Lunch discussion: How do people react to reports of gender bias in STEM fields?

Our lunch discussion series (Thursdays at noon in CHB 339) continues! Contact me (hdnelson at or Teresa (tmheard at if you’d like to join our email list or access the schedule, or if you have a topic suggestion.

This week, we talked about a recently published study (Handley, Brown, Moss-Racusin, Smith; PNAS 2015, 112, 13201-13206) investigating how people react to evidence of gender bias. The authors showed that men view studies demonstrating gender bias less favorably than women do, a finding which has important implications for anyone interested in combating bias in STEM fields.

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WCS presents: Women in STEM lunches 

WCS-UW is kicking off a new event this year that we’re really excited about! Every week we plan to host a casual discussion on a wide variety of Women in STEM topics. Your hosts, Heidi and I, plan on covering anything from how the scientific community is responding to the latest uproar to the newest research on gender biases in STEM, and everything in between. We’re meeting on Thursdays from 12:00-1:30 in CHB 339. Don’t worry if you miss some weeks, we’ll be updating this blog with summaries of the articles and our reactions to them.


Finally, let’s talk about sexism in science

By: Teresa Swanson

It’s no secret that science has always been riddled with sexism. So why is it that the mainstream media is suddenly interested within the last year? Sarah Zhang, a writer at WIRED tackles this question in A New Twist in the Fight Against Sexism in Science.

In her article, Zhang suggests that the evolving changes in news reporting are a reason why sexism in science is getting a lot of press recently. With the popularity of sites such as Twitter and Facebook, first-hand accounts of the news and user-driven data are available to anyone within seconds. This ease of access stimulates quick discussion and easy activism on topics that may have been difficult to gather public support for in the past.

Zhang reviews the month’s biggest story, that of Geoff Marcy, a prominent exoplanet hunter (now formerly) from UC Berkeley. He was found to have sexually harassed female students over the course of at least a decade. Berkeley issued a conclusion to their investigation in June; he was given a letter that amounted to a mere shake of the finger. By October, an incredible majority of Marcy’s colleagues had petitioned for greater discipline. The story went viral after Buzzfeed caught wind of the situation, and soon scientists and the general public alike were outraged at the minimal response from Berkeley. In this case, the response even included pushback to the way Buzzfeed and the New York Times reported the story, pointing out that their treatments were either too dismissive of the victims, or too sympathetic to Marcy himself. Marcy ended up stepping down from his UC Berkeley position.

Zhang then notes the reaction to the case of the notorious Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, who is worried that having “girls” in the lab is too much of a romantic distraction for him and his male colleagues. In response to Hunt, women from around the world posted to social media pictures of themselves in lab or field garb with the hashtag #distractinglysexy. Zhang also references the incident of a Science Careers columnist Alice Huang, who advised women in science to ignore male colleagues who staring inappropriately. Due to the backlash on social media in this case, Huang is no longer writing for Science Careers. 

Near the end of her article, Zhang interviews Huang and hits a note that will likely come up week after week in our discussions. Huang describes the women who have taken their harassment or bias cases to court as the “walking wounded among women.” This description brings up the question: How willing are we, as individuals, to be the martyrs? Huang goes on to say, “but if you find people aren’t the walking wounded for life, then you get a little braver the next time.” It seems many women in science right now have to ask if there is enough support to potentially put our careers on the line to fight sexism, or if a nuanced approach is more appropriate.  The answer may be as individualized as every career and every situation. One thing is clear though: the conversations must continue to happen. This is exactly why we’ve started our discussion group.

Thursday was a fitting start to our personal conversation. We took time to look at the past and appreciate the fight our predecessors undertook. Any previous women in science had to tolerate the harassment and bias from men to pave the way for future generations of women. One by one, these women stayed quiet and achieved positions of power and respect, and have made it possible for our generation to take a more vocal approach to sexism. The numbers of women in sciences are finally growing large enough that women can band together to address sexism issues and propose meaningful changes to encourage equality in the workplace.

Just as the younger generations of women are a growing presence in science, so are the men who are willing to take a stand against sexism. Women have many more allies than previously, and this could be a resource to strengthen. We thought this might be an interesting topic to come back to in the future.

Zhang’s article was a satisfying and quick overview of the largest topics of science sexism in mainstream media this year, and a great launching point for future discussions in many directions.

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Graduate School Application Panel

Last week, WCS-UW and Free Radicals/PLU hosted a panel for undergraduates interested in applying to graduate school. Professors Rob Synovec (UW chemistry associate chair for graduate education) and Brandi Cossairt (member of the UW chemistry admissions committee) provided an administrative view of the application process while several graduate students shared their personal experiences. Thank you to all the of panel members and those who attended the event; it was a great way to start off the year!

If you missed it or would like to refresh your memory, here are a few key points:

  • Be sure to check the individual websites of institutions that you are interested in – you’ll be able to find application deadlines and information that may be unique to the school
  • When getting letters of recommendation, try to use faculty rather than TAs and bosses (the latter don’t carry too much weight)
  • If you transferred schools while an undergraduate, get letters from previous and current institutions
  • When looking for possible letter writers, you want to find that one person who can be your advocate and say something unique about you (doing undergraduate research can give you this)
  • Undergraduate research isn’t imperative, but you should have an idea of whether you like research or not
  • Your statement of purpose should express your interest relative to each institution – mention specific faculty, unique characteristics of program, etc.
  • Tailor your cover letter to each school
  • The most important part of your application will be your body of work as an undergraduate
  • In your statement of purpose, think of how you’re going to get the busy reader to take notice of your application – distinguish yourself early and explain any red flags
  • Be careful with templates, you want your statement to be original
  • There is an advantage to getting your application in early
  • Before you apply, it’s okay (and can help you) to contact professors at the institution to introduce yourself and express why you’re excited about attending that school
  • If you would like to defer, be sure to check with each individual institution as they have different policies
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Photos from Inspire STEM at UW Bothell

Photos from the UW Bothell Inspire STEM Festival on October 10th, where we taught students about chromatography by making coffee filter art.  All photos by Jeffrey Buenaflor.

