Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Advancing breastfeeding and research 15 minutes at a time

Initially when I went back to work when my daughter was only 10 and a half weeks old I was only working 6-8 hours per week and didn't expect to get much done. However, as time progressed, I had expectations I would get back into the swing of things and really be back full time. Sure enough, here we are at 9 months and things are looking better for working. I now only pump twice a day, once before I leave the house in the morning and once in the later afternoon a couple hours after I visit Anya to nurse her. So this means I have two regular interruptions at work rather than the three I used to have. Finally, the kid is sleeping quasi-regularly and the fog is starting to clear a little bit. Also, I really feel like I am in the reward period of breastfeeding. The kid smiles back at me while nursing and in the night when something bothers her, sometimes nothing else will soothe her. I have a superpower that I can use and I am very grateful I have stuck it out to nine months.

However, one thing I have been battling is the higher level of chaos in our lives now. Some of this is directly related to the baby (pumping breaks, etc.) and some is indirectly related (we can’t stand commuting in DC traffic anymore with a baby, so we are moving into a new house). That calm time for doing research has not re-emerged. But does one need long, calm periods to do research? In exasperation I called up one of my friends recently (another currently-breastfeeding astrophysicist!) and she tipped me off to a great idea and resource. The idea is that sure, you need to put in the time, but if you make a little bit of solid progress each day that is better than nothing!

So what I have tried just recently is to join an academic writing group and to make sure that the first thing I do each day when I walk into the office is to write and/or do data analysis directly relevant to my paper, no matter what. I don't have a big problem with this as since the baby came, I have been taking pumping and nursing breaks no matter what. Breastfeeding is important and so is research. Everything else at the office, pretty much, can wait! So if the baby was up all night and I have 7 letters of recommendation due for a former student and I have a paper to review for a collaborator and I need to call the lender about the mortgage paperwork, I still start off with 15-40 minutes of writing and/or data analysis. I have to check in with my writing group that consists of other people at the “professor” rank (there is another group for grad students). Note that by including that dedicated time, I find even more time later in the day to work on my data analysis and writing. It helps me stay focused and work harder.

The writing group that I am using, FYI, is and I am just into my first session. The main thing I still need to conquer is working from home. I have to admit that I am struggling with this and am hoping that some other people will post their wisdom in the comment section. I am writing/researching very well when in my office but the distractions of home have been heavily amplified since I became a mother (that’s one reason why we’re moving closer to the office!). However, since I started this writing group, things have improved greatly in terms of my work efficiency.

So, these are two very important things can happen with dedicated time periods two to three times per work day: 15-40 minutes for pumping or breastfeeding or for writing a paper and doing data analysis. Both of them make me feel much better and greatly enhance the value of my day.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

'Tis the Season...

...for job hunting and writing recommendation letters! So I want to highlight Kelle Cruz's post at Astro Better on advice for writing good recommendation letters, particularly regarding letters written for women. The first link is about a study showing that "qualities mentioned in recommendation letters for women differ sharply from those for men, and those differences may be costing women jobs and promotions in academia and medicine." The second link is to a post by Julianne Dalcanton at Cosmic Variance, who notes that"for some reason, some fraction of letter writers insist upon doing these comparisons only within a single gender, when the applicant is a woman." I should also note that both male and female letter writers are guilty of these things, so all letter writers should pay heed!

The 217th AAS Meeting in Seattle is fast approaching! Some sessions to pay attention to:
  • Monday Poster session 145: Career Paths, Professional Development, and STEM Diversity
  • Monday 10:00 AM Special Session 110: Strategies for Addressing Harassment and Prejudice. Room 4C-4
  • Monday 12:45 PM CSWA Town Hall: What Can Men Do to Help Women Succeed in Astronomy Ballroom 6A
  • Tuesday 10:00 AM Special Session 208: Two-Body Issues: Balancing Work and Life. Room 608
  • Thursday 11:40 AM Plenary Session: Addressing Unconscious Bias: Steps toward an Inclusive Scientific Culture, Abigail Stewart. Ballroom 6AB

Happy Holidays, whatever your traditions might be!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Not Just Assistants - the Historical Perspecitive

When the contribution about Caroline Herschel appeared, Andrea Dupree emailed
David DeVorkin, a Curator at the National Air and Space Museum
(another part of the Smithsonian Institution to which we at CfA
belong), and a member of the AAS. He replied with the following
message and gave her permission to post it in the CSWA Newsletter.

It is printed here as well so people can make comments.

From David DeVorkin:

History is about context. If one were to ask Caroline how she would
have described herself, I believe she may well have said “essential
assistant” given the gender relations of that day and her personal
view of her relationship to her brother. In fact there is a long
quote in the label taken from Margaret Herschel’s writings that uses
the term “assistant” explicitly.

Moreover there are at least 5 women depicted in the gallery. We give
tours that carry the visitor from Caroline Herschel, through Henrietta
Swan Leavitt, to Vera Rubin and Margaret Geller, and finally to
Catherine Pilachowski to show how the roles of women have changed in
astronomy and that today we can finally celebrate women as
astronomers. It is just for that fact that the sequence we portray
needs to be appreciated in full: in past time women were denied
parity, and that parity was won in long painful stages to the point
where it may be in place now, but needs constant and informed
vigilance to retain.

We cannot erase history to suit the passions of the present. People
try to erase history all the time for all different reasons, and it’s
our job to be as helpful as possible, presenting the past as it was,
to the best of our ability, not as what we want it to be. Only in
this way will we remain responsible to ourselves, and our mission to
foster an informed public.

David H. DeVorkin - Senior Curator
Division of Space History
National Air and Space Museum

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Not just assistants

I wanted to elaborate on Chanda Prescod-Weinstein's critique of a NASM exhibit on Caroline and William Herschel that was posted to AASWOMEN recently. Here's her photo of the exhibit in question:
The issue at hand is that while William is described as "The Complete Astronomer," Caroline is merely "William's Essential Assistant." This despite the fact that the text goes on to say that Caroline was "[a] fine astronomer in her own right." As Dr. Prescod-Weinstein says,
Well, if she was an astronomer, how come she doesn't get the same label as her brother? What kind of message does this send to the young girls and boys who will potentially be exposed to astronomy for the first time in this exhibit? Caroline Herschel is the first woman (of only three) mentioned in the exhibit, and it seems her claim to fame is having been in the employ of her genius brother.

