The University of Sydney,
|Job Title: Professor, Head of the School of Physics|
She is an Astronomer: How long is it since you got your maximum academic degree?
Anne Green: This is somewhat complicated to answer. It is 35 years since my PhD, but after one postdoctoral Fellowship for 3 years, I left astronomy and academia. After an absence of 15 years, I resumed my career in astronomy. For most of my subsequent career I was employed part-time. I am now a tenured (i.e. continuing position) senior academic with a Teaching & Research appointment in the School of Physics. When I moved to Sydney to undertake a PhD. At the University I met Prof B.Y. Mills, a pioneer in radio astronomy and of world renown. He agreed to be my Supervisor, which was an excellent experience.
SIAA: Do you feel it was more difficult for you to get a job or a promotion in comparison with male astronomers?
AG: I think that women who do not have career interruptions for family reasons are generally not disadvantaged in our Department. However, working part-time or managing a career break is a serious impediment. These factors impact track record, continuity of collaborations and competitiveness with externally funded research grants. The University of Sydney is committed to equal opportunity and appointment on merit, with achievements assessed according to opportunity. In practice, it is very hard to implement these guidelines as merit criteria can be biased against the attributes at which women shine, and small number statistics don't help. There is a general perception that women wait longer than men to put themselves forward for promotion, and are reluctant to propose for awards or apply for senior positions. There seems to be some truth in the maxim that 'women base their applications on achievements while men cite their potential for the role'. I have only anecdotal evidence for this.
SIAA: Are women under-represented in your institution?
AG: In the School of Physics, Astronomy & Astrophysics is the largest grouping of research and teaching staff, with 33 out of 130 academic staff. There are 8 female astronomers of the staff in the School of Physics. We have 2 tenured women academics and 2 women Federation Fellows, which is our preeminent national Research Fellowship with a guaranteed continuing faculty position at the end of the Fellowship. Usually, our research positions must be funded by external grants.
SIAA: What is your family status?
AG: Married, two adult children, one elderly parent.
SIAA: Have you had career breaks?
AG: I had 15 years away from astronomy and academia after one postdoctoral fellowship, to move with my husband to a country where there were no possibilities. I tried commuting for 1 year but it became too hard.
SIAA: How difficult did you find the return to your work?
AG: The big plus was to find a mentor prepared to encourage my return and give me a chance. The difficulties were a major change in technology and computing architecture (machine code to unix), the major advances in theories and discoveries that I missed and the lack of an established niche or reputation.
SIAA: How many hours per day do you normally dedicate to work?
AG: About 11 during the week and a few hours every weekend.
SIAA: What would most help you advance your career?
AG: More realistic funding for fundamental research, so that there is not the continual stress of applying for research grants.
I am proud to have produced two high quality detailed radio frequency surveys of the Galactic Plane, which produced new information on the number of spiral arms, and greatly increased the number of known supernova remnants (SNRs). Studying their distribution and diverse morphology can help understand these sources, which are key energisers and enrichers of the interstellar medium. I was part of the team which made the early discoveries of many of the 1720 MHz OH masers associated with SNRs, providing clear confirmation of an earlier independent theory for their production. Also, I was a member of the collaboration mapping the HI in the southern Galactic Plane, revealing a new distant spiral arm and many huge shells. I have been fortunate to work with inspirational and generous collaborators over many years, which is very rewarding.
SIAA: What recommendation would you make to young women starting their career in astronomy?
AG: It will be quite likely that your career path is not predictable. This is very unsettling but should not be discouraging. Be open to opportunities and flexible. It disappoints me that I have not yet been able to broker new pathways for young women with family responsibilities. It is important to have a mentor to open doors. It is also likely that many emerging PhDs (both women and men) will find a career outside astronomy.