Medina Dzaferi

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I am a first-generation student from Florida who has completed a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science, a minor in Public Health, and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology within 3 years. After graduation, I managed a research laboratory studying X-linked intellectual disabilities through its association with ZDHHC9 while working closely with the Chair of Molecular Medicine. I am now a student at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law studying to earn my Masters of Science in Law. I chose this degree because a thorough understanding of how legal aspects are applied to the scientific field is vital but absent from the standard curriculum. This additional legal proficiency is needed for a more comprehensive application of the exceptionally complex healthcare system and I am grateful to have the opportunity to learn from such a prestigious university.   I would not be in the position I am today without the guidance of strong women who have helped me along the way. Chicago Women in STEM provides a strong community of support in a field where not many women are present. This unification enables mentorship and connections to prosper and I am excited to get more involved with such a program. 

Toni Gutierrez, PhD

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I am the Assistant Director of the Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. I began my training and career in immunology, studying B cells and autoimmunity. I then made the transition towards student support and graduate training in 2012 when I joined the Scientific Careers Research and Development Group led by Dr. Rick McGee at Northwestern University, which is leading a nation-wide study of graduate training experiences. After a year investigating how nuances in the graduate experience encourage career choices, I moved into the role of Assistant Director of the Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences (CLIMB) Program at Northwestern. As part of CLIMB, I support graduate trainees in 5 bioscience programs across Northwestern’s Chicago and Evanston campuses. In addition to individual coaching, I’ve led professional and career development seminars that focus on early graduate development for CLIMB and other Graduate School partners.

In July 2019, I joined the Driskill Graduate Program leadership team. I saw this as an exciting opportunity to broaden the impact of several lines of interest. First, the importance of individualized training and support for graduate students. I hope to expand my work coaching individual students to empower them to guide their own training. Second, I will continue facilitating mentor training for both DGP faculty and students. The relationships between mentors and trainees are the cornerstone of successful careers and vital to broadening participation in STEMM. And last but not least, I will work to promote and support an inclusive culture that enhances the graduate training environment at Feinberg.

I am a South Texas native and first-generation 4-year college graduate. I received my BS from St. Mary’s University (San Antonio, TX) and my PhD from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Rachel Burga, PhD.

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I recently joined the Northwestern community as a Postdoc in the Department of Neurological Surgery (ready to experience my first Chicago winter!), where my research focuses on developing targeted nano-immunotherapies for glioblastoma. I’m a Canuck, but I grew up mostly in the New England area, and so am SUPER biased for my New England sports teams 🙂 Also, fun fact, I just ran the NYC Marathon for the first time (so if you see me hobbling around the Chicago campus, that’s why)! I received my PhD in Immunology from George Washington University, and my Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from Columbia University; throughout my academic career I’ve strived to combine these two fields in order to develop innovative therapies for patients with solid tumors. I love sharing my research with all kinds of audiences, and so have presented my work nationally and internationally. This past Spring I was honored to be selected to participate in and win an award for my research on genetically-modified NK cells at the Immuno-Oncology Young Investigators’ Forum.

I’ve always been THAT kid who knew what they wanted to be “when they grew up” – since I was 8 years old I told everyone that I was either going to be a linguistic film editor (NOT a thing), or a biomedical engineer (thankfully this IS a thing)! I went to all girls’ school from grade 1 through 12, and was lucky enough to have a handful of teachers who really encouraged my STEM interests and helped to shape my passion for biological sciences (Shoutout to Mrs. Norwood-Chase and Mr. Souza!). As an adult, this really motivated me to become involved with middle school and high school outreach, with the goal of keeping the next generation informed and excited about STEM opportunities. 

I learned about the Chicago Women in STEM initiative from a colleague, and was so excited to attend the first STEM circuit event of the season! Not only did this event connect me with like-minded women in science, but it was a rare opportunity to talk openly and honestly about some of the struggles we face as women in STEM fields, as well as how succeed in diverse STEM-related career paths. Through Chicago Women in STEM I hope to continue to grow my network of women and men with a range of scientific (and non-scientific) backgrounds, and to connect with organizations that support STEM outreach and workshops for younger students here in the Chicago area. 

