The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently developed a new policy on reporting harassment. These rules are meant to address the ongoing problem of sexual harassment in academia. For example, one study found that 30% of postdocs have reported being sexually harassed in the workplace. Another crowdsourced spreadsheet has garnered almost 2500 responses since December 2017 with reports of sexual harassment or assault across many fields of academia.

With these new reporting rules, the NSF hopes to provide clearer conditions for reporting sexual harassment and to better track its grantees. From the NSF notice published on March 5, 2018:

We consider the Principal investigator (PI) and any co-PI(s) identified on an NSF award to be in positions of trust… This term and condition will make it clear that NSF may take unilateral action as necessary to protect the safety of all grant personnel, to include suspending or terminating an award or requiring the grantee to replace or remove personnel.

One outworking of this policy is that it requires institutions to have good reporting policies in place, something that is currently lacking at many places. The NSF’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion states explicitly on their website:

NSF expects all awardee organizations to establish and maintain clear and unambiguous standards of behavior to ensure harassment-free workplaces wherever science is conducted, including notification pathways for all personnel, including students, on the primary and supplemental awards. This expectation includes activities at all research facilities and field sites and during conferences and workshops.

This will hopefully result in institutions having a better sense of the conditions of its research groups. Increased reporting could also enable the institution to take proactive actions to take care of problematic situations before they reach the level of a formal human resources investigation, the outcomes of which may jeopardize funding.

Another thing that is not explicitly mentioned in the policy, but which seems like a clear consequence, is that the NSF will have a record of people who have been found in violation of harassment policies even if they change institutions. This seems like an extremely powerful first step in combating the problem of serial harassers going from one institution to another. Due to privacy and legal issues, institutions cannot share details of any investigations or violations with prospective new institutions.

The NSF is requesting comments on these new reporting requirements. These comments should be addressed to Suzanne H. Plimpton, Reports Clearance Officer, Office of the General Counsel at The deadline for comments is May 4, 2018. They will no doubt receive comments from institutions worried about how this will work in practice, but if you think this is a worthwhile step in the right direction, send in a short note of support! Let’s be sure the NSF knows that we appreciate their efforts to combat this pervasive problem in our field.


I’d like to give everyone a status update on me and the blog. As some of you have noticed, new content has been few and far between the past couple years. That should be changing, starting now!

First of all, I’m pleased to announce that Joanna Bridge (University of Louisville) has joined the AstroBetter team as our new content manager. She’s a postdoc in Louisville, KY studying high-redshift galaxies at the end of the epoch of reionization. Danny Barringer has been rocking this job for several years but the time has come for him to move on. Thanks, Danny, for all of your contributions and a big welcome to Joanna! She’s got some great posts planned for the next couple months, so stay tuned.

One of big reasons for the drop-off in activity was because my path to tenure was a little rocky and I needed to focus on other things in order to ensure my long term stability in the field. (If you’re curious about everything I do, take a look at my tenure dossier.) Good news: I am now a tenured Associate Professor at Hunter College! Of course, I’ll still be busy with all of the responsibilities of being a professor, but hopefully it won’t be quite so emotionally draining and time consuming as it was these past few years.

Another reason for the lack of blog content was that the time that I did have for this project went into developing the business model to keep it sustained. Thanks to a grant and a very supportive program officer from the Sloan Foundation, I thought deeply about how to generate the needed revenue stream to keep the blog and wiki active while being a full time professor. As a result, I started a consulting firm called ScienceBetter Consulting. It’s a single-owner LLC incorporated in New York state and a certified woman-owned business. While the business is technically a for-profit LLC, the business model is all about using revenue to support community resources. The revenue from the contracts we’ve gotten so far is enough to cover the costs of hiring folks to both generate content and maintain the site’s backend.

Finally, I’d like to remind everyone about the email subscription option for getting AstroBetter blog posts. Of course, new posts will be announced on Twitter and Facebook but if you’re not keen on those platforms, please subscribe via email. Full texts of new posts will be delivered straight to your inbox.

That’s it — I missed y’all and am glad to be back!


The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) “Anonymizing Proposal Reviews” Working Group (APRWG) has been formed to tackle the ongoing problem of implicit biases affecting the outcomes of Hubble Space Telescope (HST) proposal reviews. For the last two HST cycles, the list of investigators on each proposal has been given to reviewers alphabetized and with no indication of the principal investigator in order to avoid these biases in the review process.  However, the working group notes in their charge, “The final results from HST proposal reviews continue to show that proposals led by female PIs have a lower success rate that those led by male PIs. This may indicate the continued presence of unconscious bias.”

