What Should WISDOM Focus On?
More Internships, Training Needed To Empower Women In Science
We asked and were ready to listen when you came together as a community to let us know what you want from WISDOM – more internships, fellowships and training to help nurture and support current and future women scientists.
A dynamic group of women scientists, grad students and other interested parties gathered at the American Chemical Society’s conference to help us launch WISDOM and set the priorities for our website and community.
Dr. Dirk Frese, WISDOM’s executive director, laid out the nonprofit’s vision, calling it one of the first nonprofits lead by industry groups that is dedicated to helping women in science overcome obstacles and become successful.
WISDOM will work with other academia-focused groups to encourage women to pursue more advanced degrees in science and seek out the top-tier jobs in the industry.
The nonprofit was inspired by the idea that enterprises have a social responsibility to improve working conditions. Through his work at founding sponsor JULABO, a temperature control company, Frese saw the need to support and inspire women in the sciences.
“We think diversity is the key to successful science,” he said at the panel.
Compared to the women scientists he worked with in Switzerland, he saw that the U.S. environment was much less supportive. So he’s working to put together a group of partners from the lab equipment manufacturing, chemical, pharmaceutical and other related industries. This group will fund internships, training and other activities that will help create more opportunties for women in science.
He served on the panel with the other members of the nonprofit’s leadership team: Dr. Lauren Zarzar, WISDOM’s Director and Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Penn State University, along with Ralph Juchheim, President of founding sponsor, JULABO USA.
Thanks to the strong female mentors Dr. Zarzar had during her undergrad and graduate work, she developed a deep love of chemistry. Now she’s sharing that passion for chemistry in her new role as mentor.
Frese asked the women to help them shape WISDOM’s future by sharing their thoughts on the obstacles women in STEM face. The lively group discussion covered several key issues, from the lack of support for women with families to the need for more women mentors in the sciences.
Here are the main issues that came up and the recommendations you offered us:
More Support Needed For Women Balancing Families, Academia
Dr. Olga Michels, Professor of Chemistry at Luther College in Iowa, said that many women in science leave academia to have children. She added that the U.S. maternity leave policy and lack of resources like childcare make it difficult to balance family with the pressures of academia.
Addressing this issue needs to be a priority if more women are going to be successful in the sciences and academia, she said.
Creating A Love For Science Needs To Start In Middle School
She also brought up the lack of support many girls receive when studying science in middle school.
“Middle school teachers hate science and tell girls that they can’t do science and it creates a huge barrier,” she said. “We won’t see percentages rise until we deal with that.”
This negative message deters many females who might otherwise study science and pursue careers in these fields, she added.
Internships Needed To Show Broader Opportunities In Science Fields
Almost every audience member who spoke said that more internships and fellowships were needed in industry, not just academia.
Dr. Michels urged WISDOM to focus on providing internships in a variety of science-related companies and working with professors so they can alert their students to these opportunities.
Dr. Gunda Georg, Professor and Head, College of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota, echoed this need, saying that industry internships are a great way for students to better understand the many benefits that a scientific career in industry could offer them.
Frese said that he can see WISDOM quickly approaching $100,000 and expects more companies in the lab equipment manufacturing, chemical, pharmaceutical and cannabis fields to offer internships and funding now that the nonprofit has received 501(c)(3) status. The tax-exempt status allows the organization to provide tax deductions for donations, among other benefits.
Success Stories Help Inspire Next Generation
Dr. Vilmali Lopez-Mejias, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, sees the number of students in science courses rising but they’re still not pursuing careers in academia. She attributes this to the lack of attention women in science receive, even when they are awarded a prestigious math or science prize.
WISDOM should focus on putting together more success stories from women in science to show female students the successful role models in these fields as well as the job opportunities in academia and industry, she said. The organization plans to spotlight inspiring women in the sciences through success stories, videos and other content on their website.
More Women Mentors Needed
Samantha Pilicer, an organic chemistry research grad student at Georgetown University, urged WISDOM to make increasing the number of women mentors one of their key initiatives. While there are many people who say they’re supportive of women in science, there’s very little action or funding, she said. Looking at Dr. Zarzar’s experience, she sees how influential a female mentor can be. She volunteers with her ACS chapter to help give back but said more needs to be done.
Training Should Focus On Communication
Dr. Elke Schoffers, Professor of Chemistry at Western Michigan University, recommended that WISDOM expand its activities to include communication training. She sees a lack of communication skills in the sciences and it’s a barrier to setting effective goals – both personal and professional. She’d also like to see WISDOM develop best practices and integrate men who support the group’s ideals into the program.
Frese, an experienced communications trainer, said that communications is a part of JULABO’s corporate training. He’s trained in oral and written communication as well as how to read body language and micro expressions.
“This helps how you interact with colleagues, students, bosses and in interviews to positions you’re applying for,” he said.
He added that this is just one example of the type of training that can be offered in both face-to-face and virtual settings through WISDOM.
We want to thank all the women who joined us at the panel discussion. The insights and feelings you shared about your experiences in the sciences created an emotional and moving experience for us all. It’s just this type of open communication that will help our community thrive and grow.
Make sure you visit our website and take a few minutes to read our blog and watch our videos. All our content is designed to help women share their own experiences and learn from each other. We want every visit to be an opportunity to have fun, empower each other and leave knowing that you’re part of a greater community of women scientists.
We’d love to hear about other things you think we should focus on at WISDOM. Please leave your ideas in the comments below.