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Senior Women: A Comparison of Astronomy Organizations

by Joan T. Schmelz, CSWA Chair

Senior women in astronomy provide us with mentors and role models. They can change or even transform the culture, dynamics, and environment of a department or research group. They can stand with us and fight for us if we find ourselves the victim of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, or unconscious bias. They can make an organization more female friendly.

CSWA began compiling a list of the percentage of women among the tenured faculty members of Ph.D. astronomy departments in the US. This list has now been expanded to include the percentage of women researchers/faculty/staff with tenure or the equivalent for US astronomy institutes/universities/observatories. For US government installations such as NASA GSFC, the equivalent of tenure is considered to be a civil service appointment. Numbers and percentages were confirmed by a member of each organization.

The table below shows that the range is wide, with Indiana University leading the pack with 50% women on the tenured faculty, but with some other institutions still in the single digits. The average is 15.1%, with a standard deviation of 10.6%.

For comparison, 18% of full members of the AAS are women. In addition, 30% of named postdocs have been women for the past 20 years; they represent some of the most highly qualified potential candidates for tenure-track positions. These data are public domain and were compiled by the demographics panel for Astro 2010. We received special permission to share the results at the 2009 Women in Astronomy III conference. Here's a link to the paper.

Why tenured women? Other surveys of women in astronomy have been more general. See, for example, the article in the June 2004 issue of STATUS entitled, “Portrait of a Decade: Results from the 2003 CSWA Survey of Women in Astronomy” by Jennifer Hoffman and Meg Urry.

In my mind, tenure means success. Of course, there are many ways to succeed in astronomy, but tenure may be the most universal. This survey was narrowly focused to begin to answer a very specific question, "Are women succeeding in astronomy?” One way to answer this question is, "Yes, individual women have always succeeded in astronomy." Another answer, related to the group rather than the individual is, "Yes, but progress is all too slow."

This list is meant to be an evolving document, so as members of your organization get tenure, retire, arrive, leave, etc., we invite you to send the new numbers to CSWA so we can keep an accurate tally. Please feel free to contact us with any changes, updates, and questions. Also, if you would like to add your department or research organization to the list, please send us the necessary figures.

October 17, 2013 figures are based on the CSWA's recent demographics survey of departments and institutes and are current as of January 1, 2013. Those figures include only the astronomy components of joint departments and do not include joint appointments.

Notes to table:
  • For joint appointments, we include the fraction of time devoted to astronomy, unless otherwise noted. NA = not available.
  • These data are for the entire department, not just the astronomy component of a department, unless otherwise noted.
  • Assistant professors, research professors, junior members, part-time instructors, soft-money researchers, postdocs, emeritus faculty, etc. are not included in this list.

