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Often, certain issues regarding women in astronomy occur over and over again. This page is designed to give some advice on these issues from CSWA members. Advice given here is strictly the opinion of the person who wrote it.

Topics Include:

1. Top Ten Ways to be a Better Advisor for Graduate Students

2. Advisors, How Do You Deal with Student Tears?

3. Advice on Dealing with Discrimination and Harassment

4. Advice on When to Raise a Family

5. Advice for Postdocs Applying for Tenure-Track Positions

6. The 2-Body Problem: New Advice for an Old Problem?

7. Being Ignored in a Meeting: Suggested Solutions

8. How to Be a Good Mentor

9. Suggestions for Serving on a Scientific Organizing Committee

10. Workplace Bullying in Astronomy

11. When to Say Yes, How to Say No

1. Top 10 Ways to be a Better Advisor for Graduate Students

From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

How do we learn to be a good advisor? Our grad students don't come with an instruction manual, but perhaps they should! Sometime we learn to be a bad advisor because we had a bad advisor. Sometime we expect our students to know everything we do. Sometimes we make the same mistakes over and over again.

A recent discussion at the CfA Women in Science group led to a Top 10 list of how to be a better advisor. Special thanks to Kelly Korreck, Andrea Dupree, Saku Vrtilek, Lisa Kaltenegger, Stephanie Bush, and Lynn Matthews for feedback.

Please feel free to post this list on bulletin boards and web sites. You can make copies and put it in department mailboxes. If you're a grad student, make sure your advisor has a copy. If you're an advisor, make sure you follow *all* the rules, not just the ones you're good at. Also, we would like this list to evolve and improve, so please send comments and suggestions.

Top 10 Ways to be a Better Advisor for Graduate Students

1. Try to see each student as an individual; they will all have different backgrounds, talents, and goals. Do not expect them to be 'just like you' or like people you work with. It is crucial to realize just how important their work with you will be to their career.

2. You are responsible for guiding your students' research: helping them to select a topic, write a research proposal, perform the research, evaluate it critically, and write the dissertation. Set up a weekly meeting with your thesis advisee to give *constructive* (not personal; not necessarily positive) feedback on research work.

3. Identify student's strengths and build on them; identify weaknesses and help students overcome them.

4. Students need to know what to expect; these expectations will change as the student gets closer to graduation, but some important considerations include coursework, degree requirements, funding, comprehensive exam, thesis, etc.

5. For new students: help them set up their class schedule for each semester so they fulfill their requirements for (a) graduation and (b) the comprehensive exam in a timely fashion. Help students find the right balance between coursework and RA/TA duties.

6. Take your students to conferences and introduce them to your colleagues. Do not assume that they know how to network; they will need your help to develop this vital skill.

7. Encourage your students to present posters at a conference starting from their first year. Make them rehearse until they are comfortable with the material and the background. Ask them *why* they did this work. Ask them questions that you know they might be asked. Bring colleagues over to their poster and introduce them. Then stand back and let them do the presentation; step in only if they need you.

8. Your students rely on you for financial support: RAs and TAs, but you can also help them to find fellowships and summer positions.

9. Your job continues as graduation approaches: help them to find and apply for postdoctoral positions, faculty positions, and/or jobs in industry. They will need letters of reference. Have the student write ~3 bullets with short paragraphs explaining their work and its importance. Use this information in your letter. Do *not* include personal descriptions like 'she's cute.' Do not send a generic letter that you use for all students who ask for references.

10. It is *never* appropriate to develop an intimate relationship with one of your students. If this should happen, you must not continue to advise that student (whether the relationship continues or not).

2. Advisors, How Do You Deal with Student Tears?

From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

What should an advisor do when a grad student comes into her/his office and breaks into tears?

-- Drop what you're doing and treat this situation seriously; give the student your full attention.

-- Hand the student the box of tissues that you (always!) keep in your office.

-- Say something reassuring like "take your time" or "we'll sort this out together;" then give the student time to collect her/himself.

-- There were mixed opinions about open/closed office door. I personally would not suggest closing the door, unless your office is in a busy corridor where there is no privacy. Closing it 7/8 of the way may be a good compromise. If there is a window in your office door, do not block it.

-- It's not appropriate (in the US) for an advisor to initiate touch even in emotionally difficult situations, so no hugs.

-- If the phone rings, ignore it if you can. If someone knocks on your door, tell them you'll get back with them later.

-- The student will eventually calm down and tell you what's wrong. Focus and listen. Don't interrupt. Never belittle the student or the problem.

-- What you say next depends on the problem. Here are several examples:

- Personal: Suppose the student has just learned of a death in the family and wants to go home. Go online and get her/him a ticket. Take her/him to the airport, or get a friend to.

- Work: Perhaps the student can't get past a bottleneck. Get her/him to explain the work to you in detail. Say something reassuring like, "It's okay to be frustrated; this is a tough problem." If it's something that is difficult for you, commiserate with her/him.

- Sexual harassment with a professor or another grad student: Every university has a plan. Know yours. Help your student go through the procedure.

- General unhappiness: Avoid acting like a therapist. Advisors are not (in general) trained for this. Help with the things you know how to do, like science. Suggest work habits, like making detailed outlines of papers, etc. If the problems seem serious, it may be appropriate to suggest counseling, but not when the student is in a highly emotional state; if counseling seems appropriate, wait a few days and initiate another (private) conversation to suggest it.

