The Future We Create: Women in Science

by Gabrielle DeMarco on March 2, 2011

At the lab benches, in the board rooms of Fortune 500 companies, before the podium of advanced graduate courses, even within the White House. Today, more and more women are in these places of influence in science and engineering.

One of those successful scientists, Professor Linda McGown, took part in a virtual conference earlier this week on how to continue to foster and support women in science. Called “The Future We Create,” the conference gave 60 exceptional women in chemistry and related fields one minute each to provide some insight into what it means to be a woman in science today.

McGown, who is more formally known as the William Weightman Walker Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rensselaer, provides an excellent example of what a woman dedicated to science can achieve. A fellow of AAAS, she studies a broad range of important topics within her lab from genomic DNA, to the origins of life, to nanotechnology.

During the virtual conference she joined former governors, journalists, leading chemists and other scientists, and business leaders to share insight on how to succeed in science. The 60-minute conversation discussed topics like leadership, preserving the pipeline of women in science, the creation of family-responsible policies in the work place, and mentorship.

Here is McGown’s insight from the talk:

Over the course of my 30 plus years in academia, I am constantly reminded of the importance of engaging in conversations with colleagues and students. It is incredibly enriching and productive to reach beyond your immediate area of expertise and discover different ways of identifying and framing the key scientific questions.

If you are teaching more than learning, then you stop growing as a scientist. The way to learn is not only through immersion in your field, but through connecting with other creative individuals who can lead your thoughts in new directions.

I find this is best achieved when research groups are smaller and less confining than traditional large, hierarchical groups that tend to look inward for expertise and ideas.

I hope that in the future, such smaller, interconnected groups will become the model for academic research.

Another participant was Mary Good. Good is an honorary member of our Board of Trustees and founding Dean of the Donaghey College of Engineering & Information Technology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Good is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a past president of the American Chemical Society as well as the AAAS and winner of the prestigious NSF Vannevar Bush Award. Good talks about the exciting and unexpected places a chemistry degree can take a young scientist. And she would know, having worked for four U.S. Presidents and held positions on the board of several top U.S. scientific companies.

To see all the insights go to Good is Chapter 8 and McGown Chapter 10.