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The International Polar Year 2007-2009 opened many doors to researchers from around the world, including women, so it was timely at the Polar 2018 Open Science Conference for a discussion focused on women’s experiences in polar research. The panel discussion “From Entering the Field to Taking the Helm: Perspectives of Women in Polar Research” took place on 20 June, 2018 and featured five women undertaking work from marine biotechnology to organizational leadership to institutional history.

We are happy to report that the event drew more than 300 participants representing 32 countries who engaged in a vibrant, interactive dialog with the panelists: Susan Barr, HongKum Lee, Chandy Nath, Morgan Seag and Colleen Strawhacker. The discussion was initiated with interview questions formulated by our moderator, independent journalist, Hannah Hoag. An estimated half of all participants were early career.

The five panelists contributed with insight and humor into their feelings of accomplishment, how they perceived the challenges of engaging in polar research as women, and their deep appreciation for and joy in partaking in this type of work. Audience questions honed in on and amplified those sentiments of the panelists focused on barriers and challenges. Multiple audience comments focused on the low numbers of men present in the audience, who accounted for about 5% of the participants.

TakingTheHelm2 curtainThe event generated a strong response across social media platforms, where hundreds participated in the virtual conversation following the hashtag #PolarWomen2018, eventually reaching a social media audience of more than 800,000. The additional perspectives of women featured on the Women in Polar Science Instagram feed, 40 profiles and growing, further enriches our understanding of the plurality of experiences, potentials and aspirations of a generation of women poised to impact the world.

Some specific recommendations that the event has generated include:

  • Future polar ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ efforts should explore formats that will inspire more balanced participation;
  • Continue to develop social media platforms and encourage more Arctic engagement in the Women in Polar Science network (a well-established group, founded by Antarctic scientists);
  • Explore the role that a community climate survey could play;
  • Consider ways to better integrate inclusivity dialogs into polar meeting programs, encouraging all attendees to participate, and to develop and enforce codes of conduct for polar organizations;
  • Support and encourage the efforts of like the Forum of Arctic Research Operators and the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs to play a role in preventing and responding to sexual harassment in polar field settings.

We recognize that the innovations required for the next generation of polar research questions surpass the bounds of the physical, chemical or biological sciences alone. Future challenges will require systems thinking, inclusive collaboration, and the dismantling of socially enmeshed barriers to progress. What better way to prepare a generation of scientists to meet the challenges posed by rapid ecological change, the complexities of the much-needed interdisciplinary work, and the paradigmatic shift towards knowledge co-production than through improving awareness and equity within our own community?


Thank you to the IASC community for participation, support, and future engagement. ‘Taking the Helm’ was organized by a committee including Sandy Starkweather, Renuka Badhe, Allen Pope, and Sara Bowden. The evnt received financial support from the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, Arctic Research Consortium of the United States, International Arctic Science Committee, International Association of Cryospheric Sciences, International Glaciological Society, Ocean Expeditions, Ltd., Tinker Muse Prize, United States Arctic Research Commission, and an Anonymous Private Donor. We would also like to thank our moderator, panelists, volunteer coordinator Meredith LaValley, and communications lead Olivia Lee. 

Designed & hosted by Arctic Portal