Fourteen alumnae, faculty of URI Graduate School of Oceanography featured in publication on women in oceanography

Posted on
KINGSTON, R.I. – February 11, 2015 – When Karen Wishner was hired in 1980 as an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, she became the first woman tenure-track faculty member hired at GSO as a result of a national search. Now she is among 200 woman oceanographers, including 13 GSO alumnae, who were featured last month in a special edition of the magazine Oceanography, which focused on the progress made by women in oceanography.

“It is exciting to see so many women at all stages of professional life enjoying successful careers in various aspects of oceanography,” said Wishner, a resident of Narragansett. “It’s been a great adventure for me, and it’s rewarding to realize that we helped pave the way for younger scientists and their future in oceanography.”

Wishner played a key role in increasing the representation of women at GSO as co-leader of a National Science Foundation-funded ADVANCE Institutional Transformation project, which resulted in the hiring of five women faculty members, all of whom have earned tenure. Today, more than a third of GSO faculty members are women, up from 15 percent a decade ago, following a national trend highlighted in the Oceanography Society report. And 63 percent of GSO students are women, one of the highest percentages among the 26 major oceanography degree-granting institutions surveyed.

The GSO alumnae featured in the report are: Fatima Abrantes, Portuguese Institute for the Sea and Atmosphere; Paula Bontempi, National Aeronautic and Space Administration; Marie-Helene Cormier, URI Graduate School of Oceanography; Meghan Cronin, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory; Xujing Jia Davis, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Kathryn Ford, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries; Julia Hummon, University of Hawaii; Deborah Hutchinson, U.S. Geological Survey; Alexandra Isern, National Science Foundation; Libby Johns, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory; Ellen Mecray, National Climatic Data Center; Sunshine Menezes, URI Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting; and Colleen Mouw, Michigan Technical University. The report also includes URI graduates Erika Lentz, U.S. Geological Survey; Amy Maas, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences; and LeAnn Whitney, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

Like Wishner, all were featured in the report with a one-page profile that outlined their career progress and the challenges they have faced as female oceanographers. Wishner reflected on her recent attendance at a prestigious scientific meeting with five women colleagues and their realization that they had “survived the stresses and the battles of the early days” and had “made it” in their oceanographic careers.

Many of those profiled in the report noted the challenges they faced from the competing demands of career and family, while some who tried to find a personally satisfying balance were judged harshly for their choices.

Menezes, for instance, who took a non-traditional career path after earning her doctorate in oceanography, faced initial disappointment from academic colleagues for her choice to pursue a career at the interface of science, journalism and environmental communication. “I have witnessed a dramatic shift over the past 10 years with regard to academics’ acceptance of non-academic careers,” she said. “I relish opportunities to help young scientists identify mechanisms for accommodating research and science communication objectives within their own careers.”

Bontempi also faced criticism for her career choices when she switched from a job in research to one in science management, but she counsels the many overwhelmed scientists she knows to take a break when they need it, because “work will always be there and so will new opportunities.”

The report, “Women in Oceanography: A Decade Later,” is a follow-up to a 2005 report that examined why men continued to vastly outnumber women at the higher levels of the discipline, even as the number of female graduate students grew steadily. The latest report illuminates the progress that has been made in addressing career barriers since the last volume was published and areas where further attention might still be needed.

“The complete report can be found here.”