Bright Futures Q&A: Anna Garry

30. July 2014

OPN: Tell us a bit about your current position and how you got there.

I work at ETH Zurich for a Swiss National Science Foundation-funded network whose research focus is on molecular and ultrafast science and technology. My job is to develop scientific outreach, which includes working toward the advancement of women scientists through equal opportunities, education and communication.

I have a biology degree, which included courses in the history, philosophy and politics of science. I also have a Ph.D. in political science with a focus on the politics of the nuclear industry, and I have worked on education projects at the university level. My job enables me to contribute to a topic I care about deeply: linking the scientific world to the society that supports it.
 
OPN: You work with Ursula Keller and Anthony Johnson on OPN’s “Reflections in Diversity” column. In particular, you’ve coauthored several columns on efforts at ETH Zurich to advance the status of women scientists. What first got you interested in these issues?
 
I have always been interested in the status and visibility of women and minorities in all fields, whether it is science, politics or the general academic community. Historically, Western society was structured to exclude women from voting, owning property and working outside the home. Much has improved in recent decades, but the low number of women in science and engineering persists. I was very interested in working on this complex issue with Ursula Keller, the director of our network.
 
OPN: There has been some significant progress for women in the workplace—enough so that some seem to view the problem of gender discrimination as “solved.” How would you assess the progress that’s been made, and the challenges that women still face, in building scientific careers in particular?
 
Enormous progress has been made for women in the workplace in terms of rights, opportunities and childcare. There are three issues that have not yet been resolved. First is the very low number of women studying the STEM fields, and the subsequent non-retention of these graduates in scientific careers. It makes economic sense to do all we can to improve STEM work environments to retain talented women and minorities.
 
A second issue is the dearth of women in leadership positions in all areas of science, engineering and industry. Having greater diversity in leadership would increase the range of viable strategies to address the gender imbalance.
 
Finally, there’s still an unconscious gender bias in our culture. Three recent studies--from the Columbia Business School, MIT, and Yale-- have shown that both men and women, whether they are in academia or in industry, favor male candidates over female candidates for appointments, mentorships, salary increases, etc., even when their qualifications are the exactly the same.
 
OPN: Your contributions to OPN have stressed the importance of role models and personal engagement, and events that get women speaking with women. Why is this so important? Do you have any advice on how people can help to combat gender discrimination?
 
Being a member of a minority group in science can be a very isolating experience that leads to self-doubt about your place in the scientific community. Networking can counteract this and encourage retention and career advancement.
 
Another important way to combat gender discrimination is for women and men to talk and listen to each other in a genuine attempt to cultivate mutual understanding and change. It’s vital to recognize that there are male scientists who have a commitment to bringing about progress in this area, and work with them to bring about solutions. For example, there are many young couples who both have careers in science and are finding ways to make a dual-career situation successful.
 
OPN: Could you tell us about a role model that’s been particularly important to you in your work, or in thinking about these issues?
 
It’s hard to choose a single role model, because when you want to change society it needs to happen on multiple levels. The writer Virginia Woolf is one of my many role models. She put into words, in works like “A Room of One’s Own” and “Three Guineas,” the changes needed in society to enable women to have space to think, work outside the home, and be taken seriously. Another is Nelson Mandela, for showing how one person’s life and actions can bring phenomenal political change to a seemingly intractable situation.
 
OPN: If you were given absolute power, and had free rein to do one thing to advance the place of women in the scientific enterprise, what would it be? What do you think would be the most effective change?
 
This question was very difficult for me, because I don’t believe anyone should be given absolute power! Effective change has to be based on a political consensus to increase the number of women in science, and value their intellectual and economic contributions to creativity and innovation in the area.
 
However, for the sake of discussion, if I had free rein to do one thing I would require a minimum of 30 percent representation of women on university executive boards, research and departmental committees, and boards of directors. I would bring together committed male and female scientific leaders and task them with creating an effective blueprint for achieving this target representation, along with a program to implement the changes.
 
Bringing more women into leadership roles has already begun to make a difference. In 2013 the United Kingdom’s Chief Medical Officer, Sally Davies, announced that the National Institute for Health Research would only award research funding to medical schools if they held a “Silver” Athena Swan Award. As a result, UK universities and their medical schools signed up to the established award system, which assesses standards for employing and retaining women scientists. Leaders in the scientific community need to support and promote the presence of more women at the leadership level to increase the pace of change.
 
For more information on other initiatives in this area, you can check out the IOP Juno Awards, NSF’s ADVANCE Project, the APS’ Women in Physics, and OSA’s MWOSA.
 

