Scientist of the Month
By Irena Antic, PhD
Dr. Dimitra Georganopoulou is the Innovation and Commercialization Officer at the Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO), the President of Women in Bio (WIB) and a past board member of Association for Women in Science (AWIS)-Chicago. In her current role at INVO at Northwestern University she employs the extensive set of scientific and interpersonal skills she acquired during her training in the US and Europe to help Northwestern inventors commercialize their research. Her typical day involves meetings with inventors, strategic partners, entrepreneurs and lawyers. She strives toward “work-life integration” instead of work-life balance and achieves it by spending quality time with her family, reading for pleasure, and pursuing her outreach interests.
Dimitra’s interest in science began when she was a young girl in Greece, where her father, an electrical engineer, fostered her natural inclinations towards science. By the time she entered college, she became fascinated with Physical Chemistry, in particular the field of electrochemical sensors with archaeological applications. Her graduate work took her to the UK, where she continued to learn about electrochemical sensors technologies and their various applications in biotechnology instead. While working on her PhD, Dimitra had a chance to meet with Rudolph Marcus, a Nobel Prize winner, at a small scientific conference. She credits this experience with teaching her that approaching discussions fearlessly with intelligent technical and personal perspective can be professionally rewarding.
Next, Dimitra moved to the United States to expose herself to state-of-the-art research and facilities and expand her field of expertise. She completed two postdocs, one at University of North Carolina with Prof. Royce Murray, and one at Northwestern University with Professor Chad Mirkin, though she always worked on sensors. While being very proactive, she ended up being at the right time and at the right place when Prof. Tom Meade recruited her for his burgeoning start-up Ohmx Corporation. During her years with Ohmx, Dimitra “wore many different hats” and learned about many aspects of product development, entrepreneurship and company operations. This experience taught her another important lesson: one can learn the most when you place yourself into the epicenter of a field or venture.
Over the years, Dimitra continued to develop and nurture relationships with her colleagues and became involved in AWIS, AACC (American Association of Clinical Chemists) and then WIB, which focuses on promoting careers and leadership opportunities for women in life sciences. Today she leads WIB, and gets much satisfaction from connecting professional women to each other, as well as enabling their career development. She firmly believes that “when you give, you indirectly get” and uses this guiding principle to foster mentorship and camaraderie within WIB. While with WIB, she has learned from various mentors that establishing meaningful relationships is a key to long-term success. Dimitra hopes to encourage female scientists to find a way to incorporate their passions into any work environment, cultivate their professional relationships, and believe in their place in the field of their choosing.
Authored By Kathleen M. Filetti-Shapiro (AWIS)
Edited by Diana Anderson, Argonne National Laboratory
Lisa Durham is a principal environmental engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary science and engineering research center run by the U.S. Department of Energy. She is also the interim director of the Leadership Institute at Argonne. The institute provides Argonne researchers and staff with tools and opportunities to develop their professional and leadership skills. “At Argonne, we believe that each individual has a distinct set of valuable skills and we teach people how to grow and capitalize on their abilities. Teaching people how to succeed is good for the individual and it’s good for science,” said Durham.
With more than 20 years of experience, Durham has successfully navigated the federal research sector. Her research focuses on soil, groundwater and environmental modeling for the characterization, remediation and closure of hazardous waste sites. Her work has been featured in a multitude of publications.
“It is essential that scientists and engineers build their leadership and communication skills in addition to their technical skill sets,” said Durham. “As a researcher, I know firsthand how fascinating and consuming life in the laboratory or out in the field can be. However, it is critical to be able to communicate your research, progress and goals effectively with collaborators, funders, stakeholders and with the public. We need to be able to communicate the value of science. If we don’t do that, who will?”
Throughout her career, Durham has also worked to communicate the value of women in science. From 2013 to 2015, she served as program initiator for Argonne’s Women in Science and Technology (WIST) program. The program was formed in 1990 to recruit, retain and promote women at Argonne in order to strengthen the laboratory’s scientific workforce.
