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Status of women in astronomy to be revisitedduring special AAS conference at Caltech

In 1994, the American Astronomical Society endorsed a broad range of goals calling for improvements in opportunities and working environments for women in astronomy. On June 27 and 28, the AAS will co-host a conference at the California Institute of Technology to assess the progress that has been made in the last decade.

"Women in Astronomy II" will address issues such as retention, disadvantages for women and minorities in the field, persistent myths and misconceptions that interfere with progress toward equity, current demographics, and ways to effect institutional change. In addition to Caltech and the AAS, the event is also sponsored by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; the Carnegie Observatories; NASA; Associated Universities, Inc.; the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy; and the Research Corporation. Dr. Alice Huang, senior councilor for external relations at Caltech, is also a sponsor.

According to Judith Cohen, an astronomy professor at Caltech and one of the local organizers, the 1994 endorsement followed recommendations set forward two years earlier in Baltimore by a committee formed to address problems that women encounter in their careers in the field. The work of the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy – often referred to as the Baltimore Charter -- was an important milestone in promoting equity for women in science, Cohen says, and resulted in many astronomers taking the recommendations to heart.

"I think things are better, but the question is how much better," says Cohen. "One matter particularly important to me is the percentage of women in astronomy and physics at various stages, from graduating high school to obtaining PhDs and beyond, in their careers. You can't hire women if they're not there."

In addition to addressing the training of graduate students, the committee made several other recommendations. These included calls for affirmative action, pre-establishment of standards for job candidates, the involvement of women in the selection process, the vigorous recruitment of additional women in underrepresented hiring pools, the restructuring of hiring criteria where appropriate, the implementation of more effective ways to deal with sexual harassment, and promotion of better working conditions and physical safety.

In addition to Cohen, the other local organizers are Barry Madore, an astronomer affiliated with the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) on the Caltech campus, and Wallace Sargent, who is the Bowen Professor of Astronomy at Caltech. Speakers will include Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Alice Huang; Anneila Sargent, professor of astronomy at Caltech; and Virginia Valian, author of the book Why So Slow? Fran Bagenal, a professor of astrophysics and planetary science at the University of Colorado, is chair of the program committee; and Yale physics professor Meg Urry is chair of the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy.

The speaker at the Friday-night dinner will be Susan Estrich, who ran Michael Dukakis's 1988 presidential campaign and is now a law professor at the University of Southern California.

The conference requires registration by June 16, but members of the news media are invited to attend without registration if they contact Caltech Media Relations before the conference begins. Additional information is available on-line at http://www.aas.org/~cswa/WIA2003.html. .

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Contact: Robert Tindol (626) 395-3631 t

Caltech Media Relations