Contributions from Cara Rakowski, Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, Heidi Newberg, David Helfand, and several anonymous sources are greatly appreciated.

3. Advice on Dealing with Discrimination and Harassment

From: Joan Schmelz and Patricia Knezek [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu; knezek_at_noao.edu]

The good news for women in astronomy is that incidents of overt sexual discrimination and sexual harassment have declined dramatically in recent years. The bad news is that there are still problems, especially for grad students and post docs. Sometimes we don't realize that these problems are still out there until something happens to us or to someone we know personally.

As members of CSWA, young women sometimes seek us out to ask for advice or just talk about problems. We do our best to help, but we are not trained professionals. We thought many heads can be better than two, so we would like some advice from readers of AASWOMEN on two particular issues. We would also like to encourage readers to broaden the topic to other issues. No doubt some of you have developed good responses and advice, and we would like to widely distribute this information in order to benefit all. Rather than betray confidences or reveal personal details for the two issues we are raising here, we have chosen instead to combine similar incidents that have happened to each of us and volunteer to be the guinea pigs.

1) Unethical conduct by a superior - your superior (boss, advisor, mentor, senior collaborator, etc.) has turned on you; the reasons could be sexual, personal, or professional. He starts to poison the community against you. You hear that he is spreading rumors or writing negative comments in letters of recommendation. As a result, you may never get a(nother) job in astronomy. What do you do?

2) Inappropriate behavior in a professional setting - You meet a colleague at a conference/observing run/review panel/etc. He seems interested in your work and suggests that the two of you might collaborate on a project. He arranges to be alone with you on that pretense, and then he propositions you and gropes you. You're shocked. You have no interest in anything but a professional relationship. Now you can't concentrate on what you came to do because you're always looking out for him and trying to make sure you're never alone with him again. What do you do?

From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

Most universities have a procedure to address complaints of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. This procedure should be outlined on the university's web site, but if the link is not obvious, try searching on sexual harassment complaint. Details can vary, but the first few steps you take as the victim should be roughly the same.

1. Write everything down: times, places, nature of the incident, and comments made. Save emails, notes, etc.

2. Tell someone you trust: advisor, best friend, parent, sibling, etc. Talk about the pros and cons of filing an official complaint.

3. If your university is fortunate enough to have an ombudsperson, consider talking to him/her. The ombudsperson is an independent, confidential, and impartial resource available to facilitate cooperation and consensus through education and mediation. Bring copies of the items from (1) to your meeting. You can also bring your trusted confident from (2) if this helps calm your nerves. Prepare for the meeting. Know your facts. Be organized.

4. If you decide to file a complaint, your first official step could be a meeting with your department chair. The ombudsperson and/or your confidant from (2) can come with you. It helps to know there is someone in your corner.

5. You will most likely have to write and sign an official letter of complaint, documenting the nature of the harassment and/or discrimination. Be as detailed as possible. This is where the information from item (1) is most useful. Take time to write this letter. Ask the ombudsperson and/or your confidant from (2) to read it over. Edit it thoroughly.

6. If you have any supporting documentation or statements from witnesses, these should be submitted to the chair at the same time as your official letter of complaint.

7. Once you submit this letter, the department chair is compelled to address your complaint. At my university, the letter goes up the chain of command to the dean. The person against whom the complaint is lodged is also notified and must provide a written response.

From: Anonymous

My advice to the superior problem is to document EVERYTHING. Times, places, nature of the incident, comments made. Save emails, etc. You need to have documentation if you do try to file a harassment claim. Obviously you wouldn't ask for letters of recommendation from this person again, but it helps to have other colleagues/supervisors that can counter any damage that has been done, to the extent possible.

From: Anonymous

If you are a graduate student and the unethical conduct is by your supervisor, there is usually a grievance procedure available at your university.

If the unethical conduct is by, say, a post-doc, mentor, collaborator, etc. there isn't a grievance procedure. For this case, here are suggestions:

- Inform your supervisor(s) immediately, asking that they keep this a private matter. In particular they should NOT talk to the offender until a procedure for dealing with the situation is worked out. Letting them know early on however lets them protect you.

- Contact your university about possible procedures. Interestingly the people in the know are likely to be the psychological counselors or doctors. They will have helped people who have been through this and will have suggestions based on experience (albeit second hand). They can also give you some emotional and psychological support.

- If the administration suggests you start a grievance procedure against your supervisor for not protecting you, do NOT start such a procedure... you need your supervisor!

- An example of a procedure is an official but private meeting, to talk about the situation, with you, your supervisor(s), the student officer (or some other departmental official) and the offender. This can be organized by the departmental official. The meeting needs to have an official element in order for the offender to feel the need to attend.

- Determine what you want the result of the procedure to be. The offender will not be fired - that will remain a fantasy. But their behavior to you and others can be constrained by their colleagues. Perhaps you want them to change their behavior or to create a situation in which they can't behave the same way to other people. For example, the people in the procedure outlined above will now be witnesses who have insight into the offender which will limit the offender's ability to be given positions of responsibility, etc. If your expectations are realistic, then you can be both satisfied and proud of the outcome.

- Expect the people involved in the procedure will want to be open to both parties. Expect them to want to mediate between you and the offender. A natural response for them is to want to say that both of you were at some fault and both of you can take some constructive action to repair the situation. This is unfair and may victimize you - let them know that you feel victimized if this accommodation aspect gets out of hand. But you probably want open, kind people for this procedure - so the discomfort produced is worth it.

