Welcome to our blog!

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Introduction to the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative's Blog!

Are you looking to meet fellow supportive women in STEM fields within the Chicago area? If so, you are in the right place. Welcome to the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative! Here you will find information about our mission, our future goals, and ongoing events.

But who are “we”? “We” is me and you, all the women (and men) that share the goal of equal opportunity in our society, and especially in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (if you wondered what STEM stands for). Although “we” share the same values, “we” are all very different, “we” are the collective of all our members. The purpose of this blog is to highlight and celebrate the amazing people who make up the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative by sharing their stories and achievements.

We hope our stories will serve as a motivation for women and girls considering STEM fields as a career, but also as a reminder to the women out there, that you are not alone. We hope to emphasize the importance of following one’s dreams no matter the gender barrier. As a collective group we can help pave the road for generations of women to come so that one day there will be equal representation of men and women in STEM.

YounJue (Eunice) Bae

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I am
Eunice and I am a chemistry PhD student in the Wasielewski group at
Northwestern University. I am originally from South Korea. I got my bachelor’s
degree in chemistry at University of California, Berkeley where I found my
passion in both teaching and research. After working in multiple groups for
three years, I found that I am really interested in spectroscopy. Here at
Northwestern University, I study a unique photochemical process in organic
chromophores called singlet fission using various time-resolved spectroscopies
including transient absorption, and electron paramagnetic resonance
spectroscopy. My project goal is to understand the mechanistic picture in
singlet fission and my recent work in Journal of the American Chemical Society,
highlights how the packing structure in solid state changes singlet fission dynamics.
I am also deeply interested in teaching and have produced short videos to
connect chemistry concept taught in general chemistry class to the cutting-edge
research done at Northwestern university. My long-term goal is to become a
tenure-track faculty where I can pursue both of my interest in research and
teaching. I really enjoyed my time at Chicago Women in STEM Initiative
symposium and plan to attend future meetings. It feels good to be part of this
community where everyone is supportive, and I hope we can continue to work
together and foster greater number of women in STEM!

Multicultural dialogues

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“Intersectionality in STEM: Analysis. Action.” This was the topic of one of our STEM circuit meetings. By definition, intersectionality is the theory that the overlap of various social identities, e.g. race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual. Our speaker Sekile M. Nzinga-Johnson, Ph.D., MSW, director of the Women´s Center at Northwestern University, shared with us many inspiring perspectives and personal experiences.

She started with a quote from Audre Lorde: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”, describing how intersectionality is an extremely complex issue with many variables and consequences. Everybody has different backgrounds, experiences, and expectations. She emphasized the importance of looking around and asking questions like “Who is not in this room? Who is suffering the most? Am I surrounded by diversity as much as possible? Am I listening to other voices?” She also shared with us her other favorite quote by Audre Lorde “You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other.” to stress that we have to support and care about things that are not personally related to us. I personally liked her advice that we have to center ourselves. Take care of yourself first! You can help others only when you have enough energy. Sometimes you have to prioritize yourself and just survive the hard part of your life and that is okay; you can help and support others later.

The whole topic deeply resonates with me. I am originally from the Czech Republic and thanks to my Fulbright internship I have spent almost one year in the USA in a heterogenous multicultural environment. I have experienced different cultures and cultural events, educational systems, working environments, health systems, etc. I celebrated traditional American Thanksgiving, Czech Christmas with international friends, Chinese New Year, and a Jewish Seder. A few weeks ago, I, a white European from the Czech Republic, was the “minority” at the Fulbright Enrichment Seminar where I met 80 Fulbrighters from 51 different countries. And it was absolutely amazing.

Another very strong experience was attending The Multicultural Dialogue Group at Northwestern University. It is an initiative by the Graduate International Students Association to connect students, postdoctoral trainees, visiting scholars, and others from various backgrounds with one another, and to create opportunities for meaningful conversations on different topics including cultural differences, self-identity, relationships, prejudices, religions, arts, and more. Every meeting has a specific topic and the discussion is peer-moderated. Everybody has the opportunity to share own experiences or opinions. During the first meeting, I was nicely “shocked” how these conversations are deep, honest, and personal. I have learned so much and I am much more aware to avoid cultural stigma or biases.

