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Report from AbSciCon 2010

May 9, 2010

Women in astrobiology/women in planetary science:  Summary of meeting at AbSciCon on Tuesday 27 April, 2010

submitted by the women present

A lot of research has been done about the problem of discrimination against women e.g. see the National Academies Report Beyond Bias & Barriers, and the book Athena Unbound.

There are resources that can help us to promote fair treatment of women in science, and positive role models, e.g. the Rosalind Franklin Society, but people may not know about them.

Bias still results from the assumptions (sometimes unconscious assumptions) that both men and women make about women’s career paths (e.g. assumption that someone wants to take time off to have a family; assumptions that women don’t like leadership roles).

Positive role models are extremely important in altering assumptions (including our own unconscious assumptions which may hold us back).

It is a problem that graduate students and post-docs have no right to maternity leave – this can deter women from entering the scientific academic path, or cause them to leave it.

Minority women face the risk of double discrimination against them.

We don’t always recognize that we are being subjected to unethical (and sometimes illegal) behavior.

Positive steps that we can take:

Raise awareness. Amongst others, that a problem still exists. Amongst ourselves, e.g., what are our legal rights?

Stay in touch with each other to create a mutually-supportive social network; it often helps just knowing that our experiences are not unique, and we can also use this network to make sure that information is widely shared (e.g. about jobs, development opportunities, mentoring opportunities), and we use such networks to organize to press collectively for change.

Mentoring/coaching is a particularly useful tool, and can be useful at any stage in your career, such as when taking a step in a new direction; sometimes all that holds us back is a lack of confidence, or lack of knowledge of one small specific sector or issue (e.g. how to negotiate your salary the first time that you have to do it). Both mentor and mentee can benefit from this relationship. Mentoring/coaching can be done in person or online (cyber-mentoring).

In addition to thinking about our own careers, we can be positive role models and help provide opportunities for the next generation of female scientists via activities such as mentoring high school kids, girl scouts, contacting high-school guidance counselors, working with education and outreach personnel (e.g. many universities do outreach into the local community), allowing ourselves to be shadowed for a day. We don’t need to wait until we are fully established in our careers to do this – graduate students can be great role models for teenagers.

Using only initials instead of a first name on an application may reduce the risk of bias.

Points to raise with NASA

Issues relevant to AbSciCon

  • Provision of childcare (cost subsidized would be best; don’t necessarily expect cost free) or childcare grants for people attending AbSciCon
  • Provision of mothers’ room at AbSciCon
  • How about using AbSciCon to create mentoring relationships? The registration materials could ask for people who are willing to be mentors, or who want mentors. This could be just for a time limited period for those who don’t want to make a longer-term commitment e.g. perhaps just one mentoring discussion during AbSciCon, or a senior scientist allowing a more junior scientist to shadow them for a day at AbSciCon.

More general issues

  • NASA postdocs have no right to maternity leave; being able to take maternity leave is subject to the approval of the adviser (which could be refused) and may not include health benefits while on maternity leave
  • Blind processes (where the identity of the proposer is not known) for grant and fellowship proposals reduce the probability of unfair bias, and should be used wherever possible (and we know they are used in some cases). Even where it is not possible for the whole process to be blind, it might be possible for part of the process to be blind (e.g. initial sifting).
  • NASA Astrobiology website could include relevant links; also perhaps highlight some positive role models.

Thank you for this report from AbSciCon 2010 — all women in planetary science are now invited to comment on this report, make suggestions, ask questions, and to come back to discuss any aspect of this report or other articles on the Women in Planetary Science Blog.  Additionally, you are all welcome to join the women in planetary science yahoogroup and/or participate in the 51 Women in Planetary Science project by submitting a recent abstract of your own or nominating another planetary scientist whom you admire.  Welcome!

One Comment leave one →
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    May 1, 2014 2:41 pm

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