At Brown University, there seems to be no shortage of women in science. But riddle us this: Women make up 55.5% of undergraduates at universities and colleges studying sciences, so why do women hold only 44.2% of junior science faculty positions, and only 28% of senior faculty positions? What accounts for this disparity? And what can be done to fight for the role of women in science, and inspire other women to follow in the footsteps of those before them?
Enter Diane Lipscombe, professor of neuroscience and director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science, and Dima Amso, associate professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown. Frustrated with the gender disparity in STEM fields, the duo organized Inspiring Women in Science, to celebrate the accomplishments of female scientists. The panel took place this Thursday. It featured talks from six female scientists, all in radically different fields, who discussed their work on topics ranging from climate change to visual processing.
Featured speakers included neuroscientist Huda Akil, of the University of Michigan, who spoke on the biological basis of emotion; engineer Carol Espy-Wilson of the University of Maryland, who spoke on acoustic mapping of speech; molecular biologist Bethany Jenkins of the University of Rhode Island, who spoke on oceanic microorganisms; cognitive neuroscientist Marlene Behrmann of Carnegie Mellon University, who spoke on psychological and neural bases of visual processing; geophysicist Karen Fischer of Brown, who spoke on the dynamic processes inside the Earth’s crust; and atmospheric scientist Amanda Lynch, who spoke on polar climate modeling.
“Gender disparity remains in the STEM fields, particularly at higher ranks — despite the fact that there is gender balance in several STEM fields at undergraduate and graduate levels — and this disparity increases for women of color,” said Lipscombe, a co-organizer, in an interview with News from Brown. “This symposium serves to highlight the research of some great women scientists, and it reinforces what we already know — that gender and race are not predictors of scientific talent. It’s important to hear from these highly successful women scientists directly.”
She added, on a more hopeful note, “We… hope that the audience appreciates the importance and value of research to improve society, to inform policy and to improve health; that our young generation of scientists see the personal and societal rewards of a career in science and that they are inspired from listening to these amazing women scientists; and that our young scientists see a path for them to succeed in science.”