Archives For .Astronomy

The response my previous blog post about gender bias took me by surprise. Apparently if you talk about this stuff openly, people have a lot to say. More than 500 people have read the post on this site and more over at the Women in Astronomy blog.

After posting it, I also emailed the upcoming .Astronomy 5 attendees and offered everyone (men and women) a second shot at sending in a talk abstract. As many men as women sent me an abstract in the following few days – come on: that’s kinda funny, right? The result is that I believe we can now create a more equal speaking line-up for September’s event, and I’ll be inviting speakers soon*.

I’ve also had a lot of feedback from Twitter, Facebook and other places, with stories of both very different and similar experiences. Many people seem to think that .Astronomy is unusual and that may put women off more than men. I find that hard to believe, but I’m willing to consider it. Mainly, people wanted to know how the sign-up form was worded, so here it is:

I don’t see anything here that one would consider biased. I can’t say the same for the .Astronomy sign-up form that Chris Beaumont  found in this tweet.

It’s been suggested that I ask the women who didn’t sign up, why they didn’t. Honestly I’m not comfortable doing that – but if any of them want to volunteer a response that would be interesting. I’m also not sure that anyone can really even be aware of the things that may bias them toward submitting a talk abstract (or not) when they fill out a form.

Finally (for this update) I’ll point you to a very interesting URL that several people shared with me this week: the AAS Committee on the Status of Women’s page detailing the ‘Percentages of Conference Invited Speakers Who Are Women‘. It shows that .Astronomy is not so unusual and that astronomy is very much still male-dominated. Are we surprised? No. Can we change this? Yes. The question is: how? That’s what I’m going to be asking a lot when we create the sign-up form for .Astronomy 6.

I’m really pleased with how this has turned out, and look forward to a more balanced and awesome .Astronomy 5 in September. I really appreciate everyone’s feedback and I think this conversation will keep going – so I’ll posts updates if necessary.

*Hurray for blogging!

We’re running the fifth .Astronomy conference later this year in Boston. .Astronomy is a small (and awesome) conference for astronomers, where you must apply to participate. Although the tone is relaxed, spaces at the event are in short supply (there are only 50 places). You don’t have to talk at .Astronomy, and there are only a few speaking slots, but it’s a pretty friendly crowd and you can talk about a wide variety of things. So why did only 2 women submit an abstract (out of 27 female applicants) versus 30 men (out of 65)?

.Astronomy 5 Signup Gender Ratio

We would like to create a broad group of speakers but it’s hard to select talks that don’t exist. Did we inadvertently create a bias toward male speakers by soliciting abstracts on the sign-up form? If so, that’s a worry because it’s how a lot of conferences do this.

To be clear: on our simple conference registration form, almost 50% of men submitted an abstract, but only 7% of women. Holy moly.

There has been a great deal written about the fact that women lack self-esteem, relative to men. This explains some of the gender gap in pay, promotions and even published op-eds. This isn’t news, really. In fact the 7% and 50% figures above are eerily close to the percentages for each gender who negotiate starting pay after getting an MBA – and that study is more than 10 years old!

.Astronomy Signup Gender Gap

What is news to me is that we committed the same error at a progressive conference in 2013. Does this mean that conference registration forms like the one used for .Astronomy are an example of unwitting bias against women in astronomy – and who knows: science, academia, conferences in general?

I’d be interested to know how this plays out at other conferences and events. Do the UK National Astronomy Meetings see a similar gender gap? Do AAS Meetings? Does anyone else have anecdotal examples of similar or contradictory things happening?

I realise that there are women with plenty of self-confidence – and also men who lack it. I also realise that self-confidence does not correlate with academic ability and so perhaps we need a better system for selecting people for talks, promotions or jobs. I’m not proposing any solutions here – that would be extremely self-confident of me. What I do know is that whatever system would improve the situation, it will also be important for the women of academia to boldly go where statistically fewer women have gone before: and submit more abstracts.

As for .Astronomy: if you’re coming to the meeting in September and you’re a woman who didn’t submit an abstract (there are many of you!) then feel free to email one to me now. The SOC are still picking a range of speakers and talks, so we’d love to hear from you.

[There’s a follow-up post to this here]

The 3Rs: Citizen science in the classroom

Unproceedings of .Astronomy 4

.Astronomy Hack Day NYC

December 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

On Saturday, New York astronomy geeks will convene at the offices of bit.ly for the first .Astronomy Hack Day! We do hack days as part of the main .Astronomy events and people have often asked us to do hack days outside of the main conference series. So when August Muench began saying he’d like to run such a thing in NYC it was very exciting. 

You can still sign up on Eventbrite (although you may be added to a waiting list at this point – the plan is to widen the event and then let the waiting list in.) If you’re part of the geek elite of astronomy then I highly recommend going along. It’s just for the day and just for fun.

Go and make something, create. Share ideas, and meet the astro geeks in your area. I know so many projects and working relationships that have come from Hack Days of all kinds – they can be really productive events.

I wish I could be there, but I can’t. So I’ll just have to rely on you all to go and make this .Astronomy Hack Day awesome. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes out of it.

.Astronomy 4

June 24, 2012 — Leave a comment

In 2008, in the midst of my PhD, I ran a conference called .Astronomy. The idea was to bring together all the other astronomers who were into the web and networks. It might not seem very long ago, but 2008 was before Twitter went mainstream and before everyone’s gran was on Facebook – to use one measure. We had data scientists, robotic telescope people, bloggers and others present (both in person and remotely).

The conference, which I held in my home institution in Cardiff, was a lot of fun and I got to meet a bunch if cool people. I was surprised when a clutch of the attendees came to me afterwards and asked if they could help run the next one.

Together we have gone on to organise three further, awesome events. Following Cardiff (Sep 2008) we had .Astronomy 2 in Leiden (Dec 2009) and 3 in Oxford (Apr 2011). In two weeks I’ll be attending .Astronomy 4 in Heidelberg. It’s being held in the newly built Haus der Astronomie, which is shaped like a spiral galaxy and looks gorgeous!

Haus der Astronomie
Haus der Astronomie

The event – I hate calling it a conference, as it feels like more than that – keeps improving, and evolving from meeting to meeting. They are all very informal affairs, and quite intense. I’m getting very excited about #dotastro 4, as it is known on Twitter. I’m really grateful to Sarah Kendrew for making the Heidelberg event happen this year. Being the local go-to person is a massive job, and she’s doing it fabulously!

One thing we’ve added this time is a shared, public Wiki for the participants. In just a few days it has already filled up with the crazy and brilliant ideas I’ve come to love and expect from .Astronomy. There are suggestions for a huge range of projects, from an automatic astronomy poetry generator to a service that can use the entire astronomical literature to generate new, unexpected hypotheses. The ideas on the wiki are all about trying to get the most out of the Hack Day, when everyone is free to build/create whatever they like with the others at the event.

.Astronomy is all about the relationships between the people who attend. We keep the event small, try to keep people in close proximity, and aim for an informal few days. I’ve gotten to know some of my favourite astronomers through .Astronomy and I know several working relationships that have emerged because of it. I have high hopes for number 4, and the buzz around it is growing. I think it’s going to be awesome.

You can learn more at http://dotastronomy.com follow us on Twitter @dotastronomy and follow all our fantastic Heidelberg participants via our conference4 list.