Mothers in Astronomy

The Mothers In Astronomy 2022 book is an initiative of Dr. Paola Pinilla and Dr. María Claudia Ramírez-Tannus. Its aim is to:

  • Amplify the voices of mothers in astronomy.
  • Raise awareness of the challenges they face.
  • Highlight the positive impact of motherhood on their careers.
  • Create collective empowerment by inspiring and supporting each other.
It was illustrated and edited by Dr. Martha Irene Saladino. The book is licensed under a Creative Commons (CC) BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

There is a podcast in Spanish about this project at Radio Cosmo 1420.

You can download it freely as an EBOOK or a PDF.

The story behind this project

It was Autumn of 2021 when my second child was just a few months old, and my colleague and good friend María Claudia (Macla) Ramirez-Tannus approached me to asked me questions about combining motherhood and academia. Macla just had her first baby early that year. We are both astronomers, and at that time we were both working at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Germany. I was a research group leader and Macla is a MPIA post-doctoral fellow. She was not the first mom in academia who approached me to ask me these kinds of questions, and for many of them I did not have any actual answer.

I remember very well the circumstances in which Macla asked me her questions. We were in a restaurant trying to have lunch, breastfeed, distract our babies, try not to make everything dirty, and all at the same time. I asked Macla: how many moms do you know who are astronomers? And she replied “You”, and we laughed. We took some minutes to think about moms who can be role models in Astronomy, especially for scientists in early stages of their career. We compiled around a dozen of names. We knew about their research, but almost nothing about their life as mothers, especially after long-periods of social distance and confinement during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I went back home feeling a little bit sad, thinking about the very few mom role models in our careers. I started to search for information online, and I found the inspiring organization of “Mothers in Science”, and I started to learned about several research demonstrating the current bias and discrimination against mothers in science. Reading this information reminded me how I felt when I had my first child in summer 2018, when I was continuously pondering if I will be able to make a career in academia while being a mother.

I was (and still am) facing situations that are very common for mothers in academia, such as being far from family who can help at home and with child responsibilities, or being in a country (in 2018 in the USA) that gives only few days of paternity leave and only few weeks for mothers. I remember feeling lonely and scared, and at that moment I wished that no other mother in astronomy or science would feel like this. Three years later after Macla approached me with her questions, I thought that it is totally possible that some (or even several) mothers of young children in astronomy feel overwhelmed, scared, worried, and lonely.

I remember that I came back to Macla a few days later, telling her we need to do something to learn about how mothers in our field manage their daily routines and to inspire mothers of young children who are struggling in their academic career. Macla also found important to raise awareness to our no-parent colleagues about the challenges that mothers face at their workplace, as many of those challenges are still unspoken in our community.

Macla and I planned to collect as many stories as possible of mothers in Astronomy and share them in a free digital book. We contacted the science communicator Martha Irene Saladino for help in the edition and design of this digital book. Another important goal of our project was to highlight the positive impact of motherhood in our careers, with the aim of creating collective empowerment by supporting each other.

Our digital book collects the story of 75 mothers in Astronomy at different stages of their career with the answers to the following questions: what do you enjoy the most about being a mother? What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced when combining motherhood and academic career? Has the covid-19 pandemic impacted your career and family in the last couple of years? And which positive effects has motherhood had on your career?

The responses include mothers working in 16 different countries, who have between one to five children. Most of them are mothers in staff/permanent positions (85%). All the stories are very inspirational and give a positive (but honest) view of being a mother in academia. Several mothers coincide that motherhood has had a positive impact in their carrier because: children keep us grounded and more focus at work, it makes us better people by learning about ourselves and our limits, by being more empathetic, supportive, compassionate, organized, open-minded, and patient; qualities that are used in our daily work routines. In addition to: forget irrelevant problems, be better teachers, be unafraid of questioning standard practices, and be ready for the unexpected (that usually brings the most joy).

Many of the stories show how several mothers felt or feel behind their peers, who generally have more energy and can work more hours on their jobs. Several of the senior moms encourage the junior moms to hang-in there during the challenging times of the first years of motherhood, and give hope that we will eventually catch-up. However, we expect these stories also reach committees of grants, proposals and job-hiring, to become more aware of the challenges and inequalities than young mothers face in our field, and to accommodate practices and policies that provide more inclusion of mothers in Astronomy across all career levels. Some of them summarized by the Mothers in Science organization (see also this Nature Career column).

I received from Macla a printed version of our Mothers in Astronomy book. Personally, all these stories have helped me in difficult moments that I face as mother and they are a good reminder that “stars and planet will wait”. Reading the book made me feel less alone and more empowered towards my career, and this is why I share this story with you today.

**If you are a mother in astronomy and wants to share your story with us, please contact me. We will be happy to include your story in our book.