By Angela Burrow, PhD student in Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources
“She said WHAT!?!”
Have you ever been in conversation with someone in your department, perhaps a peer, your advisor, or a visitor, and been suddenly surprised by a discriminatory comment? Or have you attended an event where something occurred or was said to make you feel like an outsider? Chances are, if you’re human, then you have and that in the moment you “blanked.” According to Dr. Michelle Garfield Cook, Chief Diversity Officer of the University of Georgia’s Office of Institutional Diversity, this is a common response, which she calls “the blackout moment.” Unfortunately, this natural reaction can leave individuals feeling disgruntled because the issue is never addressed. Recently, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, held a discussion on diversity to open the floor for individuals to voice their complaints and praises. The invitation was extended to all members of the Warnell community, faculty, students, and staff, by Dean Greene. The event was prompted by an inappropriate email and the desire to start a conversation about diversity and inclusion within Warnell. Dr. Cook facilitated the discussion and opened by encouraging everyone that the discussion was a safe environment to voice issues but cautioned against expecting issues to be resolved in a one hour time-frame. She encouraged individuals to voice their problems and engage in diversity by “stepping in it” and speaking frankly.
I won’t go into specifics (to honor the confidentially of the discussion) but several themes emerged after the floor was opened. Participants discussed topics regarding gender, race, age, position in the department, sexual orientation, disability, and religion. While many comments focused on negative experiences, several individuals had praise for the support they have received in the department. For those of you in Warnell, you know Warnell is often referred to as a family and this sentiment was echoed many times. Unfortunately, just like in real families, sometimes the big issues are not discussed. Also, as one student mentioned, sometimes the problems are small things that individually add up. Perhaps it’s fear of “disrupting the love”, reluctance to sweat the small stuff, or not knowing how to start but often people are reluctant to speak up. UGA is composed of many departments, some larger and some smaller, but presumably they all try to encourage goodwill amongst their members. An open forum discussion is an excellent way to get at “hidden” issues that can potentially sabotage departmental harmony. While Warnell’s discussion was prompted by a particular incident, I would encourage other departments to proactively schedule a similar discussion to keep tabs on their own cultures.
During the Warnell discussion, all levels of participants expressed a desire to increase awareness and accountability. Students very clearly asked for increased communication, reporting, questioning, and promotion regarding diversity topics from administration. From the other side, administration encouraged individuals to hold one another accountable and speak up. This idea, from Dr. Cook, that accountability occurs in all directions and that the culture and climate of our department depends on every level and every individual particularly resonated with me. If each and every one of us that want to create an inclusive, welcoming environment actively pursued that goal, then no one could stop our momentum!
Regarding the issue of intent…in conversations after the discussion, some people had issue with the notion that intent matters. While we are all human and therefore err, this comes back to the idea of culture. As open minded individuals, we may not want intent to matter, myself included, because in a perfect Warnell no one would have biases. Unfortunately, that is just not a reality; we all have biases (even if we don’t think we do, check out Harvard’s Project Implicit https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html). However, the community and culture that we foster within Warnell can either promote or reject those biases. The best time and place to address the issue of intent is during our daily interactions with individuals. Again, it comes back to bi-directional accountability. Individuals need to respectfully speak up, stand out, and question bias in others. Faculty also need to be seen respectfully confronting bias and serving as role models for diversity. Administration needs to promote increased diversity through hiring practices, programs, training opportunities, and by serving as the watchdog and spearhead of diversity and inclusion.
On a final note, this opening discussion was an excellent opportunity for many people to voice their opinions, feelings, and ideas without criticism. However, this is just a first step! We have received a follow-up email from the Dean regarding additional ways individuals can contribute to the conversation (including anonymously which was a concern). Additionally, administration will be discussing the topics raised in a follow-up meeting. For true progress to be made, however, the momentum must continue! I look forward to seeing and being a part of the positive changes to come.
By Hayley Tumas, Wildlife Ecology Graduate Student
Summer on college campuses is usually a slow, relaxed time with a break in all collegiate activities until the students return in the fall. Not so for Women in Science. The fight for more diversity in the sciences never ceases, and neither do our events!
