During its annual meeting held in Chicago, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) broke ground by holding a session focused on Raising Awareness on Mental Health in the Earth and Space Sciences.
This 1.5-hour event was organized in the form of a 9-member panel, chaired by former U-M Climate & Space postdoc Leonardo Regoli. The panelists represented a wide range of viewpoints from data gathering to personal experiences, and a range of career stages from National Academy member to NASA director and first-semester graduate student.
Professor Fran Bagenal from UC Boulder and U-M Climate & Space Professor Mark Moldwin discussed the state of the profession, highlighting the fact that despite the efforts made in the past few decades, the gender balance has improved only slightly, while the ethnic diversity has not changed much at all. Mark discussed a variety of actions and activities that U-M and other institutions have in place to develop inclusive environments, to support sense of belonging, and to provide resources where help is needed.
As the pandemic has increased stress and increased the mental health problems, NASA’s Heliophysics Director Dr. Nicola Fox described actions NASA Heliophysics has taken to put wellbeing on its agenda. NASA’s actions focus for example on supporting increasing diversity in the field as well as decreasing conscious and unconscious biases. We also heard from a first-year graduate student and an early career scientist
about their experiences and challenges – their very personal presentations also included many useful hints how to improve the situation for all.
The session was well-attended even among the vast number of parallel sessions ongoing at an AGU meeting at any given time, and the discussion following the presentations was lively. Faculty were encouraged to see that large organizations such as NASA and AGU are bringing these topics to the official forums, and they hope that such discussions continue as the participants return to their home institutions.