AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of October 29, 2010
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson & Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. Stereotype Threat

2. Best Policies for Gender Equity?

3. The Cost (and Value!) of Breastfeeding and Doing Astrophysics

4. Example of the Mutual Benefits of Outreach

5. Assistant Specialist or Associate Specialist, UC Berkeley

6. Faculty Openings in Astronomy & Astrophysics and High Energy Theory

7. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

8. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

1. Stereotype Threat
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

We can all agree that there are differences between men and women; it is
unlikely that the NFL will start drafting women or that men will soon fill
maternity wards. These physical effects aside, many studies have looked for
cognitive differences, but only a few have found significant results. It is,
however, impossible to attribute these results to Nature alone because our
society is full of cultural gender differences. The fact that Japanese girls do
better on math tests than American boys tends to support the cultural
explanation. Indeed, the math divide disappears in countries where gender
equality is the cultural norm. In Iceland, for example, girls outperform boys in
both math and science (Guiso, Monte, Sapienza & Zingales 2008, Science, 320,
1164). Further, no studies have linked any of the alleged gender differences in
cognition to actual professional success.

Researchers recruited students with strong math backgrounds and similar math
abilities (Spencer, Steele & Quinn 1999, J. Exp. Social Psychology, 35(1), 13).
Subjects were divided into two groups and given a math test. One group was told
that men performed better than women on the test (stereotype threat), and the
other group was told that there were no gender differences (nonthreat). Women
performed significantly worse than men in the threat situation, but the gender
difference almost disappeared in the nonthreat condition. More recent results
find that the threat can be induced simply by asking students to indicate their
gender on the test form or having a larger ratio of men to women in a testing
room (Inzlicht & Ben-Zeev 2000, Psychological Science, 11(5), 365).

Stereotype threat may account for as many as 20 points on the math SAT, a full
two-thirds of the so-called gender gap (Walton & Spencer 2009, Psychological
Science, 20(9), 1132). In a society where Talking Barbie said, "Math class is
tough!" as recently as 1992, can it be so hard to imagine that girls still get a
mega-dose of this math-crippling stereotype threat?

For a nice summary of the stereotype threat, please see Chapter 3 of "Why So
Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics," compiled by
Hill, Corbett & St. Rose. You can download a copy here: 

http://www.aauw.org/learn/research/upload/whysofew.pdf (3 MB)

2. Best Policies for Gender Equity?
From: Tammy Smecker-Hane [smecker_at_sculptor.ps.uci.edu]

[Last week's issue of AASWOMEN included an item from the Women in Astronomy Blog
from CSWA member Ed Bertschinger on best policies for gender equity. Below we
include a response from Tammy Smecker-Hane and a follow up from Ed. Note: you
can read and comment on blog postings at 

http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/ - Eds]

I am responding to Ed Bertschinger's post inquiring about policies on the
university scale and larger that can influence women staying in academic

Yes, indeed there are policies that you can take at the department, university
and national level. There ought to be a set minimum allowed leave time for all
parents when a child is born or adopted, no matter if they're a graduate TA or
RA, postdoc, faculty member or staff. There ought to be available childcare
(open and affordable spots) for all parents, too. There ought to be policies for
people who need leave time for elder care, too. There ought to be rooms
throughout campus where breast feeding women can pump in a safe and private

Academic life as well as the wider world needs to get in touch with the fact
that 50% of the population are women and that raising and caring for family is
growing in importance to all of us -- not just women.

A good resource to read on this issue -- to see what the University of
California as a whole is doing and what it still needs to work on -- is the
recent issue of a report entitled "UC Report of the UC Systemwide Advisory
Committee on the Status Women" (May 2010), which you can find at: 


I was a member of the committee and co-chair of the Work-Life Subcommittee. Read
it for concrete information on WHY university leadership should take action,
concrete FACTS and STATISTICS related to issues of concern for women students,
faculty and staff at all UC campuses, and IDEAS for what to do.

Note that a number of these issues are not unique to women faculty; they're also
important to women students at all levels, postdocs and staff, but they often
are left out of consideration because they have less political pull.

