Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2001 22:38:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject: AASWOMEN for 2/23/01

AAS Committee on the Status of Women weekly newsletter of 2/23/01,
ed. by Meg Urry and Patricia Knezek

This week's items:
1. Procedure for submissions/subscriptions/comments
2. (Lots of) Responses about age limits for Pierce/Warner prizes 
3. Diversity presentation in Intro Astronomy 
4. Job: Asst. Prof. (leave replacement) at Wellesley U

1. Procedures for contacting AASWOMEN:
  - Material sent to reaches both Pat and Meg, 
which is important since either of us may be editing the newsletter 
in any particular week. 
  - We will assume emails to are meant for 
broadcast to the full AASWOMEN distribution. Private remarks should 
instead be directed to (both) our personal email addresses. Thanks!
  - To subscribe [or unsubscribe], please email,
with the line "[un]subscribe aaswlist yourname@youremailaddress" in
the BODY of the message. You will then receive an email from majordomo
with further instructions.

We welcome your contributions and comments!

Meg & Pat

2. We received an unprecedented response to our posting on the age
restrictions for the Warner and Pierce prizes. Many favored a prize 
tied to career length since Ph.D., although the suggested rules varied 
in detail. Others though it would be difficult or bad to change the 
terms of the bequest (it would in fact involve legal work by the AAS, 
and may or may not be possible) or that ambitious would-be prize winners 
would try to manipulate the system. We repeat the original posting 
(for those who missed it) and give most of the responses (or abstractions
from them) below. - M&P
The original posting:
1. Age limits for the Warner and Pierce prizes
From: Meg Urry & Pat Knezek

The Helen B. Warner prize and the Newton Lacy Pierce prize both require that
the recipients have not attained 36 years of age in the year designated for 
the award.  We wish to solicit opinions on whether they should be changed
from chronological age to age-since-PhD. The American Physical Society has 
recently done this for early career awards, to emphasize the early career 
part, not the age part, since the latter can discriminate against people who
have taken time out in their careers.  For example, this could include people
who choose to take time off to have kids, or perhaps chose to work outside of
academia for a few years before completing graduate school.  These awards are
advertised by the AAS as "early career" awards, so perhaps the American 
Physical Society has captured the true spirit of such awards.  Let us know 
what you think!
Responses this past week:
From Partridge Bruce, Haverford U:
   ... you raise a good question: should it be age or time since 
the PhD that determines "early career" status for the Pierce and 
Warner prizes? To me, that is the kind of question that, once raised, 
/has an obvious answer: it should be years since the PhD or equivalent. 
We should follow the good example of our colleagues in physics.
From Priya Natarajan, Yale U:
   I totally agree that it would be sensible to count years post PhD 
or years in academia rather than age.  A larger fraction of women tend 
to have non-linear career paths in general, so we absolutely have 
to change this chronological age business. 
From Ivan King, UC Berkeley:
   I'm shocked to hear [the rule is age-based]; I thought it had 
been changed (in the direction you indicate) years ago. 
From Rachel Webster, U Melbourne:
   As someone who did not finish their PhD till they were 35, I would 
strongly endorse the age-since-PhD ruling change for the Warner and 
Pierce prizes.
From Kris Sellgren, Ohio State U (Pierce Prize, 1990):
   I support 100% the idea that the Warner and Pierce prizes should
be years after Ph.D. rather than years after birth. Obviously women 
who take time off to raise children are excluded from consideration ... 
but this is an issue that affects both men and women. ... Some of the 
best graduate students in our Ph.D. program have started graduate school 
after working in industry first. They begin grad school more motivated, 
more mature, and with better time management skills and organization habits.
In short, the AAS should change the age limit on the Warner and
Pierce prizes to a limit on the number of years past Ph.D.
From Jim Hesser, NRC Canada:
   Your query whether specific ages or date from PhD completion (i.e., 
time in the career) should be used for Warner & Pierce prizes is 
interesting; now that you have posed it, I would definitely vote for 
the latter. In recent years I have been impressed by how many people 
I have become aware of who entered astronomy after having worked for 
some years in other endeavours.
From Amanda Baker, Cardiff U:
   Since the final year PhD student with whom I am currently working
is already 36, you can probably guess what my response will be! 
I think that the number of paid 'full time equivalent' years in 
astronomy should be the gold standard (although to be honest I 
would be in favour of also weighting by the number of different jobs; 
that is, someone who has had to apply for a new job every year or two 
has not had the same chance to good research as someone who has had 
just one or two long term contracts - but I realise this is getting 
From Rick Harnden, CfA:
   Obviously the right thing -- long overdue!
From Caroline Simpson, Florida International U:
   I have always thought that age limits on a prize intended for people 
in the early stages of their careers was ridiculous. Age and where you 
are in your career are not necessarily correlated. You're not selecting 
on the proper characteristic. Because women are more likely to take time 
off than men, age limits are more discriminatory towards women. There are 
some problems associated with using time-since-PhD too, since people do 
take time off after earning a PhD, but it's better than using an age limit.
From Joel Parker, Southwest Research Institute:
   Yes, I do strongly support the idea to change the "age" limit to 
a "time since Ph.D." limit for the Warner, Pierce, any award that is 
intended for people early in their careers. It seems to be the only 
sensible definition that meets the intent of the award.
From Grace Wolf-Chase, U Chicago:
   I think either way -- age 36 or time since PhD -- will be prejudicial 
against women with families, since time off for kids can take place 
either before OR after a woman obtains her PhD, and in either case 
will inevitably slow down the woman's career. A related issue that 
is currently not considered (even in the newly- offered "ADVANCE" grants) 
is that family responsibilities don't stop after "the first year". 
For working, middle-class women with children, an academic career is 
a constant struggle between work and raising children that doesn't stop 
until the child is an adult (if then...). I don't mean to belittle the 
strides that have been made to improve the situation for women, but, 
realistically, until some sort of acknowledgment is given to those who 
do first-rate science, but at a lower production rate due to family 
circumstances, women -- and men -- who miraculously manage to contribute 
to the pool of scientific knowledge, while contributing to society by 
helping turn out human beings capable of making responsible choices, 
will be grossly disadvantaged in the academic world.
From Kimberly Cyr, Johnson Space Center:
   I whole-heartedly support the method the American Physical Society 
used regarding eligibility for early-career awards. I think it makes 
much more sense to measure career age rather than chronological age. 
I personally worked for a while before returning to school, so I've 
often found that I've been on/over the edge of being disqualified for 
grad student travel scholarships, prizes/awards, etc. (I'm currently 
36 yrs old and have had a PhD for 2.5 years.) I knew at least 3-4 other 
people in my grad program who started grad school older than average 
because they took time off or did other things first. I've also heard 
it claimed that older students (those who did not go straight through 
high school-undergrad-grad) are usually more mature, focused and dedicated 
to their science career once they start it. It would be especially 
ironic if chronological age restrictions discriminated against a class 
of people potentially more dedicated than the average to their work. 
(Not that I'm claiming all of us late-comers deserve such awards.)

