AAS Committee on the Status of Women 
Issue of January 25, 2008 
eds. Joan Schmelz, Hannah Jang-Condell & Caroline Simpson 
 
This week's issues: 
 
1. Requested Advice 
 
*** FOLLOWING POSITION WAS TAKEN FROM WIPHYS *** 
 
2. Junior Faculty Position in Theoretical Cosmology, Syracuse University 
 
3. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN 
 
4. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN 
 
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1. Requested Advice 
 
[Last week, we posted an anonymous request for advice from a mom-to-be who  
needed a polite but firm way of explaining to "red-state relatives" that she 
would not be giving up astronomy when the baby arrived. This request 
generated a variety of responses -- Eds.] 
 
From: Been There Done That (anonymous contribution) 
 
I am from a red state. About half of my immediate family is right-wing 
conservative Christian. My sisters and my sisters-in-law are all stay at home 
moms, every one of them with college educations. Some of them home school, 
some don't. Here are a few ideas to consider: 
 
1) It's good news that your immediate family "gets it". They may not be as  
skilled a buffer as your husband, but they're going to want a nice party. 
Whether the extended family gets it or not, who cares? You can talk about 
your maternity leave or whatnot, or you can be irritatingly vague and be 
noncommittal about your plans. Some people are rather patronizing to 
first-time mothers in any case, so the less you say about your plans, the better. 
I find that unless they're intoxicated or unbearably rude, most people aren't  
going to start doing pointing an accusing finger at a pregnant woman. And 
even if they do, *they* look terrible, not you. Practice your Mona Lisa 
smile and nod. It's lovely, I know. 
 
2) Don't widen the stay at home mom/working outside the home mom rift. It's 
a trap. One of my sisters likes to say that studies show that the kids who 
do the best are the ones who have the happiest moms. I wish I knew where 
you could cite this (as if it would matter), but it sounds good to me. Some  
moms are happiest staying home; some moms are happiest working outside the  
home. It's also a decision that is free for those who have the economic 
options. Many moms don't have much of a choice! They work for economic 
reasons, for health insurance, etc. So read up on the topic, but try not to 
get sucked in to someone else's value system (pro or con) 
 
3) Here's a fantastic deflector technique: ask about their children! 
Everyone loves their kids, and redirecting the topic to their own children 
and how they're doing is a terrific shower subject, and generally makes 
everyone cheerful. They may make a point to say how healthy, smart, 
well-behaved, etc their kids are, but they will be happy while they're 
doing it. 
 
I've been through this more than once, and channeling Mona Lisa works 
amazingly well. You're pregnant, you're glowing, and you're the star. Be well. 
 
From: Meg Urry [meg.urryyale.edu] 
 
1. The first thing to remember is that this is not an argument you need to  
have or win - you believe in yourself and your decisions and you do not owe 
an explanation or defense or justification to anyone. So start from a calm 
position of strength. 
 
2. If you are too busy for the shower, make your excuses and don't go, but  
if you do decide to go, think of it as an opportunity to educate, by 
example (not by argument), your in-laws. For example, should anyone be gauche 
enough to assume you will give up your profession, you could gently profess 
surprise, as if they are simply mistaken, "Oh, no, I'll be continuing with my 
work, of course" - your tone is that you are puzzled anyone could expect 
otherwise. When you raise intelligent, wonderful children, they will 
possibly have learned something. 
 
Best of luck - having kids was the best thing I ever did (and yes, they are 
turning out marvelously, not despite but perhaps because of having been in 
daycare since 6 weeks of age - they had additional loving caregivers, and  
they have always had lots of love and care from us, their parents, as well). 
 
From: Heidi B. Hammel [hbhalum.mit.edu] 
 
Well, as pre-trip prep work, send them the Newsweek article about me where  
I talk (on page 2) about managing work and family. Either the URL 
(http://www.newsweek.com/id/70975) or just print it out (just 2 pages). Clip 
a note to it, saying something (make it up) about there are so many great 
role-model women in astronomy who have kids - look at this lady astronomer 
who has three young kids and she's in Newsweek! (For the record, my kids are 
6, 8, and 10 - so we have transitioned from the baby years into the 
taxi-mom years). 
 
