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Networking at the Women and Minorities Forum
Attendees at the Women and Minorities in Science Networking Breakfast
UCI graduate students Sara Piloto and Bellanira Herrera
SAN FRANCISCO--It was an early start for many of the attendees, but the scientists and students were already multi-tasking--juggling plates, warm handshakes and flurries of business cards--as they made the rounds at the Women and Minorities in Science Networking Breakfast Saturday.
"Networking" was the word on many lips at the event, sponsored by AAAS and pharmaceutical company Merck. For many women, the breakfast is a yearly reunion of colleagues. "I meet people here face-to-face who I would normally only know by e-mail," said Margaret Tolbert, a chemist and senior advisor at the National Science Foundation.
Many graduate students said they had come to the breakfast for the first time to meet scientists who might act as mentors or simply contacts for future work.
"Networking, that's mostly why I'm here," said University of California, Irvine biology graduate student Bellanira Herrera. Fellow UCI biology student Sara Piloto agreed, adding that she hoped the breakfast would help her meet other researchers and "be exposed to different careers within science."
"At school, they can just tell you about what it's like in academia, but here there are different people to talk to," Piloto said.
The news from inside and outside academia is looking up for women in science, but a significant salary and prestige gap still remains. According a 2006 report by the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, women with doctorates in science and engineering earned 80.9% of what their male counterparts did in 2003, a significant increase from the 76.5% they earned in 2001. In U.S. universities, women make up almost half of Ph.D. recipients but only one-quarter of professors. Women comprise only 29% of the science and engineering workforce in the European Union, according to the European Union's 2006 "She Figures."
One way to coax more women out science's shadows is to start young, several attendees said. Tamara Carrington, a physics graduate student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., volunteers some of her time in middle-school classrooms. She says the program is "a good opportunity to improve their [the students'] participation in science."
Speaker Doe-Sun Na
Doe-Sun Na, the first women to head the Korean Science Foundation, told the audience that girls interested in science benefit from these kinds of role models. "Unless they see women scientists, science leaders, they cannot have a dream."
In the morning's only formal panel, AAAS Education and Human Resources head Shirley Malcom introduced two women from Tunisia and Kuwait to describe how they became science leaders in their own countries. Although the women faced obstacles specific to their cultures, Malcom said their stories suggested "we all still have a struggle about the same kinds of issues" of family obligations, respect from male colleagues, and poor networking and mentorship.
Sabah Al-Momin, a biotechnology researcher at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, again brought up the importance of networking when describing the importance of men's regular gatherings in Kuwait. "When men stick together, they make the connections," she said. "We don't have this structure for women."
When an audience member asked about the researchers' own mentors, they both praised their supportive families, especially their fathers. "My father always said, if you want to be free and independent, you have to get a job," said Habiba Bouhamed Chaabouni, a medical geneticist at the University of Tunis.
Malcom reminded everyone that international collaborations, like the presentations given by Chaabouni and Al-Momin at AAAS, can help boost the prestige of women scientists in developing countries.
"What's the old saying--a prophet is not heard in their own land?" Malcom said. "Sometimes one must go somewhere else to be recognized for what they do, the value of what they do, in order to then come back to be recognized in their own country."
A new edition of A Hand Up: Women Mentoring Women in Science, has just been released by The Association of Women in Science at AAAS (AWIS). Click here for more information.
17 February 2007