|Participants of the Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Penn State|
Monday, March 10, 2014
I recently had the privilege of being an invited speaker at the Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Penn State on January 17-19. It was a three-day regional conference for undergraduates interested in physics and one of eight regional physics conferences organized by the American Physical Society. I spoke on gender issues: unconscious bias, stereotype threat, and impostor syndrome. It was a fantastic experience. The young women I met were smart, articulate, and confident. They listened attentively, laughed when appropriate, and asked insightful questions. In fact, the question time went way over and spilled well into the slot scheduled for lunch. I came away with the feeling that, if these women were any indication, then the future of physics was in good hands.
One of the questions they asked was about how to respond to their male classmates who taunted them about attending a conference about women in physics. What about the men? This is an all too familiar theme. I’ve heard the same type of sentiment expressed by both men and women about attendance at the Women in Astronomy conferences, about the continuation of the AAS solar physics division’s women’s lunch, and about the very existence of the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. It may not be easy to justify these efforts if you have not had some time to think about them, but as a longtime member of CSWA, I’ve had plenty of time. The answer I shared with an auditorium full of young women went something like this: when men become an underrepresented group in physics and astronomy, they can have their own conferences, lunches, and committees to promote gender equality. Heck, if that happens before I retire, I would be happy to join the Committee on the Status of Men in Astronomy and help identify and overcome issues holding men back.
Every once in a while, it is good to remind ourselves of the mission statement: The CSWA strives to create a climate of equal opportunity in hiring, promotion, salary, and in access to research opportunities and infrastructure at all levels within the field of astronomy ranging from undergraduate and graduate programs and then throughout a career in teaching, research, and/or other astronomy-related fields such as public outreach.
In short, CSWA works to put itself out of business!
And that brings us to Affirmative Action, the topic of another of the many questions posed by the participants of the conference. What did I think of affirmative action? Did I think it had a place in modern academia? I answered that the physics and astronomy communities have suffered for too long under the yoke of affirmative action policies. (Not the answer you were expecting from the chair of CSWA? Please don’t stop reading here! There is a point to be made.) If policies give precedence to one gender over the other or one ethnic group over the others, then all science suffers. It means that we do not have a system based on merit, excellence, and ability. It means that too many people with the potential to do excellent science cannot get the training or the opportunities they need to compete. It means that we do not have a level playing field, and that some aspiring scientists will have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.
In fact, history shows us that affirmative action has negatively affected science for all too long. In many cases, there was an official policy favoring one minority over the rest. In other cases, it was tradition, common practice, or the social norm. If you have not yet caught on, let me spell it out for you. The affirmative actions I’m talking about are the policies and procedures that favored white men over all other groups. Women and people of color were excluded from universities and jobs. Over many centuries, they were not even taught to read and write. Without these basic skills, how then could they be expected to make scientific discoveries?
It has only been in the past 50 years that some centuries-old notions about women have been disproved – that women’s brains were wired differently than men’s brains, that women were incapable of complex thought, that their place was in the home, that they were nurturing rather than logical, that they needed to be protected. How then can women even understand science let alone contribute to it? These outdated notions helped to contribute to the lopsided gender dynamic as represented in this famous photo of the participants of the Fourth Solvay Physics Conference that took place in Brussels in 1924. Marie Curie (third from the left in the front row) is the only woman. In fact, Marie Curie is the only “woman physicist” that most people remember.
Affirmative action is damaging when it favors one minority at the expense of others and leads to a vast imbalance, as in the case describe above for white men. I do believe, however, that it can have positive effects when it is used in an attempt to restore equilibrium to an unbalanced system. We can use it to help compensate not only for centuries of overt discrimination and decades of sexual harassment, but also for ongoing hurtles like unconscious bias, stereotype threat, and impostor syndrome, the very subjects of my talk at the Penn State conference.
If we try to contemplate the physics of the future, then excellence should have no gender, no race and no sexual orientation.
Friday, March 7, 2014
Posted by Nicolle Zellner
AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of March 7, 2014
eds: Michele M. Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, Nick Murphy, & Nicolle Zellner
This week's issues:
1. Sometimes Being Good Isn’t Enough
2. Part II Nail Salons: Appropriate Astronomy Women’s Group Venue? Survey Results
3. The 2013 CSWA Demographics Survey: Portrait of a Generation of Women in Astronomy
4. Childcare Available at Boston AAS Meeting
5. Career Profile: Astronomer to Director for the Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics
6. L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Fellowships: UK and Ireland
7. How to Level the Playing Field for Women in Science
8. In Academia, Women Collaborate Less With Their Same-Sex Juniors
9. Sexism plagues major chemistry conference: Boycott emerges amid growing outrage
10. A Mighty Girl: Mighty Careers
11. Change sought in women's depiction in text books
12. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
13. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
14. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Posted by Laura Trouille
The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the AAS Employment Committee have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.
Below is our interview with Bryan Gaensler, an astronomer turned Professor of Physics & Astronomy and Director for the Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics. If you have questions, suggestions, advice to share, etc. about this career path, please leave a comment below.
For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit http://aas.org/jobs/career-profiles. We plan to post a new career profile to this blog every Thursday.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Posted by Hannah
Today's guest blogger is Dr. Stephen Rinehart. Dr. Rinehart is the Associate Chief of the Laboratory for Observational Cosmology at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He was awarded his Ph.D. in Physics from Cornell University in 1999, and came to Goddard as a post-doc in 2001, becoming a civil servant in 2004. He is married to another astronomer, and the proud father of a 2-year old girl.
This is for all the men out there. Ok, for the women too.
Are you a good person? In particular, are you a good person when it comes to supporting equitable treatment for everyone? I like to believe that, at least since reaching adulthood, I’ve been a good person (at least in this context). That’s not to say that I have been without fault, but I have certainly tried to be a good person. Of course, the question is, “what does it mean to be a good person?”
at 1:00 PM
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Today’s guest blogger is Stella Offner. Stella is a Hubble Fellow who works on modeling the formation of low-mass stars.
On 11 Feb 2014, I wrote a post reﬂecting on whether nail salons are an appropriate venue for a women's astronomy group outing. This issue was contentious within our group and, apparently, also within the astronomy community. The post received over 1200 views, and 131 people completed the survey. In this post, I will share the very interesting poll responses. Thanks to everyone who weighed in! First, some main takeaway points:
Monday, March 3, 2014
Posted by Jessica Kirkpatrick
As we consider how best to promote the full participation of women in astronomy, it is important to use quantitative methods to monitor progress and identify problems. Accordingly, collecting demographic data is central to the mission of the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA). For the past 15 years, CSWA has built upon demographic data collection efforts spearheaded by a group of astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in 1992. The initial STScI survey was the first to investigate astronomy independent of physics. The CSWA's 1999 and 2004 surveys maintained a consistent methodology, and a large body of longitudinal data has resulted. To this day, the STScI/CSWA data set is unique in including not only PhD-granting astronomy departments, but also the astronomy portions of some of the large combined physics and astronomy departments (e.g., Johns Hopkins, MIT, Stony Brook) and a sampling of non-academic institutions where many PhD astronomers are employed (e.g., NRAO, NOAO, and SAO). It also differs from AAS demographics surveys in that it does not depend on membership in the AAS, which can vary substantially by academic level and institution. The results of previous surveys are presented in the proceedings of the Conference on Women in Astronomy (1992)  and in past issues of Status (Urry 2000 , Hoffman & Urry 2004 ).
The current survey marks a decade since the last data collection effort and two decades since the initiation of the STScI demographics survey. With a rich, 20-year-long data set – and nearly 100% participation from the institutions surveyed – we are now able to provide an overview of how the representation of women in astronomy has evolved over the last generation. We obtained the data and contact information for previous surveys from Karen Kwitter, and much of the data collection and initial analysis was conducted with the help of volunteers from the community: Julia Kamenetzky, Brian Morsony, Karly Pitman, Stephanie LaMassa, and Johanna Teske. Surveys were initially sent to department chairs in December 2012, requesting that chairs report the demographics of their department as of January 1, 2013.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Posted by Daryl Haggard
Issue of February 28, 2014
eds. Michele M. Montgomery, Daryl Haggard, Nick Murphy, & Nicolle Zellner
This week's issues: