I went to medical school at a time when women were just beginning to be seen in large numbers in medicine and science. My class at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine was a quarter women, and that was the largest proportion they’d ever had. I ran into all of the challenges you’d imagine—being one of a very few minority women on clinical rotations, being picked on or ignored because I was female or because I was black, or maybe both.
I am a junior researcher in a large system of schools—eight campuses. Working at one of the smaller regional campuses, I was feeling a little isolated. It was challenging to find the right mentors to advise me on merging my ongoing work as a Registered Nurse with my new role as a researcher, and organizing my research plan.
It was by happy accident that I found the Women of Color Research Network through NIA’s website a year ago. The network has been more than just an electronic resource. For me, it’s an environment of support... WoCRn is making our big university system just a little smaller and more collegial.
Crystal Shannon PhD, RN, MBA
Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, Indiana University Northwest
Though I hope some of these issues are behind us, I know that women of color continue to face many challenges in science. All too often, women who look like me experience covert or overt racism and sexism in science classrooms and in research workplaces. We experience unique stresses because of our race and gender. We struggle to find mentors and peer networks that can help us respond well to these stresses and overcome challenges. That is why I invite you to join the Women of Color Research Network, like Crystal Shannon did (see the box to the right).
Here at the NIH, we pay a lot of attention to the pipeline of future researchers and its composition by race and gender. We know that women of color enter science and research training in smaller numbers and drop out of the science workforce at higher rates than their non-Hispanic white colleagues. And, we know that mentors and peer networks can have a tremendous positive impact on a woman’s career. It’s these connections that help women successfully navigate those first steps of the academic career ladder.
Mentoring made all the difference for me. Without my amazing mentors, I might have left science or medicine. Chief among those mentors were my parents, who were both physicians. At the time of my training there were very few other mentors from my race/ethnicity, let alone gender, to whom I could turn. Fortunately, these days there are more role models and much more recognition of the important role of mentoring, even when the mentor is not of the same race/ethnicity/gender. This is one reason why I am delighted to co-chair the trans-NIH Women of Color Committee of the Women in Biomedical Careers Working Group. The Women of Color Committee provides the primary support to NIH’s Women of Color Research Network (WoCRn). WoCRn stimulates the kinds of support that made the difference in my career. However, it goes further, not only providing the opportunity to connect with mentors and peers, but also making resources readily known that may assist with career advancement.
Have you joined NIH’s Women of Color Research Network? If not, please sign up today!
If you’re a woman of color in research, if you’re mentoring one of these women, or if you’re someone who values diversity in science, there’s a resource for you.
WoCRn offers support, information, and networking opportunities to women from diverse backgrounds, their mentors, and others in the research community. The network is for women of color as well as everyone who values diversity in the scientific workforce. Started in 2011 by the Women of Color Committee of the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers, it’s already up to 1,200 members. If you’re not one of them, I hope you will be soon.
How can you get involved?
A WoCRn success in Indiana.
WoCRn has many members in Indiana. A little extra work to connect these members to each other led to the founding of the network’s first chapter. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is now planning a mentoring symposium this fall, and with help from WoCRn, interested faculty at campuses across the state are able to participate.
Interested in finding out more about how to get something started in your community? Start by commenting below.
1. Join the network
Join WoCRn by registering for account. Registration is easy. There are just a few questions about your contact and demographic information.
2. Connect with other members using the Membership Directory
One of the most important resources available to members is the Membership Directory. Log in to your WoCRn account, then find a mentor, or new contacts working in your field of research. Or, find people in your local area and invite them for coffee.
3. Add your comments to the conversation and find answers to your questions on the Spectrum Blog and the forums
Check out the many active discussions on the WoCRn Spectrum Blog and forums. For example, there’s Publicity: Not Just for Celebrities about women raising their visibility in the scientific community. And here’s a helpful list of upcoming events related to women of color and science that you might like to attend.
Do you have other questions about how the NIH and the NIA support women of color in their science careers? Please comment below and let me know.