Sharon’s a tall, blonde, thin astrophysicist. And she has a secret.
The different subfields of physics have different ratios of women to men. Astronomy tends to attract women more than other sub-branches of physics. Not to say that there are a lot. In our research group, there’re probably a dozen people, maybe three of us are women. I think nationally, in all of physics, it’s around 10 or 15%. We’re present but it’s definitely still a man’s field. When I was an undergrad, people were a little less sensitive, but I think it’s getting better. Every female physicist has some personal story where someone’s been very rude or said something that was obviously not kosher, and you look back at it now and you think, people are morons. But it happens. My story is—I went to Ohio University and I went to the honors tutorial program. Basically, instead of going through your regular course curriculum, your main physics class for each quarter was taught in this one-on-one tutorial. It was based on the Oxford Cambridge model. There were six of us that were in this program, so they would sort of round us up from time to time, and we’d do things in the lab. And there was this one kid in our class. I can’t remember his name. He was a real jerk. No one really liked him. [Laughs.] He would just say boorish things, because he either didn’t care or didn’t know any better.