Julie Ores

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Hello, I am a Virtual Sales Executive with American Well. My formal education includes an undergraduate degree from Colorado State University and a master’s degree from Loyola University Chicago. After years in due diligence and investigations, I found myself looking for a transition and was given an opportunity with a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) care coordination organization for bundled payments and value-based care. This is where I took a step into healthcare and technology, and it continues to be wholeheartedly where my career interests lie. In 2018, a natural curiosity brought me to Northwestern University’s Coding Boot Camp where I completed a 24-week program learning both front and back end web development. My professional goals include creating a positive impact for improved access to convenient and affordable care. I’m thankful to be part of this initiative to bring awareness and share these STEM stories with others. 

Joseph Lutz

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I am the Associate Director of Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and I serve as an advocate, resource, and central point of contact for the UIC postdoctoral community. Although my days are now filled with engaging postdocs, answering buckets of emails, attending meetings, organizing events, etc. what took me here is a long winding scientific road. I have a B.Sc. in Biochemistry with an emphasis on plant molecular biology. Out of university I helped organize a European conference about the role of science in society. I then obtained a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences looking at neuroprotective plant compounds against alcohol neurotoxicity, and finally completed postdoctoral training in human behavioral pharmacology. Thanks to my background I can easily engage postdocs from all walks of life: postdocs who work in the greenhouse, postdocs in biological safety cabinets doing cell culture, or postdocs who work with humans (why can’t humans be on time like rodents?!).

I am really glad that my office and the UIC Postdoctoral Association partnered with the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative to spearhead the Chicago Women in STEM symposium because there are many issues impacting women in research today, some of which hit really close to home. My wife is an NIH funded research assistant professor who has built a remarkable research program on the effects of sex differences and sex hormones on brain activity during impulse control as it relates to drug and alcohol abuse. It was always clear from the moment we met that her career would take priority over mine because she is ambitious, has continuously been funded since graduate school, and she is just generally kick-ass at what she does. I learned at the Chicago Women in STEM symposium that supporting her career makes me a #heforshe partner – which I’m really proud to be!


“You can’t be what you can’t see”: What U of C showed me at their Women in STEM Symposium.

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I am the first person in my family to earn my Ph.D. It’s a big deal. Honestly, I am sometimes surprised by the good luck that brought me to graduation, in addition to all my hard work. My parents were invested in my education. They paid for a good high school where I had a teacher who encouraged my interest in science. I attended an all girls undergraduate institution. I was a graduate researcher in a diverse lab with a boss who supported me completely. And yet, as I look around, I see that in STEM, women are underrepresented in leadership roles, with women of color facing additional barriers. The wheel of missed opportunities and discrimination only continues as women, and women of color, earn less leadership positions. In my time as a graduate student, I have sought out organizations seeking to address this issue.

Recently, I attended the inaugural Women in STEM Symposium at the University of Chicago presented by the Graduate Recruitment Team, the Association for Women in Mathematics, Women in Biological Sciences, Graduate Women in Computer Sciences, and the Society of Women in Engineering. Now, I’ve been to “Women in Science” events before, but this was different. Some of the events included workshops on implicit bias and stereotype threat, a motivational story of being your most authentic self by Dr. Dominique Carter, panels on different career paths including government and writing, and a wonderful lecture by Dr. Eugenia Cheng on how math has been taught in a way that excludes certain personality types.

The organizers were diverse in their expertise and in their racial and ethnic identities. Diversity was at the forefront of their program although it was not stated explicitly. They invited women of color speakers, not on the basis of diversity, but simply because of their careers’ accomplishments and interesting life story narratives. I was floored. I’ve never been to a conference where almost all of the speakers looked like this. It really brought home to me that diversity of speakers is possible when organizers make the effort. So many times we are told that “it’s just too hard to get women, to get women of color, to get other underrepresented identities in STEM.” This event should serve as an example to all those who advocate for diverse conferences. If you take the time and actively work to invite diverse speakers, conferences can be much more representative of our population. As a result of the diversity that was present at this symposium, I think that many participants felt welcome and valued. “You can’t be what you can’t see” – and U of C’s Women in STEM Symposium showed me that with the right community supporting and advocating for us, we can be whatever we choose.

