Interview: Decolonise Space

Sirenum fossae, a qudrangle of Mars. It looks like a giant crator on the bright red landscape

I was interviewed by Newsweek on the inequalities embedded into the way people imagine colonising other planets. I discussed how the language we use about ‘colonising’ Mars whitewashes the history of colonialism on Earth:

‘“Language is one of the ways in which we shape our social reality,” Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia, told Newsweek. That means using terms like colonise carries real risks. “The history of colonialism has taught us that there is no democratic way to colonise other lands,” she said. “It is about profit, and profit always marginalises minorities.”’

Read this insightful article featuring other experts, here.

Interview: Making New Worlds

Close up of astronaut's reflection on their helmet, as they work in space

I’m featured in the first episode of Making New Worlds, a podcast inviting experts from different fields to discuss the ethics of colonising other planets.

The issue we discuss is not about scientific space exploration (collecting data about other planets), but whether it is ethical for humans to settle in Mars or other planets. My responses represent sociological considerations about the inequality that is inherent in colonialism. The quotes below are excerpts from me; listen to the entire podcast in the link.

Picture of terrain on Mars, showing an aerial view of what appears to be sea, land and clouds. A quote from me is overlaid over the top, from the article, “And there is something profoundly unethical ... on our own planet.”
Ethics of colonising other planets

Continue reading Interview: Making New Worlds

Professor Vera Rubin: Astrophysicist and “Ardent Feminist”

Astrophysicist Professor Vera Rubin, USA National Medal of Science awardee who confirmed the existence of dark matter, died on 25 December 2016.

One of the things I want to highlight especially for this post is the wonderful job Professor Rubin’s institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, did in their press release. They focus on Rubin’s scientific discovery using plain language, but they were bold in also highlighting her gender equity work in science, by calling her an “ardent feminist”. This is so important because women’s advocacy for gender equity is scientific work that is unpaid; it is undertaken on top of research, teaching, and grant work; and goes largely unacknowledged.

This post is dedicated to Professor Rubin’s legacy and all the other ardent feminists in science and elsewhere. Continue reading Professor Vera Rubin: Astrophysicist and “Ardent Feminist”

Honouring Evelyn Boyd Granville

On STEM Women, we’ve been writing about women in STEM to celebrate International Women’s Day. Below is what I wrote, and what a joy it was to reflect on the life and work of Evelyn Boyd Granville. She was only the second Black American woman to gain a PhD in Mathematics. We didn’t include this in the original post below, but I especially loved reading all her personal recollections of the sacrifices that her mother and aunt made to put her through university. 

Granville was raised in a single parent home by Julia Boyd, her poor working mother who wholeheartedly supported her daughter’s education. This was a very brave move given that in the 1940s, there were few educational or work opportunities for women in science, let alone for minority women. Granville recalls:

I saw black women – attractive, well dressed women – teaching school, and I wanted to be a teacher because that’s all I saw. I was not aware of any other profession… I did not receive a scholarship the first year at (Smith College), and I was told later that they didn’t see how in the world a poor child as I could afford to go there. 

Granville faced much discrimination along the way, not just in finding work despite her obvious brilliance, but in other ways that should have impeded her progress. For example, she was not able to find accommodation in New York when she moved there to undertake her postdoctoral work. 

Keep reading to learn more about this phenomenal woman! Continue reading Honouring Evelyn Boyd Granville

Leaving Academia


Here is a great feature on Eileen Chollet who has a PhD in astronomy but left academia due to poor work options as a working mother. She now works as a researcher in Defence. While she relies heavily on her academic skills, particularly statistics, she also finds that her education gave her with highly marketable skills in public speaking and “social skills.” She taught while she was carrying out her PhD, and these public communication skills have served her well.

Eileen’s discussion of the difficulties she faced in academia struck a chord with me. She found that her skills were more valued outside the academy as competition for postdocs is fierce, and the hours and pay for junior academics make this career path difficult. Continue reading Leaving Academia