RFS Briefings - January 8, 2020

I am pleased to include another issue of RFS Briefings with some timely and encouraging updates on women in science. We hope you will share our optimism for a productive New Year and New Decade!

One new opportunity is the Call for Applications for the 16th Annual For Women in Science Program. The L’Oréal For Women in Science program, the U.S. component of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards program, is accepting applications through January 31, 2020. Read more.

We also encourage you to nominate women scientists for the Johnson & Johnson 2020 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research. Since being established in 2004, the Award has honored 18 outstanding scientists, three of whom went on to win the Nobel Prize. Johnson & Johnson is hoping to see an increase the number of women nominated this year. Read more.

See below for more news about women in science

Please continue to share important news and opportunities with us so that we may share it with you, and others who are committed to supporting the careers of exceptional women in science.
Best wishes for the New Year and the New Decade,

Karla Signature

Karla Shepard Rubinger
Executive Director
Rosalind Franklin Society

Increasing Women Nominees for the 2020 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research

The nominations period is now open for the 2020 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research which celebrates” champions of science whose achievements have made, or have strong potential to make, a measurable impact on human health.” Since being stablished in 2004, the Award has honored 18 outstanding scientists, three of whom went on to win the Nobel Prize. Johnson & Johnson is hoping to see an increase the number of women nominated this year. Read more.

2020: A Critical Year for Women, Gender Equity, and Health

An Editorial published in The Lancet (January 4, 2020) reflects on past initiatives addressing gender and health, and foresees 2020 as “a year of milestones” in this direction. In particular, according to the Editorial, the historic Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted 25 years ago by 189 countries at the Fourth World Conference on women in Beijing, presents “an important window of opportunity for the gender equity community to capture the attention of key national and global decision makers. For its part, The Lancet initiative will make gender and diversity a regular part of its content and editorial practices by examining the interface between health, women’s rights and gender equality, gender norms and biases, women’s leadership, as well as other areas of disadvantage such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, and poverty. Read more.

Hidden History: June Bacon-Bercey, a Pioneer for Women in Meteorology

June Bacon-Bercey, who died in 2019 at age 85, became the first woman and African-American woman to be awarded the American Meteorological Society Seal of Approval for Excellence in Television Weathercasting. Her career included working at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Weather Service at a time when men overshadowed women in scientific fields. According to her daughter, she faced more issues with gender than race. Her strong commitment to encouraging meteorological careers for women led to her participation in a game show where she won $64,000 so she could start a scholarship for women in the field. Her family is working to restore that scholarship. Read more.    

Even Nobel Prize Winners Can Make Mistakes!

In the first week of 2020, Nobel Laureate Dr. Frances Arnold retracted a paper published last year in the prestigious journal Science, after it was revealed to be incorrect. She admitted that the research for the paper, co-authored with colleagues at California Tech, was not reproducible. “’I was a bit busy when this was submitted, and did not do my job well,’” she tweeted in her apology. Other academics have praised her honesty, suggesting that “even a Nobel Prize winner can make mistakes.” Read more.   

Women from Some Minorities Get Too Few Talks

Most studies of bias in the STEM fields focus on women, often excluding the underrepresentation of minority and ethnic racial groups. A recently published study in Nature, based on data from 2014-2017 found that researchers from racial and ethnic groups in U.S. geoscience are the least likely to be offered opportunities to speak at The American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, the field’s largest meeting. The imbalance was greater for women. These findings “underscore the pressing need to support minority groups at the conference – as elsewhere in STEM – to advance equity and improve research.” Read more.

Astronaut Christina Koch Breaks Record for Longest Spaceflight by a Woman

Spaceflight has been Christina Koch’s lifelong ambition. Her first milestone, completed just a few months ago, was taking part in the first all-female spacewalk. And on December 28, she broke the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, with 289 days at the International Space Station. By the end of her mission next month, she will have spent 328 days in space. This accomplishment will contribute important information about how space affects both male and female bodies which is needed in order to make space exploration safer for all future astronauts. According to Koch, she doesn’t want to hold the record for long because she would like to see more female astronauts have extended stays in space. Read more.

