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Women in Science Panel

by Alycia Stigall

I recently participated in a panel for a Women in Science class (PBIO 2170) on campus.  The students had very well considered questions, and the answers of the other panelists were very illuminating as well.

Women in Science Share Research Experiences, Career Insights – Ohio University | College of Arts & Sciences

A panel of Ohio University researchers made their love for science, math and engineering clear as they shared their scientific expertise and career insights with a Women in Science class on April 12. The class is made up of freshmen through seniors representing colleges across Ohio University. In groups composed …

 

Stigall profiled in FOSSIL Project Newsletter

I was recently interviewed for the FOSSIL Project Spring Newsletter.  The conversation was largely focused on how I became a paleontologist, my favorite things about paleontology, my passion for outreach and education, and advice for young people considering a career in science.

You can read the online version (which looks nicer) at this link: https://www.myfossil.org/featured-professional-alycia-stigall/

A PDF version is available here

 

 

IGCP 653: Yichang Reflections

IGCP 653: Yichang Reflections

I’m currently on a 12 hour flight from Shanghai to Chicago as part of my 3 flight (and 29 hour) itinerary home from the 2nd Annual IGCP 653 meeting in Yichang, China. I can say, unreservedly, that this was a fantastic meeting!

Attendees included more than 60 delegates from 10 nations. The fact that most attendees were Chinese—and I am not—provided a wonderful opportunity for me to meet many new and upcoming scientists—both students and early career professionals that I have not previously had the opportunity to interact with. I was so impressed by the quality of their science and their ability to communicate at a high level on an international stage. What a talented group of young scientists! I am incredibly encouraged and inspired by them.

Of course, I was also able to reunite with (and meet new) colleagues from Europe, Africa, and North America as well. Truly this meeting met the spirit of UNESCO, our funding agency for the IGCP project, in terms of bridging international divides and fostering common interests and collaborations.

At this conference, provocative scientific ideas were espoused—generating substantial discussion, important geologic sections were visited (including the GSSPs for both the Hirnantian and Dapingian stages!), and cultural differences were both explored and celebrated. It’s exciting both how much we have learned about the Great Ordovician Biodiverisfication Event in terms of ocean chemistry, oxygenation patterns, diversity patterns of metazoans and also how much we have to learn—such as when did this event start and end, whether such things can be clearly defined, and what does that mean for the Earth system?

Speaking for myself, my favorite parts were probably the fact that we had an international assemblage of brachiopod workers to talk with (it’s great-and rare to be among people that love my favorite fossils as much as I do!) and that there were so many dynamic young female researchers in the group.

As anyone who is relatively close to me knows, I am very concerned with increasing participation in science on both a national and international level. I was so encouraged to see so many young and dynamic female scientists! Female students earned awards for both poster and oral presentations. This is pretty groundbreaking.

To place this in context, I had a conversation with a colleague, who I generally admire very much as a scientist, in which he said to me one evening {I’m paraphrasing} “You know, we always try to hire men instead of women for permanent jobs. You can’t say that in open meetings, but in secret meetings, we always say this.” I asked why this was the case and was told that it could be problematic for women to both be in charge of or be the majority of a field team to remote regions. I pushed back on this concept (I certainly was told the similar things as a grad student), and my friend said “Well, most women are not like you. They are not assertive and independent.” On one level, I was glad that my colleague appreciated that some women could be leaders, but it also made clear to me that there are many countries where women still need to fight hard to be considered scientific equals. I am not special. Female scientists need the chance to grow and shine and deserve the same support as our male colleagues.

The male student at our table noted that the female students work much harder and achieve higher levels of excellence than the male students. He sees the value in this contemporaries, and I am heartened that over time this view will win out…but I’d much rather we achieve equity in the near term and not wait 20 years and lose out on the great science these young women could have done by excluding them.

I hope that my work in the international community can help to foster a sense of empowerment for female (and other underrepresented) scientists in both the USA and other nations. At this meeting, I was assertive. I capitalized on my leadership as a co-chair of IGCP 653 role to be present, to chair sessions, to judge and present awards, to invite everyone to Athens, Ohio in 2018, and I hope that seeing one woman do that in a sea dominated by male leadership can help to inspire the fantastic and talented women that I met at this meeting to be assertive and empowered in their own scientific lives.

 

Diversity, equity, and scientific misconduct

by Alycia Stigall
Diversity, equity, and scientific misconduct

For the past few decades, there has been a push to increase diversity in science. However, many of those efforts have been targeted at fitting members of under represented minorities within the structural framework developed in the early 20th century or before.  When that structural framework was developed, the typical scientist was a white male who was either single or had a spouse who did not work outside the home.  Such a profile no longer fits the majority of people who aspire to become professional scientists.  Thus, in order to achieve full inclusion and enhanced participation in science, changes must be made to structural barriers that restrict participation in science.

