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PoWERing Change in Polymer Science

March 26, 2024

Kalow PoWER Conference By Kelly Levander

In the dynamic world of polymer science, connections catalyze change. Last summer, Julia Kalow was approached by her ChemWMN mentee, Jill Alty (MIT), about starting a conference for women and gender minorities in polymer science. Recognizing the broad scope of polymer science, encompassing engineering, physics, and biology, Kalow and Alty identified a gap in uniting these diverse disciplines. Their belief in the transformative power of conferences to spark creativity and foster collaborations fueled their determination to create a platform where women and gender minorities could connect, share cutting-edge research, and collectively address unique challenges.

Teaming up with a formidable group of women, including Professor Helen Tran (University of Toronto), Professor Symone Alexander (Auburn University), Dr. Sara Orski (NIST), and Dr. Katie Houston (Eastman), along with support from an Innovative Project Grant from the American Chemical Society (ACS) Division of Polymer Chemistry (POLY) and the Division of Polymeric Science and Engineering (PMSE), Kalow and Alty established the Polymer Women Empowerment and Research conference (PoWER), scheduled to debut at Northwestern in July.

Initiatives like PoWER are imperative, as stark statistics reveal a gender disparity in the field. As of May 2023, women comprised only 21% of POLY members and less than 20% of corresponding authors in Macromolecules. Notably, even in the inclusive Polymers GRC conference, only 42% of attendees were women in 2023. This underrepresentation results in fewer talks, questions, exposure, and limited professional networks for women in polymer science, as highlighted in various studies.

Early in my career at Northwestern, I was invited to a "no-agenda potluck" hosted by Teresa Woodruff (now the interim president at MSU) for female faculty in STEM. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet other women from across campus and at different career stages, helping me feel like I was part of a community. I hope to bring that sense of belonging to women in polymer science, both within and beyond Northwestern, through PoWER.  - Julia Kalow

PoWER logoPoWER is designed to be more than just a conference; its 1.5-day format aims to create a dynamic space where polymer scientists who identify as gender minorities can foster a sense of community, address barriers to success, share scientific results, amplify women's contributions and voices, and tackle the challenges faced by women and gender minorities in polymer science. The leaders also hope to leverage attendees' feedback to shape the future of the conference, listening to industry concerns and assessing participants' feedback through post-event surveys. These insights will influence future iterations of the conference and the needs of polymer scientists.

The Polymer Women Empowerment and Research conference (PoWER) will be held on July 11-12,  2024, at the Northwestern Evanston Campus. Details on applying to present a poster and/or register can be found on the PoWER conference website.