Summer 2016 – Note from the Research Board Chair

(From Summer 2016 Newsletter) Dr. Rita Colwell, University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University

Women in Oil Spill Science and Those Recruited Through the GoMRI Program

Historically women have not played a major role in oceanography and oil spill research, mainly because of barriers and historically established gender roles. Many of the obstacles, fortunately, have begun to fade away, perhaps more rapidly during the past several decades in some areas of oceanographic research. Oil spill research in general has not been inclusive, not deliberately so, but rather as a function of opportunity. The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) brought a major change in the number of women actively participating in oil spill research, who serve as undergraduate and graduate students, as postdoctoral fellows, as Principal Investigators, and as faculty (mostly junior faculty but some senior professors as well). This augers well for the future, as it means the talented cadre of scientists now being highly educated and superbly trained, who are working in this area of science as physical, chemical, biological, and even socio-behavioral oceanographers, will become leaders in the future. We can point with pride not only at the lessons learned from GoMRI research that has been done and continues, but also at the learners, these students and faculty who will comprise a significant part of the GoMRI legacy.

There are many examples of outstanding women leaders in the science community today and now within the GoMRI program as well. Five of the twelve RFP-IV-funded GoMRI consortia directors are women. Approximately 41% of participants in the GoMRI program, including Principal Investigators and graduate and undergraduate students, are women. Many brilliant women graduate students are being trained in Universities participating in the GoMRI program. Forty-six percent of GoMRI’s post-doctoral fellows, 49% of the PhD students, and 57% of the Master of Science degree students are women; these are the next generation of scientists and society leaders and most are located in the Gulf region. All of this is encouraging and inspirational, that we can look across this shining landscape of women in science. It makes one optimistic for the future!

As part of its outreach program, GoMRI contracted with Screenscope Inc. to produce documentaries of our scientists at work. Featured in these documentaries are some of the GoMRI-funded women, notably in the first documentary Dispatches from the Gulf, and also in short videos providing vignettes of the research underway. Furthermore, Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal presents some of the science being done, with interviews of several of the GoMRI women scientists as part of the Smithsonian’s recognition of women’s history month. (Those interviews can be found here, here, and here.) In addition, several recipients of the James D. Watkins Student Award who have provided excellent student oral presentations at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference are women.

It is timely that we present this newsletter with a spotlight on women just at the time in our country a major political party has nominated a women for President of the United States. That glass ceiling has been shattered! As Chair of the GoMRI Research Board, I am proud to share with our readers some of what the GoMRI program has accomplished. Indeed, I am very pleased, as well, to note that the GoMRI program supports so many talented women in science. It is our hope that these women will be the leaders of the future in oceanography and oil spill science.

[Back to the Summer 2016 Newsletter]