% Women # Women # Men University Department (discipline) Joint Appts. Updated
55.6 5 4 Indiana Univ. Astronomy Oct 18, 2013
40.0 2 3 Univ. of Missouri – Columbia Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) Oct 18, 2013
40.0 2 3 Gemini Obs. Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
40.0 2 3 Univ. of New Mexico Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) Oct 17, 2013
38.1 8 13 Univ. of Minnesota Minn. Inst. for Astrophysics Oct 17, 2013
37.5 3 5 Yale Univ. Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
33.3 4 8 Univ. of Washington Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
33.3 3 6 Univ. of Wisconsin Madison Astronomy [NA] Oct 17, 2013
33.3 3 6 New Mexico Tech Physics 2011
29.2 3.5 8.5 Caltech Astronomy [Included] Oct 17, 2013
28.6 2 5 Univ. of Toledo Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) Oct 17, 2013
27.3 3 8 Columbia Univ. Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
26.7 4 11 UCLA Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) Oct 17, 2013
25.0 1 3 Case West. Res. Univ. Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
25.0 2 6 New Mexico State Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
23.1 3 10 Princeton Univ. Astrophysical Sciences [NA] Oct 17, 2013
23.1 3 10 Boston Univ. Astronomy Oct 18, 2013
22.7 5 17 UCSC Astronomy & Astrophysics Oct 17, 2013
22.2 2 7 Lowell Obs. Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
22.2 1 3.5 Michigan State Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) 1 at 0.5 Oct 24, 2013
21.4 3 11 MIT Astrophysics Oct 17, 2013
21.1 15 56 NASA Goddard Astrophysics [NA] Oct 17, 2013
20.8 5 19 Univ. of Arizona Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
19.4 3 12.5 Ohio State Astronomy 2 at 0.25 Oct 24, 2013
18.2 2 9 UMass Amherst Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
16.7 1 5 Univ. of Iowa Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) Oct 17, 2013
15.4 2 11 Univ. of Florida Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
14.3 1 6 Univ. Michigan Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
13.9 5 31 Arizona State Univ. School of Earth and Space Exploration Oct 17, 2013
13.6 3 19 Univ. of Colorado Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences Oct 17, 2013
12.5 2 14 Penn State Astronomy & Astrophysics Oct 17, 2013
12.5 2 14 Cornell Univ. Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
12.2 3 21.5 Yale Univ. Physics 3 at 0.5 Oct 18, 2013
11.4 4 31 Univ. of Hawaii Physics & Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
11.1 2 16 NOAO1 Astronomy Nov 13, 2013
11.1 1 8 Northwestern Univ. Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) and CIERA [NA] Oct 17, 2013
11.1 2 16 Florida Inter. Univ. Physics 2011
11.1 1 8 Johns Hopkins Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) Oct 17, 2013
10.5 2 17 UC Berkeley Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
10.5 2 17 Univ. of Texas, Austin Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
10.5 6 51 Rutgers Physics & Astronomy Jun 17, 2012
9.6 5 47 SAO2 Astronomy Oct 19, 2013
9.1 1 10 Univ. of Illinois Astronomy [NA] Oct 17, 2013
8.0 2 23 NRAO Astronomy Jun 17, 2012
7.7 1 12 Harvard Univ. Astronomy [NA] Oct 17, 2013
7.4 1 12.5 Univ. of Maryland Astronomy 1 at 0.5 Jul 10, 2013
7.4 2 25 Univ. of Chicago Astronomy & Astrophysics [NA] Oct 17, 2013
7.1 1 13 Univ. of Virginia Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
6.8 2 27.5 Univ. of Delaware Physics & Astronomy 1 at 0.5 2011
5.6 2 34 Iowa State Univ. Physics & Astronomy 2011
0.0 0 11 Louisiana State Univ. Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) Oct 17, 2013
0.0 0 7 Rice Univ. Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) [NA] Oct 17, 2013
0.0 0 4 Stony Brook Univ. Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) Oct 17, 2013
0.0 0 7 National Solar Observatory Astronomy Oct 17, 2013
0.0 0 3 Georgia State Univ. Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) Oct 17, 2013
0.0 0 0 Univ. of Wyoming Physics & Astronomy (astronomy) Oct 17, 2013
1 "Astronomer track" tenured positions
2 Federal Civil Service positions with many of the same privileges as tenure


For additional comparative data (posted by the webmaster):

For comparative data for 2003, 2005, 2007, readers may consult the data on race and gender balance in the faculties of the top fifty departments in various scientific and engineering fields, including astronomy, compiled by Dr. Donna J. Nelson of The University of Oklahoma.

Additional comparative data sets are compiled on a continuing basis on the statistics page of the American Institute of Physics.

Data for named and unnamed postdocs, 1995 - 2005, are given in Hoffman, Modjaz, West, and Graham 2009, "Transitional States: Addressing the Gender Imbalance Among Postdoctoral Researchers at UC Berkeley," in Women in Astronomy and Space Science: Meeting the Challenges of an Increasingly Diverse Workforce, Proceedings from the conference held at The Inn and Conference Center University of Maryland University College, October 21—23, 2009, edited by Anne L. Kinney, Diana Khachadourian, Pamela S. Millar and Colleen N. Hartman, p. 213, and in J. Schmelz et al. 2009, "The 30% Benchmark: Women in Astronomy Postdocs at US Institutions" ibid., p. 234

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This page last updated: November 15, 2013