Monday, May 30, 2016

Meet your CSWA committee: Daryl Haggard

[In this installment of our "new" series on the Women in Astronomy blog (the first one is here), we continue to introduce our readers to the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. Our next committee member to be introduced, Daryl Haggard, is the current lead editor for the AASWOMEN Newsletter (though passing the baton soon!), and has been a member of the committee for 2 years.]

Dr. Daryl Haggard is an Assistant Professor of Physics at McGill University in the McGill Space Institute. She studies active galactic nuclei and their host galaxies, the Galactic center and Sgr A*, and accretion-driven outflows using multi-wavelength and time domain surveys. (She co-authored, with Geoff Bower, a recent review of happenings in the Galactic Center in the February 2015 issue of Sky & Telescope.)

Before coming to McGill, Daryl spent a year as faculty at Amherst College, and four years as a CIERA postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University, where she also worked with the Reach for the Stars GK-12 program. As a graduate student at the University of Washington, she was instrumental in establishing the Pre-Major in Astronomy Program (Pre-MAP). Prior to these adventures, she completed a masters in Physics at San Francisco State University, and a bachelors in Philosophy (yes, you read that right) at St. John's College (Santa Fe).

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Data Driven Approach to Ending the Wage Gap

Originally printed in Quartz:

More than 20 years that have passed since the National Committee on Pay Equity first called for action on the gender wage gap. But not much has changed. Women continue to earn less than men, and research shows that women often have less successful salary negotiations, sacrificing tens of thousands of dollars in future earnings. As a woman who works in the tech industry, I often find myself asking: What will it take to truly drive change and close the gender wage gap?

For me, the answer is data.

After I graduated with a PhD in Astrophysics from UC Berkeley, I was interviewing for a job as a data scientist in San Francisco. My prospective new boss said, “I know you make about $14,000 a year as a graduate student at Berkeley, I’m going to offer you more than that.” And he did! Imagine my excitement when my starting salary was much more than my graduate stipend.

At the time, I had no idea what I should be making, nor did I know how to negotiate, as my last “job” had been in a completely different industry. What’s more, I had no other comparable offers to use as a baseline. I attempted to a higher salary because I was told that you always should, but I was ultimately unsuccessful.

Read the full story at Quartz.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"Phynd the Physicist": A Game to Open Dialog About Inclusion in Physics

Today's guest blogger, Misty Bentz, is an Assistant (nay, Associate!) Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Georgia State University. Misty is an expert at making black hole mass measurements using reverberation mapping techniques, which she uses to study the broad line region and the relationship between AGN and their host galaxies. Misty's post is the second in a new series of blogs (the first is here) that describe how instructors tackle social justice issues in their physics and astronomy classrooms.

For the past few years, I have been teaching a required course for entering physics majors, “Gateway to Physics”, at Georgia State University. The course is intended to introduce students to the wide world of exciting physics research and (hopefully) kindle their enthusiasm for studying physics even as they work through their introductory courses.

To this end, we don’t spend time solving problems about balls rolling down inclined planes. Instead, the course is formatted as a seminar that meets once per week for 2 hours and is centered around visits from physics and astronomy faculty, each visitor spending an hour discussing their research and their physics subfield. The students also have semester-long group projects where they independently explore a physics topic to learn the current state of the field (past topics have included wormholes, spacecraft propulsion, extremophiles, quantum computing, biomimicry, and skyscraper design). The last meeting of the semester is a “behind the scenes” tour of several physics research labs.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Surprising Lessons Depression Taught Me

Today's guest post is by Nicole Cabrera Salazar. Nicole is an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at Georgia State University. She plans to pursue a career in science communication/outreach focusing on equity in STEM. 

Back in December I opened up about taking a break from writing my dissertation to focus on my mental health. As scary as it was to walk away from research, it turned out to be the right choice for me. Here, I highlight the lessons I learned during this difficult time.

1. Depression Lies
If you’ve never experienced depression, it can be hard to understand what it feels like. The best way I can describe it is that my brain was constantly lying to me. The very things that would have helped me overcome the depression were the things my brain was telling me to avoid. I withdrew from everyone around me, even though just a short phone call with my family would have made me feel better. I stayed in my apartment for days, when a brief walk outside would have lifted my spirits. My brain also said that I would never feel better. The hardest part was gathering the energy to actively fight those lies so I could start the process of getting better.

Friday, May 13, 2016

AASWomen Newsletter for May 13, 2016

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of May 13, 2016
eds: Daryl Haggard, Nicolle Zellner, Elysse Voyer, & Heather Flewelling

This week's issues:

1. Sexual Harassment – Changing the System II     
2. Career Profiles: Astronomer to Philanthropic Program Officer   
3. AAS Education Task Force seeks input  
4. Big Pay Differences Among New Male, Female Ph.D.s
5. These new emojis could finally reflect that women are professionals, too
6. Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowships at the University of Bath
7. The Peer Prize for Women in Science
8. Job Opportunities  
9. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
10. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
11. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sexual Harassment – Changing the System II

[This post is Part II 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]

This series discusses what can be done by people with power to change the system and begin to eliminate sexual harassment from our community. Part I discussed the role of senior academics and department chairs. Here, I focus on university administrators and leaders of our professional organizations, but I also want to make sure that anyone facing sexual harassment knows that help is out there. Please talk to someone you trust and rest assured that you are not alone. 

University Administrators

Every university needs an office where students/postodcs/faculy/staff can talk anonymously about harassment. For lack of a better name, I am going to refer to it as the Office of Good Advice. This office must be fundamentally separate from the Affirmative Action office, University Counsel, or University Police, all of which are responsible for reporting under Title IX. Office of Good Advice should be well known to everyone on campus, it should be staffed with trained professionals, and it should be the first thing that comes up on a web search for “sexual harassment.” Anyone on campus who needs to talk about harassment issues should know which university employees are obligated to report incidents and which can keep reports confidential. 

Every university needs an Office of Good Advice not only because students fear that they might be pressed to make a formal, legally viable report, but also because the staff in the legally responsible offices are often, with no malicious intent, unable to listen objectively and sensitively. Students might later report that they were asked intimidating and inappropriate questions that appeared to undermine the validity of their complaint like, “Were you drinking?” or “Are you unhappy with your grade in his course?” No matter how well-meaning, staff members in offices responsible for upholding the law cannot help but be influenced by that responsibility and by knowing the requirements of an investigation.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Upcoming Webinar from AWIS: "Spot and Stop It: How to End Harassment at Professional Meetings"

The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) is hosting a webinar on Thursday, 12 May, at 12:00 pm ET about proactive strategies in addressing harassment at professional meetings and conferences.

Topics to be discussed include:
  • How to create proactive sexual harassment policies and effective procedures to stop harassment
  • Identifying venues for harassment in addition to the workplace and school
  • Engaging society staff and members on the issue
The one-hour webinar will be led by guest speakers Rosina Romano, the Entomological Society of America's Director of Meetings, and Dr. Sherry Marts, CEO of S*Marts Consulting, long-time executive and career coach, expert on harassment issues, and women's self-defense instructor. Learn more and register for this webinar.

AWIS is kindly offering complimentary registration for this webinar to AAS members. Enter "AAS" as the registration code when registering to view this webinar for free.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Career Profiles: Astronomer to Philanthropic Program Officer

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 Ashley Zauderer, an astronomer turned program officer for a philanthropic organization.

For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit New Career Profiles are posted approximately every month.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

When bathrooms and supernovae collide: Anti-LGBTQ legislation is hindering participation in science

By MacKenzie Warren

MacKenzie Warren (very recently) completed his PhD in Physics at University of Notre Dame. He will soon begin a postdoc at Michigan State University. MacKenzie's research is in computational modeling of core-collapse supernovae, particularly the role of nuclear and neutrino processes in the explosion mechanism.

Spinning off of Jessica Mink’s earlier post "On Becoming a Woman Astronomer", I have written this post to offer another perspective. My experience has been very different from Jessica’s in many ways: I am a trans guy (female to male) and I am transitioning while in graduate school. I never “planned” to transition in graduate school. My trans identity snuck up on me, as is often the case, and this is where I find myself. Taking time off from school to transition isn’t financially feasible and waiting until I have tenure is too far off in the future and too uncertain in today’s job market, so I am doing my best to manage the situation as it is. But that is a story for a future post. Today, I’d like to talk about bathrooms and how anti-LGBTQ legislation hinders participation in science.