“Women make up 27.5 percent of the nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce,” said Durham. “Obviously there’s room for improvement here. And I mean that both for society and for science. Scientific innovation happens when people look at a problem differently than anyone else has before. For this to happen, science needs a diverse set of perspectives and ideas. This means increasing the number of women and under-represented minorities in STEM fields.”
In 2012, Durham received the Argonne WIST Diversity Award for her contributions to diversity in science and engineering including her advocacy and encouragement of young women interested in STEM careers. Durham is a regular volunteer mentor at Argonne’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, an event where young female students have an opportunity to discover engineering careers alongside Argonne scientists and engineers. Durham also served on the Argonne Science Careers in Search of Women event planning committee for a decade. The event offers female high school students an opportunity to explore STEM professions and connect with Argonne’s world-class women scientists and engineers.
“Hands-on science and engineering activities at these events give students a taste of what it’s like to be a researcher,” said Durham. “I hope that lights a fire in their bellies and keeps them moving towards their goals. It’s particularly good for the girls to see how much they have in common with the scientist and engineer mentors they’re paired with. It gives them a real life role model and a quick glimpse of who they may end up being someday, career wise.”
Through the Women @ Energy series, the U.S. Department of Energy highlights some of the nation’s leading female scientists and engineers as role models for women in STEM fields. Durham and her work are featured there.
By Sarayu Ratnam
Dr. Ursula Storb, MD, is a Professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology. She is also a faculty member of the Committees on Immunology, Cancer Biology and Developmental Biology.
As a young girl Ursula wanted to study languages (she is proficient in German and English and familiar with French, Italian, Japanese, Swedish, Latin and Greek) but decided to pursue a medical degree instead, encouraged by her physician father who hoped she would meet a fellow student that she could marry and who in turn would take over his clinic! She went through an intense period of medical training at the Universitaet Tubingen, Germany, then Universities of Vienna, Austria and Freiburg, Germany to obtain her medical degree. A chance article in the journal Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift about how antibodies were made stoked her interest in immunology and she decided to pursue research at the Institut Pasteur, Paris on a NATO fellowship. This was followed by a year-long stint at the Institut d’Immuno-Biologie, Paris, France and the Institut fuer Haematologie, Freiburg, Germany on a EURATOM fellowship where she studied delayed hypersensitivity (now called T-cell immunity).
After her post graduate training in Europe Ursula turned down a job offer in pediatrics to experience the American system of research and continue her by now strong interest in immunology. She came to the USA on a fellowship from the German Government and joined the University of Washington, Department of Microbiology where she pioneered the “Rosette assay” to identify lymphocytes that carried antibodies on their cell membrane. Her lab, in collaboration with Ralph Brinster at the University of Pennsylvania, was also the first to show that mouse transgenes can function normally without the inclusion of viral enhancers. She progressed to being a Professor and Head of the division of Immunology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, a position she held till 1986. She then joined the University of Chicago as Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology where she still continues.
At the University of Chicago, Ursula’s research has focused on the regulation of immunoglobulin gene rearrangement and hypermutation, and development of B-lymphocytes. Her lab was one of the first to identify the importance of transcription initiation to somatic hypermutation of immunoglobulin genes. Her lab also studies the role of DNA methylation and chromatin in development and Ig gene expression and recently identified a novel murine gene that causes specific methylation of a transgene during early development. She has more than 160 publications from her lab in various top-tier journals including Science and Cell. In addition, Ursula has extensive teaching experience where she has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Immunology, Molecular Biology, Vertebrate Developmental Genetics, and Cell Biology
Ursula has won many professional honors including being elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992 and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2007. She has also been an active member of various professional organizations including the Association of Women in Science since 1971. In fact, Ursula was present at the annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) when AWIS was founded.
As a female scientist during the past 50-odd years Ursula has seen her share of female prejudice in the scientific community. While applying for a faculty position she was told by her advisor that “she didn’t really need an independent position since she had a successful husband”! Ursula stuck to her guns and convinced him that she indeed deserved the faculty position with respect to her achievements in the academic field. She was also advised by another successful female scientist that “as a woman she may have to be many times better than a man to succeed”.