Sarah Zelinski, who blogs at Surprising Science for Smithsonian Magazine, responds:
There is a tendency among some, in their efforts toward equality, to overinflate the role of the earliest female scientists. However, that does a disservice to these women and their struggles; their stories help to explain why they are worthy of being remembered and why women are not always equal in the world of science.


That amazing story, however, from Cinderella to professional astronomer—Caroline was the first women to receive a salary for stargazing, for assisting William—doesn’t fit easily into a museum display, particularly one focused on instrumentation. Caroline Herschel was both assistant and astronomer, as NASM’s display indicates, and to leave out either role is to ignore much of her spectacular journey.

I think Ms. Zelinski misses the mark here, though. Certainly, Caroline started out as William's assistant, but she went on to carry out her own independent work, and won awards for it. It's not the content and accuracy of the text that's at issue here - it's the title of the display. To sum up her life as an "Assistant" is to ignore her independent accomplishments as an astronomer. It's not about over-inflating Caroline Herschel's role as an astronomer, but rather giving her her proper due.

What do you think? Are the titles "The Complete Astronomer" and "William's Essential Assistant" fair and accurate or not?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Work-Life Balance: Theory and Practice

Last spring I started a monthly "Diversity and Inclusion" luncheon in my department to which graduate students, postdocs, staff, and faculty are invited. Typically about 20 people attend. Each time one or two members facilitate discussion around a topic of broad interest. This week the topic was work-life balance and the interest was high. I had encouraged participants to read the Report on Work-Life Balance in Astronomy 2009 based on the survey and workshop organized by Sarah Bridle (see the November 24 blog entry by Laura Trouille). The staff facilitators also presented statistics from US reports and from my own university's faculty and staff quality of life surveys. Not surprisingly, faculty report stress associated with the workload and with the difficulty of integrating work and life. These stresses are generally higher for untenured faculty than for tenured faculty, and for women faculty than for men.

We know that many talented students choose not to pursue academic careers because of the difficulties -- both real and perceived -- of balancing work and family. For example, at this week's luncheon a senior female faculty member reported that one of her male graduate students had told her he didn't want to work as hard as she did and so would avoid a faculty career. A junior male faculty member with a baby said he wished he had a male senior faculty role model. After some discussion, we realized collectively that work-life balance is made scarier for young people when it is ignored by their senior colleagues. We would encourage more young people -- men and women both -- to consider academic careers if we support and model balanced lives.

Who, me? Model a balanced life? For many of us, this generates an experience of Impostor Syndrome! My typical workweek is 55-60 hours (including a couple of hours/night at home), and my frequent travel can be hard on loved ones. It's a challenge sometimes to put work away in order to focus full attention on the people we love.

Still, I leave work early when needed to pick up my child and I ensure that staff and faculty know it's expected they will do likewise; faculty members share experiences of child-raising and we strive to help new faculty with child care (yes, we have an on-campus day care center, with far too few spaces); we have parental leaves and tenure clock-stopping for childbirth; and we try to promote a family-friendly atmosphere by, for example, welcoming parents to bring their children to some events and providing childcare or play space when needed.

There are some advantages for a parent who is also a faculty member. Taking a teenager overnight to an astronomical observatory is a wonderful experience for both. Having the flexibility to schedule time at the office around family needs is wonderful, and the university is a fun place for students of all ages to explore. The pay and benefits are good; while PhDs may start out earning more in some industries, there are excellent opportunities for advancement and raises (admittedly, these may be harder in some stressed state universities at this time). We don't work the crazy long hours of lawyers or of employees of start-ups. As one female faculty member stated at our luncheon, it's also nice to be treated to an elegant dinner and mini-vacation in a nice hotel during a colloquium visit.

Our stories are not discouraging. We can find happiness balancing work and life, and I believe we should promote this aspect of our careers -- even those of us who, like me, struggle at times with that balance.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Promoting Equality in America

In the November 12, 2010 AASWomen newsletter, the third item discussed CONSTELLATION, a European Commission (EC) FP6 Marie Curie Research Training Network, as a potential model program to promote women in astronomy. Although not an original goal, approximately 50% women and 50% men were hired from those that were trained through the network. Although no statistics were available at that time on the salaries of the women and men hired through the network, a follow-up interview with the original coordinator of CONSTELLATION, Prof. Mark McCaughrean (Univ. of Exeter, School of Physics), provided those statistics which will be discussed in the December 10, 2010 issue of AASWomen.

With American women's current wage being 78.2% of American men's (AASWomen October 1, 2010, #4) and American women lacking advancement into tenure positions compared with men (AASWomen October 20, 2009, #4), should American women leave for employment in Europe to induce equality for women in America? Should America forge a similar network to induce equality at least at the researcher level? Or can similar illustrations of best-practice programs be found in America?

Attrition of women in science from America to Europe, I would argue, would help future American women in science if enough women took this stance today. On a $100,000 US dollar man's salary, women could work today in Europe on this equivalent salary and frequently travel back to the US with the extra $21,800 they would make working in Europe.

Maybe forging a similar network in the USA might overall be the better option if one is already not in place. Of course, even this network would not solve the problems overall. From my own experience in US academia, women and men may be hired in nearly equal numbers with nearly equal pay at an institution but over time, men seem to acquire the higher average salary raises and/or bonuses. But that is another problem for another day. For now, I'll think about how my quality of life may improve on that additional 21.8% that I may earn by working in science in Europe...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cheerful Science

There's been a bit of discussion in the blogosphere regarding the Science Cheerleaders who performed at the USA Science and Engineering Festival:

This has produced strong opinions both for (e.g. here and here) and against (e.g. here and here). You can peruse links within those references for even more reactions, some of which have some pretty strong language.

My take on it? It depends on who your audience is.

For instance, I personally get really creeped out by comments along the lines of "oooh, she's smart *and* pretty, that's really sexy!" because I'd rather evoke your respect rather than a visceral reaction. My feeling is that women get taken less seriously as scientists when we are judged on their appearance. So if your goal is to reach out to scientists, it doesn't really help.

On the other hand, if your goal is to show young girls that studying science doesn't have to be to the exclusion of all else, then maybe it's not such a bad thing. You don't have to be a white guy in a white lab coat to be a scientist, after all. (How many astronomers own lab
coats, anyway?) Science Cheerleaders prove that.

So what's your take on Science Cheerleaders? Do you like them? Hate them? Would you want to be one?

