Profile: 500 Women Scientists, the organisation that’s building a more inclusive scientific society on a global scale

We chat to the organisation's social media director Wendy Bohon, along with five inspiring Bristol and Bath-based scientists who are part of its 'Find a Women Scientist' database
8th March 2018

Many of the challenges facing today’s society – global warming and climate change, cancer and obesity – need more scientific research in order to reach solutions. It is more important now than ever to encourage people to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). As part of this, we need to make STEM more accessible to everyone.

500 Women Scientists is an organisation that has pledged to support this movement by building a more inclusive scientific society. Made up of over 20,000 women in STEM from more than 100 countries, this is a community that’s making a positive impact on a global scale.

“Together we push to strengthen the support for traditionally under-represented groups to fully participate in and become leaders in science”

 

Wendy Bohon (pictured right), a member of the leadership board and the social media director for 500 Women Scientists, tells us: “We provide mentoring, both peer to peer and mentor-mentee. We also supply access to a wide selection of resources such as media training, science communication training and training to end harassment.

“We serve society by running ‘science salons‘, and by working in our communities to expose people to science and march in national, global and local protests too.”

The organisation also arranges networking events, workshops, meetups, campaigns and more on an international scale, to increase diversity in science and find innovative solutions to the problems that women in STEM encounter daily.

A global enterprise

500 Women Scientists is based in the US, but Wendy stresses the need to view the world of science as a global enterprise. She explains: “The most important challenges facing our world today – climate change, clean air and water, gender parity and social equity and many more – affect everyone and it will take a global community effort to face and address these challenges. Our organisation is global, but we believe that real change comes from working on a local scale.”

“We welcome all identifying women scientists to become members”

 

The organisation has pods and local chapters that operate independently under the overall mission. The members are free to focus on the issues that are of importance in their community and to utilise their skills and interests in the best possible way.

As explored in the organisations pledge: “Together, we… push to strengthen the support for traditionally under-represented groups to fully participate in and become leaders in science.”

To become a member of 500 Women Scientists, sign their pledge and get involved in a pod. If there isn’t a pod in your area, you can start one. “We welcome all identifying women scientists to become members,” says Wendy, “and all others to become allies to our mission!”

Request a Woman Scientist

As well as the resources discussed above, the organisation recently created an exciting new database – Request a Woman Scientist – where reporters, teachers, conference organisers and potential collaborators can go to find women in science. The resource can be accessed for free and results can be filtered by field of study, location, degree status and more.

“500 Women scientists is invaluable… because it will allow people the option to look up a woman scientist where previously they might default to a man”

 

We found five Bath and Bristol-based women scientists using the resource who told us more about their involvement with the organisation and why they feel it’s so important.

Joanna Bryson

Joanna Bryson (pictured right) is a senior research fellow at the University of Bath. She works in understanding the nature of intelligence for different species. Joanna intends to make it easier to build artificial intelligence to help her with simulations and in applying her work to industrial applications. She is also working actively on AI ethics and AI policy and has recently started a project funded by AXA.

[Photo credit: OECD/Hervé Cortinat]

She tells us: “Women are excellent researchers and programmers yet very few go into, or stay in, these careers. Serving as a role model is important – part of the problem is that the career is not seen as feminine and that is partly because women’s work is not as widely promoted as men’s work – there’s a feedback cycle we all have to work to break.”

Commenting on what it means to base her research in Bath, she adds: “There’s an excellent quality of life, great universities, a fantastic and vibrant tech community. It’s also easy to get to key policy cities, like Brussels, Geneva, London, and Paris, often by train.”

You can attend Joanna’s talk at the University of Bath this April as part of a special semester on AI ethics. Joanna’s team has also just received a major investment from the UK government and industry to close the digital divide, with special attention to underrepresented groups including women. They will be hiring new faculty and will be offering new training opportunities.

Sarah Peters

Sarah Peters (pictured left) is based in the School of Experimental Psychology and the Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Bristol. Her research is concentrated on the development of a digital health intervention for depression. Using epidemiological and genetic techniques, Sarah aims to evaluate the nature of how these cognitions interact with stressful life events to predict subsequent depression.

