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neuroscience

News

Where Are All the Women in Neuroscience?

But fields such as neuroscience are not usually thought to be male-dominated, perhaps because of their theoretical link to psychology and sociology. Let me give you some numbers. Within science, the subfields with the most female-friendly ratios are psychology (where there are twice as many employed women as men), political science (equally employed), and anthropology/sociology (equally employed). Surprisingly, in biology and life sciences, about twice as many jobs go to male versus female PhDs. Neuroscience, in particular, has a reputation for male domination.

[ via Women 2.0 ]

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Kristen Sager Cincotta, Neuroscience Ph.D. Graduate

Kristen Sager Cincotta

Occupation: ORISE fellow/guest public health policy researcher

Organization: CDC



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I liked learning about how things work, especially within the body, and I loved my science classes in grade school. Science felt more like playing than my other classes, which were mostly memorizing and regurgitating things. When I realized that I could have a career in science that might actually help us solve some of the greatest problems facing the world today, instead of helping someone else make money selling something, I was all in.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My graduate work all focused on Alzheimer’s Disease, and in particular, a receptor protein that appears to manipulate the production of ABeta, the primary component of amyloid plaques. At one point, I got to work on a project attempting to identify novel compounds that could interact with and redirect my receptor around the cell, thus giving us a way to control ABeta production.

It was a highly translational project that could have significant ramifications for our ability to treat, or more likely, to prevent Alzheimer’s disease in patients. I found it very exciting to be working on something with that type of applicability to a very real problem. Plus, I got to use some seriously cool robotics in setting up the high throughput compound screenings!

Role models/heroes:
My undergraduate advisor, Dr. Jean Hardwick and the women of the Ithaca College Biology Department who showed me that women can run not just their own labs, but entire scientific departments. Mary Lasker, Nancy Brinker, and Laura Ziskin, who all identified important gaps in our public health system (especially regarding cancer) and worked (or are working) to do something about it. My mother, whose strength and resolve in living her life with Stage IV breast cancer is a daily reminder that some things are worth fighting for.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Because it’s fun and it’s important in equal measure. Scientists get to play with interesting equipment and techniques, see things most people never do, and spend days and weeks thinking about and trying to answer questions that most people don’t have the time to even consider. And scientists have the ability to change the world for the better.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Support each other, especially up-and-coming women in science. For whatever reason, women in STEM can be very judgmental of their fellow STEMinists. It almost feels like there’s an unspoken belief that if we broaden the field to allow more women in, we will be diminishing the accomplishments of the STEMinist trail blazers that went before us. It’s a weird paradox that I was disheartened to discover. We should be opening our arms and supporting all women in STEM, not self-selecting those we feel are the “right” type of female scientist.

Favorite website/app:
Twitter – it’s my news feed and communications outlet all in one!

Website: www.KristenCincotta.com
Twitter: @kscincotta

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Emily Mason, Ph.D. Candidate in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Emily Mason

Emily Mason

Ph.D. Candidate in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Vanderbilt University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have a long history of wanting to experience EVERYTHING… I was all over the place as a kid! I wanted to be a writer, a large-animal veterinarian, a firefighter. My senior year of high school, I decided that forensic pathology was clearly the place for me so I went to college planning to go to medical school. As it turns out, it only takes a summer of working with corpses to decide not to spend a lifetime working with them and by my junior year I needed a new career path.

I had developed an unhealthy obsession with all of the nerdy media (PBS, NPR, Discovery Channel) and I was fascinated with how the mind works, so I decided to go into neuroscience research. Because science in the media was the inspiration for going into my career, I’m also interested in the communication of knowledge from scientists to non scientists in a way that is engaging for both.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Storytelling is what binds people together, and the older a person is the better their stories usually are. My research interest is Alzheimer’s disease primarily because it strips people of their personal stories and I am horrified by that concept. One of the major difficulties of Alzheimer’s is that diagnosis doesn’t occur until there is already severe and likely irreversible neuronal damage. At this point, even the most promising therapies would only slow the course of the disease.

In my opinion, Alzheimer’s disease can best be studied by examining humans non-invasively and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a great method for achieving that. For my thesis project, I’m attempting to validate state-of-the-art MRI techniques that could some day identify people who will likely develop Alzheimer’s decades before they experience any memory problems. These people can be enrolled in clinical trials at a time when treatment is most effective and Alzheimer’s pathology can be drastically slowed, prevented, or even reversed. We are at a time when there are tremendous advances being made in MRI, and it’s exciting to be part of the field!

