Is your department welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees and students?  You should care about the answer.  Institutions that are viewed as unfriendly to LGBT people are at a competitive disadvantage. When LGBT scientists leave our departments to work at other institutions, our students, our scholarly communities, and our own research suffer. Furthermore, an inclusive workplace has advantages for all of us: greater flexibility to perform our work, greater support for work/life issues, and greater freedom to be ourselves.

A new report, Supporting LGBT+ Physicists and Astronomers: Best Practices for Academic Departments, helps you check the health of your department for LGBT inclusion, and guides you through the process of making the necessary changes.  The report gives both short-term and long-term suggestions, as well as ways to help change university-level policies.

Please read the report.  Please discuss it within your own department, and identify which practices you need to implement. Please share in the AstroBetter comment thread what you learn.  How many of these policies does your department follow? Does your department do any of these practices really well? Let us know in the comments!

Also, since I’m a co-author of the report, I need your suggestions on how we should we disseminate our findings within our professional community.  How can we encourage colleagues to implement these best practices?  I’ve thought about hosting a contest or challenge, where people identify a best practice their department isn’t doing, implement it, and share their experience on social media.  Would that work?  Do you have a better idea?

Credit where credit is due:  The report was written as a collaboration between two groups: the lgbt+physicists, and the Working Group on LGBTIQ Equality (WGLE, pronounced “wiggly”) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).  Jane is a co-author of the report.

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Honing your Hubble Application

by Guest on August 20, 2014

This is an anonymous guest post from two past members of the Hubble Fellowship committee.

The Hubble Postdoctoral Fellowship among the most prestigious awards in our field and is worn as a badge of honor throughout an Astronomer’s entire career. About 10–20 are awarded each year to applicants from around the world to fund a three year fellowship at a US-based institution. Applying for a Hubble and the other NASA-funded prize fellowships, the Einstein and the Sagan, is quite different than any other job application and the following advice is intended to hopefully shed some light on the process, provide realistic expectations, and enable applicants to submit the strongest application possible.


One of the easiest metrics to look at is an applicant’s publications, particularly the number thereof. In 2014, awardees who were finishing their PhD typically had 6±2 first author publications (with a minimum of 3), while those that already had a postdoc had 8±1.4 (minimum of 6). In both cases, 1–2 of these may have been just submitted. Keep in mind that there is no hard cut on the number of publications an applicant should have, nor is there a correlation between number of papers and ranking among awardees. This is just one of many factors considered by each committee member individually.

The number of publications isn’t the only factor that matters, of course. A paper that is highly  cited demonstrates that you are doing impactful work.  Try to get papers out early enough in your PhD that they have time to accumulate citations and actively promote your work by giving lots of talks.   But don’t stress about your citation numbers; panelists were circumspect about realizing that some sub-fields have very high citation rates and others don’t.

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10 things not to say at work

by Jane on August 18, 2014

A long time ago, I borrowed a camcorder* and taped myself giving a practice talk.  Then I forced myself to watch it.   It was excruciatingly awkward.  Every dumb pause, every verbal tic, every “literal” that’s figurative, every “uh, well, um”, gets magnified when you hear yourself.  Ouch. But doing it, and repeating every few years, made me a better speaker.

Therefore, I recommend taping and critiquing yourself before your next big talk.  I also recommend you read this article, “10 things not to say at work“, and examine how many of its rules you violate, both in scientific talks and when talking less formally about your work.  Do you say, “We showed that the debris disk extends to 50 AU, ” or do you say “Actually, we showed that the debris disk sort of extends to 50 AU”?  Do you agree with the article’s rules?  What others would you add that are specific to astronomy?


* A “camcorder” was a primitive device to record audio and video to magnetic tape.  I said it was a long time ago.


Latest Career Profile: Eric Rubenstein, an astronomer turned President and Chief Technology Officer for Image Insight Inc., a company he created which develops software products for radiation detection. He left academia at age 37 to work in private industry. Along the way he developed an astronomy-based procedure to detect ionizing radiation threats and began to build first the technology then the business. If you have questions, suggestions, advice to share, etc. about this career path, please leave a comment below or on the CSWA site.

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) and the AAS Employment Committee have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths. Check out Career Profiles on the AAS site for the compilation. We plan to post a new career profile every Thursday.


Top 10 Ways to Improve Your NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship (AAPF) Proposal

by Guest August 13, 2014

Joan Schmelz is a solar physicist at the University of Memphis. She works with EUV and X-ray images and spectroscopy in order to address the coronal heating problem. She is also the chair of the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and is currently serving as a rotator in NSF’s astronomy division. The […]


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AstroPix: More than Just (a Lot of) Pretty Pictures

by Guest August 11, 2014

This is a guest post by Robert Hurt at the Spitzer Science Center/IPAC. Robert is the Visualization Scientist, responsible for the public data renderings for many NASA missions including Spitzer, WISE, GALEX, and NuSTAR. For many years he has been leading the efforts to develop a common metadata standard for public-facing astronomical imagery. How often […]

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In Science, Order Matters

by Jess K August 6, 2014

By EMMA PIERSON, cross-posted from FiveThirtyEight. People tell me that, as a female scientist, I need to stand up for myself if I want to succeed: Lean in, close the confidence gap, fight for tenure. Being a woman in science means knowing that the odds are both against you being there in the first place and against you staying there. Some of this […]


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AstroBetter Schueduled Maintenance

by Danny Barringer August 1, 2014

Update Aug 16: The wiki is back up and snazzier than ever. That said, there may still be some hiccups with the new install. Please report any problems that you may have in the comments below. Update Aug 13: The maintenance was a bit more complex than we anticipated and the wiki remains down. We […]


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8/1 Links from the Editor

by Danny Barringer August 1, 2014

Hello everyone, this is your content manager speaking. Since Fridays aren’t usually very active over here on AstroBetter, I’ve decided to try sharing some interesting links and stories that I’ve come across over the past week or so. I think I’ll try putting one of these together roughly every two weeks, unless there’s a lot […]


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Career Profiles: Astronomer to Image Processor for STScI

by Laura Trouille July 31, 2014

Latest Career Profile: Lisa Frattare, an astronomer turned Master Astronomical Image Processor at the Space Telescope Science Institute and Coordinator for the summer student program. She is very satisfied with her work-life balance within a very family-friendly environment. If you have questions, suggestions, advice to share, etc. about this career path, please leave a comment […]


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