ICE Issue 9

47 The Israel Chemist and Chemical Engineer Issue 9 · January 2023 · Tevet 5783 Report Under this guiding principle, I have been privileged to be able to lead chemistry camp for middle school girls, initially funded by the Dreyfus Foundation through a Special Grant Program in the Chemical Sciences. Starting in 2013, I led a week-long, full-time, free program for girls in grades 6–8, which provided immersive science experiences, interactions with female scientists, and a positive, supportive environment for girls to experience, experiment, and enjoy science. This program had broad success, received significant media attention, and was able to impact approximately 280 girls (40 girls/year over 7 years). Key results of this program were published in the Journal of Chemical Education, and highlights include the moment when a previous participant of the camp returned to act as a mentor for the students. That previous student, who had participated in the program when she was in 7th grade, returned as an undergraduate student studying biology at the University of Rhode Island. When asked why she decided to study science as an undergraduate, she explained that her participation in chemistry camp was the first time she understood that science could be fun, and that the scientific community could be a home for her. In July 2022, I was thrilled to be able to bring chemistry camp to Israel, again through funding provided by the Dreyfus Foundation, and ran Chemistry Camp for Girls in Israel for 33 girls who had finished grades 5 and 6. I am looking forward to continuing the tradition of Chemistry Camp for Girls, now in its new location. Other examples of agency, or situations in which I was able to directly impact the situation of gender disparity in the chemical sciences, include Sugar Science Day. This program, built entirely around the chemistry of sugar, was run for high school girls as an integrated outreach component of my funded NSF CAREER grant. Moreover, I also facilitated paid internships for high school girls, in which the participants were selected from the population of those who participated in Sugar Science Day, as well as ACS Project SEED, which provided economically disadvantaged high school students, particularly females, with paid scientific internships. Many of these students co-authored scientific papers based on their work in the lab, attended conferences, and presented the results of their work. A significant fraction of these students went on to study science in college, and to focus on scientific or medical fields for their chosen careers. This kind of outreach to students at the high school level occurred concurrently with a strong culture of female mentorship in the laboratory, focused particularly on two outstanding former PhD students in my laboratory, Dr. Nicole Serio and Dr. Dana DiScenza, as well as a large number of female undergraduate students. This situation of a lack of women in the chemical sciences tracks with my own experiences, where although I had a significant number of female colleagues at the high school and undergraduate levels (including attending an all-female high school), that number started to drop in graduate school at Columbia University, during my postdoctoral fellowship at MIT, and in my first faculty position as an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island. There are several questions we can have around this topic, including what factors cause or at least contribute to this gender gap, but I want to focus more on what we can do about that gap. This question can be broken into two parts, as we can ask both, “What can we do on an institutional level?” and “What can we do as individuals?” that will contribute to addressing this issue. Before we move to answering those questions, though, I want to clarify that the lack of gender diversity in the chemical sciences is not a “feminist” or “women’s” niche issue. It is an issue that affects every person who is invested in successful scientific outcomes, which should be the entire population. This is true because having more diverse scientists means that more, better, and faster progress is highly likely; as the research has shown, increased diversity across all axes and in all disciplines leads to enhanced productivity and to a markedly improved work product. The issue of gender disparity in the chemical sciences is something that should interest all of us, even though my oldest son, who was 10 years old at the time, told me that, “Really you are the only one who cares about these kinds of women’s issues. That’s because you are a woman. This will not be of interest to anyone else.” I want to also be clear that for as much as there is a significant issue of a persistent gender gap in the chemical sciences between men and women, that gap is even more pronounced for other gender minorities, and is also more acute for women who also identify as members of other minority groups, and that the challenges and opportunities for both of those populations are worthy of their own, dedicated talk. Agency Coming back to the question of what we can do about the gender gap between men and women, let us focus on what we can do as individuals, using the guiding idea of “agency.” Using “agency,” defined as “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power,” as the guiding principle means believing that I as an individual have the power to change a situation, and to exert control over a situation, rather than thinking that the situation exerts control over me.