How do we take on big challenges, like increasing representation of women in STEM? This week, Tracey Holloway, Gaylord Nelson Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies & Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, shows us how to conquer the highest peaks by taking on each little hill at a time.
Holloway shares her experiences in studying the earth from space with NASA, writing down unwritten rules for others to follow, and her own choices as a professor, mother, and mentor. Finally, Holloway also touches on her roles with the Earth Science Women's Network and Science Moms, just two vehicles she uses to build communities that can move mountains together.
Hosts: Michelle Chung and Mary Riker
Producers: Michelle Chung, Mary Riker, Mark E. Griffin
Editors: Michelle Chung, Mary Riker, Mark E. Griffin
Music composed and performed by: Mark E. Griffin
Michelle Chung: Hey, Meg. Do you ever feel like your life is made out of mountains or molehills?
Mary Riker: I think it depends on what kind of mindset I'm in and how I approach a certain type of problem. As a student, there are many things in my life that I have to juggle on a daily basis with classes work, you know, my my friends, my family, my emotional connections, my mental health. I think the way you think about approaching each of those things makes them either a mountain or a molehill.
And a lot of it depends on how you feel a certain day. And in this discussion with Tracey Holloway, she talks about how the issues for women are actually usually molehills, but sometimes we make them into mountains. She talked about solving small problems to tackle an overall problem of the lack of representation for women in certain spaces in science.
Michelle Chung: And that's part of the solution, is that we have to change our mindset in how we think of these problems first in order to even think of them as approachable.
Mary Riker: And she has seen this in her own life by creating different connections for herself and exploring many different options to see what might actually be a mountain and what actually might be a molehill, you know? Mm hmm. I think that helps us tackle these issues.
Michelle Chung: Welcome to Propelling Women in Power, a podcast about the careers of women in energy at the Wisconsin Energy Institute on the UW–Madison campus and our sister institution, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.
Mary Riker: I am Meg Riker and I am a junior undergraduate student studying civil engineering. I am a science writer intern with a passion for meeting people from different scientific disciplines and sharing their stories.
Michelle Chung: And I'm Michelle Chung, a senior undergraduate student studying biology and environmental studies. I love finding fun ways to highlight the research and people here at WEI and GLBRC.
Mary Riker: Here we talk about women scientists and engineers, career paths, the obstacles they have faced, and most importantly, their advice for young women, scientists and engineers.
Michelle Chung: It is our goal to highlight their individual experiences, mentors and work life balance while seeking advice for young women in science and asking the question Who and what facilitated your success? Today we're speaking with Tracey Holloway. Tracey is the Gaylord Nelson distinguished professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is jointly appointed in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.
She is a team leader for the National Health and Air Quality Applied Science Team and has also helped found the Earth Science, Women's Network and Science-a-thon. Let's listen in to our conversation with Tracey.
Tracey Holloway: I'm a professor here at Wisconsin, and I've been here for almost 20 years. I was actually hired in 2003 as part of an initiative on energy. Usually professors are hired within an individual department, but in the early 2000, the University of Wisconsin tried something new, which was hiring groups of faculty. They called them clusters around themes. And the first theme they ever hired around was energy.
And that was how I came here. And I applied for the job while I was in graduate school. And, you know, it really seemed like a dream job to be at the University of Wisconsin. And it has been a dream. I love working here as a faculty member, and I do research related to air quality and links with energy, links with public health and links with climate change.
Michelle Chung: Could you tell me a little bit more about the research that you do?
Tracey Holloway: Yeah. So right now there's two main areas in the work that I do. One is how can we make satellite data measurements of chemicals in the air more useful to decision makers, whether those are state level environmental agencies or the World Health Organization or city sustainability managers. And I lead the team for NASA trying to make these billions of dollars worth of satellite information relevant to on the ground decision making in air and health.
So that's a big part of the work that I do and an exciting one trying to link, you know, state of the art science with real world decision making. The other part of my work is using computer models to evaluate what if questions related to energy planning and other technological and policy changes. Because some of the things we do with our energy system are a win for climate, a win for air quality, a win for public health and other decisions we make may have tradeoffs.
