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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do you decide which category to put any particular graduate in to –Physics or Astronomy?

  • We use the department that awards the degree. Some departments are Physics, some are Astronomy, some are Physics and Astronomy.  Some Physics departments award degrees for students studying Astronomy or Planetary Sci. This occasionally makes it tricky to track.

Q: Do you use the defense date or the graduation date?

We use the graduation date for the following reasons:

  • Every department has different rules on defenses. In some cases, the defense date is unknown; but the graduation date is always known—its a more reliable metric.
  • Departments report data to NSF & AIP based on graduation dates, not defense dates. This allows for shared data analysis.

Q: Who is included on the page?

A: On the main page we have included two types of women: The first cateogry is women who, due to the nature of their work, are doing physics every day–they are physicists but may have their degree in mat sci, physical chemistry or biophyics. The second cateorgy of women includes those who have a Ph.D. in Physics or Astronomy. The number of African American women with a Ph.D. in physics or astronomy is very small compared to the total number of physicists in the US, hence it is important to celebrate each time we add to this number.

Q: What about Planetary Science

  • Planetary science is a diverse discipline where PhDs are earned in fields including physics, astronomy, geology, chemistry, etc. while research planetary or solar system topics. There are also ~25 Planetary Science departments.
  • Counting only those from Planetary science deptartments would severely undercount those planetary scientists who graduate from physics, astronomy, geology, chemistry department.

Q: How do you find these women? How can I do the same for Neuroscience/Chemistry/Mathematics?

A: Start by asking–ask everyone you know, and everyone you meet if they know of any African American women with degrees in Neuroscience/Chemistry/Mathematics. Most of the physicists here have self-identified, or were brought to our attention by friends, family or colleagues. Check with the major societies in your field to see if they have any information or aggregate data. Check with the degree granting institutions–send those letters–especially the HBCUs that grant Ph.D.s in your field.

Q: Who are the 4 women with the asterisks?

A: We have also included 4 pioneers—women who due to various circumstance did not finish their PhD, but studied advanced physics before 1980.