Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Maria Mitchell Women in Science Symposium - Summary of Discussions

By: Nancy Morrison, Nicolle Zellner, and Jessica Mink

The first Maria Mitchell Women in Science Symposium, in honor of the 200th anniversary of  Maria Mitchell's birth, was held October 5-6, 2018 at Babson College in Wellesley, MA. It was organized by the Maria Mitchell Association of Nantucket, MA, and sponsored by many organizations including the AAS. Nancy Morrison, Nicolle Zellner, and Jessica Mink, members of  the CSWA, attended and participated in the discussions. Speakers included Dr. Meg Urry (Yale), Dava Sobel (author), Dr. Jill Tarter (Emeritus, SETI), and Dr. Kate Kirby (APS). Panelists included astronomy profesor Dr. Colette Salyk (Vassar), Dr. Shirley Malcolm (AAAS), professors in environmental studies, biology, math, and other science fields, and other  science professionals. The panel discussions focused on three themes:
  • Recruitment: How to Bring Women and Girls into STEM
  • Retention: Strategies for Stemming the Leaky Pipeline and Ending Unconscious Bias
  • The Future: Where Are We Going and How Do We Get There? The Future of Women and Girls in STEM

Each panel was followed by "salons", discussion groups to which we were assigned, with a range of ages and experience, all of which made for quite interesting discussions. For example, Shirley Malcom (AAAS) noted that the problem is not recruitment of women into science, but keeping them on a path (not a pipeline!) toward a life in science. We all agreed that retention is just as much affected by varied paths as it is by a single leaky pipeline and that there still is a problem that women's paths all too often take them away from academia and/or STEM. And the path isn’t necessarily family: Meg Urry presented the fact that the number one predictor of success in STEM careers is gender - not family issues; there is no difference between women with and without children.

Summaries of the break-out discussions will eventually be posted by members of the Maria Mitchell Association who organized the symposium, so highlights noted by Jill Tarter in her meeting summary are listed here. Take-away advice includes:

for individuals:
  • Master your skill sets and use them when in new and/or unintended situations. 
  • Take advantage of opportunities when they arise and learn to sell yourself intelligently.
  • Strive for work-life alignment.
  • Celebrate science and never stop asking “Why?” 

for institutional leaders:
  • Publish and make transparent the rubrics that are used in evaluating candidates for entrance and advancement.
  • Avoid geographic and intellectual isolation. For example, hire and admit in cohorts.
  • Acknowledge and remedy stresses, including financial diversity and mental health, that women and underrepresented minority scientists (URMs) may be experiencing.
  • Confront bullying and harassment and create safe spaces for women and URMs.
  • Create multiple on/off/return ramps to academics and careers.

Maria Mitchell said, "We are women studying together". We look forward to our future and to the organizers’ intended future offerings of the Maria Mitchell Symposium! 

For a full list of speakers and panelists, and more information (including pdfs of the presentations), visit the Symposium's website. You can also see photos at the Maria Mitchell Association's Facebook page and search twitter for #MMWISS for tweets by several people.