Columbia Grad Students Create Community for Women in Science

Graduate students who head the Women in Science at Columbia organization are expanding their reach from CUMC and Morningside Heights to the wider metropolitan area by helping to launch New York Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—NYWiSTEM—a first-of-its-kind organization dedicated to the advancement of women in the sciences.

“We wanted to create a community that provides resources for mentoring, networking, and professional development to actively address some of the challenges of pursuing STEM education and careers,” says NYWiSTEM co-president Yanne Doucet, a PhD student in the Department of Dermatology through a joint program of Columbia University and the Universite Aix-Marseille.

Women in Science at Columbia, the volunteer organization founded by graduate students in 2004, advocates for women in science and also provides graduate students, medical students, postdocs, junior faculty, and technicians with opportunities to acquire leadership and other professional skills through mentoring undergraduates and organizing outreach events for younger students. “It’s important to have us talking to young girls and explaining to them that they, too, can pursue this type of career,” says Ms. Doucet, former president of Women in Science at Columbia.

The Columbia group hosts events such as Girls’ Science Day, which brings young students to Columbia’s laboratories for daylong programs of activities and experiments led by science graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, and it hosts mentoring events for undergraduates.

Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers need mentoring as well, and the group hosts networking events, such as a recent panel discussion on entrepreneurship and tech startups, and provides resources for grant and fellowship applications. The gender balance in the sciences, Ms. Doucet says, “is pretty well balanced until the level of PhD, but then when people start to go on for tenure positions, it completely drops.” According to the National Science Foundation, women earn about half the doctorates in science and engineering but make up only 21 percent of full science professors and 5 percent of full engineering professors. They also make, on average, 82 percent of what male scientists make.

Every few months, the student group invites a diverse mix of faculty members and principal investigators to discuss their careers. “For the young women who are reaching the point where they’re thinking about having a family and wondering, ‘Can I still be successful? Can I work a lot, and still have a family life?’ you need to have some role models to show you that, yes, you can do it,” says Ms. Doucet.

The desire to broaden the community of women scientists inspired the student leaders to reach out to fellow graduate students and researchers around the city and across numerous fields. New York Women in STEM has drawn members from 37 institutions across academia and industry. “For smaller schools, this provides a community and support that they would not have otherwise, because smaller institutions don’t always have the financial resources for the kind of programs we run,” says Ms. Doucet.

At its first large networking event in October, New York Women in STEM hosted 20 speakers from the fields of academia, industry, consulting, policy, and tech transfer, who held small roundtable talks for some 150 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in attendance, followed by a reception. “The PhD students and postdocs really felt that they got something out of these discussions,” says Ms. Doucet.

More information about New York Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics is available at the group’s website,