Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists

A Promega scientist works with a girl scout.

Local girls scouts worked with scientists at Promega to learn how a cell culture facility operates.

My twin daughters are finishing up their 10th-grade year next month, finding themselves smack in the middle of their high school experience, and discussions of classes, colleges and careers are increasing in frequency in my household. (It’s cliché, but I have to say it… Where does the time go?) As the girls begin to ponder their future, my husband and I are encouraging them to gain real-life insight from adults who work in fields they’re curious about. It’s never too early to get a first-hand perspective.

One of my girls has known from a pretty young age that she wants to pursue something in STEM, and likely the “S” in the acronym. Her schedule happened to be open the night a few months ago that one of my Promega colleagues, Senior R&D Scientist Danette Daniels, was speaking on a panel sponsored by the University of Wisconsin – Madison chapter of Graduate Women in Science. My daughter wasn’t sure about how she’d be received as the only high school student in the room, but she agreed to go with me anyway. Besides, I told her, they’re serving pie.

The six women on the panel represented a huge variety of avenues (academic to industry), specialties (biophysics to geology) and professional styles. During introductions, one panelist declared, “I had a job in a lab and was depressed. When I was stuck in a library all day, I was totally excited.” She now works with an organization to recruit more women into STEM fields. The woman sitting beside her runs a research lab and declared, “I love the bench quite a bit, and I don’t want to be in an office reading!” Continue reading

Celebrating Women in Science

By US Environmental Protection Agency [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a reminder that there is still a gender gap in science. Despite the obstacles that women need to overcome, their contributions to field of science have benefited not only their fellow researchers but also their fellow humans. From treatments for diseases to new discoveries that opened up entire fields, women have advanced knowledge across the spectrum of science. Below is a sampling of the achievements of just a few women. What other living female scientist or inventor might you add?

Hate malaria? You can thank Tu Youyou for discovering artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin, compounds that are used to treat the tropical disease and save numerous lives. Her discovery was so significant, she received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Continue reading

Playing it Forward: Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship and Mentorship

Amani Gillette’s Story

Amani working in the laboratory of Dr. McFall-Ngai’s as a high school Youth Apprentice

Amani Gillette, a junior from LaFollette High School in Madison, started the Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP) in Fall Semester, 2010.  An outstanding youth apprentice (YA) throughout her two years in the program, she excelled in both the specialized laboratory course at the BTC Institute and in her work site research under the mentorship of Professor Margaret McFall-Ngai, UW-Madison Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology.  Amani’s characterization of a gene and protein found in a small tropical squid resulted in her first scientific publication and poster presentation.

Fast forward— after receiving a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Michigan Technological University (which included working in a tissue engineering lab and two summers interning at Promega Corporation under the supervision of Dr. Dan Lazar to help develop an assay for autophagy), Amani is now back in Madison. She is in her second year of graduate school and, working with Dr. Melissa Skala at the Morgridge Institute for Research, is currently mentoring Biotechnology YA Ava VanDommelen (senior from DeForest High School). Following in Amani’s footsteps, Ava will present her research nationally this January at the SPIE conference (the International Society of Optics and Photonics). Continue reading

Bringing to a Close Women’s History Month with Some Women in Science

Curiosity.In the United States, the month of March is Women’s History month. So, to bring the month of March to a close, I thought I would highlight some women in science. The National Science Foundation, at Science 360, has some great multimedia science resources, including several profiles of women in science, ranging from graduate students, just making their way in science to established scientists who have made major contributions to their fields of study. The videos highlight ambassadors of science, trying to develop a scientifically literate public and laboratory researchers. I picked two to share with you today. But visit Science 360 to see some others.

The first one I thought I would share is of marine biology, PhD student, Ayana Johnson.

And here is a profile of analytical chemist Mary Wirth from Purdue University:

There are many wonderful profiles of scientists, male and female, at the Science 360 web site, and the fascinating work that they pursue. You can also find out more about the people who do science by visiting the This is What a Scientist Looks Like tumbler. It hasn’t been updated since February 2014, but the profiles that are there are quite nice.

NO! I CAN do that.

FemaleWhiteLab-AAES001042Today’s blog is written by guest blogger Jessica Laux, a production scientist at Promega Corporation. Jessica spends most of her time in clean rooms. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.S. in Natural Science-Animal Sciences.

I was always a very stubborn, defiant child. This is evidenced by the fact that my very first word was “NO!”, which I screamed at the top of my lungs after I had been scolded for pulling all the pots and pans out of the kitchen cupboards. Years later, I still scream “NO!” at times, though I’ve refrained from making a mess of the kitchen lately. That same defiant spirit contributed a great deal to my chosen career.

At a ripe age of ten, I determined I was destined to become a great doctor. My preparation for this career involved writing morbid stories where I brought the dead back to life, as well as poring over the pages of a medical diagnostic book I had claimed as mine. I was not deterred by my inability to understand the big words. I was still able to draw the detailed human anatomy and skeletons with an impressive precision. A couple years later, an adult whom I trusted told me that science and medicine were fields for men only. This same person encouraged me to pursue my artistic talents instead. Continue reading

Does Gender Bias Still Exist in Academic STEM Careers?

Photo credit: Jane Ades, NHGRI source: www.genome.gov/dmd

Issues related to inequality are often difficult to deal with. Depending on your demographics, you are probably pretty confident inequalities exist, but when these issues are discussed publicly, attempts are often made to explain them away. Those in the majority (e.g., white and/or male) tend to feel defensive in these conversations because our privilege can evoke guilt and shame, but also a feeling of insult; we worked our tails off to achieve the positions we’re in and how dare someone say we gained this position because of the privilege our phenotype grants us by society. This feeling is understandable, however, as scientists, we must put our feelings aside at times like these and rely on the data.

A recent study out of Jo Handelsman’s lab at Yale University (Moss-Racusin, et al, 2012) looks at the underrepresentation of women in academic science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Although the numbers of women studying and graduating with degrees in STEM fields is on the rise, the authors report that the number of women hired into faculty STEM roles is not increasing proportionally. They assert that this suggests that time will not solve this issue. To investigate whether or not gender bias actually exists in hiring practices, the authors conducted a double-blind, randomized survey of 127 faculty members in biology, chemistry and physics at research-intensive universities. Continue reading