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ASU biogeochemist selected for national board of AWIS

December 03, 2008

Susanne Neuer, an oceanographer who studies carbon flux and planktonic diversity at Arizona State University, has been selected by the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) to serve on the national executive board, as councilor. Her term will start January 1, 2009.

Neuer, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences, met with the transitional board in November, when the AWIS governing board visited ASU. Neuer will replace Jane Maienschein, Regents’, President’s and Parents Association Professor in the School of Life Sciences, who is stepping down after serving her second term in 2006-2008. 

“This is great!  It's rare for a small chapter to have such representation, and it speaks well to our excellent members,” notes Maienschein, who is also the director of the Center for Biology and Society in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

Neuer was elected president of the Central Arizona Chapter of AWIS in 2008. Local chapters represent women in all branches of science, both in academic and business settings. Central Arizona’s local chapter officers include a local biotechnology researcher Catherine Parmiter, in addition to Faye Farmer, with the Biodesign Institute at ASU, and School of Life Sciences’ graduate students and staff: Jamie Howard, Mrinalini Muralidharan, and Margaret Coulombe. The chapter sponsors monthly gatherings on the ASU campus, bringing in prominent speakers in science, technology, engineering, and math, and offering practical guidance to support women at all stages of their science careers, from resume building to interviewing and negotiating contracts. 

More than 50% of students entering the sciences as undergraduates in college are women, but that percentage dips radically following the completion of graduate degrees, as women enter science career paths. A recent survey of postdoctoral fellows conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showed that while both the sexes felt equally qualified, “women were less confident about their chances to land a position, much less achieve tenure.”


In an interview conducted by the journal Science, AWIS president Phoebe Leboy noted that “women lag behind men in terms of grants per investigator, dollars per grant, success in getting grants renewed, and responsibility for big budget center grants. And because success is so closely tied to funding, particularly in academic health centers, all of these things mean that women are having a harder time achieving tenure than men.”


With women constituting 45% of the workforce, but holding only 12% of science and engineering jobs in business and industry, and the “leaky pipeline” toward advancement, Central Arizona’s chapter places a premium on mentoring and networking, and building support systems from “cradle to grave” for undergraduates, graduate students, and post doctoral fellows, as well as tenure track faculty and business leaders. However, AWIS is not just about women and retention, it is about outreach and capacity building.

“I feel that our chapter has embodied the mission of AWIS on the grass roots level, namely “breaking down barriers” and creating opportunities,” Neuer notes. “I enjoy my role as a catalyst and advocate, especially for young women who are on the verge of a career in science. Despite the progress in the representation of women in science careers over the past decades, the high attrition of female scientists from graduate school to leading positions in science is still a huge obstacle to gender equality. I would like to broaden my activities and contribute to the national goals of AWIS by raising awareness of the issues at stake for future generations.”

The national office for the Association for Women in Science is based in Washington, DC. Their mission is to “enhance the future of the U.S. science and technology enterprise by supporting the career advancement of a key national resource: the women in STEM.” AWIS and colleague organizations recently sent a list of the names of 40 women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics qualified to serve in key leadership positions in new administration to President-Elect Barack Obama.

“Working at the national level will allow me to grow as a leader and to establish and strengthen existing links to women in science in other countries. I believe that only with a concerted effort and organized “capacity building” can we eventually close the gender gap and achieve true representation national levels.”

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Interview with Susanne Neuer on School of Life Sciences "Science Studio" podcast: