… The lead author, Fabienne Bastien, is the first Black female astronomer to ever publish a first-author Nature article (Bolded word added per my correction on my previous claim that she was the first Black astronomer to do this. At least three Black men have done so.). This fact highlights a couple things, one somewhat negative and one positive. On the negative side, why the hell is this record being set in 2013 and not 1985?! It’s a commentary on the sad state of diversity (or the lack thereof) in astronomy. As I’ve written before, it’s my goal to see to it that we, as a community, quickly tuck these sorts of records away post haste and move into a future in which there are more than 0.5 Black astro Ph.D.s per year and more than 11 total black astronomy professors in a community of thousands.
On the positive side, we are making progress on this front. Fabienne is a student in the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program, run by Prof. Keivan Stassun, and there are more outstanding young astronomers who will be following in Fabienne’s footsteps in the near future. The program is a partnership between the HBCU Fisk University and Vanderbilt in which students start by pursuing their Masters degrees at Fisk and then work on their Ph.D. at Vanderbilt. Fabienne will be on the job market this Fall applying for postdoctoral positions, and based on her impressive publication record and standing within the stellar astro community I predict that she’ll be lighting up the Rumor Mill next Spring. For those of you in the Boston area, Fabienne will be giving an SSP Seminar talk at the CfA Monday Sept. 16 at 4pm, and visiting Harvard that week.
Also encouraging is that Harvard astronomy admitted a black student into their graduate program this year—-the first in ~30 years—-and I am looking forward to mentoring him while he’s here. Keep an eye on the Harvard astro program as I, and others, work to build a more diverse community and usher in a long awaited sea change in this field. It’s my feeling that game-changers like Fabienne and Gibor Basri (her coauthor) are born each year in the Black community. We astronomers do a disservice to our science by not seeking them out, training them and welcoming them into our discipline. It behooves us all to increase inclusion so as to hasten our understanding of the Universe (more minds, more progress) and give back to the greater society, at whose pleasure we serve and study (Black folks fund the NSF and NASA, too).MORE