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Balancing Career and Family: How Can CWIS Help?

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Saturday, March 8, 2014

The CWIS Board has been discussing this recently. What follows is part of that conversation, initiated by CWIS President Lynn Billman. The Board would like to hear from CWIS members on this topic and soon will open a Q&A Forum at the CWIS website for members to respond and make suggestions. 


Lynn Billman

Ever feel like God is trying to tell you something?  I’ve had two entirely separate instances come to my attention this week (actually in the same evening!) that are making me review our CWIS mission.  I don’t want to knee-jerk a change, but I need some Christian counsel.  And for this, you are it!

The part of our mission that I’m stumbling over is:  “To encourage Christian women of all ages to pursue, sustain, and grow in a career in science, technology, engineering or math…” As I’ve looked at statistics of men vs. women in STEM careers and leadership positions, my passion has been to “right a wrong.”  I still have this passion.

But, what if the “wrong” is not a wrong, but a sincere desire to put passion for family before passion for science/STEM?   What is CWIS to Christian women who thoughtfully choose NOT to pursue such a career (or abort or time-out) after their education?  This is coming up now as I talk to more women about CWIS, within and outside of ASA.  I tell them the CWIS mission, and they look blankly at me, like, “yes, I got a PhD in electrical engineering or a BS in psychology but I’m not interested in a career like that, because it takes me away from my husband and family.”  Is it our place to try to talk them out of that?  What is our response?  Two options that come to my mind:

1.       Is CWIS simply not for them? – i.e., the response is, go forth and have your family, and come back to CWIS if you decide you want to start/restart your STEM career and then we’ll try to help and inspire you.

2.       Or, should CWIS have a broader mission? – i.e., to provide encouragement to pursue their interest in science/STEM in non-career ways – ways to inspire their own children, ways to help out at their children’s schools or camps with science, ways to educate their congregations about science/STEM issues and topics, ways to be involved in science-related policies in their area or nationally, ways to otherwise stay involved with science, etc.

We can certainly open this up as a blog or forum (Q&A) item, but as the CWIS Board, I’d appreciate your reactions first and foremost.  Thanks!


Cheryl Touryan

My first reaction is to say "Amen" to your point #2, Lynn.

As per our discussion, the experience in our family is probably typical regarding women, STEM, and the Christian faith. Of my 6 'children' (includes spouses), 3 have PhD's in science (neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and bio-engineering). One son-in-law has several Masters in Environmental Engineering and Geotech, etc. So we are pretty well embedded in the hard sciences.

The women (I'm including my niece also, a medical doctor), are all married to very capable, high-level professional men, Christians, very supportive of their wives whatever they choose. But when a decision is made to have children in a marriage, it calls for a serious decision regarding career, marriage and one's faith. In our case, the three women decided to be the one to forego a fast-track career and stay home with children, at least for a while. If there are circumstances that can make the decision easier (like nearby grandparents willing to watch kids, being able to afford an nanny, husband wanting to stay home, etc) that would help, but apart from these, my experience shows that it will be extremely hard for a woman to pursue a demanding career in the sciences, while also maintaining a healthy marriage and serving as a mother to her children. It would be good to talk to someone who has done this successfully.

So if a Christian woman in science decides to step off the career track, she feels like a 'failure' because it seems she has wasted her education. On top of that, if she is involved in the average American evangelical church, she has a part of her that she cannot share with her friends or fellow believers. In many churches there is either a fear of science, or even worse, a denigration of the work of scientists. This results in tremendous ignorance, prejudice and closed-mindedness.

So this Christian woman trained in science is 'lost' in the chasm between the church and the scientific world. It is a lonely place to be.

Finally, given all the hype about the need for people in STEM, I have yet to see where there are many 'real' jobs, jobs that pay a decent wage, that don't consume 60 hours per week, etc. Maybe at a lower level, like a technician, or basic IT engineering, there are plenty, but where are they at the higher levels, with cutbacks of government funding, university education being in a transition mode, etc. Finally, there is the challenge of competing with job applicants who are willing to work 60-70 hour weeks, because career is first and foremost in their list of priorities.

There is a lot CWIS could offer - first of all, acceptance of the situation and of the women who choose other priorities. They could be encouraged to use their scientific knowledge to impact the church, the next generation, their communities, as policy makers, and many other ways. They could also be given a realistic view of careers in science and the options of getting back into science once the 'kids are raised.'