As a trans person, there is perhaps nothing that I hate more than worrying about bathrooms. Believe me, I would rather be spending my time thinking about other things (such as science). But just as every woman has a fear of her next sexual harassment experience, trans people fear what we will face the next time that we use a public restroom.

Bathrooms are tricky spaces. Despite the fact that we all use them for the same things, they’re some of the most strictly gendered spaces that I can think of. This makes them a nightmare for anyone who doesn’t fit traditional gender norms, particularly for nonbinary, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people, who are neither, both, or a combination of man and woman, and can’t win when it comes to gendered bathrooms. This fear is not without reason: 70% of transgender people have been harassed and ~10% have been physically assaulted in restrooms.

Although I have been frequently reassured that men never notice who else is in the bathroom, I still cannot quiet my nerves when walking into a men’s restroom. This took its toll at a recent conference, the first that I attended since coming out. In order to avoid other people, and therefore the possibility of an incident, I found myself using the restroom during sessions. I waited until the room was empty to emerge from the stall. I missed entire talks for the sake of peeing in peace.

All of this happened to me, a white masculine-presenting transmasculine person, and in a state where I can legally use the men’s restroom. I have considerably less to fear than transfeminine people (who bear the brunt of society’s transphobia) and particularly black trans women (who experience even higher rates of discrimination and violence and are at the deadly intersection of racism, sexism, and transphobia). Recent anti-LGBT legislation is only worsening the existing discrimination against, and the vulnerability of, trans people.

There has been an upswing in the number of states attempting to regulate which bathrooms transgender people may use and/or legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people. Anti-trans “bathroom laws” make it illegal for trans people to use bathrooms, locker rooms, etc., corresponding to our gender identity. Enforcement of these laws relies on the problematic and frankly offensive assumption that cis (not-trans) people can identify trans people on sight. Even though there has never been a reported case of a trans person attacking anyone in a bathroom, such laws continue to dehumanize and demonize trans women as dangerous predators and antagonize additional hatred and violence toward trans women and transfeminine nonbinary people.

All of this extends far beyond trans people and bathrooms. Anti-LGBTQ laws make it legal, on religious grounds, to discriminate against someone due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in many contexts. These laws further limit LGBTQ people’s access to goods, services, employment, housing, foster/adoption services, and medical care. Basically everything.

Currently, North Carolina and Mississippi have such anti-LGBTQ legislation in place. Additional states have similar bills in the works. This year, more than 100 different anti-LGBTQ laws were introduced in 22 states. This includes states where major astronomy and physics conferences are scheduled to take place. For example, Tennessee has luckily tabled its anti-trans “bathroom bill” for this year’s legislative session before the AAS Division of Dynamical Astronomy meeting at Vanderbilt University.

In light of these new laws (and the possibility of more to come), the full inclusion of LGBTQ astronomers in our field is at risk. Astronomers, physicists, and planetary scientists should stop hosting conferences, workshops, summer schools, and other meetings in states with anti-LGBTQ legislation. To facilitate this, I urge you all to sign an open letter, urging conference organizers to stop hosting conferences in states with anti-LGBTQ legislation. I also encourage you to pass on this message to anyone who is planning a future conference.

This should not be viewed as a punishment for researchers in these states nor purely as an idealistic act of protest. We must ensure the safety and well-being of all conference attendees. LGBTQ researchers attending events in these states will be at risk for discrimination and harassment, such as being turned away from hotels and restaurants. Transgender researchers traveling to states with anti-trans bathroom laws also risk legal repercussions and violence for using public restrooms (which can include restrooms at state universities). It is unconscionable of our field to require LGBTQ individuals to put so much at risk in order to participate in science.

The American Physical Society recently commissioned a report on the LGBTQ climate in physics. Their first recommendation: Ensuring a safe and welcoming environment at APS meetings. It is impossible to create a safe and welcoming environment if the conference is occurring in a state where discrimination against LGBTQ people is legal.

