Friday, December 19, 2008

Jane Lubchenco to Head NOAA?

According to the Washington Post, the new head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be Oregon State University Distinguished Professor of Zoology Jane Lubchenco.

Lubchenco is a marine biologist who specializes in the study marine ecosystems and how humans affect them. She has been actively involved in environmental policy issues, and has testified both at the state level and before congress about the creation of marine sanctuaries and climate change. She is also one of the founders and principals of COMPASS (Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea), which works to solve marine environmental problems by communicating scientific knowledge to policymakers, the public and the media. For those efforts she received the AAAS Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award.

Also of interest is a 1993 article she wrote about being one half of two-scientist couple for BioScience. The solution that she and her husband came to was to split a position: each of them held a half-time, tenure-track faculty position, which allowed both of them to teach, do research, and spend time with their young children. In the article she argued for creating more such positions to increase the number of women who pursue science careers:

The most difficult time in a faculty member's life is usually the time during which one is an assistant professor, struggling to teach courses that come up ton one's ideals, to challenge and educate students, to establish one's own research program, to obtain funding, to publish, and generally to prove oneself. If this period coincides with having young children (which for biological reasons is often the case for women), the time can be even more difficult. Even if highly ambitious, driven women and men mange ot juggle all of these demands, the messages they send to graduate students and undergraduates appear to frighten away many outstanding potential scientists. Moreover, if individuals wish to spend more time with their children than full-time positions allow, academia offers virgually no viable options.
She does acknowledge that not everyone would be interested in such a position, but that many women (and men) would, and that it should be made an option. Obviously it worked for her. She talks more about the difficulty she and her husband had in balancing their academic careers in a 2004 interview at the National Academy of Sciences.

I think it's exciting that the new head of the NOAA is a working scientist, a strong advocate for the environment, and someone who has been heavily involved in public policy issues, which I assume means she understands how the system "works". Definitely good news!

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ScienceWoman said...

Oh thank goodness, you've written the post that I've been meaning to write!

Anonymous said...

I think it's great news too - a real working scientist, and on top of that, she's a woman! Love it.