And I think understanding what those tradeoffs are and how we can, you know, use the best available tools to make sure we we're not surprised with the outcomes. That's really a big part of the work that I do as well. So we use computer models, including the state of the art computer models that take a long time to run on a computer all the way down to kind of simple policy directed estimates.
And we do those from a research perspective, just trying to push the field of our understanding in this area. But also working with partners. We work with Madison Gas and Electric. Earlier today, I had a meeting with Clean Wisconsin. We work with organizations within the state at the national scale and even internationally.
Michelle Chung: What drew you to study these things?
Tracey Holloway: Yeah, well, you know, when I started undergraduate, I never thought about a career in science. I don't know anybody who's a scientist. I really considered myself mainly going into law or potentially politics or business. And I started college thinking I might major in political science or English. What I found in my first semester is that I really found the political science classes really difficult because I gave- I was given a stack of, you know, ten or 12 books to read.
And even if I read everything, I still might not do that well on the essay questions. Whereas then I was taking chemistry and math, which I thought were going to be the, you know, the last science classes I ever took. But these I found to be more approachable and I could work with friends of mine on our homework and study for tests.
And actually, I ended up liking those better. And so, you know, sometimes I hear people talk about, oh, science is so hard or math is so hard. I think the truth is everything that is you're studying in a serious way is going to have challenges, and it's just trying to find what is the right fit for you. And one of the kind of happy discoveries I made as a first year college student was that math and chemistry were more exciting to me than I ever thought they would be in high school.
So I began to explore different fields of science and engineering, and I ended up majoring in applied math in college. But even then I thought I was going to take that math and go into study, you know, business or economics or keep going to law school, something like that. And the summer before my senior year of undergraduate, I applied to all these different internships.
I applied to the Northern Trust Bank of Chicago and the General Accounting Office. I applied to the FBI and to the New York State Prosecutor's Office. I applied to NASA. Like when I say I applied everywhere, I applied everywhere. And I really had no idea who would hire me, how the classes I was taking in school translated into actual things that an employer might want as an employee.
And I was very pleased and surprised to get offered a position at the Johnson Space Flight Center at NASA down in Houston. And I remember when they called and made the offer to me and they said there were two projects that could see me fitting. And he described a little of the two projects. But, you know, like a lot of science things, I didn't quite understand the ins and outs.
And finally, he boiled down to a simple question: Which planet do you like more Earth or Venus? And I said, Well, I think I like Earth better because I live here, you know. And that was the my start of looking at the earth from the lens of space and working with NASA to think about how NASA's data and tools could be useful to understanding the earth that we're living on.
So that summer internship was a turning point, and I came back to campus and I wanted to do a senior thesis getting a handle on what research might look like. And I just really enjoyed the problem solving aspect of what I was doing. And I did not know up until that point that if you go to graduate school to get a Ph.D., that they pay you, that it's like a job.
And I'm like, Oh, I could stay in school and, you know, not go into that. So, you know, I think it was exciting to think about that as a possibility. And I applied to graduate programs. And then, you know, I got into programs and I decided to start my Ph.D. at Princeton in their atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences program.
But even as I got into it further in the back of my mind, I thought, Wait, how did I get here? I thought that I was going to go into law or business or policy. And so, you know, in my second year of graduate school, I had kind of another fork in the road of thinking, do I want to stay here and pursue science or do I want to peel off and explore job opportunities?
And I was really excited to see that at that time, some new initiatives were starting where science students could take policy classes and add a policy component onto their research and how to integrate what they were doing in the lab or in their, you know, with their scientific tools, with real world questions. So I was one of the early participants in that program at Princeton, and I would say that really has then defined the work that I've done since, which is to say, how can we use best available science and data and tools?
But to answer real world questions that people care about. And to me, that's been the the the place that I've been working ever since. So when I saw this position at the University of Wisconsin and it was in energy at the time, I wasn't sure if I really counted as an energy person because I was an atmospheric scientist.
I did computer modeling, I looked at air pollution. But the truth is, the chemicals in the air that we care about primarily come from our energy choices, whether it's where our electricity comes from or what kind of fuel we burn in cars and trucks. And as we move toward cleaner, non emitting sources of energy, that reduces a lot of the different chemicals all at the same time.
