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Unconscious Bias Talk at JPL Oct 29

Science Division Seminar

Unconscious Bias in Hiring, Promotions, and Tenure

Presented by

Joan T. Schmelz
University of Memphis

Date:  Monday, October 29, 2012
Time:  12:00 p.m.
Location: von Karman Auditorium


We all have biases, and we are (for the most part) unaware of them. In general, men and women BOTH unconsciously devalue the contributions of women. This can have a detrimental effect on grant proposals, job applications, and performance reviews. Sociology is way ahead of astronomy in these studies. When evaluating identical application packages, for example, male and female University psychology professors preferred 2:1 to hire “Brian” over “Karen” as an assistant professor. When evaluating a more experienced record, at the point of promotion to tenure, reservations were expressed four times more often about Karen than about Brian. This unconscious bias has a repeated negative effect on Karen’s career (Steinpreis, Anders & Ritzke 1999, Sex Roles, 41, 509). In this talk, Joan will introduce the concept of unconscious bias and also give recommendations on how to address it using an example for a faculty search committee. The process of eliminating unconscious bias begins with awareness, then moves to policy and practice, and ends with accountability. For more information, please see the University of Michigan Advance STRIDE web site (

Dr. Joan T. Schmelz received her Ph.D. from Penn State University in Astronomy in 1987. She then worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center where she was part of the operations team for the Solar Maximum Mission Satellite. She is currently a professor in the Physics Department at the University of Memphis. Her research involves the investigation of properties and dynamics of the solar atmosphere, including coronal heating, using X-ray and EUV spectroscopic and image data. She has published papers on a variety of astronomical subjects including stars, galaxies, interstellar matter, and the Sun. Schmelz has been a member of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) since 2004 and is currently serving her second term as committee chair. She was an editor of CSWA’s weekly e-mail newsletter, AASWOMEN, from 2005-12, and is the current Acquisitions Editor for CSWA’s semi-annual magazine, STATUS. She has spoken on a variety of CSWA-related topics including Workplace Bullying in Astronomy, Designing a 21st Century Astronomy Career Track, Unconscious Bias, and What Men Can Do to Help Women Succeed in Astronomy.


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