The physicist who struggles to navigate the politics of her lab because her competence is perceived as making her less “likable.” The medical researcher who misses out on career guidance as would-be mentors gravitate toward her male colleagues. The high school student who never even embarks on her science career, because she’s been conditioned to believe she can’t be successful.
These are just a few examples of the stereotyping and gender bias that hold women back in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (collectively referred to as “STEM”). Now, through a powerful gift from two of the nation’s most prominent philanthropists, Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science is taking on these and other challenges in an effort to make the STEM fields more equitable and inclusive.
With a gift from Andrew and Ann Tisch, Stony Brook has established the Alda Center Women in STEM Research Fund. This new fund is being used to support a two-year research project to address the communication needs of women in STEM fields, where women continue to be a clear minority, holding as few as 10.6 percent of all engineering jobs in the U.S. and 13.9 percent of all positions in physics and astronomy, according to census data from 2000.
“Stony Brook University is committed to taking a leadership role in fostering gender equality on our campus and far beyond,” said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD. “We are proud to establish this partnership with Andrew and Ann Tisch, employing the world-class scholarship of the Alda Center to address the particular challenges faced by women in the STEM fields.”
“We hope to look to science and research communications to help young women choose to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math,” Andrew Tisch said. “The absence of women in these fields is both striking and unacceptable in our knowledge and technology-driven society. More women need to view STEM as an inviting and viable occupational choice, expanding opportunities and income potential.”
The two-year research project calls for the Alda Center to pilot a newly designed Women in STEM workshop with data gathered from participants via surveys and interviews. The data will be used to develop scholarly manuscripts addressing the challenges faced by women in STEM, along with a written and validated science communication workshop curriculum designed specifically for women in STEM. This curriculum will adapt the celebrated Alda Method® to the specific challenges women face in STEM, supporting their professional advancement by providing them with more effective tools for communication.
“The Alda Center’s unique approach to science communication training combines improvisational theater approaches with strategies for how to design effective messages. Using our method to support women in STEM fields is an important opportunity for the Alda Center and for science,” said Laura Lindenfeld, director of the Alda Center. “This funding has enabled us to bring in a post-doctoral researcher, Nicole Leavey, whose work focuses specifically on ways we can support women in STEM fields.”
In addition, the program will aim to help women in STEM fields become more effective as advocates for their disciplines, and to model a more integrated approach to those disciplines for a new generation of girls and young women dreaming of their own STEM careers.
“We are grateful to Andrew and Ann Tisch for their support,” Lindenfeld said, “which will enable us to lend our efforts to the community of people who aim to make STEM more inclusive, dynamic and equitable.”
— Elliot Olshansky