From: Edmund Bertschinger [edbert_at_mit.edu]

Tammy Smecker-Hane has suggested some important employer policies and resources
for those who wish to inform themselves and their employers about valuable steps
to improve work-life balance for parents. I strongly endorse these ideas and am
glad for her contribution to both AASWOMEN and to the efforts at the University
of California. The need now is to transform policies from ought to is.

University administrations are paying increasing attention to such matters but
the wide differences in policies show that continued efforts and activism are
needed. For example, at my university I've found it difficult to make headway in
promoting affordable childcare; like many places, we have on-campus childcare
but with far too few spots (especially infant care) to make a significant
difference. Faculty members are given preference for campus childcare spots and
are sometimes even given portable benefits. Postdocs and graduate students get
little or no assistance, a situation that is not conducive to advancing women in
the profession. One objection I've encountered to a recommendation for childcare
subsidies for graduate students and postdocs is that the subsidies would have to
go to men as well as women and this would benefit men more than, and even at the
expense of, women. While I agree that childcare benefits should be gender
neutral I don't see how they can be bad for women.

Parental or medical leave is another area with wide variation in policies. To my
university's two months of paid leave for childbirth accommodation for graduate
student mothers, I added one month for students in my department hoping it would
inspire others to do likewise. I was unaware that the federal funding agencies
will permit grant funds to be used for parental leave if there is a clearly
stated institutional policy for such leave, until I read it in the UC Systemwide
Committee on the Status of Women Report mentioned by Dr. Smecker-Hane.

I'm delighted to learn about the groundwork done by the UC Committee. As for
"why", I believe every supporter of women in academia should read the reports
"Why So Few?" prepared by the AAUW and "Staying Competitive" prepared by the
Berkeley Center on Health, Economic, & Family Security. They can be downloaded



3. The Cost (and Value!) of Breastfeeding and Doing Astrophysics 
From: Sara Ellison [sara_at_beluga.phys.uvic.ca]

[Last week's issue of AASWOMEN included an item from the Women in Astronomy Blog
from CSWA member Ann Hornschemeier on breastfeeding and doing astrophysics.
Below we include a response from Sara Ellison and a follow up from Ann. Note:
you can read and comment on blog postings at
http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/ - Eds]

I wanted to make 2 comments about Ann's post, which might bear sharing with a
wider community. The first is that, in Canada, we can use our research grants to
pay for our nursing children to accompany us on work travel. There is still a
financial drain of course, but now it is on our research grant, not our pockets.
Our grants can also be used to cover babysitters and/or the cost of a
caregiver's travel. The second comment regards hotel accommodation, which Ann
pointed out can be expensive and inconvenient when travelling little 'uns. We
(re)-discovered the joys of youth hostels last summer with our (then 2-year-old)
daughter. Hostels are cheap, often have private family rooms with en-suite
bathrooms, kitchens for self-catering, a place to hang out once the kids are in
bed (we just left a baby monitor in the room) and .... many willing babysitters!
Whilst I prepped dinner, gaggles of backpackers amused my daughter and there
were plentiful supplies of board games, movies and activities laid on, many of
which can be family-friendly. So the whole thing was easier and cheaper for us,
and more fun for her.

From: Ann Hornschemeier [Ann.Hornschemeier_at_nasa.gov]

Sara correctly points out that charging the cost of having your nursing children
accompany you on travel is a drain on your research grants, but definitely helps
out your wallet. Note that I am double-checking with folks at NASA and NSF but
I'm pretty sure you can't do this in the U.S. (but gee, you _should_!).

Sara also suggested considering youth hostels. Great idea! I personally went for
proximity in the extreme (the conference hotel gave me a room immediately next
to the coffee break & talks) but this solution can really save some money. My
choice was definitely more expensive.

4. Example of the Mutual Benefits of Outreach 
From: L. Trouille_at_women_in_astronomy_blog

As a new member of the CSWA and first-time blogger, I thought I'd take this
moment to introduce myself: I recently began my first (only?!) postdoc as a
CIERA (Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics)
fellow at Northwestern University. In my research, I use optical emission line
and X-ray diagnostics to identify galaxies that are actively accreting material
onto their central supermassive black holes and the role that this accretion
(and the consequent feedback) plays in galaxy evolution.

