Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Discovery Program Series: VERITAS (PI: Sue Smrekar, Managed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

This post is part of a series discussing the recent NASA Discovery Program mission selections for further refinement. From the 27 proposals submitted in November of 2014, NASA has selected 5 missions for further refinement in the next year. Part 1 of the series focused on the overview of the Discovery refinement selections and an interview with the Lead Program Scientist for the Discovery Program, Dr. Michael New. Part II focussed on the Psyche Mission (PI: Linda Elkins-Tanton, Arizona State University, Managed by JPL). Part III will focus on the NEOCam Mission (PI: Amy Mainzer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Managed by JPL). Part IV will focus on the Lucy Mission (PI: Hal Levison, Southwest Research Institute, Managed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center). Part V will focus on the DAVINCI Mission (PI: Lori Glaze, Managed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center). Part VI will focus on the VERITAS Mission (PI: Sue Smrekar, Managed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory).

Mission Overview: VERITAS

 VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography And Spectroscopy) is aimed at understanding one of the most fundamental questions in planetary evolution: Why are the twin planets Earth and Venus so different? Venus and Earth are nearly the same size and bulk compositions. Yet Earth ended up supremely habitable and Venus a sulfurous hell, where the surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead. Understanding how these two planets arrived at their present state is essential to understanding the evolution of rocky planets like Earth, and thus for predicting whether the Earth-sized planets in other solar systems are likely to be habitable. VERITAS will investigate Venus’ geologic evolution by obtaining global maps of high-resolution radar imaging, topography, and near infrared spectroscopy to constrain surface composition. This wealth of data will provide rich opportunities for discovery and inquiry for the next generation of planetary scientists and bring the information available for Venus on par with that for Mars, Mercury, and the Moon. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

AASWOMEN Newsletter for April 22, 2016

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of April 22, 2016
eds: Daryl Haggard, Nicolle Zellner, Elysse Voyer, & Heather Flewelling

This week's issues:

1. Social Justice in the Physics and Astronomy Classroom
2. White Privilege Conference 17      
3. President’s Column: Combatting Bias in the Trenches
4. The complex role of gender in faculty hiring
5. How Marvel's 'Thor' Contest Empowered a Group of Young Women Science Buffs
6. Why We Need Intersectionality Week  
7. Job Opportunities    
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

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1. Social Justice in the Physics and Astronomy Classroom  
From: Daryl Haggard via womeninastronomy.blogspot.com

At the beginning of this winter term (in Montreal we don't even try to call it the "spring" term), I tried for the first time to directly address social justice issues, including racism and harassment, in my physics classroom…

With considerable trepidation, I tackled this the way brand new faculty tackle most things, I just tried something. And yes, it was clumsy. I share my experience here because I want to embolden other junior (and senior) faculty to take a stab at this conversation and because I would like to learn from those of you who have made (or will make) similar attempts.

Read more at

http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2016/04/social-justice-in-physics-and-astronomy.html  

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2.  White Privilege Conference 17
From: Ed Bertschinger via womeninastronomy.blogspot.com

White people who want to improve the experiences of others have to work against the socialization and norms of society, which convey fear of people of color, of Muslims, of transgender people, of people with disabilities, and so on. If it was possible to be unaware of this fear and its impact before, this year's presidential campaign should make it clear to anyone, regardless of her/his/their politics, that we live in a divided and troubled society.

Read more  

http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2016/04/white-privilege-conference-17.html

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3. President’s Column: Combatting Bias in the Trenches
From: Nicolle Zellner [nzellner_at_albion.edu]

In her column, AAS President Meg Urry urges us in the community to think about how to combat gender bias in proposal reviews.

Read more at

https://aas.org/posts/news/2016/04/president%E2%80%99s-column-combatting-bias-trenches

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4. The complex role of gender in faculty hiring
From:  Nicolle Zellner [nzellner_at_albion.edu]

"Gender bias in hiring is not blatant...but gender-associated differences in productivity, postdoctoral experience, and institutional prestige of degree-granting institutions—which are likely due to bias against women during the training process—largely account for the observed gender imbalance in computer science faculty hiring networks."

