U.S., Japan strengthen ties for women in science and engineering

August 25, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Networking, mentoring, funding opportunities and support for strong childcare and eldercare systems are promising tools to help American and Japanese women become leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, according to a new report prepared for the National Science Foundation.

U.S. and Japanese women who are emerging as top leaders in research met during a workshop co-sponsored by the NSF, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Japan Science and Technology Agency, and the National Women's Education Center.

"About 35 professors worked to define several major research directions that promise to have a significant impact on our world," said Shirley Dyke, a Purdue University professor of mechanical and civil engineering who co-chaired the workshop, Connections: Bringing Together the Next Generation of Women Leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The two-day workshop was held at the National Women's Education Center in Saitama, Japan, on July 5-7 and focused on fields within science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

"While the major goal of the meeting was to broaden and support the research agendas of the participants, this meeting has also served to develop future leaders in science and engineering by offering networking opportunities and encouraging discussion on the institutional environment and culture that are conducive to nurturing women STEM leaders," Dyke said. "One of the surprising outcomes was that traits that may lead to successful leadership roles in the United States can be very different in Japan. How women interact with their peers, how they demonstrate success and act as leaders is quite different in the two countries."

The report is expected to be available to the public by Oct. 1.

The workshop focused on three areas of research: how to develop sustainable systems in all facets of science and engineering; information technology enabled advances, such as building shared databases and other IT-related tools; and the design of new materials for a range of applications, including those related to energy and the environment.

Participants are preparing a report to identify the best ways to take advantage of, and improve opportunities for, women in their fields and their respective countries. Future workshops are likely to follow, possibly next summer or fall.

"This was designed to bring together women scientists and engineers from the United States and Japan whose achievements already show the promise that their work will have major impacts on their fields of study," Dyke said. "The Japanese women were keen to learn about the progress made by U.S. women scientists and engineers and benefit from their experiences with programs such as NSF's ADVANCE Institutional transformation awards."

Workshop participants found:

* Changes in perspective toward women researchers will only take place when those at the highest levels of a university system encourage the institution to transform. For example, supporting a strong childcare and eldercare system is crucial for improving working conditions.

* Dramatic strides would be possible in several fields with the sharing and interpretation of large, well-described databases, and the broader scientific community and public should be enlisted to build such a system for accessing data from and for several disciplines.

* Scientific literacy in Japan is more widespread than in the United States, and steps should be taken to improve science literacy in the United States.

* Researchers in both countries should apply for grants specifically dedicated to women to facilitate research initiation and travel to begin new collaborations.

* Social networking capabilities may offer new opportunities for women to advance.

* Many universities have established mentoring programs that are an effective opportunity for women to make connections with their colleagues. Young researchers should seek mentors outside of their university circle as well.

* Promotion procedures may need to adapt to recognize real impact in a field, as opposed to simply counting research dollars or publications, and to encourage a broader set of activities to be considered for promotion as scholarly contributions.

Writer: Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

Source: Shirley Dyke, 765-494-7434, sdyke@purdue.edu