This guest post was contributed by Taoromina Lepore, a paleontologist and science educator, following the recent Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. This guest post reflects the views solely of its author, which are not necessarily shared by PLOS. Thank you, Tara, for contributing to the PLOS Paleo Community!
Close your eyes and picture a scientist.
Really – go ahead and do that. I’ll wait.
Got an image? Good.
When I do this activity, I know a few stereotypical things come to my mind.
Blue nitrile gloves. White lab coat. Field gear and hiking boots. Goggles and maybe some crazy hair.
Was your imagined scientist male or female?
You might have pictured a female mentor of yours, or a famous woman scientist. You might not have pictured a woman right away. That doesn’t necessarily say anything at all about your ability to advocate for women in science, and indeed – you may be a woman, yourself!
But this thinking activity gets to the heart of advocating for women in science.
The more we see women in science, and the more we truly advocate for equity and fair-mindedness in science, the more we will be able to level the scientific playing field.
What better way to share the collaborative power and motivation of women in science than by hosting a gathering celebrating them at an academic conference?
At the 2016 annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), the first such event in the society’s history came to fruition. SVP has held community interest panels and round tables on women in paleontology for some time, but this speaker-and-discussion format forced a fresh look at our society, and allowed us to share ideas on how best to galvanize positive change. From seeds planted way back in March, at the Burpee Museum of Natural History’s annual Paleo Fest, members of SVP took the initiative to create an open dialogue about women in our field.
Paleo Fest sparked an ongoing conversation. We were so excited about the energy and positivity of sharing our science under a women-in-paleontology banner; how could we keep the ball rolling? Discussion rolled back and forth in the months following that smaller meeting, with paleontologists ReBecca Hunt-Foster, Ashley Morhardt, and Catherine Early, among many others, drafting and coordinating this special SVP event.
With opening remarks by Smithsonian paleontology curator Kay Behrensmeyer, discussion of the trends in women members and leaders of SVP by Robin Whatley and Allison Beck, and a recap of the 2016 Paleo Fest by Scott Williams, the event attracted attendees from all levels of paleontological careers and interests. Especially enlightening was the idea that although women comprise roughly half of the SVP membership, women do not always tip the scales in terms of invited talks. However, positively, the long and growing history of women in SVP was highlighted, along with the proud trend of female leadership in the society.
There was a preview of an upcoming Kickstarter campaign inviting submissions for a book on women in paleontology, presented by Abby West and Eugenia Gold. And Lexi Marsh, one of the founders of The Bearded Lady Project, spoke about that program’s celebration of female paleontologists – with fake beards and a documentary-style spin. From society statistics to spreading the image of women in science in a variety of media, the conversations following the talks were buzzing with that same energy we had captured at Paleo Fest. Mentoring of young women and girls, supporting women across generational lines, field work, and work-life balance were also special table topics.
Women in paleontology, like women in many scientific fields, have challenges and obstacles they must face. But, through events like the women in science social at SVP, Paleo Fest, and above all a continuing discourse on equality for women, maybe more of us will come forward with our stories. Maybe more of us will picture women in science.
And maybe more of us will lead the next generations of scientists to imagine themselves where we are, now.
Featured image: Skeleton of Hemicalypterus, modified from Gibson 2016. CC-BY.
Tara is a paleontologist and educator in southern California. Her research has focused on the paleoecological interpretation of trace fossils in New England and the western United States, including dinosaur tracks and coprolites (fossilized droppings).
Her blog: Outbound Adventurer
On Twitter: @OutboundTreks