Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Taking Advantage of Partnerships - The GWISE Example

Post by guest-blogger Meredith Danowski*, PhD student in Astronomy at Boston University.

There's a stack of papers to be graded, a grant proposal that needs some work, a paper that needs to be written, and a class that needs to be prepared. There are family commitments, all those half-deserted hobbies, and some laundry to do. Why on top of that, should you spend time active in a women in STEM organization?

Being "an activist" is often stigmatized. The time I spend planning events could instead go into my research, right? People might assume that because I spend time that is not directly related to my science, I've got misplaced priorities (or a time machine). But as with everything else in my life, my work for women in science is about being efficient and effective.

It makes me a more effective scientist in the long run, if I have a network of scientists I can turn to with questions, if I have a large pool of collaborators-in-the-making, if I have skills beyond data analysis. It makes me a more effective scientist if sometime down the road, I won't have to worry about needing more than twice the publications my male counterpart has, in order to be judged "competent". One of my undergrad professors once said, "you can't be a physics major by yourself." Science does not flourish in a vacuum-- collaborations are often the key to success, the best way to use our time and promote progress. And what works with science, works elsewhere—specifically, collaborative partnerships help one efficiently accomplish the goals of an organization.

For Boston University's GWISE, we are working to build partnerships with other women in science groups to best utilize the available (and scarce!) resources. We hold joint events with the faculty WISE group-- not only do both groups benefit individually, it encourages mentoring and networking and fosters a sense of community. We're also teaming up with the women's organizations in chemistry and biology to bring in speakers and to share not only monetary resources, but womanpower too!

Within the local community, we're harnessing even broader networks. We advertise the events of the women's groups at Harvard and other local institutions-- giving members access to more resources than we alone could provide. Most of our board members are also members of Massachusetts chapter of the Association for Women in Science and have participated in their Mentoring Circle Program. Designed to bring women in STEM together across disciplines and career-levels, the Mentoring Circles have helped us gain access to the wonderful community beyond the borders of our universities. This makes the work of planning events easier & more efficient-- we can draw from a broader network of contacts with diverse ideas and resources.

And finally, we're starting to grapple with the question raised about community and WISE at AAS- What can men do to help? Beyond supporting the cause or getting involved in advocacy, we can, as a first and fundamental step, share the work of helping each other become better scientists and professionals. To this effect, we recently co-hosted our first professional development event with the Student Association of Graduate Engineers. By sharing the work and costs, both groups benefit, and professionally we stand together as the future of the STEM community.

Utilizing networks and partnerships with other organizations is essential to our success. We benefit from collective knowledge and sharing the work, lightening the load on individuals. With a small commitment from many people, we can efficiently manage our time and resources to allow individuals to flourish scientifically and professionally, while achieving a broader impact.

*Meredith Danowski is a PhD student in Astronomy at Boston University and this is her third guest-post on the WIA blog describing her experiences with GWISE. In previous posts she discussed how to get an organization like GWISE started and how to find & utilize institutional support.