Written by Arianne Rodriguez. She has her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Northwestern University. She is an executive board member of the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative. She likes to talk science and law and enjoys rock climbing. The Chicago Women in STEM Initiative is looking for new recruits so please contact

Sumitra Debina Mitra

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My first ever exposure to wet lab work at the age of 17, on the efficacy of antifungal components in wall paint, was a small undergraduate project for an inter-college competition. Weirdly, I don’t remember if we won but I remember falling in love with the process of planning and executing experiments and the eagerness to go into lab every day. Now, as a postdoctoral fellow at Alan Hauser’s lab, the world of microbiology still entices me, and I enjoy every moment of it.
I completed my BSc (Hons) and MSc degree at the University of Mumbai. During my master’s, I was awarded the Indian Academy of Sciences Summer Research Fellowship to study the phosphate utilization pathway in yeast at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. After my master’s, I worked for a year at the Hinduja hospital laboratory where I published my first paper on the prevalence of carbapenemases in the local population. At this point, I decided to do a PhD and moved to Singapore to join Kimberly Kline’s lab at Nanyang Technological University. We worked on how Sortase A, a membrane enzyme and important virulence factor, localizes to specific domains within Enterococcus faecalis.
Once again, knowing that change every now and then is important for growth, I moved my life to the other side of the globe and experienced my first winter this January. I joined the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Northwestern University at the beginning of 2019 and now work on the type 3 secretion system that plays a key role in the pathogenesis of Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
My long-term career goal is to enter the scientific publishing field and I want to spend my time at NU carving my niche in the relatively large field of bacterial virulence factors while building my network within the scientific community. Being a part of the Chicago Women in STEM initiative, I believe, allows me to do both with the added advantage of engaging with amazing female scientists from diverse backgrounds.


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“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Lao Tzu.

As Lao Tzu expresses so elegantly, mindfulness is about living and enjoying the present moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the clinically used and scientifically proven Mindfulness-based stress reduction course (MBSR), defines mindfulness as “Awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” He has written several books about mindfulness, the most famous is Full Catastrophe Living. But more importantly, he and his colleagues started scientifically studying the effect of mindfulness on the human brain and mental and physical health. Mindfulness is clinically used for stress reduction, treatment of posttraumatic disorders, depression, or addictions.

Nowadays there are many more studies about the positive effects of mindfulness. I can list:

  • Better concentration and memory
  • Burn-out prevention
  • Increased satisfaction and happiness
  • Better sleep
  • Better mental and physical health
  • Better immune system
  • Pain reduction
  • Control eating disorders
  • Increase emphatic, altruistic and prosocial behavior
  • Increase creativity

At the same time, I want to emphasize, it is not a miracle or cure for everything, as the message of many headlines suggest. Mindfulness is a long-term practice. It takes time and patience to see positive effects. However, I highly recommend experiencing it yourself.

You can find many books, articles or lectures about mindfulness and how to practice. You can also use apps like Headspace, Calm,  Simple Habit or  Insight Timer. However, mindfulness is not just about sitting still during formal practices. Mindfulness is also about living in the present moment and incorporating mindfulness into all daily activities. It means paying attention and fully enjoying your morning coffee, eating your lunch without disruption and really experiencing the taste, or just carefully listening during the conversations with your partner or colleagues. At the same time, you can use waiting at the bus stop or in line at the grocery shop to stop for a moment and really focus on yourself, your feelings and thoughts, your emotions, or your breath. You will maybe realize you are exhausted or a little bit sick, and thus you can slow down, take vitamins, and prevent a bigger illness.

Mindfulness is a practice. I love the analogy that mindfulness is a mental gym. You can catch the bus even without regular running, but you probably will be out of breath longer.  The same works for mindfulness. You can cope with stress, however, with mindfulness it can be easier. Explore and try different mindfulness techniques. Everybody is different and has different needs and preference. It is worthy to try and find your own way.  

written by Pavla Hubalkova


J. Brewer (2017): The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love – Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits. Yale University Press.

Chiesa et al. (2011): Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clin Psychol Rev, 31(3):449-64.

Goldberg et al. (2018): Mindfulness-based interventions for psychiatric disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev, 59:52-60.

Gu et al. (2015): How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies.Clin Psychol Rev, 37:1-12.

Hölzel et al. (2011):  Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res. 191(1): 36–43.

Kabat-Zinn (1991): Full Catastrophe Living. Delacorte press.

Khoury et al. (2015): Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. J Psychosom Res, 78(6):519-28.

Mason et al. (2018): Testing a mobile mindful eating intervention targeting craving-related eating: feasibility and proof of concept. J Behav Med, 41:160–173.

Tang et al. (2015): The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213-225. 

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