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An Interview with Susan Murabana (Part Three)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/09/01


Susan Murabana is an Astronomer and Rotarian, and Founder of the Travelling Telescope. She discusses: assistance to women and girls into the STEM disciplines; men, women, and childcare; single-parent households; Canadian society; and other topics.

Keywords: astronomer, Rotarian, Susan Murabana, Travelling Telescope.

Interview with Susan Murabana: Astronomer and Rotarian, and Founder, Travelling Telescope (Part Three)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We live in an unprecedented time by my estimation. I consider it a not well-appreciated fact that we have the best-educated population of women in human history, globally. It is acknowledged, but not as large as it should.

At the same time, depending upon the country, the culture and so on, there are certain restrictions that are put on women in terms of their ability to get an education, let alone science education, and these are fundamental human rights and women’s rights.

What are things that you observe that prevent women from getting involved in STEM, or STEAM if we involve arts, and what are ways we can help girls and women fulfill their dreams and their potential by becoming more involved?

Murabana: I think what blocks more women, especially in rural Kenya is 1) peer pressure 2) sometimes it is our parents who feel that it is more important to look after the boy than the girl and some of them feel that some careers are traditionally better for women, particularly teaching, and some are not.

So, I would say family, especially parents in shaping girls to get into science or not and the pressure. It could be from peers or it could be from society. Society has pressure towards that. Sometimes, it is also the fact that women belong to the house. Women are supposed to be in the home, traditionally.

There is pressure to settle and have family at a certain age. Friends and neighbours and aunties and uncles questioning why you’re not married at 25. I think one important thing is to have role models. I can see that even in Kenya we are getting more women as pilots, for example.

Or in IT coming up with the telescope projects and having them going back to their communities and working with girls and encouraging them that they could be in careers that they choose to be in. Science is one of the most evolving things. Nothing stays the same in it.

For me, personally, by having my son, I felt that I lost so much in terms of what I was doing in outreach in astronomy. That you must go through and it becomes difficult. Having role models, having parents who get it and encourage their kids helps.

Trying to give the girls or boys, giving them that confidence to not second guess themselves and that stems mostly from the house. The family and everything, it is important. I think that we should try when we can to have the parents involved.

Tomorrow, we’ll be going on a trip with school kids and they will have their parents with them and they will do everything with them and look through the telescope at the night sky and have that setting.

But the parents can connect to the science by looking up at the sky, having their kids see that and see them appreciate that science is important and vice versa.

2. Jacobsen: As you noted, you had a supportive family yourself with 6 siblings. Having the family encourage them, having a family environment that supports that, outside of the family for girls and women, how can men get involved in that effort too?

In some context that you have described, there may be circumstances where in childcare and healthcare and home care, men do not get involved and are not expected to get involved and yet if they did, it would be a more balanced time budget and energy budget within the family.

Murabana: Yes, I think so too. Personally, I have 4 brothers and 2 sisters. As we grew up, our parents did not provide rules according to gender. My brothers could cook, and I could fix the dough [Laughing]. I love my dad. At some point, he would say, “Fix the dough.” I had big brothers who could do it.

I guess my point was having that, like the man being part of it, having fathers as role models to their daughters or allowing their daughters to explore. And brothers, it is important. It is sad to think because again I am talking about women being role models but also girls having a voice. Sometimes when you talk about girls, it is also we do not want to empower them so much that boys are left out. It could happen.

It sometimes does happen, and they get involved in other things that are destructive. It is a collective responsibility and obviously, I feel from working with schools, going to an all-girls school and doing an astronomy project at an all-boys school. That boys want to build and things like that.

It is also trying to encourage girls that they can do it if they want to. It is important in that sense. I do not think there is anything meant for any gender or only for boys. I have nieces and I think science is something for everyone.

I have also seen girls shy away and get intimidated by boys. Having confidence is so key for them to say what they want to do. Also, teachers, like getting teachers as involved as possible. We have programs. We always invite the teachers on board, we are always trying to get their opinion.

So, I feel that the people, kids, relate to it at their age and it is a culture that is normally, well confidence is built when they are young basically. The people they relate to most are obviously their parents and their siblings, but also their teachers. I guess it is difficult. How is it in Canada if I may ask?

3. Jacobsen: What I am probably thinking is because Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom are the top 5 developed countries in terms of single motherhood rate. Of the single parents, 80+ to 90+ plus percent are single mothers.

When I interviewed the president of the university, he was an interim president during the interview, and I brought that to his attention, he thought I was on to something. We probably tapped a need of single mothers signing up for online universities because it is convenient for time, which is tight being a single parent.

Two hands instead of four, one income usually lower rather than two. So, in terms of the education at the university level, there are more women than men. I do you recall there is a Stanford psychologist called Philip Zimbardo. He was known for the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Basically, he put a bunch of college students and made one group prisoners, another group security, like the guards and then he was the guy that runs the prison, the warden. It was before they had more rigorous experimental ethics in psychology.

It is a controversial study. People started believing they were prisoners and guards. There was abuse, severe abuse. Before 2 weeks were up, within a couple of days, people took on the role when they had it.

Anyway, he’s been researching young men, recently. He looked at how a lot of technological excessive use leads to decreases in boys’ and men’s educational outcomes.

