Defining the gender of science

Cell Press event will look into creating better science through gender parity

Gender underlies many aspects of science. (Image © Editors, we think an awful lot about being fair and objective. After all, it’s the core of what we do in our role as the facilitators and – dare we say it – guardians of the peer review process. Our overall aim is, of course, to achieve true equity and objectivity in the way we as a community do science, interpret science and publish science. So when perhaps the largest minority group in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is experiencing discrimination, it is natural and important for us, as editors and publishers, to play a role in combating that bias.

This is what gave us the idea for a meeting on The Gender of Science and the Science of Gender.

The goal is to revel in our gender differences with some awesome science, and then discuss how we can ensure that these differences are treated as the asset they are. Science is better and more accurate when it’s inclusive. The exclusion of women from STEM – both as scientists, participants, patients and consumers – results in poorer outcomes. This meeting aims to pull together some of the best minds in Boston and beyond to enlighten, engage and empower both men and women to work towards achieving true gender equity in STEM.

How can a publisher promote gender parity?

Cell Metabolism’s “Rosie Project”

Cell Metabolism's 'Rosie ProjectThe Cell Metabolism reached out to women scientists in the field of metabolism and asked them to share their stories, successes, and challenges as well as their words of wisdom for the next generations of researchers. To read their stories, visit the Cell Metabolism website.

At Cell Press, many of us are working on different projects with the overall aim of achieving gender parity in STEM. These fit into and run alongside the efforts of the larger Elsevier gender-working group. For example:

These efforts are not one-off events, they are not going away, and the community is taking notice: “The response we've had to our Women in Metabolism series has been tremendously positive,” says Dr. Nikla Emambokus, Editor of Cell Metabolism.

Taking the conversation live

This upcoming LabLinks event takes this broader narrative in a new direction. Cell Press started the LabLinks program 10 years ago. LabLinks are one-day meetings that are free to attend, and they normally bring together local speakers with a common scientific interest. We’ve run them on a multitude of interesting topics in many cities, from chromatin and DNA repair (Boston), to human genetics (Texas), the intersection of stem cells and cancer (New York), and even plant biology (planned for Beijing in November). They are normally on topics we – as life science publishers – know very well.

This one is a bit different.

This LabLinks event is designed to bring together two seemingly different communities. Half of the talks tackle intriguing and controversial topics relating to the biology of gender: What makes the male and female brain different? How close are we to creating a male contraceptive pill? Do environmental toxins that mimic sex hormones affect fetal development? What can clam shells teach us about engineering a better drug for ovarian cancer?

The other half of the talks are drawn from social science research and address some of the most challenging issues around gender disparity in STEM: confronting implicit bias, achieving work-life balance, giving and obtaining effective mentorship, and achieving diversity in a meritocracy.

Although the researchers speaking at this event are asking very different questions, however, they are united in using data-driven approaches to examine the world through the lens of gender.

Prof. Catherine Dulac, PhDProf. Londa Schiebinger, PhDOur keynote speakers are stellar scientists from each community. Prof. Londa Schiebinger of Stanford will talk about gendered innovations: the true incorporation of gender as a variable in scientific research and technology development, from using crash-test dummies with the body composition of both men and women, to including sufficient women or men in clinical trials. Prof. Catherine Dulac of Harvard will talk about the neurobiology of human behaviour – does our biology drive men and women to think and behave differently? We’re incredibly excited to welcome them both.

Highlighting gender balance

As you look through our speaker list, you may notice there are not many men. In fact, 85 percent of the speakers are female. We chose this number because it is close to the percentage of male speakers routinely found on the programs at prestigious scientific conferences. If it feels strange or uncomfortable to see a roster of nearly all women, please try and recall that feeling when you see a line-up of 85 percent men.

Getting the community involved

The creation of this event could not have happened without help from local community activists. We were very comfortable in our knowledge of the local biologists and the exciting biology happening in the area, but we needed some help in identifying the best local social science speakers. So we reached out to the regional (Massachusetts) chapter of the Association of Women in Science (AWIS), which has worked extensively with area researchers and activists who regularly speak on issues such as work-life balance, mentorship and combating bias. They brought a wealth of knowledge about who the best speakers were and helped us secure them for the event. They also connected us with a fantastic network of Massachusetts groups with aligned interests who could help spread the word about the event. Although this LabLinks event stretched slightly beyond our expertise, pairing with a local group that specializes in promoting gender parity in STEM has increased the quality of the event and helped us reach out to an audience that might not be familiar with Cell Press.

The legacy

We’re excited to see what the legacy of this meeting will be. We hope it will be the first of many and that we can take this format outside the Boston area. We hope both men and women scientists will join us, learn something new, and feel empowered to work towards making science the fair and objective place we all strive for it to be.

If you are in the Boston area we hope we will see you on May 19.

To attend LabLinks events

Cell Press LabLinks eventThe Gender of Science and the Science of Gender will be on Thursday, May 19, from 9 am to 5 pm at the Koch Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Admission is free. View the program and register here.

Other upcoming LabLinks

September 23, 2016

Evolution of Commensal Interactions
October 10, 2016

Emotion and the Brain
New York, NY
October 19, 2016

Beijing, China
November 18, 2016

Elsevier Connect Contributors

Nicole Neuman, PhDDr. Nicole Neuman received her PhD from Tufts University, where she studied the role of Bone Morphogenetic Proteins (BMPs) in vascular biology with Dr. Akiko Hata. She then moved on to Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Harvard Medical School), where she worked with Dr. Elizabeth Henske studying the molecular mechanisms of LAM, a lung disease that is almost exclusively found in women. After completing her postdoctoral training, she joined Cell Press in 2012 as the Editor of Trends in Biochemical Sciences (@TrendsBiochem), a reviews-only journal.

Liz Gaskell, PhDDr. Liz Gaskell earned her PhD from the University of Leeds in the UK, where she studied apicomplexan parasite metabolism with Drs. Glenn McConkey and Judith Smith. She started her editorial career at Genome Biology, BioMed Central, where she spent two years before making the leap across publishers and an ocean to join Molecular Cell (@Molecular Cell) in 2011. Liz spends much of her time thinking about how new ideas in molecular biology can be cultivated, communicated and given prominence via Molecular Cell’s review content. She also writes and curates The Female Scientist column for the Cell Press blog, CrossTalk (@CellCrossTalk).

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