PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Though significant disparities in the representation of women in the sciences remain, the degree of success that women are attaining in many STEM fields is cause for celebration and encouragement, especially for younger women considering careers in the field, say the organizers of a daylong “Inspiring Women in Science” event at Brown on April 20. About 200 people are expected to attend the event, which begins at 9 a.m. in the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts.
Free and open to members of the public who register, the event will highlight six women who will speak about their work and careers: neuroscientist Huda Akil of the University of Michigan; cognitive neuroscientist Marlene Behrmann of Carnegie Mellon University; engineer Carol Espy-Wilson of the University of Maryland; geophysicist Karen Fischer of Brown; molecular biologist Bethany Jenkins of the University of Rhode Island; and atmospheric scientist Amanda Lynch of Brown.
Also speaking will be two of the three women to lead Brown: President Christina Paxson, professor of economics and international and public affairs, and Sheila Blumstein, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, who served the University as interim president from February 2000 to July 2001.
Event co-organizers 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, answered questions about the event.
The day is framed as a celebration of inspiring women scientists. Why is that an important celebration to have right now?
Dima Amso: In my view, the most important contribution we can make is to encourage and inspire the next generation of women scientists. There is no better way to do that than to celebrate and honor the contributions of today's best women scientists.
Diane Lipscombe: 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. 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.
Is this a good time for women in science, or is it worrying, or maybe a little of both?
Amso: I think it is a wonderful time for women and men to dedicate their lives to science and progress. Historically, women have been underrepresented in the sciences. The goal of this program is to offer strong examples of scientific success stories for young women, from diverse backgrounds, to turn to for inspiration.
Lipscombe: It’s a great time for women in science. Everyone should follow their passion and, for a scientist, there’s nothing quite like the joy of research, innovation and discovery. What’s worrying to many of us is that change has been slow in coming, and gender disparity remains in the STEM fields, particularly at higher ranks. But we all lose if we don’t take advantage of our most talented scientists.
What inspires you about the science the honored speakers are engaged in? It’s notable, for example, that the program is not all brain science and not all Brown.
Amso: The speakers were selected by a committee of scientists that also sought input from a range of STEM department chairs and institute directors at Brown. They are a powerful and inspirational group of women that have changed their respective disciplines and that we are honored to host here.
Lipscombe: It was important to us to engage scientists from both inside and from outside of Brown. While every one of our speakers has their own individual journey, they have in common an unrelenting determination, passion for research, and scientific talent — and all of our speakers have given back to their communities and mentored the next generation of scientists.
While those six scientists will discuss their work and careers, other speakers, including two Brown presidents and artist Diane Samuels, will also address the conference. What will they highlight?
Lipscombe: Diane Samuels’ “Lines of Sight” symbolizes a bridge connecting the arts and sciences. Her installation in Sidney Frank Hall literally connects the two buildings and it was the first of Brown's “percent for art” installations. The inscriptions on the bridge, combined with the view across campus toward Simmons Quad in one direction and toward Pembroke in the other, remind us that we’re part of a wonderful integrated community. The construction of the bridge was a feat of engineering, and Diane will be in conversation with Jo-Ann Conklin [of the Bell Gallery] to discuss the concept, design and the challenges installing.
We are incredibly fortunate to have amazing women scholars and researchers at Brown participating in the conference, most notably our current and former presidents, Christina Paxson and Sheila Blumstein. I don’t know what they will say, but they are guaranteed to inspire.
What do you hope the impact will be? For instance, what are some of the actions or thoughts you hope the event will inspire among the diversity of people who attend?
Lipscombe: First and foremost, we hope that the audience is inspired by our speakers and that they learn something new. We also 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.