Science & Research

Science network expands to nonprofit

Earth Science Women’s Network provides support forums, organizes events for women in science

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, October 20, 2014

In 2002, a group of six women started gathering to discuss their careers in the sciences, covering topics from office dynamics to balancing postdoctoral research with child rearing. That informal network, co-founded by a Brown faculty member and an alum, has evolved into a primarily electronic community called the Earth Science Women’s Network and now includes over 2,000 members. 

After receiving funding from the National Science Foundation, the ESWN launched as an official nonprofit organization this month.

ESWN’s main purpose since its creation has been to connect women scientists to one another, said Meredith Hastings, assistant professor of geological sciences and co-founder of the network. As members of the ESWN, women can connect via online forums to discuss a wide range of topics and issues they face in their careers.

“It’s been really amazing to watch it grow and succeed,” Hastings said. “I measure success on whether women feel that (ESWN) is a positive resource for them, and I think over and over we’ve seen women find that connecting with other women in sciences has really benefited them.”

Depending on funding availability, the network also sponsors  in-person events. These workshops, Hastings said, focus on skills outside of PhD research training. “To be successful as a scientist, you need other skills than just knowing how to do research,” Hastings said.

In the past, these workshops have covered soft skill development such as conflict resolution, communication skills and emotional intelligence, Hastings added.

The ESWN also tries to establish a presence at science conferences. “I like particularly that at big conferences, they always have some sort of meet up,” said Dorothy Fibiger AM’12 PhD’14, who joined the network while she was a student of Hastings’. “It’s nice not to have to rely on your male colleagues for the social aspect, which is really big.”

After the previous NSF funding expired in 2013, the ESWN decided to pursue becoming a nonprofit organization as a next step, said co-founder Tracey Holloway ’95, professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. By becoming a nonprofit, “we could have access to a wider range of fundraising forces and also dispense money in a more flexible way.”

As a nonprofit, the ESWN hopes to both build upon what has been successful and also to expand its public reach, Holloway said. She added that the network is considering taking several directions, including building a greater public profile, highlighting member research and potentially expanding into undergraduate circles.

Hastings said another goal of the organization is to dispense seed grants and travel funds to women scientists, which would allow them to pursue research or attend conferences they otherwise would not be able to attend.

While the ESWN has provided a strong support network for women scientists, there are still a “number of different barriers to women succeeding” in science, Hastings said.

“One of the ones that comes up a lot is that in academia, the tenure clock — the most intense time of your career — coincides with the biological clock.” One of the ESWN’s biggest goals is being able to provide financial support to women who need to travel for their careers while also caring for a family at home, Hastings said.

Brown represents a fairly “typical” environment for women in science, in that some departments have greater representation of women while others still do not, Hastings said. While she described her department — Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences — as “ a really supportive and communicative environment,” Hastings said “the departments that are really underrepresented in terms of women and minorities tend to have a culture that makes it difficult for women and minorities to succeed.”

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