I am an astronomer ish type person (I still don’t know my official job title). I have observed at Kitt Peak, Cerro Tololo and the Whipple Observatories. I have spent nights in the warm room, days sleeping and having my dorm door attacked by a coatimundi. So I guess I count as an astronomer. I do have a BS and a MS in astronomy/planetary science.
But I went into programming for several years. I even had my resume on Monster dot com for a while because I was unhappy with my position (Long story, needs a password if I go into it). But now I am back in science. I don’t have time for research because I work part time (4 days a week,32 hours), but I get to go to meetings and such…
I have been very lucky. Most of my experiences in the workplace are positive. The only gender issues I have had are with women (weird, eh?). Again, I would need to password protect things, but in short, I was once told I got my job because I was sleeping with Dr. Jay. Um, No. I was actually called in by another group, but I already had been hired. I was told that I wasn’t working as hard after the birth of Soleil. Um, yeah, it’s called parenting an infant. Somehow, the fact that I was working long hours before she was born didn’t count. Just the fact that I was suddenly needing time to be with my family. I have never had to experience what Susan at Toddler Planet had to experience. In fact, while in college, the only indignity I had was the adviser who told me that because I had an A- in my first 3 physics courses, I must not be challenged enough. I dumped him and got a better adviser. One who understood how much I was fighting for physics.
I had very little trouble in undergrad. I worked hard, I was respected by the astronomy profs, and I held my own in the physics classes. I was no Victor ( the guy in my class who could do vector calculus with one hand tied behind his back), but I aced my thermal dynamics final and I passed quantum mechanics. I handled senior physics lab with only one broken condom (we were doing an experiment that involved a vacuum pump and the thin rubber diaphragm broke easily so we had to have condoms as backups. We broke it once and needed a backup condom…it was pretty funny at the time). I was with the group of guys who froze a pumpkin with liquid nitrogen and tossed it off the physics building to watch it shatter! (it smooshed instead. We waited too long sending someone downstairs to make sure we wouldn’t kill anyone). I was basically one of the guys.
Graduate school was a little different. I applied to several places and was accepted into 2. I decided to stay where I was (Stony Brook, SUNY- WOOT!) because Jay was there. Was this a negative? I decided to give up a PhD to stay with Jay. I knew this at the time. We had several women and men in the grad department. I heard some negative things about the professors from some women, but I didn’t see what they did. I found that the staff treated men and women the same.
Now that I am in one of the largest employers of astronomers in the US, I see the subtle signs of discrimination. Women have smaller offices in general. The salaries for women are slightly smaller. Fewer women are at the top.Those women at the top fight for other women. Just this year, we finally got a designated lactation room for nursing moms.
I am both saddened and thrilled to see that Susan has started a new blog:Women in Planetary Science . I am sad that we need such a blog to deal with basic issues such as bringing children to meetings, lactation rooms, and childcare. The American Astronomical Society has been wonderful at allowing children to come and trying to arrange childcare co-ops between the parents who request it. Unfortunately, the planetary science branch has always been male dominated and with more women of childbearing age coming into the field, this had come to a head. Thank you Susan, for working on this and organizing this. Thank you to all of the women in planetary science who are working at this. If you are a scientist, male or female, please stop over this new blog and offer some support to these parents and women.