Recognizing the need to support women in science Ursula, during her long tenure as a scientist and teacher, has always been a strong mentor to the women students and researchers in her lab, and outside, irrespective of which stage in their career they are at. In 1993, she founded a faculty committee to support graduate students from under-represented ethnic minorities in science. She has had many female undergraduate students work in her lab and has introduced them to various different scientific projects which enable these young women to experience scientific “bench work” before they actually have to decide on a career. In most cases, the experiences in her lab have led these women to pick science as a career choice. To the graduate students and post-docs in her lab she has always been supportive and accessible and exposed them to various different aspects of science including planning basic science experiments, science writing and scientific presentations and thus preparing them for an independent scientific career. In addition, research has shown that the main reason why women are so under-represented in the STEM fields is because women are still responsible for the majority of housework and childcare activities even when working full time outside the house. Ursula understood the demands placed on a young mother at home, especially during the early years and has helped her post-docs remain in science by encouraging flexible work hours in her lab.
A workaholic by nature, Ursula spends most of her day at the lab focusing on research and teaching. Outside of the lab she enjoys discussing and appreciating science, art and music with her partner Dr. Terence Martin with whom she has also had a long and productive research collaboration and who has been one of the most influential persons in her life. Given that her career encompassed her greatest interest in life, science, Ursula has been one of the few to truly follow her passion and become one of the most successful female scientists today.
By: Natalia Sanchez
Kirsten Moisio, PT, PhD literally sees dead people, every day. As the course coordinator and only instructor of human anatomy in the department of Physical Therapy (PT) and Human Movement Sciences, Dr. Moisio spends most of her time in the dark basements of Northwestern University’s medical school campus dissecting cadavers. However, she is quite the opposite from what one would expect a typical anatomist to be. In fact, if you ask her students for an adjective to describe her, the unanimous response would be: “awesome”. Despite the fact that anatomy may be one of the hardest classes students take as part of their PT training, Dr. Moisio makes sure they enjoy every second of it.
Kirsten was born in Waukegan, IL. Her first introduction to science was with her father, a chemical engineer. When Kirsten was in high school, she had jaw surgery followed by physical therapy, which shaped her future career. Kirsten majored in Kinesiology at the University of Illinois and had her first exposure to human anatomy while there. Early in the semester Kirsten found out that her lab partner would be absent for a month due to illness. She took it to heart to learn the material well so she could teach him when he returned. Kirsten was so evidently talented at teaching anatomy that she was invited to be a teaching assistant for the following year. This experience left a considerable impression on Kirsten and she considers this the major influence for her career as an anatomist.
Kirsten went on to earn a master’s degree in physical therapy at Washington University in St. Louis. After graduating, Kirsten came back to Chicago to work at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. She really missed teaching, however, and contacted Dr. Randy Perkins, an anatomy professor at Northwestern, but at that time there were no openings for a teaching assistant. Wishing to go back to her beloved anatomy, Kirsten decided to pursue a PhD in anatomy at Rush University. After completing her PhD, she did a postdoc at Rush in the tribology lab investigating gait and wear of total joint replacements. During this time, Kirsten got married and became a mom.
One day in 2005, Dr. Randy Perkins contacted Kirsten. He was planning to retire and she had come to mind when thinking about a replacement for one of Northwestern Universities most recognized professors. After nine years at Northwestern University, Kirsten is now an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences. She loves her job because she is able to combine her interests of teaching human gross anatomy with her research interests in the area of osteoarthritis. She is a co-investigator on projects aimed at defining targets for therapy to delay cartilage loss and poor outcomes in individuals with knee osteoarthritis.
Kirsten is now a mom of 3 kids ranging in age from 10 to 4. She is very thankful for her husband who is her main support for keeping “everything together in the sanity of a very busy household with two working parents”. She also credits her boss for his flexibility and understanding when it comes to responsibilities of working moms.
She absolutely loves teaching and enjoys interacting with hundreds of students every day. She attributes her success to her assertiveness, her energy, and her overall passion for anatomy. Kirsten would love for her kids to find their passion and be able to combine it with a career as she has done. Because if you love what you do, then you no longer have a job but a passion you get paid for.
