Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Deborah Belle to Serve as Principal Investigator on $750,000 Grant to BU to Strengthen Women’s Professional Networks in Science and Engineering

(Boston) – The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a three-year grant to Boston University for a project to help women faculty in the sciences and engineering strengthen their professional networks as a method of improving their career success and satisfaction at the University. BU received the [$750,000] grant as part of the NSF ADVANCE program, which helps universities develop systemic approaches to increasing representation and advancement of women faculty in science and engineering careers. Deborah Belle, the principal investigator of the study, is the Interim Director of the Women’s Studies Program that anchors the UNESCO/UNITWIN on Gender, Culture and People-Centered Development.

Science and engineering departments in U.S. universities continue to lose highly accomplished women to industry and to other non-academic careers, even as women represent an increasing percentage of those who earn doctoral degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. Boston University is no exception. Despite hiring increases at Boston University, the overall percentages of women in natural science and engineering departments at Boston University have remained flat over the past decade.

Research has shown that faculty women in the sciences and engineering often have networks ill-suited to professional development, collaboration, productivity, or high morale. Beyond their own departments, women faculty tend to have fewer ties than do men of comparable rank, resulting in fewer channels through which they might receive information about new scientific discoveries, funding opportunities, or methods of research, or through which they might become known and valued in their fields.

“WIN: Women in Networks, Building Community and Gaining Voice” will adapt programs from other ADVANCE schools and develop new BU programs that will strengthen professional networks to enhance the success and satisfaction of women faculty. In addition, grant allocations will invigorate faculty networks in the science, technology, and engineering disciplines and support new collaborative research ventures. The centerpiece of the project is an analysis of the networks of faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), College of Engineering, and Sargent College, and the potential connection between network changes over time and the retention and promotion of women faculty in science and engineering.

“Analyzing the impact of social networks on improving the career success and satisfaction of women faculty is truly innovative,” explains principal investigator Deborah Belle, also CAS professor of psychology.

Belle notes that the study’s findings may have broader implications for non-academic workplaces and other academic disciplines. The grant will also fund more than 20 collaborative projects in a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and math fields, launching new research spearheaded by women Network analysis tools and techniques developed in this study will be made available to other researchers and institutions.

The overarching goal of the study is to create a rich community at BU, adds Belle. “Women in science and engineering tend to feel marginalized and isolated. We hope to build a professional community where people interact, are intellectually engaged, and feel more at home.”

By Amy Biderman and Deborah Belle