Sex in the Sciences

I was invited to participate on a panel in a session called “Sex in the Sciences” at the 8th Annual Midwest/Great Lakes Undergraduate Research Symposium in Neuroscience hosted by The Ohio State University on October 22. There were 31 colleges and universities that participated this year from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Each year a different college or university would host the annual meeting and it allows students in Neurosciences to present their research projects. The goal of the panel was to have an informal discussion with 190 student participants to discuss professions that were considered “nontraditional” for that gender.

Our panel consisted of three other people which included Dr. Georgia Bishop, vice-chairman of the Department of Neuroscience, Dr. Kathryn Lenz, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Nicholas Baggett, nurse practitioner (NP) with M.A. in mental health. We each gave an introduction to our educational background and our career trajectory to promote awareness of the issues we faced in our education and careers as well as expose the participants to role models in science.            Dr. Bishop had shared that when she started out in neuroscience she was told by a professor that “women have not succeeded in this field”.  She proved him wrong by succeeding and she had gained the respect of her fellow male graduate students by spending the same amount of time and effort as they did.            Nicholas Baggett stated that patients often assume that he is a doctor because he is male.  He said that being a white male he has experienced what it was like to be a “minority” in nursing.

What qualities are needed to succeed in undergraduate or graduate education? We had excellent audience participation and questions from them. Nicholas Baggett recommended critical thinking along with mastery of writing. He noted that people may think that writing is not an important skill set in the sciences or health care field, but it is used daily in his work. I shared that developing effective communication skills is very important in any areas of study and career choice along with perseverance.  I recommended that they keep a goal in sight and not to give up on that goal even if there is a roadblock and to look for another way to achieve the goal.  Dr. Lenz had shared that she has had days when she has felt like quitting the work that she does, but with resilience she had been able continue to work in her field and find fulfillment in it.

What is success? We discussed the question of success in our fields and we agreed that success is based on what each individual feels is important in his/her life. The commonality shared by the panel is that our education and career goals may not have always followed a straight path and we had all encountered challenges along the way, but we found mentors in our fields that help us achieve our goals.  We did not allow our gender to dictate what we should be doing, but used it to help us to pave the path to our goals.  We now serve as mentors to students and others to help them achieve their goals.

by Edith Chang, M.D.

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