Recently, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) adopted a new Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics Policy that is a step forward in changing the scientific culture to reduce structural barriers to full participation in science.  The AGU Board of Directors approved a revised code of ethics that includes language against sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination.

Here is the announcement of the policy: https://eos.org/agu-news/agu-revises-its-integrity-and-ethics-policy

Announcement from On The Prow: http://fromtheprow.agu.org/setting-the-bar-high-to-end-harassment-in-the-sciences/

And here is the policy itself: http://ethics.agu.org/files/2013/03/Scientific-Integrity-and-Professional-Ethics.pdf

This policy is a bold and necessary step forward in reducing structural barriers to participation by underrepresented minority groups. By including harassment, discrimination, and bullying as equally egregious types of scientific misconduct as classically recognized research misconduct like data falsification and plagiarism, this policy aims to provide a more equitable working conditions and that can foster truly collaborative and innovative science.

Importantly, AGU has provided not just a policy, but mechanisms to enforce the policy. I am particularly impressed that AGU has developed a process to mediate and handle misconduct that does not rise to the level of formal complaint.

Formal complaints are often met with backlash, which reduces the frequency that harassment, discrimination and bullying events are reported.  So having a support system for incidents that may be perceived as a lower threat—at least initially—is really important. Many of the challenges that underpresented scientists face can be classified as microagressions, which build up over time and become significant factors in why members of underrepresented groups choose to leave science.

I am enthusiastic about AGU’s new ethics policy. Yes, a policy doesn’t change the culture of science overnight. But having strong policies like this will provide a pathway for the really needed and overdue culture shifts to operate and strengthen. By making discrimination, bullying, and harassment a mainstream scientific concern, AGU is taking a bold and meaningful step in building a better, more inclusive geoscience community.

Alumni Symposium: Women in Geology

Every other spring, the Department of Geological Sciences alumni converge on Athens for a weekend of networking and reunions that is centered around a full day symposium where alumni, students, and faculty share their current work. This year, our Alumni Board chose to focus on Women in Geology and asked me to give a presentation on that topic.

I was delighted to develop a presentation on this topic as it’s both near and dear to my heart (and career), and I have published several pieces on gender issues in paleontology previously (GSA Today, Priscum). So I spent the better part of two weeks diving back into the literature on implicit bias, structural barriers to women, and locating data on women at the student through professional levels. I will say, for the record, this topic is not fun to dive into. It is important and I hoped that I could make a contribution by educating our alumni broadly about these issues, but it is emotionally taxing to read study after study showing empirical data for continuing bias in geoscience—and science in general.

I focused on my presentation on data. Data that demonstrate that: YES we have many women training to be geologists (nearly 45% of undergraduates), so we are developing a strong pool of qualified female geologists. But the data also demonstrate that NO these women are not fully participating in the geoscience workforce, which his only 23% female.

That disparity CANNOT be explained by historical biases alone. Women have been earning nearly half of geoscience degrees for at least the past 15 years, but the junior work force does not match the training pool.

So I explored the reasons for this starting with overt discrimination (which is present, but less common than in decades past), sexual harassment, gendered critiques, implicit bias, and structural barriers. These issues create feedback loops that instill lower self-confidence and greater workloads for women and ultimately push women out of the workforce.

Implicit bias, in which individuals allow ingrained stereotypes to unconsciously bias our opinions and decisions, is a significant problem. If you are not familiar with implicit bias, here are a series of empirical studies you can read. I’m particularly fond of this one about hurricane names (Jung et al., 2014) and this about lab tech hiring (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012).

More implicit bias studies:

Implicit bias is difficult because we all have it—it’s a societal issue, not a male vs. female issue. You can assess your level of implicit bias using a set of online quizzes at projectimplicit.net.

But if we each individually learn to recognize our bias, we can then take steps to mitigate that in hiring decisions, reference letters, etc. For example, here are tips to avoid bias in reference letters that frequently consult.

Overall, women are in a much stronger position within the geosciences than ever before. We are making strides toward parity, and if men and women work together to remove the barriers to full participation by women (and other gender identities) in geoscience, our field will be even stronger.

Although, I–like all women in science–could spend hours detailing specific events of bias during my career, they have not prevented me from becoming the scientist, I am today.  Rather, some things have molded me to be a more determined advocate for myself, my students, and our community as a whole. So I spent my presentation detailing the data to help others understand both the need for change and how we can all work together to improve our field for all people and to build a science combining a broader breadth of ideas and experiences.   I am very fortunate to belong to a very supportive department and to be able to contribute to mentoring the next generation of geoscientists.

*I have not discussed racial diversity in this post. Similar proportional increases in number of geoscience degrees earned are NOT occurring for minority groups in geoscience. All the structural and implicit barriers discussed impact racial diversity as well as a series of additional constraints. More on this later.