Spring 2019 - Astronomy 792A

“A review of cultural issues facing astronomers”

For this semester, in lieu of our traditional graduate Journal Club seminar, we focused on papers from the vast literature of social science studies related to minority under-representation and biases in STEM as they manifest at undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and faculty levels. The outcomes of this special series far exceeded expectations and we hope this model can be useful to other Astronomy and STEM departments. Below we provide a link to our bibliography of papers.

Motivation

The motivation for this special series was to take an important step in increasing diversity and inclusion in our department by educating ourselves on the extent and complexity of the challenges. 

Format

All UMass astronomy graduate students were enrolled in this course (17 during the Spring 2019 semester). Students chose a topic/paper (see list below under Resources) and prepared a presentation that summarized and evaluated the methods, analysis and results of the paper to stimulate discussion on this topic. Each week, two students presented for 30 minutes (20 min presentation+10 min questions/discussion).

Participation

The Journal Club is open to the full department. Participation levels averaged over the Spring 2019 semester were as follows: 80% of faculty, ~100% of postdocs/grad students and a handful of undergraduate students. 

Outcomes

As mentioned above, this series was very well attended. All participants were active in the questions and discussions following each talk (in fact, our 1 hour meeting often lasted for 1.25 hours with the majority of participants staying the entire time). Given the extent of these stimulating discussions, we used the last two weeks of the semester to workshop some actions that we can take personally and at the department level to address some of the biases and challenges discussed. 

Resources

Bibliography of papers: see this link

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