• Written by Lisa Kewley, Director, ARC Centre for Excellence in All-Sky Astrophysics in 3D, Australian National University

Australian astronomy punches well above its weight, in terms of the research it leads and the facilities it houses.

We have made remarkable discoveries in the past year alone. Our scientists have recently narrowed down the time frame for the first light in the universe. We have established that the black hole in the Milky Way had a massive explosion just 3.5 million years ago.

Our facilities – from the Murchison Widefield Array in Western Australia to the Anglo-Australian Telescope in New South Wales – are important parts of the world’s astronomical ecosystem.

But to make the most of the next wave of stargazing technology, we will need true diversity in our astronomical community.

As I argue in a paper published this week in Nature Astronomy, Australia’s astronomers have made great strides in improving diversity in recent years – and the way we have achieved this offers lessons for other scientific communities.


Read more: Science prizes are still a boys' club. Here's how we can change that


Why we need diversity

Very soon, however, even more impressive stargazing hardware is due to start operating. The Australian segment of the Square Kilometre Array, and the Extremely Large Telescope in Chile will be part of a new generation of mega-telescopes.

These new super-tools will be capable of revealing the universe in unprecedented detail, and gathering data in unprecedented bulk. As a discipline, we must be prepared to extract maximum benefit from them.

Sifting maximum signal from this fresh collection of noise will not simply require more astronomical hands on deck. It will require different types of hands, and different ways of seeing.

There is ample evidence from other fields – particularly business – to show the benefits of diversity within organisations, at all levels. It results in higher productivity, more profits, and more robust outcomes.

And it’s not just in social work or education. Even in number-crunching science, personal history and lived experience influence decisions, how questions are framed, and how networks are built.

Gender equity and the Australian example

In recent years, Australian astronomy has made striking progress towards gender equity, in large part because of a system known as the Pleiades Awards operated by the Astronomical Society of Australia.

There are about 500 working astronomers in this country. The 2016-25 Australian Astronomy Decadal Plan, commissioned by the Australian Academy of Science, sets a target of 33% of positions at all levels to be filled by women within the next six years.

The Pleiades provide a structured approach to improving equity. Given the enthusiastic participation of almost all the 14 universities, two Centres of Excellence and three organisations that house Australia’s astronomical communities, I have little doubt that this marker will be achieved.

However, we need to broaden our thinking, and our ideas of what constitutes a fair and empathetic workplace, beyond simple questions of binary gender.


Read more: Why I joined #500queerscientists


Astronomers from across the spectrum

The next generation of telescopes will be huge international collaborations with intense competition between partner countries. To extract the maximum benefit from the extraordinary power of these telescopes, we need to look beyond traditionally conservative hiring practices.

We will need to draw on people from every possible background and experience, and inject new ideas. We need to draw from the academic talent and insight to be found among LGBTIQA+ astronomers, Indigenous astronomers, disabled astronomers, chronically ill astronomers, and astronomers who hail from non-Western cultures.

There are skilled and highly gifted scientists who fall within these categories, yet for some the prospect of a stable long-term career with steady support and funding seems faint. Science research organisations and institutions are as guilty as those in any other field of not building proper structures around understanding, inclusion and empathy.

As female astronomers not too many years ago would often testify, sometimes the welcome and support inside the Australian faculties and organisations could have been a bit warmer.

Thanks to the schemes such as the Pleiades, women in my field can reasonably expect to be recognised for their skills, and to be promoted according to their merits. The same cannot yet be said for people in other, more heterogeneous categories, and that must now start to change. Fairness demands it, but just as importantly the science requires it.

Lisa Kewley receives funding from The Australian Research Council for the ASTRO 3D Centre of Excellence.

Authors: Lisa Kewley, Director, ARC Centre for Excellence in All-Sky Astrophysics in 3D, Australian National University

Read more http://theconversation.com/science-needs-true-diversity-to-succeed-and-australian-astronomy-shows-how-we-can-get-it-128122

All You Need to Know About Trenchless Technology

For many years, the traditional sewerage lines and pipe developments were not enough due to the long wait and cracking. The traditional sewer pipe repairs involved cracking the earth to find the par...

News Company - avatar News Company

Before we rush to rebuild after fires, we need to think about where and how

A primary school in East Gippsland was burnt down in the current bushfire crisis. While Premier Daniel Andrews immediately committed to rebuilding the school as it was, media reported the local CFA ca...

Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle - avatar Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle

Australian sea lions are declining. Using drones to check their health can help us understand why

Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea) are one of the rarest pinnipeds in the world and they are declining. Jarrod Hodgson, CC BY-NDAustralian sea lions are in trouble. Their population has never rec...

Jarrod Hodgson, PhD Candidate, University of Adelaide - avatar Jarrod Hodgson, PhD Candidate, University of Adelaide

With costs approaching $100 billion, the fires are Australia's costliest natural disaster

It’s hard to estimate the eventual economic cost of Australia’s 2019-20 megafires, partly because they are still underway, and partly because it is hard to know the cost to attribute to de...

Paul Read, Climate Criminologist & Senior Instructor/Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University - avatar Paul Read, Climate Criminologist & Senior Instructor/Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University

In cases of cardiac arrest, time is everything. Community responders can save lives

Cardiac arrest can occur with little or no warning in people who were previously healthy, including young people. From shutterstock.comEach year more than 24,000 Australians experience a sudden cardia...

Bill Lord, Adjunct Associate Professor, Monash University - avatar Bill Lord, Adjunct Associate Professor, Monash University

So the government gave sports grants to marginal seats. What happens now?

When Australians pay their income tax, they assume the money is going to areas of the community that need it, rather than being used by the government to shore up votes for the next election. This is...

Maria O'Sullivan, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, and Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University - avatar Maria O'Sullivan, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, and Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

The Olympics have always been a platform for protest. Banning hand gestures and kneeling ignores their history

It is the year of the Tokyo Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee was quickly out of the blocks with new guidelines regarding athlete protests. The IOC is worried the biggest stories of...

David Rowe, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Research, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University - avatar David Rowe, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Research, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

Where Can You Get Weed By Ordering It Online?

Nowadays, everyone wants to get their hands on some weed. Marijuana has become legalized in a lot of countries worldwide. People wait in lines for days to buy some. You couldn’t have imagined that...

News Company - avatar News Company

Hidden women of history: Catherine Hay Thomson, the Australian undercover journalist who went inside asylums and hospitals

Catherine Hay Thomson went undercover as an assistant nurse for her series on conditions at Melbourne Hospital. A. J. Campbell Collection/National Library of AustraliaIn this series, we look at under...

Kerrie Davies, Lecturer, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW - avatar Kerrie Davies, Lecturer, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company