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Conversations on Inclusion and Equity

About the Series

This series of networking events enables members of the departments of Astronomy and Physics to meet informally and discuss issues that affect the climate for women and minorities (including racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, learning and physical disability issues) and to envisage ways to improve the communication, support and thereby climate.

Information about our past presentations is archived below.

Past Presentations

Let's Talk About It: Mental Health in Academia 
presented by
Johanna Teske (Carnegie Observatories)
2 pm, 340 West Hall
(Light refreshments following the talk in room 337)


Mental health struggles are often equated with personal weakness or deficiency, rather than an illness, in society at large and particularly within academia. This has led to a stigma around mental health and little meaningful discussion of the significant effects it can have on happiness, productivity, and overall health. Recent studies have shown that large fractions of people working at universities are at risk of having ordeveloping mental illness, and that graduate students are especially susceptible due to the great demands on their time, high expectations, and little control over the direction of their work and/or job prospects. In this talk I will present results from some of these studies, and I will also share my personal journey with mental health struggles. I will conclude with recommendations for what we can do as a community to help break the silence surrounding mental health and make academia a more supportive and inclusive environment. 

Co-sponsored by the Department of Astronomy

About the Speaker

Johanna grew up in Central Pennsylvania, with a farm field at the end of her street. This meant she was lucky enough to have relatively dark skies, and found inspiration watching meteor showers ​​in the early morning hours, although she also enjoyed creek-walking, writing short stories, and pretending to be a spy. Johanna got her B.S. degree in Physics in 2008 from American University in Washington, DC, and then went to graduate school at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, where she got her Ph.D. in Astronomy in 2014. For the first two years of her Carnegie Origins Postdoctoral Fellowship she lived in Washington, DC and worked at the Carnegie Department of Terrestrial Magnetism before moving to Pasadena in August 2016 to work at the Carnegie Observatories. In her free time Johanna likes teaching astronomy to others (and learning from them!), watching baseball, and running marathons. 

Slide Presentation                                                                                     ~~~~~~

November 6, 2017
4-5 PM
Room: 335 West Hall

The tragic destiny of Mileva Marić Einstein
 presented by
Pauline Gagnon
Retired Senior Research Scientist, Indiana University


What were Albert Einstein's first wife’s contributions to his extraordinary productivity in the first years of his career? A first biography of Mileva Marić was published in Serbian in 1969 but remained largely unknown despite being translated first in German, then in French in the 1990’s. The publication of Mileva and Albert’s love letters in 1987 brought more information but more recently, two very well documented publications shed even more light on Mileva Marić’s life and work. I will review this evidence in its social and historical context to give a better idea on her contributions. The audience will be able to appreciate why such a talented physicist has been so unkindly treated by history.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Physics

About the Speaker

Pauline Gagnon was born in Chicoutimi in Quebec, Canada in 1955. She received a B.Sc. in Physics from Université du Québec à Montréal in 1978 and taught physics for   six years in local colleges. After moving to California, she first obtained a Masters degree at San Francisco State University then completed a PhD in particle physics at the University of California in Santa Cruz in 1993. She joined a research team from Carleton University in Ottawa to conduct research at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics located near Geneva. She later became Senior Research Scientist at Indiana University until she retired in 2016. She contributed to the construction of a tracking device for the ATLAS detector, and searched for dark matter particles in the decays of Higgs bosons and in the form of hypothetical particles called dark photons.

From 2011 until 2014, she worked within the CERN Communication group, writing blogs for the Quantum Diaries and answering questions from numerous media worldwide. Explaining particle physics in simple and accessible terms has become her trademark. Since 2013, she has given more than 80 presentations to large audiences in eight countries on three continents. Her popular science book Who Cares about Particle Physics: Making Sense of the Higgs boson, the LHC and CERN goes beyond the current research program at CERN, looking at how research is done by large international teams and exploring the importance of fundamental research in physics. With this book, she hopes to reach even larger audiences, being convinced that particle physics is too much fun to leave it only to physicists!

Talk Recording


October 20, 2017

411 West Hall
9:30-10:45 am
(continental breakfast beginning at 9:10 am)

Towards a More Inclusive Astronomy (TaMIA):
Centering Diversity and Inclusion Conversations
on Marginalized Lived Experiences

Angie Wolfgang, Penn State

During this (slide-less) edition of Conversations on Inclusion and Equity, I will model TaMIA's version of these conversations and our approach for addressing issues in inclusion and equity.  TaMIA, or Towards a More Inclusive Astronomy, is a discussion group started by Mallory Molina at Penn State in 2016, with current co-leaders Angie Wolfgang, Caleb Cañas, and Jonathan Jackson. We began as a grassroots effort to introduce intersectional discussions about equity and inclusion in our department, highlighting the importance of the experiences of those with marginalized identities.  During this event, I will take the participants through the typical structure of a meeting while talking about TaMIA's goals, philosophy, how and why we started, as well as some lessons learned.

