News: News Archives
International Research Project:
Collaborations for Women Scientists
The next round of applications for the Women's International Scientific Collaboration Program (WISC), which gives women researchers seed money for international research projects, is due July 15.
Launched in 2001 by the AAAS and the National Science Foundation (NSF), WISC aims to increase the participation of U.S. women scientists in international scientific collaboration. Research is taking place in 57 different countries, from Algeria to Uzbekistan.
"The program provides unique research opportunities," said Shere Abbott, AAAS Chief International Officer. "It also provides the opportunity to build a broad community of international scholars promoting the common language of science."
Suteera Nagavajara, WISC program manager for the Asia and Pacific regions, notes that the international experiences allow young women to compete with well-established scientists. The seed money provided through the WISC program gives them a start.
Researchers use the awarded planning grants to initiate research projects with foreign partners. After the planning trips, they then submit full proposals to the NSF. While the initial grants are worth $5,000 or less, Nagavajara says that the participants are able to not only travel abroad, but have been able often to fund a trip for their foreign collaborators to come to the United States and visit their laboratories.
Cynthia Trowbridge, a research assistant professor at Oregon State University, received a WISC grant in 2002 and traveled to Japan last summer to study marine specialist herbivores sea slugs on high-diversity shores. She met her colleagues, Yoshiaki and Yayoi Hirano, at a conference in 1995. Trowbridge came across the WISC program a week before the deadline.
"We can't tell you how happy we were to receive the funding…. It's the best funding I've ever received," Trowbridge said. "The Hiranos were a wonderful research team, not only admirable scientists, but also extremely kind and helpful colleagues."
Trowbridge noted that Japan is a hot spot in biodiversity, but very few overseas researchers have been able to work there because of the language barrier. While working with the Hiranos in Okinawa and the Kanto district, the WISC team identified and catalogued 38 species of herbivorous seas slugs, many of which were species that had never been described. She has also developed partnerships with amateurs in the area who send her photos of sea slugs and data. In turn, she helps with identification and English translations.
Trowbridge's collaboration with the husband and wife team from Chiba University did not, however, stop after the initial funding ran out. The Hirano research team recently received an additional four years of funding from the Japanese government to continue their work. Trowbridge is scheduled to travel to Japan two times a year to work with the Hiranos and assist students in the field. She also recently received another grant from the NSF International Program to do related work in Ireland, England, the Channel Islands, and France.
Yayoi Hirano, of the Kominato Marine Laboratory at Chiba University, notes that the collaboration has been a great inspiration to the research staff at the laboratory. She adds that many of the new ideas for upcoming projects grew out of the observations and discussions held with Trowbridge.
"The collaboration… has already [borne] an obvious fruit, but I feel its real contribution is the new interest we came to have through the exchange of knowledge and information with Cynthia," Hirano said. "We have learned a lot from her… Before meeting her, our interests were rather restricted. Thanks to the collaboration with Cynthia, and because of new interests, we have a comparative perspective on our research. This was a key factor for the successful grant proposal of our new project."
Trowbridge is one of more than 168 scientists to receive WISC funding thus far. Abbott noted that the AAAS offices recently submitted a proposal to the NSF for three more years of funding.
"We're interested in growing the program in all fields of science," Abbott said. "These collaborations open up opportunities to new data and information…. We're also developing mechanisms to further encourage more collaboration and contact among the women who have been involved in this program, allowing the participants to understand the obstacles and learn from each other's experience."
Applications for the next round of the WISC competition are due July 15; winners will be notified on October 15. Complete program guidelines and application forms are available at the following URL: www.aaas.org/international/wisc.
16 June 2003