I do think this would be a good subject for discussion.

Thanks for bringing it up.  BTW, I love the mission statement - "A Place to Connect!"  That says it all.


Kristen Tolson

Excellent points, and I know in my own life my husband and I have had to make choices that weren't always the best for our careers because that's what worked for us as a couple (we try to take turns).

At least for me personally, I would love it if CWIS were involved in advocating for more family-friendly science practices. While there are certainly times that long hours in the lab etc. are unavoidable, I think a lot of it is a culture thing, which can be changed. Certainly we should be supportive of women who have felt they had to leave science careers for their families, but I also feel like we shouldn't have to choose. Especially considering that most men do not have the same pressure to choose between science careers and family, it should be possible to make it that way for women too.


Gayle Ermer

I would second Kristen’s points. I think there are many ways to pursue a STEM career without committing to 60+ hours a week. For example, my appointment at Calvin is reduced load (~70% of a “normal” faculty workload) which has made it possible for me to balance work and family. I also have married colleagues who share a full-time position (so both mom and dad get to work and spend time with the kids in equal measure). But, the availability of more family-friendly STEM jobs depends on more employers being willing to offer them. I see the perception that women have to choose between a STEM career and a family as one of the main barriers for young women in choosing technical studies.

I interpret STEM careers as much broader than just full time PhD research or academic work. In my mind, nurses, elementary school science teachers, and chem lab technicians also count as STEM careers. And for most women, the early-childhood years are only a fraction of their working lives. So, maybe our organization doesn’t have much to offer in support of the STEM graduate who is currently at home with the kids, but those same moms may eventually be back in professional STEM work (whether they want to connect with a group like CWIS in the meantime would be a personal choice, depending on how they identify themselves in relation to STEM and professional work). In terms of righting wrongs, I see it as a very important justice issue that women have access to well-paying careers in fields like engineering, especially in a society where many women are not in a position to rely on a spouse with a well-paying career to financially support them or their family.


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2013 Board of Christian Women in Science

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lynn Billman, CWIS Board Chair

The first CWIS Board was assembled during our opening months of operation. Given that this is a brand new organization, we relied on the Holy Spirit for guidance, and the ASA Executive Council for feedback, and came up with several criteria. We wanted women who have demonstrated support for the ASA overall, who had shown a strong interest in the mission of CWIS, and who thought they would have enough time to participate on the Board. As to the best number, we were finally led to try the biblical number of seven. Diversity on the Board seemed an important criteria for us to be able to successfully serve our desired audience, and we managed to put together a good group for our initial Board:

· Some Board members are professionally associated with secular institutions, some from Christian institutions, and some with professional experience in both.

· We are university professors, government research managers, one person with consulting experience, and one student.

· We include a chemist, mechanical engineer, plant scientist, energy analyst, integrative biologist, science educator, and aerospace engineer.

· We range in age from graduate student to retiree.

· Our Board calls are convened across all four time zones in the United States.

As we agreed in our Charter, the duties of the Board are to:

· Set policy and direction of Christian Women in Science.

· Determine the proposed activities for the next year that Christian Women in Science will initiate and sustain to achieve its mission and goals for its stakeholder communities.

· Recruit, select, train, motivate, and guide volunteers to implement these activities as needed.

· Respond to suggestions for new or additional activities as they are offered by the membership or others.

· As necessary, review official communications (blogs, newsletters, website material, etc) of Christian Women in Science before publication or dissemination.

· Report periodically on activities to the membership and to the ASA leadership.

Please feel free to contact any of the Board members with questions or ideas. We need your active participation to let us know what you need, what you want, and how we are doing! Thanks for your support.

Christian Women in Science

Board of Directors, 2013

Ms. Lynn Billman grew up in Chicago, and earned a BS in Chemistry and a Phi Beta Kappa key from University of California Berkeley in 1975. After several years at Chevron as an analytical chemist and operations analyst, she began a 26-year-career at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, where she served as a senior energy analyst, institutional planner, science writer, and manager, for many different energy-related projects, until her retirement in Sept 2013. Her husband of 34 years passed away in late 2012, but she has four grown children, three spouses, and three grandchildren in the Denver area. She became involved in ASA in 2003, and was blessed with being elected to the ASA National Council to serve 2013-2017. Lynn is excited to able to help encourage more women to become involved in ASA, and to help other women scientists realize that Christians are not the enemy. Lynn was elected an ASA Fellow in 2009.

Contact Lynn at

Dr. Gayle Ermer serves as a professor of engineering at Calvin College, where she has taught mechanical engineering courses since 1994. Her educational experience includes degrees from Calvin College (B.S. Engineering – Mechanical Concentration), the University of Wisconsin – Madison (M.S. Manufacturing Systems Engineering) and Michigan State University (Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering). Her technical specialties include machine/system dynamics and manufacturing system quality. She has also written papers on engineering ethics, women in engineering, and Christian perspectives on technology, many of which have been contributions to the Christian Engineering Education Conference (CEEC) and to ASA, where she was recently elected a fellow. She is an active member of Jamestown Christian Reformed Church in Hudsonville, MI, where she regularly leads worship and sings on a praise team. Gayle was elected an ASA Fellow in 2013.

 Contact Gayle at

Dr. Beth Kroa is a native of northwest Ohio. Beth majored in chemistry at Bowling Green State University for her bachelor’s degree and studied at The University of Toledo for a doctorate in organic and biochemistry. Inthe fall of 1983, her freshman year of college, she became a follower of Christ after reading the book of Romans in a New Testament she received from the Gideons. She worked in the chemistry field as a high school chemistry teacher, a research scientist, and university faculty member. She and her husband David have been married since 1986 and have one son, James, who has lived in his room in heaven since 2010. Beth is currently an assistant professor of chemistry at Bethel College in Mishawaka, IN, and she and David reside on a small farm in nearby Niles, MI with two dogs, a cat, and several chickens. She is involved in mentoring, discipleship groups, and music ministry at her college and home church and is often found at Gideon conventions and banquets as a testimony speaker.   

Contact Beth at 

Dr. Ann Marie Thro has served since 2001 as a National Program Leader in the areas of plant breeding and genetic resources, in USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture. During 2011/12, "on loan” to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, she worked with counterparts in the Ministry of Agriculture in Afghanistan. Her previous positions include service as Commissioner of the USDA Plant Variety Protection Office (1999-2001); Coordinator, Cassava Biotechnology Network, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia; Technical Advisor, National Grain Legume Program, Gandajika, Zaire (now D.R. Congo) (1991-92), and Associate Professor of Agronomy, Louisiana State University (1982-1992). Ann Marie earned a PhD and MS in Plant Breeding and Genetics from Iowa State University; a BS in Agronomy from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a BS in History from Bryn Mawr College.

Contact Ann Marie at

Dr. Kristen Tolson is a postdoctoral research fellow at UC San Diego, studying the regulation of pubertal development and the interface of reproduction and metabolism. She earned her Bachelor’s degrees in Biological Sciences (BS) and World Cultures and Religions (BA) from California Lutheran University in 2004, and her Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 2009. Kristen is dedicated to both research and education, using her research experience to inform her teaching and bring relevance to abstract concepts. She works to remain active in the larger community through volunteer opportunities, especially in programs designed to increase scientific interest in disadvantaged and minority populations, and also recently began teaching Microbiology of Infectious Diseases at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Contact Kristen at

Ms. Faith Tucker is the youngest member of the board and an educator by training. She brings her passion for students and early career scientists to the CWIS board. Her interest in the intersection between faith and science was sparked while double majoring in Astronomy and Religion at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. Since graduating, she has spent time working in astronomy education at NASA, teaching high school astronomy and physics, and managing communications for the Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in science education from Stanford University.

Contact Faith at  

Dr. Leslie Wickman directs the Center for Research in Science at Azusa Pacific University (APU), where she stimulates the dialog on science and theology by bringing in renowned speakers, and a full professor at APU, teaching Astronomy and related classes. Leslie has a PhD from Stanford University in Human Factors and Biomechanics, and an MS in Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering from Stanford, and a BS in political science from Willamette University, Oregon. She worked for Lockheed Martin and NASA Ames Research Center before coming to APU, and continues to consult for NASA, the Air Force, and other clients Her current projects include research on global climate change and national security issues, assessment of current and future space mission technologies and applications, human factors issues in extreme environments, and sustainable water reclamation systems. Leslie was elected an ASA Fellow in 2013.

Contact Leslie at

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