The University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Women in Science organization hosted “Women in Science Policy, Politics, and Government,” a panel discussion, on Tuesday, Oct. 29.
The event featured a panel of women currently serving in scientific government roles, from the local, state and federal levels. Women in Science Coordinator Clarice Perryman, a Ph.D. candidate in the natural resources and earth systems science program, introduced the four panelists. They included Commissioner Jackie Richter-Menge of the U.S. Arctic Research Committee; Amanda Beal, who works for the Department of Agriculture and Forestry in Maine; Mindi Messmer, who was a New Hampshire state representative for two years and is a founding member of the New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance; and Lindsey Williams, a member of MIT Sea Grant and the City Council in Dover.
The event started with a buffet lunch of sandwiches, chips, refreshments and Halloween candy. There were around 30 audience members, in addition to the four panelists. They introduced themselves, and then answered several questions from Perryman that had been developed in advance. Perryman first asked the panelists to describe a typical day in their lives. Beal, who oversees state parks and lands in Maine and is also in the process of completing her Ph.D. at UNH, said, “every single day is different for me.” Alternatively, Richter-Menge joked that since she is semi-retired, sometimes her days consist of asking herself, “Am I going to take the dog for a walk today?”
Perryman’s next question was about mentors that each of the women had in their lives. All of the women shared fairly similar sentiments on this question, that they believe this goes hand in hand with the idea of networking and building a network.
“Developing your network is a full-time job, but it’s a fun job… You find stuff out that you never knew,” Richter-Menge said.
Before opening the conversation up for questions from the audience, Perryman asked the panelists what the best part of their work was, specifically where they found the most meaning. Beal shared that it is exciting for her to learn new things every day. Williams said that during her day job, she enjoys interacting with students and helping them with research projects.
“I have a lot of students that come to me and say ‘hey, I’m interested in science and policy and I’m not sure how to decide which one to do,’” she said.
At the end of the panel, audience members then had the chance to ask questions, such as their personal definitions of science policy, their advice on getting elected and networking and how to start getting involved in the topics discussed during the panel.
Eliza Balch, a UNH graduate student studying natural resources, attended the event. She explained that she went into the event not knowing what to expect, but that she enjoyed it.
“I expected it to be over my head but I found it very accessible and I learned a lot about how different areas of policy work, which I knew little to nothing about so, I really liked that,” she said. “I really liked how all of them spoke about mentorship and their journeys through different parts of their career and how mentors played a role.”
Perryman explained the aim of Women in Science is to “provide a space for women in STEM at UNH to build community, learn about and discuss gender issues in STEM, and participate in professional development.”
She noted that while the group is largely made up of graduate students, undergraduates are welcome as well. Women in Science hosts two to three events per semester, often a panel similar to Tuesday’s event. Some past panel topics included “implicit bias and gender-based harassment, how to negotiate in the job search and careers outside academia,” according to Perryman. Looking towards the future, Perryman said Women in Science is always welcoming of people looking to plan and host events.