Columbia U receives $4.2 M grant to increase ranks of women in sciences


"Through the ADVANCE Program, we will offer 'Family Field Pay' for scientists grappling with the balance between family obligations and fieldwork and the associated extra costs,” said Robin Bell, Doherty Senior Research Scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Director of the Earth Institute’s ADVANCE Program.

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the Earth Institute at Columbia University a five-year $4.2 M ADVANCE Program grant to test methods to help women overcome barriers to advancing their careers in earth sciences and engineering and making it into the ranks of tenured professors and senior research scientists.

A 1997 NSF-sponsored study found that 23% of employed Ph.D.s are women with only 13% in earth sciences. Columbia mirrors this national trend with significantly less tenured women in the earth sciences and engineering than found overall at Columbia. The Earth Institute's goal is to increase the number of women in its affiliated academic departments and research centers to 25%.

The Earth Institute ADVANCE Program's approach is five-fold:

  • change hiring practices;
  • provide support to women scientists during difficult life transitions such as elder care and birth or adoption of a child;
  • enhance mentoring and networking opportunities;
  • implement transparent promotion procedures and policies; and
  • conduct a self-study.

"Family issues impact women in the earth and environmental sciences more significantly than other disciplines due to the extended periods of time at sea or in the field. A typical Lamont scientist faces many 60-day cruises to advance his or her science and career. Through the ADVANCE Program, we will offer "Family Field Pay" for scientists grappling with the balance between family obligations and fieldwork and the associated extra costs," said Dr. Robin Bell, Doherty Senior Research Scientist at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Director of the Earth Institute's ADVANCE Program.

"Another key ADVANCE Program strategy is a visiting fellowship program. We have learned that prestigious fellowships are often great stepping-stones to top positions at research universities like Columbia. The ADVANCE Program fellowships will target women (3-8 years post Ph.D.) with the goal of advancing these women to senior positions at the University," added Professor Mark Cane, G. Unger Vetlesen Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences and one of the faculty leaders of the ADVANCE Program.

The ADVANCE Program also includes a comprehensive survey of university faculty, a senior faculty working group that enhances recruitment and retention by providing support for searches and faculty development, internal and external funding competitions designed to recruit and retain women scientists and engineers, and focused workshops and conferences. Working with Bell and Cane to implement this ambitious program are Professor Stephanie Pfirman, Professor and Chair of Barnard College's Department of Environmental Science, Professor John Mutter, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Deputy Director of the Earth Institute, and Dr. Roberta Balstad Miller, Director of CIESIN.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world's leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines--earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences, and health sciences--and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training, and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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