Let’s not forget the LGBTQ people, including scientists and students, living in states such as North Carolina and Mississippi, who will face these risks and barriers on a daily basis. The impact of these laws on LGBTQ people, particularly trans women, is very real. There have been many public threats of violence against trans women using public restrooms. Calls to a trans suicide hotline have doubled since HB 2 was passed in North Carolina. Lives are on the line and we must take a stand against this legislation.

If our field is truly committed to equity and inclusion, we must address the legalized discrimination of members of our community and commit to protecting our most vulnerable members. It is impossible to stay focused and committed to research without access to such fundamental rights as shelter and medical care or when facing harassment and violence. Now, more than ever, we need to stand with our LGBTQ community members and ensure that all interested researchers can fully participate in science.

Monday, May 2, 2016

"Mistakes were made": The case for proportional response to harassment

EDITED: As of 10:30CST, to deal with my failures of intersectionality and racism.

This year has led the “revelation” (in quotes, because y’all… we knew) that sexual harassment in the academy is alive and well. Through the heroic efforts of some, in the most egregious occurrences sanctions have been enacted. But we are left with a question - How do we prevent history from repeating?

In particular, how do we not end up in the situation where we are cleaning up 10, 20, or even 30 years of ongoing harassment that *finally* culminates in disciplinary action. Due to our current system much of the process is opaque even when people are found to be repeat offenders. How do we not take part in the institutional shuffle that so often follows revelations of harassment? How do we protect our community? How do we expose the systemic harassment that is happening to people who are not white women? How do we *change*? 

We still are very stuck focusing on heterosexual relationships when we talk about sexual harassment. But as the recent American Physical Society report on climate for LGBT physicists exposes, we are doing only a mediocre job at making our workplaces safe for people based on sexual orientation and gender minorities. People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, agender, transgender, genderqueer, or non-binary face very mixed environments at work, and that experience is worse if you identify as a minority on more than one axis. This is often left out of our stereotypical vision of sexual harassment. Yet in report after report, such as the one above, we see the deeply damaging consequences of this harassment we rarely speak of.

Our current system appears to be predicated on the wildly inaccurate assumption that the job of the system is to protect poor hapless male faculty from the devious Lolitas (and they are always young women) that fill their lives (and of course their classrooms and labs). These assumptions are built on an outdated (as if it was ever otherwise) cisgender heterosexual fantasy world. Like so many things these days, we fail to protect those we claim to be thinking about, we endanger people we never imagined we would endanger, and we don’t know how to move forward. Huge swaths of harassment go ignored because they do not fit into the stereotypes we imagine, or fit cleanly into past experiences. People who are minoritized among several axis often find they are heavily discredited or disbelieved when it comes to reporting harassment. Perhaps it is not entirely surprising that the majority of "headline" cases we have seen about enforcing harassment have had white women at their cores (As so eloquently discussed here by Sarah Ballard). We need to extend and expand to keep our vulnerable community members safe.

I think we’re going about it a bit wrong.

I want to make something *exquisitely* clear here at the start. I believe people who harass should have consequences. I do not regret the actions that have been taken against our notorious harassers. I think the system does too little, too late. I think many people, especially junior or other vulnerable people have their careers derailed or destroyed before anyone knows to worry about it, and that is extremely unacceptable. I also believe that the way we’re dealing with it now doesn’t, in the end, fix that. I want to think about what we’re missing in this "all or nothing" framework and how we might repair or rebuild our approach.

As these news stories broke (news stories always, because our institutions operate under shields of impenetrable silence), I had more than one person ask me, as these harassers were being exposed and dealt with, “Oh god, am I harasser and I don’t even know it?”

The short answer is yes.

The slightly longer answer is - You are, but. You are likely not a predator. You do not believe you are above repercussions. You forget, sometimes, that you have the potential to be a bull in a china shop when it comes to issues of gender, race, and sexuality. You do harm without thinking because you are not a “male astronomer” or a "white astronomer" or a "straight astronomer", you are just an astronomer. Maybe you were young, maybe you made a mistake. You misjudged a flirtation, or you were a jerk. You crossed a line you thought you could get away with. You pushed your luck. You did not imagine how offensive your question would sound. We’ve been there. And so, the power built into the kyriarchy of our system means that you can do damage without batting an eye, and inevitably you have. Those mistakes have very real consequences. We need to hold ourselves accountable.

