Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Astronomy Leadership: Applications, Interviews & Jobs


 I didn’t get the job. That’s how this post was supposed to start, but a strange thing happened as I was contemplating the future of my career in astronomy (but more on that later). This was supposed to be a post about the job application process, the invitation I received at the beginning that made all the difference, the boost I got from an anonymous blogger talking about why women don’t apply for high level jobs, the virtual shove I got from my husband at a crucial moment, the help, advice, and encouragement I got from other senior women. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Some of you may know that I was a professor at the University of Memphis with expertise in solar coronal spectroscopy. My department was evolving from physics, where the staff had many different specialties, to materials science. Those of us who worked in other sub disciplines were becoming more and more marginalized. I was unhappy with this trend and was looking to get out. My good friend, Pat Knezek, had just taken the job of deputy director of the NSF Astronomy Division. She asked me if I had ever considered a job as an NSF rotator. I started at NSF in September 2013.

Some of you may also know that I was CSWA chair for many years. It was during that tenure that I met Don Kniffen, a CSWA member. Don was there with me when I (with CSWA’s support) decided to blog about my own experience with sexual harassment. I came out as a victim in February 2011. Through my position at NSF Astronomy, I got back in touch with Don after a hiatus of several years. It was at about the same time that Arecibo Observatory ended up back on my radar. I had spent two years there as a grad student – not happy years, mind you – but I didn’t hear much about Arecibo while I was doing solar physics.

In a very real sense, CSWA provided the means and NSF provided the opportunity for the next step in my career. Because their jobs are temporary by definition, NSF rotators are always thinking, “What’s next?” I was no exception, so I was looking out for possibilities when I attended the AAS meeting in Seattle in January 2015 (OMG – that was this year!). It was there that I ran into  Don. After an exchange of pleasantries, he asked me a question that simply had to be a joke – “You’re not interested in the job at Arecibo, are you?” I laughed. Knowing my unhappy history with Arecibo, I’m sure Don was expecting an answer like, “Not just no, but hell no!” It was a surprise to both of us when I answered, “Wait, are you serious?”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It's Not Just Marcy, and the Grapevine Won't Save Us

The below post was written by a contributor who wishes to use the pseudonym ExUngueLeam. The author is a junior astronomer whose friends and colleagues may be able to identify her from her writing, but who is nevertheless afraid to post this under her real name.

Image credit is Jim. C. Hines
November was the month I discovered that the fractional abundance of "known" sexual harassers in the astronomy community is greater than that of oxygen in the universe.

Since the Geoff Marcy case broke I've had a number of overlapping conversations with friends and colleagues trying to discover if there are any "well-known serial harassers" at large in their area of specialization. I've had these conversations with astronomers at all levels of career advancement, from undergraduate students to tenured professors. While many of my senior colleagues were vaguely aware of the conversation about sexual harassment happening in the astronomy community, they never guessed that Marcy was on the list of alleged perpetrators. They were appalled and shocked when they found out.

"I knew about so-and-so, but not about Marcy," one friend confided. "How many more people exist like this in our community? How deep does this rot go?"

Another friend told me: "I keep hearing there are all these 'known' harassers, but I don't know who they are. Is there someone like Marcy in my subfield? I'm worried that in failing to warn my students about these individuals, I could be putting them in actual physical danger."

Friday, November 20, 2015

AASWOMEN Newsletter for November 20, 2015

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of November 20, 2015
eds: Daryl Haggard, Nicolle Zellner, Meredith Hughes, & Elysse Voyer

This week's issues:

1. On Becoming a Woman Astronomer   
2. Accessible Astronomy   
3. Childcare and Dependent Care at the AAS Meeting in Florida
4. Dr. Beatrice Mueller: Find a great advisor, a great support system, and passions outside of science
5. L'Oreal USA For Women in Science Fellowship
6. When women are missing from peer review 
7. Distractingly Sexist      
8. FACT SHEET: Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color
9. Job Opportunities
10. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
11. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
12. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On Becoming a Woman Astronomer

by Jessica Mink, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

A year ago, three years after I transitioned from male to female, I wrote a guest entry for this blog entitled "On Being a Transgender Astronomer", giving a sort of Gender 101, with a few stories of my own experience. At that time, I envisioned a second blog with the same title as this one, thinking that it would be written a lot sooner than this. It turns out that despite having had woman astronomers around me since I was an undergraduate and therefore thinking that I knew what I was doing, it is taking me more than a few years to become a woman astronomer. The woman astronomers I have come to know better since I changed have gone through (and in too many cases are still going through) experiences which, at my advanced age, I may never have. It seems to be a lot easier to be accepted as a woman astronomer than to truly feel like one. "Becoming" in the title does not mean that I'm there yet, only that I am working on becoming a member of that too-slowly growing demographic.

Over the past year, I've gotten more involved in the community of astronomers than I ever was before. My new involvement started in 2012 when I found out that the AAS Working Group on LGBT Equality (WGLE) was looking for a trans astronomer, and I seemed to be the most open one at the time. This led to an interview with Wladimir Lyra and Stefano Meschiar, which made me more
visible in the field as a person, more than simply the author of some widely-used software. WGLE this summer became the Committee for Sexual-orientation and Gender-identity Minorities in Astronomy or SGMA, where SGM is our substitute for LGBTIQQA... This summer, I also became a member of the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and act as the liaison between the two committees. I joined to learn more about the issues of women in astronomy and bring a slightly different perspective to them.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Accessible Astronomy

Today's guest post is by Jesse Shanahan.  Jesse is a graduate student studying astrophysics at Wesleyan University where she studies supermassive black holes and active galactic nuclei with Dr. Edward Moran. In her spare time, she organizes public outreach events at local schools, specializing in special needs and at-risk classrooms. In her first year of graduate school, she founded an astronomy outreach program for kids, which has received attention from press and remains a popular bi-monthly event at Van Vleck Observatory. She also provides virtual and in-home tutoring for K-12 in math, writing, test preparation, and study skills. Throughout her career, Jesse has advocated staunchly for inclusive equity and is a founding member of the Astronomy Anti-Racism Group (AARG!). She continues to be a dedicated disability rights activist and is currently in the process of forming the first working group on disability justice and accessibility in astronomy.   

The more time I spend in astronomy, the more I realize that the ability to just do science is an incredible privilege. Generally speaking, I’ve never experienced this fully due to being a female-presenting astronomer. However, even setting aside gender discrimination and harassment,  I’ve never experienced the privilege of being able to access my workplace, data, or classroom like my coworkers, advisors, and students can.


Well, I have a disability. My first semester in graduate school, I was unable to use any of the telescopes in the observatory, either for research or for class purposes.  They all required the ability to climb steep stairs. My very first physics class was in a lecture hall dominated by stairs. When I did research at Arecibo Observatory and Green Bank Telescope, I had similar experiences. Everything required the ability to walk distances, climb hills, or climb stairs. My first AAS conference, I had to sit in front of my poster rather than stand, and I was harassed for it. People equated my need for a chair with laziness: a common form of ableism. When I received accommodations from my university (which are my legal right according to section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act), several professors responded with similar assumptions. My need for rest or flexible deadlines was consistently interpreted as laziness rather than an actual physical need.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Astronomer to Defense R&D Technical Staff

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 Lisa Wei, an astronomer turned defense industry R&D Technical Staff.   She likes the challenges of exciting new projects, the work environment, and the ability to leave work behind evenings and weekends.  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