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Demographic breakdown of our survey sample

We have finally finished writing up the results for our survey on perceptions of appropriate behavior between students and advisors for the 2009 Women in Astronomy and Space Science Meeting.  It was quite an effort – 10 scenarios, 579 respondents and over 2000 comments have been merged into a poster (presented at the conference) and a four-page write-up for the conference proceedings.  All the details can be found at:

A short summary of our results:

  1. Perceptions of appropriateness vary considerably in the astronomical community at all levels, even for situations that might be deemed “obvious”.
  2. Perceptions of appropriateness vary with age and professional status, with younger astronomers and those at earlier stages in their careers (students, postdocs) typically viewing behaviors as more appropriate.  In particular, there were frequently differences in perceptions of appropriateness between students and advisors.
  3. On average, scenarios were seen as more inappropriate for student/advisor pairs with different genders than pairs with the same genders. Given that female students are less likely to have a same-gender advisor than male students (see my last blog post on this), this trend may have a negative affect on young women’s student/advisor relationships.
  4. Our survey attracted a small fraction (8%) of highly negative and fearful criticism, overwhelmingly from men.  There unfortunately appears to be continued resistance to open discussion of appropriate behaviors between students and advisors.

Comments are welcome!


Genders of advisors and their students in our survey. These numbers are based on the 2959 students that 252 respondents reported they had advised over the past 5 years. The students are separated by education level (high school through postdoctoral) and gender (green for female, yellow for male), while the bar graphs indicate the fraction of students in each subgroup advised by a male or female (total numbers of students in each subgroup are listed outside each bar). The fraction of female students advised by female advisors decreases with later educational levels, as low as 26% at the postdoctoral level. Male students, on the other hand, are advised by male advisors 65-74% of the time.

I’m currently completing the write-up for a study Jacqueline Faherty and I did for the Women in Astronomy 2009 conference this past October, looking at perceptions of inappropriate behavior between students and advisors in astronomy (see the next blog post).  We polled 579 students, researchers, teachers, staff and other astronomy affiliates as part of an online survey to examine how perceptions of behavior change according to gender, age, professional status, etc.  Our results (when we’re finished writing them up!) will eventually be posted here.

In the course of analyzing the mounds of biographical data we collected from our respondents, there was one thing I realized we could look at: who is advising our female students? One of the issues that continually comes up in addressing the disparity in gender representation in professional astronomy is the problem that female students are less likely to have a female advisor.  I realized that with our survey data we could actually measure this, as we explicitly asked respondents who indicated that they were advisors how many students they had advised over the past five years, and what the genders of those students are.  By matching these statistics with the gender of the respondents, we get a measure of the gender match between students and advisors in astronomy overall.

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I miss you Eames chair

I miss you Eames chair

This year I made a move from my faculty position at MIT to one at UC San Diego.  While there were many wonderful and positive things I was leaving behind in the process (good friends, brilliant students, phenomenal staff and a supportive and scientifically engaging department), the one thing that my backside will miss the most is my Eames lounge chair. I purchased this design icon as a “thinking chair”, but it was a frequent hit with visitors, students and of course the other junior faculty.  Indeed, not long after I had made public my decision to head out to San Diego, I received emails like the following from my colleagues:

“If you are not taking it with you right away, can I keep your Eames Chair for “safeguarding” in my office? I promise to give it back whenever you either come back or take it with you..”

Unfortunately, this was not an item that could leave MIT, so it was clear that it had to be passed on to a deserving recipient.  But how to pick one person in a department of superstars?  Thus was born:

The Adam J. Burgasser Endowed Chair of Astrophysics

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