Posted By Alice C. Linsley,
Monday, May 26, 2014
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Photo: Cydney Scott
Mayim Bialik earned her undergraduate degree and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA and plays a neuroscientist on The Big Bang Theory. She minored in Jewish Studies and Hebrew. She spoke at Boston University’s Graduate Women in Science and Engineering luncheon May 17.
There were many fans of the popular nerd-centric TV sitcom The Big Bang Theoryat the BU Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWISE) luncheon Saturday with guest Mayim Bialik, who plays a neurobiologist on the show. But the 50 or so students and professors at the event, hosted by Beverly Brown, GWISE advisory board member and wife of President Robert A. Brown, also appreciated Bialik’s lesser known bonafides—she holds a doctorate in neuroscience and is a champion of science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) education for girls.
Having launched her television acting career at 14 as the quirky, hat-loving Blossom Russo in the early 1990s NBC television sitcom Blossom, Bialik (Hon.’14), who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at Sunday’s Commencement, has won over a new generation with her portrayal of The Big Bang Theory’s Amy Farrah Fowler. The loopy, brilliant Fowler joined the cast at the end of season three and is now a regular. Bialik’s performance has earned her two Screen Actors Guild nominations and two Emmy nominations.
Born in San Diego, 38-year-old Bialik played the young Bette Midler in Beaches at age 12 and has made guest appearances on such TV shows as HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. A character actress who pokes fun at her bookish non-Hollywood appearance ("These glasses are real,” she told the GWISE audience of her outsized black horn-rims), she earned a bachelor’s from the University of California, Los Angeles, in neuroscience in 2000, and in 2007 completed a PhD in neuroscience, also from UCLA. Her research examined the role of oxytocin and vasopressin in obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic abnormality causing life-threatening obesity. "I’m a chromosome 8 person,” she said, to a chorus of knowing laughter.
Posted By Alice C. Linsley,
Saturday, March 08, 2014
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The CWIS Board has been discussing this recently. What
follows is part of that conversation, initiated by CWIS President Lynn Billman.
The Board would like to hear from CWIS members on this topic and soon will open a
Q&A Forum at the CWIS website for members to respond and make suggestions.
Ever feel like God is trying to tell you something? I’ve had two entirely separate instances come
to my attention this week (actually in the same evening!) that are making me
review our CWIS mission. I don’t want to
knee-jerk a change, but I need some Christian counsel. And for this, you are it!
The part of our mission that I’m stumbling over is: “To encourage Christian women of all ages to
pursue, sustain, and grow in a career in science, technology, engineering or
math…” As I’ve looked at statistics of
men vs. women in STEM careers and leadership positions, my passion has been to
“right a wrong.” I still have this
But, what if the “wrong” is not a wrong, but a sincere
desire to put passion for family before passion for science/STEM? What is CWIS to Christian women who
thoughtfully choose NOT to pursue such a career (or abort or time-out) after
their education? This is coming up now
as I talk to more women about CWIS, within and outside of ASA. I tell them the CWIS mission, and they look
blankly at me, like, “yes, I got a PhD in electrical engineering or a BS in
psychology but I’m not interested in a career like that, because it takes me
away from my husband and family.” Is it
our place to try to talk them out of that?
What is our response? Two options
that come to my mind:
1. Is CWIS
simply not for them? – i.e., the response is, go forth and have your family,
and come back to CWIS if you decide you want to start/restart your STEM career
and then we’ll try to help and inspire you.
2. Or, should
CWIS have a broader mission? – i.e., to provide encouragement to pursue their
interest in science/STEM in non-career ways – ways to inspire their own
children, ways to help out at their children’s schools or camps with science,
ways to educate their congregations about science/STEM issues and topics, ways
to be involved in science-related policies in their area or nationally, ways to
otherwise stay involved with science, etc.
We can certainly open this up as a blog or forum (Q&A)
item, but as the CWIS Board, I’d appreciate your reactions first and
My first reaction is to say "Amen" to your point
As per our discussion, the experience in our family is
probably typical regarding women, STEM, and the Christian faith. Of my 6
'children' (includes spouses), 3 have PhD's in science (neuroscience, cognitive
psychology, and bio-engineering). One son-in-law has several Masters in
Environmental Engineering and Geotech, etc. So we are pretty well embedded in
the hard sciences.
The women (I'm including my niece also, a medical doctor),
are all married to very capable, high-level professional men, Christians, very
supportive of their wives whatever they choose. But when a decision is made to
have children in a marriage, it calls for a serious decision regarding career,
marriage and one's faith. In our case, the three women decided to be the one to
forego a fast-track career and stay home with children, at least for a while.
If there are circumstances that can make the decision easier (like nearby
grandparents willing to watch kids, being able to afford an nanny, husband
wanting to stay home, etc) that would help, but apart from these, my experience
shows that it will be extremely hard for a woman to pursue a demanding career
in the sciences, while also maintaining a healthy marriage and serving as a
mother to her children. It would be good to talk to someone who has done this
So if a Christian woman in science decides to step off the
career track, she feels like a 'failure' because it seems she has wasted her
education. On top of that, if she is involved in the average American
evangelical church, she has a part of her that she cannot share with her
friends or fellow believers. In many churches there is either a fear of
science, or even worse, a denigration of the work of scientists. This results
in tremendous ignorance, prejudice and closed-mindedness.