So any decision we're making from an energy perspective is also an environmental perspective, an air pollution issue and a health issue. So I also, I’m from Chicago and both of my siblings had gone to undergrad here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. So the idea that I could live here was very appealing. And I was happy that the hiring committee viewed me as an energy person.
And ever since I've been here, I've been integrating and collaborating with energy researchers on a lot of different projects in a lot of different ways.
Michelle Chung: You said before going to college, you hadn't really known anyone that was a scientist. I'm wondering, like if there was anyone while you were an undergrad that you might have looked up to that was a scientist that steered you in that direction, or if it was just entirely interest driven?
Tracey Holloway: Well, first I'll say that I think that, you know, my greatest mentors my whole life have been my parents. And I think they've always been very supportive of me pursuing my interests and thinking about not just what you're interested in today, but where could that lead as a next step? And that doesn't mean that you need to be doing the thing that makes the most money or that's the most prestigious, but what's going to really build a happy life.
And I think they've been, you know, having these conversations with me and my siblings since we were very young. They've always encouraged me to think one step beyond what's the immediate idea? Like I thought about being a lawyer and my dad's a lawyer, you know, he said, Well, you know, that's something to consider, but what else might you do?
Like, what are some other things that you might consider being just to make sure that the choice you're making isn't just because it's the only one you're thinking about, but because it's really the best choice. So I think my parents have been really amazing mentors and I think because I had this mindset that they were encouraging me to explore different ideas that put me in a headspace to be open to opportunities and visions of my future that I wouldn't have otherwise thought of.
So when I was in my freshman dorm at Brown University, one of my can appear mentors, and I'm a real big fan of peer mentors, because I think we learn so much from our colleagues and our friends who are bringing different perspectives and expertise. You know, somebody doesn't have to be ten years older than you to be a mentor.
And when my best friend freshman year and she's still a real good friend of mine she had gone to an all girls school in Pittsburgh and she her dad was a computer scientist. And she said, you know, a lot of times women and girls don't really think of themselves as being scientists because we're socialized not to this idea that a lot of the public facing scientists that we hear of may be men, you know, and we think about what a scientist looks like and maybe a man in a white coat.
And it's of course, there are men in white coats who do a lot of science, but that's not the only vision it could be. And I think, you know, I had never really thought to myself, like, why hadn't I thought of science or math or engineering as careers? And I think her lens that she was bringing from her own experience helped me reexamine my own process that may have led me to think like, Oh, I'm not good at math, or I don't like chemistry.
Like, why did I think that? And through being friends with her and other colleagues of mine at at Brown, I had a cohort of friends who we were all studying science, and of course I had a lot of friends who were not studying science as well. But I think that, you know, their experiences and their networks and their career ideas, as well as in some cases their parents all helped me navigate the process and I think there was one conversation, for example, with one of my friend's dads and, you know, he said, Are you thinking about graduate school?
And I said, Oh, well, maybe, but I need to work right after undergraduate. And I hear that from University of Wisconsin students all the time. Like, maybe, but I need to work after I graduate. And in many cases of course, getting a job after you graduate is a great option. But he said to me, Why do you say that?
Like, why do you need to work? And I had always thought of it as almost a self-evident truth, that that's the right thing to do. But he said, you know, you have your math skills fresh from being in classes. You know, you're used to living on a student budget. There's really no better time to go to graduate school than right after undergraduate, because then you go and you get it over with and then you're on the job market with the degree that's going to take you the rest of your career.
And I didn't go to graduate school because of what he said, but I think that he introduced an idea that helped me look at the situation in a different way. You know, when I was in college, it was in the early 1990s. And so, you know, there were a lot of women role models. And I had I remember one to and one of my math classes who I really connected with.
And actually that area of math was the most similar to what propelled me into graduate school. So, you know, I think there were women in my orbit at the time that I was an undergrad, but it still wasn't very many. And I think that I never felt excluded from the community in an explicit way. But some of the doubts that I had about whether I fit into an area or whether I could see myself in a particular career.
The further I got into the career, the more I realized that those were kind of gendered perceptions, that some of the things where I thought, Well, it's just me, you know, maybe it's just me that I don't fit there, that then I could see that what I was articulating wasn't just me, that it was a pattern. And so the work that I've done to support women in science over the years really evolved in a pretty organic way that I didn't have a problem that I was trying to fix in many cases.
