Women in Science: Introduction

The vital importance of gender equity has often been proclaimed, but the world is still a different one for women than it is for men. This is especially true for our community--the community of scientists. Although nearly half of the science undergraduates are female, fewer than 4% of women scientists reach leading positions in research facilities. This dearth of women in top positions creates a vicious cycle: Women are absent in policy-shaping debates, which means that there are few role models for women coming up the system. And it certainly doesn't help that pay, recognition, and access to information are still far from equal for male and female colleagues.

But now, for the first time since they were admitted to universities 100 years ago, women have a real chance to achieve parity in one of the remaining bastions of male dominance: scientific research. And although they are still a minority, female scientists that offer encouraging examples can be found at all levels in science.

For this month's special feature, Next Wave invited some of these women to tell their stories. These scientists let us know about their work life in and outside academia, they describe the gender-related obstacles they have had to face and surmount, and they share their individual efforts to find ways to successfully balance both family and career responsibilities.

Elizabeth Hood advises "above all be true to yourself and your desires." Currently a vice president at ProdiGene Inc. in Texas, Hood talks about the rocky beginning to her career and the continuously evolving realization of her desires and capabilities.

Monika Lessl , managing director of the Ernst Schering Research Foundation in Germany and mother of a 1-year-old daughter, provides a fascinating career model in an industrial research setting that includes allowances for maternity.

Silke Meiners , a postdoc at Berlin's Humboldt University in Germany, tells us inspiringly what lessons she had to learn to combine her two jobs. She not only leads a research group, but she also became a mother just 6 months ago.

Shelly Wismath , who teaches mathematics at Lethbridge University in Canada, is well aware that she represents one of very few role models for young female math students. Wismath explains how she came to be where she is today, and she points to the importance of fostering a sense of community among women in science.

Fostering a sense of community is a topic addressed in detail in the essays that accompany the role-model articles in this month's feature. Also offered are a male's perspective on the status of women in science and an essay describing the pros and cons of careers for women in industry.

Susan Forsburg , a biologist at the Salk Institute in California, discusses the importance of mentors and mentoring, and she recommends approaches that you can take to build a community and successfully establish women's networks.

Doug Curran-Everett of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center gives us a male perspective on the situation of women scientists, and he offers strategies for advancing your scientific career.

Jan Peters heads the U.K. Department of Trade and Industry's Promoting SET for Women Unit, a position she has reached by taking the opportunities that have come her way. In her current position she works to encourage girls to consider careers in science and to improve the career development opportunities of women in universities and industry. She writes about her experiences and her perspectives.

Kirstie Urquhart , the editor of the U.K. Next Wave site, highlights the pros and cons for women considering careers in either academia or industry, with interviews of women who have switched from one to the other.

The perceived advantages for women pursuing a scientific career in an industrial setting are also discussed in one of the two articles in this month's feature that describe grants designed to support individuals returning to research after a family-related hiatus. In these articles:

Candace Robinson from Canada's Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) introduces a new and controversially debated program to appoint more Canadian women researchers to tenure-track or tenured positions.

Melissa Mertl , GrantsNet editor, gives you a valuable and detailed survey of grants and awards that support women in science.

And if all these articles were not enough, we have also compiled a resource list with links of interest to female scientists, including links to women lobby groups, networks, and special funding programs.

Last but certainly not least, we proudly present a new collaboration between Science's Next Wave and the Association for Women in Science (AWIS). Recognizing the continued importance of the issues raised in this month's feature for scientists in general and female scientists in particular, Next Wave will publish articles that also appear in the AWIS Magazine. In return, AWIS members will receive full access to the Next Wave site. In entering this partnership, the objective of both groups is to make sure that the debate on gender equity in science stays on the front burner. We hope, too, that the sharing of articles and readers will make for an even better resource for all early career scientists contemplating difficult career- or family-related decisions.

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