siaa_logo_blue Erin Mentuch mentuch_circle

University of Toronto

Job Title: PhD Candidate



She is an Astronomer: Do you feel it was more difficult for you to get a job or a promotion in comparison with male astronomers?

Erin Mentuch: I feel I am just as capable and have been presented with equal opportunities as my male colleagues. At my level, I've noticed no difference and have only come across supportive faculty members.


SIAA: Are women under-represented in your institution?

EM: Among graduate students, women have equal representation, but at the post-doc and faculty level the numbers decline considerably. In the DAA and CITA, only 15% of the postdocs are female and about 5% of the faculty is composed of women.


SIAA: What is your family status?

EM: Single


SIAA: Have you had any career breaks?

EM: Not yet. But as I think into the future, I think its unfair that in academia, paid maternity is usually not available until the Professor level has been achieved, but this doesn't happen until the mid-30s. Its not very practical.


SIAA: How many hours per day do you normally dedicate to work?

EM: Too many! I do love astronomy and probably work more than I should. Weekends off are a rarity! But I do try hard to be involved in other hobbies. I play piano, guitar and sing. And enjoy dancing and listening to music. I also cook and spend as much time with friends and family as I can.


SIAA: What would most help you advance your career?

EM: As I wrap up my PhD, it is generally expected that I should take up a postdoc position outside my home city and even outside of the country. Networking and collaborating with researchers worldwide is essential for tackling today's highly specialized astrophysical problems. Many believe that physically moving to a new institution is necessary to achieve this. I would debate that this isn't true. Some women (and men) in their PhDs find themselves in situations where it is not easy to drop their current life and move to a new place. I think that support should be established to encourage women to further their career and continue doing research (if they are good at it of course!) at their home institution. It's time to consider a different route to becoming a professor than the regular postdoc-postdoc-professor route. Collaborating on projects is easy to do using the wealth of online and telecommunication sources available now. International meetings can breed enough partnerships in my opinion, and with proper support, the inability of a postdoc to move from institution to institution should not prevent them from being an astronomer.


SIAA: What recommendation would you make to young women starting their career in astronomy?

EM: Do it because you love it, not just because you are good at it. Science is tough, whether you are female or male, and sacrifices/compromises have to made in the pursuit of it. Only you know whether they are worth it for you. Astronomy is an amazing field to be in with lots of exciting research to be done, so much that its hard to limit yourself. I know I have not been able to stick to one problem and have embraced broad research interests. Passion drives my science and that is the only thing that keeps me at it.