I've kept myself happy and sane by working to protect a life outside of research
-- as a roller derby queen with the Mad Rollin' Dolls (my moniker was 'Big
Bang'... really, what else could you be as an astronomer crashing around on
wheels?), as a stilt walker and trapeze artist (still looking for good names for
this alter ego, any suggestions?), etc.

I was also lucky to have been part of a great group of women (and men) graduate
students at UW-Madison. Together we formed WOWSAP (Women of Wisconsin
Strengthening Astronomy and Physics), a mentoring and networking group for women
graduate students, postdocs, and early career faculty. The discussions we had
and the professional development we provided for ourselves played a key role in
keeping me in this field.

For the Spring 2011 AAS in Boston, CSWA has proposed to host a special session
panel discussion on 1) ways to ensure the sustainability of mentoring programs
and 2) sharing examples of how departments and institutions have managed to
change the climate so that these programs become accepted as the norm. I'd very
much appreciate hearing about your experiences with these two aspects of
mentoring programs.

Have you had success (or encountered obstacles) promoting the sustainability and
institutionalization of a program in your department, university, or other work
place? What ways have you found to improve climate and culture with respect to
mentoring/networking programs?

For more, go here: 


5. Assistant Specialist or Associate Specialist, UC Berkeley 
From: Karen Wang [karenwang_at_berkeley.edu]

The UC Berkeley Supernova Group and Exoplanet Group invite applications for an
optical observer starting 1 January 2011, or another mutually agreeable date.
The initial appointment is for one year, with renewal for a second year expected
if progress is satisfactory and funds continue to be available. The position
involves working with Professors Alex Filippenko and Geoff Marcy at UC Berkeley
on problems involving supernovae and exoplanets. Specifically, the successful
candidate will be expected to spend a majority of his or her time conducting
ground-based spectroscopy and photometry using remotely controlled telescopes at
the Lick and Keck Observatories. Most of the observations can be done from the
UC Berkeley campus; extensive travel to the observatories will not be necessary.
Some time will also be devoted to data reduction, especially when poor weather
precludes observations. Writing and contributing to research papers may also be
possible, time permitting. Salary is in the range of $38-55k per year, depending
on experience. Successful candidates will enjoy interacting with a broad range
of researchers in astrophysics at UC Berkeley. A Masters or PhD degree in
astrophysics or a related field is required. Applications will be evaluated
starting 1 December 2010, and the deadline for applications is December 15, 2010
Please submit applications online at 


Include a CV, bibliography, and statement of interests. Three letters of
reference from people closely familiar with the applicant are required. Follow
the directions for self-registration, uploading of PDFs, and obtaining the URL
for reference writers. Refer potential reviewers to the UC Berkeley Statement of
Confidentiality found at: 


UC Berkeley is committed to actively recruiting diverse candidates, including
women and minorities: Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

6. Faculty Openings in Astronomy & Astrophysics and High Energy Theory 
From: WIPHYS for Oct 28, 2010

The University of Utah's Department of Physics and Astronomy is continuing to
expand -- we now number 35 faculty, eight of whom have arrived since January
2009. The research areas of the most recent arrivals include astronomy, high
energy astrophysics, experimental condensed matter, and biophysics. As part of
our ongoing expansion, we are filling two more positions this year, one in high
energy theoretical physics, and another in astronomy and astrophysics. In
astronomy and astrophysics, we are particularly interested in enhancing our
strength in the area of theoretical astrophysics and/or cosmology, and seek
candidates whose research would benefit from the University's membership in
SDSS-III and the University's Center for High Performance Computing. In high
energy theory, the ideal candidate would have an interest in LHC phenomenology.
With reasonable rents and cost of living, combined with all the activities that
the area has to offer, the quality of life for both students and faculty is
awesome. Completed applications will be reviewed and interviews scheduled on a
rolling basis -- first priority will be given to astronomy and astrophysics
applications received before November 15, 2010, and to high energy theory
applications received before November 30, 2010.

7. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

[Please remember to replace "_at_" in the below e-mail addresses.]

To submit to AASWOMEN: send email to aaswomen_at_aas.org. All material sent to
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To subscribe or unsubscribe to AASWOMEN go to 


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8. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN

Past issues of AASWOMEN are available at


Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered.

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End of AASWList Digest, Vol 44, Issue 5