Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Career Profiles: Astronomer to Associate Director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute

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 Doris Daou, an astronomer turned Associate Director of the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute. If you have questions, suggestions, advice to share, etc. about this career path, please leave a comment below.

For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit http://aas.org/jobs/career-profiles. We plan to post a new career profile to this blog every Thursday.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Gender Bias in Guest Observer Programs

A recent paper on arXiv (1409.3528) by I. Neill Reid at STScI is an eye-opener.  It presents a detailed study of gender bias in HST guest observer selection.  The results are very clear: female PIs are systematically less successful in winning HST observing time than their male colleagues.

The HST review process has been carefully designed and tweaked over the years to be fair.  Conflicts of interest and competitive bias are dealt with by having proposals judged in panels that do not have members involved in those proposals.  Institutional conflicts of interest are also guarded against.  Gender bias is much harder to deal with, particularly if it is in a form of unconscious bias.  The first step in addressing any such bias is to determine if it exists and to what extent.  That is the purpose of the study.

The study covers HST Cycles 11 through 20 from 2001 to 2012.  The number of proposals submitted in those cycles was 9400 and number accepted was ~2100.  Since proposers were not required to give their gender, there was worked needed in the study to determine the gender of the PI for each proposal.  This was done by first name identification and web searches where necessary.

One of the primary results of the study is shown in the figure below.  The success rate of male PIs is seen to be higher than that of female PIs in every cycle.  The overall success rate for male PIs is 23.5% compared with 18.1% for female PIs.

One question that obviously comes up is what the gender diversity of the Time Allocation Committee diversity was.  There was an effort made by STScI to increase the fraction of women on the panels which resulted in a factor of more than two increase from Cycle 11 to 20, from 18% to 50%.  Interestingly, this did not result in a noticeable change in female PI success rate relative to male PIs.

The paper points out that previous studies have found that "unconscious" or "implicit" bias can be a significant factor in the scientific community.   Scientists participating in peer review are instructed to be unbiased and, as whole, try hard to achieve that.  Still peer review is a subjective process with personal judgment required and unconscious factor can enter in.  This may well be the cause of the HST results. 

One result of the study is that reviewers are now made aware of the overall lower success rate of female PIs in past reviews at the pre-review briefing.  Also, unconscious bias is discussed with them.  It is not clear yet if this will cause in changes in the results.  A welcome trend is that there is an ever increasing number of proposals submitted by female PIs, from 19% in cycle 11 to 26% in cycle 21.

Friday, September 12, 2014

AASWOMEN Newsletter for September 12, 2014

AAS Committee on the Status of Women AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of September 12, 2014
eds: Daryl Haggard, Nicolle Zellner, Meredith Hughes, & Elysse Voyer

SPECIAL EDITION: Fed Up with Sexual Harassment II: The Solutions Series

1. The Solutions Series

2. Information Escrows

3. The Astronomy Allies Program

4. The SAFE study w/ Dr. Kate Clancy

5. Strategies for Addressing and Overcoming Harassment

6. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter

7. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter

8. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Fed Up with Sexual Harassment II: Strategies for Addressing and Overcoming Harassment

Reproduced from the July Issue of STATUS: A report on Women in Astronomy.  By Sheryl Bruff, Branch Chief of Human Resources, Space Telescope Science Institute and Bernice Durand, Emerita Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate at the University of Wisconsin.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has an anti-harassment policy [1], and has stated its commitment to leadership in developing “people” skills and its desire to identify and disseminate best practices and tools. This talk was proposed and developed to further the AAS membership’s knowledge of what constitutes harassment and how individuals and institutions should respond to it. It was presented at the Seattle Annual Meeting of the American Astronomical Society January 10, 2011.

Why should we care?
Great science and discovery are enabled by an open climate where individuals are free to share knowledge, opinions, beliefs and ideas. This cannot and will not happen if a segment(s) of the practitioners are disenfranchised and disrespected. We see ongoing efforts to broaden participation in astronomy, particularly for women and under-represented minorities. In astronomy, there is an established, though fragile, trend in these directions. Full engagement of these constituencies hinges on creating a climate of inclusion, respect and openness.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fed Up with Sexual Harassment II: The SAFE study w/ Dr. Kate Clancy

Image: Dr. Kate Clancy (UIUC)
The "Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault" study that was published in PLOS ONE on July 16, 2014 by the team of biological anthropologists Kate Clancy (UIUC), Robin Nelson (Skidmore), Julienne Rutherford (UIC), and Katie Hinde (Harvard)  revealed several issues relating to harassment and assault within the field of anthropology. 

Some of the issues highlighted:
  • A lack of awareness on codes of conduct and sexual harassment policies.
  • 2/3 of the 666 respondents reported some form of harassment (71% of women respondents and 41% of men respondents) or assault (26% of women respondents).
  • 90% of women and 70% of men were trainees or employees when harassed or assaulted.
  • Perpetrators of harassment and assault differed between men and women,  with women typically being targeted by people senior to them and men by peers.
Dr. Kate Clancy was kind enough to be interviewed for lessons learned from the study, how this results may impact other scientific fields (like astronomy), and next steps for solving the issues at hand.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fed Up with Sexual Harassment II: The Astronomy Allies Program

Today’s guest blogger is Katey Alatalo. Katey is a postdoc at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Her research interests include using CARMA and ALMA to map cold molecular gas in candidates from AGN feedback and using Herschel to map the conditions in shocked molecular gas in interacting groups of galaxies.

Suppose you are standing at your AAS poster, and someone is monopolizing your time and standing way too close.  Suppose you meet a senior scientist at the AAS meeting, and s/he asks you to dinner under the pretext of discussing your work, but the conversation gets way too personal.  Suppose you drink a bit too much or stay out a bit too late at the AAS party, and you need a safe way to get back to your hotel.  What do you do? Contact Astronomy Allies.

The Astronomy Allies Program consists of volunteers who act to form a “safe-zone” at AAS meetings. An Astronomy Ally can act as a buffer, bystander, or advocate. As a meeting participant, you can contact an Ally if you need help. Allies can provide confidential advice, support, information, and resources. They can serve as a liaison between you and the AAS administration. They can help create an environment where the perpetrators of harassment feel they “can’t get away” with their unprofessional and disturbing behavior. As knowledge of the Allies Program grows, their very existence may help prevent future problems before they start.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fed Up with Sexual Harassment II: Information Escrows

Today’s guest blogger is Mordecai-Mark Mac Low. Mordecai is a curator in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, where he leads a research group studying the formation of planets and stars and the structure of the interstellar gas, and has curated the Space Shows "Journey to the Stars" (w/Rebecca Oppenheimer) and "Dark Universe."

After Eliot Rodger's rampage, the hashtags #notallmen and #yesallwomen swept Twitter, expressing the reality that although most men do not engage in sexual assaults or harassment, the ones that do tend to be serial offenders (e.g., sec 5.6 in this federal report from 1981, "Sexual Harassment in the Federal Workplace: Is It a Problem?", or Lucero et al. 2003, "An Empirical Investigation of Sexual Harassers: Toward a Perpetrator Typology" Hum. Rel., 56, 1461), ensuring that almost all women have had to deal with such problems at some level. (Although male victims may be slightly less common, and female perpetrators more so, both appear to suffer from even more overwhelming underreporting than the usual narrative.)