Anna Garry is the Outreach Officer for the Swiss research network NCCR MUST (National Centre for Competence in Research, Molecular Ultrafast Science and Technology), ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

 

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How to Use Your Business Card

21. July 2014

Arti Agrawal

“Here’s my card.” How often is this sentence uttered at conferences, meetings and other networking events? The ubiquitous business card is a marvelous thing, and its repertoire of functions is expanding beyond just providing your basic contact information.
 
Make an impression.
The first time I saw a card with a long string of letters after the name, I was bemused. What do all of those acronyms mean? Why are they included? That’s when I realized that this rectangular piece of paper can be more than a convenient way to give someone your email address. Increasingly, business cards are becoming miniature CVs: some cards list every degree the person has acquired (and perhaps even where they were earned) and all of their professional affiliations.
 
When you state on your business card that you are a member or fellow of a professional organization, or are chartered in your profession, you relate key achievements, abilities and your professional standing to the reader. You are starting to sell yourself before you give someone a full CV. Presenting someone with your card is a way to both inform and impress, and including some additional details can help you stand out from the get-go.
 
Strike the right balance.
But how much additional information about your qualifications is appropriate to include on your card? Is this the proper context for telling people where you did your undergraduate degree many moons ago, or to which institutions you pay a yearly membership fee? It’s important to strike a balance between providing the a few key details to catch the right person’s eye, and inundating readers with unnecessary and possibly incomprehensible information. Do some research on what is standard in your profession, and look at the card carefully to be sure that it’s not difficult to read. Regardless of what you decide to include, the card should be simple and easy to decipher.
 
Be careful with acronyms.
Certain acronyms and abbreviations can provide valuable information for those in a specific field, but for others, they can be befuddling. For example, within the U.K. physics community, “FInstP” signifies being a Fellow of the Institute of Physics. But to someone outside of the country or the field, it might make no sense at all. Listing “SMOSA” on a card may lead some readers to think of the fried Indian snack of samosas, but the intention is to state that the card owner is quite distinguished and is a Senior Member of the Optical Society! Choose your acronyms with care, and be ready to explain them.
 
A card can’t convey context, so you can’t depend on it alone to get your message across. However, when used correctly, a business card can provide a valuable snapshot of your professional life. Use your card to grab someone’s attention, and then follow up by filling in the details.
 
Arti Agrawal (arti_agrawal@hotmail.com) is a lecturer at City University London, U.K., in the department of electrical, electronic and information engineering at the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. To follow her blog, visit http://artiagrawal.wordpress.com.

 

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Three Simple Steps to Networking Success

10. July 2014

Arlene Smith

I want to address a topic that is almost essential for career progression but can strike fear in an introvert’s heart: networking. Although it may feel like you’re the only one who gets nervous in networking situations, you’re not alone. Everyone fears rejection or embarrassment, but you don’t need to be afraid!

If speaking with your optics idol or asking a question makes you queasy, the following approach can quell your fears. I urge you to try it out.

1. Make your approach
The first step is deciding how to approach someone and begin a conversation with him or her. If you are in a panel session, approach a speaker and say, "I have a question and I would like to hear your thoughts." This shows the panelist that you value his or her opinion.

 If you are in an informal networking situation, try approaching a group and simply asking, "May I join you?" Remember, networking is about meeting new people. They want to meet you, too.

When deciding who to approach and how, ask yourself, "What’s the worst thing that could happen?" The very worst possibility is that the panelist or group isn't friendly, in which case you just move on. A better question to ask is, "What’s the BEST thing that could happen?" If you don’t put in the effort, you could miss out on great opportunities.

2. Have a conversation
After introducing yourself to someone and exchanging basic information, start asking him or her questions. I estimate that 90 percent of networking is showing interest in other people, so be sure to focus on the person to whom you’re speaking. Sometimes conversation flows naturally, but other times it might take more effort. Here are some good questions to get a dialog started: 

What are you currently working on?
• What result do you expect to see?
• What has challenged you?
• What has been your biggest success?
• Is there anyone here you hope to meet?

3. Follow up
When it is time to move on, exit the conversation by simply saying, "It was nice to speak with you. May I have your business cards/emails? I need to see a few more people today, but we should get in touch." Make sure to follow up:

• Write down a relevant detail from the conversation as soon as possible. This will help you remember the conversation and reconnect with that person later.
• Within two days, make contact and mention a specific point that you discussed. If you meet a lot of people, prioritize your list and contact the individuals you deem most likely to be helpful first. Contact the others at a later time.
• Make an effort to keep in contact with important people. Don't let them forget about you.

Arlene Smith (arlsmith@umich.edu) is a research fellow in the department of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, U.S.A.

 

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