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Will you be one of the 51 Women?

May 2, 2010

Ed. note:  Each week, this site features the recent work of a Woman in Planetary Science along with a short Q&A.  To participate, send us the abstract of a recent publication and agree to answer a few fun questions — and thanks!

by Megan Elwood Madden

Have YOU sent Susan your abstract or article so that you can be highlighted as one of 51 (hopefully more!) women working in planetary science?

If you’ve already sent Susan your stuff, good work! You can stop reading now or forward this on to someone who might not have sent something in. If you haven’t, why not? If you are a male planetary scientist who reads this blog for all the great advice, I guess it might be awkward to be highlighted here, so I understand. But, if you are a Woman in Planetary Science I hope you choose to participate, both for yourself, other women in planetary science, and young women interested in planetary science.

I think I hear some excuses now…here are the reasons you should send something to Susan anyway!

Excuse #1 “I’m not a real planetary scientist” One of the best aspects of planetary science is the diversity of disciplines and techniques needed to explore the planets and develop models of planetary processes. Planetary missions and planetary science rely on interdisciplinary teams working together to develop hypotheses, collect data, analyze results, and describe processes that have occurred over the last 4.5+ billion years.  Many of us work on both planetary and terrestrial projects; after all, Earth is a planet too! If you a chemist, physicist, biologist, geologist, or engineer, you have the skills and knowledge to contribute something to planetary science. We want to hear about the new techniques and discoveries in your field- maybe they can be applied to data from Saturn, Mercury, Europa, or chondritic meteorites. We can learn a lot from each other!

There’s also a tendency, especially for women, to feel like a “fake” scientist who somehow got here by mistake,   perhaps because many of us don’t fit the traditional social norm of a “planetary scientist”. This is common enough to be called “Imposter Syndrome”. Check out this Nature article for more information:  and suggestions for overcoming self-doubt.

Excuse #2 “I’m just a undergraduate/graduate student/postdoc” Science isn’t done just by people with a PhD or Professor after their names. You are a valuable part of the planetary science community and represent the future leaders in our field. It’s never too early to start networking, letting people know about your skills and interests. Participating in this project is a great opportunity to introduce yourself to other people around the world who share your curiosity about the planets, including future graduate advisors, employers, reviewers, letter writers, and collaborators. If you have written an abstract, send it in.

Excuse #3 “The topic I’m working on is controversial” Science involves testing our own and our colleagues’ hypotheses and presenting alternative models for established interpretations. Many of us have aversions to conflict in our personal lives, but science requires conflict to proceed. One of our own contributors has some ideas about how this affects women in science that is worth checking out.  Developing as a scientist includes building the confidence to present your work, discuss it, and learn from criticism.  This is a good place to begin, within a supportive and constructive group of colleagues.

Excuse #4 “I’m really busy with my experiments/kids/hobbies/writing” You can inspire future women in planetary science by sharing your experiments/kids/hobbies/papers and how you balance your life.  A recent study of women in geosciences who read/contributed to blogs found that one of the main gains for students was finding female role models. Other studies have also shown that the more young women are exposed to successful female scientists, the more likely they will continue in their science studies. Whatever stage in your career, you can be a role model for young women interested in planetary science; all you have to do is participate. The more data points, and the higher the diversity in those data points, the more likely we will attract more women to this field. It only takes a few minutes (I sound like NPR during pledge week!), and it’s painless and free.

Thanks, Megan!  We look forward to featuring 51 women in planetary science this year, and we can do it with your help!  Who’s next?

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