As for the pithy remark. A fave of mine (but it may not play well in 
Peoria) is: "A sane mom is a better mom". :-) 
 
Seriously, though, one tactic out of the Emily Post school is this: if some 
one says something about you "coming home", first stare at them blankly for 
just a very brief moment, as if they have said something you simply don't  
understand or is very odd or bizarre, and then smile with an 
"I-am-so-excited-about-astronomy-and-babies" smile and say, "We are really 
excited about the baby, and have a great support network already in place 
in [town] to help if we need it." Repeat as needed, tailoring to comment: 
"We have already worked out a great arrangement with our bosses in 
preparation." 
 
If you plan daycare, and they try the old "daycare-is-horrible" wheeze, 
smile and say with confidence: "There are lots of studies nowadays showing 
that kids in good daycares do just great in school, and we have a really 
great daycare arranged!" 
 
Likewise, if they try the old 
"If-you're-working-you'll-miss-the-baby's-first-step" nonsense, laugh a 
little and say: "There will be so many firsts for us, whenever WE see 
them for the first time, that'll be the special moment for us." 
 
Above all, smile pleasantly (even if your teeth are gritted), and keep 
calm, and just keep repeating variants of the above remarks (well, maybe 
leave out the "sane mom is a happy mom" one). You KNOW you are doing the 
right thing for YOU, so smile and express your happiness about it. 
 
Of course, it is imperative that you DO have a great support network in 
place. I just counseled another young woman facing this issue, and the 
most important advice I can give (as a working astronomer with three kids) 
is this: You HAVE to rely on family, friends, neighbors, and other parents. 
Don't suffer from foolish pride and think you "should" be able to do it all 
by yourself - that is pure bushwah. People want to help other people, so 
be strong enough to ask for help when you need it. 
 
From: Saku Vrtilek [sakuhead.cfa.harvard.edu] 
 
If screaming "I am more than my uterus", bursting into tears, and running 
from the room seem like the only possibilities, I would think the best thing 
to do is NOT GO to the baby shower. Saves you and everyone else time, money, 
and stress. 
 
From: Susan Simkin [simkinpa.msu.edu] 
 
Been there done that (As they say). I have worked in Astronomy since I was  
21. I have two "kids," now approaching 40. They are useful members of 
society, never been druggies or alcoholics, and from my old-age perspective 
that is a real accomplishment. 
 
1. WAIT until you get over the "burst into tears" phase of pregnancy. (It's 
 hormones, it goes away!) 
 
2. DO GO TO THE SHOWER! This is the way to find out about your husband AND  
your baby's genetic background. (Believe me, this is important.) 
 
3. Keep asking questions when you are there. (About your husband when 
young, other people's babies, family history, etc). They will not have time 
to quiz you about your personal plans. (Ignore the stories about how one 
suffers giving birth - they only come from mothers who want a guilt handle 
on their kids.) 
 
4. If they do ask, be honest but non-specific: ("jobs are hard to find 
in Astronomy, we will have to see what turns up.") 
 
5. Above all - remember - you are having YOUR baby - because you want 
and love it - I bet that not one of your "red state" female relatives 
thought of herself as a breeding womb why should you?? (It's usually just 
guys who are confused about pregnancy and have to rationalize it 
as breeding!)) 
 
PS. As our current primary race shows, "Red state - blue state" is 
a fiction of the media. 
 
From: Anonymous 
 
The environment described exists in many places beyond 'Red States.' 
Saying 'I am/we are astronomers and work in (whatever location)' should be  
sufficient if these people are accepting enough of you, but unfortunately 
the situation may be more difficult than this. 
 
I have barely had time to even think about having children yet, because my  
husband and I never managed to find jobs in the same country after trying 
for several years. But then I think not having children is a good decision 
for me because any children might otherwise have the same relatives. 
 
