Press Release

Status of women in astronomy to be revisited during special AAS conference at Caltech

By SpaceRef Editor
June 17, 2003
Filed under , ,

PASADENA, Calif. – In 1994, the American Astronomical Society
endorsed a broad range of goals calling for improvements in
opportunities and working environments for women in astronomy. On
June 27 and 28, the AAS will co-host a conference at the California
Institute of Technology to assess the progress that has been made in
the last decade.

"Women in Astronomy II" will address issues such as retention,
disadvantages for women and minorities in the field, persistent myths
and misconceptions that interfere with progress toward equity,
current demographics, and ways to effect institutional change. In
addition to Caltech and the AAS, the event is also sponsored by the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory; the Carnegie Observatories; NASA;
Associated Universities, Inc.; the Association of Universities for
Research in Astronomy; and the Research Corporation. Dr. Alice
Huang, senior councilor for external relations at Caltech, is also a

According to Judith Cohen, an astronomy professor at Caltech and one
of the local organizers, the 1994 endorsement followed
recommendations set forward two years earlier in Baltimore by a
committee formed to address problems that women encounter in their
careers in the field. The work of the Committee on the Status of
Women in Astronomy – often referred to as the Baltimore Charter —
was an important milestone in promoting equity for women in science,
Cohen says, and resulted in many astronomers taking the
recommendations to heart.

"I think things are better, but the question is how much better,"
says Cohen. "One matter particularly important to me is the
percentage of women in astronomy and physics at various stages, from
graduating high school to obtaining PhDs and beyond, in their
careers. You can’t hire women if they’re not there."

In addition to addressing the training of graduate students, the
committee made several other recommendations. These included calls
for affirmative action, pre-establishment of standards for job
candidates, the involvement of women in the selection process, the
vigorous recruitment of additional women in underrepresented hiring
pools, the restructuring of hiring criteria where appropriate, the
implementation of more effective ways to deal with sexual harassment,
and promotion of better working conditions and physical safety.

In addition to Cohen, the other local organizers are Barry Madore, an
astronomer affiliated with the Infrared Processing and Analysis
Center (IPAC) on the Caltech campus, and Wallace Sargent, who is the
Bowen Professor of Astronomy at Caltech. Speakers will include
Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Alice
Huang; Anneila Sargent, professor of astronomy at Caltech; and
Virginia Valian, author of the book Why So Slow?

Fran Bagenal, a professor of astrophysics and planetary science at
the University of Colorado, is chair of the program committee; and
Yale physics professor Meg Urry is chair of the AAS Committee on the
Status of Women in Astronomy.

The speaker at the Friday-night dinner will be Susan Estrich, who ran
Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign and is now a law
professor at the University of Southern California.

The conference requires registration by June 16, but members of the
news media are invited to attend without registration if they contact
Caltech Media Relations before the conference begins. Additional
information is available on-line at

SpaceRef staff editor.