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Future Faces of Physics: WOWSA!!!!! - Sep 18, 2008 at 11:53PM
Blay
50 Posts

The times they are a changing in physics and astronomy.  In the past 50 years, huge advances been made in both  our understanding of the world we live in and in the demographics of those individuals that make scientific discoveries. SPS' theme for this year: "The Future Faces of Physics,'' increases excitement and knowledge about this trend and acknowledges that while the physical sciences still have a long way to go in terms of increasing the number of women and minorities, we are improving every year.  In honor of this, The Assistant Editors of the Nucleus will be interviewing and highlighting groups and individuals that are at the forefront of making  physics a more diverse field.


Physics and Astronomy are, stereotypically, not seen as being particularly  female friendly.  This is certainly not true in most departments, and the University of Wisconsin Madison's Astronomy department is as inviting to women and minorities as they come.  The WOWSA group (Women of Wisconsin Strengthening Astronomy) at UW does a great deal to promote a female friendly environment in the department. The group meets once a week to discuss issues that are related to being a women in physical sciences, particularly Astronomy.  They usually have speakers, either from UW or a female colloquium speaker, and discuss issues in a informal environment over cookies and tea.  The group generally excludes men and Sr. female faculty members from attending, claiming that they want to create a 'safe place' where grad and undergrad women can talk without fear of their advisors or other men.  WOWSA at UW is largely a copy of an idea several women at the University of Arizona had for a group ( The Women's Science Forum) that raises awareness about women's issues in Astronomy.  Because this model has been successfully implemented at two major universities, it can certainly be executed elsewhere...perhaps at your home university!?  I interviewed WOWSA leaders Laura Chomiuk and Emily Freeland in order to give Nucleus readers some insight into starting their own 'WOWSA' type group:

Q: What are the goals of WOWSA

L & E: The goals of WOWSA are facilitating relationships among women at UW Madison Astronomy.  We want to make the department and Astronomy as a whole more friendly for women and minorities. We want to Increase the confidence of women in science and discuss issues in a non threatening environment. We also hope to provide broader contact with female role models in astronomy through meetings with female colloquium speakers and to reduce attrition among female astronomy graduate students at Wisconsin and in astronomy in general, and increase the probability of all WOWSA participants' success in academic astronomy.

Q: Why did you feel the need to create WOWSA at UW Madison?

L & E:  We needed to hear success stories from women who had 'made it.' How to juggle career and family, how comfortable you feel as a woman in this career.  It is comforting to hear success stories and gives us an idea of what to expect from this choice of study.

Q :  What would you recommend to others that want to start a WOWSA type group at their university:

L& E: It's easy!  Just send out an email to colloquium speakers to come talk and send out an email to students asking them to come!  We have a list of questions we usually ask (maybe given out upon request).  There is also ways to get money from your university.  We recently received a grant to fund successful women in astronomy at other universities to come to UW and speak to the department about their scientific research as well as talk to WOWSA about their experience. So definitely look into what your university offers


WOWSA

WOWSA memebers with speaker Dr. Elena Sabbi



WOWSA is just one such group that is promoting the idea of encouraging new faces in physics.  If you have a group or an individual at your school that you think is doing their part to promote diversity and make everyone feel comfortable in physics and astronomy, write me at burkhart@astro.wisc.edu .... I'd love to hear about them and get their great work out there!


End Note: Guys, did this article make you feel left out? Fear not! Several male grad students at UW have talked about creating a men's WOWSA (MOWSA??)  where they will sit around, eating pizza and playing video games!

Post edited September 19, 2008 at 12:10 AM EST.

Post edited September 19, 2008 at 12:14 AM EST.


Replies to Future Faces of Physics: WOWSA!!!!!

Re: Future Faces of Physics: WOWSA!!!!! - Sep 21 2008 5:15PM
Felix Lin
24 Posts

There is actually a recent study in a Psychology journal that shows no difference in capacity for math between male and female brains.  This should go a long way towards dispelling that unfortunate stereotype against women in physics.  Sadly, I don't remember the specifics, as I saw the article a couple weeks ago, but if I come across it again I'll post it.



Re: Re: Future Faces of Physics: WOWSA!!!!! - Sep 21 2008 8:47PM
Blay
50 Posts

Yes I think I've seen the study you're talking about.  It actually was headed by a UW Madison psychologist.  They used all the data from the required state testing and it showed that in the general population there is no significant difference between male and female test scores.  I recently went to a talk by the leader of the project Dr. Hyde.  Here's an article about it:


http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2008/0724math.shtml

This seems to point the blame on stereotypes and conditioning rather then innate ability when it comes to the lack of females in math and physical science.