Women in Science and Health (WISH) Seek to Improve the Environment for Women in STEM fields

The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields have long been dominated by men, but fortunately that is changing. The number of women choosing STEM careers is increasing. However, the support needed to continue and strengthen this trend is still lacking.

The Women in Science and Health (WISH) group at the University at Albany provides that support and encourages young women to pursue STEM fields. WISH also nurtures young faculty. “Without senior female colleagues in my own department, WISH has provided a mentorship group of accomplished women who have successfully navigated the tenure system and weathered the challenges of being a woman in STEM”, said newly promoted Associate Professor Kristen Corbosiero of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

High service loads, low salaries and a dearth of senior female mentors has led to a high attrition rate for women in higher education STEM fields. As such, campus groups like the WISH at UAlbany are essential to creating a supportive environment for women in STEM fields at all levels of their education and career.

In 2014 WISH was established by CAS Dean Dr. Elga Wulfert and Distinguished Professor Dr. Marlene Belfort, in order to provide a framework for mentoring female faculty, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduates in the STEM fields. Since its inception, WISH has met regularly for seminar talks, panel discussions, and social events with representatives across the STEM fields at UAlbany. WISH currently has approximately 100 faculty-level members. Now, in its fourth year, WISH has outlined four main goals:

  1. To develop a supportive and collegial environment for female faculty in STEM fields
  2. To champion equal representation, evaluation, and compensation for women in STEM fields
  3. To foster confidence and strong support networks for female students and post-doctoral fellows to better prepare them for navigating their personal and professional environments
  4. To provide good role models for women in STEM fields

To accomplish these goals WISH organizes a number of events and programs. WISH holds regular monthly meetings that have recently included research flash-talks by members, and seminars on helpful topics such as entrepreneurship, alternate careers, work-life balance, and science communication. Some of the networking is really exciting. As noted by Professor Corbosiero, “The WISH introductory lightening talks allowed me to connect with a female colleague in the math department looking for the exact type of data we routinely collect in hurricanes. I invited her to give a seminar in my department and we’ve embarked on a successful research project we’re submitting for publication”.

This coming year WISH will be establishing small, yet diverse mentorship groups within WISH and a weekly writing group that provides a quiet, supportive environment for scholarly activity. “The senior female faculty members I have met through WISH have been incredibly generous with their advice and with sharing their well-established networks, which have helped me navigate a number of different situations,” said Dr. Cara Ocobock, Assistant Professor of Anthropology. Furthermore, this year WISH will reward excellence in early career research through awards for female undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. There will also be an essay competition on work-life balance.

WISH has several events planned for the academic year, including a book discussion, mentorship panel, and seminars about entrepreneurship and science communication. The first WISH meeting of the year is on Friday, September 21 at 11:45 AM in the Life Science Research Building 1143 (LSRB 1143). On the agenda are introductory talks from three new UAlbany faculty members:

  • Hyun-Kyong Kwon, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics
  • Cecilia Levy, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Physics
  • Betty Lin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Each new faculty member will introduce themselves to WISH members personally and professionally, to stimulate ideas for potential collaborations.

WISH welcomes all women in STEM fields to join, help build the community and provide creative ideas. If you would like to be a part of WISH and receive emails about upcoming events, please email the group at uawish@albany.edu. “We hope that WISH provides mentorship and resources for women to pursue careers in STEM fields and to maintain those careers”, said Mindy Larsen, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences.

WISH Steering Committee 

Marlene Belfort, PhD Biological Sciences
Kristen Corbosiero, PhD Atmospheric & Environmental Sciences
Mindy Larsen, PhD Biological Sciences
Cara Ocobock, PhD Anthropology