Science

Musings

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to give advice to your younger self? Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but it’s still an interesting assignment to ponder. I recently had the opportunity to think about—and write about—this very topic in an ongoing series, “Letters to My Younger Self,” published by The Daily Muse.

I was honored to be able to contribute my advice, and to be included among such distinguished women.

Summer Research

I always enjoy attending the annual student Summer Research Poster Session, which is the culmination—and celebration—of a summer’s worth of research in the sciences and social sciences at Wellesley. This event always generates so much excitement and energy, which is infectious!

On Thursday, I stopped by the Science Center Library and was impressed by the depth and breadth of research presented this year—from a computer science lab that investigated political speech and manipulation on Twitter, to a geosciences lab where a student looked at childhood lead poisoning from a socioeconomic perspective, to a sociology lab that studied the social constructs of bullying, and a chemistry lab working on developing a multipurpose nanoparticle to treat pancreatic cancer.

Most of our Summer Research students are Wellesley students, although some come from other colleges. There is also a group of high school students who spent the summer doing research with their Wellesley mentors.

The scholars I spoke to on Thursday were grateful for the opportunity to spend a summer doing research—to test out a hypothesis that they formed in a class this past year, to get a head start on their upcoming senior thesis, or to determine if a particular field or discipline is really for them.  They are all most appreciative of the opportunity to work directly with faculty researchers in an active professional endeavor.  One student expressed it this way to me:  In a classroom, you feel like a student, but in this summer research program, you feel like a collaborator—you are one.

I was pleased to encounter a number of students who have no intention of majoring or working in a science field. One good example of this is a history major who worked in a chemistry lab this summer on a complex project. Faculty encourage all of our students to try their hand at real research.

The number of students participating in Summer Research at Wellesley has increased tremendously over time. The program has become increasingly competitive, as student interest exceeds capacity. Such opportunities are important for students, and we need to make sure these experiences continue to be available.

I am particularly pleased with the increased interest because I know this program is exactly the right program to help fill the science pipeline for the world and the right kind of program to overcome the stereotypical biases that convince so many capable young women that they can not do science.  All of them leave this program knowing that they can.

Science Leadership, Women’s Leadership, and Cherry Blossoms

I have just returned from a trip to Washington DC, where the cherry blossoms were bravely brightening the parks, despite temperatures that never rose above the mid-40s.

On my first night I participated in a panel on women’s leadership at the National Archives. I joined Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, Catharine Hill, president of Vassar College, and Georgia Nugent, president of Kenyon College. The panel at the National Archives is an annual event, where they invite women leaders from different sectors—this year it focused on academic leaders. One of the several points that I emphasized that evening was the importance of having inspirational and supportive professors to build the confidence necessary for women to become leaders—a fact fully appreciated by the many Wellesley alumnae in the audience, including the Class of 2010, who was strongly represented. In fact, I was both surprised and gratified by the turnout—the William G. McGowan Theater of the National Archives was almost filled, and there was more than 45 minutes of a lively Q and A afterward. Overall, I thought it was a great event. Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education both reported on the panel discussion.

The next day, I attended a day-long meeting of ARISE (Advancing Research In Science and Engineering), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences committee on which I serve. This committee is composed of science leaders from both academia and industry. We continued to work on formulating policy recommendations that would ensure more stable funding of the science enterprise and better cooperation between the government, industry, and universities. As usual the day included much discussion and disputation; for me, the day was inspirational. I was impressed and gratified by the committee’s recognition that the social sciences and humanities often bear the brunt of funding cuts, and by their determination to avoid such cuts. We made good progress and I look forward to the next meeting.

Women leaders, good science, and cherry blossoms—a worthwhile two days.