- It is not helpful to have "allegations" flying about over which a community can take sides. Also you don't want to have the offender make you "look bad for slandering him." So keeping it quiet is important. Therefore chose only 1 or 2 close friends to confide in, who will agree to keep it quiet. Also select just a few key people, who support you and who the offender respects, to be involved in the procedure. This removes the situation from the realm of gossip. It allows the offender to save face and change their behavior if the behavior isn't known broadly.

- Counteract the rumors with action rather than words. If the offender is saying that you can't accomplish something, then do it and prove him wrong. The offender is probably spreading rumors about other people too. When those people learn of the slander against them, they won't take his rumors about you seriously either. Also you are dealing with fellow, intelligent scientists - they both demand proof and like to figure things out for themselves. So given a bit of time (o.k. months) most of the people working in your area won't believe him anyway.

- Avoid any contact with the offender. Your supervisor(s) may be able to help with this. If the offender increases his unwanted behavior, perhaps they can arrange for you to do some collaborative research at another institution until the procedure takes place.

- Needless to say, one should have this miserable situation documented and to be prepared with this information at the meeting - even though most documentation won't be used because the offender will by this point be known to be offending. Also hopefully it will be a discussion. However if there are witnesses to the incidents, find out if they would be willing to be around in case the people at the procedure would like to talk to them. Or, even better, perhaps your supervisor(s) could arrange to talk to them in private before hand.

- Celebrate surviving this! Don't let it get you down about your field of discipline. Do your research with your supporters in mind -- they are your true colleagues.

Best of luck and big hugs to anyone in this situation!

From: Kelly Korreck (kkorreck_at_cfa.harvard.edu)

Scenario 1: One piece of advice for the problem with one ill-willed advisor is to have 2 if not 3 senior recommenders so that one person's opinion won't be the end of your career. A two PhD advisor situation might be very beneficial. It is very hard when first starting out to have these types of relationships with senior scientists but if at all possible, make an effort to relate yourself to their work and get to know them so you do have someone always in your corner. The other thing to do is to confront this person, not aggressively or tearfully but assertively ask if you have done something wrong and perhaps what you could work on to make yourself a better scientist. Most of the time there will be no concrete answer but you will feel better knowing that it isn't you its them!

Scenario 2: It happens more often than you think. I met a mid-career scientist at a conference and he asked if I was interested in a post-doc. I luckily had a position for the next few years so I suggested others who I knew were looking and suggested that we all work together on a project. Since we do complimentary work, he contacted me afterwards to see if I would be at the next conference and if we could meet up then. Well of course I would meet with him and bring along a few of my other colleagues that could collaborate with us. I got to the conference and he started acting strange and wanted to "take me out to dinner". Since we were all on per diem, I wanted to catch up with my other colleagues, and I caught on that he wanted something other than a collaboration, I told him no and that it was very wrong to ask since at one time he offered me a position that would have made him my boss. Luckily he was not the persistent type and simply said he would leave me alone.

However, the way he did it (and in front of a senior faculty member that I work with) seem to lay all the "blame" on me for this "misunderstanding". This was what made me most angry about the whole thing is that how it was put on me as something I did or something I should be ashamed of or "guilty" of. I did nothing wrong. Anyone in a similar situation needs to realize that it isn't them it is the "system"/"pursuer" that are wrong. Being clear is key - there is no question in my mind that I was not interested in anything but a working relationship. I don't state this to every male colleague I work with but those who seem more interested in me than proper, I simply remind them that we have a working relationship and I don't date anyone I work with. I have to admit that I also have worn a ring on my left hand for a while to drive the point home to another co-worker.

4. Advice on When to Raise a Family (January 2008 AAS Meeting Session)

From: Geoff Clayton [gclayton_at_fenway.phys.lsu.edu]

The CSWA convened a panel at the Austin AAS meeting in which astronomers at various stages in their careers described the way in which they made their decisions about when to raise a family and how their choices have had an impact on their careers. The panel members were: Hannah Jang-Condell (University of Maryland & GSFC), Margaret Hanson (University of Cincinnati), Orsola De Marco (American Museum of Natural History), Charles Liu (CUNY) and John Debes (DTM).

One of the most difficult decisions facing professional women is whether to have children and, if so, when. In practice women in astronomy have chosen a variety of solutions, ranging from delaying or interrupting graduate school or postdoctoral fellowships, delaying child rearing until after tenure, or even abandoning the idea of having children. These decisions usually have a considerable impact on the career path of a professional woman. The following points summarize the views of the panelists and members of the audience: When is the best time to have kids?

1. All times are equally good, meaning that you need to have kids when the time is right for you. Women cannot always count on waiting until 'the time is right' to get pregnant. Nature doesn't always oblige on a schedule and if you wait too long into your late 30's or early 40's, it may be too late.

2. If you have a choice in the matter, then having kids during grad school might have the least impact on your career because it is easier to take some time off. When you are a postdoc you are usually on a two-year clock and when you are tenure track, you usually on a five-year clock.

3. Finding a daycare situation you really trust and that your child loves is critical to your peace of mind that they are well taken care of and you are not a 'bad parent' for not raising them yourself.

4. Men need to be proactive and ask about benefits and policies with regard to parental leave, delay of tenure, etc., and make use of these opportunities themselves, so it is not always associated with female astronomers (to reduce biases), and to become a more fully engaged new parent.