Role models/heroes:
One of the reasons I never felt like I couldn’t be a woman in science is because several of my mentors have been brilliant, successful women. My academic advisor in college, Dr. Deb Martin, would wave off any insecurities I had about classes and just say, “Oh come on, I know you can do it, just go for it.” She gave me the confidence to succeed that I would have never had.

When I was working as a tech after college my mentor was Dr. Cheryl Conover. Her work with PAPP-A is incredible, but I admired her the most for the enthusiasm she showed every single day. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and dig into bench work. She is highly respected in the field, but she still made time to talk to me and give me invaluable career advice.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love my own work and find it fascinating, but one of my favorite parts of STEM is talking to and collaborating with other STEMers. Good scientists think their project is the coolest thing on Earth, and their passion makes science exciting.

Advice for future STEMinists?
First, I would say the same thing that my advisor said: “Oh come on, you can do it, just go for it!” Don’t ever let a gender disparity prevent you from pursuing what you want. Secondly, the best way to learn is to teach. Become a mentor for someone younger or less advanced than you and you will not only be helping someone else out, you will get a deeper understanding of your own work.

Favorite website/app:
Following intelligent people on Twitter has really helped me expand my science horizons and keep in touch with what’s going on in other disciplines. It can be great for learning, networking, or just passing the time when an assay is running. There is also a great project for becoming a pen pal to a 7th grader to instill in them a love of science. You’re only required to send four letters a year! You can find it here.

Website: adayinthelifesciences.com
Twitter: @ejmaso05

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Emily Rose Jordan, Ph.D. student in Neuroscience

Emily Rose Jordan

Emily Rose Jordan

Ph.D. student in Neuroscience
University of Cambridge, Gates Cambridge Scholars



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have always been interested in travel and in human behaviour, so I initially pursued a major in Anthropology at university. However, I was also required at my university to take a certain number of science classes so I ended up signing up for a course on human decision-making and judgement, thinking it would relate to my anthropology courses. My TA was an amazing and interesting woman and I ended up working with her in her lab for a semester. Once I realized how creative and fun it was to do research in science, I was hooked. Being in the lab is so different to reading a textbook or sitting through a lecture, and it requires teamwork, which I love.

I am so glad that my university had that science requirement and that I tried something new because otherwise I never would have realized that I was completely fascinated by the human brain. While in anthropology I could observe human behaviour, in neuroscience I could actually manipulate it and conduct groundbreaking experiments. I was also lucky to find a great mentor like my TA, who encouraged me to pursue my interests even when it seemed daunting to change my major and take on a research project.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I worked on an experiment where we were able to show that social enrichment changes behaviour in mice and that these changes are passed to their offspring ‘epigenetically,’ or without actually changing the genetic sequence, but rather the expression of those genes.

Role models/heroes:
My teachers and professors who encouraged me to become a scientist. At times I was intimidated by a career in science and thought that I was not up to the challenge. I owe my decision to pursue a PhD and my success in winning a scholarship to do so to three key teachers I had in high school and college who saw my passion for science and encouraged me when I might have given up. I remember their words and actions as vivid moments in my career where I began to think “I can” instead of “I can’t”.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working with a team of smart, interesting, international people. That makes it fun to go to work. I also think the brain is a pretty cool machine, so getting paid to figure out how it works is not too shabby.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Take chances. If you are interested in something, go for it even when it seems daunting. Get to know your teachers and professors; they want to help you do your best.

Favorite website or app:
I love listening to the Scientific American podcast Science Talk when I’m working in the lab; it is a fun way to learn about other branches of science.

Twitter: @drsciencelady
Website: Read more about how I got into science and ended up in the UK

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Sonia Watson, Ph.D. Student in Physiology

Sonia Watson

Sonia Watson

Ph.D. Student in physiology/pharmacology/neuroscience
University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
As far back as I can remember I’ve always been curious about the world around me and always trying to figure out how things work. I remember going to the science centre here in Aberdeen as a small child and being totally fascinated. One of my favourite books to sit down with was this heavy, hard bound medical encyclopedia that had amazing colour pictures of the various systems of the body (nerves, blood vessels, etc.).

I hadn’t even really considered that the things that really interested me were all science related until it was pointed out to me by a high school teacher when I was choosing which subjects to study at standard grade level (GCSE/3rd year of high school). I chose to study all three sciences (biology, chemistry and physics) from that level on and I was hooked. Since then I’ve known that whatever it is I do, it’s science that gets me up in the morning.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I have worked on is my current Ph.D. research.

