“The Science Does Not Matter if it Stays Silent”- Dr. Pam Hines

Bringing More Professional Women into the Conversation

Najeda (Jade) L. Patolo for AWIS CTC



Bringing More Professional Women into the Conversation

Najeda (Jade) L. Patolo for AWIS CTC

Yesterday, AWIS CTC had the pleasure of joining UT Center for Women in Law for breakfast with Dr. Pam Hines, senior editor of Science Magazine with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Dr. Linda Chanow with the UT Center for Women in Law organized the breakfast, which included UT law students, UT Law alumni, and of course, AWIS CTC reps. Dr. Hines spoke of accepting a broad range of colleagues into AWIS saying, “There are many ways to bring science to the table…we should not be too restrictive.”

This discussion presents a common problem among the hard and soft sciences.  What exactly IS science? Does that term apply strictly to the traditional STEM disciplines, or should we include the “soft sciences” such as anthropology, geography, and sociology in the discussion? There is unfortunately no easy answer to these questions. Sitting with Dr. Hines, Dr. Chanow, and the rest of the assembly yesterday, we did reach one conclusion: communication (writing and speaking) between professionals in sciences and non-science colleagues must improve.  As Dr. Hines said, “the science does not matter if it stays silent.” As a specific example, in patent law, there is an absolute need for attorneys to understand the general science behind a piece of equipment or theory in order for them to effectively serve their clients. But how do we accomplish this? Should law students be required to learn the basic tenets of science, or is it the responsibility of scientists to become better communicators? Here again no easy answers are forth coming.

It is true that having a science background gives a patent attorney an enormous advantage, but it is not realistic to expect all law students to enroll in additional science classes. On the other side, scientists may question why the burden falls on us to improve our communication methods? Is it fair to ask professionals, whose time and resources are spent carrying out research and developing new technologies, to dedicate more of their time to improving methods of communication? There are compelling arguments for both of these tactics. Many professionals call for an increase in “connectors” or individuals with the ability to communicate with both parties to reach a fruitful end. For patent attorneys who deal in anything from computer science to advances in biochemistry, these people are often field experts. Experts are well compensated for their efforts and are often called on again as new technologies are developed. There are clearly amazing opportunities for professionals to become involved in lucrative partnerships both in their field and with legal professionals that can help with future project development.

For scientists, these connectors come in many forms. Such individuals are oftentimes found on the fringes of disciplines, balancing between different departments or scientific fields. Two specific types of connectors were discussed at length during our meeting.  These were educators and scientific writers, both of whom are essential for distributing information to the general public. While science is vital and fascinating, the maximum potential of any research may not be met if the work is not publicized in a manor that makes it understandable and available to society. Essentially, to quote Dr. Hines, the silent science “will not matter”.

This is not to suggest that connectors should be responsible for all communication between the scientific world and the general public. It is obvious that good communication is very important for scientists during conferences, for publications, and when applying for funding. It was suggested that perhaps AWIS CTC begin hosting interdisciplinary writing workshops and speaking groups for members to practice giving papers to a mixed audience. , In addition AWIS CTC can become involved in legal and scientific panel sessions to increase networks and mentorship opportunities by using our new connections with UT Center for Women in Law. In any professional field, be it science or law, there is the obvious problem of underrepresentation of women in higher-level positions. One reason for this is simple: men usually recommend men for such positions. Social capital is key to building connections and finding outside consulting positions, and women must become more visible. In order to do this, women need to increase networking efforts, self-promotion, and help pave the way for the next generation of scientists and legal professionals.  To aid in this effort, our chapter plans to promote the achievements of the women in our organization (e.g., scholarships, fellowships, awards, and grant recipients) both on our website, and through the National Chapter.

Upon leaving the meeting, we realize that we have our work cut out for us. Women in science must not only be exemplary in their chosen fields, but must also work together to increase communication and connections with women in other professions. If we choose to approach individuals outside of our discipline as colleagues instead of laypeople, we can increase our network and decrease barriers that hamper progress.

So, where do we go from here? Where do we start? AWIS CTC is still growing and changing. Our membership is still being defined. What would you like to see us do? The connections start when we decide to reach out and build them. We are so grateful to Dr. Hines for introducing us to UT Center for Women in Law, and helping AWIS CTC increase our network.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s