Importance of Peer Networks
Despite progress towards gender and racial parity in the sciences, it can still be tough navigating a STEM education and career when you belong to a historically underrepresented group. Fortunately, surrounding yourself with a strong support network of like-minded individuals will increase your chance of success, and make your STEM career more rewarding.
As you start out and progress in your STEM journey, there are two kinds of support you should seek out. ‘Vertical mentoring’ is when you receive advice and coaching from a more senior scientist, who is often a few steps above you on the career ladder. This kind of mentor will help you prepare for the next stages of your career, and whose advice is informed by hindsight and time.
The other kind of mentorship is ‘horizontal mentoring’: receiving support from people at the same career stage as you, for instance fellow grad students or entry-level biotech scientists. Although they may not have the depth of experience within the field a more senior mentor has, your peers may be more attuned with the current state of the job market and everyday issues you face in your current role. You may find yourself less filtered around peers than a more senior mentor, and more able to have an honest exchange of experiences and ideas.
Your department, university or company may be the easiest place to find your peer network, but it can be challenging if you’re the only student or employee from a particular ethnic or racial group. Fortunately, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of organizations that foster peer networks among scientists. Many of these organizations have university chapters.
Peer Networks for Women in STEM
- AWIS (https://www.awis.org)
- Women In Bio (https://www.womeninbio.org/default.aspx)
- Society of Women Engineers (https://swe.org)
Peer Networks for Racial and Ethnic Minorities in STEM
- Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (https://www.sacnas.org)
- National Society of Black Engineers (https://www.nsbe.org)
- American Indian Science and Engineering Society (https://www.aises.org)
- National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Black Chemical Engineers (https://www.nobcche.org)
- Black In [STEM] Week (Search for hashtags on Twitter). This is not so much a professional society as a collection of grassroots organizations who amplify voices across the breadth of STEM and foster collaboration and discussion on social media. There are weeks celebrating Black in Neuro, Chemistry, Physics, Marine Science, Genetics, and many more!