I wish everybody has these experiences and everybody is open to listening and understanding of different voices. We are the same, we share the common life goals like being happy and healthy. Our only differences are our different personalities and life experiences.

written by Pavla Hubalkova

Carolyn E. Ramirez

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I am a second year Chemical Engineering PhD student at Northwestern University. My research in the Wasielewski group in the Chemistry Department focuses on synthesizing and characterizing organic chromophores and exploring their use in organic photovoltaic devices. 

My path to graduate school began when I took my first chemistry class in high school and realized I had found my passion. I had an incredibly supportive teacher who encouraged me to explore chemical engineering as a career and recommended I apply for the National Youth Science Camp (link), a month long summer camp for high school graduates entering STEM (which I highly recommend). My high school chemistry teacher was my first true female mentor in science who strongly encouraged me to work towards a STEM degree. She showed me how important female mentorship and representation would be for the rest of my career. I had my first research experience at Rice University when I was a senior in high school, working with Dr. Daniel Hashim in Prof. Pulickel Ajayan’s lab studying three-dimensional carbon nanotube structures. I then worked in Prof. Brian Korgel’s lab during my undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin studying two-dimensional silicon materials as well as Perovskite solar cells.

Throughout my undergraduate career, I never had any female mentors, let alone a fellow Latina mentor. I rarely had a female professor. It wasn’t until graduate school when that truly became apparent to me since the disparity in gender and racial diversity is severely heightened at the graduate level. The Chicago Women in STEM Initiative is an exciting turn to this experience. There are far too few women in my field to seek out natural mentorship, but I have already met so many great women from different universities and programs through this network. As a community, we can share our experiences and lift each other up knowing we are not going through this alone!

How to keep and nurture your mental health in academia

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Doing research is mentally challenging. Scientists have to cope with many failures, frustrations, and uncertainties. In addition, the highly competitive academic environment, constant evaluations, and grant deadlines are not helpful. Mental health problems in academia are more common than many scientists want to admit. Here, I want to share a few scientifically-proven tips on how to keep and nurture your mental health.

Take a break

You can´t do big discoveries without clear thinking, so take a break and refresh your mind regularly. Set your work-hours 9-5 and then leave the lab or office and enjoy the life outside the lab. The results are not about how many hours you spend working on it. It is more about the quality and productivity of your work.

Follow your biorhythm

The biggest advantage of academia is that it usually allows flexible work hours. Listen to your body and follow your biorhythm. Start early if you are an early bird or come after lunch if your inner night owl is most productive at 2 am.  Also schedule your activities using the same principle, e.g. maybe your best time for writing is the early morning when your mind is fresh, after lunch you prefer to stay active doing experiments, and in the evening you only have energy to analyze data. Everybody is unique and thus follow your own pattern.

Have hobbies

Science is not enough for a happy life. Keep your hobbies and do them regularly. It is a great way to relax your brain and think outside the box. You have probably heard about some of the biggest discoveries being made in the shower, during long road trips, jogging or playing with children.

Socialize

It is scientifically proved that rich social interactions and being part of communities are linked to longevity, a happier life, and good mental health. Of course, everybody is different and prefers various intensity and frequency. And thus, find your own best social interactions with your partner, family, friends, and/or colleagues. When you move to a new city, step out of your comfort zone and explore the new social groups. Check the internet, you will definitely find many opportunities.

Stay physically active

Good physical health is directly linked to mental health, but don’t panic! You do not have to start weight lifting or running marathons. Find your favorite physical activity. It can be walking, jogging, work out in the gym, playing basketball with your friends or attending an online yoga class. If you think you do not have time, think twice! You can always involve more physical activity during your normal daily life – take the stairs, walk during long calls or go for a stroll with your friends instead of sitting in cafes.  

Eat and sleep well

This is absolutely basic and you have heard it so many times. However, it is essential. A good whole-food diet and enough high-quality sleep are the best medicine. And good news, you do not need special and expensive supplements for boosting your energy or feeling better. Changing your daily habits are often enough.  And again physical wellbeing  also keeps you mentally healthy!