By: Mrinal Y. Shah
Lucy A. Godley, MD, PhD, unlike many of us, knew early on what she wanted to do in life. Her first research experience came in high school, when she worked in a hematology lab at Yale University. That experience imprinted an interest in science and medicine at a young age, and she has stayed close to that field ever since. From there, she went on to Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, where she received a B.A. in Biochemical Sciences. She then entered the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of California, San Francisco, where she earned her PhD in the laboratory of Harold Varmus, MD. Lucy then received her MD from Northwestern University, and she has remained in Chicago ever since. She did her postdoctoral research and fellowship training in Hematology/Oncology at The University of Chicago, where she is now a Professor in the Section of Hematology/Oncology.
Lucy’s main research interest lies in the field of epigenetics. She has always been intrigued by the idea that the properties of DNA can be changed without changing the base sequence, and this area has proved fertile ground for her to merge basic research and clinical medicine. Lucy never wanted to be a private physician, deeming it “too routine,” and opted instead for the life of an academic researcher, which she finds more flexible and creative. As she says, “I get to ask a question that no one has asked before and then I get to know the answer first!”
In addition to her study of epigenetics, Lucy’s research has expanded in the past few years to include the study of germline predisposition to bone marrow-derived cancers, a project that developed from one of her clinic patients. In the past, the literature has described inherited leukemias as quite rare, but Lucy now has a cohort of more than 200 families that appear to have inherited forms of disease. Some of these families have contributed to the recent description of two new inherited syndromes, and she anticipates that there are many more to be discovered. This is a perfect example of what excites Lucy most about her work: not only interacting with patients to make a difference in their daily lives, but also being able to discover something new and move between the worlds of medicine and science.
Lucy has always been very supportive of and a great mentor to students and scientists who are in all different phases of their studies and careers. She herself has had many mentors along the way, starting back when she was that high school student working in the lab for the first time. These mentors “have stayed with (her) for decades…they are connections that have come back around and are now friends and colleagues.” She refers to her mentors and students as “one big family” that keeps expanding as time goes on.
Speaking of connections, Lucy’s own husband, Alfonso Mondragon, is someone whom she met in the lab next to hers while she was an undergraduate. Alfonso is also a successful scientist and a Professor at Northwestern University. They have two children and a busy family life, on top of their separate careers. Lucy attributes her work/life balance to the mutual respect and communication that she and Alfonso maintain in order for both to be successful.
Lucy fully admits that being a woman in science can present its own set of issues. “I feel the statistics…it’s subtle and it’s there,” she says ruefully, referring to the inequalities that still exist for women in STEM. However, she has never been one to let it get her down. When asked what advice she has for a successful career, she declares, “Find your passion, because when you are exploring your passion, you’re not working. Every day when I come to work, I have fun. Every day, the details of getting everything done work out, and I always enjoy the day.”
By Yujin Shin
Teri W. Odom is Board of Lady Managers of the Columbian Exposition Professor of Chemistry and also Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University.
She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry at Stanford University. While at Stanford, her interest in quantum mechanics lead her to pursue a PhD in Chemical Physics at Harvard University under Dr. Charles Lieber, one of the world’s leading scientists in nanoscience. She recalls that her graduate school days were some of the best in her life. She was able to singularly focus on science with few other serious obligations and was exposed to diverse topics in the group. These experiences made her look deeper into problems in nanoscience. She was offered an Assistant Professor position at Northwestern University while still a graduate student. She loves her work here.
Prof. Odom has won numerous awards including the Materials Research Society (MRS) Outstanding Young Investigator Award and she was selected as “one of the world’s top young innovators” from the MIT Technology Review. Recently, she has been named as Executive Editor at American Chemistry Society (ACS) Photonics, which is a new journal focusing on photonic and plasmonic materials. Prof. Odom humbly mentioned that she has been fortunate to be on a fast-track in her career and is thrilled to take new leadership roles since there is always something to learn. Also it is clear she loves training graduate students and contributing to society by doing good science.
Fortunately, she has not perceived challenges because of gender. However, she has known some female researchers who have had issues. Dr. Odom was the first assistant professor hired who was promoted to full professor in the department, despite the long history of strength in inorganic chemistry. She is pleased to see improvements these days. Rather than the gender, one challenge has been how people perceive her because of size. She has recalled many times where people thought she was a student prior to giving her talk until she actually started speaking. In such ways, all kinds of biases such as gender and physical appearance may be built in.
