender Imbalance, Efforts, and Consequences in Astronomy  
From: John Leibacher <jleibacher_at_nso.edu>

In celebration of International Women's Day, the IAU Women in Astronomy (WiA) Working Group (WG) is excited to organize the event: "Unveiling Gender Imbalance, Efforts, and Consequences in Astronomy." This initiative aims to acknowledge both permanent and contractual researchers who have made exceptional contributions to advancing gender equality in Astronomy, encompassing achievements in research, mentorship, and advocacy. Our objective is to honor individuals who consistently foster a supportive environment for every member of our community.

The event will take place online via Zoom on 8th March 2024, from 13:30 to 15:30 CET and it will be recorded.

Information about the session can be found at

https://forms.gle/KpsVLVJeFm5YFTUq6

Learn more about the special WiA WG session and view the recording at 

https://sites.google.com/view/iau-women-in-astronomy/home

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3. Women and Girls in Astronomy Program: 2024 Call for Proposals
From: Yasmin Catricheo <YCatricheo_at_aui.edu>

The Women and Girls in Astronomy Program (WGAP) inspires and supports women, girls, and underrepresented genders in the field of astronomy. The program, implemented by the NA-ROAD, targets aspiring astronomers and current professionals alike to establish a network to uplift, educate, connect with, and promote astronomy for development in women and girls.

The Program is looking to fund 10 projects that use astronomy for development activities to promote, support, and uplift women and girls in the field. Qualifying projects must align with at least one of the NA-ROAD’s five Strategic Goals 1 through 5, and take place in Canada, United States, the Caribbean, Mexico, or Greenland. Projects are encouraged to approach astronomy from a unique lens, including, but not limited to, scientific, social, technical, cultural, and artistic perspectives.

Learn more and apply at

https://naroad.astro4dev.org/na-road-projects/women-and-girls-astronomy-program/

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
4. Women of NASA Langley Research Center
From: Nicolle Zellner [nzellner_at_albion.edu]

By Monika Luabeya

In honor of Women’s History Month and those who paved the way for them, hundreds of female staff – from artists to administrative support, educators to engineers, and scientists to safety officers – gathered in front of the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, on Feb. 6, 2024.

See the picture and read more at

https://www.nasa.gov/image-article/women-of-nasa-langley-research-center/

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
5. Simone Daro Gossner 
From: Sethanne Howard <sethanneh_at_msn.com>

Since I was Chief of the Nautical Almanac Office, Gossner is an important part of my history.

Simone Daro Gossner (1920–2002) was a Belgian-American astronomer who specialized in eclipses at the Nautical Almanac Office of the United States Naval Observatory. She received her education in Brussels. During World War II, when the universities in Brussels were closed due to the German occupation, she became an underground teacher. In 1946, she was brought to Radcliffe College in the United States through a program by the American Association of University Women, which aimed to provide educational opportunities for young women affected by the war.

Read more at

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simone_Daro_Gossner

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6. Nature publishes too few papers from women researchers — that must change
From: Nicolle Zellner [nzellner_at_albion.edu]

By The Editors

This journal will double down on efforts to diversify the pool of corresponding authors and referees.

During the period analysed, some 10% of corresponding authors preferred not to disclose their gender. Of the remainder, just 17% identified as women — barely an increase on the 16% we found in 2018, albeit using a less precise methodology. By comparison, women made up 31.7% of all researchers globally in 2021, according to figures from the United Nations science, education and cultural organization UNESCO (see go.nature.com/3wgdasb).

Read more at

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-024-00640-5

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7. Save the Date for the October 15-16 2024 Public Summit on Preventing Sexual Harassment! 
From: John Leibacher <jleibacher_at_nso.edu>

The 2024 Public Summit will take place on October 15-16, 2024 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, with the option of attending virtually or in-person. The Public Summit of the National Academies’ Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education is an open forum for those in the higher education ecosystem to collaboratively identify, discuss, and elevate innovative and promising approaches and new research on addressing and preventing sexual harassment. This annual event brings together a diverse group, including members and partner network organizations of the Action Collaborative, the broader higher education community, sexual harassment researchers and response practitioners, grassroots and nonprofit organizations, public and private foundations, and federal and state policymakers.

Learn more at

https://www.nationalacademies.org/event/42244_10-2024_action-collaborative-on-preventing-sexual-harassment-in-higher-education-2024-public-summit

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
8. Call for Presentations for Public Summit on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education
From: John Leibacher <jleibacher_at_nso.edu>

The Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education invites submissions for presentations, posters, and sessions on practices to address and prevent sexual harassment in higher education and research that can help inform such practices. Individuals across higher education and those that want to contribute to the discussion around preventing sexual harassment in higher education are encouraged to submit about their work, ideas, and research so it can be included at the Action Collaborative’s Annual Public Summit. The submission deadline is Friday, June 7, 2024.

For more information, please see

https://www.nationalacademies.org/event/42244_10-2024_action-collaborative-on-preventing-sexual-harassment-in-higher-education-2024-public-summit 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
9. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter

To submit an item to the AASWOMEN newsletter, including replies to topics, send email to aaswomen_at_lists.aas.org .