Written by Pavla Hubalkova

Anna Marisa Di Staulo

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Greetings. I am a Research Technician in the Department of Physiology here at Northwestern University. I graduated from Saint Louis University (SLU) in 2015 with my B.S. in Exercise Science. Following graduation, I worked in a patellofemoral pain 3-D motion capture laboratory at SLU before beginning a clinical trial coordinator position at Washington University in St. Louis in breast oncology. This past summer I moved to Chicago and began working in the Disterhoft laboratory at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Our lab investigates the neurobiology associated with memory and aging. I am excited to begin my PhD at the University of Illinois at Chicago this fall. My professional goal is to earn a PhD in the Biomedical Sciences with a focus in regenerative medicine. However, I didn’t always know that I wanted to pursue a PhD. It took pursuing a different career path and working in various research settings to help me realize my career goals. I may have taken the long road to get where I am today but I am thankful for the lessons I learned along the way. Overall, I believe in the importance of pursuing a career that you are passionate about. I want to feel challenged and inspired by my work. It may seem intimidating at first to make this change but it is so rewarding in the end.

As a part of the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative I am excited for the opportunity to meet other women in the STEM fields and to become a part of a community. I hope to one day be able to serve as a mentor to young women pursuing a career in the sciences.

Science Communication and Media training with Nicole Woitowich and Kristin Samuelson

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Nicole Woitowich

Kristin Samuelson

In February we hosted Nicole Woitowich (Director of Science Outreach and Education, Women’s Health Research Institute, Northwestern University) and Kristin Samuelson (Media Relations Specialist/Video Producer and Health Sciences Writer, Northwestern University) for a science communication and media workshop. Here, I would like to briefly summarize and share some of the key concepts and most useful tips they shared with us:

  • Have your elevator pitch ready and have several versions for different audiences. Briefly,an elevator pitch is a short personal introduction and presentation of your ideas or work.
  • Using social media like Twitter or LinkedIn is a great way to connect with media and other scientists in and/or outside your expertise.
  • Timing is key to promote your work or success: Contact the media or Media relations department when your paper just got accepted or even before to have enough time to prepare the message.
  • Another opportunity for your media promotion is when your expertise relates to topics currently making headlines.
  • Contact with media is fast, respond ASAP when they contact you. You can always say “I am busy now, I will call you back in 10 minutes.” and thus gain time to think what is your message and still let them know “I am interested”.
  • Before you interview: Prepare bullet points and practice to say it out loud. It gives you confidence and helps you remember your statements.
  • You can say polite “No” if you do not want to respond. “I am sorry, I do not know enough to speak about it.” it is much better than incorrect information.
  • Remember, reporters are reporters not your friends and everything you say is on the record and they can use it. You control your message by providing the information.
  • Your message should be interesting and understandable to the general public. Use metaphors, examples, and simplifications and avoid jargon or long and complicated sentences.
  • You have to communicate your message differently through different media. For video,your story must be visually interesting. In radio, you have to provide quick facts or surprising numbers and findings. The print is usually more complex however, still visual.
  • For video interviews use translucent powder and hairspray, avoid wearing patterns or white and black colors, heavy necklaces or scarfs. Avoid glasses if possible. Wearing bright colors (purple!) and business casual is always a good choice.
  • Don ́t be sad when your 30 min interview ends in a 15 second sound bind. It is absolutely normal.

Specifically for Northwestern University:

  • If you have any question contact the Media Relations Staff at Northwestern. They are here to help you, polish your statement or train you to give the best interview.
  • If you want to learn more, visit the Northwestern Media training web page. There you can find Media training and communication manuals full of practical tips and recommendations.
  • Do you know that Northwestern University has the Faculty Experts HUB? If you are an expert in specific fields, you should be listed there.

Written by Pavla Hubalkova

Roslyn Taylor, PhD

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I am a postdoctoral fellow in the Cellular and Molecular Biology department at Northwestern. I am the first woman in my family to receive a Bachelor’s Degree (Spanish) and a PhD (Immunology). I work in Tom Hope’s lab, where we focus on HIV transmission. My research examines mother-to-child HIV transmission through breastfeeding and HIV pre-clinical vaccine development. I was interested in pursuing science to help others. I was recently added to the Trainee Advisory Board for the Center for Reproductive Sciences at Northwestern University. My hope is to use my scientific background and skills from my PhD and postdoctoral training into the community and nonprofit sector through HIV outreach and advocacy.