When I first got married, some of our relatives expected me to give up my 
career quickly and have children. Yet a few years later, when I finally made 
a difficult decision to pass up a salary and become a visiting scientist 
rather than taking yet another postdoc job which required me to live a good  
twelve hours flying time from my husband (with more than a mere ocean 
between us), the same relatives put me down for no longer earning money! 
I was told that I must have nothing to do with my time now, and that I was 
only qualified to work at a fast food restaurant. I have even become the 
ultimate example of why a university education would be a waste of money 
(for some of my younger relatives) despite the fact that I earned a salary 
as a postdoc for five years. 
 
I advise the person asking to go to the shower if she feels like it (but 
bring the husband along for support if at all possible). Everyone wants to 
have a close relationship with some relatives, and she can make some attempt  
to do this for now. They may just need some time to accept this situation.  
On the other hand, these people, despite their happy but conventional 
appearance, may be frustrated by the limited and boring nature of their own 
lives once the festivities are over. If they are un-accepting of this 
situation, then they may eventually find other excuses to put her down out 
of jealousy. In this case, she may need to accept the very sad fact, as 
I have, that some relatives really aren't worth spending time with. 
 
From: Christine Wilson 
[wilsonphysics.mcmaster.ca] 
 
I sympathize with your situation, as I have a similar situation: my husband's 
family is all very red state, including his immediate family (but fortunately 
not his sister or her husband), while my husband and I are Democrats/socialists 
currently living in Canada. I speak from 15 years of experience  
with them plus two kids, one of whom (my daughter) has my last name. 
 
My advice would be (a) ignore whatever you can (b) attempt to steer 
conversation onto safe subjects (c) keep whatever response you have to make 
in the end short. 
 
For example, the issue of taking your husband's name: let any comments go 
unless they are a direct question to you. Some of my relatives I'm sure 
would still introduce me by my husband's last name if they were put on the 
spot and it's not worth the time to correct them. (I had a funny episode 
when my daughter was about 4 when we were at a cousin's wedding and I KNEW 
my aunt would introduce us as Chris and Susie Minor, and Susie would have 
loudly corrected her! So I just stepped in ahead and introduced us: as 
Chris and Susie, no last names.) 
 
There must be some safe discussion subjects with your in-laws (in my case 
we are pretty much down to the weather, wildlife and the health of 
elderly relatives, but when they were younger there used to be more 
latitude). Think of what they are and try to keep the discussion on 
those topics. 
 
As to what to do if put on the spot about continuing in astronomy, 
something short and non-aggressive is probably best if you can't ignore their 
comments. Perhaps just a simple, "No, I will go back to work after my maternity  
leave is over." and then an attempt to change the subject would do. 
 
Keeping your visit with them short will also reduce the length of time you  
have to bite your tongue. Good luck! 
 
From: Belinda Wilkes 
[belindahead.cfa.harvard.edu] 
 
I suggest starting as you mean to go on. 
 
- ensure that they schedule it to minimize your time off work - i.e. 
at a weekend 
 
- take your husband with you. Since you both work full-time, you will be 
sharing the load of taking care of the baby. He therefore should also be at 
the shower. This may be the strongest message you send, to him as well as 
his relatives. It also provides you with support amongst his relatives when 
you state that you will continue to work at the job you love, as will your 
husband, while you both share in taking care of the child you both love. 
 
From: Bonnie Buratti [bburattiscn.jpl.nasa.gov] 
 
Have faith in yourself and don't worry about what other people think or say. 
Be polite and a chameleon if you must during the family events with the " 
red staters". If necessary, go on autopilot. Don't argue with anyone. Then  
go away and be the very best astronomer and mom you can be. 
 
One good strategy is to talk about fluffy kittens, cute babies, recipes, 
Lamaze classes, best baby clothes... all sorts of ultra girl talk. Act like " 
one of them". No one will ask you any questions about your career. Few 
people even care. The "fluffy kitten" strategy is not for everyone, but it work 
ed well for me in many situations. (It's easier if you have the kids in tow.) 
 
