Friday, June 09, 2006

Across the pond

I'm going to get on my "women in science" bandwagon and once again high five the European Life Sciences Organization (ELSO) for creating a Database of Expert Women in the Molecular Life Sciences to increase the visibility of European women from post-docs to senior group leaders. I came across this article via Pam Marino, Women in Cancer Research's Communication guru. In Karla Neugebauer's article in PLoS Biology, she brings up an interesting point.
Governments and scientific organizations are logically concerned about the failure of women to progress in science because they provide the resources for scientific education and training—from primary schooling to university education, to pre- and post-doctoral fellowships.
Their gamble is that this investment will provide returns in the form of discovery and technological innovation. If 50% of the beneficiaries do not advance within their fields, this is perceived as a waste of education and training. Clearly, not every post-graduate student of science can become a professor—there are simply not enough professorships to go around. However, we place faith in our merit-based system of hiring and funding as the means of selecting the best talent to lead science, technology, society, and our economies into the future. But unless something changes, much of our female talent will continue to be permanently lost to science.
Now call me crazy but this makes logical and financial sense to me but I don't believe this aspect of the attrition of women in science has hit American academic research on the head yet. (By the way, Karla M. Neugebauer is a group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, and a member of the Career Development Committee of ELSO. She currently manages ELSO's Database of Expert Women in the Molecular Life Sciences).

Intrigued by the database, I went to the ELSO Career Development Committee page. I was impressed. Clicking on the database brings you the names of 370 "expert women" whose pedigrees, areas of interest and pubmed publications can be researched by a single click of the mouse. What also caught my eye was the mentoring resources listed under the Women in Science link in the left column. These are resources specific to women. Even more links can be found under the Mentoring Resources link in the same left column.

This then prompted me to search the Women in Cancer Research part of the AACR website, which by the way is deftly hidden under the Membership tab. I was hard pressed to find the word "mentoring" except in Point 4 under the Mission and Purposes section. I did surprisingly find, under the WICR leadership link on the left bottom a description of several conferences held on professional career development with an emphasis on women in science. The last one was held in 2004. I follow this with two questions, 1) Why did these stop and 2) I'm on the WICR email list and a member of WICR. Why was I not aware that these had taken place?

Yes, I admit it. I'm a disgruntled WICR member. I have some experience with this organization and I think it's lost it's focus. The Council is now populated with high profile women at the advanced stages of their career, except for one lone Assistant Professor. I supported their move from independent entity to bonafide council within AACR. I'm revisiting that decision. When that occurred, it suddenly became of interest to more of the established women scientists who didn't give it much of a turn of the head before. Granted some amazing women started this council - like Leila Diamond and Bridgit Leventhal. I wonder what they would think of it now.

This all leads me back to a previous post which suggests that Europe seems to be way ahead of the curve in trying to better address women's issues as they relate to scientific careers. Maybe it's time to move across the pond....

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