Thursday, January 20, 2011

Science Topics on BBC Women's Hour

BBC Women's Hour - Listen again
2011 is the International year of Chemistry - If girls do better than boys at A level Chemistry, why don't more young girls dream of a truly exhilarating career in science. How can we change this? Dr Patricia Fara, a science historian from Clare College Cambridge discusses.
Discussion starts at 34 minutes 20 seconds -

American equal rights campaigner, Sylvia Ann Hewlett says that evidence gathered across Europe suggests that offering women a lengthy absence from work harms their career.
Discussion starts at 24 minutes 20 seconds -

(taken from UKRC GetSET Women News)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bedtime story book: Earth to Stella

 Bedtime reading has an important role in our life, and we're frequent visitors to our local library to increase the diversity of the books we read. I'm naturally attracted to kids books about space, and so we read quite a few. Anyway to cut a long story short, I thought it would be nice to review some of them.

Right now we're reading "Earth to Stella" by Simon Puttock and Phillip Hopman (Amazon UK link, Amazon USA link). I don't intend to provide an exhaustive review, but here's list of my likes and dislikes:


1. The main character is a girl. Having a (imaginary) space adventure. That's unusual - and you won't be surprised that I like it. The picture of Stella in her bedroom shows this is no passing interest either - she has a lot of space toys in her room.

2. The relationship between the girl and her father comes across as genuine and loving. He joins in her imaginary adventure providing messages from "Earth to Stella"

3. I love that her bouncing on the moon ends with "Earth to Stella: no jumping on the bed". It's just cute.

3. There's real scientific information about what the stars look like close up, and that they have different colours.


1. A comet is described as "zooming past with a fiery tail" (and on the page after the correct description of stars). OK this is an imaginary space flight, but I think that's a missed chance to stick in a bit more real science.

2. The bug aliens are a bit weird. Again it's imaginary, but where do they come from?

In summary I mostly like this one, and it does have some real scientific information.

In researching this post (OK by Googling "Earth to Stella"!) I found this list of reviews of children's books by the (US) National Space Society. Looks like a useful resource.

What can men do to help?

While I'm here, looks like the AAS women's session happened yesterday. I found this nice summary over at "Rocket Scientista" of the discussion which focussed on one of my favourite topics: "What can men do to help?".

While I think the experience for men of being in the minority at the womens sessions may be an eye opener for them at how much you notice being just one of a small number of your gender in a room (and I wish more of them would come and experience it), I would love for those meetings to be more representative, as (like Rocket Scientista) I don't think anything is going to change until more men care about the problem too.

Elementary Parenting

A nice post over at the AAS Women in Astronomy Blog by Hannah discussing how much easier parenting is when your kids are elementary school aged: "Elementary Parenting".

This is nice to hear. My oldest will start school in September, and while we'll have a little one in the house for quite some time to come (since the youngest is still just 10 months old), it's nice to know an easier life may be around the corner.

To be honest from this side though school looks more complicated than preschool: we'll have to get her there on time every day. We'll need to sort out after school care, and something different for all the many holidays. I'm sure we'll sort it out, and this might just be fear of the unknown, but it certainly looks more complicated. And I don't think the cost savings will be huge (from the UK) since we get quite a big subsidy for the over 3s already (15 hours free care during the school year). For us it was that transition which made a big difference to our pockets.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Two is hard

Well it's been a long time, and I hate blogs that are just lists of excuses, but I have to say two kids is hard... much harder than one! I'm also loosing interest in anonymous blogging - I find it actually reduces what I can say as I don't want to give too much away. And every (female) astronomer I've met knows who I am anyway so it seems a bit pointless! So I'm not sure where this blog is going in the future, if anywhere......

Anyway enough of that, here's a update:

First the good news - after a wonderful 6 months maternity leave I'm back at work and getting busy with several exciting projects. I can confirm (anecdotally) the increase in productivity pregnant women have second time round - I have 4 (first author) papers published in the last year. I won another grant for 2 more years funding, so I got a promotion and a payrise (still a postdoc, but now a better paid one!). All this makes things look a whole lot rosier.

More good news - despite a slightly bumpy ride, and the annoyance that the new baby can't go to the same nursery as my older daughter the childcare situation is pretty good. The baby is within walking distance, so instead of the mammoth pumping I did for my first baby I just wander over there at lunchtime to nurse. I have been able to get away with no trips away from him yet (and he's 10 months old) with the help of my wonderful husband and parents who have come with me and the baby on a couple of trips I couldn't get out of. Oh and my new grant allows me to claim childcare for conferences, so we have a couple of big trips planned bringing both kids with us (last year for that before my daughter starts school in September - how time flies!).

And the bad you probably know. Funding for astronomy is decreasing or flat. No-one has jobs. I have two years, but my husband's postdoc officially ends this summer. I've been a postdoc for 5 1/2 years so the clock is ticking pretty loudly on my career. Yada yada. The only advice is to try to wait it out - funny thing is it just seems to keep getting worse.....

So the only solution is good research. With that I'v got to get on with work. An exciting paper in the draft phase - my favourite part of research. :)

Oh and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


A recent study presented at the last AAS meeting shows that 60% of female astronomers suffer from impostor syndrome, the (unjustified) "fear of being exposed by colleagues for a lack of knowledge or ability". In comparison, 47% of male astronomers say they suffer from this. Since these fears could be a factor leading people away from astronomy, it may be one of the many things explaining why so few women make it all the way.

I would be curious to see the results of such a study for mother-astronomers. If it's so easy to doubt oneself in general (even half of our male colleagues do it, apparently!), it's probably worse when you add on top of it all the worries and concerns of juggling babies and research.

Coming back to work after maternity leave is both thrilling and deadly stressful. After being away from work, there's the joy of getting back into it, but also the (self-imposed in my case) pressure of performing extra well to make up for the lost time. I find myself in meetings sometimes, wanting to contribute to the discussion, show that I'm back in business, but blanking out because baby didn't sleep well and I'm tired, or because I worry about x or y baby-related thing.

When this happens I get home afterward, and while I play with the kids, I find myself worrying about work, how I need to do more. Impostor syndrome at work, impostor syndrome at home.

These are bad days, but fortunately it's not always like this. A comment on a previous post expresses very well one of my believes about the work/family duality: if I'm happy at work, it benefits everyone, including my kids. Most of the time I'm able to convince myself that my colleagues are understanding, that I don't need to prove myself all the time, that as long as I do my best I can't ask more of myself; I throw the impostor syndrome out of the window. But it takes a constant effort to not let it creep back, doubting is so easy.

I liked reading the results of this study. Because I recognized myself, and because I now know that it's such a widespread phenomenon. Why didn't I know before? Because we're expected to be tough, and we put on a facade most of the time. But really, that's not helping anyone, actually it's probably doing more harm than good. We need to break this vicious circle! So let's make a first baby step here - if you're reading this and it sounds familiar at all, let us know, because everybody likes to know that they're not alone with their problems and worries. At least I know I do!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Congratulations to Astronomum on the birth of her beautiful new baby! We wish you all the best, and look forward to hear about your adventures as a two time astronomom!

We now have five kids between the three of us, including three babies less than a year old - hopefully we will be able to keep these posts coming!