UND School of Graduate Studies Blog

Happenings at The School of Graduate Studies at the University of North Dakota

Dr Gretchen Mullendore, Atmospheric Sciences, talks WIS.

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Our guest contributor this week is Dr Gretchen Mullendore, Atmospheric Sciences, who answers some questions about mentorship, challenges and the role of women scientists.

As a woman in a scientific discipline, what are some of the challenges you have faced?

I have been lucky to have good teachers and mentors throughout my career, who gave me encouragement and challenged me to grow academically and personally.  What has been more difficult is the lack of role models- seeing someone like me in my field.  I often had the experience of being the in the gender minority in my college classes.  I enjoy collaborating with male colleagues, but I’ve found over the years that my female colleagues provide an important network of support and feedback that is hard to find with a male colleague.  My personal goal for the UND Women in Science group is to create a mentoring network on our campus and in our region, so that women scientists- including myself! -will have a greater opportunity to build that network of support.

Do you/how do you think the role of women scientists has changed?

I don’t think the role of women in science has changed.  Honestly, I still would like to see more women in decision-making positions.  For example: program managers at federal agencies, and director positions at federal and private research labs.  As previous bloggers described in their interviews, the drop-off in women in science careers is quite dramatic after the PhD-student/postdoc level.  And another major “leak” in the so-called science “pipeline” occurs at the administrative level.

Can you describe your research? 

Most of the work I do focuses on understanding cloud-scale dynamics through numerical modeling.  Examples of applications of this type of research are: quantifying the amount of chemicals transported from the surface to the stratosphere in severe storms; investigating the role of convectively-generated gravity waves on triggering new convection; and understanding the role of regional lakes (e.g. Upper and Lower Red Lake, Devils Lake) on snow forecasts.

How important is mentorship in the development of young scientists?

Mentorship is very important and young scientists should be encouraged to have several mentors!  Mentorship helps in networking, and networking is the best way to learn about opportunities and open doors to new career pathways.  There are an incredible number of ways to be successful in science.  I think most young scientists think there is one main trajectory to be successful, and that if they step off of that trajectory even a little, they will fail.  But many successful scientists have taken more circuitous routes, like taking time off (or working part time) when children were small, or jumping into different fields later in their schooling or career.

Do you feel there are still stereotypes surrounding women in the sciences?

Most women in science, including myself, have anecdotal tales about having to deal with negative stereotypes, either from family, or colleagues, or the media.  But the impact is a difficult thing to quantify, and the power of these negative stereotypes, like “girls can’t do math” or “male students are better with computers”, is often downplayed.  I highly recommend reading this blog post about a 15-minute writing exercise tested in University of Colorado physics classes that closed the performance gender gap.  This writing exercise to build self-confidence and self-worth worked to improve female performance better than even extra study groups.  This result suggests that the primary element holding women back in scientific pursuits is not academic capability, but the fear that the negative stereotypes pervasive in society are correct and they are therefore doomed to fail.  As the blog referenced above says, it’s only by changing the environment in which learning happens that the gender gap can be eliminated.

As a postscript to Dr Mullendore’s interview, the UND Women in Science group held a social and panel last week to discuss and share thoughts on the graduate school experience. Here are a few photos from the afternoon!

Undergraduates, graduate students and faculty came together as Women in Science, to network and support each other

Sharing experiences and stories about their graduate school experience

Panelists included graduate students from Nursing, Atmospheric Sciences, Biology and the School of Medicine

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Written by School of Graduate Studies

October 26, 2011 at 8:04 am

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