Before I started my career in the lab (more than a decade ago now) I was blissfully unaware of the need for professional women in science organizations. I didn’t realize that I would eventually yearn for a community of other ladies, with a passion for science, that I could go to for advice and insight.
That’s why I was so excited last year when I stumbled upon Women in Science – PDX. While the group originally started at OHSU as a way to foster better academic opportunities for women in research, it’s since grown into a full fledge non-profit that puts on networking events, professional development classes, advocates for girls in STEM and more.
Women in STEM around PDX
Before moving to Portland, I lived in worked in the biotech hub known as Research Triangle Park (RTP) in North Carolina. With multiple large universities nearby (NC State, Carolina, and Duke), the area has a broad pool of talent to supply a growing biotech and engineering community.
However, when I moved to Portland, there was not the same industry and therefore, the networks built around them were more limited. There are certainly large healthcare systems.
OSHU is the state’s only medical school but performs a diverse range of medical research. It’s also the largest employer in Portland.
Just a bit west of Portland you’ll find the Silicon Forest. Semiconductor and hardware companies are scattered throughout Beaverton and Hillsboro.
All of this to say, there is obviously a scientific community in the area. However, there wasn’t a centralized group for women. That’s where WIS-PDX comes in.
Why Do We Need a Group for Women in Science
The first question that many people ask is, “Why do you need a group specifically for women?”
First of all, it’s a group that advocates for all women identifying people within any realm of science. Women are underrepresented across many branches of science. Without the full range of voices present, we’re potentially missing out on creative and innovative discoveries.
In addition, underrepresentation can lead to gaps within research, as we’ve seen before in medicine. The more we can support women pursuing all kinds of scientific careers, the better.
This starts with advocating for more STEM education throughout middle school and high school. It’s been well documented for some time now that girls are less likely to pursue STEM fields when entering their teenage years. WIS-PDX want to show young girls that a career in science, any branch of it, is possible.
Mothers and Scientists
Another point where many women drop out of the science workforce is when they become mothers. While many men become fathers during the course of their graduate degrees, it’s just not the same for women.
It’s incredibly difficult to juggle the responsibilities of motherhood with the requirements of building a career in academia. And no one is really talking about it. Many programs assume you will focus solely on your education and only then will you consider starting a family. But by that time, the window of child bearing years is much smaller.
With limited maternity leave options and sometimes outright discrimination, WIS-PDX is hoping to shed some light on the subject in their new blog series Parenting Pathways. It talks to real mothers in science about the good and the bad of building a career in science and raising children. (Full disclosure, the blog series is edited by yours truly.)
A Gathering Place for Portland Women in Science
In addition to advocating for women in science, WIS-PDX gives us a place to connect. It serves as a judgment-free resource to ask questions and find mentors. If you are a woman with a career in science (or hope to have one), check out all the offerings over at WIS-PDX. This growing community is full of education and support for us all.