500 Women Scientists strengthens science community, empowers women in Fort Collins

Casey Setash

After the 2016 presidential election, a small group of female scientists in Boulder took a pledge to create a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.

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Stickers handed out at the most recent “pod” meeting of 500 Women Scientists (Casey Setash | Collegian)

They soon began to gather momentum for their cause, and what started as a grassroots initiative to amass 500 supporters quickly became an international network of more than 20,000 women scientists dedicated to standing up for their scientific ideals.

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The group, 500 Women Scientists, was born, and over the last nine months they have worked to empower women, increase scientific literacy and advocate for science in the political realm.

Local chapters of the organization called “Pods” allow women to meet and discuss scientific issues pertinent to their particular region.

The Fort Collins Pod, led by Dr. Jessica Metcalf, Dr. Elizabeth McCullagh and Dr. Megan Machmuller, has gathered four times since the election. They have focused largely on scientific outreach thus far, participating in an annual event called Expand Your Horizons, which brings science workshops to middle school aged girls in the community.

“The whole point is for girls to see women in leadership positions doing what we do every day,” said McCullagh, a postdoc at CU Anschutz.

They have also participated in a letter-writing campaign dubbed “I Heart the EPA” to pay their respects to EPA scientists, whose work has famously been stifled since President Trump took office.

The Fort Collins Pod kicked off the 2017-2018 academic year with a meeting last Wednesday to strategize for the coming year.

Machmuller began the meeting by charging the attendees to think about “where our motivations lie” and to “lay out certain goals so that together as a group we can figure out what we can do.”

The group hopes to continue focusing on outreach but also recruiting new members and considering various initiatives for which they might advocate over the coming year.

One of those issues is that of parental leave for postdocs working at CSU.

McCullagh, cradling her 11-week-old daughter in her arms, offered her perspective on parental leave as a postdoc.

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“Basically, you have to take disability to get maternity leave,” McCullagh said. “And, not many people are eligible for it because you have to sign up for it a year ahead of time. I’m a state employee, but I think that’s something we can do something about then.”

McCullagh said taking action is key.

“We could petition the state and say ‘look, if you want women to be more involved in science, let’s come up with a real family leave policy that benefits people. It’s something that’s actually really easy for you guys to give, and doesn’t hurt you much,'” McCullagh said.

The group plans to collaborate with other similar organizations such as Graduate Women in Science and the Standing Committee on the Status of Women Faculty to advance their cause and continue offering support to women across scientific fields in Fort Collins.

Contact Machmuller at megan.machmuller@colostate.edu to learn how to get involved with the Fort Collins Pod.

Collegian reporter Casey Setash can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @caseylovesbirds.