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Women in Soil Science

UD’s Seyfferth co-organizes national networking event

Though the world of soil science is taking strides towards gender equality, it still tends to be a male dominated field.

Because of this, the University of Delaware’s Angelia Seyfferth and Samantha Ying, assistant professor at the University of California at Riverside, decided to host a “Food (and Drink!) for Thought” facilitated networking event for female soil scientists at the Tri-Societies annual conference—a gathering of the Soil Science Society of America, the Agronomy Society of America and the Crop Society of America—held recently in Tampa, Florida.

The two organizers had 21 people RSVP to the event but nearly 100 showed up.

“The fact that we got more than four times the number of people that RSVP-ed showed that there was a need for this,” said Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. “We got a lot of feedback from people that said they want to have it every year.”

Ying said that the response to the event far exceeded her expectations.

“Seeing how engaged and happy everyone was chatting with each other, and some saying they want it to happen every year and maybe even every day of the conferences in the future, made me ecstatic,” said Ying. “One thing I learned from meeting people through this event was how extensive the network of amazing women is, who are pushing forward with advancing under-represented minorities and women in science and really finding ways to build a strong pipeline. There's already so many effective tools in place, I felt honored to contribute this tiny piece to the giant effort started by many I got to meet face to face that night.”

One of the outcomes of the event was a contact list of all attendees that colleagues can pull from to nominate for awards or invite to give talks at their respective institutions.

“It will help to promote female faculty but also foster some collaboration and mentorship as well,” said Seyfferth.

Ying added that it was great to meet other women in the field and that she enjoyed the opportunity to meet the researchers in person and not just know them through reading their research papers.

“People there spoke to each other with ease and honesty and heart​. Even if some people just ended up talking to women they already knew, I was happy this gave them a dedicated time and space to enjoy some downtime to get to relax and get to know each other,” said Ying. “To top it off, coincidentally, Dr. Karen Vaughan of University of Wyoming lead a study that showed how far we are from gender parity within soil science in multiple sectors. She brought her poster and her team of students and educated us on the current numbers. It was so exciting to see all of these powerful moments come together in one place.”

The event was in a progressive party style where participants rotated to four different tables every 15 minutes and participated in facilitated discussions about specific issues facing women in the field of soil sciences.

“We wanted to be different from the idea of sitting there and listening to someone speak to us. We wanted to have the actual expertise in the room talk with each other,” said Seyfferth.

Seyfferth herself was able to meet a senior faculty member face to face for the first time.

“I was able to meet a person who I had never met before who is a full professor in my field. As a female, there are few of them so just to be able to meet them face to face even if a collaboration isn’t happening now I think that it’s important to see people who are like me in that role,” said Seyfferth.

While there aren’t currently a high number of women in the field, Seyfferth said that as the number of women who receive doctorates in the field increases, the number of female faculty members who are soil scientists should increase as well.

“The percentage of females who are getting positions as assistant professors is increasing so as long as they’re successfully promoted, hopefully that will start to reconcile itself and lead to more diversity,” said Seyfferth. “Another issue that’s related but also separate is a general lack of diversity in soil science and so while this was targeted specifically for females, we’re hoping that it can be expanded to talk about how we can be more inclusive and embrace the diversity that we have.”

The organizers are hopeful that the networking event will occur at the next international meeting which will be held in January 2019 in San Diego and that it can extend its reach.

“I'm really excited for my colleagues who are men, including my partner Michael Schaefer​, another researcher in our field, to organized similar events for men who support women in science,” said Ying. “We need to do more in acknowledging everyone who puts effort, time, care, and money into advancing women and minorities, and these are both men and women around us. I'm excited to figure this next step out and how we can contribute to retaining women through making these networking events and support systems more ubiquitous.”

Seyfferth was sponsored by the University of Delaware ADVANCE program, which is aimed at increasing opportunities for UD’s women faculty, to attend and organize the event. The University of California at Riverside’s Department of Environmental Sciences and their College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, specifically Dean Kathryn Urich, also sponsored the event.

In addition, Ying credits Marco Keiluweit, an assistant professor at UMass-Amherst, for sparking the initial idea of having an event just for female soil scientists. Ying also said that Jan Roselle, assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at Pomona College, and Owen Duckworth, the chair of the Soil Chemistry committee, played key roles in making the event happen.


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