Besides working as a scientist, Prof. Odom enjoys spending her time investing in spiritual growth, reading fiction, and spending time with her two-year old son. During the interview, an inevitable question came to mind: “how she can manage work and family and whatever else (e.g. faith) which is important in her life?” Her answer was clear: it was challenging but doable, and certainly made easier when her life was in balance. Her definition of being balanced and healthy includes the full integration of physical, emotional, and spiritual states. And she strongly believes that healthier people will do a better job in their work.
Along with the balanced life, Prof. Odom also emphasizes importance of community as the key to success. She is certain that nobody does anything by themselves, and everybody needs people who support them with opportunities and recognition.
By Farida Khan
Janet Elizabeth Richmond is Professor and current Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Unlike many of us, she had no problems in deciding her major in college. From a very young age, she excelled in the STEM fields and continued on a scientific career path. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Neurobiology from the University of Sussex in England, at a time when the Neurobiology field was just starting to get popular. Even before graduating, Dr. Richmond started getting calls from researchers looking for PhD students to join their labs. She decided to pursue her PhD in Neurophysiology at the University of Calgary in Canada. She then conducted post-doctoral work at the University of Hawaii and Iowa State University before taking on Assistant Research Professor roles at Utah State University and University of Utah. Since 2002, Dr. Richmond has been at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Assistant Professor, Professor, and now, Head of the Department roles.
As Dr. Richmond puts it, her journey in science has been an “around-the-world in 20 years kind of an experience!” But at the end of the day, she is still passionate about her experiments and can still be found at the lab bench doing C. elegans dissections. In addition, she still gets excited about new research findings in the field, funding, grants, and teaching. She’s constantly amazed at the students she interacts with, many of whom are first generation college students, and the amazing stories that they have. One of the most gratifying things for her is watching her graduate students grow and become the independent scientists of tomorrow. “Watching my graduate students becoming my colleagues is really rewarding.”
Dr. Richmond does not feel that she faced any particular roadblocks in her career due to her gender. She feels lucky in that sense because being the lead facilitator of WISEST (Women in Science and Engineering System Transformation), she heard numerous stories of gender inequality and discrimination. From her experience, she feels women tend to be more hesitant or as she calls it “steeped in reality” when it comes to facing challenges. “You have to be tenacious, strong, roll with the punches…” in order to succeed. On a personal level, Dr. Richmond feels that she did not get to spend as much time with her son as she would have liked. He was very young when her career really took off and she missed out on many of his milestones. “Someone else got to see his first tooth come in and his first steps….and that was hard.”
In regards to having a good work/life balance, Dr. Richmond’s advice is “some things have to give!” One needs a strong support system in place, which in her case is her husband Dave, her son, family and friends. She also added that having friends outside of work is very important. Additionally, Dr. Richmond is a runner and admits running is what keeps her sane. “It helps clear my mind and keeps me healthy.” Lastly, she advises that in order to have a good work/life balance, sometimes you just need to “take some time off!”
Finally, Dr. Richmond advises young women who are deciding on a career in science to “seek out good mentors, talk to faculty, talk to peers, and talk to people you admire…get to know them. Let go of disappointments and concentrate on your successes. But most of all, enjoy what you do.”
By Kelan Hlavaty
The medical path came naturally to Andrea Dunaif, as both of her parents were physicians. But it was during medical school that she discovered a love and aptitude for research, specifically Endocrinology. Immersed in both the science and medical fields (and spending many hours in the lab, which was unusual for a medical student), she was inspired by the link between patient syndromes and scientific discoveries. This led her to faculty positions at a host of nationally known, reputable institutions, including Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, and Harvard Medical School. Currently, Andrea is the Charles F. Kettering Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Medicine at Feinberg at Northwestern, where she was previously the Chief of the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Molecular Medicine.
