Friday, November 7, 2014

WWiSE Symposium a positive step for women in science

On Tuesday October 30th, a group of UW alumni, faculty and students gathered in the West Yellowstone Ballroom of the University of Wyoming Student Union for the first ever Wyoming Women in Science and Engineering (WWiSE) Symposium. The symposium featured four female UW graduates who shared their scientific research and personal insights as women working in science professions.
Presentation topics included hydrology, biogeochemical modeling, crustal flow of continents, and conservation planning. After presenting, the speakers joined EPSCoR Associate Director Sarah Konrad to discuss the under-representation of women in science and how to remedy it.

Elizabeth Meredith presents on applied hydrology research.
 “Data shows a glass ceiling in science: women and men participate at close to equal numbers at undergraduate level and below, and then there is significant reduction of the percentage of women at every level of employment after that including postdoc, assistant, associate and full professor,” says Konrad, who also helped organize the event. “The attrition continues to happen at every step of the way.”

The speakers—who are all mothers—agreed that the challenging of balancing work and family life is one of the largest contributors to that attrition.

“There needs to be better maternity leave for men and women,” said Kusim Nathani, a graduate from UW’s Program in Ecology and now Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Arkansas. She indicated that in general academia has the poorest maternity leave as compared with other science related jobs.

They also attributed common perceptions of what it takes to be successful in science as a problem for women in science professions.

“There’s a perception in research and academia that if you don’t work long hours, you aren’t serious,” said Elizabeth Meredith, who graduated from UW with a PhD in Geology and now works as a hydrogeologist with Montana Bureau of Mines. But having a family makes those long hours nearly impossible to maintain, and they are not necessarily a true indicator of a serious or successful scientist.

Each offered suggestions for recruiting more women into science fields, including targeting students as early as 5th grade, and working to provide an environment for young students that doesn’t hand them success, but encourages them to realize their full potential.
Speakers participate in a panel moderated by Sarah
Konrad (left). Panelists from left to right: Elizabeth Meredith,
Kusim Nathani, Elena Miranda and Hannah Griscom

“Self esteem is everything with young female students,” says Elena Miranda, also a PhD graduate from UW’s Geology and Geophysics Department, and now an Associate Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at California State University. “Female faculty are role models and they need to have confidence in order to impart confidence on others.”

Hannah Griscom, who graduated from UW with a M.S. in Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management and currently works as a conservation planner with Arizona Game & Fish Department, agrees. “The role of my mentor [at UW] was integral to forming the self confidence that helped me to achieve.”

All in all, the WWiSE Symposium was a great success, and positive step forward for women in science. Says Konrad, “Gathering women scientists who have participated ‘in the trenches’ at all levels of their careers is an excellent opportunity to foster dialog and brainstorm methods to improve female representation in all levels of a scientific career.”

By Manasseh Franklin

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