Advocacy, Fairness and Equality.

Back in 2017 I took the (at the time) scary step of joining Women In Bio, Seattle as a way to expand my professional network, build on my leadership skills, and really start to give back to a scientific community that has given me so, so much support throughout my career. 

Many times, I don’t appreciate all the incredible mentors and champions who have got me to where I am today. From my PhD PI who welcomed me into his research group as a wide-eyed, somewhat clueless undergraduate, to my Postdoctoral colleagues who were *always* there to motivate me when the academic grind hit hard, and now my fellow WIB members who supported and progressed my career transition. I have had many advocates throughout my lifetime, and I feel that they shaped and grew my career in a way that I couldn’t have alone.

Since moving to Seattle, giving back to the scientific community, and driving equality and diversity is what I’ve become all about. Seeing the inequity in opportunities offered to women, people of color, immigrants and non-binary person’s has made more passionate than ever, and as a community we need to do better.

Part of doing better starts with ourselves, as individuals. We each have the opportunity to support, help and champion those around us. Know someone struggling with their workload? Offer to put some time in to help out, even if that’s just helping them prioritize. Someone wanting a promotion but not sure they’re ready? Take some time to discuss it with them, help them see their strengths. Got an open position in your team? Champion that really hardworking, but often quiet team member that you enjoyed doing that project with. Clear gender or racial biases in your workplace? Use your privilege to raise this issue, and support the careers of those who are underrepresented.

Although we don’t always realize it, we all have people who have fought our corner, be that in our personal or professional lives. Those are the people that have helped influence who we are, and where we are right now. Having had that support, it’s now our turn to advocate for those who are just starting out. 

Now, after what seemed like such a scary leap back in 2017, I’m proud to say I’ll be serving as the co-chair of programs for Women in Bio, Seattle, and I’m honored to get to help organize events that address inequity and support those in my community.


If you want to get more involved in advocacy and championship, then for our next big event, celebrating Women’s History Month, we will be running a workshop focused on recognizing advocates, advocating for others, and also the importance of advocating for ourselves. You can find more details here: https://www.womeninbio.org/page/seattle

 

Lead Without Limits: Our Voices, Our Power.

On November 2nd Juno therapeutics hosted the monthly WIB Seattle chapter program at their new HQ in South Lake.

The theme of the night was amplification, advocacy, sponsorship, and creating a personal board of directors.

There are many challenges of being a women in a STEM field, and the event focused on what positive changes you can make to advocate for yourself and others, and enhance your career.

After networking, the event was kicked-off with a lightening panel featuring Aiko Bethea, Blythe Sather, Lisa taylor and Nicole Grogan. (If you’d like to see some Bio’s of the speakers, check-out these overviews:here, and here.)


Attendees network over snacks and drinks


Each of the panelists shared their thoughts on advocacy and championing each other, the value that mentors can bring, as well as the importance of taking chances.

One of the messages that really stood-out to me was about working outside of your comfort zone. Each of the panelists touched on this in a different way, from attending networking events to taking on new responsibilities at work, and getting involved in new projects. Challenging yourself to work outside of the comfort zone will not only teach you new skills, but it may lead to a new career path that you don’t even know about.


Left. Speaker Aiko Bethea discusses the importance of championship. Right. Attendees break-out into groups to discuss the challenges they face.


After the panel, attendees broke-out into smaller groups. Led by a group-facilitator, and articles for discussion ideas, the group talked about the challenges they had faced, how they wanted to advance their career, and the ways in which they can help each other.

One topic that caught the attention of many attendees was the Amplification strategy. Originally adopted by female staffers in the white house: when a woman makes a key point, other women repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forces others in the room to recognize the contribution — and deny them the chance to claim the idea as their own.

Discussion quickly turned to creating your Personal Board of Directors. Some of us have a mentor who we can go to for advice and council in our career, but there is also merit to having a team of people around us who can fulfill different roles. Seeking advice from a peer may be helpful for daily guidance and learning, but may be limited in their advice on career mobility. Finding a ‘board’ of people who can guide you in your career doesn’t have to be scary either. Research people in your company and your professional network, and ask them for a cup of coffee. Ask them questions about their work and for advice. You’d be surprised how helpful people want to be.