Forest Ecologist Helps Refashion Barbie Dolls as Scientists

Nalini Nadkarni – a forest ecologist at the University of Utah – has always been looking for ways to interest people in science. About 15 years ago, she decided to re-fashion the iconic Barbie doll as a scientist-explorer for her daughter and brought the idea to Mattel, who wasn’t interested at that time. Not dissuaded, she called her creation “Tree Top Barbie” and sold them on her website. When Mattel began working with National Geographic last year to create a new line of Barbies, National Geographic reached out to Nadkarni with whom they had a longstanding relationship. She joined a team of female scientists as advisors to Mattel and a line of dolls that includes a marine biologist, astrophysicist, photojournalist, conservationist, and entomologist was created.
Read more.

Science Under Attack: How Trump Is Sidelining Researchers and Their Work

Since taking office, President Trump has diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while stopping or disrupting research projects nationwide, even to the extent of pressuring researchers not to speak publically. The administration has also challenged scientific findings that are opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining, especially as they relate to the environment and public health. As a result, scientists are leaving federal positions. Experts argue that this marks a transformation that could “reverberate for years.” Read more.

Earth Science Has a Whiteness Problem

The geosciences are among the least diverse across all fields of science, and the situation has not changed in the past four years with regard to race. Nearly 90% of doctoral-degree recipients are white and in the country’s top 100 geoscience departments, under 4% of people of color hold tenured or tenure-track positions. Two factors contribute to this gap: a pipeline problem due to the fact that blacks are less likely than whites to participate in outdoor activities; and stereotyping in that the typical earth scientist is viewed as “a rugged white male.” This lack of representation in turn impacts the quality and focus of earth science research, particularly climate change. Read more.

When the Surgeon is a Mom

Though American medical schools have attained gender parity, some specialties remain persistently male, namely surgery. Women account for just under one-fourth of practicing surgeons. The problem is one of work-life balance, both perceived and real.  The attrition rate for female surgical residents is 25%, 10% above that for male residents. A surgical residency can last at least seven years, require 80-hour work weeks, with little flexibility to accommodate personal or family responsibilities. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, this country will lack as many as 23,000 surgeons by 2032. While this provides an opportunity to recruit more women, the obstacles faced by women are challenging. Read more.

You Can Try Miss America’s Science Experiment at Home

A 24-year-old Miss America contestant, who is pursuing a doctor of pharmacy degree at Virginia Commonwealth University, performed a science experiment while wearing a white lab coat for the talent portion of the competition. According to a NYT article, she “sealed her legacy as a Miss America who would be remembered for winning over the judges with science.” Camille Schrier, competing with 50 other women, was crowned Miss America 2020. Her platform issue is also about science, specifically drug safety. The Dean of the College of Science at Virginia Tech recognized the impact this success could have on encouraging young girls to study and do science. Read more.

Men Call Their Own Research ‘Excellent’

In addition to the well-documented gender gaps in STEM fields with regard to professorships, grant funding, and pay, a new study published in The British Medical Journal found another component of disparity between men and women. Men are much more likely than women to praise their own clinical research and emphasize its importance, leading to more attention to published work and more citations. Articles in which the first and/or last author were both women were significantly less likely to use positive terms to describe the findings compared with articles in which the first and/or last author was a man. Citations are often a key factor in hiring, promotion, pay, and funding decisions. Read more.

STEM Bill Sponsored by Jacky Rosen Heads to President’s Desk

A bipartisan bill to expand computer science education to include more young women was passed by the House and is heading to the White House for President Trump’s signature. The Building Blocks of STEM Act, first introduced in Congress in 2015 and filed by former computer programmer Jacky Rosen (D-Nev), aims to prepare female students in the STEM fields. Read more.

