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Odum students pen column on WiSci at UGA for Science

Mar. 31, 2017

Writer: Beth Gavrilles, bethgav@uga.edu

Contact: Cecilia Sánchez, cecilia.sanchez@uga.edu; Anya Brown, anyabrown@uga.edu

Soon after arriving at the University of Georgia in 2014 to pursue doctoral degrees in ecology, Cecilia Sánchez and Anya Brown both began looking for a campus organization for women in science and technology disciplines. Each had been part of that kind of group at their previous institutions— Sánchez at Yale University and Brown at the University of Florida—and knew how valuable it could be. So when they discovered that such an organization didn’t exist at UGA, they decided to start one.

The story of how they did it, and what they’ve learned along the way, is the subject of the March 31 Working Life column in Science, “Creating our own community.” It is available online at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6332/1446.

Women in Science at UGA, or WiSci, is a university-wide community of scientists interested in promoting equality in the sciences by offering opportunities for mentoring, networking, and career development. Established in 2014 by Sánchez, Brown and a handful of colleagues in the Odum School of Ecology, it is now a thriving organization with more than 300 members from units across UGA. WiSci is open to all students, faculty, postdoctoral associates and staff regardless of gender.

The remarkable growth of the organization reflects increasing recognition that retaining and advancing women in science and technology careers is a critical need. A 2013 report by Helen Shen in Nature, for example, found that even though women earn roughly half the doctorates in science and engineering in the U.S., they make up less than one quarter of full professors in the sciences and only five percent in engineering.

According to WiSci advisor Sonia Altizer, Associate Dean and UGA Athletic Association Professor in the Odum School of Ecology, groups like WiSci that provide support for women scientists early in their academic training can help to start closing that gap.

WiSci hosts informal monthly discussions and has established a mentoring network that includes faculty, postdoctoral associates and students at all levels, organized a successful career symposium in 2015 and raised funds to send 20 students to the 2016 Global Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Leadership Summit. 

To encourage others who might want to start a similar group, Sánchez and Brown decided to share their experiences.

“We wanted to offer a ‘how-to’ because we’ve learned so much from this process,” said Sánchez.

Their advice includes creating an open and inclusive community that builds on members’ different strengths and approaches, being sure to engage people regardless of gender, and empowering members to take ownership of the group—an important reason WiSci has continued to grow now that its original leaders have passed the torch to a new group of officers. 

“It’s exciting now to see how it’s changed and where it’s gone,” said Brown. “Our wish is that it keeps on flourishing.”

To learn more, see visit the UGA WiSci website.

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Creating our own community
Science 31 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6332, pp. 1446
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6332.1446