All material will be posted unless you tell us otherwise, including your email address.

When submitting a job posting for inclusion in the newsletter, please include a one-line description and a link to the full job posting.

Please remember to replace "_at_" in the e-mail address above.

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10. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter

Join AAS Women List through the online portal:

To Subscribe, go to https://aas.simplelists.com/aaswlist/subscribe/ and enter your name and email address, and click Subscribe. You will be sent an email with a link to click to confirm subscription.

To unsubscribe from AAS Women by email:

Go to https://aas.simplelists.com/aaswlist/subscribe/ , in the "My account and unsubscriptions", type your email address. You will receive an email with a link to access your account, from there you can click the unsubscribe link for this mailing list.

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11. Access to Past Issues

http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/search/label/AASWOMEN 

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Cross-post: The Forgotten Star of Radio Astronomy

By Samia Bouzid, Carol Sutton Lewis & the Lost Women of Science Initiative

Ruby Payne Scott
Ruby Payne-Scott (1912-1981)
Image Credit: Hall family collection


Australian physicist Ruby Payne-Scott helped lay the groundwork for a whole new kind of astronomy: radio astronomy. By scanning the skies for radio waves instead of the light waves that we can see with our eyes, Payne-Scott and her colleagues opened a new window into the universe and transformed the way we explore it. But to keep her job as a woman working for the Australian government in the 1940s, Payne-Scott had to keep a pretty big secret.

Read more and listen to the podcast at

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-forgotten-star-of-radio-astronomy/


Learn more about Ruby's contributions at

https://csiropedia.csiro.au/radar-and-the-birth-of-radio-astronomy-in-australia-at-collaroy-plateau/

Thursday, February 29, 2024

DEIA Activism in Astronomy


book cover
Brief Summary: Since the first half of the twentieth century, an increasing number of astronomers have pursued parallel careers as both academics and activists. Besides publishing peer-reviewed papers, they have promoted a great variety of underrepresented groups within their discipline. Through conferences, newsletters and social media, they have sought to advance the interests of women, members of racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, and disabled people. While these activists have differed in the identities they focus on, they have come to share a conviction that diversity and inclusion are crucial for scientific excellence as well as social justice. This book covers the biographies and institutional contexts of key agents in the diversification of modern astronomy. Central to discussions about who has privileged access to the tools of astronomical inquiry, including powerful telescopes and extensive databases, they have also significantly shaped views of our universe.

The editors of the Women in Astronomy blog virtually sat down with author Jörg Matthias Determann to learn more about his scholarly work.


What was your motivation for writing this book?

I wanted to write a history of the broader movement for diversity, equity, and inclusion in astronomy. We have some excellent accounts of individual astronomers who advanced women and other marginalized groups in the discipline, including Vera Rubin, the subject of an outstanding biography by Jacqueline Mitton and Simon Mitton. However, we do not know as much about how activists organized and networked. In addition to the lives of specific astrophysicists, I wanted to cover the history of groups, committees and conferences. Since the 1990s, much of this networking has taken place in online spaces, facilitated by listservs, blogs and social media. Yet, many of these digital sources are at risk of disappearing or becoming inaccessible over time. Who knows about the future of X (formerly Twitter) as a platform for activism, for example? I wanted to preserve key developments and debates, before valuable information gets lost.

Why did you make the choices you did? For example, how did you decide whom to interview or whose story to record and tell?

I was especially interested in interviewing astronomers with a long history and memory of diversity activism and service. Examples include Meg Urry of Yale University and Gibor Basri of the University of California, Berkeley. People like them could look back over decades and trace important changes in the profession. I was also trying to complement the older with younger voices, like that of Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, in order to uncover similarities and differences among different generations of activists. Some of my interviewees emerged organically, through recommendations by others. For instance, Prescod-Weinstein suggested that I contact Ashley Walker and Charee Peters. On the other hand, some astrophysicists on my list declined or never responded to my requests for interviews for various reasons.

Tell us about the geographical distribution of the people and topics you write about.

To a certain extent, the geographical distribution of my book’s protagonists reflects that of astrophysicists in general. You will find many people who have worked in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and Australia. These countries have all had high numbers of astronomers per capita (that is, relative to the size of their populations). However, I have been limited in the languages I and my research assistants can speak. I wish I could have interviewed more astronomers in Japan or Korea, for example, and read more about them.

What do you hope people will take away from this book?

