siaa_logo_blue Alison Sills alison_circle

McMaster University

Hamilton, Canada
Job Title: Associate Professor


She is an Astronomer: How long since you got your maximum academic degree?

Alison Sills: 11 years


SIAA: What is the most senior position that you have achieved?

AS: Associate Professor and Associate Dean.


SIAA: Do you feel it was more difficult for you to get a job or promotion in comparison with male astronomers?

AS: No. In fact, I had an advantage thanks to a series of programs run by NSERC, the Canadian granting agency, which tried to remove barriers to female researchers. When I was in my first year of undergraduate studies, they had a program where female students were given preference for summer research fellowships; my faculty position at McMaster was initially funded by an NSERC University Faculty Award.


SIAA: Are women under represented in your institution?

AS: In Physics & Astronomy, we have 2 full professors, 2 associate professors, and 3 assistant professors who are female, for an overall fraction of 21% female. That's pretty good, for physics -- you can argue whether that is under-represented or not.


SIAA: What is your family status?

AS: Married, 2 daughters.


SIAA: Have you had any career breaks?

AS: 2 maternity leaves, sort of.


SIAA: How difficult did you find the return to your work?

AS: Because my departments were incredibly supportive, I brought my babies into the office and worked with a playpen in the office. This worked fine until the babies were mobile (9 months or so). I also did a fair amount of work from home. I didn't spend much time completely away from work, probably a few months for each baby, but I wasn't back to "full time" until they were close to 2 years old.


SIAA: How many hours a day do you normally dedicate to work?

AS: 8-10.


SIAA: What would most help advance your career?

AS: What has most helped me advance my career has been my very supportive husband, who has taken the "following" role from very early on. Without him and the decisions he has made, I would not have been able to be where I am now. At this point, I'm not sure I want my career to 'advance' much further!


SIAA: What recommendation would you make to young women starting their career in astronomy?

AS: Go for it. What's stopping you?