Following on from that, another idea that sparked a lot of discussion was; Stop Mentoring, Start Sponsoring. Having a mentor is a valuable asset but the the idea of sponsorship is that an individual can help specifically with promotions and career development. Having someone who will champion you in your career, who is placed within your organization, can allow you more opportunity for promotion and professional mobility.


Left. Break-out groups reflect on the merits of advocacy and championship. Right. Attendees network.


There were so many take-home messages from the evening that I could write individual articles about each of them.

The one that stood out in my mind though actually came from a fellow WIB program committee member:

It can be hard to advocate and champion ourselves, especially when we may be among the minority. Another challenge many face is that those who are assertive and self-advocate can be labelled as ‘bossy’ and ‘difficult’ by their co-workers. One way to counter this is to take time to stand-up for others around us too; support another person, praise their ideas, back-up their point of view. By supporting for others, we can build a culture of positive, reciprocal advocacy, that is more likely to bring about change.

 


If you want to read more about the ideas discussed in this post, check-out this incredible list of content put together by WIB and Juno.


 

Biology Beyond the Bench: Bugs, Bud and Brew

October in Seattle, and the WIB chapter monthly event focused on other ways in which local businesses are using biology with: Biology beyond the Bench: Bugs, Bud and Brew.

Local women shared their stories and gave advice on how you can transition from a conventional science role, to something wholly different!

Hosted by Co-Motion, Life Science Washington (LSW) and Women in Bio (WIB) put on a panel discussion and networking evening.

After some time to network, panelists shared their scientific journeys, and discussed why a career beyond research and education was so fulfilling.


Left. Sara Luchi, head brewer at Black Raven Brewing. Right. Caitlin Gamble, spirulina synthetic biologist at Lumen Bioscience.


Moderated by Patricia Beckmann of LSW, the event panelists included Caitlin Gamble, Robyn Schumacher, Sara Luchi, Kersten Gaba and Jessica Tonani, whose expertise ranged from brewing to medicinal cannabis products.

One panelist, Caitlin Gamble, touched on an idea that I try to tell myself all the time; pursue your interest, regardless of the destination. There are many times many of us, myself included, have only focused on the bigger picture and don’t give enough thought and time to the question “what will make me happy now?” It isn’t always clear where our lives, never mind our careers, are taking us but by following your interest the path will at least be fun.

Ready and Open to Opportunity was another idea that many of the panel touched on. Jessica Tonani flunked Karate and so was a credit short to graduate. In order to make-up that credit, she got a position in a lab on campus and her genomic career was seeded.

To follow on from that message, another panelist shared this piece of wisdom; Quitting is not the same as failure. Sara Luchi was at culinary school when she decided to give it up, and focus on a career in brewing. Although she wonders what would have happened if she had stayed in school, her job in a brewery brought her more enjoyment. Years later and she’s a head brewer. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Just because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do, it doesn’t mean that you have to do it.


Attendees network with Life Science Washington, Women in Bio and others at Co-Motion


For me, the stand-out message of the event was the Perseverance. Robyn Schumacher discussed that, at a time when she was no longer enjoying her career, she decided to make a new path. By interacting with enough people and being actively involved in the brewing industry, she made a space for herself and is now the co-owner and brewer of a successful brewery. This attitude was echoed by Kersten Gaba. At a time when law was prohibitive of research into medicinal cannabis products, Kersten and her company worked to change that law and helped pass 3 bills.

Each of these women is succeeding in their unconventional career paths by seizing opportunities as they come along, being persistent, and advocating for themselves.


This event felt like a personal milestone to me. Not only did I get to indulge one of my passions by photographing the event, but I got to get involved more in the running of the evening. My long standing personal mission is the championing of others and driving equality. Being so involved with a chapter that strives to empower others is rewarding beyond explanation, and I’m looking forward to being more involved in the future.


For more on the event, see the official WIB coverage.

Science in Images: WIB, Seattle Business Casual Event

The WIB, Seattle “Your guide to Business Casual” event was a hit, with many of Seattle’s best and brightest scientists turning out for the evening. Featuring presentations from Eileen Fisher, Kendra Scott and MAC cosmetics, the event covered all the basics of creating a work-ready wardrobe.

Here are some of the tips that stood out.

Create a Capsule:
At Eileen Fisher, the emphasis was on creating a work wardrobe that really did all the hard work for you. By starting with 3 basic items (pants, dress, camisole) you had the foundation to build any outfit on top of. Simply pair a soft sweatshirt with the boxy shell and black pant, to create a laid-back at-the-bench work look, or swap it out for a soft blazer, to be boardroom ready. The same goes with the tank dress. Flattering on all figures, it can be paired with a smart shirt for a business event, or a loose knit for comfort whilst still looking professional. The emphasis here really is that less is more.

  

Keep it Simple:
At Kendra Scott, we talked about elevating an outfit without going OTT. The answer? Layers. By using multiple simple pieces, think delicate chains and pendants, you can create a layered look that still keeps it professional. An easy way to dress an outfit up or down. And why stop with necklaces? Layering clean bracelets, or stacking rings can give and equally dramatic look and finish an outfit.

 

Tone it Down:
My personal favorite presentation was MAC cosmetics. Getting a work make-up look is difficult, and the balance between flawless and too much foundation is very, very real. MAC pointed to keeping it natural. Choose tones that compliment your skin and soft hues. Their top tips? For starters, if possible always opt for concealer over foundation. Apply a small dab to the back of your hand, and apply to necessary areas with a soft brush. Think under the eyes, any blemishes and the nose. Using the brush will help keep excess oil off your skin, and stop you applying too much!

Next add a subtle blush or highlight. Our make-up artist described good blush as “a road-map to the eyes”. Start out just above the cheek and sweep upwards towards the corner of the eye. Just beware, blush should be light and a flattering color.

So to follow that road-map, put focus on the eyes. Our eyes are the key to much of our expression, and when it comes to make-up they give us a unique opportunity to express ourselves. Pair a simple mascara and liner with a pop of your favorite shade at the corner of the eye, for a fun but safe look.

The final piece of advice? Don’t keep old mascara! Mascara is a beautiful breeding ground for bacterial (more here), and one way your eyes are susceptible to infection. If it’s more than 6 months old, throw it away.

And if that all seems like too much information, you can schedule a personal appointment with one of their artists, who will walk you through the whole process!

In summary?
The take-home message from the entire evening- Think Simplicity.

By owning a few key pieces of clothing and jewelry, you can create multiple looks that transform at the swap of a jacket. And when it comes to make-up, keep it light and simple but don’t be afraid to add a bit of personal expression.

Women in Bio, Seattle: How to Dress in Science

I’ve been involved in many different Women in Science projects and societies over the years, but one program from Women in Bio, Seattle* has really caught my attention: How to Dress for a Career in Science.

The life of a scientist is a complex and varied one, and finding an appropriate way to dress can sometimes be difficult! Something that is suitable for the lab might not be flexible enough to also walk into a stakeholder meeting. So how do you strike the right balance?

It’s a question I’ve actually asked myself many mornings. During my PhD days, there was a level of professionalism that was expected, especially as many days saw me meeting with industrial collaborators and supervisors in the morning and conducting experiments in the afternoon. Many of the other awesome women in STEM I follow on twitter/ instagram have also addressed this issue in one way or another too, so it was refreshing to see a society taking the issue on in a fun and engaging way!

Next week, Women in Bio, Seattle will host evening focusing on creating a wardrobe that reflects the flexibility and practicality needed for long days at the bench and conference table. The event is happening Thursday, September 14, 2017, from 5:30 p.m. -8:05 p.m. PST, and you can register to attend here.

Alongside this being a great chance to enhance your work attire, it’s also a great opportunity to get to know others working in the biology fields here in Seattle, and really grow your network in an engaging and non-intimidating environment!

Hoping to see you there!

*full disclosure here, I’m now on the WIB, Seattle programs committee! (yippee)

The Power of the Network

Since moving to Seattle I’ve found myself in a part of my career that I haven’t before: I don’t have an extensive professional network.

Networking, as much as we all seem to dislike it, is one of the most important things that we can do as we progress along our professional paths. You never know if that undergraduate you helped with an experiment that time might end up at the company where you want to land a job, or if that sales rep from a conference is on the panel of one of your interviews (that has happened to me.)

Our networks are one of our most powerful assets, and carefully curating new ones after a big move, career or location-wise, is important.