I hope that readers will take away that there are many ways to bring about revolutions in science other than publishing research papers. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, astronomers contributed to a social revolution that is perhaps of a magnitude similar to that of the Copernican Revolution. Like Nicolaus Copernicus promoted a new view of the natural world, his modern successors championed a different view of the social world, one with concepts like diversity, equity, inclusion and access at the center. Just as the Copernican paradigm shift went through different phases and involved different generations stretching over more than a hundred years, so does the diversity and access revolution. As regular readers of this blog know, this social revolution in science is still ongoing and unfinished. However, just as the centrality of the Sun had become widely accepted by the time of Isaac Newton, nowadays few would argue against the notion that “the sky is for everyone,” to quote the title of a recent book by Virginia Trimble and David A. Weintraub. Thanks to the work of numerous “astro-activists,” we have generally accepted the idea that people of all identities and backgrounds should be able to participate in the study of the universe. This is evident not only in the increasing number of women in academic leadership roles, but also in funding mandates for open access and public outreach as part of major research projects.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I invite readers of this interview and of my book to get in touch with me. Historians of science like myself have only begun to write the history of the movement for diversity, equity, and inclusion in astronomy. I would greatly appreciate any suggestions or corrections, especially from people who have engaged in, or observed, activism and accessibility work. Please help me and other historians better understand what you have lived through and what you care about. Please also consider sharing any material you may have. Unfortunately, many of the sources on which I have drawn (including webpages, blog posts, newsletter items, emails, social media posts, et cetera) are not preserved in archives or databases like NASA’s Astrophysics Data System (ADS). However, this material is still very valuable for understanding the past and for shaping the future development of astronomy as a discipline and as a global community.


Eds note: In the near future, we will have a more in-depth interview with the author, in a forthcoming “Career Profile” post. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Celebrating Black in STEM - Part 2

In honor of Black History Month, Science Buddies has highlighted 38 African American scientists and engineers who made important contributions to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). 




For each of them, author Amy Cohen has included a short biographical highlight, links to hands-on science projects related to the scientist's area of study, links to relevant science career profiles, and a link to a biography for further reading.

There is also a career worksheet that can guide student exploration and reflection about STEM careers.


Read more at

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Cross-post: Meet the scientist protecting women of color from the wrong side of AI

[Eds. note: February 11 was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.]


Dr. Joy Buolamwini during 2023 Massachusetts Conference For Women in Boston, on Dec. 14, 2023.
(Image Credit: Marla Aufmuth / Getty Images file)


By Daniela Pierre-Bravo, for msnbc.com

At 34, computer scientist and poet, Dr. Joy Buolamwini, has already made her mark as a pioneer in the rapidly developing field of artificial intelligence.

She’s advised President Biden and Big Tech on the benefits and dangers of AI, was named one of Time’s "100 Most Influential people in AI," has worked on documentaries about the subject, and she recently released a book about her personal journey in the space: “Unmasking AI: My Mission to Protect What is Human in a World of Machines.”

Her research as an AI scientist came into focus during her time as a graduate student at MIT: addressing the downfalls in machine learning (the building blocks of AI systems).

At the time, Dr. Buolamwini was working on a face detection technology for an art installation she was building. She noticed the software program was having trouble detecting her skin color. It wasn’t until she decided to place a white mask on her face that it finally started to work properly.

Read more at

Friday, February 9, 2024

AASWomen Newsletter for February 9, 2024

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of February 9, 2024
eds: Jeremy Bailin, Nicolle Zellner, Sethanne Howard, and Hannah Jang-Condell

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

This week's issues:
1. Celebrating Black in STEM – Part 1
2. AAS Announces Honors
3. Help Protect Funding for Astronomical Sciences
4. Herschel Medal Awarded to Roberta Humphreys
5. Other Astronomy Prizes Awarded 
6. Passion, curiosity and perseverance: my mission to capture women in science on camera
7. Soapbox Science’s 2024 speaker call is NOW OPEN!  
8. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
10. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

An online version of this newsletter will be available at http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/ at 3:00 PM ET every Friday.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Celebrating Black in STEM - Part 1


women of color at NASA
NASA Pioneers and Innovators (Image Credit: NASA)


Since 1976, every American president has officially designated February as Black History Month, a celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time to acknowledge and recognize their central role in American history. The annual event grew out of "Negro History Week", initiated by historian and civil rights leader Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Around the world other countries also devote a month to celebrating Black history. Read more about the month's history here.

Organizations that support scientists in astronomy and physics have provided resources, guidance, and advice for advancing the careers of Black astronomers and physicists. Below is a partial list. 


Do you recommend others? Please add them in the comments section.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Crosspost: How networking can bolster diversity in physics

By Claire Malone for Physics World


networking
Image credit: Shutterstock/melitas


Physicists who want to solve the world’s great challenges don’t just need deep technical expertise, but also excellent networking skills. ... getting the most out of networking is all a question of practice – and providing those opportunities is key to increasing diversity in physics.

Whether it’s providing clean water around the world or designing space craft to monitor the impact of climate change, today’s young people are keen to find solutions to the many challenges society is facing. That effort needs many different approaches, but studying physics undoubtedly increases the arsenal of tools a young person can use towards these aims.

However, what is often not taught in the physics classroom is that soft skills – such as networking and communicating your work – can be just as important for your career as getting your head around nuclear fusion or quantum mechanics. Not only that, but practising these skills is helpful for giving young people confidence in all areas of life – and in turn, promotes diversity in physics.


Read more, including five tips for networking, at

https://physicsworld.com/a/how-networking-can-bolster-diversity-in-physics/


A peer-reviewed study by Wicker et al. on the "web of support" can be found at

https://muse.jhu.edu/pub/1/article/907272