By Angela Zalucha
I meant to write this article yesterday. That’s not a statement of procrastination. I suffer from depression, which was triggered a few years ago by events directly related to my career. The symptoms of depression are different from person to person. For me, I have to go lay in bed, in silence. Tasks like getting up to heat leftover pizza up in the microwave are insurmountable. So I wasn’t exactly up to the task of writing a blog article, even if it was about the condition I suffer from.
But I’ve already talked too much about mental health for our society’s comfort. It’s strange, really. Physicians recommend yearly check-ups for they physical aspects of the body. Yet we don’t go for yearly mental health check-ups. If you break your arm, you’ll see a triage nurse, a radiologist, a clinician, and maybe a surgeon and physical therapist. Nobody tells you you shouldn’t seek treatment, and you probably aren’t going to have second thoughts about going to urgent care or the emergency room (unless you have an emotional reaction to hospitals). So why when your brain gets “injured” in a psychological way is there a stigma about seeing a medical professional? Why do I feel like I have to lie about going to therapy appointments? Why can I tell only my most trusted family and friends about my condition?
College and professional sports teams have medical professionals on staff to attend to injuries, in real time, on the field. Game play halts until that person is able to be safely removed from the game or return to play. The audience claps out of respect. The media talks about injury reports for players and how long they’ll be unable to play. As scientists, our minds are our most important trait. Where are our high-profile, professional trainers? Why don’t we get put on the injury list when our minds are hurt?
So far, it has been up to the individual to get help for themselves, not always with the critical support they need, with regards to mental issues. But after speaking out at meetings about what as I see as an epidemic of mental health illnesses in our community, total strangers came up to me and thanked me for my words. Young, old, male, female, reinforcing this idea of an epidemic. I worry for the ones who did not approach me, or the ones who aren’t even aware they might need help, what jeopardy their lives are in. As a professional society, we cannot ignore a situation that is affecting so many of its members, a crisis that impacts our most valuable asset. When our minds hurt, our productivity as a community hurts. Our shared passion hurts. Our colleagues hurt. Our friends hurt.
How are we going to solve this issue? I don’t know yet, but somebody had to mention the invisible elephant in the room. We can figure this out.
Athena Coustenis is Director of Research 1st class with the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the Observatory of Paris-Meudon, in France. Her research is devoted to the investigation of planetary atmospheres and surfaces, with emphasis on icy moons like Saturn’s Titan and Enceladus, and Jupiter’s Ganymede and Europa, objects with high astrobiological potential. She has led many observational campaigns from the ground and space using large observatories (CFHT, UKIRT, VLT, etc), and the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) to conduct planetary investigations. Athena is a Co-Investigator of three of the instruments (CIRS, HASI, DISR) aboard the Cassini/Huygens space mission to Saturn and Titan. She also works on the characterization of exoplanetary atmospheres.
Andy Rivkin, David Grinspoon, and Bob Pappalardo organized an informal Men’s Auxilliary discussion at DPS this year around the topic of harassment and steps to changing the culture in the planetary science community. They were kind enough to share the below summary and thoughts from the event. Thanks to Andy, Dave, Bob, and all of the participants for taking the time to discuss this topic and contribute important perspectives and reflection.
Many of us who were graduate students in the 1980s and 1990s were under the impression that issues of gender equality and sexual harassment were matters of demographics, and that time was on the side of justice, and by the time we were mid-career scientists these issues might solve themselves. Needless to say, this hasn’t occurred. With an eye toward taking an active rather than passive role, we began engaging the male members of the Division of Planetary Sciences at the annual meeting in National Harbor, Maryland in a discussion of where we are and where we want to be in the near future. Specifically, how can the men of our community be more proactive and help change the culture?
I have not had a chance to write up the summary of the DPS Women in Planetary Science Lunch yet, so I am going to skip ahead to posting about some of the other great events that occurred at DPS :).
Dr. Christina Richey received the Division for Planetary Sciences Harold A. Masursky award for Meritorious Service to Planetary Science. In the past, this prize winner gave short remarks after announcement of the prize, but Christina requested, and was granted, a full-length prize talk to address the issue of harassment.
- Christina’s moving talk outlined some of the many issues we face in our field, and emphasized the serious consequences of harassment. She summarized the results of the CSWA Survey on Workplace Climate and shared best practices for combating harassment, including discussions on reporting harassment, accountability, and being an ally.
- Christina’s was kind enough to share her slides which contain a great number of details and helpful resources: http://bit.ly/Richey_2015_Masursky_Talk
A huge thanks to Christina and everyone else who is taking a stand on harassment.
This interview was conducted by David W. Brown, a freelance writer and contributor to The Week and Vox. He can be found online at http://dwb.io.
Dr. Beatrice E. A. Mueller was born in 1959 near Zurich in Switzerland. She studied physics with a minor in astrophysics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) from 1978-1983. Her diploma work was on International Ultraviolet Explorer data on a symbiotic star. She then spent a year working as a research assistant at the Institute for Astronomy at the ETH. She earned her Ph.D. at University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in 1989; her thesis was on the system GD1401—a white dwarf-red companion system. She did analysis and some modeling of the white dwarf spectrum. Read more…
The DPS meeting was full of many fabulous events this week, including a focus on combatting harassment. Although one could wish we did not have to talk about harassment because it was not happening, unfortunately it does happen… WAY TOO OFTEN!!!
For those who were not there, here is a summary of some of the ways harassment was addressed. I am sharing these as inspiration for continued discussion of this issue at future events.
Please share additional good ideas/conference best practices if you know of them (or if I forgot any from DPS!)
- In the next post I will give a summary of the Women in Planetary Science Lunch where Amy Simon gave an excellent talk packed with all sorts of advice for throughout your career stages. She also highlighted some of the hurdles women face, including harassment.
- Christina Richey was awarded the Harold Masursky award for meritorious service to the Planetary Science Community and delivered a moving and data-driven talk about the problem and the solutions surrounding harassment.
- An informal Men’s Auxiliary meeting was organized by Bob Pappalardo, David Grinspoon, and Andy Rivken to discuss harassment and ways to help change the culture.
- The AAS anti-harrassment policy was prominently displayed on the DPS meeting website, and there was talk about implementing a check-box for conference registration stating you are aware of the policy.
And many, many, more people showed support by attending the events, and in general being concerned about the problem.
Everyone would love more solutions, but I am EXTATIC that this issue is being talked about instead of whispered behind closed doors. Many people, including myself, are fed up with having traumatized friends, and are wondering what we can do to prevent people from experiencing harassment in the future. As Christina stated, the word-of-mouth/wisper culture is not enough to protect people in our field, so openly talking about the issue is a great first step towards showing harassers that they will be noticed, and they cannot as easily get away with repeat offenses.
Many people expressed a desire to help, and hopefully more ally workshops will take place in the future. Another great suggestion was to increase the number of trusted people that have extra training in both (1) the options open to people who have been harassed, and (2) emotional support. As of right now, the burden for helping those who have been harassed falls on a few people, and the need for help is sometimes overwhelming. For example, when a big story about harassment comes out, many go through PTSD remembering their own situations, thus creating a flood of people in need.
I know these have been shared before, but great resources on harassment and anti-harassment policies can be found on the CSWA website and their blog, the Women in Astronomy Blog.
SWRI also has an excellent anti-harassment policy they said I could share, so let me know if you would like a copy.