(Full disclosure: I was one of those girls who never had a chance at being a cheerleader. But in junior high, some of the parents got together and formed Wrestling Cheerleaders and Wrestling Poms, and pretty much opened it to all comers. We cheered and danced at wrestling meets. It was all pretty embarrassing, actually.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

AASWOMEN for December 3, 2010

Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of December 3, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Reducing the Gender Achievement Gap in College Science

2. We're not just assistants now, and we weren't then either

3. Nice story about Nancy Roman

4. Planning on curtailing travel due to TSA screenings?

5. CSWA-related events at the Seattle AAS

6. Child Care at the Seattle AAS

7. IUPAP conference on Women in Physics

8. Professional Skills Development Workshop, March 2011 APS meeting

9. Strategic Leadership Program for Women in STEM Fields

10. NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship

11. L'Oreal USA Fellowships for Women in Science

12. Graduate Women in Science Fellowships

13. Department of Energy Scholars Program

14. Knowles Science Teaching Foundation Teaching Fellowships

15. NASA Academy Summer Program

16. Science & Engineering Apprenticeship Program for High School Students

17. Postdoctoral position in compact star asteroseismology

18. Assistant Director, Research Programs

19. Tenure-track Faculty Job at Wesleyan University

20. Rosalind Franklin Fellowship (Tenure-Track), University of Groningen


21. Staff opening at John Carroll University

22. Postdoctoral Research Associate, Syracuse University

23. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

24. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Preparing Department Chairs to Advance Gender Equity

Department chairs play an important role in setting policies, in hiring and evaluating faculty, and in influencing the climate within astronomy and physics departments. They can have a major impact on the recruitment, retention, advancement and success of women faculty and students. Most chairs receive no training for their work and many are only dimly aware of best practices for diversity and inclusion and they receive no coaching or leadership mentoring. Fortunately, this is beginning to change.

When I became a department head (a longer-term, more powerful version of the chair), I undertook some leadership training, audited a couple of management classes, and did extensive reading. I created a personal and professional 5-year plan and took an intensive course in mediation. I read "Why So Slow" by Virginia Valian alongside "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. I listened to faculty, staff, and students. My best education came from meeting with women graduate students.

In matters of diversity and inclusion, there are now some excellent training resources available. The standard of excellence is set by the University of Michigan ADVANCE program. Their STRIDE materials are well known and were highlighted by the CSWA in their sessions at the May 2010 session on unconscious bias. However, they also have a set of useful summaries for academic leaders at They and now several other ADVANCE projects provide leadership training and coaching, e.g. the ACES project at Case Western and the Increasing Women in Neuroscience (IWiN) project. I participated in a department chairs workshop organized by IWiN and believe it would be informative and useful for any chair.

Most chairs want to do a good job but are not provided the tools needed to fully develop their talents for leadership and their effectiveness in promoting diversity and inclusion. This represents a lost opportunity. Institutions that invest in their leadership see improvements in the climate within and success of their departments. My own university offers no university-wide training for academic leaders and I am considering to encourage it. Does yours?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Work-life Balance: Hours

I recently came across the following article in the AAAS journal Science.

Title: A Cosmologist Resists Academia's Work-Life Norms

The article begins with, "Sarah Bridle is concerned about the low number of women in academia in physics and astronomy beyond the Ph.D. level."

The article then describes Bridle's career trajectory and a UK workshop she organized on work-life balance in astronomy.

And then, the following: "Bridle also knew that the culture of academic science dictated working long hours, but she decided she didn't want this lifestyle. She promised herself she wouldn't be in the office late in the evenings or bring her work home on weekends. Contrary to what some people assume, she says, this helps her to get more work done. "I'm much more clear-headed after a break from work and a good night's sleep," she says. "It really makes a difference to how efficiently I work. When I've occasionally worked too late the previous evening, I've found myself mentally slacking off at work, surfing the Web, and making extra cups of tea." Today, she encourages her postdocs and students to ignore the academic tradition of working long hours and to have the confidence to work the hours they feel are appropriate."

This may be the first time I've heard a mid+ career astronomer state that they deliberately protect their evenings and weekends from work.

Since my second year of graduate school, I've struggled to do the same-- carefully marking out work-time from out-of-work-time. Every time I loosen these boundaries & work long hours, my efficiency (and healthy attitude) take a nosedive. Yet this deliberate choice to limit work hours is a source of anxiety, since the standard image of a successul scientist is someone who works nights and weekends (willingly sacrifices this personal time) and, as a result, is highly productive.

An NSF report from 2005, "All in a Week's Work: Average Work Weeks of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers," conflicts somewhat with this standard image. The report lists average work-hours per week for science doctorate holders in full-time employment and compares between Education, Industry, and Government. The average across all employment sectors in the physical sciences is 48.3 (with 2 hours more than this in Education and 3 hours less than this in Goverment). Table 2 breaks things down in terms of positions within academia, with increasing hours from non-tenure track (48.7 hours/wk), postdoc (50.3), tenure track (51.1), and tenure-track but not tenured (52.5).

An 8 am - 6 pm M-F 10 hour work day is consistent with this average-- with nights and weekends protected. This, however, goes against the impression that many of us grad students and post-docs are under -- that scientists in permanent positions work 60+ hour work-weeks, an impression gained as a result of seeing our advisors and collaborators working nights and weekends.

It seems to me that there are a number of factors causing this difference between reported hours and our standard image:

One is that there are too few Sara Bridle's making statements about protecting out-of-work time.

Another could be that the scientists surveyed for the NSF study reported 'productive' hours, rather than simply the total number of hours in the work place. Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency is the advice I've heard again and again for achieving work-life balance.

Also, there's an ebb-and-flow nature to our work (as a result of deadlines and when a project is 'on a roll' or not). We should be careful to take note of those fewer-hour weeks as well when anecdotally trying to get a sense of work-hours our later-career colleagues are putting in.

Finally, with 'only' a 50 hour work week, a scientist who picks up kids from day-care or cares for elder parents or is responsible for some other of life's many commitments is most likely not working a 10-hour straight work-day. Instead, h/she is starting late and/or leaving early and then working on nights and/or weekends to keep up with the average.

I, and many other of my fellow grad students and postdocs, would very much appreciate hearing more voices of astronomers striving to protect their out-of-work hours.

Also, in order to make informed decisions about this career path, we want to know -- What is the reality of the hours you put in for your work-week?

If there's interest, I'd happily set up a poll and gather updated work-hour statistics for astronomers in academia, industry, and government.