Bottom line, I don't think a chronological age limit will accurately 
describe all possible early-career award scientist candidates, by 
discriminating against those who have taken time off from science/school 
at some point before completing their PhD.
From Kristy Dyer, North Carolina State U:
   I do think these should be changed to time-since-PhD. Astronomers 
are remarkably productive compared to other scientist late in life and 
I suspect that women astronomers may have an even later productivity 
peak than male astronomers (I have no hard evidence for this!). I think 
it's critical that we include late-onset astronomers amoung those 
recognised for early career achievement.
From Samantha Osmer:
   I'd like to weigh in on the age-limit of awards. I absolutely agree 
that the award eligibility should be determined by time since degree 
rather than biological age. This is relevant to me personally since 
I haven't gotten my PhD yet and I am over 30. It would be discouraging 
to think that I would be ineligible for certain accolades only because 
I left things too late for one reason or another.

Age is becoming more and more subjective -- people are doing things at 
all sorts of ages now -- many people no longer follow the "traditional" 
path of undergrad, grad school, faculty position, etc. as you pointed out.

This will also challenge some more "traditional" thinkers, like those 
I ran into at a large university recently who counseled me that I should 
maybe not pursue my PhD because I wouldn't be done until I was over 35 
and at that point it wasn't likely that I'd get hired. I was too stunned 
to respond to that at the time and left thinking, "This really still 
goes on?" Appalling.

Anyway, whilst I'm here I would also like to express my dislike for 
the non-science bits getting into this newsletter like a solicitation 
for mammogram donations and discussions of womens' menstral cycles as 
correlated with phases of the moon, etc. These are not issues effecting 
women in astronomy, they can be discussed in another forum. The mammogram 
thing would be much better suited to circulation among friends. 
From Kathy Rhode, Yale U:
   I'm so glad you wrote about this! This is one of my pet peeves
about certain science awards - by imposing these age limits, institutions
are (apparently needlessly) discriminating against people who did not
take the "normal" academic route of doing a Ph.D. immediately after an
undergraduate degree. If the awards are intended for people in the 
early parts of their careers as astronomy researchers, a time-since-PhD
requirement would make much more sense. I worked in astronomy for 5 years
between undergrad nd graduate school, then did a master's in Astronomy
before finally entering a Ph.D. program. By the time I finish my Ph.D., 
I will be 36 and therefore already ineligible for awards with cut-off ages
of 35 or 36 - before I've even done my first post-doc!