That is how these initiatives take shape. But in our case, we there was a group of us in the early 2000s who worked in similar areas and were at similar career stages. And we all met at a big professional conference and we started having these conversations. And the conversations had to do with choosing your next job should you move across the country, even if your boyfriend wasn't willing to do that, what should you wear to a job interview?
How do you decide which career path to take? And some of these conversations were were ones that were work related conversations, but also very personal and kind of conversations that were more personal than we'd have with our advisor or our supervisor at work, but more work related than we might talk about with our best friend or our mom.
And we realized that there was this space that wasn't being filled for us about navigating these personal work interactions. And so this became the genesis of, Oh, you should keep in touch with each other over email. And then we had enough people on the email list that we moved it to a listserv through the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
And for quite a few years, the number of women in the group was doubling every year. And after a time we said, Well, we need a name for this, this thing that we have. And so we called it the Earth Science Women's Network. And, you know, I remember making this decision over lunch as a group where we said, well, ESWN as an acronym, kind of sounds like ESPN.
So maybe it would be something people remember. And I think once you do get a critical mass of, you know, any group together, suddenly you do start to see patterns emerging. And once this group was discussing these kind of issues at the interface of work and professional life, there were comments that one person would make that then others could really help with or a resonate with.
And I mean, from whether it's a good idea to change your name when you get married or whether a particular meeting has child care facilities or how hard it is to find a place to to pump breast milk for new moms at a meeting all the way up to whether women are being well-represented in some of the awards processes or how some of the professional advancement assumptions may unintentionally work against women.
And just as an example, for a while, the National Science Foundation required that if you wanted to take a postdoc funded by the National Science Foundation, it had to be at a different institution than where you did your Ph.D.. And, you know, there's a good reason for this because as scholars grow, it's helpful to have different mentors in different communities.
Maybe do your undergraduate at one place in your graduate school at a different place, and do a postdoc at a third place. And that's what I did. And that was fine because I was single and I didn't have kids and I didn't have a partner. But if your require that someone move their entire life up across the country when they start graduate school, when they start a postdoc two years later, maybe for another postdoc two years later for maybe a temporary position, these kind of huge life movements are especially disruptive for families or if you plan to have kids and just the way the biological clock maps on to the PhD clock, women are more disadvantaged by these procedures. So, you know, this is something as an example of a conversation that came up through the Earth Science Women's Network, there were many people working at the NSF who are part of our network and I believe that the NSF changed their policy in part because of these issues that were raised.
And so there were other examples as well, but where sometimes the first step to solving a problem is to identify the problem. And the first step to identifying the problem is to realize that it's not just an issue that's unique to me, but it's something that if if I hear if I mention it and then ten people say, Yeah, yeah, that happened to me too.
Then suddenly we can say like, okay, it's not my specific relationship with my husband and my kids and my decision making, but this is something that's affecting a whole generation of early career women. And maybe there's some easy ways to solve it. A few years ago, there was an article in the newspaper of the American Geophysical Union, and this AGU, as we call it, is our big professional society.
And it was a wonderful article and it was entitled A Mountain of Molehills Affecting Women in Science. And I think that that was such a nice way to put it, because it isn't just one problem that needs to be solved. It's a series of individual small problems that are each actually quite easy to solve. But if you don't recognize them as a problem, then you'll never make a solution.
I think one example that that I was personally involved in was one year the awards were announced for this professional society, the AGU. And these are very prestigious awards across a wide range of fields in the environmental sciences. And, you know, one woman posted saying it's disappointing that there aren't more women getting these awards and that just kicked off a conversation about why there weren't more women.
And you know, what? What what are the issues here? And actually, at the time, I was the president of the Organization of Women and I was contacted by the awards committee for the AGUU. And she reached out to me to ask for some to have some phone meetings, to ask me to serve on a board, to speak on a panel.
