March 31, 2019

Request a Woman Scientist for conferences, classrooms, and more [Women’s History Month]

Posted by Laura Guertin

Although this resource has been around for over a year, I don’t think we should ever hold back in sharing its availability, its impact, and other ideas for its use. If you haven’t met yet, may I introduce you to the Request a Woman Scientist platform by 500 Women Scientists.

I first heard the term “manel” (all-male panel) at the 2017 AGU Fall Meeting. But clearly, the “manel” issue was on the mind of plenty others. For example, there was a December 2017 posting on the NatureJobsBlog titled Tackling the #manel problem, based on the PNAS article Gender disparities in colloquium speakers at top universities. And the awareness of manels extends further back and on a global scale – even BBC News posted an article in 2015 called Only men at your event? This blog will shame you.

Everyone has a role and responsibility in being mindful of who we invite to serve as organizers, panelists, keynote speakers, etc. Fortunately, 500 Women Scientists took action and came up with a resource available to us all (you may want to read Kahn’s (2018) article in EARTHER for more background).


I am registered in the database (haven’t been contacted yet, but maybe – someday!), and I’ve also used the database to find guest speakers for my classes. Let me share where and why the Request a Woman Scientist platform not only met my needs but exceeded my expectations.

I’m the only geologist on my campus. In fact, there is currently only one geology major on my entire campus and four additional students actively pursuing degrees in an Earth science field (all students transfer after the sophomore year to complete these degrees). I only teach introductory-level Earth science courses for non-science majors. If I invite a speaker to come to campus, to take time out of their day to give a seminar, how can I guarantee that anyone would show up? With a class size of no more than 30 students, how can I make a campus visit meaningful and worth the time of the speaker?

In Fall 2018, I taught multiple sections of an introductory-level course on Climate & Energy. I decided to explore the Request a Woman Scientist database ( to find speakers willing to connect via Skype/Zoom with my students. I only wanted someone to speak to my students for ~20-30 minutes (so I would have time to do a post-speaker discussion and reflection with the students). The database did not disappoint with the number of female scientists ready/willing/able to connect. For example, one speaker was a female geothermal engineer from Iceland, that spoke not only about geothermal energy and carbon capture in Iceland, but the statistics for women in STEM in her nation. The “novelty” of being able to hear from and ask a question of an Icelandic scientist was not lost on my students!

I’m excited this May to tap into the Request a Woman Scientist platform for a girls in STEM program I’m chairing for the campus. We’re bringing over 250 7th grade and 9th grade girls to campus for hands-on, discovery-based workshops led by professional women in STEM, and I’m adding a short Skype/Zoom session for these young students to virtually connect with women from different disciplines, locations, and nations. I’m excited about this new twist to our campus program, and I’m hoping it inspires the teachers that come with the girls to go back to their schools and use Request a Woman Scientist for their classrooms.

Please continue to share this resource, and if you have not used it yourself, spend a few minutes of your time to explore and think about the possibilities for your students, your community, etc. You may also want to reach out to your local 500 Women Scientists Pod for ideas and availability of local speakers. I invited Tanya Dapkey, co-founder and co-chair of the 500 Women Scientists Philadelphia Pod to be the keynote at our campus Women’s Commission Luncheon this month, and her talk and sharing of 500 Women Scientists history and resources was well-received and eye-opening for everyone in the room (standing-room only, at that!).