Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Championing Women in Science

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Championing Women in Science

Article excerpt

At the City College of New York, Dr. Ana Carnaval is Whelping change the face of science. In her research lab- a magnet for undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral researchers- women outnumber men.

"I've had many more women training than guys, which has been really interesting and really pleasant as a field biologist," said Carnaval, an assistant professor of biology. "Its really cool to be able to give some of these girls an incentive to pursue their work in areas that are traditionally dominated by guys."

It's not something she set out to do. It happened naturally as women sought her out. Her students like to tease her that she cannot say no to a woman scientist.

"Even if the lab is full, I say 'Sure, come on in,'" she said.

Carnaval, 43, was born and raised in Brazil, one of the most biodiversity-rich countries in the world. Her research focuses on biogeography, which is the study of the distributions of the world's species. She said she wants to better understand the factors behind that and how scientists can use that information to their advantage to preserve biodiversity on a global scale. Women and minorities are still underrepresented in the STEM fields-science, technology, engineering and math-but Carnaval said she remains encouraged by the progress.

"I think that a lot of it has to do with building the skills and interest from an early age, but it's incredible that we still lose a lot of women after they come into college," Carnaval said. "We need to attack on all fronts."

Last summer, she began CCNYWinS, a women in science group open to faculty, staff and students. She was inspired by a friend who started a similar program at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

The group, which now numbers 62, meets monthly. A training program has allowed the women to become mentors and role models for one another. Undergraduates are matched with graduate students, graduate and postdoctoral fellows with professors and even young, untenured professors with full-time tenured professors.

"We have different tiers of mentoring and those women meet in pairs whenever they want," Carnaval said. "They go to women-related events, they talk about their work. It's a buddy system." For both women and minorities, academic and social support is critical to beating the odds stacked against them, she said.

"It seems to be much harder for women, once they graduate, to get a job in a STEM field and maintain that job, get their tenure as an established professor," she said.

Carnaval, a mother of two, said that in addition to having to balance career and family demands, women also are dealt setbacks in the world of academia. Women and minorities have fewer tenured professorships than men and receive less in federal funding, according to the 2015 "Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering" report by the National Science Foundation.

"We're trying to brainstorm ways that we can reverse this and ways that we can make sure that women know of these issues before going into the job market," Carnaval said.

She said the group helps them learn skills they will need to apply for jobs and advance in their careers. She said that women tend to undermine their abilities and are more reluctant than men to negotiate for raises and promotions. …

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