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2017 Cottrell Scholar Conference

Above: The 2017 Cottrell Scholars

More Viewpoints, Better Science

Advanced scientific research flourishes in an inclusive and supportive work environment.

That was a major message from Geraldine Richmond, a Medal of Science winner (2015), and an ACS Priestley Medial recipient (2017). Richmond, Presidential Chair in Science and a professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon, delivered the keynote address at Research Corporation’s 23rd-annual Cottrell Scholar Conference held in Tucson July 12-14.

The conference theme was “More Viewpoints, Better Science.”

Richmond told the 110 scientists and science policy experts – 90 of whom were Cottrell Scholars -- gathered for the event that diversity and a sense of openness are key to ensuring basic research leads to socially useful technologies in an increasingly diverse society.

She cited missteps due to lack of diversity: automobile air bags geared solely toward males, which subsequently killed women and children; heart valves originally designed only for male patients; voice-recognition programs that were not properly programmed to respond to women’s voices; and algorithm biases that pull up web-based advertising touting only lower-paying jobs for women.

“Research shows that the more diverse the group, the team, the board of directors, the more successful they’ll be in coming up with a solution to the problems they face,” Richmond noted.

She is known globally as the founder and current director of COACh, a grass-roots organization working to increase the scientific success and leadership capacity of women scientists and engineers. Effective mentoring is a powerful tool in that process, she said.

Richmond discussed the finer points of mentorship -- among them: trust is the cornerstone of the mentor-mentee relationship; the mentor should not solve the mentee’s problems; nor should a mentor fight the mentee’s fight.

While a mentor is a senior and trusted advisor, Richmond also pointed out how that career role differs from being a coach or a sponsor. (Coach is a short-term role that is very task-specific, while a sponsor is a senior leader who advocates for one’s promotion or membership in an aspirational network.)

She also called for scientists and academics to reach out to others who are not like themselves to form the relationships of mentor, coach and sponsor.

In keeping with the themes of diversity and inclusiveness, conference breakout sessions were facilitated by experts in women, LGBT, and underrepresented minorities’ issues. Facilitators included Malika Jeffries-El (Boston University), Michael Ramsey-Musolf (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), Jim Nowick (University of California-Irvine), Lourdes Echegoyen (University of Texas, El Paso), Carlos Gutierrez (California State University, Los Angeles), Jenny Ross (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), Rigoberto Hernandez (Johns Hopkins University) and Tricia Rankin (University of Colorado, Boulder).

Other major speakers at the 2017 conference included:

--  Carlos Meriles, physics, City College of New York, the 2016 FRED Award winner, who outlined his work on variable-charge point defects in diamond as a platform for ultra-dense storage and quantum information. (FRED – Frontiers in Research Excellence and Discovery);

--  Vince Rotello, chemistry, University of Massachusett,s Amherst, a 2016 TREE Award winner, who talked about his work bringing nanoparticles into biology via supramolecular chemistry and the study and application of non-covalent interactions. (TREE - Transformational Research and Excellence in Education);

--  Seth Cohen, chemistry, University of California, San Diego, a 2017 TREE awardee, who outlined the development of his career exploring metal-organic frameworks, his work on the Science Policy Internship Program, as well as his recent ventures into the realm of biotech startups;

--  David Ginger, chemistry, University of Washington, a 2017 TREE awardee, who spoke on “Nanoscience for Terawatts,” a discussion of his work in nanostructured materials with potential applications in low cost photovoltaics.

In addition to these talks, the 24 newly minted 2017 Cottrell Scholars each delivered five-minute presentations on their plans to improve science education at their individual institutions. Ute Hellmich, biochemistry, University of Mainz, a 2017 Cottrell-Fulbright Scholar from Germany, also outlined her educational project. In addition, established Scholars delivered progress reports on their ongoing team projects through the Cottrell Scholar Collaborative; and there were additional breakout sessions for Scholars to discuss new Collaborative projects.

Incoming RCSA President Daniel Linzer, who assumes his post in October, spoke briefly toward the end of the conference. Addressing the 2017 cohort of Scholars specifically, he asked that they take back to their institutions the ideas on improving science education they heard at the conference. “What we need, is for you to … have the chutzpah to stand up at a faculty meeting and say, ‘You know, here’s something I think is worth trying.’ ”

Linzer asked that the Scholars keep him informed on how those new ideas are received and how they’re subsequently put into play because RCSA is “going to have to make decisions on how we use the resources we have to make the biggest impact.

“The Cottrell Scholar program seems like a great bet,” Linzer added. “What I’d like to see is whether you can magnify the impact that it has. I look forward to hearing about that, and I look forward to working with you in the coming years.”

The 2017 Cottrell Scholar Conference was chaired by Silvia Ronco, RCSA senior program director, and Jenny Ross, physics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


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