“There is a real public desire for more diverse voices across disciplines and I’m proud to be a part of that”

 

Being a scientist in Bristol is important to Sarah, as she explains: “My location, and the professors with whom I work here, enable me to carry out research using ALSPAC, a large, longitudinal dataset based in Avon. ALSPAC consists of rich, detailed data from more than 14,000 individuals across their lifespan, which allows for study of the environmental and genetic factors that affect an individual’s health over time.”

What’s more, on being part of a wider network of female scientists, she tells us: “It’s essential to acknowledge the contributions that distinguished women in STEM have made throughout history, but it’s just as important to include the voices of working female scientists in public spaces, who children can relate to and contact. The 500 Women Scientists resource launched in January 2018, and it’s already having a global impact. To me, this suggests that there is a real public desire for more diverse voices across disciplines – and I’m proud to be a part of that.”

If you’re interested in getting involved in Sarah’s research, or have any further questions, she can be contacted via email or on Twitter.

Lori Bystrom

Lori Bystrom (pictured right) is a Lecturer in Food Enterprise at Bath Spa University, where her research focuses on the use of natural products, mostly foods, for preventive medicine.

“I think 500 Women Scientists gives more women a voice while providing a supportive environment at the same time”

 

She tells us: “I joined 500 Women Scientists because I think it’s really important for women scientists to be heard. I’ve often felt like I didn’t have much of a voice in the academic science world. Over the course of six years, as a postdoctoral researcher, I’ve witnessed many women scientists leave academia because of the hostile environment.

“I also saw many women punished for trying to develop independent research projects. All of this frustrated me and made me realise that people should be more aware of these problems. I think 500 Women Scientists gives more women a voice while providing a supportive environment at the same time. I think this is not only important for women in the scientific community, but also for the future of science.”

“There is a great startup community in this region that are stimulating lots of exciting research”

 

Lori recently moved to Bristol from New York City, where she was conducting postdoctoral research at Weill Cornell Medical College. There, her research involved investigating the anti-leukemia effects of various natural products.

Commenting on the move to Bath, she adds: “I think there are several great universities in Bristol and Bath, and I feel fortunate I can work with universities in both areas. I also think there is a great startup community in this region that are stimulating lots of exciting research.”

You can keep up with Lori’s research by following her on Twitter.

Nicol Caplin

Nicol Caplin (pictured left), a PhD research student based at UWE Bristol, is being funded by the Natural Environment Research Council as part of the Radioactivity and the Terrestrial Environment programme for TREE (TRansfer-Exposure-Effects). Her PhD involves a long-term experiment that examines the morphology and physiology of plants exposed to chronic ionising radiation (cIR), similar to that found in parts of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Nicol says: “I want to make women’s voices in science heard and easy to access using the user-friendly database.”

You can follow Nicol on Twitter to keep up with her research.

Nicola Grahamslaw

Nicola Grahamslaw (right) is a mechanical engineer and has just started a new job at the SS Great Britain Trust in Bristol as the ship’s conservation engineer. There she primarily focuses on long-term conservation of the ship and also aiming to reduce the energy consumption and carbon footprint of the trust’s conservation activities.

“Ideally future generations will grow up accustomed to seeing women scientists”

 

She tells us: “I think it’s important to show a balanced cross-section of scientists when representing the profession to the public and particularly to young potential scientists of the future. We want to create a culture of inclusivity and portray science as a career area which is suitable for anyone of any gender (or age, or ethnic background).

“Ideally future generations will grow up accustomed to seeing women scientists, leading to the perception that gender diversity is the “norm” in science. A resource like 500 Women scientists is invaluable in working towards this goal because it will allow people the option to look up a woman scientist where previously they might default to a man because that’s who they happen to know or have heard of.”

To sign up to be a resource on the Request a Woman Scientist page, simply enter your details here.

“We need more women scientists in the public sphere,” Wendy emphasises, “we need to amplify the voices of women, show the amazing work they’re doing, and change the idea of what a scientist looks like.”

 You can find out more about the organisation via the 500 Women Scientists website or by following them on Twitter here: @500womensci.