For the most part, networking events are a free opportunity for you to meet like-minded individuals, career professionals and a multitude of people you can learn from.

Meet-ups are one great way to meet new people and grown your network, and the best bit? They’re always really friendly and non-intimidating. Focusing mainly on social gatherings, the meet-up provides an environment for informal discussion, which often leads to potential ways you can work together. More importantly, it offers us a way to get our faces out there, allowing others to develop a lasting impression of who we are.

Developing networks in this relaxed environment really motivates us to keep expanding our connections, ultimately making us more likely to gain career, education or professional skills development advantage from the network.

With a bit of research and some determination, I started taking my own advice and got involved in local meet-ups.


Since moving, I’ve had more time to re-engage with my interest in Python, and how we can use data to improve biological research. As I know very few researchers in this field, and since Seattle is one of the code capitals of the world, expanding my professional network here felt like an obvious first step.

PyLadies is a nationwide network for women who code in python. Their aim is to get more women to be active participants and leaders in the Python world, as well as promoting, educating and advancing a diverse and supportive Python community. The local chapter PyLadies Seattle offers hacknights, learning circles and social events that allow new and experienced Pythonistas to hone their skills, mentor others and just have fun.


Another group I’ve become involved with is the Association of Women in Science (AWIS). Another national association, the AWIS has chapters in most big cities (and some not so big ones) and has a really great one here in Seattle. Having left academics behind for the more industrially-focused world, connecting with lots of great new industry scientists was really important for me professionally.

My first meeting? Their summer social meet-up at a local brewery, and it was a blast. I can be shy with new people, despite being an extrovert, but the society were welcoming, informative and above all else supportive. Now volunteering on the events programs, I am active member in the society, helping to plan the next event on September 20th!


Another great option if you’re more reserved is to take to Twitter, Linkedin or Instagram (or any other social media) and connect with some of the amazing scientist there too. Some of the best networking links I have have actually been forged on Twitter and Instagram, where you can engage with others in your field in real-time.

There are also virtual networking groups for everything so you’ll be sure to find somewhere you can contribute, support and intermingle with others in your field.

Above all else, remember your network is your strength. These are the people who can help shape your career, who can support and mentor you, or that you can guide and advise in the future.

You never know when you might all need each other!

___________________________

If you’re looking for some more good resources on how to better network, let me point you here.

 

Interview for the Broad Inquiry

By having more diversity within STEM fields, we can increase our scientific output, generate better technologies and understand more of the world around us.

A couple of months ago I agreed to do an interview as part of a new project highlighting women in STEM; discussing what challenges they face, how they were inspired to follow a scientific career and to share advice to women entering STEM fields.

The Broad Inquiry was started by Lauren Drogos, an AIHS Postdoctoral Scholar at University of Calgary, Canada. She initially voiced the idea on twitter, asking for volunteers to be profiled as a way for her to become excited about science in 2017. After much support and excitement from the STEM community, the project has become a bi-weekly profile of the amazing women in our scientific community.

Along with fellow site admin Debbie Yee, the project highlights not only the research of each of the individuals, but also the stories of how women move through their careers in STEM/academia.

The goal? To foster role-models for future women in STEM, to inform the public what the life of a female scientist is really like and to break-down the stereotypes surrounding scientific careers.

My views on diversity in STEM, in particular the championing on women, are ones which I’m never one to shy away from. I believe that STEM careers should be equally open to all, and that increasing diversity makes for better research.

I cannot express my admiration for projects like The Broad Inquiry enough. It is projects like this that will help to show women and under-represented groups of the future that a career in STEM is open to them, and that the support of thousands of women and men currently in STEM is there for them.

If you want to learn more about their project, check out their page!

Science in Images: ISMRM, Honolulu Hawaii

This years ISMRM meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii has been a roaring success for the MSU MCIL team.

With 4 oral presentations, a study group presentation and award, as well as an award for scientific merit, the MSU Radiology department has demonstrated that their research has value on a global scale.


Dr Barbara Blanco Fernández, awarded 1st place in the Molecular and Cellular imaging study group.

The Molecular and Cellular imaging group, a focus group of the ISMRM community, aims to provide an informal atmosphere to discuss the progress, evaluation, and application of molecular and cellular imaging using Magnetic resonance technology.

