I started my career as an experimental physicist. I was initially driven by wanting to know how physicists could make the extraordinary claims that they do, given that most of what they study is distantly removed from everyday experience. I worked at different times in the subfields of nuclear and particle physics and observational cosmology, spanning the extremes of scale from the quantum to the cosmic. Contributing to large collaborative teams, my emphasis was usually on the processes used to transform raw information from detector systems into knowledge about the world, especially the argumentation used to account for sources of uncertainty in the measurement process.
The thing is, the culture of physics was (and is) distinctly sexist and biased towards specific models of what a physicist should do, say, look like, and sound like in order to be successful. I was a successful early-career physicist, at a fairly high level in the field. But, my everyday work life was awful. In addition to the ways that being different was itself a problem, constant low-grade sexual harassment was almost institutionalized as part of lab culture. Flagrant examples of gender, racial, and other forms of bias were routine. If I questioned any of this, my fitness to participate and my passion for physics were quickly questioned in return. Or, the problems were dismissed with appeals to a scientist’s unquestioned objectivity. At the time, that answer triggered nothing less than a complete crisis of faith in objectivity. I lost a lot of sleep trying to work out who and what I could trust.
The upshot, for me, was that being a female physics researcher just sucked. I felt like I could be adequately “tough,” but to stay in the field meant spending my professional life angry. Anybody who has a PhD in physics has a lot of career options. To take one of them (teaching at an art and design school) was, for me, a way to vote with my feet against institutionalized gender bias and a toxic disciplinary culture. I admire the many individuals who have faced a similar situation and decided instead to stay and fight to make things better. But personally I never thought that I had the answers, so to take on the responsibility for trying to fix things would have meant spending my time on psychology and sociology, not physics. And physics is where my heart was (and is, if in a different way these days).
Joining the School of the Art Institute of Chicago turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. No institution is perfect, but interacting with artists for more than a decade has better equipped me with the tools to understand and critique the culture of my field, as well as to reflect on the meaning of physics itself in wholly new ways. Meanwhile, for many years I was supported to freely pursue my curiosities in a way that I never could before, and to push my teaching in directions that felt most meaningful. In recent years, that has involved learning and teaching more about climate change. As 2020 was a year of crisis for everyone, it was also a time of reckoning for me. My career fell apart because of the sudden need to full-time homeschool my child, which was not compatible with keeping up a full teaching load and my own intellectual projects. Meanwhile my faith in SAIC fell apart because of the lack of creative vision and and ethics of sustainability in the school's plans for getting through, and rebuilding after, the pandemic. I'm updating this webpage in Winter 2021 and my life is in a completely different place, literally and figuratively, as you'll figure out if you keep exploring my pages.
But anyway, if the reason you came here is to gauge my professional credentials, there is some information below that will prove that I was, at one time, a “legit” physics researcher. But now that I am well past the point of needing any support of any of my former mentors, I want to use my voice to say that I think that legitimacy is, like so many aspects of our participation in institutions and systems, stained. I’m proud of the work I was involved in, in the past (and I still get giddy and excited talking about neutrinos, or the CMB), but it is at best an uneasy pride, edged with sadness and frustration.
I worked on developing the first data analysis pipeline for the South Pole Telescope project, beginning in 2005. SPT is a microwave telescope detecting relic radiation from the early universe. Here are some of the papers I contributed to:
A measurement of the secondary-CMB and millimeter-wave-foreground bispectrum using 800 square degrees of South Pole Telescope data T.M. Crawford, K.K. Schaffer, S. Bhattacharya et. al, submitted to the Astrophysical Journal (2013).
The First Public Release of South Pole Telescope Data: Maps of a 95-square-degree Field from 2008 Observations K.K. Schaffer, T.M. Crawford et. al, Astrophysical Journal 743 (2011).
Measurements of Secondary Cosmic Microwave Background Anisotropies with the South Pole Telescope M. Leuker, C.L. Reichardt, K.K. Schaffer et. al, Astrophysical Journal 719 (2010).
My graduate research (at the University of Washington) was in the field of nuclear and particle physics, as a member of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory collaboration. For my dissertation I analyzed the so-called "day-night effect" for solar neutrinos, and my results were documented in the following paper:
Electron Energy Spectra, Fluxes, and Day-Night Asymmetries of 8B Solar Neutrinos from the 391-Day Salt Phase SNO Data Set The SNO Collaboration. Physical Review C 72 (2005)
To see more, here is my complete publication list from INSPIRE.
Well hmmm. In late 2019 or early 2020, I would have topped this page with discussion of the book I was in the process of publishing, but I have now pulled out of my contract for that book because the publishing industry does not account adequately for its own carbon footprint. I might also have discussed my ongoing exploration of the interdisciplinary implications of quantum physics, which was taking shape as a followup essay to this one. I might have rambled optimistically about finally finishing some of the work I have had floating around forever on the obscure-but-fascinating topic of the semiotics of physics diagrams. All of that is on hold right now, because pandemic. I am unable to be an academic until my kid can be vaccinated. Meanwhile, I am re-orienting life towards direct environmental restoration work, along with low-carbon, self-sufficient living.
I miss using my brain, and so while I am still doing a bit of online teaching I tend to use the opportunity to wax philosophical in self-indulgent youtube videos, like these: fkqp
Quote from: Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Paul R. Ehrlich, Andrew Beattie, Gerardo Ceballos, Eileen Crist, Joan Diamond, Rodolfo Dirzo, Anne H. Ehrlich, John Harte, Mary Ellen Harte, Graham Pyke, Peter H. Raven, William J. Ripple, Frédérik Saltré, Christine Turnbull, Mathis Wackernagel and Daniel T. Blumstein. "Underestimating the challenges of avoiding a ghastly future." Frontiers in Conservation Science, 2021 DOI: 10.3389/fcosc.2020.615419 Available here
Quit reading my webpage and go turn off some lights, dig up a lawn, pull out of your carbon-based 401k, run for office in order to fight for a carbon-free economy, or something else that, you know, might help forestall the impending apocalypse. Regular academics-as-usual won't.