Co-sponsored by Astronomy

About the Presenter

Angie Wolfgang is a National Science Foundation Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Penn State doing research in exoplanet demographics and population-based astrostatistics, and is co-leader for the Towards a More Inclusive Astronomy discussion group at Penn State.  For more about Angie’s scientific contributions, visit; for more about TaMIA,



Astrophysics Survival Guide: Becoming a Safe Port in the
Most Tumultuous of Environments

presented by Dr. Katherine Alatalo
Carnegie Observatories, Pasadena, CA

Tuesday, March 21, 2017
1:30-2:30 pm
340 West Hall

followed by a conversation with students and postdocs
from 2:30-3:30 pm

Co-sponsored by the Department of Physics


The stories that have come out over the past couple of years have exposed endemic levels of harassment in academia. The question is: would you be able to recognize a student in distress if they came to you? I will walk you through a personal case-study of one such student, to teach you what to look out for, and challenge you to question your own views of "a student in over their head scientifically." I will then chronicle the resources that were in place that resulted in success in spite of tremendous headwinds. Finally, I will introduce you to the "Astronomy Allies" concept, as an example of what we as a community are trying to do to allow victims of harassment to retain a sense of belonging and safety, so that they too can persist, and eventually thrive.

About the Speaker

Dr. Alatalo co-founded "Astronomy Allies", a group of volunteers who help attendees of astronomy conferences who are experiencing sexual harassment by providing safe walks home during the conference, someone to talk to confidentially, as an intervener, as a resource to report harassment. She will talk about the impacts of sexual harassment and present ideas for ways to deal with it.

Slide Presentation


The Prison Teaching Initiative
presented by Professor Jenny Greene
Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University

Friday, February 10, 2017
411 West Hall
(Continental breakfast beginning at 9:15 am)


The Prison Teaching Initiative (PTI) is an all-volunteer organization comprised of Princeton graduate students, postdocs, and faculty that teaches college-accredited courses in State (and one Federal) Correctional Facilities in New Jersey. As background, I will discuss mass incarceration in this country, and the impacts of higher education on recidivism. Then, I will talk about the history of our program and our model, in the context of other programs nationwide.

About the Speaker 

Jenny Greene is a professor of astrophysics at Princeton University. She is interested in galaxy evolution and the important role played by supermassive black holes. She spends the rest of her time making sure PTI runs, being the director of graduate study at Princeton, and designing a galaxy evolution survey for the upcoming Prime Focus Spectrograph Survey.

Slide Presentation


Sexual Harassment in Academia: A Call to Action
Presented by: Julie C. Libarkin, Professor Michigan State University
11 a.m.,  Friday, January 6, 2017
340 West Hall
(Light refreshments at 10:30 a.m. in 337 West Hall)  

Please Note:

•Content in this talk may make you or those around you uncomfortable.
•Content which does not affect you may adversely affect those around you, and vice versa.

Despite headlines to the contrary, sexual harassment is both a far-reaching and longstanding problem in academia. The 1964 ban on sex discrimination in the workplace, the coining of the term “sexual harassment” in 1975, and the 1980 guidelines on sexual harassment issued by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) all clearly emerged from a need for workplaces free from obscene remarks or advances. Despite fifty years of attention, sexual harassment continues to be a problem across many disciplines, including science. This talk will review existing research on academic sexual harassment as well as insights gleaned from an analysis of nearly 500 cases documented in media reports, legal briefs, and university documents. In the past year alone, sexual harassment perpetrated by a US professor, dean, or university president has been documented at least once a week.

While individual academic institutions are currently working to generate policies to protect against sexual harassment, these individual efforts are unlikely to produce the type of cultural shift needed to combat sexual harassment in academia. We analyzed sexual harassment policies for 38 universities responsible for graduating many future faculty as well as 252 affiliated societies of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This analysis indicates that most professional societies do not have sexual harassment policies. Those policies that do exist within both professional societies and universities fail to meet minimum standards established by the EEOC. We suggest that it is incumbent upon parent organizations such as AAAS to articulate norms and expectations regarding sexual harassment.

About the Speaker:
  Professor Libarkin heads the Geocognition Research Laboratory at Michigan State University, where she investigates how people perceive, understand, and make decisions about the Earth. Her initial research in tectonic uplift in Bolivia and Colorado led way to investigations of expert-novice cognition, assessment of learning, scientific communication, and equity in science and engineering. Julie led the development of the Geoscience Concept Inventory, evaluated the efficacy of climate change images, documented the nature of geoscience field cognition, and is currently engaged in collaborations to understand the underpinnings of ethical, equitable scientific communities.  

Slide Presentation    

This event was co-hosted by MIRA and Earth and Environmental Sciences


April 15, 2016   9:45 am   411 West Hall (Pavo)
(Light breakfast and coffee at 9:30 in 412)

Unseen Dimensions of Diversity and Overcoming Invisible Obstacles
Presented by
Professor Smadar Naoz (UCLA)

Attempts to promote diversity in science often focus on issues related to gender and race; however, there is a wider range of individual differences that can limit the full participation of a diverse set of scientists. If our goal is to maximize scientific excellence by creating an environment that is equitable and inclusive for all, we need to recognize this wide range of variation and the related impediments that can exist.  It is important to learn about these--often invisible--barriers in order to help to dismantle them and to provide better support for a truly diverse group of scientists.