Andrea’s research has always been patient-oriented and translational in nature; her work explores the mechanisms linking metabolism and reproduction and the genetics of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). “Science is continuously exciting,” she believes, and it’s rewarding to follow the overarching theme of a research question throughout one’s career, which constantly raises new questions, often enabled by cutting-edge technologies. Recently, her projects have led into the field of genetics and next generation sequencing to search for genetic mutations in PCOS. Andrea perceives science as a puzzle, requiring creative ways to answer questions, including exciting interdisciplinary collaborations. Perhaps most importantly for a physician-scientist, Andrea’s research has had a major impact on the care of patients with PCOS.
One of the most gratifying aspects of her career is “finding engaged, excited younger people who want to be involved in science” and helping her mentees establish their own career. Unfortunately, science has its frustrating aspects (as we all know), one of which is acquiring funding. Andrea tackles this by having a strategic plan and keeping her calendar organized around grant deadlines.
Acquiring senior leadership positions, especially in academic internal medicine, is certainly another challenge, the reasons for which are multifactorial. Andrea recommends that women seek out advice early in their career and listen to the counsel of those who are senior. Being open to this advice is instrumental in choosing mentors, picking a project, and writing grants. And importantly, “knowing when to drop a project is just as important as knowing when a project is worth pursuing.” Andrea’s words of advice are broadly applicable to most of us, regardless of where we are in our career.
In addition to her medical and research roles, Andrea also oversees two NIH-supported training programs, has authored over 100 original scientific publications, edited four books, and is the Director of the National Institutes of Health-supported Northwestern University Specialized Center of Research on Sex Differences, among other involvements. She would welcome future leadership positions and would like to play a role in ensuring that the scholarly side of medicine is sustained with healthcare reform. In her free time, Andrea enjoys ballroom dancing and opera.
Andrea sums up her love for research as simply: “Bottom line, science is a wonderful life, creative, and interesting. The core of it is fantastic.”
Even if it has been a while since your organic chemistry lab course in college, you probably remember the time you synthesized isopentyl acetate, better known as banana oil. Besides being a mouth-watering experience, the realization that a molecule that smelled like bananas could be constructed from two molecules that smelled nothing like bananas may have sparked an interest in synthetic chemistry and scientific research. After all, laboratory courses are often a science student’s first experience in the lab and it is through those experiences that many decide to pursue research careers.
However, lab courses alone do not paint an accurate picture of a research career, says Dr. Quinetta Shelby.
“It is important for students to learn early on what life is like in the lab. Most do not realize that original research is very different from the rehearsed and verified experiments performed in lab classes,” says Quinetta. “The objective of research is not to follow someone else’s recipe, but to improve upon and tweak it by trying different ingredients and combining them in new ways.”
Quinetta Shelby is an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Chemistry Graduate Program at DePaul University. At DePaul, Quinetta teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in organic, inorganic, and general chemistry, as well as spectroscopy, to prepare students for careers in science. As another aspect of that preparation, she mentors undergraduates in her research lab, focused on the synthesis of catalytic palladium diphosphine complexes, to give them an “opportunity to experience the research discovery process.”
For those students that love the lab and want to go on to academic careers, she recommends getting into research and teaching or tutoring as quickly as possible, in order to demonstrate seriousness and dedication.
Although Quinetta originally wanted to be a high school math teacher, a “wonderful chemistry professor who made chemistry understandable, interesting, and fun” caused her to switch her major to chemistry during her first year in college at the University of Chicago. A few years later, another professor encouraged her to attend a graduate school fair, “planting the idea that I had the ability to earn a Ph.D. and become a college professor.”
Following that path, Quinetta earned her Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and was then awarded an NIH Research Supplement for Minority Individuals in Postdoctoral Training to conduct post-doctoral research at Yale University on the effect of phosphine ligand substituents on the formation of diaryl ethers. She began her academic career at Chicago State University, but has been part of the chemistry faculty at DePaul since 2004. As a professor, she finds it most rewarding when she can help a struggling student finally “get” a concept and understand the reasoning behind a particular synthetic methodology or reaction mechanism.
Quinetta is also a champion for women in STEM, having served on several committees at DePaul that showcase the accomplishments of women, including a selection committee that awards full tuition scholarships and research stipends to female STEM undergraduates, as well as one that selects accomplished Chicagoland women in STEM to speak DePaul’s annual Jeanne LaDuke Women in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Lecture Series.
