Skip to content

The CSWA: Providing Resources for Astronomy Researchers of all Kinds… Even Planetary!

March 18, 2013

In May 1972, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Council established an ad hoc committee of volunteers, including Anne Cowly, Roberta Humphreys, Beverly Lynds, and Vera Rubin, to evaluate findings that the percentage of women in the AAS was the lowest that it had been in the history of the AAS.  In a 1974 report (1), this group reported that women were underrepresented as AAS officers, committee members, prize recipients, invited speakers, session chairs, and journal editors (2).  Sound familiar?

In 1979, after yet another report indicated that the status of women in the AAS had changed very little since 1973 (3), the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) was established.  The charge to “recommend to the Council practical measures that AAS can take to improve the status of women in astronomy and encourage their entry into this field” was adopted in 1980.

In these past 30+ years, the CSWA has worked diligently to collect and publish information and data that pertain to the recruitment and retention of women in the broad field of astronomy. In particular, the CSWA collects data related to career trajectories of women.  In one study, it has found that, in the Ph.D.-granting astronomy departments in the United States, just 15.1% (on average) of the faculty are female and tenured (4).  The CSWA is currently conducting another survey to see how departments have changed since 2003. Two important documents, The Baltimore Charter and The Pasadena Recommendations, further assert the importance of supporting women who are equally talented as men, should have equal opportunities in all career fields, and more importantly, deserve to have satisfying and rewarding careers.

Valuable information and advice on staying in the pipeline can be found on the CSWA Advice and Resources pages.  Learn what it means to be (or have) a mentor, how to achieve work-life balance, or what “unconscious bias” is. Are you in a relationship? Learn how to handle the two-body problem; if you’re both looking for work, this may be negotiable.

Why bother?
Why should planetary scientists care about the CSWA?  In many cases, astronomers and planetary scientists work in the same department and it’s usually a Physics Department or a joint Physics and Astronomy Department.  DPS, a division of the AAS, is one of the only professional societies dedicated to supporting planetary scientists, and as far as I know, neither the GSA nor the AGU has a committee dedicated to evaluating and working to improve the professional climate for women, though the Association for Women Geoscientists is probably a good counterpart to the CSWA.  In short, the CSWA represents us and provides official information about the status and climate of women in our field, and we should use these excellent resources to educate ourselves.

Get Involved
The current committee is comprised of 12 members, men and women, who teach and do research in the astronomy and planetary science communities.  We maintain an active blog, a Twitter feed, and a Facebook page. As one current member stated, CSWA is “a committee of AAS members who are advocating for change on behalf of AAS members.” We are currently looking for new committee members, as well as guest bloggers, so if you are interested, please send an email to me with answers to the following questions:

1)      What activities are you / have you been involved in that are relevant to CSWA efforts?

2)      What aspects of the CSWA efforts would you particularly be interested in getting involved in and what are some specific ways you could contribute?

3)      What kind of time commitment would you be able to give to the committee?

Women hold up half the sky; we also study the ground below and everything about other planets.  If you feel that now is the right time to make some professional connections, considering becoming a member of CSWA or contributing to its blog. If not, please take a look at the website to learn more about the great things CSWA does and the great resources it provides.


(1)   Cowley, A. et al. (1974) BAAS, 6, 413.

(2)   Schmelz, J. T. (2011) Genesis of the CSWA,, accessed on 3/6/2013.

(3)   Liller, M. et al. (1980) BAAS, 12, 624.

(4)   Schmlz, J. T. (2012), Senior Women: A Comparison of Astronomy Organizations,, accessed on 3/6/2013.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: