Sunday, March 3, 2013

Women in Science: Challenges and Opportunities

AASWomen mentioned a thoughtful, short (< 5 minute) video in this Friday's newsletter. It contains a few nuggets of wisdom I wanted to highlight, to help kick off the week on the right foot.

The video is a compilation of highlights from a roundtable discussion at McGill University with four prominent women scientists: Drs. Brenda Milner, Rima Rozen, Jane Stewart, and Victoria Kaspi (an astronomer).

The conversation touches on topics from work-life balance to mentoring to impostor syndrome. I appreciate the candor with which the women speak. For example, on the topic of self confidence, Dr. Kaspi described, "I know when I was young I spent an awful amount of time wondering - Do I belong here? Should I be doing physics? I wish i hadn't wasted all that energy because there's so much interesting work out there to do."

The four panelists mentioned in a few different ways that a crucial component in a scientific career is to obtain support at different levels. Throughout the stages of your career, it's key to have support from family and friends, as well as colleagues, research advisors, and professional mentors. Dr. Rozen stressed, “Women -- don’t be shy to use the support systems available around you, get as much help as you can and don’t feel bad about it”. She also emphasised the need for women to learn to speak up and promote themselves, as well the issue of women not being equally recognized as men are – at least in the academic setting.

They also stressed the importance of finding balance in life. Dr. Rozen explained, "I wouldn't have wanted to remove any one of my hats to just be a scientist. I think it gives us a balance in life. It gives us rewards at many different levels. I think it's all part of being a happy and sucessful woman."

One aspect that I would particularly like to see the full discussion of was the topic of institutional change. In this short video, we get a teaser for their thoughts on the problem in academia of the coincidence in timing of the tenure process and the biological clock. Improvements in policies on schedule flexibility, promotion patterns, and the distribution of tasks need to be discussed and implemented, as another piece of the puzzle in supporting today's women and men in STEM careers.