Some might think of what I’m discussing as microaggressions. And it is true that microaggressions are a part of this. It is important here to recognize that the theory of microaggressions was developed by Chester Pierce in his revolutionary work at Harvard and Mass. General regarding racism and health effects in the United States. Although racism & sexism are still very much embedded in our society, they are not the same, and the way we both deal with them and react to them is different. His work on microaggressions was extended by Mary Rowe to expand the application beyond race. But I am including things beyond microaggressions.

This is a conversation I think we are afraid to have, in no small part because our systems are so skewed in how they deal with any sort of complaint. How many times have we heard “He made me really uncomfortable, but it isn’t something to ruin a career over.” Holding someone accountable for their damaging words or actions should be a thing we can do without “ruining” their career. Our current system deals so poorly that it puts the onus entirely on the person being harassed to do a terrible kind of accounting. Who has more value? Your mental and physical health? Or the career and wellbeing of your harasser? And because the stakes are set to be incredibly high, people in power seem to find it easy to dismiss complaints out of hand. Mix that in with unconscious bias and you begin to understand the truly toxic environment academia has become.

I want to see a system where a careless sexist remark, a lingering touch, or an email asking a student out for a date can be reported, can result in protection and satisfaction for the victim, as *well* as a learning experience and proportional consequence for the offender. I want to not keep sheltering faculty who constantly question the competence of our students of color, or who make "offhand" racist comments in class - but are excused because "They're old." or "That's just how Y is, you know.". I want us to be able to hold people to account for harassment in a straightforward way. And then perhaps we teach *most* people that respect and communication is crucial, and that power differentials do matter, and society and its ills don't get left at the door when we enter our buildings. Our current options of endurance or scorched earth are unsatisfactory and problematic. At its worst, our system converts possible abusers into confirmed abusers, because there are almost no consequences for most of their inappropriate behavior and abuse.

What could this new system look like? Fundamentally, it will have to be rooted in our institutions but I believe we could test drive something locally within departments. It will require a lot of community buy in and cooperation. New things are hard, and we will screw them up. It will mean signing on as a department (for example) to have *meaningful* trainings about inclusion, racism, and sexism. It will mean equipping all of us with tools for bystander intervention (training which some Universities already have available) so when mistakes are made we can intervene, discuss, apologize, and learn. The system will require meaningful and increasing consequences, some as small as requiring apologies, or mediated meetings, or attending trainings. And some as severe as fines or firing. I think we have to base it in the work being done in the restorative justice movement. I think we need to move as much power and agency as we can back to the people who are experiencing harassment.

We have relied for too long on the “whispernet” because our current system continues to fail us, but unfortunately whispernet hasn’t protected us adequately either. In particular, early career field members often do not feel like they are valued - by their senior colleagues, or by their institutions. They see the value is placed on their senior colleagues, even those who behave reprehensibly (“But he is such a great physicist!”) and learn very quickly the implicit message about their value. This valuation is always colored by the inherent biases that we carry in our societies, and so unsurprisingly we see the reflection in our constantly disappointing demographic reports. People who are minoritized are not thriving in our field because we are repeating the failings of our society, instead of creating systems that will support their voices and prioritize their survival.

Returning to those people who ask me “Am I a harasser?”. Many of these people also ask me “What can *I* do?”. Add your voice and your hands to instituting systemic change, in your department and in our field.

These systems and teachings CAN NOT only come from the work of minoritized people and communities. Those of us who have some privilege need to take on the work of supporting programs to protect minoritized community members and create change.

Does all this change seem unlikely? Maybe. But maybe to me it is worth imagining that we can learn and grow, rather than accepting that we will just continue on, pushing out marginalized colleagues through our carelessness and contempt. I’m not interested in accepting that, and will continue to try and fix it. I do hope you’ll join me.

Author's Note: When I wrote the first version of this, I handled poorly issues of intersectionality in harassment. I apologize for harm done for those who read it, and hope in its revision it speaks better to the future I'd like us to strive for. I used old and lazy framing, which in and of itself is racist. I forgot the fundamental rule that work worth doing is worth doing correctly the first time. I aspire to do better in the future, and appreciate being called in to make corrections in the present.