Global CEOs Who Pledged to Advance Women Are Making Progress

A new report, Progress in Action: Catalyst CEO Champions for Change, shows that companies have accelerated more women into leadership positions over a five-year period and across the pipeline. More than 60 high profile companies, representing more than 10 million employees and over $3 trillion in revenue, took a pledge to advance more women, including women of color. Catalyst, a global nonprofit that helps organizations accelerate progress for women at work, participated in our 2018 Board Meeting. Read more.

Female Physicist Shocked After Wikipedia Entries Removed

Jess Wade, PhD, a research scientist at Imperial College of London, has contributed about 800 biographies of female STEM scientists to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. She was shocked to learn that 50 such entries were removed from the site by Wikipedia editors because the women were deemed not notable enough to be included. Dr. Wade has called on more women, people of color, and those from other historically under-represented groups to start editing and contributing their knowledge, arguing that “’our’” responsibility is to make the encyclopedia less biased. The chief executive of Wikimedia UK, said they are working to build an inclusive online community and ensure that the Wikimedia projects reflect our diverse society and are free from bias.” Read more.

Why is Beauty Important to Us

The New York Times asked a group of artists, writers, scientists, and thinkers a simple question: “Why is beauty, however defined, so important in our lives”? Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, University of California San Francisco and a member of the RFS Board, was among the contributors. Her words are worth repeating here: “Sometimes it is the intricacy of the barely understood dynamics of the world’s molecules, cells, organisms and ecosystems that speaks to our imagination and wonder. Sometimes there is beauty in the simple idea of science pursuing truth, or in the very process of scientific inquiry …. And isn’t there beauty and elegance in the fact that just four DNA nucleotides are patterned to produce the shared genetic information that underlies myriad seemingly unrelated forms of life?” Read more.

Staying Power for Women in STEM Improved by Mentorship, Female Leadership, Independent Funding, and Flexible Family Policies

To mark the 15th anniversary of its For Women in Science (FWIS) program, L’Orléal USA partnered with the Heising-Simons Foundation to commission a study of its alumni network. Scientists who received fellowships since 2003 were asked for their views on what is needed for women to succeed in STEM. The report, “Staying Power: Women in Science on What it Takes to Succeed,” identifies five important factors: obtaining independent grant funding; family-friendly policies and supports; formal or structural mentoring programs; career development trainings; and structured networking programs and opportunities. Of note, all respondents work in paid science-related positions today. Read more.

L’Oréal USA Announces Call for Applications for 16th Annual For Women in Science Program

The L’Oréal For Women in Science program, the U.S. component of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards program, is accepting applications through January 31, 2020. This national fellowship program recognizes and rewards women researchers at the postdoctoral stage in their careers for their scientific contributions as well as for their commitment to mentoring the next generation of women in STEM. L’Oréal partnered with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to identify five outstanding U.S.-based scientists who are granted $60,000 each to further their research. Fellows will also receive mentorship, career coaching, media training, and access to a network of female scientists. Read more.

Gender Gap in Chemistry Publishing

A report published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), Is Publishing in the Chemical Sciences Gender Biased? (November 5, 2019) identified gender disparities in the publication process. An analysis based on more than 700,000 manuscripts submitted to RSC suggests that reviewer and corresponding author representation, submission rates, and other issues could contribute to the exclusion of women throughout the publishing pipeline. For example, compared to the proportion of submitting female first authors (37%), women were underrepresented as corresponding authors (27%) and as RSC reviewers even when rates of invitations to review were comparable. Also, men were less likely to cite papers authored by women. Read more.

The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published “The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM” (October 2019) to address two gaps in the field: a systematic compilation and analysis of the current research on mentorship in STEMM; and a practical resource guide for mentoring practitioners, including institutions, departments, programs, and individual faculty member. Here, STEMM refers to: science, technology, engineering, medicine, and mathematics. Read more.