So this Christian woman trained in science is 'lost' in the
chasm between the church and the scientific world. It is a lonely place to be.
Finally, given all the hype about the need for people in
STEM, I have yet to see where there are many 'real' jobs, jobs that pay a
decent wage, that don't consume 60 hours per week, etc. Maybe at a lower level,
like a technician, or basic IT engineering, there are plenty, but where are
they at the higher levels, with cutbacks of government funding, university
education being in a transition mode, etc. Finally, there is the challenge of
competing with job applicants who are willing to work 60-70 hour weeks, because
career is first and foremost in their list of priorities.
There is a lot CWIS could offer - first of all, acceptance
of the situation and of the women who choose other priorities. They could be
encouraged to use their scientific knowledge to impact the church, the next
generation, their communities, as policy makers, and many other ways. They
could also be given a realistic view of careers in science and the options of
getting back into science once the 'kids are raised.'
I do think this would be a good subject for discussion.
Thanks for bringing it up.
BTW, I love the mission statement - "A Place to Connect!" That says it all.
Excellent points, and I know in my own life my husband and I
have had to make choices that weren't always the best for our careers because
that's what worked for us as a couple (we try to take turns).
At least for me personally, I would love it if CWIS were
involved in advocating for more family-friendly science practices. While there
are certainly times that long hours in the lab etc. are unavoidable, I think a
lot of it is a culture thing, which can be changed. Certainly we should be
supportive of women who have felt they had to leave science careers for their
families, but I also feel like we shouldn't have to choose. Especially considering
that most men do not have the same pressure to choose between science careers
and family, it should be possible to make it that way for women too.
I would second Kristen’s points. I think there are many ways
to pursue a STEM career without committing to 60+ hours a week. For example, my
appointment at Calvin is reduced load (~70% of a “normal” faculty workload)
which has made it possible for me to balance work and family. I also have
married colleagues who share a full-time position (so both mom and dad get to
work and spend time with the kids in equal measure). But, the availability of
more family-friendly STEM jobs depends on more employers being willing to offer
them. I see the perception that women have to choose between a STEM career and
a family as one of the main barriers for young women in choosing technical
I interpret STEM careers as much broader than just full time
PhD research or academic work. In my mind, nurses, elementary school science
teachers, and chem lab technicians also count as STEM careers. And for most
women, the early-childhood years are only a fraction of their working lives.
So, maybe our organization doesn’t have much to offer in support of the STEM
graduate who is currently at home with the kids, but those same moms may
eventually be back in professional STEM work (whether they want to connect with
a group like CWIS in the meantime would be a personal choice, depending on how
they identify themselves in relation to STEM and professional work). In terms
of righting wrongs, I see it as a very important justice issue that women have
access to well-paying careers in fields like engineering, especially in a
society where many women are not in a position to rely on a spouse with a
well-paying career to financially support them or their family.
Posted By Alice C. Linsley,
Thursday, February 27, 2014
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Lynn Billman is the President of Christian Women in Science. She recently wrote an fine article that appeared at Huff Post/Religion about Christian women in STEM. We hope that this will be the first of many! Here are the opening paragraphs:Christian Women in STEM are a Vulnerable MinorityLynn BillmanAs the President of Christian Women in Science (CWIS, part of the American Scientific Affiliation), I hear many stories about the struggles of women of this faith who are interested or work in science, technology, engineering and math. Some stories are encouraging, but others are enough to break my heart.
Read the whole article here.
Rochelle was a high school biology student who was excited about the advances in genetics that her teacher shared with her in school. She dreamed of making a difference in the world by doing medical research. However, when her church youth leader told her that there were too many gaps in the fossil record to believe evolution and that only atheists believed in evolution, Rochelle's sense of direction began to waver. If she became a medical researcher, would she have to give up her Christian friends?
Liz had enjoyed her 10 years as a geology professor at a mid-sized state college. She rarely talked about being a Christian, but recently the subject came up when she told her department head about spending her weekend serving supper at the local Christian mission, and telling people about the love of Jesus. A couple months later her application for tenure was turned down. She never got a clear explanation of why she was rejected. As Liz found, being a Christian and a scientist in a secular institution can feel like being a "lesbian still in the closet."
Posted By Alice C. Linsley,
Tuesday, February 04, 2014
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Emily Sturgess on Labels
How does a scientist define themselves when their work isn’t their primary identity? This month’s guest post is from Emily Sturgess, a biologist who has found a niche in Oxford.
It took me a while to realise that when you introduce yourself to someone you don’t have to define yourself with a single label. As if the supplies in the stationery cupboard were rationed, I felt for a long time that I was allowed only one label to stick on myself to describe what I do. I am the Development Officer for Christians in Science
, so I spend a lot of time with people who describe themselves as ‘scientists’. That makes a lot of sense: they actively participate in scientific research, are employed by science departments in universities, and think ‘scientifically’. It is their profession, and the label is wholly applicable.