5. During the hiring process you may want to be open about your two-body (or N-body) problem during job interviews. But the best time to bring it up, whether at the beginning of the process or when on the short list, will vary with the situation. It would be nice to get hired at places that are family friendly in order to pressure institutions to change, but most people don't have the luxury of choosing between multiple offers.

6. Don't listen too much to anyone's advice (including ours!). Everyone's kid is different; everyone's personal circumstances are different; everyone's parenting style is different. You know what's best for your family, and don't let anyone else tell you differently.

7. A supportive partner and/or a circle of support from friends and family is extremely helpful.

8. Having kids is really hard, let alone trying to work at the same time, but it may be the most rewarding thing you ever do.

5. Advice for Postdocs Applying for Tenure-Track Positions

From: Alison Coil [acoil_at_ucsd.edu]

A great thing to do is ask people at other institutions who have recently started their faculty jobs what they asked for and what they got. It's good to know what the range is, and there can be a significant difference in what is offered from place to place. You'll be at a disadvantage if you don't know what is reasonable. You can also ask recent hires at your own institution. Everyone who I asked gave me information; no one was offended, they all wanted to help. So the first thing to do is gather information on what other people are getting!

Things that people routinely ask/negotiate for now:

- Salary - Always ask for 10% more than what they offer. Your starting salary often affects your long-term salary, so best to keep it high in the beginning if possible.

- Summer salary - Ask for 4 months of summer salary

- Lab space - Ask for what you'll need in 5 years, not the first year

- Office space - Ask to be near the center of action, near faculty with similar scientific interests

- Teaching relief - Always ask for at least one class less than normal the first year. Some people ask for an additional one class of relief to be taken sometime in the first N years - this is especially useful if one is going to be extremely busy one semester setting up a new lab or conducting a major new survey or if you have a child!

- Start-up funds: include requests for:

- graduate students; it is common at some places to get support for 2 students for 2-3 years

- a postdoc; it is common now to request one postdoc for 3 years

- travel support for yourself and students/postdoc for 3 years

- computer; again, ask for what you and your group will need for 3 years

- page charges; again for the group for 3 years

- Buy-in to a survey - For institutions without significant telescope access, observers can now ask their institution to buy into a survey (i.e., SDSS-III) or buy nights on a specific telescope for their research. This has become quite common.

- Help with finding a job for a spouse

- Positions in campus day care for your kids

The general idea with the start-up package is that it will be used to get your research going at the new institution. This means supporting all of your research needs and costs as well as those of your students and postdocs. As grants are hard to get (and getting harder to get) it can easily take 2-3 years before you get a grant. So the start-up should support you for 2-3 years. However, if possible, ask that there is no time limit on when you use the funds i.e., if you do get a grant you can keep the funds in the bank to be used later.

Also remember that guys (and gals) routinely ask for these things, so the main thing is to not feel bad that you are asking for this! The worst that will happen is they will say no. Women so rarely ask for too much that you are not likely to offend anyone, and in general the university wants to support you so they will offer what they can.

The other thing to realize is that if you have more than one offer, it is to your advantage to negotiate at the top two places you want to go to. So you may end up negotiating at more than one place. It's not fun, but it's very worth it in the end!

From: Tammy Smecker-Hane [smecker_at_sculptor.ps.uci.edu]

Regarding advice for postdocs applying & negotiating for their first faculty positions, you might be interested in Q&As here:


From: Lynne Hillenbrand [lah_at_astro.caltech.edu]

There are always several axes of negotiation, generally including salary level, summer salary support, research startup funds, office/lab space, access to departmental or institutional facilities, which courses will be taught, etc. My advice is to divide these into those that are really important to you, and those that are not. Make it clear that you -- for example -- are not going to push back on the salary level, but that you really want sufficient funds for graduate student support for a year or two. Pick the item that is most important to you and make sure you "win" at least that one, if not all of them!

From: Andrea Ghez [ghez_at_astro.ucla.edu]

Here is my list of things I would recommend asking for:

- Start-up fund: computers, graduate students, postdoc, travel (to meetings/telescope), summer salary (yes!);

- Teaching Relief (absolutely! helps you to get started as there are so many new responsibilities starting a faculty position);

- Office Space, Lab Space if you are an experimentalist;

- Moving Expenses;

- Housing Subsidy, i.e., cash to help with down payment of home.

If your university has them (at UCLA there are slots held for recruitment/retention):

- Day Care slots (worth mentioning even if you don't have kids - I got this advice and benefited from it latter);

- Elementary school slots;

- University Home loan program (for example - UC has a loan program that tends to run below market rates).

From: Mordecai-Mark Mac Low [mordecai_at_amnh.org]

I just assisted my partner in her negotiations on beginning a tenure-track position in another technical field, so let me see if I can recap some of the thoughts I shared with her.

Don't take it personally when sudden delays appear in the offer and appointment process. Administrators get distracted, have piles of paper on their desks, and don't always sign off as quickly as they should. During my own appointment, the Provost in charge left on a research expedition for two months between initial offer and final agreement, during which absolutely nothing happened!

Start paying attention to the internal politics during your interview, and identify your allies. They may be able to feed you valuable inside information during the negotiation to make sure that you neither leave money on the table, nor make an unrealistically large request that is dead on arrival. Usually there is a factor of two or so range within which you can operate.