If asked point blank, you could just say politely and firmly that you will  
continue your career, as you have trained for it so long. Then change the 
subject to the best way to treat cradle cap. 
 
Or if it's easier, just lie. It will make no difference. It is your 
reaction to them that is the issue rather than any power they have over you. 
 
Remember that many traditional women are insecure about their own choices.  
So it's best to offer solidarity with them and focus on common ground. Many 
of them have struggled with all sorts of things - divorce, handicapped 
kids, serious illness, including the invisible mental illness, financial 
problems, addiction, spousal abuse, lost dreams. Most struggles are hidden 
and unacknowledged. 
 
My in-laws are a traditional Chinese family. Really, it can't get much more 
challenging than that, and it is the immediate family I have dealt with, 
not just the extended clan. The first event was a traditional Chinese 
banquet in honor of our marriage (our wedding was not up to their 
standards). Traditional tea ceremonies and such. The second thing was a 
celebration one month after my first son (now 24) was born. He was the 
first son of the first son - a big thing in the Chinese tradition. All sorts 
of things were said during the banquet celebration. I just shook my head, 
smiled, and uttered some pleasantries. Then got back to proposal writing. 
Also, my in-laws were hyper-critical of everything I did, in principal 
(the daughter-in-law is the lowest member of the family - there was no 
acknowledgment at all of my work). I ignored that, and their harping stopped 
after a while. 
 
Any psychic energy you waste on what extended relatives think will take 
energy away from your real work. 
 
Keeping your name? Not an issue - no big deal - just keep it. Make sure you 
have lots of return address labels and stationery with both names on it 
(or just your own, with the PhD or Dr. address included). Have nice engraved  
birth announcements with both parents' names, and thank you notes for the 
shower gifts that say Dr. Jane Doe. 
 
Just do what you love and are good at. Tune out anything that keeps you 
from your chosen path; there will be many more bumps than just the extended 
in-laws. 
 
I have three children (now 20, 22, and 25). The first one was born while I  
was in graduate school at Cornell. I think that may have been the hardest 
challenge. My advisor broke federal law when I was pregnant by firing me 
without my knowledge or permission. I continued to work as if nothing 
happened (it's hard to sue your thesis advisor). In embarrassment he had 
to rehire me again after a month. 
 
I have persevered, and had a fulltime career in astronomy all along. 
 
Just hang in there. 
 
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2. Junior Faculty Position in Theoretical Cosmology, Syracuse University 
From: WIPHYS January 24, 2008 
 
As part of a significant growth in this area, building on our established 
strengths in gravitational wave physics and cosmology, we invite 
applications for a tenure-track assistant professorship in theoretical 
cosmology. Strong applicants from all areas of theoretical cosmology will be 
considered, but we are especially interested in those with connections to 
ongoing and future experiments or space missions. 
 
The Syracuse cosmology/gravity group consists of Professors Cristian Armend 
ariz-Picon, Duncan Brown, Peter Saulson, Richard Schnee, Mark Trodden, and  
Joshua Goldberg. Successful candidates will join an energetic and growing g 
roup focused on multi-messenger cosmology. 
 
Applicants are requested to send a letter of application, a curriculum vita 
e, and statements of research and teaching interests as attachments in an 
e-mail to tcsearchphysics.syr.edu. 
Alternatively, materials can be mailed to: Faculty Search Committee, Department 
of Physics, Syracuse University, Syracuse NY 13244-1130 USA. Applicants are 
also asked to arrange for three or more letters of reference to be sent to 
the same address. 
 
All applicants should have a substantial record of research accomplishments 
and a strong interest and ability to teach effectively at both the 
graduate and undergraduate levels. Review of applications will begin February 
1, 2008, and will continue until the position is filled. Syracuse University is 
an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer. Members of minority 
groups and women are especially encouraged to apply. 
 
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4. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN 
 
Past issues of AASWOMEN are available at 
 
http://www.aas.org/cswa/AASWOMEN.html 
 
Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered. 
 
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