Read more about hiring computer science faculty at

http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2016/04/complex-role-gender-faculty-hiring

Read "Gender, Productivity, and Prestige in Computer Science Faculty Hiring Networks" at

http://arxiv.org/abs/1602.00795

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5. How Marvel's 'Thor' Contest Empowered a Group of Young Women Science Buffs    
From: Nicolle Zellner [nzellner_at_albion.edu]

“Natalie Portman's physicist may not be returning for 'Thor: Ragnarok,' but her character has forever changed the lives of 10 girls from around the country who excel at STEM studies.”

Read more at

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/how-marvels-thor-contest-empowered-884464

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6. Why We Need Intersectionality Week
From: Meg Urry [meg.urry@yale.edu]

At the annual AAUW National Convention, a group of Younger Women’s Task Force chapter directors got together to discuss social justice, including the topic of intersectionality. As a result of those discussions, the first-ever YWTF Intersectionality Week will take place May 1–7.

Read more at

http://www.aauw.org/2016/04/13/intersectionality-week/

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7. Job Opportunities


For those interested in increasing excellence and diversity in their organizations, a list of resources and advice is here: http://www.aas.org/cswa/diversity.html#howtoincrease.

- Assistant Professor of Astronomy (tenure-track), University of Hawai`i at Hilo (Big Island)
   http://hilo.hawaii.edu/uhh/hr/vacancy/982

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8. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter

To submit an item to the AASWOMEN newsletter, including replies to topics, send email to aaswomen_at_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.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter

Join AAS Women List by email:

Send email to aaswlist+subscribe_at_aas.org from the address you want to have subscribed. You can leave the subject and message blank if you like.

Be sure to follow the instructions in the confirmation email. (Just reply back to the email list)

To unsubscribe by email:

Send email to aawlist+unsubscribe_at_aas.org from the address you want to have UNsubscribed. You can leave the subject and message blank if you like.

To join or leave AASWomen via web, or change your membership settings:

https://groups.google.com/a/aas.org/group/aaswlist  

You will have to create a Google Account if you do not already have one, using https://accounts.google.com/newaccount?hl=en  

Google Groups Subscribe Help:

http://support.google.com/groups/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=46606  

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10. Access to Past Issues

http://www.aas.org/cswa/AASWOMEN.html  

Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Social Justice in the Physics and Astronomy Classroom

At the beginning of this winter term (in Montreal we don't even try to call it the "spring" term), I tried for the first time to directly address social justice issues, including racism and harassment, in my physics classroom.

In the months leading up to this attempt, I read that having diverse role models in the sciences is a good place to start, but not a replacement for an open, candid conversation about bias in STEM. (If you have a reference for this study, please contact me. I can't relocate it!) I'm a white women and a physics professor and perhaps that's a useful combination for some students to experience, but my mere presence doesn't prompt them to think about the core issues that lead to bias in physics and astronomy. Me standing there doesn't openly challenge them to consider racism, ablism, unconscious bias, or even gender discrimination. My desire to talk about these issues crystallized at the end of last year when Justices in the US Supreme Court used the physics classroom as an example of a place where diversity couldn't or shouldn't matter, to the outrage of many physicists and astronomers, outrage also articulated eloquently by Jedidah Isler in her NY Times Op Ed, The ‘Benefits’ of Black Physics Students.

With considerable trepidation, I tackled this the way brand new faculty tackle most things, I just tried something. And yes, it was clumsy. I share my experience here because I want to embolden other junior (and senior) faculty to take a stab at this conversation and because I would like to learn from those of you who have made (or will make) similar attempts.

Here's what I did:

1. On day one, near the start of class, I gave a short anonymous survey:

Find a piece of paper, DON’T write your name on it. 