Draw up a start-up budget as soon as you get any initial indication that an offer might be coming. The components to consider include items similar to a grant budget:

- personnel. Graduate students (ideally sufficient funding to be able to offer a thesis position), postdocs (enough for a two year position ideally), technicians, data analysts, are all possibilities depending on your research program:

- supplies and equipment to last until your first grant

- summer salary until your first grant (not everyone will give this, but you can ask)

- conference and research travel, both domestic and foreign - publication costs

Start up funds can come in many different ways. A cash budget is great of course, but maybe a graduate student RA can be allocated in lieu of some of the cash, or an internal postdoctoral fellowship. Maybe the department is able to cover publication or travel costs out of their budget. Reduced teaching load the first semester or year also can be a major contribution to a startup package.

One thing to watch out for with cash is whether it all has to be spent in the first year. This needs to be explicitly discussed (nothing worse than watching unspent money evaporate at the end of the year!)

Space is always something to discuss explicitly. Project forward to your needs when you've assembled a research team, and if you're doing any sort of lab work or instrumentation what your peak needs will be, and make those needs clear up front.

Inquire explicitly about whether reduced teaching loads can be purchased with grant funding.

Compensation is usually negotiable, particularly in the USA. One tactic is to look for statistics on comparable institutions, or try to get insight from peers who have started similar positions. Also consider the value of non-cash benefits, such as housing support (cheap mortgages, faculty housing, and such. These can be a subject of intense negotiation in big city schools), tuition for children, childcare, and other subsidies. What about parking?

Advanced standing on a tenure clock is often something to suggest if you are not coming directly out of a first postdoc position. Conversely, opportunities to stop the clock can also be valuable and should be checked for (e.g., for a new child).

Detailed justifications can help strengthen your negotiating position -- draw up a strategic plan for yourself to use in support of your specific requests.

Hope this is helpful!

6. The 2-Body Problem: New Advice for an Old Problem?

From: Heidi B. Hammel [hbhammel_at_gmail.com]

My organization, Space Science Institute, solves the two-body problem by letting our PIs live anywhere in the country. We are based in Boulder, CO, but currently have scientists working across the country. You can see a map at


I joined SSI almost ten years ago precisely because of the 2-body problem. My husband got a job several states away, and we had a baby with another on the way, so splitting the family was not an option. SSI allowed me to continue my research while keeping my family together.

I work from an office in my home, as do many of our researchers. A few have joint positions with local institutions that provide them with office space.

We are a fully soft-money organization, so our scientists have to be cutting-edge researchers to maintain a solid funding base. I'd be happy to discuss this in more detail, or people can visit our website at


Also, I presented a poster about the two-body problem in the "Women in Astronomy 2" conference in Pasadena in 2003 ("One Solution to the Two-body Problem: Off-Site Researchers at the Space Science Institute," by Heidi B. Hammel and Tyson M. Brawley). Sections of the poster include:

* What is the two-body problem?

* Some solutions to the two-body problem

* What's good about being off-site

* The downside to being off-site (and solutions)

I can make it available as a PDF, or perhaps someone has a resource page where I can post it.

From: Naomi Ridge [nridge_at_mac.com]

I am writing in response to your question about the two-body problem. From my own experience, and I am located in one of the cities you mentioned (Boston), the multi-body problem (I also have an 18-month- old son) led me to leave academia altogether. I think there are definitely cases where things can be worked out, but it is still a major reason for women leaving the academic track.

Also remember that it doesn't just affect two-astronomer couples - a good friend of mine is going through exactly the same issues and his wife is a lawyer. What is required is more flexible, longer-term fellowships which can be easily transferred between institutions.

Feel free to contact me if you would like to know more about my particular situation and experiences of this.

From: Anonymous

My partner and I we were unable to find postdoc positions within 800 miles of each other, and so my partner left astronomy for industry. I asked many post-docs and professors for advice the year before applying; he only advice I got was obvious, that we should apply to big-astronomy cities. And that we should suck it up and live apart for 3--10 years if necessary.

From: Megan Donahue [Donahue_at_pa.msu.edu]

We (Mark & I) have "solved" the 2 body problem about 4 times. We're both astronomers, which makes our 2-body problem a sub-class of the larger one of 2 professionals pursuing careers. We wouldn't have been able to solve it without a lot of help from our colleagues and employers -- the people who hired us and the people who wrote our letters made their contributions in ways I can't say. But I know they did. I have little idea of what really happened behind the scenes to make our dual careers possible. So I don't really believe that because we succeeded, our advice is better than anybody else's. I only hold one piece of the puzzle, but it's the only part I controlled. That said, here's what I believe I know.

Universities seem to be doing a pretty good job at addressing the 2-body problem. Professors tend to come attached to other professors or other professionals. These days, it's just part of the recruiting process to attempt to solve 2-body problems. Possibly universities have realized that it's easier to retain a married couple, because they are less likely to jump ship at the next best offer. That probably results in lower income (both negotiated up front, and long term), traded off for greater job security, for the couple. The university benefits from paying less and fewer costly job searches. It's more common for universities to have funding sources to sponsor academic positions for partners, for professor hires.

I think that if you are dead set against taking a job if your spouse cannot find employment in the same department (this is the 2-astronomy body problem in a remote department), you should say so in the cover letter. I think that this particular circumstance is rather unusual, but it might apply if one of you already has a job offer or a tenured position, and you're looking to improve your current long-term situation. If you would like assistance in finding employment for your spouse in another field, the time to ask is during your interview visit.