Alison Hernandez

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I am Alison Hernandez, PhD, RN-BC. I am a bi-lingual and bi-cultural (Mexica- American) medical surgical board certified registered nurse. I have my PhD in nursing from the University of Illinois at Chicago where I was part of the Robert Wood Johnson – Future of Nursing Scholar; a program that helps propel nurses through their doctoral degree. I am trained as a bio-behavioral health researcher and have a broad interest in older adult health and longevity. Currently, I am a Disability Policy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Northwestern University’s Center for Education in Health Sciences. I chose the Disability Policy Research Fellowship because I want to learn how to effectively influence policy trough my research. My long-term research interests are to explore the use of integrative health approaches (e.g. exercise, nutrition, positive psychology) to foster health promotion and disease prevention in older adults. Specifically, I am interesting in understanding how the prescription of exercise, nutrition and interventions that focus on psychological well-being can help ameliorate age related physical (metabolic, cardiovascular, cognitive) and mental changes (anxiety, depression, stress, loneliness, and quality of life). My current research is on examining how different types of physical activity can increase subjective well-being (i.e. happiness, joy, satisfaction) in older adults. Improved subjective well-being is linked to longevity, and improved quality of life and is associated with improved health outcomes. Recently, I received the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) DREAM travel award (supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences) to attend the American College of Sports Medicine annual research meeting and present my research. FASEB is committed to support diversity in research and education in the biological sciences. Nurses go beyond the bedside, and lead research efforts that improve outcomes. My interest in STEM is rooted in my clinical career as a nurse, and desire to promote evidence based interventions to help older adults live long quality lives.

Colleen Furey

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My name is Colleen Furey and I am a fourth year graduate student in the Driskill Graduate Program at Northwestern, working towards a Ph.D. in Life Sciences. I work in a virology lab within the Microbiology-Immunology department and my project broadly focuses on understanding the role of different proteins that regulate the microtubule network during herpes simplex virus type I infection in human cells. In the coming month I will be submitting a paper on my work and I look forward to closing this chapter of my project, and starting to explore a new question! Of my family I am the first to choose a career in science and I feel so lucky to have found a field that both excites and challenges me on a daily basis. With the start of my fourth year in graduate school, I began to ponder the next step in my career path. Around the same time, I noticed advertisements for the start of the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative at Northwestern. I decided to join the group in the hopes of meeting and learning from women at different stages in their careers. So far, each STEM circuits meeting has been incredibly well-organized and insightful. I think my favorite part has been the sense of community at the meetings, as we are brought together by our mutual desire for mentorship. It has been exciting to be a part of this growing initiative and I look forward to seeing what else the program has in store this year.

Jenny Kopach

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As Science Olympiad Executive Director and Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications, I oversee the operations of Science Olympiad and manage sponsor program implementation with Fortune 500 businesses, government agencies, scientific associations and institutions of higher education.

Two of my proudest achievements have been developing the Science Olympiad Urban Schools Initiative and expanding the Elementary Science Olympiad. I was honored to organize six White House Science Fairs with the Obama White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and to act as Science Olympiad liaison to the Japan Science and Technology Agency.

I volunteer on many civic boards and committees including the Science Olympiad Executive Board, the Illinois Governor’s P-20 Council College and Career Readiness Committee, the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute Workforce Development Committee and the NBC Telemundo Chicago Community Action Board. I’m a member of The Executives’ Club of Chicago, have served as Democratic Precinct Committeewoman for York Township in DuPage County for 12 years and am the Illinois State Chair for Million Women Mentors, a national initiative dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and girls in STEM. Senator Tammy Duckworth serves as our Honorary State Chair.

Through these positions, I strive to connect the dots between K-12, higher education and industry, creating workforce development programs, securing grants for underserved communities, and providing more opportunities for students who need help lighting a career pathway. I’ve written about bridging the STEM skills and gender gaps for ArcelorMittal and MENTOR and have spoken about the power of effective mentoring programs at four Million Women Mentors Summits in Washington, DC. Interested? Reach out to jrkopach@soinc.org

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Science Olympiad is a Chicago-area based, national non-profit organization founded in 1984 dedicated to improving the quality of K-12 STEM education, increasing student interest in science, creating a technologically literate workforce and providing recognition for outstanding achievement by both students and teachers. More than 230,000 secondary students on 7,900 teams from all 50 states competed in 450 regional, state and national Science Olympiad tournaments last year.