You must have Power to Stop Discrimination

You must have Power to Stop Discrimination

This is a piece on gender inequity and sexual discrimination (not sexual harassment, which is a different and emotionally more devastating thing). I´m writing this at this time not because of any one thing that´s happened, but because of a culmination of things. Sometimes it just seems like a topic is in the air, building momentum, and this topic has finally found a voice in me. This post had three different triggers. The first was a bad moment I had last semester, when I found out a student in my Physics for Engineers class was making sexually harassing comments on a regular basis. The second trigger came from confronting numbers and statistics on women in physics and astronomy for a pair of talks at Dragon*Con. And the third trigger was this little gem posted...

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Science as Collaboration

I’m sure I’ve spoken on this before, and I’m sure I’ll speak on this again. Science is an act of collaboration. While there are the lone geniuses among us out there making independent breakthroughs in mathematics and thought, these brilliant minds would be nothing if there wasn’t a community to hear their theories, run with their ideas, and evolve in response to their new visualizations of reality. In my Quantum Mechanics course, we heard stories of the letters that flew from Dirac, and in astronomy it was Chandra who maintained his sanity through correspondence as he lived his life, one nobel prize at a time. As a child enrolled in pull-out honors classrooms and sequestered in special science tracks, I grew to dread group projects....

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Anecdotal Evidence versus Statistics

One of the running jokes in physics/astronomy departments is that astronomers consider 4 instances of anything as statistically significant. In fact, the story goes, two points is enough to define a trend, and 1 is enough to form a theory. Take for instance our solar system. Up until 1995 it was the only one with a normal sun we knew of (there were some pulsar planets found earlier). Based on it, and it alone, we built an entire detailed nebular theory of solar system formation that we think is mostly true. This isn’t the only place in research where instances of “observation” lead to “understanding.” With observational astronomy we at least have the option to go out and search for new data. And sometimes we even find it. Sometimes....

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An academic life punctuated with bullets

An academic life punctuated with bullets

Every university seeks to convince parents (and itself) that it is a safe place where learning and personal development are fostered in a protective yet stimulating environment. This is part of the myth of the Ivory Tower: we form the intellectual fortress where the knowledge-wealth of a society is stored, and intellectual returns roll in at double-digit rates as papers are published and student sponges absorb the words of the marble and bronze professors we’ve placed on pedestals.

In truth, universities are just places that strive to be more, but often struggle to make their dreams reality. As places run by humans and often open to the public, they aren’t as secure as we may desire. While the majority of crimes are related to random strangers entering campus to thieve, and peep, and sometime grope and rape, the most tragic crimes we see are the ones perpetrated by the students and staff who become broken as they try to run the academic gauntlet.

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