As an interviewer, I would consider that a sign of strong interest in the job if you're already thinking about your spouse's job, schools for the kids, neighborhoods. This situation is so terribly common that I don't think being married is grounds for being rejected for the position just because you mention it during the interview. However, use your judgment. Asking questions about your marital status, your children, or plans for children are absolutely off-limits for an interview unless you bring those topics up yourself. In my situation, (astronomy is such a small town), it was not a secret when we were both looking. In fact, for one of my husband's interviews, I was invited along to discuss potential job-sharing arrangements. If your spouse is in another department, you might check the university HR website to see if they have a program to support 2-body hires. If your spouse would be in another department, the existence of such a program is good news. It means there is a channel for opening up a line, even in another department, supported by the university.

If they are interested enough to interview you, they would probably be grateful to begin exploring your spouse's options sooner rather than later. It's slow, and while they might make the offer before they know, at least the process is in the pipeline and they might be able to update their offer for a timely acceptance on your part. I'd listen to a LOT of advice on this point, since my advice here assumes a fairly sane process where by the time you're interviewing, you are really high on their list for a lot of reasons. You can be clear that your spouse is also exploring other options at this time. After the initial offer, it makes a lot of sense to put that concern on the table, as part of negotiating the terms of the offer. They might ask "What do we need to do to have you accept this offer ... today?" If that's when you spring on them, well, I have this astronomer husband, then they might feel like they've been blindsided because they might have been further along on the process of making something happen if you had mentioned that earlier. But realistically, everyone understands that your preferred offer (if you're making a choice among multiple offers) will probably provide something for both members of the couple.

You probably will also hear that if you would accept even without support for your partner, then it's the better part of discretion to wait until you're negotiating terms. I can understand that approach. I see the wisdom in it. It's not been the approach I've taken, or pragmatically speaking, that I've even had the option to take, given that my reference letters tended to discuss both us. (We not only are both astronomers, but we write papers together too.)

Solving the 2-body problem isn't always easy. But, you know, a lot of us have that problem these days, so the smart employers are learning how to, if anything, solve the 2-body problem to their advantage. I believe that a lot of progress has been made in this regard over the last 20-30 years, simply because it's a lot more common to have 2-career couples in any field and the system has realized there's an economical advantage to dealing with it.

7. Being Ignored in a Meeting: Suggested Solutions

From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

Have you ever been in this situation: you're sitting in a meeting and make what you think is a great suggestion; you're ignored. Ten minutes later, someone else makes a similar suggestion and everyone thinks it's just the greatest idea. Are you invisible? Did you imagine it? Were you really speaking out loud?

How can women deal with being ignored and/or having their ideas dismissed? Of course, this can happen to men too.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the following list of suggestions:

-Make sure you get an adequate seat at the 'table' (so that you are not hiding in a corner);

-Choose your timing: wait for the 'right opportunity' to jump into the conversation (not always easy);

-Speak slowly and clearly; offer more than a quick quip;

-Make sure everyone can hear you; this may be especially challenging if you are naturally soft spoken or if English is not your first language.

-Don't downplay your remarks: do NOT say, "I guess . . ." or "This may not be important, but . . ." or "This may be a stupid question, but . . ." or end with ". . . don't you think?"

-Don't be afraid to say something like, "I am glad that xxx agrees with my previous suggestion . . ." if another person seconds your opinion.

-If you notice this happening to someone else, try to find a way to attribute the idea to the original speaker: "xxx said that 10 minutes ago!" may not be as effective as something like, " xxx suggested . . . "

-If possible, enlist the support of your peers. Example: a group of grad students meeting with their research advisor. Student xxx makes a suggestion and is ignored. xxx explains what happened off-line and asks his/her peers to look out for future examples. He/she suggests that they all try to back each other up at future group meetings.

-The situation is tougher when you do not have supportive colleagues; you might be the only female director, department chair, manager, etc. at the table. Most of the advice above applies, but it might be even more challenging to be heard. If you know the agenda ahead of time and have one important point to make, you may want to rehearse it out loud; you might even over prepare so you can answer questions in the same well-rehearsed way. There is, unfortunately, still some truth to the old adage that women have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. This is especially true when you are pushing up against the glass ceiling.

8. How to Be a Good Mentor

From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

Thanks to Maryam Modjaz and Margaret Hanson for their help compiling this information.

For general information that applies to all natural sciences, see "Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering" from the National Academies. This guide is intended for faculty members, teachers, administrators, and others who advise and mentor students of science and engineering. It attempts to summarize features that are common to successful mentoring relationships. Its goal is to encourage mentoring habits that are in the best interests of both parties to the relationship.


The Council on Undergraduate Research has a booklet on, "How to Mentor Undergraduate Researchers," by Carolyn Ash Merkel California Institute of Technology and Shenda M. Baker Harvey Mudd College.


