The plenary talks this morning included one about physics education at a women's college in India, and an astronomy talk on supermassive black holes (yay, astornomy!). While I think that it is pretty cool to hear about the cutting-edge research that women in physics are doing, I feel like too much of the time at this conference has been spent on the plenary scientific talks, and not enough about women in physics around the world. And if we were meant to network more informally during breaks, that doesn't really seem to be working either, since they give us so little time for coffee breaks, lunch, and poster sessions. Today, they grouped us at lunch by field of study, so I got to sit with fellow astronomers from other countries, so that part did help.
The bulk of the work of the meeting seems to be taking place within the four themed workshops: Attracting Girls to Physics, Fund-raising, WIP Working Groups, and Site Visits & Improving the Climate for Women. I've been attending workshops for that last theme.
I was particularly interested in the presentation about the Juno project in the UK presented in the Site Visits workshop today. The program sounds much like the Pasadena Recommendations formulated by the CSWA. However, they've gone even further with it, having two levels of commitment: Juno supporter, which is similar to endorsement of the Pasadena Recommendations; and Juno champion, where the institution demonstrates that they have actually followed through on best practices. Now, the major difference between the UK and the US is that the UK actually has legislation mandating that insitutions demonstrate that they are practicing gender equity, so they have strong motivation to become Juno supporters and champions. In the US, there is no such high level mandate. Astronomy departments can choose to endorse the Pasadena Recommendations out of the goodness of their hearts.
Some other thoughts that are percolating in my head are with regard to work-family juggling. A common thread, especially among East and South Asians, is that women are pressured not to pursue science or perhaps rather, they are pressured to focus on family rather than career. However, an interesting result from a survey done in South Africa shows that women do not point to child care as an obstacle to pursuing careers in physics: rather it is the hostility of the environment to women in general. Then again, they listed flexibility of work arrangements as being important for maintaining careers in physics, so perhaps that very flexibility obviated the need for making external childcare arrangements.
Another theme is sharing information with each other, consolidating resources on a webpage so that people in smaller countries aren't scrambling to find the help they need. So the suggestion was made to create a wiki: sounds like a great idea to me!
My husband, who has been watching the kids for me during the meeting, noted that given that this is a conference on women in physics, there is a remarkable lack of childcare resources provided either by the conference organizers or the hotel. I have to say he has a good point. Then again, since so many of us are coming from so far away, perhaps most of us didn't even consider bringing our children along with us. Except for crazies like me. :)
Overall, though, this meeting has been quite interesting and a great opportunity to meet people both from the US and other countries who share the common interest of promoting women in physics and astronomy. I'm quite glad I came: I only wish I had business cards to hand out.