To encourage women to enter STEM fields and also to empower women already in those fields to increase their visibility, Quinetta believes that those in positions of authority, i.e., teachers, employers, and parents, “need to clearly and effectively communicate that we can be confident in our abilities, trust ourselves, and blaze our own trails.”
When she is not teaching or in the lab, Quinetta loves to cook. Her favorite dish is peach cobbler. “I like working with my hands, so if I were not a chemistry professor, I would own my own restaurant.”
Sitting on a discussion panel addressing 300 8th grade girls, Dr. Rabiah Mayas first realized her own importance in the impression of who a scientist is. “I have the privilege of being one model of scientist that looks different for our kids; beyond Einstein, beyond a lab coat, it’s all these other things,” Dr. Mayas noted. The “Futures Unlimited” panel, held at Oakton Community College, featured women scientists from many disciplines discussing their careers and lives. Girls in attendance, as well as adults, said that they had never seen so many female scientists gathered together at one event.
Rabiah Mayas is currently the Director of Science and Integrated Strategies at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Chicago. Her team evaluates the learning and experience outcomes of the museum’s programs. They develop programs that connect audiences to practicing science professionals in the Chicago area. The museum is a lead partner on an NSF grant exploring whether arts-based practices help spark creativity in innovation and science education; Dr. Mayas also manages the project for the museum.
Arguably the coolest part of Rabiah’s work is running MSI’s digital fabrication laboratory, or Fab Lab. She organizes programs for participants to design anything from a vinyl sticker for a water bottle to a 3D model of their own head. In one session, lasting from 20 minutes to 1 hour, the participants design their object of choice, program the fabrication machine, and receive the output.
Though Dr. Mayas loves scientific research, she characterizes her move to the Museum of Science and Industry as “an opportunity that presented itself that just didn’t have that component.” Rabiah and her team think scientifically and identify a solution to the question at hand, even if they’re not always involved in scientific research. Along with thinking scientifically, Rabiah is not afraid to fail in her work. She sees failure, learning, and iteration as natural and necessary. “I fail often and publically and loudly because I think that’s the only way to do it and the best way to learn from it,” Rabiah said.
One notable failure was an event that Dr. Mayas organized during her term as Science Director with Science Chicago, a year-long initiative promoting science in the community. The kick-off event for Science Chicago, featuring an internationally known scientist, drew a crowd of only 120 to an auditorium that sat more than 800. What did Rabiah learn from that failure? That the content can be splashy and cutting-edge, but it also needs to be accessible and appropriately targeted to participants. This lesson carries over into Rabiah’s current work, from naming the MSI programs to providing transportation to featuring a relatable speaker.
Rabiah has always been heavily involved in science-related community outreach and volunteer opportunities. Through a program during graduate school at the University of Chicago, she partnered with a Chicago Public School biology teacher to enhance the programming in the teacher’s classes. They ended up working together for a year, which included a visit to the laboratory by the CPS students. Dr. Mayas also “borrowed equipment from the lab to take to the class, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t ask permission for.”
Medicine was Rabiah’s first love of science because she was fascinated by the complexity of the human body. Currently, she follows stories about space exploration closely, especially regarding astronauts or Mars rovers. The @SarcasticRover Twitter feed is a personal favorite.
“I aspire to be balanced in a way that is very natural and it doesn’t feel like I’m fighting for balance,” Dr. Mayas says. To that end, she’s an active runner, with a plan to participate in a marathon next year at Mt. Kilimanjaro. Rabiah loves to dance and dreams of being a contender on a “Dancing with the Scientists” reality show. She’s also recently taken up photography.
At work, Rabiah is challenged to prioritize the projects that her team works on. “Our team comes up with great ideas every day and there isn’t the time or resources to do all of them. I think in [Chicago] where there is need and demand for really great science opportunities, having to say no to things is really hard.” Rabiah’s personal challenge is to incorporate an active science practice back into her career in the future. She jokes with friends and former colleagues that she’ll show up in the lab unannounced one day, wielding a pipette.