This guide provides a concise description of the mentoring process, including the opportunities and rewards that a mentoring experience provides to both students and mentors. Expectations of mentors are contrasted with those of students. While written primarily with summer research experiences in mind, the booklet contrasts those intensive experiences with day-to-day mentoring of undergraduate research during the academic year including senior theses. Advice is valid for both on- and off-campus research experiences and most academic disciplines. Practical information includes:

  • How to get started
  • Mentoring tips
  • Coaching and Training
  • Helping the student to develop presentation skills
  • Letters of recommendation for students
  • Resources and references
Special challenges are also reviewed, including:
  • How to handle group dynamics
  • What if the project fails?
  • How much should a mentor demand of a student?
  • How to deal with varying levels of student knowledge and abilities

Here is a list of Top Ten Tips for working with research students. Richelle Allen-King of SUNY-Buffalo gives pithy advice for getting the most out of collaborative research with your students


Here is a compilation of resources that was put together by the Earth Science Women's Network. Some are specific to earth sciences, but others are more general:


9. Suggestions for Serving on a Scientific Organizing Committee

From: Nancy Brickhouse [nbrickhouse_at_cfa.harvard.edu]

How do SOC members ensure an appropriate level of diversity among conference invited speakers if the committee chair does not provide leadership? Here are some suggestions.
  • When asked to serve on a SOC, make sure you understand the ground rules at the beginning.
  • Ask what the schedule for decision-making is, and make sure there is enough time to think through issues of balance; put the schedule on your calendar and check with the SOC chair if you haven't heard back by the date promised.
  • Make sure that you have time to participate fully.
  • Insist that the full SOC will be allowed to review the program before a final decision is made.
  • Make sure the committee as a whole considers speaker diversity along all relevant axes: subfields within the scope of the conference, senior vs junior, gender, racial/ethnic, institutional, national/international. This is a good discussion to have with the full SOC before coming up with speaker suggestions. Ask the organizers what their goals are for achieving diversity.
  • If you are not satisfied that the organizers plan to ensure diversity (if they respond "we just want the best speakers") consider declining to serve.
  • It's appropriate for the SOC to recruit people to submit contributed talks for consideration.
  • Remind SOC members of the CSWA website that indicates the % of women invited speakers at various meetings; and other surveys/statistics (AIP, for example) that demonstrate the availability of good women speakers.
  • The CSWA statistics can be used to help set diversity goals for meetings; in subfields where the demographics are significantly different from astronomy/astrophysics in general, it may be more reasonable to set goals based on subfield statistics, if known.
  • Imagine sitting in the audience "to be" and noting whether the speaker demographics match the audience demographics. Make sure you are happy with the draft speaker demographics.
  • Following up on this last suggestion, revisit the comparison once you are at the meeting. How close were the imagined audience demographics to the actuals? This exercise will inform you when you serve on your next SOC.

Contributions from Andrea Dupree, Caty Pilachowski, Roberta Humphreys, Lee Anne Willson, and Lynne Hillenbrand are greatly appreciated.

10. Workplace Bullying in Astronomy

From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

Unprofessional behavior is not limited to gender discrimination and sexual harassment. There are cases when "something is just not right" in the workplace, which may involve no sexual overtones whatsoever. One such example is workplace bullying, which can have characteristics in common with childhood bullying. It is not limited to women. It can involve teasing or taunting. It can be overt or covert. It can be physically or psychologically threatening. It can come from a supervisor or a collaborator. It can involve spreading rumors about your qualifications or abilities as a scientist. The stress associated with a bullying situation can affect your work and your health. You may even feel that your future career is in jeopardy.

Here is a bullying variation on an astronomical theme that I have heard more than once. Someone (probably more senior than you, but probably not your advisor) inflicts him/herself on your science. He/she could be stealing your ideas, giving the impression to others that you could not succeed without mentorship from him/her, or undermining you with your advisor or collaborators.

I have heard too many people confuse bullying behavior with a competitive/aggressive pursuit of scientific excellence. There are, however, important distinctions between the two.

  • Allows the winner and the loser to swap roles in different circumstances.
  • Is innocent in motive.
  • Is not intended to hurt the other person.
  • Maintains the basic dignity of everyone involved.
  • Is based on an imbalance of power.
  • Is intended to harm.
  • Is meant to diminish the target's sense of self-worth.
  • Continues even when the target objects or becomes distressed.
Although there is no "silver bullet" for dealing with bullies, there are effective strategies. Here are a few:
  • Admit that the bullying is real and that it can have real effects on you and your work – it is not all your fault!
  • Try to avoid being alone with the bully and try to get witnesses to incidents.
  • You are probably not the first target of this bully; find other victims. There is strength in numbers.
  • Try making a collective complaint with colleagues.
  • Write everything down: times, places, nature of the incident, and comments made. Save emails, notes, etc.
  • Talk to someone you trust: advisor, best friend, parent, sibling, etc.
  • Revenge can be sweet (and tempting), but be careful.

Unfortunately, there are many ways for a bully to bully. Here is an incomplete list of bullying tactics adapted from Wikipedia and modified for the astronomical community. Your bully may employ one of more of these tactics or he/she may have invented others. Unfortunately, there is no check list for workplace bullying in astronomy. You cannot study this list, check 5 or 10 items, and then link to recipe XYZ to solve the problem. Advice really does need to be tailored to the details of a specific situation.

If you are the victim of workplace bullying, look over the list and identify the tactics of your bully. Then (Please! Please! Please!) talk to someone you trust. You and the people closest to you can begin to develop a strategy to extricate you from the bully's influence. Don't be afraid to pull in the professionals -- a counselor or an ombudsperson -- but first always make sure they can keep your conversations confidential.

