Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Scientiae Carnival, April Edition: Sustainability

Sorry for the brief delay in getting this up. I'm thrilled to present the April edition of the Scientiae Carnival--stories of and from women in science, technology, engineering, and math. Last month I invited bloggers to consider the following:
The theme for the spring 2010 national meeting of the American Chemical Society is Chemistry for a Sustainable World.There have been a number of reports, op eds, and blog posts about a diverse range of challenges in science. This phrase prompted me to see them as questions of sustainability. Whether discussing an individual career, a lab, funding, the academic research system, publishing, peer-review, or scientific innovation, at the heart of the issue is often the question of whether current practices are sustainable and what changes need to be made to ensure sustainability. This also brings the theme of April's carnival. From an individual to a more global perspective, definitions, successes, diversity, barriers... what makes--or breaks--sustainability in science?
Wikipedia provides a great, simple definition of sustainability as "the capacity to endure". A central connotation for this word in today's society revolves around the impact of humans on the environment. Often it's very subtle things--and simple solutions--that affect the world we live in. Aspiring ecologist Karina points to the problem of deforestation that will continue until alternative fuels are readily accessible for everyone. Amanda considers the footprint left by the research we do every day and how we (and vendors) can reduce the size of that footprint.

There are also many issues concerning the sustainability of our professional
and our personal lives. We can learn lessons in sustainability by looking at the lives of role models, and Pat at the Fairer Science blog highlights some of her role model in computing. JaneB suggests a way to assess variability in our lives and careers and how we can use it to understand what doesand doesn't work and the signs along the way. Many women in STEM have done just as part of the "Message 2 a Younger Me" series at Under the Microscope.

Dr. O broaches the subject of
sustaining her personal energy levels given the many demands placed on her. She reminds us that balance isn't about splitting each day or week evenly, but instead it is a dynamic thing that often involves temporarily sacrificing time in one area to focus intensely on another. A similar sentiment was expressed by Elizabeth Blackburn in an interview with ScienceNOW late last year. (You can check out highlights and full audio from the interview with the 2009 female Nobel laureates.)

However, Melissa of Confused at a Higher Level finds that this idea of striking balance, even of this give-and-take sort, runs counter to the
"ideal worker" norm that is emphasized in academia and points out that the pressure does not diminish with seniority. Unfortunately, this "norm" is amplified for women in STEM because the burden of proof remains higher for female scientists as compared to their male counterparts. Ms. PhD points readers to Why So Few?, a recent report from the American Association of University Women (there is great, succinct summary of the report by DrDoyenne at the Women in Wetlands blog). Ms. PhD boils down the answer a la Mastercard style. Before you get into the comments at her post, I will offer this advice from Ms. PhD:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/zen/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Just as we see disproportionate representation of women at institutions around the world, the same is seen at conferences and forums the world over. Kylie at Podblack Cat has noticed the disparity at recent meetings and considers
what barriers may hinder participation by women and minorities and what audiences can do about it. At Apple Pie and the Universe, Alyssa shares a view from the planning side; she highlights a few interesting, if disturbing, points in working to include women panelists.

In the end, a large part of sustainability--of the environment, careers, diversity--is about evaluating the situation, weighing the options, and figuring out whether or not we're moving toward a sustainable goal. On that note, I leave you with some
words from Kenny Rogers.

Thanks to all of this month's contibutors! I hope that you find some posts (and maybe some new blogs) that get you thinking about sustainability in your life. If you run across any pertinent posts not linked here, feel free to leave them in the comments section. And keep an eye out for next month's theme at
Scientiae Carnival.