Women in Chemistry provides opportunities for gender minorities

By in News

With the lack of female representation in the science departments, Elaheh Khozeimeh and Ingrid Pickering, two members of the chemistry department at the University of Saskatchewan, and Kelly Summers, a PhD candidate in chemistry, felt the need for a group focused on Women in Chemistry.

Khozeimeh, a research fellow at the Eric Price Research Group, and Pickering, a U of S professor and Canada Research Chair of geology, were driven to action after four chemistry students heard about the idea for a group and expressed their interest. WIC is an initiative created by students, faculty and staff that aims to develop the capacity of gender minorities, not only in chemistry but in science as a whole.

Bryden Hughton, a fourth-year chemistry student, explains the importance of inclusion in WIC, because she believes that everyone needs to be brought into the conversation on diversity.

“I specifically hope that it’s not just women,” Hughton said. “It’s also gender minorities, as well as men, because the group isn’t about making sure women now have more chances than men, it’s about equalling the playing field.”

WIC held their first meeting on Sept. 25 as a way to introduce the new group and encourage involvement from any member of the campus community, regardless of their field of study. Monthly meetings will focus on specific topics and discussions in areas that affect women in the sciences. Interested students can contact WIC by email at
womeninchemsask@gmail.com.

Sydnie Gengler, a fourth-year chemistry student, explains that having a group of people who share her interests is beneficial for a future career in academics or industry. At her previous university, Gengler saw a group similar to this and felt that it could be a positive space at the U of S as well.

“I think having a close network of other women — people in the same situation as you, going through school, going through graduate school, etc. — is really important for your individual success and your group’s success as well,” Gengler said.

The welcome meeting consisted of an informal panel of faculty from geology, chemistry and the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition. The panelists reflected on social issues in the science world as well as the obstacles that they had to personally overcome to get to where they are today.

Hughton feels that WIC offers a space for empowerment and support, stemming from the interaction of professors and students, on a more personal level than a classroom environment can provide.

“I really was interested in having a mentor and talking to someone about their experiences in chemistry — or even any career, really — just being a women that is a minority in their career field,” Hughton said.

Andrea Wasylow, director of planning and projects at the College of Arts and Science, was in attendance at the first WIC meeting and presented on gender diversity, by showing the demographics of faculty at the U of S and exploring the specific struggles some people face when entering academia.

Jenny Panchuk, a fourth-year chemistry student, discusses how WIC has helped her gain confidence as a women in science, even after encountering sexism from others.

“I always wanted to pursue [graduate] studies for sure, but then I always doubted myself, because maybe, some [men] say some things to you and you get discouraged, but this group really helps me out,” Panchuk said. “Everyone’s here to support you, and they have great ideas to help you pursue things that I never thought I could have.”

Jenna Leung

Photographic Illustration: Laura Underwood / Layout Manager

Video still of Mary Sherman Morgan by George D. Morgan