Answer these simple questions:
   –  Take a moment to look around at the members of our class. Does this class look normal to you? In what ways yes, and in what ways no?
   –  What are you most excited about learning in this class?
   –  What is your greatest anxiety about this class?
   –  What are your greatest excitements/anxieties outside of this class?


Pick one answer and share it with the person sitting in front of or behind you...

Turn your questionnaire in when you pick up PS #1 at the end of class.


2. Then I introduced myself, talked about my research interests, told them about my unlikely career path, and also about my attempts to learn about and work toward equity and inclusion in STEM. I used both my non-traditional career path and my own commitment to equity to segue into a description of the fraught comments from the US Supreme Court.

3. As a part of the latter bit, I read out loud Sarah Tuttle's essay, Racism Doesn't Belong In My Classroom.

At the end of this 1-2-3 my classroom was dead silent. If you could look at my slides, you'd see that the next one features a linearly polarized plane wave. Seriously. The transition was just about that abrupt. I desperately wanted to bring this conversation to my students, but I didn't manage to make it a conversation at all. I could hear them thinking, "We're in Canada, what does the US Supreme Court have to do with us?" "Why are we talking about this?" "Are we ever going to talk about Optics?" "Does she even know anything about Optics?" "Is this going to be on the exam?" And I wanted to scream, "Didn't you hear the part about training revolutionaries?"

It was awkward. You can see my impostor syndrome kicking in as I struggled to express how much this conversation meant to me and how clearly I saw that I hadn't approached it well.

After that, I provided my students with several excellent suggested reading lists from Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and John Johnson (here and here; which mercifully do include some discussion of race and racism in Canada). And I dropped it.

My actual, real, live discomfort with talking about discrimination in a physics classroom manifested in me: (1) not making it a real conversation with my students, (2) not having a plan to meaningfully integrate either the student surveys or the concepts themselves into future discussions, and (3) not returning to it as a theme over the rest of the term.

Which doesn't mean that I won't try it again.

As I finally sat down to write this post, I rediscovered an excellent set of blogs from Moses Rifkin. He describes a rich 6-day curriculum which draws from his training as a physicist and teacher. The AIP also has a nice set of Teaching Guides on Women and Minorities in the Physical Sciences. And I'm sure there are other great resources out there.

My first foray was not a smashing success, but I remain committed to this endeavor. It's too important to the future of physics and astronomy, and for people inside and outside of STEM, for me to drop it altogether. These actually are our future leaders. So, if you have additional resources and/or have tried to facilitate a similar conversation in your physics classroom, please contact me. I would like to learn, to learn from, and (if you're game) possibly to share your story.

Further Reading:

1. An open letter to SCOTUS from professional physicists drafted by the Equity & Inclusion in Physics & Astronomy group and signed by over 2000 astronomers and physicists

2. The ‘Benefits’ of Black Physics Students by Jedidah Isler

3. Racism Doesn't Belong In My Classroom by Sarah Tuttle

4. A U.S./Canadian Race & Racism Reading List by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

5. Required reading for those who prioritize diversity by John Johnson

6. Teaching Social Justice in the Physics Classroom by Moses Rifkin

7. Teaching Guides on Women and Minorities in the Physical Sciences from the American Institute of Physics

Monday, April 18, 2016

White Privilege Conference 17

Last week and this weekend I attended the 17th White Privilege Conference, held in Philadelphia. The conference examines the challenging concepts of privilege and oppression, and helps participants build strategies to advance equity and inclusion in their lives and their institutions. I was a first-time attendee. The conference was both challenging and informative, and while it was personally very enjoyable for me, it was not necessarily so for others. As a senior white male, I have a lot of privileges, and whether I intend it or not, whether I am aware or not, these privileges generally come at the expense of others. This conference does a great job of opening eyes to this inequity and to illustrating the difference between intent and impact.

White people who want to improve the experiences of others have to work against the socialization and norms of society, which convey fear of people of color, of Muslims, of transgender people, of people with disabilities, and so on. If it was possible to be unaware of this fear and its impact before, this year's presidential campaign should make it clear to anyone, regardless of her/his/their politics, that we live in a divided and troubled society.