Additional food-for-thought:

Check out the AAUP 2009 report, "Why Graduate Students Reject the Fast Track". The report provides the results of a survey of 8000+ UC graduate students gauging their concerns vis-a-vis the academic career route. The 'Reinvisioning Academia' section is worth a close look.

A thought-provoking review of these and other issues.

An interesting review of results and recommendations from a European collaboration researching work-life balance.

Some useful advice for keeping control of your work-hours.

Summative report from the UK 2009 workshop on Work-Life Balance.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Michael Gurian: Leadership and the Sexes

I recently attended a talk by Michael Gurian, who was promoting his new book, Leadership and the Sexes: Using Gender Science to Create Success in Business. With a title like that, I couldn't help but be intrigued, but also skeptical.

The focus of his talk was not specifically the retention of women in STEM professions, although he did mention that as a problem he hoped to solve by pointing out gender differences. His point was that there are, indeed, biological differences between men and women, in brain activity and development in particular. While those differences don't translate to differences in intelligence, the way we communicate and learn is different. He showed us MRI scans of brains, demonstrating a distinct difference between men's and women's brains to emphasize his point.

Women's brains have more white matter, while men's have more grey matter. This means that women have more connections between different areas of the brains. Thus, men are good at being very single-mindedly focused on one task at a time, while women are very good at communicating, responding to facial cues, and making connections. When at rest, men's brains show much less activity on brain scans then women's. Science is very much a male-brain profession, Gurian argues, so some specfic ways for encouraging women in STEM include:
  • Discard the Ivory Tower paradigm for STEM. The truth is that science has become a more communal effort and that collaboration and communication are vital.
  • Increase mentoring.
  • Deal proactively with gender differences. For instance, women tend to go into meetings looking for community and reciprocity, men go in looking to express dominance.

I didn't necessarily agree with everything Gurian said. Some of the behaviors he described as being male-specific are ones that I see in myself: being fidgety when bored, for instance. He put up some cartoons in an attempt to encourage us to have a "sense of humor" about these issues: for example, one depicting the amount of time and money a man versus a woman spend at the mall buying a pair of jeans. I didn't laugh. Cartoons like that only serve to reinforce stereotypes. He also cited a study showing that infant boys prefer to stare at mobiles while infant girls prefer faces, which might have been an interesting point if I hadn't recently read a thorough debunking of the study at the Sociological Images blog.

Still, I think that those of us interested in promoting women in science do need to consider that women and men are different, whether because of nature or nurture, and that those differences must be acknowledged in order to level the playing field. This is analogous to the failure of "color-blind" approaches to combating racism. Pretending that we are all the same, or rather that we are all just like white men, ignores the real problems faced in creating true diversity.

All in all, I found Michael Gurian's talk intriguing, and made me curious to read his book, but not curious enough to actually buy it. If any of you have read it, please comment below!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Encouraging Men to Advocate for Women in Astronomy

Men have an important role to play in promoting gender equity broadly in astronomy and other gender-imbalanced fields. I was impressed by the commitment of a few male colleagues whom I saw at Women in Astronomy III last fall and would like to see more like them. Those who work for improving the climate, work-life balance, career advancement and opportunities for women find not only find great personal satisfaction, but will enjoy competitive advantage in finding and recruiting outstanding colleagues to work with.

Some of my greatest pleasures this past year have come from working with a group of extraordinary MIT women faculty in planning for a major symposium celebrating women in science and engineering on the occasion of MIT's 150th anniversary. In addition to organizing the conference, we are preparing updates of the 1999 and 2002 reports on the status of women faculty in science and other areas at MIT. Getting to know Nancy Hopkins and other members of the National Academy of Science, and to work with them in ways that celebrate and improve the status of women, has been thrilling for me. I highly recommend such activities to anyone who wants to make a difference.

How can women encourage men to get involved? Just do it! Certainly all academic leaders should be encouraged to meet with women students and faculty and to learn about the steps they should take to improve their organizations. Most male faculty members will take seriously requests and concerns raised by students and will react positively to encouragement that they and their department be more aware of and supportive of climate, good mentoring, etc. Men benefit from encouragement just as women do. When I met with a group of female graduate students several years ago and asked, with some dismay, how I could make a difference given all the problems that existed, their words of simple encouragement had great impact. I carry them in my heart always.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Blogger -- Hello! & One Example of the Mutual Benefits of Outreach

As a new member of the CSWA and first-time blogger, I thought I'd take this moment to introduce myself: I recently began my first (only?!) postdoc as a CIERA (Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics) fellow at Northwestern University. In my research, I use optical emission line and X-ray diagnostics to identify galaxies that are actively accreting material onto their central supermassive black holes and the role that this accretion (and the consequent feedback) plays in galaxy evolution.

I've kept myself happy and sane by working to protect a life outside of research -- as a roller derby queen with the Mad Rollin' Dolls (my moniker was 'Big Bang'... really, what else could you be as an astronomer crashing around on wheels?), as a stilt walker and trapeze artist (still looking for good names for this alter ego, any suggestions?), etc.

I was also lucky to have been part of a great group of women (and men) graduate students at UW-Madison. Together we formed WOWSAP (Women of Wisconsin Strengthening Astronomy and Physics), a mentoring and networking group for women graduate students, postdocs, and early career faculty. The discussions we had and the professional development we provided for ourselves played a key role in keeping me in this field.

For the Spring 2011 AAS in Boston, CSWA has proposed to host a special session panel discussion on 1) ways to ensure the sustainability of mentoring programs and 2) sharing examples of how departments and institutions have managed to change the climate so that these programs become accepted as the norm. I'd very much appreciate hearing about your experiences with these two aspects of mentoring programs.

Have you had success (or encountered obstacles) promoting the sustainability and institutionalization of a program in your department, university, or other work place? What ways have you found to improve climate and culture with respect to mentoring/networking programs?

Outreach, in its various forms, has also provided an essential counterbalance to my time spent doing research. I'm sure many of you feel the same -- one very much energizes the other. My current postdoc position is ideal for me, with an 80/20 split between research and education/outreach. Which brings me to the real subject of today's blog:

Part of my CIERA appointment is as an advisor to the STEM graduate students involved in Northwestern's recently funded NSF GK12 'Reach for the Stars' program*. 'Reach for the Stars' pairs STEM graduate students with local middle and high-school teachers to develop computational modeling curricula for their K-12 science classrooms and provide authentic research experiences for the K-12 students.

Recently I read Kitts (2009), which provides further supporting arguments for programs like GK12. Kitts presents the results of surveying 2500 rural and urban middle- and high-school students on their attitudes about science as a career. On the positive side, the work of the last 10+ years in portraying scientists as people appears to have paid off -- most students no longer view scientists as 'other', e.g., caricatures in white lab coats. However, not surprisingly, a major hurdle remains the lack of direct interaction with science role models and lack of authentic science experiences**. The opportunity to identify with scientists and envision themselves as scientists greatly enhances youth consideration of science as a career (Kitts 2009).

The GK12 STEM graduate students, in turn, are gaining invaluable experience learning to effectively communicate their science, an extremely important skill that's given too little (if any) focus in most graduate programs. Incorporating their research into the K-12 curriculum forces the grad students to think about the big picture connections and motivations for their research, about audience preconceptions and ways to highlight the relevance to existing interests, about the use of jargon and how best to introduce and use specific terminology, about ways to gauge audience understanding, etc.

What have you found to be effective in developing your ability to communicate your science to a broad audience? What support are you providing for the students you're mentoring to develop this important skill?

My current list:

Within a department/research center:
- promote a culture of support and acceptance so that students have a chance to build their confidence, make mistakes, and constructively learn from these mistakes
- present articles in a journal club setting (not just within your research group)
- take the lead on summarizing an article for an astro-ph setting. Check out -- my new favorite organizational resource
- mentor, mentor, mentor
- practice 2 minute talks (i.e., an engaging, big-picture 2 minute summary of your research for use in informal moments, like during coffee breaks at the AAS).

Through education/outreach in your local community:
- give public lectures for a general audience (look to your local science museum, community centers, retirement homes, etc.)
- lead activities for science clubs at local schools, science museums, community centers, etc.

*The NSF GK12 program, now at over 140 universities, began in 1999. Potential grad students -- check out this great program!

**There were no statistically significant differences between male and female responses in this survey. Differences with respect to race or socioeconomic status were not investigated, although the article notes that minority youth are particularly challenged in constructing a science identity because of cultural stereotypes about their competence (see Hanson 2008).

Kitts. 2009. "The Paradox of Middle and High School Students' Attitudes towards Science vs their Attitudes about Science as a Career", Journal of Geoscience Education, 57, 2

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The cost (and value!) of breastfeeding and doing astrophysics

Only now do I realize that while folks were sharing stories with me about breastfeeding and working, no one said it would be easy. My own mother, who has been an elected judge for over 30 years, breast-fed all three of us for a year. For some reason I figured it wasn’t too hard. The answer is, it isn’t too hard (it is possible to do this).

I also remember reading quite a bit about how much less expensive breastfeeding is than formula-feeding. This is quite true, but those figures don’t take into account the real cost of traveling with an infant. Disclaimer: I am traveling with my daughter. I know it is possible to pump and bring the milk back, but I made the choice (an expensive one) to keep her with me. This is an account of things you need to consider if you want to do the same.

I just embarked on a major international trip for a 10 day astronomy conference. We spent substantial additional money to pay for my husband and daughter to attend with me to keep breastfeeding going during the trip (note: children held on your lap are not free on flights, you have to pay hundreds of dollars in airport taxes/fees). Since I needed my daughter nearby, we didn’t find a cheaper hotel, we stuck with the conference hotel, which was a larger drain on my research grants. I was harassed a bit by airport security in Athens, Greece about my breast pump (what is this? Can we take it apart to scan it! Answer: NO!).

The expense and headache did yield results: I got to ask questions about accreting X-ray binaries, pop into the coffee break to chat, pop into the hotel room to nurse a fussy Anya, and then pop back into the conference. I nuzzled my daughter at lunchtime and I nursed her at night. So, it was a real pain and our bank account is now depleted, but I am very glad we did it that way.

Next up, I head to Cambridge, MA for the Chandra User’s Committee meeting. I am learning about day care in other cities. I had no idea how expensive this can be! Rates in Boston and Chicago (the two cities I’ve checked) range from $12-$20/hour and if you’re using a service there is an agency fee ($20-$40/day). To do the math, it can cost you a cool $140-$160/day for reliable child care in another city if you have to make a ‘cold call’. Lucky for me, I have a grandmother that I could fly in for $190 for a Southwest ticket. At these prices, it becomes worth it to call everyone you are related to and that you know well to find out if there are other options. However, all those phone calls and emails cost you time. Again, no one said this would be simple.

Part of the solution is to turn down some of the travel, which I have done too. However, my decision at this stage of my astrophysics career is that it would be detrimental not to travel at all. I also feel (my opinion!) that being separated from my daughter for more than an overnight right now is not good for the breastfeeding relationship. So, my decision is to do both.

Luckily, it is not too hard.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


First, I want to give a brief shout-out to those who attended the DPS Women's Lunch at last week's DPS Meeting in Pasadena! I found it to be a great opportunity to network and share ways to support fellow women astronomers. Susan Niebur has a nice recap of some meeting highlights at the Women in Planetary Science Blog.

I recently read Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. The premise of the book is basically that those we consider geniuses didn't really get there strictly on talent alone. Rather, luck, opportunity, and hard work play as much, if not a larger role than any innate ability.

An example of luck might be being born just after the cutoff date for youth sports teams: Gladwell demonstrates that NHL players' birthdays are heavily biased toward the beginning of the year for precisely this reason. Opportunity is like Bill Gates' middle school PTA buying a computer. Hard work is summed up in Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule, which says that it takes that many hours of practice to become and expert at something.

It isn't too far a stretch to apply the same ideas to the question of women and minorities in science. If factors such as luck, opportunity, and hard work play such a large role in creating geniuses, then unluckiness, misguidance, and discouragement clearly play a role in preventing people from achieving as well.

Let us consider the case of a hypothetical Jane, who is quite bright, but whose parents never even consider that she might use a computer, who is encouraged to follow her proclivities in writing rather than science, who pays a high social cost for devoting herself to her studies, and who experiences hostility from her male peers for beating them at what they consider their own game. Her brother John, who is equally bright, might be presented with different opportunities and encouragement. Would it then be any wonder that Jane might be directed toward becoming an English major while John studies math and science?

All this supports arguments that expanding opportunities for minorities and women and encouraging them to pursue math and science are effective ways to increase their representation. The question, really, is how to put that into practice.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Best policies for gender equity?

I’ve been having lots of discussions with gender equity allies around my university about how to make academic careers more attractive to women and how to help level the playing field for women once they are on the faculty. We are now seeking to reduce barriers through intelligent policies at the level of universities or research organizations and in the federal funding agencies. A group of us met recently with the new NSF Director, Subra Suresh, and were pleased by his interest in these issues.

Three areas seem to me especially challenging and ripe for policy improvements: maternal or family leave, child care, and accommodations for dual career partners.

Many organizations now have some form of family leave exceeding the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act, at least for faculty-level employees. What about for graduate students? Postdocs? Staff? What are examples of best practices? For example, should universities or funding agencies provide for paid leave? What about for postdoctoral fellows, who are not employees and therefore not subject to the same regulations as employees? Are these issues that have to be solved at the top level (e.g. university-wide) or can smaller units make initiatives? Are there examples of the latter? What should federal agencies do?

Child care is generally unaffordable for graduate students and places a financial strain on postdocs and staff. Many organizations have subsidized day care, however there are far too few spots for the demand. Should universities or funding agencies provide portable child care benefits? Some places do; what are examples of best practices?

Some university systems have made serious efforts to accommodate trailing partners in dual career couples, with obvious benefits to their hiring success. How important is this and what kind of accommodations work best?

Are there other topics you consider similarly important, where policies or funding can make a real difference?

I welcome suggestions from AAS Women and gender equity advocates.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Trip Through the “Milky” Way: Adventures in Astrophysics and Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and working can be done, and can be pursued for a year and beyond. Recently I’ve met three women who nursed to between 14 – 24 months while maintaining research astrophysics careers. Support is available, you just have to ask for it and you do have to plan a little bit. FYI, you can read up on the amazing health benefits to you and baby elsewhere (I recommend La Leche League). This is about astrophysics and breastfeeding, focusing on “travel” issues (including just being away from your normal routine).

For instance, in August when my daughter Anya was 5 months old (still completely sustained on breastmilk) I attended a NASA proposal review. I had to send an email to someone I did not know well, asking for a room in which to pump and for breaks during the review (I noted that I could only participate in the review if I got 20 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon). I also chatted with the panel chair before the review started. They really took care of me! Our panel room was partitioned and yours truly got the other side of the partitioned room as a pumping room. My panel chair (male, FYI) was willing to have the proposals on which I was conflicted be discussed slightly out-of-order so I was able to take my pumping breaks and not hold up deliberations. I did have to fess up to the whole committee about what I was doing (at first I tried not to, but one guy was kind of wondering why I kept disappearing through that wall partition). Luckily, I brought Medela “cleaning wipes” with me to the NASA review. The room was wonderfully convenient but there was no sink right there so I had to clean the parts of the pump using the wipes. I had a cooler pack for the milk (no refrigerator handy).

This year I am on research sabbatical with frequent trips to Northwestern in Chicago. I travel Southwest Airlines as they allow you to carry nearly-infinite "baby stuff" with you and I bring a nursing cover and breastpump with me. I managed to time the first visit to coincide with a personal trip so my parents were in Chicago and found a grad student through my personal network who was happy to watch my daughter for 2 days. I pump milk in the morning, leaving the “sitter” with milk, and then get together with Anya at lunchtime and mid-afternoon to nurse. Once again, I was pretty open about the whole thing, including asking colleagues for offices. I got multiple offers for locations to nurse within the department and enthusiastic help (doors opened, keys lent, etc.). Also, I started with a shorter trip involving no airplanes to State College, PA where I was able to establish an "away from home" pumping routine, that time with my mother-in-law with me. You may think it is crazy to travel with your mother-in-law, but you may find that a grandmother is perfect when you need to work, even if it isn't your mother. She focused on the kid so I could focus on work!

Next up, I’m taking my daughter, my husband and my breastpump on a trip to Greece (AGN/binaries conference) so I can keep the nursing going. So, I took baby steps (first a local NASA review, then a drive to State College, then a plane trip to Chicago, now we go international). The next new thing is that the pump operates on batteries (which I am testing today at home!) and I can bring little plastic bags into which to pump milk so I don’t need to pack a ton of collection bottles.

So far, so good but you have to plan and communicate, and as I hope is obvious, you have to really make breastfeeding a priority. But here I am at six months and Anya hasn’t been sick even once and is a very happy, healthy baby. I feel good too. So, it cost a little extra in terms of money for sitters, time arranging things, and time to pump, but it was really worth it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through MIT’s Male Math Maze

Caution: new blogger at work! I'm a theoretical astrophysicist and cosmologist at MIT and currently head of the Physics Department. I'm passionate about mentoring and increasing diversity in academia. I seek to make my institution a better place to work and study for everyone. It's a delight to share ideas and experiences with others working also for the health of the profession and those drawn to it. I relax with running, birdwatching and cooking. I have another blog at I'm excited to start blogging for Women in Astronomy!
Last weekend I saw, for the second time, Truth Values -- a wonderful solo play by actress Gioia De Cari, who as a math graduate student at MIT in the 1980s experienced a relentless series of slights and insults before finally calling it quits with a Master’s degree. She pursued a career in acting and might have given up telling her riveting story if Lawrence Summers had not inspired her with his remarks about innate gender differences in 2005.
De Cari’s story is a perfect example of how the accumulation of inequities and injustices leads to loss in the PhD pipeline. From being hit upon by her fellow graduate students after she told them she’s married, to being directed to serve cookies to the math seminar, to being treated inhumanely after her father’s death, she described many experiences leaving me feeling sad, angry, and even helpless. Yet the play is also full of laughter and human spirit, the product, perhaps, of long introspection. I found myself wondering how much of this mistreatment is still going on? Yes, we and our students tell each other it’s much better now. Yet I still hear about graduate students who are falsely told that they were admitted “because you’re a woman”.
This time I was one of the after-performance conversation leaders, together with a MIT senior double majoring in Nuclear Science and Engineering and Physics. The success and leadership of this student shows that we’ve come a long way, yet she, too, has received discouragement from a faculty member. When asked by an audience member what things I or the Physics Department had done to improve the situation for women, I remarked that enumerating a few steps is completely insufficient. One must transform the culture and we aim to do this a hundred different ways. I used to keep track of them, but it all boils down to one thing: Care for people. We must create a scientific community of excellence that values our community members as much as we value excellence.
Gioia De Cari’s response to her mistreatment has been to tell her story to packed audiences around the country – I encourage you to see it. Our response must be to create a culture of respect, dignity and encouragement for everyone.

Friday, September 17, 2010

AASWOMEN for September 17, 2010

This week's issues:

1. Invitation

2. 3-D Spatial Visualization: Why a Gender Gap?

