Say it with me: Women in science support women in science

By: Cayley Dishion

Chemistry professor at the University of Nevada, Reno experienced struggles as a female in a male-dominated discipline but is turning those struggles into supporting young women in science through a program local to UNR’s campus.

Always interested in science, Lyndsey Munro was originally on track to attend medical school at the University of West Florida, where she played basketball. What she didn’t know is that her organic chemistry professor influenced a decision that altered the rest of her career. In 2006 she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry.

“I became interested in chemistry my sophomore year as an undergrad student after I had an excellent organic professor,” Munro said. “He showed me that there were many opportunities with a chemistry degree.”

Continuing her education and passion for chemistry, Munro graduated with a Ph.D in Chemistry from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2013. She now teaches organic chemistry at the University, hoping to be as influential as her past organic chemistry teacher.

After obtaining her graduate degree in inorganic chemistry, Munro climbed the chemistry ladder at UNR, now supervising and training the graduate students and serving as one of the chemistry departments undergraduate major advisors. Photo by: University of Nevada, Reno Department of Chemistry

Munro’s history of athletics and being a team player has carried over into her professional career, as her co-worker and peer Sarah Cummings advocates for the way she approaches her work. Munro worked as a graduate student teaching assistant for several laboratory courses under the direction of Professor Cummings. Since then, she has gotten to know Munro as a faculty colleague, chemistry educator, and friend.

“She is a team player on a committee, an enthusiastic supporter of her students capacity to learn, and consistently works at self-improvement in experimenting with new teaching strategies or learning a new research area,” Cummings describes. “In her various roles on campus (teacher, advisor, researcher, learner), she brings a contagious enthusiasm, a supportive and approachable down-to-earth demeanor, a willingness to work, and a desire to reach full potential.”

Becoming a teaching professor evolved Munro’s interests more than she thought it would. She spent most of her professional inorganic chemistry career researching the interactions of metal atoms but shifted her interests into chemical education research.

“I have most recently collaborated with professor Elizabeth Xeng de los Santos in the College of Education and my research interests include science literacy, student assessment, and student engagement in the general chemistry courses,” Munro said.

“Lyndsay’s interest in the practice of chemistry education has recently grown into a current collaboration with Dr. Elizabeth X De Los Santos (Secondary Education),” Cummings says. “It is in this recent work that I see a new passion ignited for learning and growing in a new area.”

When she isn’t studying interactions between metal atoms, Munro takes time to advocate for the importance of women in STEM. To do so, Munro actively participates in WiSE: Women in Science and Engineering. The program focuses on building a community of support among women pursuing STEM degrees in the College of Science. Munro finds this so important because she makes up for the lack of support she received as a woman in STEM over the past 15 years.

“Over the years I have attended panels, and given talks to the WiSE community regarding various topics, mostly to introduce opportunities available to them,” Munro said. “I think that in the past, women have not been recognized or acknowledged properly in STEM, specifically in chemistry. I have not observed obvious slights towards women in science, but rather micro aggressions and disrespect towards womens ideas and thoughts in general.”

The statistics for women in male-dominated disciplines isn’t encouraging, with only six percent of American women working a full-time job in male-dominated disciplines. However, the gender gap is expected to narrow with Millennials closing in on the gap.

Caption: Professor Munro was the 2017 recipient of the LeMay Excellence in Teaching award. Photo by: University of Nevada, Reno Department of Chemistry Facebook

“Chemistry has a long-standing history of being very male and white,” Munro describes. “Women’s views and ideas are so different than the male perspective and more of this in the scientific community can lead to some fantastic collaborations and discoveries.”

On March 4, the Smithsonian debuted a historic exhibit, “IfThenSheCan- The Exhibit” which features 120 life-size 3D statues of women who have excelled in STEM fields. This new exhibit in the Smithsonian Gardens and the WiSE program were both created with the same intent, to show and inspire young women to know a career in a male dominated discipline is possible. Some of the figures are wildlife ecologists, one of the 150 Black women in America with a Ph.D. in physics, and a college student who made personal-protective equipment for healthcare workers during the pandemic. The exhibit will be open until the end of March representing Women’s History Month.

“Women in STEM is growing tremendously,” Munro said. “Strong, fierce women are joining this incredible community and representing well! I recently realized that my senior inorganic chemistry class has more female students than male ones, and this has never happened before this year. Just having women in science, and making sure those women are voicing their opinions is extremely important.”

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Journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno

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Cayley Dishion

Cayley Dishion

Journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno

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