An email from STScI recently sent to the community states:

NASA’s Great Observatories are open to science proposals from anyone in the worldwide astronomical community. Maintaining equity and a level playing field for access is a high priority for the Director and staff at STScI. In support of that goal, a number of changes have been made to the format of HST proposals. Following discussion with the Space Telescope Users Committee, the Director has established a Working Group to explore options for further anonymizing the proposal format and developing appropriate guidelines for proposers and reviewers.

The APRWG is now soliciting feedback from the astronomical community on this topic. More information on the APRWG mission can be found on the group’s website, including proposing guides and an FAQ.

Send any comments or input you have to by March 7, 2018. The APRWG will deliver a report to the Director and the Space Telescope Users Committee by April 1, 2018.


STARtorialist is an astronomy fashion blog (also on Twitter, Instagram, & Facebook), run by by Emily Rice and Summer Ash, that curates and shares astronomy and science-themed clothing, accessories, decor, and more. This is one of the projects supported by ScienceBetter Consulting, the business venture inspired by the success of AstroBetter. The plan is for the business activities to cover the costs of maintaining the blog and support the generation of new content.

We’re pleased to announce that for the first time ever, astronomers are going to be able to buy items directly from STARtorialist via our BOOTH-tique at AAS 231 in National Harbor, MD, featuring hundreds of items from our favorite designers. Conference attendees will be able to see items in person before purchasing them and avoid shipping fees and delivery wait times, and possibly even meet the designers in person!

We have made eGift Cards available for purchase before the conference which will be redeemable at the BOOTH-tique There are six eGift Card designs to choose from, and you can load the eGift with any amount from $5–$500. These would make fabulous gifts for anyone attending AAS 231, so astronomers, it’s time to update your wish lists! This would be an excellent way to show support and appreciation for your friends and colleagues attending the meeting.

We’ve placed orders with about 20 of our favorite designers for t-shirts, ties, scarves, tote bags, jewelry, stickers, pins, and more! We are still finalizing our wares, but so far we are anticipating items from Slow Factory, Eclectic Eccentricity, Yugen Tribe, SciChic, Shadowplay NYC, Becky Queen of Frocks, Surlyramics, Pretty Little Earth, Pacalin, Astronobeads, Cyber Optix, Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild, just to name a few! If there’s anything in particular that you want to see at the booth, let us know ASAP and we’ll do our best to have it in stock.

If this goes well, we’ll be able to spend more time (and money!) on the STARtorialist blog itself, including compensating new contributors. Who knows, maybe we’ll even venture into other sales realms… In the meantime, we will continue to explore, share, and support the talented, dedicated creators of the startorial Universe!


Rumor Mill is now ready for 2017–2018

by Kelle September 25, 2017

We’ve finally got the Rumor Mill turned over for the new season: Postdoc and Term and Faculty and Staff. The archives from previous years remain available. Thanks to the couple of folks who nudged me about this and a huge thanks to Anže Slosar (Brookhaven National Laboratory) for stepping up, getting this done, and helping maintain this community […]


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Is an R1 for you?

by Guest February 13, 2017

This post is from an anonymous professor who has served as the chair of a faculty hiring committee. I recently completed the experience of serving as a hiring committee chair for a research university. I hope you’ll consider advice from this hiring committee chair (to be considered in complement with many other similar pieces of […]


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Advice from a Faculty Hiring Committee Chair

by Guest January 19, 2017

This post is from an anonymous professor who has served as the chair of a faculty hiring committee. I was recently the chair of the hiring committee for a new faculty position. I am a junior faculty member and, based on my experience on both sides of the table, I wanted to pass along some […]

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AAS Winter Meeting Cheat Sheet #AAS229

by Danny Barringer December 16, 2016

It’s that time of year again. The 229th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society is nearly upon us. To make the most of your time at the meeting, we at AstroBetter would like to remind you of some resources available on the Wiki. First, the post that everyone attending a winter AAS meeting should read […]


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Register for Hack Together Day at AAS 229

by Guest December 9, 2016

Abigail Stevens is an astronomy PhD candidate at the Anton Pannekoek Institute, University of Amsterdam. Her research is on spectral-timing analysis of X-ray binaries. Meg Schwamb is an assistant scientist at Gemini Observatory, Northern Operations Center. Register now for Hack Together Day at AAS 229 on January 7th! Hack Together Day is a day to […]


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Learn Software Carpentry at #AAS229

by Guest September 27, 2016

Azalee Bostroem (@astro_az) is a graduate student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Davis. Do you find yourself reading code in Python, sometimes attempting to update it, and all the time wishing you had been taught some Python in undergrad or graduate school? As astronomers we find ourselves frequently […]


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