On January 28th, 2016 a one-day Women in Science Summit 2016 event was hosted by Dr. Heather Tallis, The Nature Conservancy’s acting chief scientist, Dr. Meg Lowman, chief of science and sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences, and Dr. Rita Mehta, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz.

Speakers included: Jane Goodall (Gombe Reserve), Sylvia Earle (National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence), Dawn Wright (ESRI), Pam Matson (Stanford University), Jane Lubchenco (former head of NOAA), Kathy Sullivan (the first woman to walk in space) and others.

The day was filled with 8 hours of discussions and panels between women (and some men!) in various fields at various stages in their careers. Thankfully the entire event was archived for our leisurely viewing pleasure.

If you didn’t get a chance to listen to this event live or archived,  I wanted to share the tidbits that I took away from each session.  Please feel free to skim through my bullet notes. They’re here for you!

Tidbits of Wisdom I Took Away From This Event:

  • Just because you take time off between undergrad and graduate school to make money does not mean you’re not a serious scientist. -Sue Rossner (6:05:20)
  • “I spend time thinking about how to be a better mentor than who can I find to mentor me.  Its important to recognize that at different stages in our lives we need different kinds of mentors.”  -Liz Hadly (3:50:36)
  • Remember, it’s important to share our struggles so we can learn from each other. You never know where you’re going to find allies and when you do, lean on them for support when you’re feeling challenged.
  • Make it a part of who you are to always ask questions and don’t be discouraged by those who say you’re “too this” or “too that”. Don’t listen to people who say you can’t do something. We are the beneficiaries of all that has been accomplished by those who came before. -Sylvia Earle (4:52:03)
  • When shaping this planet’s future, strive for excellence! And remember, there can be more than one way to do that! -Kathy Sullivan (4:49:00)
  • Time has its limits but hopefully our energy from love for what we are doing is unbounded. Learn to manage your energy. -Dawn Wright (7:07:07)
  • Unconscious biases. We all have them. Try to become aware of yours. And then speak up about them! This isn’t just about men vs women in the field of science. Men and women are not separate species. We are all individuals with personalities and biases, the more we can have open discussion and educate each other into embracing diversity, the better.
  •  The bullies that exist are just a handful and they get away with it because we aren’t looking at the ideals of science, instead we are using organizational shortcuts to get certain places.We need to challenge the legacy of social constrictive beliefs. We need to articulate and keep approaches that work and toss out things that get in the way. -Carol Muller (4:04:11)
  • Young scientists need opportunitites to build self-confidence. Young women and young men need to believe in themselves. The best way to do that is to gain experiences. Building experiences builds the confidence needed to override hesitancy. – DC Randle & Rodolfo Dirzo
  • Recognize the importance of putting yourself in positions where you look like a leader. Ann Russell shared a revelation she had while working in the field of Oceanography. Typically, in this field the men were shown in leadership positions. The person driving the boat was in charge, the captain, the leader. A man. Sure, women were doing science, but they were not depicted as leaders. Then one day it dawned on her: If leaders were the ones driving the boat, then all one has to do is learn to drive the boat! Despite this being a scary undertaking, she persevered and gained this skill. It was at that moment she  recognized the importance of looking like a leader.
  • Jane Goodall had a very supportive mother who allowed her to follow the career she did. Her mother told her, “You’ll have to work hard, take advantage of opportunities and never give up.” So Jane’s advice to us follows (44:29):
    • 1) Don’t jump into any career unless you’re really truly sure its what you want to do.
    • 2) Don’t be afraid to change direction if you’ve made a mistake.
    • 3) Have the courage of your convictions. Listen to other views and think about them but if upon reflection you still think you’re right, don’t give up your own belief.
    • 4) Follow your dreams by working hard, taking advantage of opportunities and never giving up.
  • Gender is not just male or female, there is a whole spectrum. If we continue to be courageous and diversify, positive things will come out of just about every situation. -Panel Discussion about direct and indirect perceptions of gender in science (1:14:00).
  • Remember: Not every scientist is a self-promoter, so when thinking of people to publicly recognize make sure to think outside the box and include those who aren’t good at self-promoting and  who don’t get the same type of exposure to certain opportunities.
  • In an effort to  get underrepresented communities into science its sometimes more about getting the parents on board. A lot of times these parents have no experience with higher education or science and may not understand why it would be good for their kid. Reach out … talk to families of young women in underrepresented communities. -DC Randal
  • In order to make cultural change in the sciences, we need to stop evaluating excellence only through our own looking glass. We need to set new metrics and measures to evaluate excellence. -Pam Mattson (5:17:13) Panel on building institutions that are more inclusive.
  • Jane Lubchenco reminds us:
    • In an age of science and technology, stories matter. “Those who wish to create a better world will have to make storytelling a center of their efforts, not an afterthought.” -James Murdock (2:40:00) 
    • Re-envision what it means to be a scientist, and a woman in science. Choices for women in science these days are far different than back in the day.
    • Most students (undergrad/grad) are exposed almost exclusively to scientists in academia and this limits their thinking about possibilities. They need exposure to scientists in other walks of life across the spectrum.