This summer Women in Science organized and led brown bag lunch discussions for students participating in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs on campus. The idea for the events was brought to us by the graduate coordinator of the PopBio REU program, who requested us to lead a discussion on WiSci related topics with her students. We of course loved the idea and arranged a date to discuss the inequalities women face in science, using the New York Times article “Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?” as a basis for discussion. (link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/magazine/why-are-there-still-so-few-women-in-science.html?_r=1)
Our first lunch discussion went off without a hitch! About 15 students attended that were a mix of males and females from across the country, giving us a variety of different perspectives on the topics. We covered everything from personal experiences of bias to cultural drivers of sexism and beyond. All of the participants were excited to share their views on the inequalities female scientists face. One student brought up the Tree Change Dolls®, a project trying to change our culture by modifying mainstream dolls without makeup and more down to earth, outdoor friendly clothing. It was encouraging, although unsurprising, to see the men in the crowd equally as enraged and frustrated as the women about the biases that still exist.
Due to the success of the first lunch discussion, we wanted to open up the opportunity to participants of all other REU programs on campus. We sent out an open invitation to join us in a discussion on the imposter syndrome. This time five female students attended, and we discussed feelings associated with the imposter syndrome as well as answered any questions they had about graduate school. During the lunch discussion, everyone took a quiz to find out how often they actually exhibit symptoms of imposter syndrome. This proved to be a fun and eye-opening way to learn about the topic. Undergraduate and graduate students alike were surprised to find some thoughts or feelings they had were actually associated with imposter syndrome.
Overall, the lunch discussions with the REU program students were a great opportunity to “spread the word” to our next generation of scientists. Women in Science has always done a great job of involving young scientists from undergraduates to high school students, and the summer lunch discussion series was just another example of this effort.
By Megan Prescott, Microbiology graduate student
Our first outreach event ended with a man in jail---but don’t worry, it’s not as scandalous as it sounds. We worked with Ms. Jackson at Clarke Central High School to hold the first annual "Chemistry Mystery Event" where students and their parents worked together to solve the fictional murder of Billy The Bus Driver.
As one of the events coordinators for WiSci, I’ve helped organize a lot of events. This one was especially rewarding for me, not only because we got to work within the Athens community, but also because I was able to bring an event from idea to reality. In order to understand the process, we have to go back a year to WiSci’s early days.
When putting together our first grant application to the UGA Parents & Families Association, we took inspiration from the University of Florida’s WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) group. In addition to a professional development symposium, we decided to propose a spring break science course for elementary school aged girls. I loved the idea of exposing girls to science and scientific female role models at an early age and volunteered to write up that part of the grant application. Our grant was funded, but the event was to be shelved until the spring semester, wanting to focus on the career symposium for the fall.
Spring semester came and when we needed a point person for the event, I immediately volunteered, this was my baby after all. What I didn’t consider, however, is how hard it is to actually execute an event with elementary school children, especially if we wanted the event held at the university. It involves permission slips, buses, venues, background checks, chaperones, and a million other tiny details that also would have to be organized in the two months before spring break. On a member’s advice, we conceded to something small for WiSci’s first venture into the outreach world. We could volunteer at the elementary school--but there were already 5 different organizations doing that. I wanted our event to be our own. For some reason high school always seemed out of the question. To me it seemed like the students would already know what career they wanted to pursue or would be “too cool” for science, and wouldn’t want to do extracurricular experiments. Other people must have felt the same way because Clarke Central High School lay unclaimed by any UGA science organization.
Although it initially seemed daunting, it started to seem like a perfect fit: high schools already have after-school infrastructures in place, they don’t need permission slips, and if we could reach the high school we could really start something new for the organization and for UGA. I cold-emailed the science department head at Clarke-Central, who forwarded my email, and I got a response an hour later from Ms. Jackson. She already had an event in mind—students and their parents or guardians would work together and use chemistry-based experiments to analyze clues from a fictional crime scene to identify the killer out of the possible suspects in a murder mystery. It was the perfect situation to get our outreach endeavors off the ground. I assembled a team, and we helped Ms. Jackson with anything and everything she needed, from food, to prizes, to career packets for the students, and of course, helping run the experiments the day of the event.
That brings us back to present day. The event went as smoothly as you could expect a first time event to go. But I don’t want to describe what we did at the event as much as I want to tell you how it made me feel: and for that, all I can say is "goosebumps." These students not only enjoy science enough to come to their high school on the weekend to do experiments, but their parents support and encourage them enough to do it with them. I did not see one student-parent pair argue over the best way to approach an experiment or who should do what part. Instead I heard "you got this!" from loving parents to their child stuck on a problem, and "we’re going to win" from excited students solving another clue. It hit me then that we don’t do outreach to win money from a grant or pump up our CVs, but we do it to foster the love of science in the next generation and to bridge the gap with the ones before. The event may have drastically changed from our initial vision in the grant application from a year ago, but the end goal was exactly what I envisioned: young students enjoyed doing science and WiSci helped them get there---Oh, and Peter was the murderer.
Do you have any tips or ideas for science outreach events with students? Let us know in the comments below!
By Cecilia Sanchez, Ecology PhD student and President of WiSci
This past semester, WiSci held our first professional development event, "Mapping Your Path in Science." For two days in mid-November, we brought together local science professionals, faculty, and students for panel discussions, interactive workshops, and networking opportunities. See more details on the event here: http://wisciuga.weebly.com/symposium.html. It took a huge effort on the parts of the officers and volunteers to make the symposium come together, and I think it's a testament to this hard work that we were able to pull off this event just a year after WiSci was founded. Overall I am really proud of what we were able to accomplish, and based on feedback I've received from attendees, many felt that the symposium was worthwhile and inspiring.
Because this was our first time as an officer board to organize such a large event (we had estimated 30-70 registrants, and ended up having 140!), we didn't have a template to work from. We had to start from the ground up in terms of identifying our goals for the symposium, brainstorming activities and topics, securing professionals to participate, organizing venue and food logistics, and more. The following are some of my own impressions of what we did well and what we could work on if we hold a similar event in the future. They may also be useful to other groups who are also planning a "first big event."
What worked well
In the future, we'd like to
If you have feedback on our event, or tips for other first-time event planners, please share below!
By Suzie Henderson, Ecology major and Horticulture minor
This past weekend I participated in the Women and Girls in Georgia (WAGG) 2015 conference on sustainability as a member of Women in Science (WiSci) at UGA.
As a woman coming from the science field, the inclusive atmosphere at the WAGG conference was a refreshing avenue to address sustainability head on, delving often beyond the scope of science. I knew from the first few sessions that we would be hearing very little empirical facts that day, but rather dialoging with other women on abstract and sometimes more concrete, values.
From the presentations and panels to dynamic keynote speakers, a few values that came into the dialogue were: health of the environment and people, culture, community, family, and food security to more abstract values like inclusivity, responsibility, persistence, and justice. Let’s just say we had much to discuss! Women tend to share and relate through their values, that more often than not, might be overlooked by men, no matter what field they work in. Men obviously possess common values with women, but it seems more tension arises because of how we differ in prioritizing these values.
During the STEM for sustainability session, a group of WiSci members and myself entered into dialogue with other women (and men!) about the role of mentors for women in the science field. A woman attending the panel chimed in with the point that men and women tend to think in significantly different ways and women are often known for the capacity to think about many things at once (turns out our neural wiring really is quite different!). She asked how we, as women in the science field, related to this characteristic.
Perhaps many, but not all women would agree with this view on the woman’s mind. Nevertheless, possessing a uniquely complex thought process can totally be an advantage. Some of us may fall into a trap of constantly finding fault in our thoughts and not wanting to voice them or act on them. However, if we are outward and confrontational with our thoughts, we can better address environmental concerns both locally and globally. We may be more likely to consider broader implications of scientific research and desire to communicate that to the scientific community and beyond. As women in science are faced with opportunities to inform this recent and urgent environmental movement, we are also invited to join the ever-widening discussion on sustainability with fellow women and men of different disciplines.
Here are some questions and food for thought you may be pondering after reading this blog. Comments and further dialogue are certainly welcome!
How can women incorporate their education, values, and convictions into their work as scientists (or other profession) to meet the challenges we face with sustainability?
What are some challenges women face in the field of science that relate to the environmental issues?
