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advice and supervising thesis research; it involves these and other career-building activities.

4. Unfavorable department climate and lack of support: In the early years of graduate school, it can be crucial to know that at least some people in one’s department expect and hope for one’s success in astronomy. WoC in astronomy graduate programs encounter not only subtle signs that this is not the case but also even more damaging, overt indications, including: not being taken seriously in complaints of harassment or bias; inability to find department faculty to work with; and exclusion from department activities (e.g., meeting planning, departmental committees, social gatherings at professors’ houses). These barriers are especially challenging early in graduate school; WoC who manage to persist to the later stages of their programs develop coping strategies.

5. Cultural alienation: Cultural alienation often results in WoC never considering astronomy as a career, leaving the field before or after degree completion, and having to manifest one personality while in their department and another outside.8

6. Hostility: Unfortunately, racism and sexism are still commonplace in STEM fields, including astronomy. In our experience, most WoC report having been subtly or overtly told that they owe whatever success they may have achieved to being women, minorities, or both, especially when WoC have achieved some milestone, such as landing a job or receiving an award. Such comments are clearly meant to diminish achievements and can be cumulatively devastating over time.

7. Accumulation of disadvantage and underestimation of performance: As WoC in their postdoctoral years seek junior faculty positions, the barriers that they have already faced are often not recognized. Thus, the performance “hit” they may have taken in overcoming these barriers is not taken into account.

8. Solo status/lack of critical mass in job searches: Since 1985, the percentage of astronomy Ph.D.’s awarded to all underrepresented minorities has been in the range 1 percent to 5 percent.9 If the gender balance of the field as a whole holds for WoC, then they receive fewer than 1 percent of all Ph.D.’s in the field. Research has shown that a lack of like peers (women or minorities) leads to hiring disadvantages10. Because of their small numbers in the field, WoC in astronomy almost always suffer from solo status. All these barriers conspire to continue this situation.

9. Stereotype threat: WoC in astronomy are keenly aware that they are often the first, or nearly the first, WoC that colleagues and students have interacted with, sometimes in any STEM field. The pressure that WoC may feel as representatives of their gender and ethnic group, often called stereotype threat, can lead to stresses that manifest in poor self-esteem, underperformance, or ill health.


8 Ong et al. 2011, Harvard Educational Review, 81, No. 2, 172


10 Thompson & Sekaquaptewa 2002, Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, vol. 2, no. 1

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