One highlight of the group is its championing of the exceptional research being performed by it’s junior members. Having delivered both a high impact abstract, as well as an oral presentation as part of the general meeting, Dr Blanco Fernández was selected to present her work on nanoparticles for immunology at the group chapter meeting, being awarded the top prize for research excellence.

The highly competitive and prestigious award was for Barbara’s research highlighting the use of Chitin and Chitin-materials for vaccines and nanocarriers for immunotherapy.


The group also received recognition for its outstanding research in the form of multiple accepted presentations.

Dr Christiane Mallett, presented a poster on her work on using MRI to measure acetaminophen toxicity in the liver.

Prof Erik M Shapiro presented a talk on behalf of Jamal Afridi on his PhD work, investigating Machine learning for intelligent detection of cellular transplants using MRI.

Dr Dorela Shuboni-Mulligan gave presentation on her groundbreaking work, investigating the link between diabetes and dysregulation of OATP transporters.


The final oral presentation and award was presented to myself, for the use of Polymer and Peptides as Theranostic agents. Peptides have been my area of specialty since undergraduate, so getting to apply my knowledge to molecular imaging and cancer therapy was a rewarding challenge for me.

I presented my work on switchable MRI imaging agent, capable of the non-invasive detection of specific cell types for cellular transplants, cancer detection and therapeutic delivery.

The ISMRM recognizes research excellence by awarding high-impact abstracts. Having scored in the top 5% of all submitted abstracts, I was awarded the Summa cum Laude IRMRM merit award.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can I get a round of applause for the achievent of all these awesome #WomeninSTEM?

ISMRM Honolulu, Hawaii. The end of a chapter.

On Saturday, I’ll be aboard a flight from Seattle to Honolulu. This year sees ISMRM (international society for magnetic resonance in medicine) holding its annual conference on the Hawaiian island, and many many researchers couldn’t be happier about it!

The conference marks a big change in both my personal and professional life, as I leave Michigan behind and pursue a new career path and life in Seattle, Washington.

Simultaneously, for the first time since working for MSU I have been given the opportunity to give an oral presentation at an international meeting.

I have attended many conferences and seminars, often presenting my research in the form of posters, but this opportunity allows me to finally share the exciting data we have been acquiring over the last 2 years, and share the news of upcoming papers.

Until very recently, all of my research had a focus on the in vitro characterization of a range of novel nanoparticles, made from polymeric and peptide materials, that allowed for the development of MRI contrast as a result of a stimulus. The data was great, but it wasn’t as scientifically sexy as some of the other work going in the field. Now finally, we have demonstrated that those very particles work within the body, and moreover, allow for the targeted delivery of chemotherapy. It’s a big development and the proof-of-concept of a new mode of molecular imaging.

The chance to share this work with the world is bittersweet. I’m proud of what we accomplished at MSU but I’m also sad to be leaving it behind.

I’ll be spending the next few days obsessively practicing my talk and probably editing slides. Hopefully a great talk is enough to send-off this chapter in my career in a good light. And if not, at least I’m in Hawaii!

_________________

If you’re interested in my abstract have a look over it here!

submissions.mirasmart.com_ISMRM2017_ViewSubmission

The Importance of Self Care

Meet Kim, a service dog from Therapy Dogs International who payed a visit to the students and research staff at Michigan State University last week.

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The event, organised by the Michigan State Graduate wellness team, promoted time off for both students and junior faculty alike to unwind and let-off some of the stress that comes with working and studying.

I’ve been vocal in the past about the importance of mental health, particularly in science and research, but it was refreshing to see an academic institution actively promoting the mental well-being of their students and employees.

In academia in particular, mental health is usually overlooked and ignored, despite it’s high prevalence. Burnout, depression and anxiety are all common place and, in many cases, contribute to why people decide to leave their field of study or research entirely.

Taking some time out is important, especially when faced with stress and constant pressure. This doesn’t mean you have to take your eye off the prize but simply taking some time to read a book, go for a walk, eat a good meal or socialise with friends will not only make you happier and mentally more healthy, it’ll also put you in a better frame of mind to meet those deadlines, study that bit more and reach your potential.

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Kim getting antiquated.
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Gran Torino, the smooth collie.