  • Threat to professional status
    • Belittling opinions
    • Public professional humiliation
    • Accusations regarding lack of effort
    • Intimidating use of discipline or competence procedures
  • Threat to personal standing
    • Undermining personal integrity
    • Destructive innuendo and sarcasm
    • Making inappropriate jokes
    • Persistent teasing, name calling, insults
    • Intimidation
  • Isolation
    • Preventing access to opportunities
    • Physical or social isolation
    • Withholding necessary information
    • Keeping the target out of the loop
    • Ignoring or excluding
  • Overwork
    • Undue pressure
    • Impossible deadlines
    • Unnecessary disruptions
  • Destabilization
    • Failure to acknowledge good work
    • Allocation of meaningless tasks
    • Removal of responsibility
    • Repeated reminders of blunders
    • Setting the target up to fail
    • Shifting goal posts without telling the target
    Here are some specific examples. The bully:
    • Falsely accused you of "errors"
    • Stared, glared, or nonverbally intimidated you and was clearly showing hostility
    • Discounted your thoughts or feelings ("that's a stupid idea") in meetings
    • Used the "silent treatment" to "ice out" and separate you from others in the group
    • Disregarded satisfactory or exemplary quality of your work
    • Harshly and constantly criticized you; had a different standard for you
    • Started, or failed to stop, destructive rumors or gossip about you
    • Encouraged people to turn against you
    • Stole credit for your work (e.g., plagiarism)
    • Abused the evaluation process by lying about your performance
    • Retaliated against you after you filed a complaint
    • Made unrealistic demands on you (workload, deadlines, duties)

    Finally, what about delicious fantasies of revenge? Remember the old adage, "Revenge is a dish best served cold." It tells us that the best payback is the one that comes with planning. Revenge can be sweet (and tempting!), but be careful. If you are in a position to plan revenge, make sure that your scheme will not backfire and put you in an even worse situation. Here are a few sweet revenge stories from a great reference on workplace bullying entitled The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert I. Sutton.

    Mute the Rant: A CEO described how a member of her board of directors routinely insulted her, swore at her, and demeaned her efforts. She developed a bag of tricks to protect her self-esteem. She avoided meeting him in person and, instead, had phone calls with him. She would say hello, wait for him to start ranting, then turn down the volume and work on something else. Every now and then, she would check in, make some remark to indicate that she was on the line, and then turn the volume down again and go back to her work. After about 30 minutes, he usually wore himself out, and she could then have a reasonable conversation with him.

    The Chocolate Solution: A radio producer felt oppressed because her boss was constantly stealing her food -- right off her desk. So she made some candies out of Ex-Lax, the chocolate flavored laxative, and left them on her desk. As expected, he ate them without permission and spent the afternoon dealing with the consequences of his actions.

    Luggage Vacation: A writer was standing behind an irate passenger at the check-in line at JFK. The passenger went on and on insulting the airline employee, but she remained professional. When the jerk finally moved on, the writer moved up and asked the airline employee how she could be so calm. Her words stuck forever in his memory: "Oh, he's going to LA, but his luggage is going to Nairobi." The faint but unmistakable firmness in her smile made the writer realize, half with a chill and half with a thrill, that she was not kidding.

    Some References

    • The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert I. Sutton
    • The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School--How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence by Barbara Coloroso
    • Never Work For a Jerk! by Patricia King
    • The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels, and Snakes From Killing Your Organization by Gary & Ruth Namie
    • Wikipedia on Workplace Bullying
    • Workplace Bullying Institute
    • Stop office bullying from the American Psychological Association

    11. When to Say Yes, How to Say No

    From: Fran Bagenal. This advice originated as a guest post on the Women in Astronomy blog. [Item 8 has been edited, with permission -- Webmaster.]

    Service responsibilities (that's basically everything work-related that's not research or teaching) can be fun and rewarding. They can also be a burden. And as one advances in one's career the service load can sometimes be overwhelming. "But", I hear you wail, "what do you do when people keep asking you to do things?"

    1 - Wait 24 hours before responding to a request. If it's on the phone, say it's your policy, or say you have been told by your advisor/chair/spouse to wait 24 hours - and that you will get back to them in 24 hours via email (not phone - that gives them another chance to twist your arm). This gives you time to think.

    2 - If the service request is substantial, seek advice from an adviser, supervisor, department chair, senior colleague - preferably all of the above. Your supervisor(s) need to know your service burden - and if it is adding up, they should help you. Better research labs and academic departments will protect their junior staff so that they can get on with the most important things: publications and proposals.

    3 - If you really want to say yes, then you need to think about what you will give up - and how/when - before taking on the new task. Keep a tally of total tasks and find a way to resign, delay, stagger tasks on the list so that the burden is limited - at least averaged over the year.

    4 - If you really want to say no, then think of some other people whom you think would be good alternatives to yourself. Suggest these names - saying why they would be good - to the person who initially asked you.

    5 - If you are thinking "But I'm young - I'm not even getting asked" then you can (a) volunteer (e.g. to be on a committee, to be on a review panel, to do outreach, to run a seminar series, etc) or (b) talk with an adviser, supervisor, department chair, senior colleague - again, preferably all of the above.

    6 - Always say yes to an invited talk - until you have a noticeable amount of grey hair and/or a CV dripping with awards/accolades.

    7 - How much is too much? A reasonable service load is no more than 20% of your workload, averaged over the year. Generally, less in one's early years and more later as one gains responsibility. The most important thing is to make sure it is not hindering your research career. Yes, serving on a review panel is very instructive and can definitely help you write a better proposal. But more than one panel per year should be avoided. There may be a temptation - especially when avoiding writing that awkward paper or sitting down to some tedious number-crunching - to take on more service tasks. But beware of acting the role rather than being the scientist. Titles and a full calendar of meetings might make you feel the busy professional but you need to make sure you are doing the primary tasks that will take you along your desired career path.

    8 - When you have declined a service commitment, give yourself a treat!

    Last updated: May 22, 2014