    • “Alt-Ac” Careers are out there. Universities don’t necessarily prepare students for these alternate academic careers but that is the real world. Universities should provide better role models for students by bringing in outsiders who are not just from other universities but who are doing excellent valid science in sectors of NGO, consultants, government and federal positions, start-ups, etc.  (5:42:14)
    • What should scientists do with a PhD? There are diverse career paths. When she was in grad school the only acceptable goal was tenured professorship. Academia was the path and there was much arrogance within the academic community. Today’s success in science should not be defined as becoming a professor at a University. Leaving academia should not be seen as failure. Stop using the term “leaky pipeline”. Men and women should be able to leave without criticism.  
    • If you want to break out of academia look for resources in parallel worlds. There is a wealth of knowledge online so find people who have done something similar to what you want to do and take advantage of networking to get those skills.
    • What do we do about scientists in the pursuit of knowledge that stay in the Ivory Tower? Scientists should engage in society to know what knowledge is needed. To communicate in multiple non-traditional ways. Embrace your obligation to be in service to the global community.
    • How can you know what path is right for you? There are a lot of ways. Interact with established individuals in different worlds. Find internships. 
  • Jane’s Continuing Advice
    • 1) Don’t pigeon hole yourself, be open to new opportunities. Be entrepreneurial 
    • 2) Be creative in responding to challenges. Family is a challenge female and male professors deal with.  Don’t let your job stop you from having a family. Find support in the work place. Choose your partner wisely. Be with someone who will support you. Assist each other in your passion. It will usually be the case that life may not be equally good for the both of you. So take turns on which choices are better over the years.  
    • 3) Seek out skills beyond academic training. Leadership, communication, writing, managing, negotiating skills. These skills are not typically taught but they will enhance your competitiveness.
    • 4) Recognize smart ways to disrupt a system vs career killing ways to disrupt the system. Learn the community and the rules before you try to change them and then elevate others as you make innovative change so everyone is supportive of the new.
    • 6) Remember the saying “One hand up and one hand down”. As you reach up to climb higher, reach your hand down to assist those below.
    • 7) Learn to believe in yourself. Its OK to be different and think different and disagree with people. 
  • An Alt-Ac speaks to us! Dawn Wright (6:49:00) was an academic for 17 years and now works in industry. Read her blog post on the courage to escape academia. Escaping or re-inventing yourself is freeing.
  •  Kate Clancy (50:00) shares with us statistics on minority women participation in science. She says its so low, the National Science Foundation can’t even parse it.
    • Data for minority women who earned PhD in science and engineering still under 5% in 2010, under 6% in 2015.
    • Science and Engineering careers in academia and industry: white men (51%), white women (18%), asian men (13%), asian women (5%), “others” (other 13%).
    • # of women in color in faculty positions has decreased, even as white women in STEM increase. Women from underrepresented minorities pay the highest penalties in science.
    • Poor arguments that are out there for why this may be include 1) Women must have lower abilities, 2) Women have different work/life expectations and don’t want it as bad, 3) Science is an unwelcome environment that stops people who disrupt quid pro quo, 4) If you’re not recognized by your peers, your accomplishments are meaningless, 5) Only you can promote yourself, 6) Women who choose to have children experience a gap in publications so they fall behind, 7) Specialists get more recognition than inter-disciplinarians but women choose more interdisciplinary and collaborative projects, 8) Women aren’t putting in the time (but of course they are! In fact, of the work time they do put in, they are bogged down with more teaching and service than their male counterparts.)
    • At some point we’ve realized how people perceive competence based on gender and race and other identities. She discusses an interesting anecdote at 1:04:29: We are still catering to a man’s world. These experiences of feeling professionally undervalued and having a lack of confidence in our competence shape a woman’s career!
  • We need broader change to acknowledge importance of scientists being recognized for teaching, research, and also outreach and engagement with society. -Jane Lubchenco
  • Emily Graslie (1:40:10) is The Field Museum’s ‘Chief Curiosity Field Correspondence’ and ‘Host and Writer’ of the educational YouTube Channel called The Brain Scoop, one of the largest science channels on the internet hosted by a woman. Emily claims she was “too lazy to become a scientist” but she has a deep passion for art and science communication. Growing up she watched a lot of science educators and communicators, most of which were men. One of the biggest female role models she wanted to emulate was actually Ms. Frizzle of Magic School Bus! When reality set in that Ms. Frizzle was an animated character, she set out on a mission to put women’s faces in the media limelight. Below I’ve posted one of her most viewed episodes, “Where My Ladies At?” which talks about the lack of women in these educator/science communicator roles. Be sure to check out all her other videos! 
  • Diversify your networks. Maintain reality by having feet across a lot of boundaries and borders. Link those boundaries. Keep your feet in as many networks as possible.  -Jose Fregoso (7:41:52)


2-minute video recap:


Big thanks to California Academy of Sciences for putting on this event. Obviously there are so many more invaluable points that were discussed during this event which could have been added to this post. We look forward to Women in Science Summit 2017.

To the future!


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