Meet Dr. Rebecca Barnes — Science Mentor Extraordinaire

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

This week I’ll tell you about a few of the inspiring women the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN) Leadership Board. Today, it is truly a pleasure to tell you about Dr. Rebecca Barnes. Becca embodies the advice and encouragement ethos of ESWN.

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Photo from Colorado Springs Gazette, 2016

Becca and I have spoken together about careers in science quite a few times, as ESWN is known for offering career advice. Often, the audience is students, and questions range from factual to emotional, trying to understand the complex landscape of science. How to apply to grad school? What is tenure? What if you don’t like your advisor? All of us offer useful advice, but Becca’s comments consistently stand out. Whatever the topic, she is heartfelt, honest, funny, and unafraid to share her own ups and downs.

There’s a saying in sports about “leaving it all on the field,” which means to hold nothing back, to play to the point of exhaustion. If I were to describe Becca as a scientist, I’d say she leaves it all on the field. Becca does everything 110%. She teaches at an elite undergraduate college where her classes run all day, every day, for weeks at a time. Her research productivity rivals any scientist at a major university, but she does it with no grad students, no post-docs, and no scientific staff. She blogs about her amazing students, takes time to talk with elementary school science classes, and she’s even won three awards for reviewing papers! All this, and I haven’t even begun to talk about Becca’s work for ESWN and women in science.

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Becca (top row, third from left) with the ESWN Board at the University of Pittsburgh in 2016

I first “met” Becca online, through ESWN discussions. For many years, ESWN had a welcome committee, with Becca emerging as a natural leader. She would send a personal email to each new member who signed up, and then introduce the new member to the rest of the organization. Becca was on this early committee dating back over 10 years, and officially joined the Board in 2013. Since then, Becca has been essential to nearly every activity of ESWN. She plans events, advances new initiatives for college women, shares advice, and keep our websites running.

I wrote earlier this week that the fuel that drives ESWN is the time, energy, and love from the Board. Nowhere is that more evident than with our online presence, which has always been the backbone of our organization.

In 2013, with support from the National Science Foundation, ESWN launched a social media platform to take our online community to the next level. The structure of our website is complex: public resources, private discussion, small-group discussions, and individual connections. Becca leads IT for ESWN, handling website design, management and online security… easily taking 20–50 hours a month of her time.

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Becca (center) with Colorado College students

Becca is dedicated to ESWN because she knows it makes a difference. ESWN amplifies the funny, supportive, earnest advice that Becca gives to a room of students by connecting thousands of scientists with each other. This “peer-mentoring” framework is only possible because of the online frameworks that Becca manages.

ESWN benefits from the time, dedication, and superpowers of Becca and the rest of the Board. But, as complex as our website is, we don’t really need a Yale Ph.D. like Becca filtering out hackers. With the funds we are trying to raise, a high priority is to hire staff to take on the day-to-day operation of our group. This will enable Becca to spend her time more effectively, and harness her vision and energy to take ESWN to the next level.

Please consider supporting ESWN at

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.

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

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