In a talk yesterday that served as the kickoff for this year’s Women in Science at Yale advising program, physicist Meg Urry said women interested in pursuing the sciences as a career can thrive under the tutelage of experienced mentors.

Urry, director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, served as keynote speaker for the event. The purpose of the program, founded two years ago by former graduate students Ann Miller GRD ’01 and Becky Meier-Klein GRD’04, is to provide guides for Yale female undergraduates interested in pursuing scientific careers.

In her talk, Urry touched on the lack of female science professors at university campuses nationwide. Urry said the female scientific community should continue their work in the sciences and persevere in the face of any obstacles they might encounter.

“I hope you will try to change that environment rather than opting out,” Urry said. “We should make our world what we want it to be. I hope you will follow your dreams, your interests, and let them take you wherever you can go.”

The availability of advisors becomes particularly important when students face the daunting prospect of selecting a profession, Urry said. She said women who hope for a career in science sometimes become discouraged when they recognize the relative dearth of female scientists.

Urry’s notion of mentoring stems from the literature of Homer, in which Odysseus enlisted the help of Mentor in caring for Telemachus while he was engaged in war. The role of the tutor was that of an advisor to a male youth in ancient Greece, but Urry said the importance of mentors for young women hoping to break gender barrier in science cannot be underestimated.

Eleanor Millman ’07 felt a palpable connection to the speaker as a fellow physicist.

“I am a physics major and there aren’t very many women in physics,” she said. “I wanted to hear Professor Urry, who is the [first] woman physicist at Yale and one of the most prominent in the field in general.”

Jessica Williamson GRD ’07, a mentor and Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry graduate student, said there is definite value in the WISAY program’s potential as a forum for sharing both positive and negative experiences.

Maria Townes ’08 said the true value of the program is that it enables seasoned and fledgling female scientists to share first-hand observations.

“I especially want a female mentor because I will have the perspective of pathways that you can take that aren’t the normal ways,” she said.

Urry said some female scientists are dissuaded by the self-defeating premise that women in the sciences cannot succeed.

“There are things you can do that maybe you would never have thought of that people can advise you about,” Urry said.

While pursuing her post-doctorate in Wisconsin, Ann Miller will transfer management of the group to two graduate students in the sciences, Doro Blaho GRD ’09 and Abby Maranda GRD ’08.

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