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Women in science – Improving visibility of female scientists online and offline

An online presence is a powerful way of raising the profile of both science and the people who do science. With this session, we aimed to discuss if and how increased online presence can help balance some of the gender biases commonly found in STEM.

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  1. The whole story begins with the fact that we (the organizers of the session, Seirian Sumner and Nathalie Pettorelli) have been for some time now interested in issues related to women in science, and published several contributions on this topic
  2. Each year, since 2011, we have organised the SoapboxScience event, which is basically about improving female scientists' visibility by bringing science to people in the streets of London
  3. ZSL Scientists get on their soapbox at London's Southbank
  4. Soapbox Science in London 2012
  5. This summer, we contacted Nature about an idea we had for a blog - which ended up being published
  6. Later in the summer, our blog publishers, Laura Wheeler and Lou Woodley, asked us if we were interested in organising a session on women in science at the next SpotOn event in November 2012 - and we immediately said yes. Why so? Well, online is becoming one of the most powerful means of promoting both science and the people who do science. From blogs to tweets to Google scholar profiles to virtual attendance at conferences or meetings – online activity allows scientists to step out of their ivory towers, engage with the public, make science accessible to the masses and interact directly with their end-users. There are also many opportunities associated with having a good online visibility: journalists are more likely to hear about a scientist’s work and be interested in covering his/her work if they regularly tweet about it or write blogs; institutions might be more likely to employ a scientist whose achievements are advertised openly to all on the internet; increased online presence can help improve a scientist’s work network, creating links and new collaborations that would have been logistically difficult to establish face-to-face; online profiles might be used to select a speaker at a conference or a new associate journal editor. With fewer women online, these opportunities tend to fall into the laps of male scientists, contributing indirectly to the leaky female career pipe. Helping women scientists improve their online presence can therefore be a powerful way to help them build opportunities for themselves, improve their CVs, and thus increase the likelihood of them staying in STEM careers.
    But is this really an issue? Should women in science bother with online? Is online really such a powerful tool for promoting a science career? If so, how can we encourage more women to engage on line? What resources can a scientist (male or female) use to make online science work for them? With this session, we hoped to try to address these questions.
  7. As part of the discussions, we also hoped to put together a toolkit of useful resources for any female scientists looking to improve/promote her profile online and offline, and make online communication work for her. In the few weeks leading up to SpotOn London, in particular, we tried to generate an online dialogue on twitter and source relevant information
  8. To introduce the aims and scope of the event, we wrote a short blog hosted by the SpotOn conference.
  9. We then asked several of our colleagues and students their opinions about online presence (is it important? why do you do it? why don't you?) and collated a series of blogs, which fed many of the discussions we had on the day. The first blog was by Alienor Chauvenet, on overcoming the imposter syndrome. The release of the blogs was relayed by the SpotOn team and ourselves on twitter, and generated a lot of discussions.
  10. We even ended up having one of the most popular hashtags :)
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