Publication Celebration: Period Poverty, A Risk Factor for People Who Menstruate in STEM by Katherine Andersh

In this member spotlight we sit down with SACNISTA Katherine Andersh, PhD, who authored a memo in the Journal of Science Policy & Governance titled “Period Poverty, A Risk Factor for People Who Menstruate in STEM” for their special issue on focused on intersectional science policy.

Katherine Andersh, PhD, University of Rochester Medical Center

Tell us a little about your research.

We have an internal science policy group at our university, and when our group was talking about topics, someone mentioned the concept of period poverty, and we were all frustrated by how much it can hold “people who menstruate” (a more inclusive term for those who don’t identify as women but still menstruate) back. Each of us had our own experiences with this. For me, I’d had to leave school a couple times because of menstrual pain, and I got my period young and recalled the guilt and shame of asking for products.

1 in 4 girls experiences period poverty and the cultural shame attached to menstruation and a shortage of resources stop women from going to school and working every day all around the world. The more we dug into the research, we discovered that very little research has been done on the retention of people who menstruate in STEM. The amount of stress and trauma throughout the entirety of a person’s reproductive years stacks up in terms of costs, both financially and from a productivity standpoint.

Our policy memo focused on the solutions that states could adopt, such as how NY state provides menstrual health products in schools, or how CA recently agreed to provide products for free in K-12, community colleges, and universities. We’re seeing some legislation, but there continues to be barriers that need addressing. For instance, while we were writing our memo, Proctor and Gamble said costs of menstrual products would go up because of the supply chain issues. This simply shouldn’t be a barrier to anyone trying to get an education.

Did your science policy research change things at your institution?

We shared the results of our policy memo with our university and there was one man in leadership, in particular, who didn’t see how it was relevant. To hear someone say, “I don’t really know if this is impacting women in STEM”, when we’d all experienced it firsthand and had the data to back it up made it frustrating to be written off in this way. Thankfully, we’d already sent our findings off to the journal and we knew it was important.

This was the first time any of your co-authors had written a policy memo. Do you have any advice for first-timers?

We really just wanted to submit and see what would happen, because in grad school, you don’t learn how to write these types of memos. So, we went to workshops from JSPG and looked at previously published memos, specifically those around intersectionality in STEM that shared actionable goals. A lot of people have great ideas for policy, but it’s really about what is achievable. If we don’t address period poverty, for instance, we will continue to lose people in the field from underrepresented backgrounds. It also helped that we each took on our own components, like checking for clarity, managing the citations, figures, and so on.

How do you see your role as a scientist informing policy?

I am half Mexican and also disabled, and there were no other Latinas in my program when I started, so it is important to me to make sure that historically marginalized people have pathways to success in STEM. Coming from a Hispanic-Serving Institution in Tucson, it was disorienting to be in Rochester, and my impostor syndrome was already bad enough before facing microaggressions and adjusting to a predominantly white institution.

I knew that after starting grad school, I didn’t want to do academia in the long-term. With my disability, the constant grant writing and supporting a lab was going to be challenging. I love research, however, so I ended up joining a Science Communication Training Fellowship run through the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. Once in the program, I asked my program director if I could focus on science policy and advocacy. I wrote a memo regarding equity and inclusion to my local assembly members, detailing which state bills are important and the disparities in STEM education. I also worked on a Congressional campaign, to talk more broadly about science and the importance of funding STEM.

With policy work, I find you may not always have a dialogue, but talking about my own experiences as a scientist is so powerful. At the end of the fellowship, I was able to communicate with State and House representatives on the importance of vision research. This is really where I want to be, getting as much get as experience and knowledge, 1 year left in PhD

Has being a SACNAS member helped you in your STEM journey? How?

We recently got a SACNAS Chapter at Rochester and I facilitate collaboration between the groups through my role with the Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering (ADSE), where we serve as a representative body to the administration and communicate the needs of the community. If resource groups aren’t getting a response from the administration, we find out how we can help. The SACNAS chapter is hosting events on career trajectories and more social events, so I’ve directed a lot of Latinx students their way for support and community.

Read Katherine’s policy memo in the Special Issue: https://www.sciencepolicyjournal.org/article_1038126_jspg180401.html

About this Series

In collaboration with SACNAS, 500 Women Scientists, and the National Society of Black Engineers, the Journal of Science Policy & Governance released a special issue focused on intersectional science policy. Three SACNAS members are among the authors and we sat down with them to learn more about their research, celebrate their achievement, and find out about their journey to publication.

To read memos by other SACNAS members, check out:

Defining the Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting by Jorge Jimenez

Motor Vehicle Crash Testing Regulations for More Inclusive Populations by Emilee Kotnik

To read all the articles in the JSPG special issue, visit https://www.sciencepolicyjournal.org/jspgvol18iss04.html

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Dedicated to advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in science. Science, culture, and community in the movement for true diversity in STEM.