By Laura Falkenberg
This is the last blog post I’ll be authoring as a Raelyn Cole Editorial Fellow, but also the first I wanted to write. The inspiration for this post was sparked during my Fellowship interview with the Editor-in-Chief of Limnology and Oceanography: Letters, Pat Soranno. I left that interview with all the normal worries (Did I understand the questions properly? Did I make my points clearly?), but also with a clearer image of how I, as a woman in STEMM, could progress in the field. Since then, this feeling has only strengthened – in addition to collaborating with Pat, I’ve also worked with women in a range of roles associated with RCEF activities. In this blog post, timed to be released on International Women’s Day, I want to take a moment to reflect, to tell you a little about the people who have shaped this Fellowship. I’m doing this in part to acknowledge their role in my Fellowship, but mainly in the hope that by making these women more visible, it will be easier for students and early career researchers to follow in their footsteps.
The key figure in my RCEF experience has been Pat Soranno. Pat is the founding Editor-in-Chief at L&O Letters, and the main supervisor/advisor of the Fellows. Having Pat in this role has been revelatory for me. Despite having around 10 years of experience in scientific research, before the Fellowship I had always worked with male advisors or supervisors. All of my supervisors have had something different to teach me, and Pat is no exception. Perhaps most importantly, Pat has shown me women can take on, and excel in, senior roles. I had always been told this, but as the saying goes “seeing is believing” – and simply by working with Pat my belief grew. Moreover, Pat has shown how we can all be looking for opportunities to make room for diverse scientists. For example, at one point a graduate student reached out to her and asked about the possibility of having a gender-neutral title option in the submission system (so people without higher degrees don’t have to identify as Mr or Ms, but could rather use Mx), something Pat immediately started looking into and trying to resolve. Pat has shown me not just how to be a woman in science, but also how to make the field more welcoming for the next generation of scientists.
For the second half of my term I have worked alongside another Fellow, Kelsey Poulson-Ellestad. The first time I met Kelsey I was a little overwhelmed – she seemed to have such a strong sense of who she was as a scientist, and a clear idea of where she was going within academia. Seeing this in another female Early Career Researcher gave me a little more confidence to set myself big goals, and then go after them. Since I met her, Kelsey has become a mother. It has been inspiring to watch her handle this transition with grace and determination. In addition, I have also been able to see how working in a supportive and flexible environment has allowed her to balance the demands on her time. We all have people outside of science who depend on us – be that kids, a partner, other family, or friends – and there will be times that affects how we work. Recognising this, and adjusting so people can support their loved ones while also continuing to meet their work responsibilities, is yet another way we can make science more inclusive.
As my experience with the Fellowship went on, I was continually exposed to women in leadership roles. For example, the first ASLO board meeting I attended was chaired by a female President, Linda Duguay, with the Executive Committee having 3:2 male:female representation, and that of the Members-at-Large 1:1. There was also gender parity in the Editors of the ASLO journals, with the ASLO staff weighted toward female at 1:3. In this context, notable was the female Executive Director, Teresa Curto, who has always made me feel incredibly welcome. Finally, there were also women as key points of contact with the publisher, particularly Fiona Sarne, who is a Senior Editor within the Society Management team at John Wiley and Sons. For me, a big part of why this representation had impact was because it wasn’t remarked upon, it wasn’t treated as anything special. This is just the way it was, and I – as a women in science – could have a place in these rooms full of scientists and publishers.
There is one final figure I need to acknowledge in this piece – Raelyn Cole – the woman the Fellowship is named after. Although I never met Raelyn, during my Fellowship term I have been able to meet some of her family, friends, and colleagues. What strikes me about the way people speak of her is the passion, dedication, and high standards to which she held both herself and those around her. Those who had their work edited by Raelyn repeatedly told me she was fearless – that she would tear pieces apart with her red pen. I can’t be anything but inspired by a woman in science who was willing to have, and share, such strong opinions.
I have been lucky to spend the last two years becoming aware of the wonderful work done by these women. Before the RCEF I didn’t think a lack of female role models affected me, but I have come to realise that seeing someone like you in a position you might one day have is important. It makes your goals seem that little bit more achievable. If any of the women I have worked with during the Fellowship are reading this, I would like to extend my sincere recognition and thanks. I can only hope that one day someone will be able to see their future a little more clearly for having interacted with me.