If there's any sort of "lobbying" that the CSWA can do to try to change
the requirements of these awards to time-since-PhD, I'd be thrilled!
Some other comments: 
   - I'm against changing the definition of the career qualifications 
     for these prizes. The arguments in favor are good ones, and I don't 
     have a good argument against it: just a general dislike of changing 
     the definition of young. What with 5 years in grad school, 2-3 postdocs, 
     several years at the assistant astronomer/professor level, one's 
     practically reached retirement by the time you have a long-term 
     position. This is devastating for women and babies (and bad news 
     for everyone, men and women alike). I'd like to see our profession 
     move towards basically being secure by the time you're 30.
   - I've always felt this age limitation on the Warner and Pierce 
     prizes is grossly unfair and should be changed to time since Ph.D. 
   - The DPS awards a prize, the Urey Prize, with an age deadline of 
     36 or 6 years (or maybe 5?) from completion of the PhD. This allows
     nominees who started grad school later for whatever reason to 
     be considered for the prize. [This] might serve as an example...
   - [Paraphrased:] Changing the age limit to some other rule would
     create opportunities for mischief. Some ambitious graduate students
     would delay their degree to get a head start on winning an award.
     Better not to mess with it.

3. From: Kris Sellgren
Subject: diversity slide show

Every year when I teach intro astronomy to undergraduates, I
spend some time early in the quarter giving a small slide show
with images of non-traditional astronomers. I make a point of
showing (lots of) women astronomers (thank you, ASP women in
astronomy slide set!), and then I have a single slide each of 
an African-American astronomer, a Hispanic-American astronomer, 
and an Asian astronomer. I have recently gotten promises of 
photos from a lesbian astronomer and a gay male astronomer (thank
you!), which I will add to my slide collection. I plan to add 
a slide of Steven Hawking, to show a disabled astronomer, as 
soon as I can find one. I have been dealing with the lack of
lesbian/gay/Hawking slides so far by simply stating astronomers
also exist with different sexual preferences and with serious

I really feel it's important to show that the astronomy 
community is diverse, because the astronomy texts all show an 
overwhelmingly high percentage of images of male astronomers 
compared to women, and never show any images of astronomers of 
color. If *I* feel excluded from astronomy by looking at the 
text, because I'm female, then surely all the women in the class 
as well as all the men of color are going to feel even more 
excluded and alienated from science.

If there's a category of under-represented astronomers
I'm missing (Native American astronomers? Pacific Islander
astronomers? something else?), help with finding suitable slides 
or photos would be greatly appreciated.

I don't get a lot of feedback on my "diversity" slide show, 
but the little I do get -- from African-American students, from
gay students -- has been overwhelmingly positive, so I think
it's worth the effort. I encourage everyone who teaches intro
astronomy to incorporate a similar slide show into their class.

Kris Sellgren
Ohio State University
4. From Priscilla Benson, Wellesley U:

The Wellesley College Astronomy Department seeks a 3/5 time leave
replacement at the Assistant Professor level for the 2001/2002 academic
year, beginning September 2001. Wellesley College, located near Boston, is
a highly selective women's college of 2200 students with a history of
excellence in astronomy. We are part of the Keck Northeast Astronomy
Consortium (KNAC) of eight undergraduate astronomy departments. We are
looking for applicants with a Ph.D. in astronomy or astrophysics and
evidence of enthusiasm for, and experience in undergraduate teaching in
astronomy. The successful candidate will teach one course in the fall
semester and two courses in the spring semester. Please visit for more information about Wellesley
College and our department. The leave replacement position includes full
benefits. Candidates should submit a letter of application to Dr. Richard
French, Whitin Observatory, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA 02481
( describing relevant work and teaching experience,
a vita, and the names, e-mail addresses, and telephone numbers of three
people who would be willing to write letters of recommendation upon our
request. Review of applications will begin on 1 April 2001 and will
continue until the position is filled. Wellesley College encourages
applications from women, minorities, veterans and candidates with
disabilities. AAE/EOE.