Pod of the Week Santa Barbara

 

Location: Santa Barbara, CA

Number of women: 55 women on our mailing list

Frequency of meeting: Weekly informal lunches/happy hours; monthly meetings; quarterly structured events

Mission statement: We stand together to promote science by mentoring women at all educational and professional levels, engaging a diverse community, and increasing scientific literacy and accessibility in our community.

 

How did you come to this mission, why is it relevant to your city and state?

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All of us believed in the importance of women in STEM. In light of recent events, we realized that growing and fostering our community of women in STEM must be an active part of our personal and professional lives. We therefore decided to establish a group with the primary objective of creating and maintaining a supportive professional, social, and political community for women in STEM at UCSB and in our surrounding community.

To best represent our pod, we asked members to submit three ideas they would like to see reflected in our group’s work and formalized in our mission statement. Based on this input, it became apparent that our main interests were a) women’s empowerment, b) mentoring & career development, and c) scientific outreach. We then used other pods’ statements for structure and inspiration (thanks Boulder!), and came up with our final statement above.

Like many college towns, Santa Barbara has a relatively educated and engaged public (our Science March had a great turnout!). However, we felt that we were not yet optimally engaging our peers and the larger community. To bridge the gap, our mission statement explicitly focuses on creating events and activities that promote inclusivity in STEM both inside and outside the university. For example, our kick-off mentor-mentee pairing event included a concerted effort to include university women and local women professionals and leaders.

 

How has your pod ensured a diverse group of women scientists attend the pod meetings?

We first reached out to existing women’s groups on campus, notified all of the university’s STEM departments, and contacted local businesses. We were thus able to cast a wide net in advertising our group. Our members now draw from a range of career levels, scientific specialties, and backgrounds. Our next move is to target different cultural and social organizations on campus to make sure that women who may have an interest in STEM but are not yet formally affiliated feel comfortable joining the community. We are committed to increasing people’s awareness of our group and working to ensure they feel welcome to join us!

 

Can you talk about the mentoring event the pod is focusing on? What is the aim of this mentoring program?

We designed our kick-off meeting as a Speed Mentoring event, with the explicit goal of connecting potential mentors and mentees. To us, it is important to define the term ‘mentor’ broadly and to acknowledge that multiple mentors are necessary to ensure personal fulfillment. Each of us has multiple dimensions across which we need guidance; these can range from our formal scholarly interest (e.g., mechanisms of memory encoding) or methodology (e.g., graph theory), to our personal struggles (e.g., with depression or anxiety), outside interests (e.g., mountain biking), and motivations (e.g., increasing access to STEM education). 

To best fulfill our mission of mentoring women at all educational and professional levels, we wanted to bring together women across backgrounds and disciplines to share their questions, concerns, experiences, and wisdom with each other. We therefore invited scientists from UCSB and from industry in the surrounding community, and had representations from all career levels.

To provide some structure to the event, and to allow for deeper engagement than the typical ‘speed dating’ configuration would allow, over the course of an hour we had everyone rotate through different topic stations, ideally talking with a different group of women at every station. Topics of discussion included how to achieve work-life balance, how to build confidence in the workplace, and professional development strategies.

The feedback for our event was very positive, with most people asking us to continue it as a recurring series. We are now aiming to have quarterly mentoring events where we will discuss one topic in depth, rather than a range of topics, as we did at the first event.

We’ve created a ‘How-to’ document for this event to help anyone interested in hosting a similar event.

 

What do you foresee for the future of your pod and what will be your focus (i.e. outreach, activism, connecting with other groups, etc?)

We are lucky to be in a community that has a very health presence of groups dedicated to promoting female empowerment and supporting women in science. In crafting our mission statement, we decided that our niche was to create and foster a sense of community among our local female scientists as well as within the larger STEM community. We will cultivate that sense of community through our regular meetings and social meet-ups, and with our quarterly mentoring events.

In addition, we have a lot of ideas for events that we just need time to implement! Next month, for instance, one of our members is going to hold a ‘Why you should write a press release about your work’ crash course seminar (an idea born at the Speed Mentoring event). We are also working on finding funding to be able to invite outside speakers, for instance to talk about making feminism more inclusive. Regarding outreach and accessibility of science for the local community, we have members who are involved in STEM outreach and education in their individual fields, and we are looking for ways that our group can come together to reach out and contribute to the community. Suggestions are welcome!


Pod Leaders:

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Caitlin Taylor is a neuroscientist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of California Santa Barbara. Her general research interests include women’s health, sex differences, and the effects of sex hormones on the brain. Her current project uses neuroimaging to investigate the effects of oral contraceptive use on the brain. Outside of the lab, Caitlin is interested in sharing her love of science through education and outreach.

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Catherine Pomposi is a climate scientist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of California Santa Barbara. She is broadly interested in regional climate variability, predictability, and change; climate services and food security. Her current research explores understanding the mechanisms of precipitation variability and predictability in West Africa. Besides her research interests, Catherine is passionate about science education and outreach and interested in the role that scientists play in the policy-making sphere.