So they were looking for me to be involved. But then they said, you know, how do you think we could solve the problem? So and my perspective about that particular issue and many of the challenges I think, facing early career researchers was to make the unwritten rules written, because if you don't and research has shown this, that in an organization where there are a lot of unwritten rules that benefits the majority group, and maybe because the majority group is socialized to just osmosis know what the rules are, or maybe because they're, you know, subliminally or explicitly helping each other, going out to get lunch together or chitchatting in ways that underrepresented groups are included in.
But in any event, unwritten rules are bad for building inclusivity. And so when it comes to the awards processes and this is true, any awards processes in science anyway, there's a lot of unwritten rules like are you allowed to ask someone to nominate you or who's allowed to nominate? Do you have to be a recipient of the award already to be an eligible nominator?
Can you talk to your advisor or does it need to be somebody at a different institution than can junior people? Can students nominate people like who's like? And this was never written down anywhere. So, you know, I said I think it would be smart to have written rules that sort of lay out the the norms. And, you know, what are some of the things that may be norms but actually aren't the rules?
Like, for example, whether you can ask to be nominated, is that a rule or is that just sort of a gentlemen's agreement, so to speak? And they said, oh, that's a good idea. Could you write those rules? You know? And I said, So I'm, you know, single handedly like drafting the the written and unwritten rules of this whole thing.
And so I just wrote what I had kind of been aware of from my own work with the awards program and what I thought should be the unwritten, unwritten rules. And then, you know, this served as a first draft and was circulated through, you know, all of the leadership of the organization. And now it's online as sort of the myths and realities of the awards process.
And so, you know, to me and now it has like a place in the official guidance for people who are thinking and trying to understand how this awards process works. So has that one act been transformational? Like, I don't know, but I do know that it's part of a multi-stage effort. They're putting more women on the selection committees.
They're making an effort to kind of encourage nominations from, you know, underrepresented groups, both, you know, racially and international scientists and from smaller institutions. I mean, it's not just a gender issue, but I think that, you know, you have to start somewhere.
Michelle Chung: Do you have any specific moments throughout your career where you were unsure and like what what those might have been if they were tied to you being a woman?
Tracey Holloway: When I was in my first year as a professor here at the University of Wisconsin, I mean, I was so happy to be living here. And I had an adorable apartment and I had a really nice office. And I was allowed to develop new classes that were just exactly in my interest area. And my colleagues were so nice.
Yet, you know, sometimes people would say to me like, Oh, I've heard it's really hard to be a first year professor. And I'd say, Oh, well, you know, I don't think it's that hard because, you know, I have this really supportive environment. At the same time, I thought, But is this really the career for me? Like, maybe I made the wrong decision being here like maybe, you know, and it felt like I was under a lot of pressure because up until that point, I had always had mentors who were helping to guide me and now I was suddenly the mentor.
And these smart graduate students and undergraduates were looking to me to get the answer. And a big part of being a professor at a university like Wisconsin, especially in the sciences, is bringing in grant money. And I was competing for grant money against these luminaries in my field, like the most famous professors in America were now my competition.
And it was just very overwhelming. And I think I wondered whether I could get tenure or whether I could bring in grants, whether I could lead a research group, and and whether this is what I wanted to do for that matter. Because, you know, I was in my late twenties, I was single, many of my friends were already married and had kids.
And, you know, you think about this, it's not work is not just one part of life. I mean, when you move to a place because of the job and your entire, you know, social and life situation is defined by the job, then, you know, all of the pieces connect with each other. I really, really started, you know, having this, like, crisis of what should I be doing with my life?
Like, where should I be living and working and what's the right path that I should be on? And at the time then I called my Ph.D. advisor and he's been a wonderful mentor to me through many years to get his advice. And he said, Well, Tracy, stay there for three years because before three years you don't really know.
You have to give the place a chance and see how you thrive and if you like it. And if you leave after three years, nobody's going to begrudge you having jumped ship. I thought, okay, that's great. I'll stay here for three years and then see how I like it. But the very next day he called back and he said, Well, you know, actually I mentioned to people that you might be open to leaving.
And actually my lab that I had worked at as a Ph.D. student was thinking then about hiring me for a position. And it's so nice and everybody there is so like smart and fun to work with. And I would have a great position and no need to bring in grants and no need to worry about tenure and, you know, like it was a very desirable off ramp.
And so I was at this crisis. Do I stay here at this dream job working at the University of Wisconsin, but a dream job that had a lot of challenges before me that I wasn't sure if I could overcome or do I go back to those like very comfortable, welcoming, attractive position in New Jersey? I definitely struggled with that choice.
I decided that I wanted to stay here at Wisconsin, and within a few months I started to get my sea legs and feel more comfortable. And one thing that was really, really helpful in building that kind of emotional connection to the university is a bus trip that they offer to new faculty, where you go for a week and visit Milwaukee and farms and construction companies and tourist towns and really seeing where our students are coming from, where the undergraduates are coming from, understanding the state's economy, understanding the companies and the culture of the state.
And that to me was transformational because I went on this bus trip just as I was sort of facing this big decision of should I stay or should I go? And it made me really, I would say, fall in love with the state of Wisconsin. I love it here. And I got to spend time with colleagues in other departments and I got to talk to students from Native American reservations and schools and community colleges.
And it was just so fulfilling. And really, I'd say after that bus trip, I was sure that I wanted to stay here and I'm so happy I did. The most wonderful part of my life has been living here in Madison and working at the university. So that was a big fork in the road and certainly not the only one.
But I'd say that one of these ones where I'd say the further you go in your career, the more each of these branching off points feels consequential because it's one thing to say, Well, which classes should I take? And those classes do affect what comes next. But at some point you start making decisions that you can't undo. And I knew that that was a decision that was a one way street.
And so I was really happy that I made the choice for me. But, you know, I have actually colleagues who have been very similar situations who chose the other. And I think that there's no right answer. It's just a question of what's the right answer for the individual?
Michelle Chung: And it sounds like with your fork in the road, it was like, do I go back to this community that has already embraced me? Like, I know what it's going to be like. I love how your deciding factor was that you found the community here in Wisconsin. Yeah, that's very heartwarming to hear looking into the future. What are other things that could be done to build that community more and to build inclusivity?
Tracey Holloway: Yeah, I mean, I think one part of the process is having representation and the representation takes many factors to having more representation of diverse communities is a first step in building inclusivity as a culture. Because if a community is showing that like lots of different types of people fit in here, like we thrive from the ideas and the background and the creativity that can come from lots of different viewpoints and lots of different perspectives.
I think that that sends a message that then builds inclusivity for the people who are already in the tent. And also it makes others who are looking from the outside look at it and say, Yeah, I can see myself fitting in there. Studies have shown that you need a critical mass of 30%, I think is what what the research says for an underrepresented group to not self perceive or be perceived as being the underrepresented group.
So I think this idea that you can't just have like a token person from different backgrounds, but you actually have to have a meaningful representation to build that inclusive culture. Part of that, I would say in a in an organization like the University of Wisconsin, is role models and mentoring, so that it's not just having a diverse student body, but having diversity represented at every layer so that at each point through the pipeline, so to speak, individuals can look at the senior people and feel like they are seeing role models that they can relate to.
I think there are kind of creative ways that organizations can build diversity even among senior partners and faculty. You know, I think building collaborations with other colleges and universities, bringing in partners who are outside of academia, but bringing in expertise from the business and government and nonprofit sectors. I think this idea to say like, oh, well, like too bad we don't have a more diverse group.
I think that you don't have to just shrug your shoulders. I think that there's a lot of like creative ways to solve the problem and build that inclusive community engagement and perception and vision.
Michelle Chung: Are there specific things that you always keep in mind, or maybe you've learned from your past as being mentored that you want people that you mentor to know or like? Has anything in your experience changed how you mentor?
Tracey Holloway: Yeah, that's a really good question. I think maybe, you know, one thing I've learned over time is that everybody's coming from a different place. And I think the importance of listening to what the priorities are of the person I'm talking to, whether it's a student or an early career colleague or, you know, whoever it is that I'm having the really the honor of them trusting me and my advice and to talk to me.
But I want to understand, like, what are their goals? Like, what are their priorities? Because for me to say, like, you should do this and you should do that, like, well, that might not be true if their vision of what their future looks like is different than what my past looked like. So, you know, the first thing I often do when I meet with a student is I ask them, What's your dream job?
Or like, What do you like? What do you dislike one of your favorite classes? What classes haven't you liked so much? Because I want to get a feeling for what they're bringing into the conversation. Maybe in some cases I might say, Well, you know, why do you say that? Or Why do you say that? But it's not that I'm trying to challenge them.
I'm just trying to get to know who they are and what do they want out of their life, and how can I help them reach those goals? Often students that I've worked with feel intimidated reaching out to an alum or someone working in a company to ask about their career and to ask for advice. It can seem very overwhelming and like awkward.
But then I say, Well, how would you feel if a student from your high school reached out to you for advice and they're like, Oh, well, that would be very nice, you know? And like, would you feel annoyed? Like, Oh, you know? And so that feeling that of how would they feel if they were on the other side, I think helps them feel more comfortable then reaching out to network in a professional capacity.
Michelle Chung: I would love if you could touch on Science Moms.
Tracey Holloway: Yeah. So a couple of years ago, I was invited to join this new initiative called Science Moms. And Science Moms is a nonpartisan group of moms that's really aiming to move forward the conversation on climate change because change is something a lot of people care about but don't talk about. And that's partly because it's so polarizing in the United States.
But also it's kind of a complicated topic. I mean, all these chemicals and the impacts and like what do we know and what do we not know? This is an initiative that has a lot of like professional advertising firms involved. So it's a big professional program. This is not grassroots, but I was invited to be part of the founding members of the science moms by one of my peer mentors and friends named Katharine Hayhoe.
And Katharine is one of the leading public facing scientists talking about climate change. And she helped found this group and in fact, of the group. I think now there's 12 of us that are science moms. I mean, most of them are colleagues of mine that I've known for decades. You know, that the scientific community is pretty tight knit and knows each other.
The goal is just to build the conversation, to be bringing it forward and talking about climate and the importance of thinking about climate on podcasts like this and in news media, but also then we serve as advisors to the the organization that runs the Science Moms Campaign in terms of the advertising that they put out on TV and on the Internet, they have a really nice website that answers a lot of basic questions about climate change and runs an active social media campaign and puts out really well-produced that are trying to take complex ideas and boil them down into actionable items and clear narratives.
So it's been really fun to be part of this group and taking these two sides of my identity, my role as a scientist and my role as a mom that don't usually come together and helping to get the conversation started on this really important issue and I shouldn't say started, it's been going on for decades and decades, but making it maybe building one more entry point for a important group of decision makers, moms who haven't been the– before this, the target of a concerted outreach effort.
Michelle Chung: What specifically about your identity as a mom is special to communicating climate science?
Tracey Holloway: What's happening? You know when 2050 comes along, my baby Henry is just going to be 30. So it really takes these future projections and makes them very immediate. I mean, there's so much we do for our kids today that that shapes their future. And so why wouldn't we be concerned about what climate they're going to be living in?
If we could if we could have a role in making it more stable, better, more productive, and not just for my kids, but for their kids. I mean, these generational changes suddenly seem so immediate and very, very personal as a mom and I would say as a parent and, you know, as a grandparent, this is not a unique mom perspective.
But I'm a mom and it's my perspective. And I think that there I would sort of pivot to a bigger point, which is to say that beyond the direct, like moms care about the future, the story, which is true, there's also this idea that I think that like we connect with people who have shared interest and shared experiences to ourselves.
And so you know, if on the news, the scientists that are talking about environmental issues have something in common with you, I think it's easier to sort of tune in and to be like, Oh yeah, what are they saying? And even when I'm choosing what TV shows to watch, like, I tend to naturally gravitate toward the TV shows with like a female protagonist, you know, like, not even logically, but just like instinctively.
And so that's just to me, it feels like a normal part of how we connect as humans to be aware of, like where are their similarities, where are their differences? And I think having, you know, again, a diverse range of spokespeople on important topics just is one more way to reach the wealth of expertise and engagement that we have in our society.
Michelle Chung: Right. Again, like representation matters.
Tracey Holloway: Yes, exactly.
Michelle Chung: What is your advice, if any, to young women starting their careers off in science?
Tracey Holloway: Well, the first thing I would say is that you don't have to decide today whether you want a career in science. I think that what I'd like to see about, you know, the future of science is that some young women and and young men who think that they want to major in art or history or economics, whatever, that that basically, you know, that everybody keeps an open mind as to what the possibilities are.
