22 January 2024 • FacultyResearchSTEM Paleobiology Journal Features Research by Arens and Students

Research calls for greater diversity in editorial staff and changes to review process to increase gender diversity in scientific journals.

Professor of Geoscience Nan Crystal Arens 

In “Repairing the scaffolding: women authors in Paleobiology, Professor of Geoscience Nan Crystal Arens, Levi Holguin ’25 and Natalie Sandoval ’25 studied the representation of women authors in the paleontological journal Paleobiology. They found that despite improvement in recent years, the number of authors who identify as women still lags behind men.

The study found that since its inception in 1975, the number of authors per paper in Paleobiology increased as cultural shifts toward collaborative work gained traction. According to the article, by 2018 the proportion of women authors paralleled membership in the Paleontological Society, the main professional organization for paleontology in North America. However, “the data showed that women were more underrepresented as Paleobiology authors in 2020 than would be expected based on Paleontological Society membership.” The authors noted that this pattern was widespread in science during the early days of the pandemic when women took on increased schooling and childcare responsibilities and stepped away from research and writing.

Arens, Holguin and Sandoval offer four recommendations to encourage diversity among authors: Practice double-anonymous peer review, recruit editors from diverse backgrounds who invite reviewers from diverse backgrounds, democratize manuscript review by selecting reviewers from a separated reviewer database, and gather and analyze demographic data for both submissions and publications. 

The project began as a semester-long research project in Arens’ 2021 first-year seminar “Who Speaks In STEM.” Students in the class reviewed all papers published in the journal from 1975 to 2021. They recorded each author, the author's position and the total number of authors on each paper. Authors were coded on gender based on a combination of personal communication and pronouns used in publicly available information. Holguin and Sandoval picked up the analysis from there. 

“The experience was challenging at times, but I felt that Professor Arens was a great support and provided advice and guidance to try and solve the problems on our own,” says Sandoval, a sociology major. “What I found most interesting about the work was how applicable it is to other subjects. I remember thinking about this research during my sociology "Classic Theory” class in the fall when we were discussing the women theorists Simone de Beauvoir and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as well as the history of how women have been written out of the sociological canon.”

“Seeing the paper progress from a project in my first-year seminar to the final checks for grammar was so satisfying, with all the work and passion that went into this project,” says Holguin, an anthropology major. “What I found interesting is how out of the small sample of women in Paleobiology, there are many factors in the data and each is complex and intersectional.”

Arens joined the faculty in 2001. She is a paleontologist who has published several papers in Paleobiology. Arens teaches “Introduction to Geology,” “Scientific Communication,” “Statistics and Design in the Earth and Environmental Sciences,” “Earth History,” and the Data Analytics capstone course. She holds a bachelor’s degree with high distinction in Earth science and a master’s degree in geology from Pennsylvania State University and a master of arts and doctorate in biology from Harvard University. 

Holguin is a member of the Latin American Student Organization, Asian Student Organization, First Generation Initiative and Posse. 

Sandoval is a member of the Latin American Student Organization, First Generation Initiative, Posse, a STEM Scholar and a member of the Theta Phi Alpha Sorority. She participated in the Alternative Spring Break experience with Rural and Migrant Ministry and studied family planning in Rwanda last summer.

Sandoval, Holguin and Arens thank the students and teaching assistants in "Who Speaks in STEM" for their assistance in collecting and analyzing data. 

Top: Natalie Sandoval ’25 and Levi Holguin ’25 work on their research inside the Scandling Center.