Are women scientists afraid of being taken seriously when addressing topics that involve human values that surpass the field of empirical science (such as sustainability)?
By Laura Early, Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development graduate student
With recent social media explosions around trends like #DistractinglySexy, #LikeAGirl, and #ShirtStorm, challenges faced by women in historically male-dominated science fields are getting more attention. For decades, women have been underrepresented in science, engineering, and math career fields, and there are many root causes to this gender gap that have been identified and are beginning to be addressed. Around the world and across sectors, the emergence of policies, campaigns, and strategies to increase numbers of women in these fields are beginning to be seen.
WiSci: Women in Science is a student-led organization here at UGA that formed in 2014 in response to these challenges. WiSci aims to create a campus-wide community of scientists interested in promoting equality in the sciences, as well as a support network among undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs, faculty and other science professionals.
On September 14, WiSci hosted two discussions with Dr. Katherine (Kay) Gross, Director of Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station (KBS). Dr. Gross’s successful career as a plant community ecologist has led her into an administration position where she continues to do research, and also promotes programs that provide undergraduates with research experiences and mentoring opportunities.
At KBS, Dr. Gross strives to offer opportunities for undergraduates to get involved in ecological research early in their academic careers in a way that facilitates their continued success in a scientific career path and positively contributes to the research going on at KBS. Over a lunch discussion with WiSci members, Dr. Gross shared what KBS has found to work well for its program- good mentoring and increasing diversity within the program. To support these practices, KBS offers training and financial incentives to graduate students and researchers who are willing to mentor undergraduates. Because undergraduate students from under-represented groups in the sciences do not always have access to the same resume-building opportunities as their peers, KBS has also adjusted their graduate student application process to focus more heavily on what participants aspire to achieve, not necessarily just their past achievements.
“What is the worst predictor of success in graduate school?” Dr. Gross asked the group of students who joined her for lunch in the Ecology courtyard. “Test scores.” The best predictor, she said, is not giving up. Figuring out why students want to pursue these experiences, and choosing candidates that show a drive and desire to learn and work hard is good for the science community as a whole.
In recent years, there has been a shift in which at several universities, females make up the majority of undergraduate enrollment, and more specifically, female enrollment in science majors is increasing as well. However, there is still a “leaky pipeline,” in that those numbers are not translating all the way through to representative numbers of women in tenured faculty positions across the sciences, or even more so, in leadership positions in the sciences.
In her talk Monday afternoon, Dr. Gross addressed students, post-docs, and faculty - both male and female - about the challenges women face in becoming leaders in science, and how we can all help lessen these challenges. First, we have to recognize the traits of a good leader, and we have to recognize gender differences, Dr. Gross explained. There are some personality traits that are more common to females and some that are more common to males, although each individual is going to differ. Figuring out how these traits in each person complement those of others to build good leadership and research teams is key, Dr. Gross pointed out.
Dr. Gross acknowledged that there are stereotypes against women in science careers, and that people have implicit gender biases. “You need to have a sense of humor,” Dr. Gross said. In order to succeed, she offered, you need to identify the hindrances and figure out how to work around them. At the same time, though, she encouraged all scientists to create a supportive network for peers as well as scientists early in their careers.
“This is everybody’s issue,” Ecology faculty, Dr. Amy Rosemond contributed to the discussion. Men, as well as women, need to stand up to their peers to change these implicit biases against women in the sciences.
As graduate student, Caitlin Conn, brought up: How do we balance fitting in enough to navigate the system in place, and fighting the current system and its inherent biases to change things for the next generation of women scientists?
WiSci: Women in Science addresses these questions and more through our discussions, panels, workshops and mentoring program. To become part of our campus-wide network and take advantage of upcoming events, email firstname.lastname@example.org or explore our website wisciuga.weebly.com
Women in Science Leadership: Pathways and Potentials by Kay Gross, Director W.K. Kellogg Biological Station
Originally posted on February 14, 2015 on Cecilia Sanchez' blog. Read what the WiSci President and founder has to say about the journey of starting a student organization that builds a network of support for women in the sciences across campus: ceciliaasanchez.weebly.com/blog/women-in-science-making-stride_s