The number of women in science is pretty dismal. Despite earning about half the doctorates in science, only 21 percent of full science professors in the United States are women,* but I feel very fortunate to work at an institution committed to inclusiveness and diversity. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, 25 of our 47 scientific staff are women; our graduate student body is 61 percent female.
Still, implicit gender biases persist in science, resulting in fewer women in top positions, along with women earning less pay, winning fewer grants, and publishing fewer papers. This comes at a time when we are faced with numerous grand challenges in science and need a diversity of approaches to tackle those challenges.
In the Chicago Botanic Garden’s science program, we are conducting research on how human activities are affecting plants through climate change, habitat fragmentation, introduction of invasive species, pollinator loss, pollution, and more. These threats to plants are unlikely to diminish in the foreseeable future, and we are finding ways to conserve plants in changing and challenging environments. We are working hard to protect the plants and plant communities upon which we all depend. We are also working hard to create a pipeline into science for all—especially traditionally under-represented groups—through our Science Career Continuum, because diversity of plants and diversity of scientists are both good things.
Left to right: Krissa Skogen, Ph.D., is studying hawkmoth pollination with Victoria Luizzi (Amherst College Student, NSF REU Student, Summer 2016), Emily Lewis (research assistant), Andrea Gruver (research assistant), Tania Jogesh (postdoc), and Kat Andrews (PBC M.S. student). Dr. Skogen is a conservation scientist and manager of the Conservation and Land Management Internship Program.
Meet some of our women scientists:
Lauren Umek studies how invasive species change plant communities and soil properties in the Chicago region and how this can improve restoration methods.
Nyree Zerega studies evolution/genomics in underutilized tropical fruit trees and their wild relatives to promote and conserve food diversity.
Botanist, seed conservationist, and geographer Emily Yates has conserved thousands of seeds to protect the native tallgrass prairie ecosystem of the Midwest.
Ph.D. candidate Colby Witherup studies plant DNA, looking for signs of evolution in genes that control sexual reproduction.
Evelyn Williams, Ph.D., (left, with Adrienne Basey) traveled to Guadalupe Nation Park in Texas to study the shrub Burgess’ scalebroom.
Amy Waananen studies populations of purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) in western Minnesota as a research assistant for The Echinacea Project, a long-term ecological study that began in 1995.
Mary Patterson studies restoration, invasive species, and fire ecology with a focus in the Western United States.
Joan O’Shaughnessy manages the Dixon Prairie at the Garden.
Kelly Ksiazek-Mikenas studies how green roofs can provide habitat for native plant species.
Andrea Kramer, Ph.D., conducts research on native plants to support ecological restoration that sustains people, wildlife, and the planet.
Rachel Goad (far right) is a botanist with a background in restoration ecology and a keen interest in native plant conservation.
Louise Egerton-Warburton, Ph.D., does work examining soil fungal diversity and functioning and its role in ecosystem processes.
Research assistant Susan Deans uses neutral genetic markers to examine how well gardens and conservation collections capture the remaining wild genetic diversity of threatened Hawaiian plant species.
Ph.D. candidate Becky Barak studies plant diversity in restored tallgrass prairies.
Kay Havens, Ph.D., studies rare plant conservation, restoration, pollination and plant responses to climate change.
*From Inequality quantified: Mind the gender gap, by Helen Shan, 06 March 2013, nature.com
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