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Barbara Whitten Developing Mentoring Program for Female Physics Faculty

Colorado College Professor of Physics Barbara Whitten and four collaborators will lead the development of a mentoring program designed to support isolated female physics faculty. The five-year project is supported by a $742,648 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE program to the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).

Women are rare in physics, and minority women are particularly so. Only 14 percent of physics faculty members are women, and 6 percent are underrepresented minorities. This rarity can cause isolation that can make it difficult for women physics faculty to have fulfilling and enjoyable careers. The project, titled "Mutual Mentoring to Combat Isolation in Physics," will enhance professional development by creating 10 "alliances" of women physics faculty who are isolated in various ways.

"I am a member of a similar alliance, funded by a previous NSF grant. Having female peers to talk to has transformed my professional and personal life," Whitten said. "Many studies show that peer mentoring is an effective way to help scientists develop a satisfying and successful career.

"We are planning to use a combination of face-to-face meetings and electronic connections to reduce the isolation of participating physicists and to support their career development," Whitten said. "As many as 50 women physics faculty members will participate in the mutual mentoring alliances supported by this project."

Participants initially will meet in-person at professional meetings, followed by regular electronic meetings, a format known as "eAlliance." eAlliances of mutual mentors can aid in the professional development of participants who are isolated by virtue of gender, race, sexual orientation, and/or type of institution. Through the development of ongoing relationships among participating physicists, the project aims to reduce their isolation and provide support to enhance their career development.

The project evaluation will identify the benefits of mutual mentoring networks, particularly for isolated faculty, add to the research on the impact of mutual mentoring on career development, and potentially enhance retention and job satisfaction of isolated physics faculty. It also will develop and test a cost-effective model for mentoring physics educators which could be adapted for other academic scientists and other work environments.

Whitten was a member of the U.S. delegation to the Second International Conference on Women in Physics and is a well-respected scholar of gender and science. Among her publications are "(Baby) Steps toward Feminist Physics" and "What Works for Women in Undergraduate Physics? What We Can Learn from Women's Colleges." She led the Committee on Status of Women in Physics (CSWP) site visit program for several years, which is aimed at helping physics departments understand their culture and how it might impact underrepresented individuals within the department.

The lead principal investigator on the project is Beth Cunningham, executive officer of the American Association of Physics Teachers. In addition to Whitten, the co-principal investigators are Anne Cox, Eckerd College; Cindy Blaha, Carleton College; and Idalia Ramos, University of Puerto Rico at Humacao.

Report an issue - Last updated: 12/16/2020