In this presentation, Prof. Smadar Naoz will tell us her personal story of overcoming challenges relating to learning disabilities, in combination with cultural impedance, being a women in STEM, and a first generation college graduate.

Prof. Naoz is an Assistant Professor at UCLA. She is a winner of several prestigious awards in recognition of her excellence, including the Sloan Research Fellowship, Annie Jump Cannon Prize, Einstein, Hubble, and Spitzer fellowships, and the John Bahcall Graduate Student prize, to name a few. Her research interests include dynamics of planetary and stellar systems (formation of Hot Jupiters; globular clusters; spiral structure; compact objects): Cosmology, structure formation in the early Universe, reionization, and 21cm fluctuations.

More detail on Prof. Naoz


Tuesday, February 16, 2016
4:00 - 5:00 pm
340 West Hall
3:45: Light refreshments, 337 West Hall

"Do Black Lives Matter in Science?"
Presented by Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

We all learned in December that at least two Supreme Court justices think the answer is no. But where did they get this impression? What has the scientific community done to counter that narrative both before Fisher vs. Texas and since those comments were made? Moreover, what is the scientific community doing to support Black students more broadly on campus? In this discussion, I'd like to explore the role that scientists play in promoting the health and well-being of Black students in their departments and beyond their departments. Taking the Salaita case at the University of Illinois as an example, I will explore the broad implications the choices of scientists have for the future of universities and Black on Campus.

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein is the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Postdoctoral Fellow at the MIT Center for Theoretical Physics and the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics. She's a brilliant scientist, the 63rd Black woman in American history with a Physics Ph.D., and an outspoken advocate for addressing racism and structural inequalities in STEM and universities more broadly. Here's one of many profiles on her: Huffington Post Profile


Wednesday, November 11, 2015
3-4 p.m.
411 West Hall (Pavo)

Creating Future Stem Leaders:
The National Astronomy Consortium
Presented by:
Dr. Kartik Sheth, Deputy Program Scientist
Cosmic Origins, NASA, Goddard Flight Center

Abstract: The National Astronomy Consortium (NAC) is a program led by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and Associated Universities Inc., (AUI) in partnership with the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), and a number of minority and majority universities to increase the numbers of students from underrepresented groups and those otherwise overlooked by the traditional academic pipeline into STEM or STEM-related careers. The seed for the NAC was a partnership between NRAO and Howard University which began with an exchange of a few summer students five years ago. Since then the NAC has grown tremendously. Today the NAC aims to host between 4 to 5 cohorts nationally in an innovative model in which the students are mentored throughout the year with multiple mentors and peer mentoring, continued engagement in research and professional development / career training throughout the academic year and throughout their careers. I will summarize the results from this innovative and highly successful program and provide lessons learned.


October 2, 2015
2:10 pm - 3:30 pm
411 West Hall 

The Imposter Syndrome
Presented by Sarah Ballard (MIT) Kavli Institute

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a surprising number of bright, capable, and often highly successful people dismiss their achievements as due to luck, charm, or other external factors. Individuals suffering from the Impostor Syndrome tend to believe they have somehow managed to "fool" others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. As a result, people experiencing this syndrome live in fear of being “found out.”

From Wikipedia: "Impostor Syndrome has been commonly reported by graduate students and scientists beginning tenure track."

When Dr. Sarah Ballard was a graduate student at Harvard, she ran a workshop on the Impostor Syndrome to follow up on a seminar held by Dr. Valerie Young. Young has written books on the subject and has also authored a workbook in particular, to help folks identify their impostor thoughts and think critically about them. Ballard will give a brief (~20 minute) introduction to the issues, open to everyone starting at 2:10pm.

Then she will run a workshop designed primarily for graduate students, which  she will supplement with summaries of peer-reviewed methods designed to enable participants to grapple with impostor thoughts. Students interested in participating in this workshop are encouraged to email to receive instructions for completing a 5 minute “homework assignment” prior to the workshop. (While the workshop is designed for astronomers at the graduate level, "impostors" at all levels of seniority are welcome to join.)

Dr. Sarah Ballard Presentation Slides


April 3, 2015   
411 West Hall 

Highlights of the 2015 Conference of the National Society of Black Physicists: Revisiting the Future of Scientific Leadership 

Presented by: Bryan Terrazas, Alejo Stark, Nuria Calvet and Emily Rauscher will present on "Highlights of the 2015 Conference of the National Society of Black Physicists: Revisiting the Future of Scientific Leadership." 

February 5, 2015

Increasing Diversity in Science and Engineering at the PhD Level
Presented by Keivan Stassun, Vanderbilt Universit
Presentation Slides


Fall, 2014 Presentations

In Fall, 2014 the presenters were Prof. Kathryn Johnston (Columbia University) who gave a talk entitled Perspectives from a Woman in Science, on November 7, 2014 and Prof. John Asher Johnson (Harvard University) who gave a talk entitled Black People in Astronomy: Why so Few? on December 5, 2014. Links to their presentation slides appear below.

Prof. Kathryn Johnston (Columbia University) Presentation Slides

Prof. John Asher Johnson (Harvard University) Presentation Slides