A statement from President Peter Goodwin on UMCES’ commitment to diversity

Women in marine science gather at Horn Point symposium

October 1, 2019

On a cool yet comfortable summer day, almost 100 men and women from seven different states gathered in a tightly packed meeting hall to take a deep dive into science communication.

Chapters of the Society for Women in Marine Science (SWMS) from University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory, University of Delaware, and Virginia Institute of Marine Science hosted members from their communities at the first annual Delaware-Maryland-Virginia (Delmarva) Symposium at the Horn Point Laboratory campus in Cambridge, Maryland.

Graduate students at the Horn Point Laboratory started a chapter of SWMS to support women in marine science.

“The goal of the symposium was to gather young professional in marine science so they can learn about science communication through interactive panels and break-out sessions so we can actively learn how we can communicate our science,” said one of the symposium coordinators and graduate student Hannah Morrissette.

Horn Point Laboratory’s chapter of SWMS was started almost a year and a half ago by and for graduate students who saw the opportunity and value in creating a support system for women in marine science. The national Society for Women in Marine Science was founded in 2014 by a group of women at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to “bring together marine scientists of all career levels to discuss the diverse experiences of women in marine science, celebrate the research done by women in the field, and promote the visibility of women in the marine science community,” according to their mission.

While there is widespread female interest in the field of marine science, different pressures and opportunities, such as starting a family, arise for women that might inhibit their ability to continue a career in marine science. One purpose of SWMS is to provide an inclusive group to understand these challenges and how members can come together to solve them.

Horn Point graduate students and women in marine science Hannah Morrissette, Anna Windle and Lexy McCarty.

Through organized conversations, discussions and networking events, the Horn Point chapter worked to create a support system for both female and male budding marine science professionals at their campus.

Sarah Surak from Salisbury University shares her experience as a professor in marine science.

“We create a space to be together and focus on helping each other,” said Morrissette.

A national SWMS symposium is hosted each year for the 20 international chapters of the organization. With the organization quickly growing since 2014, the annual symposium was in high demand, leading chapters in the from Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to come together to host their own symposium. The purpose of this inaugural meeting was to connect future leaders in the marine science field, learn from established scientists, and share research happening in the Delmarva region with the overarching theme of science communication. 

The theme of science communication is a growing discussion within the scientific community to ensure public understanding of discoveries and breakthroughs in their communities and around the world. In order to jumpstart the discussion, the symposium hosted a panel of female marine scientists from various career levels, ranging from applied science managers at NASA to associate professors at universities, to discuss work-life balance, making successful decisions as graduate students, and their successes and failures in communicating in their industries.

The panel featured Dr. Stephanie Schollaert Uz, an applied sciences manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Victoria Brown, the owner of ShopCove Aquaculture; Kayleigh Michaelides, a conservation manager at the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation; and Dr. Sarah Surak, an associate professor at Salisbury University.

SWMS hosted an event to introduce girls in the community to marine science through hands on activities.

After a panel discussion filled with helpful tips for effectively and clearly communicating science with peers and the public, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Integration and Application Network held a science communication workshop to teach symposium attendees how to engage audiences with interesting visuals. Up- -and-coming marine scientists at the session left with a better understanding of resources and methods they can use to create appealing conference posters.

Attendees of the symposium were invited to stay at Horn Point Laboratory campus overnight to participate in a volunteer outreach event that introduced 30 girls from local schools what being a marine scientist means through field activities and hands on learning. Women who learned science communication tactics the day prior from leaders in marine science had the opportunity to become the mentor for girls interested in the sciences. The mentees became the mentors.

By exploring and identifying local trees and dissecting oysters, these girls from local schools were able to get a look into what it’s like to be a marine scientist while also teaching some marine science basics.

“It was an awesome event full of laughs, high energy, and valuable networking,” Ph.D. candidate Anna Windle wrote in a blog post summarizing the event.

“I am grateful to be surrounded by such like-minded female scientists and feel very fortunate that I never ran into any barriers during my education. We are the next generation of scientists and it is our responsibility to inspire those younger.”