In that if you’re not spending time socializing, you’re not developing the little micro, non-verbal stuff that is required for social interaction. In addition, it takes away time from study.

By the time Jane McGonigal stated, a video game researcher stated, by the time a young man is 21, the average man has spent about 10,000 hours playing video games. The average time it takes to get a bachelor’s degree is 4,800 hours.

In that time, they could have gotten 2 bachelor’s degrees. In addition, they are losing out on socialization. What we are seeing is what you pointed about before as a hypothetical about potentially leaving out boys, there are the structural blockages.

The so-called glass ceiling for women at the high end. At the low end now, the situation is even more complicated because it is not structural. There has been no historical structure to prevent men from getting into positions of power for most of history.

What it is, is motivational, the technology, in addition to pornography, apparently, is taking away traditional motivations for boys and men to become involved in education.

So, like at my university, which is two thirds women, we are seeing a higher proportion of women than men entering education. Of course, if you move the ticker percent for women up 1, then that automatically, since there are only two variables in the scale, that takes away a percent for men.

So, every percent difference is a 2 percent difference. Where if you have 55 percent women, it is not 5 percent more; it is 10 percent difference. That can translate into millions and millions of boys and young men not doing well in school or not entering and succeeding in university.

So, it is on the low end in terms of chronological age. Boys and young men are not entering school as much, doing worse in terms of awards and GPA and are graduating at lower rates on all levels, graduate and undergraduate schools.

Women when they graduate, still tend to get lower pay and they do not tend to move up as high. The only exception to that rule is women that are single at about 30 in city centers in places like the United States, New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco and Seattle. All these kinds of places. They make 8% more than young men on average in the same situation.

So, if they do not get married and have children, they are golden. But for women who do want that, and for many men who still want those things, then they are going to be docked for that professionally. So, it is a hard question.

But the general answer, that I can tell, is that lower end chronologically, boys and young men: motivational issues. Higher end chronologically, latter years of young women and moving into middle ages, it is structural as it has been, traditionally called “patriarchal structures.”

Structures that tend to lean more towards men coming to power. It is motivational versus structural by my analysis. That’s how it seems to be. Not only Canada, but at least in developed nations in general.

Murabana: We work with university students who are doing degrees. The ratio of women, we have few girls. I think of the 10 students we are working with, only 2 are women. Yes, so, I do not know what the statistics are for getting degrees in everything, but in the sciences and astronomy; there is many more men than women.

We must carry the telescope, we must carry the heavy materials. I do not think those are the things most girls want to do. It is physical as well. We need to, and I need to encourage more girls to get into it. We do not have them. We hope by going to schools and going to these young ladies hopefully we’ll encourage more girls. We want to show them the cool stuff.

One of the things we try to stress in schools is that astronomy is the science of sciences. You have biologists, you have chemists, you have geologists, engineers, computer science, you have all these different people contributing.

That opens kids minds and they think back to it because we showed them the programs we can use. The planetarium system software system we use was developed by a computer programmer and the space company that goes to space has all these different developments and are controlled by all these different people.

Then you also talk about astrophotography and all these different elements to get the kids to see the different things. We also try to encourage the students we work with from the university to not be fixed in terms of what they can contribute, but to also think of other skills they have or other interests they have by demonstrating that.

It is a bit complicated or a bit difficult in terms of trying to create a culture of people who appreciate astronomy. It is exciting the university now has a degree, which is new. Trying to get more girls into it is difficult, some of the students at the university are telling us how their parents did not get what they are going to study and why they were going to study it and their parents were against it. It is difficult in that sense.

We realize we have a lot of work because our outreach isn’t to school kids. It is to educate everyone. There is a huge number of different people we need to educate. At the same time, when we have events for the public, there is a lot of interest. So, many people who say they want to experience looking through the telescope. It is exciting to see.

Over the 10 years I have been involved in astronomy to see where we’ve reached and where we’ve come from as a country and as a society, I think there is so much potential. Astronomy is such a nice science because it has all these other elements. It sparks curiosity and everything, but collaborations and inventions and ideas of things like that. It makes it so cool, especially for a young mind.

Then I also do not think science is for only the young. We recently went to a rural community and invited the community to come and look through the telescope, which was during the super moon.

And the whole time, the rainmaker can look at different planets, and let’s call them stars, and it is nice to hear the stories that there is still the culture of looking up at the sky with different communities. That affects how they live and it is cool. Elderly people and that traditional knowledge is also still interesting.

4. Jacobsen: What other topics would be of interest to people? We’ve covered a lot of territory.

Murabana: Topics of interest are documented dark matter. The topics for me that I find alluring are whether we are alone and the basics like looking at Saturn and trying to understand that planet and Jupiter and Europa.

Is life only found on planets or could it be found on moons? I am finding that people watch Nat Geo or the science channel and learn so much and read so much and many young kids ask you about black holes and things like that because they read about it or have seen it and sometimes they ask about aliens somewhere. The Internet isn’t always true, so you must be careful about what you read.

Jacobsen: Critical thinking skills.

Murabana: We always get these interesting questions. It is always fun to see what they are thinking of. Topics of whether we are alone is interesting.


  1. Travelling Telescope. (2018). Travelling Telescope. Retrieved from

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Astronomer; Founder, Travelling Telescope; Rotarian.

[2] Individual Publication Date: September 1, 2018:; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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