BioMotiv Celebrates Women in Science
Compiled by Erin Reese
Monday, February 11, marks the 2019 International Day of Women and Girls in Science. In recognition of the event, I reached out some of my female colleagues who have pursued degrees and careers in the sciences to learn more about their experiences as women in science — from the advent of their interest in elementary school to the varying paths they took in their careers — and was able to pick up some helpful words of advice and encouragement for other young women interested in a career in the sciences.
What led you to a career in the sciences?
Kimmi Schonhorst, Business Analyst: Growing up, I was always asking strings of “why?” and “how?” and was hardly ever content with the answers. The people with the most satisfying answers and who accepted those questions with the most excitement were my science teachers. When I entered college, I chose to study biological and environmental engineering with a concentration in global health because that combination aligned with my interests, challenged me, and allowed me to deepen my understanding of the human body and the world around me.
- Kimmi graduated from Cornell University in 2017 with a BS in Biological Engineering and a minor in Global Health.
Gabby Putnam, Business Analyst: I pursued a degree in the sciences because the field is dynamic and has many applications. In science, I could be challenged to learn new things every day that have an impact on others’ lives. Discoveries in medicine, transportation, conservation, climate change, and many others are driven by science and engineering. I knew I wanted to be a part of this change throughout my future career.
- Gabby graduated in 2018 from University of Richmond with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Business Administration.
Did your science degree lead you on an unexpected path?
Jean Frydman, JD, Senior Vice President and General Counsel: Oh yes! After finishing my degree in Medical Technology and after I had children, I pursued a degree in Healthcare/Hospital Administration after realizing that, as a medical technologist, I was on the bench in a laboratory the majority of the day and wanted to pursue something where I could interact with people. When I finished that degree, hospitals were not hiring, so I used my science background to work in Abbott Laboratories’ diagnostic quality control testing labs. A year later, I moved into the department of Regulatory Affairs. In this position, I used my science background to accumulate, review, and submit data from Abbott’s clinical trial work to FDA for approval. During my time in Regulatory Affairs I went to night law school.
-Jean received her JD from the Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1990 and holds a MA in Hospital and Health Care Administration from Central Michigan University. She completed her undergraduate studies at The Ohio State University, School of Medical Technology.
Carolyn Zheng, Business Analyst: STEM degrees provide you with so much more than just textbook knowledge. Engineering taught me how to apply a technical, methodical approach to problem solving that can be applied to many different disciplines. I think a common misconception of pursuing a science degree is that you are bound to only a few distinct job options. My degree in biomedical engineering has exposed me to many different potential career paths and given me a skill set that allows me to pursue positions I never expected to work in, including my current role as a business analyst.
-Carolyn graduated in 2018 from Case Western Reserve University with a BS in Biomedical Engineering and a minor in Business Management.
Teresa Byrne, Director of Clinical and Regulatory Operations: I was originally intent on a very traditional path of pre-med and med school to become a practicing physician. Instead, my path led me to the lab as a bench scientist in drug discovery at a large pharmaceutical company. From there I was exposed to the world of clinical research. I was pursuing a graduate degree in Clinical Pharmacology when I began working in pharmaceutical clinical research. Once I became aware of and involved in the direct impact I could make in patients’ lives through clinical research, I knew I had found the perfect place for me to put my experience, education, and passion to work.
-Teresa graduated in 1994 from Rutger’s University with a BA in biology and has done post-graduate work in clinical pharmacology at Thomas Jefferson University.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering an academic/career path in the sciences?
Angela Corona, PhD, Director, Funding Operations: Looking back on my career, I have been fortunate to have had highly supportive mentors who recognized my talents and helped me become established as a professional in my field. The most important skill going into the STEM fields is learning how to navigate a professional network and making sure that you seek advocacy and mentorship along the way.
-Angela completed her PhD in Neuroscience at the Ohio State University in 2011 and holds a BS in Biochemistry from Binghamton University.
Lizzy Berezovsky, PhD, Director, Technical Operations: My advice to women in science and tech is that if you are not making mistakes, you are probably missing out on opportunities, scientific or otherwise.
-Lizzy received her PhD in chemistry at Harvard University in 2010 and holds an undergraduate degree in chemistry from McGill University.
Mika Guerard, PhD, MBA, Director, Project Operations: Do what you love. If you go into science because of “job security,” it’s the wrong path for you. Science is hard, with a lot of failed experiments before you get a positive result. It is a lot of hours, a lot of reading, learning, keeping up with new research, and very long hours in the lab. If you love it, it will feel effortless.
-Mika received her PhD in Organic Chemistry from Université du Québec à Montréal. She also holds an MBA in Science and Engineering from the École des sciences de la gestion and a BSc in Biochemistry from Université du Québec à Montréal.
Amy Trainer, PhD, Project Leader: Looking back on my career I think that the most important lessons in thriving in a career in the sciences are to love what you do, work extremely hard at it, find a network of colleagues to share ideas with, and listen to and lift your head up to look for new opportunities.
-Amy received her PhD in Bioorganic Chemistry at Brandeis University in 1975 and did her undergraduate work at Stevens Institute of Technology.
What was your experience in academia as a woman in the sciences? What positive changes have you seen?
Claudine Bruck, PhD, Project Leader: When I was in my twenties and thirties, I saw many women drop out of academia because they had children and could not afford childcare or could not manage work and family responsibilities all by themselves. I was definitely over-challenged by children and work responsibilities for many years. It looks like these days guys are more prone to do their share. There was an also an expectation that women were not going to be as productive as men and career progression was mostly focused on men. Amazing to see how this has changed!!
-Claudine holds a PhD in Biochemistry from University of Brussels.
Julie Woda, PhD, Director, Technical Operations: There is generally less sexism, although there is still a long way to go. There is now a concerted effort to not make assumptions about women in science and to encourage us and treat us as equals. Gone are the days when a male professor would not give me an opportunity to take an advanced class because I was just going to get a “Mrs” degree. Another positive change is that undergraduate and post-graduate STEM education offers more exposure to careers outside of academia.
-Julie completed her PhD in Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Harvard University in 2002 and received her undergraduate degree from Rutgers University.
Christa Pawlowski, PhD, Project Operations Director: I have seen much more representation and respect for women in the sciences over the past decade. As a woman in engineering, I was definitely outnumbered by men in my classes, but it seems like there are growing numbers of women getting into the field which is very exciting!
-Christa received her PhD in Biomedical Engineering in 2015 from Case Western Reserve University, where she also completed her BSE.
Leen Ajlouni, Business Analyst: Pursuing a science degree in a women’s college was an empowering experience. I was constantly surrounded by smart, fearless, and ambitious women. Pursuing an engineering degree in the only women’s college with an engineering degree was even more empowering! While in the real world, there is less than 1 female for every 10 male engineers, at Smith College, it was 100% women. My classmates have gone out to pursue mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering jobs and are changing the world one project at a time.
- Leen graduated in 2018 from Smith College with a BS in Engineering.
Do you have any encouraging words to share for the next generation of female STEM students?
Theresa: Be confident and bold.
Christa: Follow your passions and don’t let other peoples’ perception of you challenge how you see yourself!
Mika: Do what you love. The hours you put in will not feel like work but like a journey.
Leen: Women help each other out and are there to support, encourage, and empower each other. Remember that other women have done it and you will too.
Carolyn: What you choose to study shouldn't be for anyone else, it should be for yourself. If you work hard and know your stuff, there's nothing anyone can say about what you can or cannot do.
Claudine: The field is ready for you—this will be the generation of women AND men in science.
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