All the same, I have always been slightly uneasy about declaring myself a scientist. Aside from the fact that due to an archaic honours system I actually have a BA not a BSc, I do have undergraduate and masters degrees in science subjects (Biological Sciences, and Species Identification, respectively), but I’m still not convinced. Logically, some of this could stem from the fact that I am not actually employed in research. In reality, it’s probably because I don’t want to commit to a single label until people see that ‘scientist’ encompasses so many traits!
I certainly was not the classic ‘born scientist’, but I fell in love with biology as a teenager and pursued it as far as I could. My masters was no strategic career move – I just really wanted to learn to identify plants, animals, and shockingly to all including myself, moss. Honestly, there’s no beauty quite like watching a desiccated moss sample being revived with a few drops of water. The cells dry up when you keep them as herbarium specimens, but that makes them almost impossible to identify because the shapes of the tiny leaves are distorted. If you drop water onto the specimen, however, even if it has been dried and hidden away for years, by what seems some wonderful magic the leaves spring back to life, unfurling under the microscope before your eyes.
So when I speak to other biologists, I also am a biologist. But when I speak to other writers I am a blogger; when I speak to students I am a student leader; when I speak to someone who needs something organising I am an administrator…and through all of those things I am also a Christian, following Jesus whole-heartedly, and hoping that will impact those around me.
So what do you do with an identity that seemingly isn’t tied up in one field, but flits happily between several? Which label are you allowed to wear, when in some ways you’re a scientist but in other ways you’re not? Thankfully for me, I am lucky enough to have found a job that allows me to be a scientist and a Christian, at the same time as everything else.
Working for Christians in Science has been a big release for me, because I love and understand the subject matter and am hungry to know more about almost every aspect of the science-faith dialogue. My role also allows me to be creative and administrative, and gives me time – which I wouldn’t have if I was actively involved in research – to get things done practically for the organisation. Being able to resource so many research scientists, students, teachers, and others, in their walk with God is a real privilege.
It is always humbling to see God taking the eclectic strands of our lives that had previously been wisping all over the place, and weaving them together. It is encouraging that God sees our whole selves – all the facets of our being that he prompts us to invest in – and finds ways to work them together. It always reminds me how much wiser he is than me! He sees our science and our faith and knows how to bring them together. But he sees all the other elements too: our leadership skills, pastoral hearts, discernment, creativity, logical thinking, and everything else that we consider gifts and skills but perhaps haven’t quite known what we are meant to do with them in our professional lives.
As Ruth has blogged before, there is a great call for creativity in science. I believe that there is also a place in science for all our other gifts: being wise when we give advice to others, gracious in our set-backs, and discerning and pastoral in the staff-room. We don’t have to be given a role that specifies those things in the job description to work them into our professional lives.
So for me, defining who I am and what I do was never just a case of how I brought my science and my belief together. More than that, it has been about how I am able to bring all of myself together: in my pursuit of science, in my pursuit of fulfilment, and most importantly in my pursuit of God – covered in as many labels as possible.Emily Sturgess blogs sporadically at http://love-laugh-photograph.blogspot.co.uk, and is based in Oxford.
Posted By Alice C. Linsley,
Friday, January 24, 2014
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Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
By Gina Ryder
"What inspires you?”
A question like that brings to mind clichés more fitting at a beauty pageant. Yet when you ask a STEM girl, the responses might well cause you to straighten up and pay attention.
The Huffington Post posed this question to the applicants of our Girls In STEM Mentorship Program
. More than 1,000 young women responded to our call-outs last December, and amid all the different names, ages, locations, career motivations and educational backgrounds, we were blown away by the deep purpose each applicant found in her studies and future career.
So in celebration of International Day of the Girl Child
and the quest to empower young women everywhere, we've compiled some of our favorite responses to this question in the following list. Hopefully they inspire you like they've inspired us.
What inspires you? What inspires your pursuit of STEM?
"Seeing my work impact a person's life, no matter how small the action. I know my thoughts can transform into action." - Phyllis, 21, Aspiring pharmacist
"I find the the research towards finding an AIDS vaccine fascinating." - Taryn, 14, Aspiring Orthopaedic/Neurological surgeon
"My whole life, all I ever dreamed about when growing up is to help somebody in a powerful way. I want to make lives better or help move society forward to a future with less misunderstandings and ignorance. Women have been doing this throughout history, and if I could do something just half as good as them, I would be more than satisfied." - Florencia, 20, Interested in a career in health physics
Posted By Alice C. Linsley,
Friday, December 27, 2013
Updated: Saturday, December 21, 2013
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Nov 20, 2013 by Bill Steele
(Phys.org) —Just when the nation has a need for more workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, research at Cornell and the University of Texas, Austin, finds that women have often found those fields inhospitable, and left for other kinds of jobs.
In the first study to compare women in STEM with other professional women, Sharon Sassler, professor of policy analysis and management, and colleagues found that women in STEM fields have been more likely to move out of their field of specialty than other professional women, especially early in their careers; few women in either group completely leave the labor force. Their report, "What's So Special About STEM?" will appear in the December issue of the journal Social Forces.
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-11-stem-women.html#jCp