WISRNet is an AHRC funded network project in the Science and Culture stream, which aims to stimulate cross-disciplinary (both academic and non-academic) debate of the position of women in science today. Although WISE usually refers to Women in Science and Engineering, in the context of this project we also include technology and mathematics (which with science and engineering make up the STEM subjects) and medicine.
It is guided by a steering committee composed of historians, archivists, scientists and influential individuals already active in this area. Even before its launch, the proposed network was garnering support from across a wide range of disciplines, with at launch 30 network members. This number is growing rapidly as news about the network's existence spreads. Participants in the network bring a wide breadth of knowledge to the table, be they academic historians interested in how women first broke into the male enclave of science, to sociologists and policy makers concerned that women scientists still have a long way to go to achieve parity in representation at all levels. The aim is to generate new ideas concerning the application of an historical understanding of female scientists' experience of science, particularly through learned societies, to contemporary imbalances, with regard to participation of women in science, persistence in scientific careers and achievement.
Setting an historical time frame of 1830-2012, the network is examining what might be learned through a better understanding of female scientists' historical interactions with learned societies, such as the Royal Society and Royal Institution, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute for Engineering and Technology, or the Royal College of Physicians, to name a few. It is, after all, through these prestigious organisations that the fruits of imagination, argument, creativity, discovery and curiosity have largely been published, celebrated and rewarded, yet the history of women's interaction with them has not been fully explored and documented. Initial discussions within the network have led to the expansion of this remit, recognising that to fully explore women's interaction with science it is necessary to look beyond the prestigious institutions (which rigorously applied gender bars to membership) to smaller, more inclusive, local organisations whose walls may have been more permeable.
WISRNet is bringing participants together to discuss these themes from several perspectives, in a series of events which will listed on the Kingston University events page, including workshops, an international conference and an exhibition. WISRNet also has a website where news and reports from events will be posted and where people will be able to contribute to the project's blog. Supporters are also encouraged to follow WISRnet on Twitter @womensciencenet and join our jiscmail list.
WISRNet will also run a unique shadowing scheme, which will pair up historians of science with working women scientists. The historians will spend two half days with their allotted scientist to discover more about the nature of their jobs and the challenges and obstacles they face/have faced in developing a career in science (in its broadest sense).
The key scientific figures, institutions and research questions identified during the network debates and activities will form the basis of a large scale archival research proposal. If the position of women in science is to be improved (and current experience suggests that large pools of talent are being lost to science with a concomitant effect on the competitiveness of the British economy), such research is essential to understanding why it is happening and how to correct it.