Most people are unaware that they have a 6th sense, which without you couldn’t drive, type or walk without looking at your feet. It’s called proprioception and it sends information from your limbs back to your brain giving you a sense of where those limbs are in relation to the rest of your body. My work focuses on the puzzling presence of a particular signaling system within sensory nerves that, at the cellular level, modulates this sense.

This project excites me because it is all about figuring out how the body works. Additionally it has medical consequences as it is now thought that the regulation of blood pressure also uses this signaling system.

Role models/heroes:
There are loads of amazing female academics at my university who I look up to and I think this is part of the reason I don’t really consider my gender as being a barrier to what I want to do. My heroes would have to include my parents who always encouraged me to do whatever it was that excited me (whether that was learning to play the violin only to give it up again once I got bored or buying me an electronics set so I could build my own lamp). They allowed me to figure out for myself what I enjoyed and never said no just because it wasn’t a “girly” thing to do.

During my time as a Ph.D. student I have met some great fellow students who have inspired me to get more involved in communicating how amazing science is to the public.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working in the lab, essentially figuring out puzzles all day, but working in STEM has given me the opportunity to get involved in other fun projects. I’ve done a little “science busking” – demonstrating small experiments to children and adults of all ages and co-run Aberdeen’s Skeptics in the Pub.

People tend to think of scientists as locked away in a dark room all day but it can actually be a very social career. I love attending conferences where you get the chance to meet amazing people from all over the world and discuss your work (as well as life, the universe and everything!).

Advice for future STEMinists?
If STEM is what excites you, do it. STEM subjects can give you a great start wherever life may take you—it gives you a way of thinking that can be applied in all walks of life. Speak to people at different levels in your subject area and find out what it’s all about. Twitter can be a great way of doing this informally.

Favorite website or app:
Difficult question! There are so many! I use Noteshelf to collate notes and make to-do lists for my research and different non-uni projects I’m involved in. I am on Twitter far too much (I use TweetCaster on my iPad). FaceTime is great for talking to my Mum.

Twitter: @nonisa

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Claudia Aguirre, Ph.D., Neuroscientist/Skin Care Expert

Claudia Aguirre

Claudia Aguirre, Ph.D.

Neuroscientist/Skin Care Expert, Scientific Communications Manager for Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute



Organization: Dermalogica, Inc.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was always interested in finding out as much as I could about the world. I was a curious child but never really gravitated toward science, as it seemed like something for boys to do. I loved to read, write and was a great problem-solver. I did not realize for a long time that this was the perfect skill set for a scientist. In high school I excelled in English literature, French, Psychology and other ‘liberal arts’ areas. I felt I was not good enough at math to pursue hard sciences. (It’s only now that I understand girls and some boys need to understand it from a different perspective to ‘get it’).

I did really enjoy physiology and decided to give medicine a try. I was pre-med all my undergraduate years and in my sophomore year I began to do research in a life sciences lab. I immediately fell at ease and had a great female mentor to help me learn to get into the field. I was accepted into a scholars program that further developed my skills in becoming a scientist.

I was able to present my work at scientific conferences for undergraduates and even got my name published in a paper by my junior year. After this, I was encouraged to apply to a prestigious program at NIH, which I accepted and spent a year studying schizophrenia at NIMH. After that, I was certain I wanted to join a PhD program.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Science, when taught right (especially to girls) is pretty cool. One of the coolest projects was the one I worked on at NIMH studying the molecular basis of schizophrenia. Being the least understood of all mental diseases made it that much more interesting for me. I got a 360 degree view of the disease, even though I was personally only focused on extracting and analyzing RNA from human brain samples.

I got to sit in on physician-patient meetings and was in an incredible learning environment for sciences. The other cool project was a side project to my PhD. It was helping out with a study on the effects of LA pollution on the brain. This project even made it to TIME.

Role models and heroes:
My mother is always going to be a role model/hero for me.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t listen to them! You can do it all. You can have passions for art, literature, music and talents for math, science or technology (or vice versa). Either way, follow your instincts and don’t believe people when they doubt your skills. Get involved. Work on projects and find things outside of school that will fuel your curiosity.

Favorite website or app:
Favorite app at the moment is Instagram. I’m from a DIY generation, so it’s fun having the tools for making photos look amazing without a heavy investment. Favorite sites right now are Twitter for sharing information, and Pinterest for collecting nice images.

Twitter: @doctorclaudia
Site: claudiaaguirre.com

Please also see my blog post about STEM education for girls.