3. Strategies for Addressing Harassment and Prejudice

4. Mentoring Vital To Nurturing Future Female Scientists

5. Conference for Undergraduate Women

6. Building a Better Pipeline

7. Observe the Moon Night

8. Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Tenure-Track Assistant Professor

9. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

10. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

Dr. Ms.

From the Washington Post: Report: More women than men in U.S. earned doctorates last year for first time

As the article notes, the gender ratio for undergraduate and masters degrees has been tipped toward women for a while now. So it was only matter of time before doctoral programs followed suit. But, how far up the pipeline can we go with this? As the article says:

But women who aspired to become college professors, a common path for those with doctorates, were hindered by the particular demands of faculty life. Studies have found that the tenure clock often collides with the biological clock: The busiest years of the academic career are the years that well-educated women tend to have children.

"Many women feel they have to choose between having a career in academics and having a family," said Catherine Hill, director of research at the American Association of University Women. "Of course, they shouldn't have to."
Emphasis is mine. Couple that with the difficulty of establishing a foothold in a department with overwhelmingly male senior faculty and you have a pretty tough glass ceiling to break.

It's also important to realize that most of the gains for women have been made in fields like health sciences, social & behavioral sciences, and education. As the article states, "Men retained the lead in doctoral degrees until 2008, largely through their dominance in engineering, mathematics and the physical sciences." That includes astronomy.

The sobering message of the article is that even when we do achieve parity in doctoral degrees awarded, retaining those women and getting them into the ranks of senior faculty will still be an uphill battle.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Maybe There Is Hope After All

Greetings from Sweden, home of the most generous parental leave policies in the world!

I'm here attending a scientific conference this week. As I've been going to talks and interacting with people, I couldn't help but notice something interesting about the representation of women here, so I worked out the numbers during an idle moment. Here's what I found:

Women accounted for
42 of 126 participants 33% (probably an underestimate, since it's based solely on names)
7 of 20 contributed talks 35%
7 of 15 invited talks47% (actually one less, because one had to cancel at the last minute)
14 of 35 speakers total40%
2 of 13 session chairs15%

I'm willing to forgive them that last number. All in all, this makes me pretty proud to be part of this meeting. Of course, as I mentioned before, some subfields of astronomy do better than others are retaining women, and I happen to be in one of them. There really does seem to be something of a critical mass that's required before women begin to really feel welcome in a particular field of study.

As a side note, I had an interesting conversation about problems facing in astronomy with someone here, and he wasn't a woman, and I didn't bring it up.

Friday, September 3, 2010

AASWomen for September 3, 2010

Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of September 3, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. The "Astronomy in Society" chapter of the Decadal Report

2. Essential Cosmology school

3. Young Leaders Program for Undergraduate Women in their Junior Year

4. Tenure-track Faculty Position in Astrophysics

5. National Research Council Canada (NRC) - Fellowship Postings


6. MIT Pappalardo Fellowships in Physics

7. AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships

8. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

9. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

Decadal Survey Town Hall redux

Yesterday, I went to the Decadal Survey Town Hall held at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, DC. This being within easy driving distance of University of Maryland, Goddard Space Flight Center, and Space Telescope Science Institute, I was fully expecting to have to fight for seating.

Only a few dozen people showed up.

Does this mean that everyone has heard their fill of the Decadal Survey already? That everyone is completely happy with the results? That they don't care about it? That the meeting wasn't well-publicized? That people are afraid of Washington, DC?

As for the Women in AstronomyTM perspective on the meeting, I believe I personally knew every woman except maybe one in the room. For all that astronomy is the study of the universe on the largest scales, it's a pretty small world.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Decadal Report

As virtually every US astronomer knows, the 2010 Decadal Report was released on Friday the 13th, August 2010. Personally, I was on vacation at the time and missed the live webcast. What I have gathered is that if you work in a field that was prioritized by the report and would benefit by WFIRST, then you think the report is great. Otherwise, you think the report sucks.

Kidding aside, I'm not here to discuss the science prioritization. I'm here to discuss the small part of the report relevant to the Women in Astronomy blog, the chapter entitled "Astronomy in Society."

After downloading all 81 MB of the report and giving it a cursory read, I note that they say all the right things about bringing in more minorities and women into astronomy. I'm glad that they also note that retention of women in particular is tied into the narrow career trajectory that astronomers are expected to follow. However, the thing that I think is missing from the report is integrating these issues of diversity in with the science priorities.

There are definitely some subfields of astronomy that have fewer women than others. Offhand, I would list cosmology, theory, and instrumentation as those that have fewer women, and exoplanets and extragalactic observation as those that are more enriched with women. So if the top science priorities are high redshift astronomy, exoplanets, and fundamental physics, I'd guess that exoplanets are enriched in women and the other two depleted.

What I would like to understand is how program prioritization based on the Decadal Report's recommendations is going to affect the demographics of the astronomy community. But given the way the panels were subdivided into science topics separate from demographics, perhaps it was inevitable that an integrated perspective would be lacking. What we can do with this report now that the science priorities for the next decade have been announced is to encourage young women to pursue growth fields and hope that they succeed.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Better Living Through Show Tunes

It's come to my attention that my post on how hard it is to balance work and family may have unduly alarmed and depressed some of my readers. The things is, I don't believe in maintaining the illusion that I can get everything done with effortless ease. What's the point in blogging about any of it if I'm not going to be perfectly honest about my experiences? On the other hand, who's going to keep reading if I'm negative all the time? Besides, it's summertime!

Summertime, from Porgy and Bess

So without further ado, here are some of my favorite feel-good show tunes, perfect for buoying your hopes that everything will turn out just fine. Share yours in the comments!

I Have Confidence, from the Sound of Music

(Not Julie Andrews, but a great rendition nonetheless)

I Believe In You from How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Do You Hear the People Sing from Les Miserables

because there's nothing quite like a good martial anthem to get the blood going

Anything Can Happen from Mary Poppins

Friday, July 30, 2010

"The Literature vs. Tierney

Posted on behalf of the author, Elizabeth D. Freeland.

