Celestia Fang

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Hello! I am an MSTP student at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and currently am well into my third year of the PhD phase of the program. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, I then swapped coasts to complete my undergrad at Cornell University where I majored in both economics and biology. I had a chance to dive into research during undergrad, and 2 more years of working as a research assistant in the Ivashkiv lab at the Hospital of Special Surgery convinced me of my passion for biomedical science and medicine. Here at Northwestern I am studying the relationship between chromatin topology and gene expression in T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the Ntziachristos lab. At this moment I am wrapping up my first publication from my thesis lab and am excited to continue my work in a new project!

I was drawn to the Chicago Women in STEM initiative because of the wide variety of informative events that encompass career advice, outreach, scientific communication and beyond. In addition to my passion for biomedical research, I strongly believe in increasing access to STEM and education for young students striving for opportunities. Currently I am helping to run a student-led group teaching basics of medical science to high school students at the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago. Through Chicago Women in STEM, I am hopeful that I will find more opportunities to advance science education and communication, and many role models who are doing the same.

Julia Downing

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My journey in science has come full circle. In 5th grade, I won the county science fair with my project called “What’s in Your Water?” studying water quality of local bodies of fresh water with a friend. Fifteen years later, I am using advanced top-down manufacturing techniques to fabricate flexible sensors that will one day be able to detect lead and other heavy metal contaminants in drinking water. As a PhD student at Northwestern University, I am able to leverage knowledge of nanoscale materials like graphene and boron nitride in the design and creation of novel device systems (transistors, sensors, and batteries). I love my job!

I’m originally from Maryland, USA and got my B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park on a full scholarship that motivated me to work as hard as I possibly could beyond the classroom. I quickly fell in love with research by my sophomore year and participated in a research experience for undergraduates in Kyoto, Japan five years ago focused on nanotechnology. After NanoJapan, I knew I wanted to pursue a doctorate within this discipline and came to Northwestern to learn from some of the most ambitious thought leaders in the nano world. I am also the incoming president of the Graduate Society of Women Engineers (GradSWE) at Northwestern, and a GEM Industry Fellow (being half-Cuban, half-American). My experiences as a multi-ethnic woman in STEM have catalyzed a desire to make academia more accessible to women and people of color, while becoming the first member of my family to earn a PhD. However, it takes a village, and my PhD journey has been enriched by the community of women in STEM and having the opportunity to support one another. My long-term goals are industry-focused; I dream of leading a team of researchers in research & development, bridging the gap between advanced materials and consumer products. I can’t wait to see devices reimagined by nanotechnology improving lives of those around me! I would also love to teach someday, perhaps as an adjunct professor, but there’s no telling what the future holds. 🙂

Barbara Szynal

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Hi! My name is Barbara Szynal, and I am a current first year PhD student in UIC’s Graduate Education in Medical Sciences (GEMS) program. My training includes a B.S. in Biochemistry and a minor in Polish Studies from Loyola University Chicago, where I proudly led my own research project for 3 years. My research in Dr. Kenneth Olsen’s lab consisted of synthesizing novel photodynamic therapy agents and testing them in cell culture and zebrafish models. I was honored to be able to present my findings at 3 different symposia. In this position, I was both a mentor and mentee, and I continue to guide undergraduates in the lab as they push the project further. During my undergrad studies, I also participated in a summer internship at Vetter Pharma, a pharmaceutical contract manufacturing company. The following summer I was invited by Vetter to work as a quality control microbiologist until I began graduate school.

My proudest achievements in my career thus far include the pharma industry positions as well as my undergraduate research and mentorship. Through these experiences, I discovered that my professional goal is to lead the discovery of novel pharmaceuticals in industry. However, through my participation in the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative, I anticipate that I will be introduced to many other alternative careers that may expand my future goals. Being the first in my family to attend institutions of higher education in the US, I have had a unique insight into the hardships many students in my position, especially women, face. I hope that through my participation in the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative and my experience as a research mentor I will be able to encourage fellow girls and women in the sciences along their paths.

Kacey Suvada

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I am a Neuroscience PhD candidate at Northwestern University. At Northwestern, I work with Dr. Ana Maria Acosta and Dr. Julius Dewald researching human motor impairments after a hemiparetic stroke. Specifically, my thesis project focuses on bettering the understanding of postural control during reaching. In my program, I have completed almost all of the coursework as well as passed the qualifying exams. Most recently, I presented my thesis project and preliminary data at the Society for Neuroscience Conference in Chicago as well as successfully proposed my work for my dissertation to the committee. I also take part in various types of outreach including working with elementary school kids and teaching them basic scientific principles through Science in Society, educating high school teachers about the field of neuroscience and how they can teach their students about the brain through NU Brain Awareness, advocating for gender equality specifically in STEM fields through the NU Women in STEM Initiative, and speaking about mental health awareness in high schools around Chicago through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I hope to meet more strong and successful women through the Women in STEM Initiative and continue to increase awareness of the organization to the Northwestern Community. In the next year, I will continue to drive my thesis work forward while maintaining involvement in leadership for the Women in STEM Initiative and my other organizations.

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 women@nupostdocs.org