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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.

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