We spoke with Professors Rajini Rao and Gabriela Popescu who are outgoing and incoming chairs, respectively, of the Committee on Professional Opportunities for Women (CPOW) in the Biophysical Society.
1. Gabriela, the Committee for Professional Opportunities for Women is about 40 years old. Can you briefly tell us about the history of CPOW and its significance for the Biophysical Society at the time?
GP: When the Biophysical Society was founded around the middle of the last century, following WWII, very few of the ~500 attendees were women and none were in leadership positions. This changed in the early seventies when Margaret Oakley Dayhoff, a pioneer in bioinformatics, became Secretary for the Society. Under her leadership, the CPOW was chartered for “increasing recognition and opportunities for women biophysicists”. Shortly after, the Society elected its first woman President. The timing was not a coincidence! Since then CPOW has worked to elevate many women scientists to leadership positions and supported the career development of both men and women biophysicists. The Biophysical Society currently serves over 9000 diverse professional scientists drawn from academia, industry and government agencies world wide.
2. Rajini, you chaired this committee for nearly a decade. Tell us how you got involved, and why?
RR: While serving as an elected member on the Biophysical Society council, I couldn’t help but notice the poor representation of women scientists in society awards. When I subsequently met the chair of the Awards committee and looked at the underlying numbers, I realized that the problem was that few women applied, even when the award was for women only! So I joined the CPOW committee where we identified and directly lobbied high quality candidates for awards. Women who self-promote their careers are perceived as being “pushy” and may be unfairly penalized. By mediating on their behalf, we removed this impediment. As a result of our efforts, the number of women receiving awards has increased, and we also have more women serving on the Awards committee.
Cathy Newman gives a postgraduate student perspective on how local culture impacts on the careers of women in STEM, and why it’s important for women students to learn about the challenges of gender bias as part of their education and career planning.
Last month, the College of Science at Louisiana State University hosted a Women in STEMevent. The event consisted of a keynote address followed by a panel discussion, the latter of which I attended. All speakers were LSU alumni holding or retired from prominent STEM positions.
Panelists were the following:
Dr. Karen Adler Storthz: professor emerita at the University of Texas Health Science Center,
Sorcha Clary: project engineer for Marathon Petroleum.
Judea Goins-Andrews: director of school engagement for Louisiana at Project Lead the Way,
Rebecca Guidry: clinical medical physicist at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center,
Pat Bodin: former chief information officer and VP of global information for ExxonMobil.
As a graduate student in biology at a major research university, I rarely have the opportunity to interact with women in STEM careers outside of academia, so I especially appreciated that the panel included women in industry and education/outreach. The panel also spanned a wide range of career stages, from a few years out of college, to retired. Despite the wide range of careers and career stages represented on the panel, the advice to early career STEM women was remarkably consistent, emphasizing self-confidence, assertiveness, and patience.
I live tweeted the panel discussion. Here are some of the highlights.
We spoke with Professor Chad Forbes about his research on stereotype threat and how it undermines the success of women in STEM. Chad is a social neuroscientist in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Delaware.
Social neuroscience is a burgeoning field that uses neuroscience methodologies such as electroencephalograms (EEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and molecular genetics- anything that indexes neural activity, to inform social psychological theory and test a research hypothesis. Social neuroscience methods examine people in real time and can index their reaction to stimuli- even if these thought processes are unconscious or if the subjects are unaware or unwilling to acknowledge their feelings.
We recently spoke to Erin Leverton and Samantha Schaevitz from Google’s Information Technology Residency Program (ITRP). We chose to highlight this program because it is an career opportunity that allows many new graduates the opportunity to get their ‘foot in the door’in a technology career. Watch the video below, or keep reading for a summary of our conversation!
We recently hosted another STEM Women Hangout discussing the issue of everyday sexism in academia. Our guests were Professor Rajini Rao (Johns Hopkins University, USA; content manager at stemwomen.net) and Dr. Tommy Leung (University of New England, Australia). Dr. Buddhini Samarasinghe and Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos co-hosted the hangout.
We began on Google+ in 2012, helping the public to connect with women who work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). With this website, we want to reach out beyond Google+, and create a safe place for people of all genders to discuss how we can work together to make STEM more inclusive.
The scientific literature has shown that there are inequalities between women and men in STEM. Denying that a problem exists is the single biggest obstacle in promoting gender equity in science. The way to move forward is to start off from the position that things are unequal; so what are we going to do about it?
Many women eventually drop out of STEM fields because of organisational barriers to career progression, lack of career guidance and support, and family commitments. The same is not true for men who work in STEM. Although many women scientists successfully balance their careers and family responsibilities, there are still institutional obstacles for women in STEM. Having women role models and good mentors are powerful simulators for change.
Make women in STEM more visible to the public, with a special focus on women scientists on Google+
Promote careers for women in STEM
Highlight issues of gender inequality
Address solutions to improve women’s participation, inclusion, leadership and recognition in STEM.
If you’re a woman working in STEM or you’re an organisation that’s passionate about addressing inequality, please get in touch! We’d love to feature you on our blog, or interview for our YouTube Channel. Our YouTube series kicks off on Sunday the 16th of February with a conversation with Professor Jonathan Eisen, who will discuss how men can help address inequality in academia.
We also accept anonymous submissions. Learn more here.