Last month NE GWiSE hosted our second annual Summer Retreat at MIT on August 17th. Each year, the retreat is held to bring the constituents of NE GWiSE together to network, meet new members, and socialize around a central topic. Since we often play dual roles as both mentees and mentors, we focused this year’s retreat on Navigating Power Dynamics & Building Confident Mentalities as STEM graduate students in academia.
The day kicked off early with breakfast and a keynote lecture from MIT Professor of Astrophysics Sara Seager. She walked us through the milestones of her academic career leading up to her present day success. As she described her research and the methods she has pioneered to identify exoplanets, she paused at key points to recount anecdotal interactions with peers, mentors, and colleagues. At every stage of her career, she recounted instances of sexism and imbalanced power including being underestimated, having her ideas dismissed by colleagues, and even being bullied by male colleagues threatened by her success in academia.
Although frustrating to hear she has faced such obstacles, it was also heartening to learn how she addressed and ultimately overcame these challenges throughout her academic track. Professor Seager generously continued to share her advice to attendees in a Q&A session after her talk. It was a cathartic morning as the issues Professor Seager encountered were clearly shared experiences by many attendees.
Following Prof. Seager’s words, NE GWiSE school representatives from Boston University, Brandeis, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, and Tufts gave updates on their plans for the academic year. Each school discussed challenges they have been facing as student-run organizations and their goals for the future. Each check-in addressed how each school will contribute to and benefit from NE GWiSE in the next year. We will use this feedback to keep momentum up and move forward as a graduate student consortium.
Over lunch, the attendees from different institutions got to meet each other and socialize before re-grouping for workshops in the afternoon. Three workshop sessions addressed strategies to prepare and overcome the obstacles graduate students are unfortunately bound to encounter as they continue their careers in STEM fields. The first workshop session equipped attendees with strategies of how to interact with superiors, and how to form meaningful mentor-mentee relationships. The second session discussed power dynamics, and privilege in STEM, and how to maintain professional relationships. The final session focused on empowerment, how to respond to misused power, and mindful decision making.
The day concluded on a high note with more socializing and Trivia. Prizes were won and new friends were made. The 2nd Annual Summer Retreat was a huge success. We hope our attendees left the day feeling better equipped to face the challenges that their career trajectories may hold. As women in STEM, the obstacles we face can be daunting, we must stay united and help each other rise above the biases against us.
Thank you to all the Summer Retreat attendees, all the GWiSE groups composing and funding NE GWiSE, and to MIT for hosting this fantastic event. All photos taken by Ping Xu.