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Longitudinal Study: Astronomy

March 23, 2010

In 2007, the American Astronomical Society Council and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) funded the first longitudinal study of astronomy graduate students which aimed to gather statistics on tracking the career trajectories (and possible leaks in the employment pipeline) of space scientists.

Results of the first survey, including gender issue trends, were presented by the AIP study lead Rachel Ivie at the 2009 Women in Astronomy III meeting, at the 2010 AAS meeting in Washington, D.C., and were recently featured in Nature (Jan. 2010, vol. 463, 28).  Pat Knezek, the study co-lead, reports that there are plans to formally publish the results from the first survey, hopefully within the next few months.

At the Jan. 2010 AAS meeting, a committee was formed to petition the AAS for a new ad hoc longitudinal study AAS working group and to begin developing the questions for the next survey: charting the transition between grad school and postdoc/employment.

for more information about this committee or the survey, contact Karly Pittman, who contributed today’s post.

Historical details (written by Pat Knezek):

There was a resolution adopted at the Women in Astronomy 2003 conference (part of the Pasadena Recommendations):
– “The American Astronomical Society should commission immediately a longitudinal study of young women in astronomy. A similar group of men should be used as a comparison sample
Both subjects that remain in the field and those that leave the field should continue to be tracked for the duration of the study.”
– The AAS should commit to continue this study for at least 10 years.
– One goal of this study would be to measure whether there is differential attrition of women from the pipeline and if so, to learn the reasons for it.”

During that conference it was recognized that we have insufficient information about the career trajectories of astronomers and astrophysicists and why people have those career trajectories to be able to truly separate out whether there are any true problem areas (e.g. critical points that cause us to lose talent in our field). We needed to better understand where our trained scientists end up, try to correct any identified problem areas so we don’t lose talent, and train our scientists correctly for the paths they may follow.

The effort to produce the first survey was undertaken by CSWA-sanctioned mostly volunteer working group. It consisted of 3 astronomers, 1 AIP research associate, and 2 graduate students. The working group’s goals were:
– Establish reliable, well-understood statistical information
– Understand how and why career choices are made
– Enable the best science possible through diversity and gender/minority equity

The distribution, collection, and analysis of the first survey was funded by AAS Council and AIP in January 2007. The working group’s methodology was:
– Use the AAS’s junior membership list
– Identify astronomy and astrophysics graduate students from AIP surveys
– A total of 2056 names were collected (grad students in 2006-07)
– Multiple contacts via e-mail and paper mail were made
– Received a total of 1576 responses (not all eligible for analysis)
– 800 agreed to participate in future (41% female)

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