I recently read the article "Legislation Won't Close Gender Gap in Sciences" 6/7/10 by John Tierney. Tierney argues that requiring scientists to attend workshops to enhance gender equity is a waste of money because gender bias does not exist. I find flaws with how he draws his conclusion, take issue with his lampooning of the NSF ADVANCE program, and believe that actively addressing bias can help reduce it. That said, Tierney’s first claim is that people who believe gender bias exists only dredge up a study of the Swedish Medical Research. That’s a bit unfair, although it is true that, as physical scientists, we often don’t do as good a job as we should in using the research in economics, psychology, and sociology to support our arguments. To help remedy this, and simultaneously take on Tierney, I briefly review the studies he brings up and throw in a few I’ve heard about elsewhere. Admittedly, towards the end I have fewer sources. Perhaps, though, others can respond and let us all know of recent studies which could fill the gaps.

There have been many studies on bias. Two that are often mentioned are the effect of screens on gender balance in hiring of musicians [1]; and the effect of gender-identifying names on resumes [2]. There is also V. Valian’s book "Why so Slow?," which discusses the cognitive origins of gender bias [3]. Finally, a more recent study focusses on implicit bias and demonstrates evidence for it [4]. One concludes from such studies that learned policies and procedures can diminish bias. For more articles, see Refs. [5].

(click on "Read More" to see full post)

Work-Family: On Balance

As rosy a picture I painted in my previous posting on work-family balance, the truth of the matter is that raising children is not an easy task. Trying to raise children while establishing a career is even tougher. On the good days, I count the number of years until my youngest turns 18. On the bad days, I wonder if I should discourage young women from pursuing careers in science because it's simply impossible to have it all.

While mulling these rather depressing thoughts, I came across this article in the Washington Post, talking about the difficulties of parenting while pursuing a career in business. You could easily substitute "business" for "science" and "executive" for "professor" and everything Sharon Meers says applies equally well. Some choice quotes from the article:

When a father of small kids is late or looks dazed in a meeting, we're more willing to assume it's an aberration, a passing phase, and he'll snap back to top form because he values his job. We give him the benefit of the doubt. Do we give women the same?

After spending a weekend with his kids alone, one male executive told me, "If every man in Congress had to do this, we'd have some very different laws."

Meers writes that VP Joe Biden is setting up a Middle Class Task Force that can address some of these work-family balancing issues from a public policy standpoint. I agree with her that this sounds very promising, especially if they can successfully reframe the problems of working parents "not as women's issues" but as "issues of middle class economic security" as described in the article. Let's hope that this Task Force succeeds.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Astronomer H-R diagram

Also, This is brilliant. An H-R diagram of astronomers:

I think I'm somewhat leftward of the New-media branch, with 11 refereed publications at this moment.  I blame all my posting here.

(hat tip: The Astrodyke. Cross-posted at my other blog)

Work-Family: It's Not Always About Balance

So often we hear discussions of work-family balance, as if work is on entirely one side of the scale and family is on the other, and the two must always be in conflict. This article in today's Washington Post is no exception. The article discusses the challenges faced by women trying to succeed in academia, challenges I'm all too familiar with.

To be perfectly honest, I've been avoiding discussing some of my own personal experience with work-family issues on this blog, in large part because of evidence that mothers are at a distinct disadvantage in the job market. But the reality is that having children has made me a better communicator, educator, and scientist, so to not acknowledge my kids is to do them a disservice.

My kids are in elementary school now, and they are always bubbling over with questions about how the universe around them works. Explaining scientific concepts to them is a source of joy for me, though I sometimes have to stop myself when I find myself rambling on excitedly on some topic for 10 minutes at a time while their eyes slowly glaze over. My kids have taught me how to simply but accurately explain things to them before their attention spans time out. They have also taught me that my enthusiasm for science is contagious.

Recently, I participated in Science Day at my kids' elementary school, where a variety of scientists were brought in to talk to the kids. I was assigned the first graders. Although I had given public talks before and am completely comfortable with facing challenging questions from PhD scientists, I was really really anxious heading into Science Day. Would I be able to handle a classroom full of antsy six- and seven-year olds? As it turned out, the experience was a lot of fun for myself, the children, and their teachers. I talked to them a little bit about what it was like to be an astronomer, and my heart warmed when I asked them, "how many of you would like to be an astronomer when you grow up?" and nearly all of them, including the girls, raised their hands. Most of the kids are ethnic minorities, too. It's thanks to my kids that I both had the opportunity to do Science Day, and had the experience to carry it out successfully.

Children are naturally curious about the world around them. So many times, their simple, "why does...?" questions turn out to have rather profound answers. We went blueberry picking earlier this summer, and after staring at his stained hands, my son asked, "Why are they called blueberries? The juice is purple." This led to a full-fledged kitchen chemistry experiment involving acids and bases and blueberry juice as an indicator. I had just as much fun as my son did. My kids' enthusiasm and joy of discovery make me more enthusiastic about pursuing science questions of my own.

My children enrich my scientific life. So while there are days where I have to head out early to chaffeur them to one activity or another, and there are late evenings that I spend working while the kids sleep, I don't believe that the work-family balance is an either-or proposition: sometimes they can work in harmony together.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

SATs and PhDs

For better or for worse, the Tierney articles got me thinking: is it really true that those with SAT math scores at the 99.9 percentile level are that much more likely to get a doctorate in science or to win tenure at a top university than those at the 99.1 level, as Tierney claims? My gut feeling, from having interacted with hundreds of PhD astronomers, including myself, is that it isn't true. Heck, I doubt the scores themselves are even that accurate. Also, while I can see that math scores are important for achieving in science, verbal scores are surely very important also. After all, the way scientists communicate our ideas to each other is through talks and papers, both of which surely involve good verbal and communications skills. In which case, shouldn't girls' superior verbal scores balance things out?

So, if I were to conduct a thoroughly non-scientific internet survey on PhDs in astronomy and your SAT scores (if you can remember them) to analyze Tierney's thoroughly non-scientific claim, would you participate? If there's sufficient interest, I'll go and figure out how to set up a survey.

AASWOMEN for July 9, 2010

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of July 9, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Men In Academic Science Earn Up To 40% More Than Women

2. Book Review: Whistling Vivaldi And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us

3. The Effects of Textbook Images on Science Performance


4. NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program

5. The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Postdoctoral Fellowship Program

6. APS Career Center

7. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

8. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

AASWOMEN - Special Edition on Invited Speakers

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of June 25, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson amp; Michele Montgomery

SPECIAL EDITION: Low Percentages of Women Invited Speakers

1. Introduction

2. Too Important to Ignore

3. A Perennial Problem!

4. The Wrong Approach

5. The Value of Lists

6. Pushing Back?

7. Aim High

8. Set Guidelines

9. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

10. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN