Dean Susan Lozier on ‘Making Sure That Doors of Opportunity Are Open’

College of Sciences Dean and Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Chair Susan Lozier is also the President of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) — yet she shares that while studying in graduate school, she never would have predicted that she would end up serving in these roles.

“I definitely experienced the imposter syndrome in my early career,” she shares. “I remember going through graduate school thinking that once I took my final exams — then they’d figure out that I don't know anything.”

It turns out she knew much more than she gave herself credit for. At the University of Washington, she received a master's degree in chemical engineering before becoming the first woman to graduate from the University’s physical oceanography doctoral program.

“I was a couple of weeks away from my first child’s birth when I defended my Ph.D. After my exam, a member of my committee said to me, ‘So sorry to see you're pregnant, because I was hoping you would have a career in science.’ Though taken aback, I said, ‘Well, I certainly plan to have that career.’ At that time it was still rare for women in academia to have children."

Following graduation, Lozier began her postdoctoral studies at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where she met her close friend and research partner, Amy Bower. Together, the pair supported each other on research endeavors and learned how to navigate a male-dominated field with few female mentors and colleagues.

While at Woods Hole, Bower was the first person that Lozier wrote a proposal with, and the two were in the first generation of women to complete postdocs at Woods Hole.

“When I started my postdoc, most of the women who worked on the technical side were data analysts, referred to as ‘data dollies’,” remembers Lozier. “For more than a century before my generation started careers in science, women entered science more or less through the side or back door, meaning that they worked in labs as assistants to the head of the research lab and then worked their way up from there. My generation, or actually the generation before me, was the first generation of women that were coming in the front door, leading their own research from the start.”

Lozier also highlights the fact that even though women were often restricted in the roles they could hold in the scientific endeavor, they were nonetheless able to make some remarkable discoveries. She recommends the non-fiction book “The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars” by Dava Sobel for anyone interested in learning more about the history of women in science during the early 20th century.

As detailed in the book, Lozier explains, “women working at the Harvard Observatory at the time were considered too fragile to be outside at night looking through the telescope. So, their job was to analyze the data in the daylight hours and, in time, the patterns revealed by the data led these women to some remarkable discoveries.”

Reflecting on the opportunities that helped with her personal success and achievement, Lozier shares that the support of mentors and friends was paramount. This reflection struck her while serving on a National Science Foundation panel to review proposals from early career researchers.

“I was looking at all the proposals that were coming in from early career scientists, and of those that were coming in, women were not faring very well, compared to those coming in from male scientists,” she says. “And I realized that while the proposals from early career male scientists — in this case oceanographers — were mostly written in collaboration with a more senior scientist, the proposals from the female early career scientists were not. These young women were the sole investigators on their proposals.”

This realization became the impetus for Lozier to create the Mentoring Physical Oceanography to Increase Retention (MPOWIR) program, which established a mentoring network of physical oceanographers across the country to support and advance the careers of young women in the field. She received funding from five separate federal agencies to launch and maintain the program.

“From my own experience it was obvious that young women entering the field did not have a network of mentors. And then I read studies at the time confirming my own experience, namely that there was an asymmetry in the collaboration and mentoring network for men and women. It was at the time just much harder for junior women to establish networks because they did not arise organically.”

Though Lozier has since passed the leadership of MPOWIR onto other individuals, she shares that she is incredibly proud of the program’s success in advancing the careers of women in oceanography.

Carrying the tradition of mentorship — at Georgia Tech and beyond

As dean of the College of Sciences, Lozier’s work is focused on leading, guiding, and mentoring students, staff, and faculty members — along with leading AGU and the NSF-funded OSNAP: Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program. Her passion for removing barriers to success translates to her goal of fostering an inclusive and equitable culture at Georgia Tech — and beyond.

“One of the things that attracted me to Georgia Tech, and one that I remain very committed to today, is attracting a more diverse student body,” she says. Lozier came to Georgia Tech in September 2019 from Duke University, where she served in various leadership roles including department chair, faculty senate chair, vice provost for strategic planning, co-chair of Duke’s effort to reimagine graduate education, and as the Ronie-Richele Garcia-Johnson Distinguished Professor of Earth and Ocean Sciences in the Nicholas School of the Environment.

With this goal of increasing representative enrollments in mind, Lozier recognized the importance of first cultivating a community with a strong focus on diversity and inclusivity at Tech. “Before you are able to attract a more diverse student body, you have to make sure that the community they're coming into is one that is attractive. Otherwise, you can’t retain people.”

Lozier created the College of Sciences Task Force on Racial Equity in June 2020 and charged the committee members to propose actionable and sustainable steps to identify and overcome racial inequity in the College of Sciences (CoS).

“The Task Force on Racial Equality was given two charges. The first one was: how do we build a community where everyone — staff, students and faculty — feels as though they belong? And the second charge was: how do we attract more people of color to this community? I truly believe a more diverse community leads to excellence in teaching and research.”

Lozier has also placed a strong emphasis on ways that scientific discoveries can apply to modern challenges through invention and innovation.

“I'm focused on providing faculty the support they need to work collaboratively on pathways that lead from discovery to solution,” she says.

Lozier also highlights the impact that the pandemic has had on all members of the CoS community and the unique challenges it’s presented to the College and our campus community.

She compares the early, rapid shift to online work to her experience of climbing, one of her passions during graduate school. "At the start of the pandemic, it felt as though I was with a climbing team headed up a mountain and then we somehow lost the map. But adventure in the face of hardship is where strong and trusting relationships are formed — people come together when times are tough to figure out the next steps.”

And back in spring 2020, at the beginning of teleworking and remote teaching and learning, she immediately saw a need to increase communication and create channels for conversation and community support.

“I realized early on that it was better to over communicate than under communicate,” she says. In March, she began writing weekly letters to the College of Sciences staff to share news updates and personal reflections. “I attached a photo of whatever was blooming in my garden and shared news of celebrations in my own life, such as when my mother was vaccinated. And I also started weekly (virtual) drop-ins. These drop-ins are now twice a month for staff and monthly for faculty. I didn’t have these communication pathways on my radar screen before the pandemic, but once we all started sheltering in place, I realized the importance of communication and understood that it needed to be more often — and needed to be more personal.”

Lozier also focuses on the importance of forming one-on-one connections with staff, students, and faculty. She adds that, ultimately, elevating members of the community is her primary passion and the most fulfilling part of her role as dean.

“The most important thing about the College is that at its heart, it is all about people, their ideas and their contributions. Elevating those ideas, and helping people realize their potential — that brings me immense professional and personal satisfaction.”

And in connection with those goals of advancing the representation, stories, and voices of others, Lozier sees International Day of the Girl, marked by the UN each October 11, as an opportunity to share her own story in STEM — and to amplify and advocate for women and girls in STEM around the globe.

As leader of OSNAP (NSF-funded subpolar North Atlantic observing system), Lozier adds that she is proud that the consortium has women from seven different countries representing half of the project’s overall members.

 “When I started as a graduate student, it was very rare to have even a female chief scientist. So, it's remarkably different when I go to conferences now, where half of the speakers are women. Over the course of my career, I've seen quite a change — from when women data analysts were called 'data dollies’ to now, where women are chief scientists, leaders of their organizations, and heading up ocean observing systems. It is amazing to me that my field of physical oceanography now has such a strong representation of women. I know though that there is work to do to bring more underrepresented groups into oceanography. In order for our field to thrive, we must be more fully diverse.”

And finally, Lozier encourages people to use October 11th to learn more about global and local opportunities to advance women and girls.

“I encourage everyone to take this opportunity to think about they can do individually and collectively to advance the education of women and girls across the globe. We all have a responsibility to make sure that doors of opportunity are open to everyone.”

 

Celebrating Hispanic and Latinx Heritage:

September 15 to October 15 is also National Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates the contributions and influence of Hispanic and Latinx individuals in all aspects of American life – history, culture, and achievements. Learn more and get involved with Georgia Tech’s Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month celebrations here.

We recently asked several Hispanic and Latinx faculty in the College of Sciences — and one alumnus, who now serves as our Institute’s President — to share some of their early school day stories, the reasons they chose to study science, and their thoughts on the importance of representation in STEM classes and leadership in higher education.

Read Q&As with Ángel Cabrera, Frances Rivera-Hernández, Facundo Fernández and Carlos Silva-Acuña about early school days, why they chose to study science, and their perspectives on the importance of representation in classrooms, labs, and leadership in higher education here.

 

Related reading:
The School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech is now an official member of the American Chemical Society’s Bridge Program, which aims to boost the number of underrepresented minority M.S. and Ph.D. students in the discipline. Learn more about that program here; get involved with the College of Sciences Racial Equity TaskforceFaculty Diversity CouncilGraduate Student Diversity Council, and campus organizations for math and science students; and read more community stories on heritage and representation hereherehereherehere, and here.