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Resources for undergrads applying to grad school

Level Up! Moving on to Graduate School: This guide and worksheet (written by Olivia Lenz, UW materials science & engineering graduate student) walks through the entire grad school application process, from choosing where to apply to accepting an offer.

UW Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships, and Awards: While this office focuses on scholarships and fellowships, they offer workshops and materials to help with writing personal statements, building a resume or CV, and asking for letters of recommendation – all of which are also relevant for grad school applications.

American Chemical Society: The ACS provides several chemistry-specific resources, such as this “Planning for Graduate Work in Chemistry” guide, as well as more general links.

The ACS Directory of Graduate Research: This database includes a ton of information on chemistry professors and departments, and is searchable by research field, location, and gender. It’s a great place to start looking for potential research advisors.

Trends in Ph. D. Productivity and Diversity in Top-50 U.S. Chemistry Departments: An Institutional Analysis: This study, published in the Journal of Chemical Education in 2014, includes lots of interesting data about department size and representation of women and underrepresented minorities in Ph. D. programs over the past few decades. The University of Washington ranks #2 among these departments in the percentage of Ph. D. degrees granted to women between 2005 and 2009!

The Grad Cafe: The blog posts and discussion forum on this site offer perspectives from all different fields, from both prospective and current grad students. There’s also a database of grad admissions decisions to help figure out when you might hear back from your programs.

The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report both provide a lot of general information on the grad school application process, as well as program rankings – but don’t take the rankings too seriously! There are many different ways to rank programs, and individual experiences and outcomes vary a lot within each program.

Feel free to add your own links in the comments, or email us at!

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For undergrads: Personal statement feedback & grad app workshop

Attention, physical science undergraduate students who are applying to graduate school! Would you like to get helpful feedback on your personal statement or other parts of your application? Several current graduate students and WCS members have volunteered to read and provide feedback on grad school application essays. Whether you need help with putting together a cohesive story that will stand out to the admissions committee, making yourself sound awesome, or just proofreading and grammar, we’re happy to look over your essays and answer your questions. We’ve all been there, and now we want to pay it forward.

To get feedback on your essay, just email it to Feel free to include any other information (e.g., where you’re applying) or questions as well. If you’d prefer to remain anonymous, please specify that in your email, and we’ll make sure we remove your personal information before sending your draft to a grad student. Otherwise, we’ll connect you directly with a grad student (or two) and you can choose to discuss your essay via email or meet up in person.

We’re also hosting a graduate school application workshop on Tuesday, October 20th at 5:30 pm in CHB 102! This event is co-sponsored by Free Radicals/PLU, the undergraduate chemistry club. Professors Rob Synovec (director of the UW chemistry graduate program) and Brandi Cossairt (member of the admissions committee) will provide the admissions committee’s perspective on what makes a good application, and a panel of current graduate students will discuss how they made their applications successful. Pizza will be provided.

If you can’t attend the workshop, you’re still welcome to submit your personal statement for feedback. We’ll also post tips, tricks, and resources from the event here next week!

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Elections and member meeting: Monday 10/12 at 5:00 pm in Rab’s room

Our first member meeting of the academic year will take place next Monday, October 12th at 5:00 in Rab’s room (Bagley 136A, down the short hallway across from classrooms 106 and 108). We’ll be electing new officers for 2015-2016! Any UW graduate student is eligible to run for an officer position (president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, webmaster, and outreach coordinator), and any UW undergraduate student can be the undergraduate liaison. For more information about these positions and their associated responsibilities, you can consult Article IV of the WCS constitution or contact In addition to elections, we’ll also be talking about the STEM-OUT program and our graduate school admissions workshop for undergrads, as well as brainstorming events for the rest of the quarter. Hope to see you there!

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WCS Starts off the New Year with Ice Cream and Introductions

This past week, WCS kicked off the start of a new academic year by hanging out with familiar faces and meeting some new ones. The ice cream social was a chance to catch up with friends we’ve missed over the summer and to network with faculty new to campus. WCS adviser Brandi Cossairt gave a great introduction to the role of our group at UW and the continuing need for organizations like ours in the academic community. If you didn’t have a chance to come, we still hope to see you at our next meeting, coming soon! (After all, we’ve still got some ice cream to finish.) Photos by Rae Eaton

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Ice cream social Tuesday 9/29!

To kick off the academic year and welcome new graduate students and faculty members to the department, WCS is hosting an ice cream social! This event will take place on Tuesday, September 29th in CHB 102. Ice cream (including non-dairy options) will be available with supplies for sundaes and floats starting at 3:00 pm, and we’ll share some introductions and remarks of welcome at 3:45. Hope to see you there!

We have a lot of other events coming up, including chemistry art outreach at the UW-Bothell Discover STEM Festival, a panel discussion for undergraduates who are applying to grad school, our third birthday party, officer elections for 2015-2016, and much more! To get all of the details, you can subscribe to our members or events mailing list or contact us at

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Featuring WCS members involved in STEM-OUT

Here’s a really great article describing the STEM-OUT program, featuring WCS members Joan, Addie, and Scott! STEM-OUT is a partnership between UW and TAF Academy, in which graduate students mentor high schoolers working on senior projects. The goal of the program is to broaden participation in STEM fields among underrepresented minorities. You can find more information about STEM-OUT and request information about applying to be a 2015-2016 mentor here.

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