Empowered Women Empower Women: Closing the Confidence Gap in STEM

Welcome back to the third and final part of our Women in Science series, where we’ve been exploring the key factors that perpetuate the gender gap in STEM. In Part 1 of this series, Breaking the Bias: Addressing the STEM Gender Gap, we dug into the key factors of gender stereotypes and male-dominated culture. Part 2, This is What a Scientist Looks Like: The Importance of Female Role Models in STEM, was all about the issue of fewer visible female role models in STEM. Last but certainly not least, this installment will focus on tackling the issue of the confidence gap, including the factors that play into it and the myriad ways we see it unfolds.

Part of my exploration of this topic included having conversations with a handful of my incredible female colleagues at Promega about the challenges women in STEM face. These colleagues were (in no particular order): Becky Godat, Instrumentation Scientist; Jacqui Mendez-Johnson, Quality Assurance Scientist; Johanna Lee, Content Lead, Marketing Services; Jen Romanin, Sr. Director, IVD Operations and Global Support Services; Kris Pearson, Director, Manufacturing & Custom Operations; Leta Steffen, Supervisor, Scientific Applications; Monica Yue, Technical Services Scientist; and Poonam Jassal, Manager, Regional Sales.

What is the Confidence Gap?

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This is What a Scientist Looks Like: The Importance of Female Role Models in STEM

Welcome back to Part 2 of our March Women in Science series! In Part 1 of this series, Breaking the Bias: Addressing the STEM Gender Gap, we took a closer look at gender stereotypes and male-dominated culture and their roles as key factors in perpetuating the gender gap in STEM. In this installment, we will be continuing the conversation about the STEM gender gap and focusing on the key issue of fewer female role models in STEM.  

Part of my exploration of this topic included having conversations with a handful of my female colleagues at Promega about the about the challenges women in STEM face. These colleagues were (in no particular order): Monica Yue, Technical Services Scientist; Poonam Jassal, Manager, Regional Sales; Becky Godat, Instrumentation Scientist; Leta Steffen, Supervisor, Scientific Applications; Kris Pearson, Director, Manufacturing & Custom Operations; Jacqui Mendez-Johnson, Quality Assurance Scientist; Johanna Lee, Content Lead, Marketing Services; and Jen Romanin, Sr. Director, IVD Operations and Global Support Services.

Eight Promega scientists discuss the importance of female role models in STEM

What Does A Scientist Look Like?

If someone asked you to draw a scientist, what would that person look like? Over the past 5 decades, this question has been asked of over 20,000 students across all grades from kindergarten through 12th, and evaluated in nearly 80 studies. A meta-analysis of these decades of studies revealed some interesting findings.

Between 1966 and 1977, of the 5,000 drawings collected from students during the original 11-year study, only 28 of those 5,000 drawings (less than 1% of the drawings) depicted a female scientist, with all 28 of them being drawn by girls.

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Breaking the Bias: Addressing the STEM Gender Gap

Within the broader March-long observance of Women’s History Month, March 8th marks the annual International Women’s Day. It’s a day of both celebration and reflection, dedicated not only to honoring the accomplishments and contributions that women bring to the table, but also to critical analysis of the areas where gender inequality still persists. 

Although we’ve made big strides in the last few decades, women are still significantly under-represented in many fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Women make up nearly 50% of the US workforce, but less than 30% of that number are STEM workers, and with women comprising less than 30% of the world’s researchers

In honor of this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, Break the Bias, and as a woman in science myself, I was interested in exploring the challenges of anyone who identifies and lives as a woman in science, and the key factors that continue to perpetuate the gender gap in STEM fields. I invited eight of my female colleagues at Promega—diverse in roles, age, educational background, ethnicity, and experience—to sit down with me (virtually) to learn more about them and their experiences as women in STEM.

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Reflections on My Path from Academia to Industry

My career took a different direction than what I had envisioned in grad school, and that was a good thing.
My career took a different direction than what I had envisioned in grad school, and that was a good thing.

Several years ago, I made the move from academia to the biotech industry. Leaving my research in academia seemed like a huge risk to take, but it was a positive career change that I only recently realized was a long time in the making.

Before joining Promega, I was a post-doc at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. I worked on these fascinating enzymes that add nucleotides to the 3ʹ ends of RNAs, developed a Next-Gen Sequencing assay to measure their activities, discovered a bizarre and novel activity of one of the enzymes, and wrote a patent application.

I love science. Being immersed in a tough problem in the lab and then working as hard as I possibly can to solve it is so rewarding and satisfying to me! I really enjoyed my research project, but I found myself interested in a variety of other science topics. The thought of having my own lab where I worked on the same types of enzymes for 30+ years made me anxious. Why did I feel that way? I attributed it to the apprehension of the hard work it would take to establish a lab and get tenure.

Meanwhile, at UW–Madison, we had begun a campus-wide discussion to brainstorm about solutions for sustaining the biomedical research enterprise in the US. I attended almost every meeting and, overall, was left with an ominous feeling. Many scientists clearly loved their work but were frustrated and discouraged by the prospect of losing (or never getting) funding. Is this what I really wanted? I reminded myself of my enthusiasm for science and convinced myself it would be worth it once I had a lab up and running and was mentoring my own students.

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