Meet Dr. Erika Marín-Spiotta — Standing up to Bias and Harassment

Tracey Holloway
Oct 18, 2018 · 4 min read

A Series of Essays about the Earth Science Women’s Network (#ESWN) and #Scienceathon

Today in my series of Science-a-Thon essays, I’ll continue profiling a few of my wonderful colleagues on the board of the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN). It is a true pleasure to introduce you to Dr. Erika Marín-Spiotta, who is actively improving the culture of science.

Most ESWN activities focus on supporting individuals in the current science system. But supporting women in science also means standing up against issues that hold them back.

Erika giving a talk on tropical soil carbon at USAID in 2010

Some of these issues are unique to science, like negative experiences of women working at remote field locations. Other issues mirror the wider culture, where bias and harassment may be overlooked or denied. With the #MeToo movement, there has been a greater awareness of sexual harassment across society and in science. Erika leads efforts to build a supportive culture and develop practical solutions.

Erika is amazingly effective at making change. She works within the science culture to identify pressure points — points where change can happen. Erika’s impact on the scientific community is award winning. She has received the Sulzman Award for Excellence in Education and Mentoring, the Association for Women Geoscientists President’s Award, and $1.1 Million from the National Science Foundation to lead an effort addressing sexual harassment in the geosciences.

Erika leads a discussion on changing the culture of science at the European Geophysical Union Meeting in 2018; Photo from Steffen Schweizer via Twitter

Despite her stature as a scientific leader, Erika never stops advocating for quieter voices. She advocates for more opportunity for graduate students, more awareness of bias, and more action on diversity, equity and inclusion. I’d like to say that Erika sticks up for the “little guy,” but she wouldn’t like using me using “guy” to refer to women, and she wouldn’t like the use of “little” to refer to anyone. And, she’d be right!

Even when Erika joined the ESWN Board, I had only met her remotely. She posted lots of jobs on the ESWN jobs board, thoughtful advice in online ESWN discussions, and we talked over the phone to plan ESWN events at scientific meetings. I love working with Erika — she is professional and warm, diplomatic and direct.

Erika, second from left, with other members of ESWN Board and colleagues on her NSF grant to combat harassment in science

So in 2009 I was thrilled to learn that she had been hired at my university! I was already a professor at the University of Wisconsin — Madison, and I could not believe my good fortune to have Erika in town. Not just another ESWN ally, but one of the most engaging and effective scientists I knew. A new friend with a great personality and cool hobbies like salsa dancing.

Today, much of Erika’s work for ESWN focuses on her $1.1 Million NSF grant to combat sexual harassment in science. Erika leverages her leadership of ESWN and works with other major organizations including the Association for Women Geoscientists and the American Geophysical Union.

The four-year project develops training for “bystander intervention,” — what to do if you see or hear signs of harassment in your lab or department. By talking about the problem of bias and harassment, Erika’s work raises awareness and develops practical strategies to create a positive climate. Despite the support from the NSF, all funding for this important work will run out in about three years.

We are working to raise funds for ESWN so that Erika’s solutions-oriented work and advocacy can have a greater impact. Imagine if scientists from around the world were trained in the proven-success methods Erika and her team are developing?

It is a testament to the power of ESWN that a leader like Erika chooses to give so much time, energy, and love to our organization. Through Erika, and the many other change-makers volunteering for ESWN, we are supporting not just scientists, but science itself.

Please consider supporting ESWN at https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/science-a-thon-2018

About the author: Tracey Holloway is the Gaylord Nelson Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a founding member of ESWN. She currently leads Science-A-Thon, the only major fundraiser for ESWN, going on October 15–19. Scienceathon.org

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Tracey Holloway is the Gaylord Nelson Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and on the Board of ESWN. She leads Scienceathon.org

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