The conference title suggests an opportunity for white people to learn about their privilege, and indeed this is a big part of the experience. But who are the teachers? Is it people of color or other white folk?

The language can be off-putting or uncomfortable to those unused to social justice terminology. A person who has never recognized their privilege, never learned how other people are treated differently, can easily deduce that being told they have privilege is the same as being told they are a bad person. My advice is to get over it, just as you got over your PhD qualifying exam. Being an astronomer conveys many privileges, and so does having a college degree or being white in a department store. What is bad is when privilege combines with stereotypes and power to create systemic oppression. By oppression I mean unfair, unequal treatment that limits the ability of others to achieve their goals or potential. It does not have to be a conscious act of the privileged.

There are plenty of examples of oppression of women in astronomy ranging from men speaking over and not giving credit to women, to biased hiring and promotion processes, all the way to sexual assault. The oppression is greater for women who are also racial, religious, or sexual minorities. While the focus of the White Privilege Conference is on race dynamics, there is a strong current of intersectionality.

The conference had a remarkable set of plenary speakers and workshops, and participants got many opportunities to see white privilege in action. This ranged from a white male speaker who took extra time and said he would do so despite being asked by the organizers to conclude his talk, to many black people bearing the burden of white people's anxiety and microaggressions. This is hard work, and those with privilege have a difficult time unless they can show great cultural humility, as described by pediatrician and social activist Melanie Tervalon.

UPenn psychologist Prof. Howard C. Stevenson summed it up very well in his concluding plenary address. "Courage is seeing yourself as the racial elephant." I recognized the truth of his statement, "You are the elephant in the room." As a senior white male, I carry that with me and must never forget. Stevenson's concluding question turned this revelation into the possibility of healing: "Are you ready?" That is, am I ready to call out the elephant of my white privilege and then to use that privilege to halt oppression and serve others?

As lawyer, activist, and inspirational speaker Vernā Myers said in her keynote, "When enough of us are willing to forfeit our privilege, then all of us get to live in justice."

Are you ready? Are you willing? Come to the next White Privilege Conference and see!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Sexual Harassment – Changing the System I


[This post is Part 1 of an expanded version of my World View column in NATURE, Change the System to Halt Harassment from 08 February 2016. Universities and their senior staff must do more to deter, detect and punish all forms of inappropriate behavior – JTS]

With the issue of sexual harassment in the news, one hopes that student groups, academic departments, and university administrators are discussing what can be done to eliminate this vile plague from our community. There are fundamental flaws in the current system where Title IX offices are set up to protect the university, where all the pressure for righting these wrongs is placed on the shoulders of young women who are often in the most vulnerable stages of their careers, and where such harassing behavior can remain an “open secret” for years if not decades. In short, we have to find a way to change the system – to train those with privilege, especially senior men, to become not only allies who can support individuals but advocates who will add their voices and prestige to fight for right, to create a “safe space” where anyone facing sexual harassment can get help and advice, and to shine a light on the harassers who still operate in the shadows, destroying careers with their unprofessional conduct.

The Women In Astronomy Blog has already published advice for anyone facing sexual harassment, but here I focus on what can be done by people with power to begin to change the system. The target audience for this post includes senior academics and department chairs, but please don’t stop reading if you are not one of these! Sometimes senior people might want to help but don’t know how, or don’t consider this is a priority, or don’t think they have time. It might be your job to show them how to help, or convince them that this is important, or persuade them that they need to make time for this. Also, if you are not a senior person now, you will be some day. When you are chair of your department, will you know what to do? 

Becoming Allies and Advocates

Many senior members of our community admitted to knowing the “open secret” mentioned above. How can it be that so many did so little for so long while so much damage was being done? Think of all those young women, undergrads at a nationally renowned university, who left the field because their professor made a creepy advance. Think of all the discoveries they could have made but never will because they left astronomy before their careers had even begun.