And because actually science benefits from creativity and from writing and from visualization as well as like quantitative problem solving. One thing is just to sort of open the tent as wide as possible and to say, you know, this is a welcoming space. Whether you think you're wanting to major in science today or not. For those who are already thinking about this as a career, I would say the more you can grow your overall ability to communicate and to engage and to think about why these issues matter, the better you'll be able to articulate the value of whatever area of science you decide to go into.
And if you're at the University of Wisconsin, I think it's a great time to get involved in research and this is true for even first year undergraduates. I think that sometimes there's this feeling that you have to wait until you're a senior to connect with a lab. But what I've found is that oftentimes connecting with research opportunities early in one's undergraduate time then gives time to grow and learn.
But also, if you don't like it, then you can pivot to a different research opportunity before you graduate. I guess I would say, you know, have fun and explore your options. And I think that across science, technology, engineering, math, STEM fields, whatever you study in high school doesn't mean that that's what you have to study in college. And whatever you study in college doesn't mean that that's what you have to study in graduate school, that these are there's a lot of transferable skills.
I know students who majored in chemistry and did graduate school in botany or who majored in engineering and did graduate school or careers in environment for students who are in college, thinking about the future like they can do anything. And sometimes there's this feeling of like, Oh, well, I stopped taking chemistry as a in high school, so I guess I can't do chemistry like.
No, no, no, no, no. Just to sign up for a chemistry class, like, yeah, like there's no, there's no time limit that if you didn't make a decision when you were 19, suddenly you're not allowed to go off in that field after that. So I think that I'm just an advocate for like keeping options open, following your joy, learning about opportunities.
If you kind of get to know yourself and get to know what's out there, then hopefully you can find the right path for you.
Mary Riker: What would you consider to be your superpower?
Tracey Holloway: My superpower, I think, really is that I really enjoy and I really like having these conversations. I really like working with students. I think that oftentimes in science there's this feeling, no, no, no, you got to sit at your desk and write your papers and be all by yourself. And of course, you do have to do that sometimes.
But I found that actually a lot of the research that I do is collaborative with organizations in the state, in the country, around the world, and that by building these partnerships, it makes my work a lot more fun and I'm able to answer questions and have access to data and platforms to reach new audiences that I never would have had otherwise.
So I think that to me, you know, part of it is just this kind of taking a social lens on what maybe has traditionally been a little bit more of a solo sport.
Mary Riker: Michelle, do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?
Michelle Chung: I think I am the special case, maybe a very common case where I'm both it really depends on the day and like what situation I'm in or whether or not I feel like it's necessary in that situation. I can definitely like find a lot of energy and like talking to people, hearing what other people have to say, but like it does take bandwidth for me to do that. So that's also where I think I'm an introvert and I also do enjoy spending time alone. So yeah, probably both.
Mary Riker: I wish I could say I was both, but I'm yeah, definitely like pure introvert class. Yeah, I really like spending time by myself and like there were points in the past few years where I've gone like days without talking to people and I'm like, That's okay. I don't have a problem with that. But I do think there are strengths to both, you know, especially as she was saying in academia, you know, having the extroverted ness to go out and network and talk to different types of people, but also having the introverted ness to be able to sit down by yourself and do all the work that you need to do alone. Those are both two different things that require two different like you were saying, social bandwidth.
Michelle Chung: Yeah, because no one can truly live life like either way. I agree. Like you have to quiet your mind and like subtle within yourself at times, but then also, like, you need social interaction to be alive, right?
Mary Riker: We're all human. Yeah. Kind of a prerequisite.
Michelle Chung: So. Yeah, I like how she said that. Like, science can be really collaborative.
Mary Riker: It can also cannot be. Yeah, it is what you make it.
Michelle Chung: And that's our show. Thank you to everyone listening in we’re your hosts Michelle Chung and Meg Riker. The show was produced by us and Mark Griffin and edited by us. And Mark Griffin, thanks again to our guest, Tracy Holloway, the Gaylord Nelson distinguished professor at the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Mary Riker: And see you next time on Propelling Women in Power.