Wednesday 1 July 2009

The "She's an Astronomer" project

The International Year of Astronomy are running a "cornerstone project", as they call it, called "She's an Astronomer" (formerly "she is", but that was never going to catch on). Approximately a quarter of astronomers are women, but the distribution varies from country to country - in some, >50% are women, and in others, none. Since I'm not an astronomer or even a mad keen career girl, except in the forum and writing of course, I shall leave it to wiser heads to work out why. You can read more about women in astronomy here, and some of the other interview blogs here.

Galaxy Zoo are interviewing 12 women, publishing one interview on the first of each month. Karen Masters is hosting it. She's doing some Galaxy Zoo work but I haven't persuaded her to come to the forum yet, which is a shame as she is lovely! (And her website is worth a look, incidentally.) She's devised a pattern of volunteer-scientist-volunteer-scientist, so it'll be another professional next month. Today was me. I sound a lot rantier than I originally meant to. Perhaps Karen edited out a lot of "um"s and "er"s and "in my opinion"s for brevity's sake. Or perhaps tying it when the spacebar on my keyboard had stopped working didn't help. Update: Never write things like this, even jokingly as I did. Now Karen's read it. :( Bless her for agreeing to yet another edit, and she's written us a fantastic post you should read!

Three of the four forum moderators are female, though the zookeepers are almost all male; I wonder if the former has had an effect on the forum? For example, occasionally people complain that there's no sense of racing or competition - which I, personally, think is one of our greatest attributes. Or am I going to be lynched for suggesting that women are less competitive than men? Oh well, you can try, I guess - I will sit here on this side of the screen and LAUGH!

It really does bug me how often I see women's abilities judged by their appearance. This is not only bad for us flat and/or ugly ones, but patronising and bossy to the Miss Worlds too. If you think it's good for a woman to get by because she's good-looking, read "Octavia" or "The Photograph" - both excellent books (yes, even the Jilly Cooper one is very well thought out!). I expect the same thing happens to men, too, but possibly not so much. So, all in all, I let myself have quite a liberating grumble about that!

Earlier on, I was given the agonising task of finding more Galaxy Zoo ladies to be interviewed. I was asked to select 2, which was utterly impossible; Karen kindly agreed to be pushed up to 4. Even so it was almost an impossible choice, so I can only apologise to those who I left out. It should hopefully emerge over the next 10 months that I picked women who are great members of our forum, but who haven't yet had their share of centre stage publicity (sorry Els and Pat, mates, you're out! But I would have if I could!). Anyway - the remaining 4 - I can't wait to hear your doubtless very different and probably more knowledgeable stories than mine.

And a big thank you to Karen for running this, and putting up with my 50,000 requested edits!

Totally off topic, but today's APOD is lovely and draws this post to a very nice close.

P.S. Read about Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin and the best "She was an Astronomer" Object of the Day I can write for her here!


Georgia said...

Excellent job on the interview, Alice! I'm glad that the Galacticat Research Project was included as a link ;-) Also, I'd love to see the picture of you at age 6 with the Astronomy book... next blog post?? :-)

Karen Masters said...

Alice, Thanks for the nice comments. Sorry if my edits made you "rant" more. Honestly I think your comments all sounded very sensible.

But now you're making me feel guilty not coming on the forum. But where would I start? Do I just jump in, or do I have to introduce myself? I'm a bit of a novice about web chatting...

Alice said...

Awwww sorry Karen, you know I was pulling your leg don't you? Your edits were wonderful, it was me doing the ranting. (And don't take my comments about appearance as meaning nobody should go for a makeover!)

Start anywhere in the forum! Come and introduce yourself in the Cafe perhaps, or write some comments in an Object of the Day or a thread about science news? I don't suppose you need Tom's Newbies thread! I shall think of something for you. :)

Sakib said...

It really really get on my nerves how so many female astronomers are more or less completely ignored! Do their achievements not count for anything? Ever since I got into astronomy when I was a kid, I was familiar with the great female figures such as Caroline Shoemaker, Jocelyn Bell, Henrietta Leavitt and Caroline Herschel. I have read many articles and books but they are very rarely mentioned. If you think I'm exaggerating, then I'm sorry as I kinda have a selective memory, maybe they are mentioned more frequently.
I'm going to start a blog at some point and I'm going to have a monthly feature that focuses on female astronomers!

Alice said...

Hi Sakib! Glad you're here, and let us know when your blog starts. I'm looking forward to reading it. Wow, and also thanks for coming along and commenting on some quite old stuff I've written, I feel very complimented and hope you found it interesting :)