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Hi FemNeuro Readers! My name is Shannon Odell and I am a neuroscientist, writer, and comedian based in Brooklyn, New York. I recently completed my PhD in Neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medicine where I studied epigenetics and memory. I’ve also been writing and performing comedy in New York City for the past eight years. At one point midway through my PhD I decided to merge these two passions, and began to focus on creating science comedy. For the past five years I’ve hosted a live comedy show, “Drunk Science” with my friends, comedians Joanna Rothkopf, Jordan Mendoza, and Ernest Myers. I also wrote and hosted a digital comedy science series, “Your Brain on Blank” with Inverse. I currently host a podcast “The Science of Self-Care” with comedians Steven Polletta and Sophie Yalkezian, where we explore the science behind everyday self-care products and practices. Now graduated, I hope to continue to pursue a career in science communication and science comedy. I think that comedy was a perfect tool in communicating science, and that science can be funny as hell!


My love for science began at a young age. While throughout the years the intended “future” career may have changed, science has always been on my mind. At age 6 and fully obsessed with dinosaurs, I learned the word “paleontologist” and was set on becoming one. Entering college I thought I would be a medical doctor, but then falling in love marine biology during my study abroad in Australia. Eventually, I decided to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience. While I knew loved science, the subject itself didn’t always come easy. There were many times in my scientific journey, like after a particularly hard lab course (how did I manage to break 3 beakers in 1 hour?) or failing organic chemistry exam (a 43% to be precise), when I felt I wasn’t “cut out” for science. Luckily I had the foresight to push on, and follow what I loved, rather than what came easy to me.


I am very lucky to have been surrounded by supportive scientists and mentors throughout my PhD. I have felt more push-back when it comes to my science communication and science comedy. The response to my science videos, being a young woman speaking about science in her own voice and often a casual comedic way, is not always great. I’ve received plenty of emails or comments suggesting, “no way she is a scientist”, questioning my credentials and the way I present science as “immature” or “not serious enough”. I can’t help but wonder if I would receive the same push-back if a man were presenting science in the same way.


I remember a time during my sophomore year of high school after taking a chemistry test. It was the first test of the year, and I remember feeling really nervous about it, given that it was my first time taking a chemistry course. As the teacher handed back our exams, I was elated to find out I had not only passed but got and A! While leaving class, the teacher pulled me aside to speak with me. I can’t remember the specifics, but I remember coming away from the

conversation feeling as if I had done something wrong. The tone of the conversation was accusatory, as if there was no way I could have done that well on the test, that I must have cheated. It was clear after that conversation that the teacher did not believe in my abilities, which was discouraging. Why hadn’t the two other students who had received As, not been pulled out and questioned? Was it because they were boys? While this story is just a small instance, experiencing these microaggressions throughout a career that can leave you

questioning your own place in science.


On a personal level, learning about how the human brain works, has been incredibly empowering. Science has shown me that the human body and mind, while imperfect,

work in incredible ways. My relationship with science has shifted from an academic

pursuit of knowledge; to an appreciation of knowing all the weird and surprising ways

my mind works. I love that I get to share this knowledge with others, using comedy. I

believe that science is ultimately about understanding the story of who we are and

why our bodies work the way they work. Comedy helps us to see the absurdity

of the human form.


I think being a woman following a PhD, the question of “well, do you want a family?” inevitably comes up when talking about your future. I, of course think this it is unfair, because I don’t think many of my male colleagues have been asked about it. This expectation that women have to choose between a family and a career is exhausting. Yet, there is a reality that traditional paths of science in academia have not been created with gender equity in mind. I think there is a shift, and that more scientists and institutions are beginning to address this issue; though real systemic change is needed.


I think the most important lesson that I have learned (and try my hardest to follow) is that there is no shame in advocating for what you need. It’s a process of understanding what you need in order to thrive, and making space for that. Obviously this is easier said than done, as there are so many issues in the system of academia, which often glorifies the idea of spending 14 hours, 7 days a week in the lab, obsessing over your work. It is important to remember that you are more than your science work, and you deserve and NEED time off, time with friends and family, and time for activities, hobbies, and wants outside of science. I know in my own experience, I did my best science when I felt the most balanced, making time and space for myself and my needs.


I do not think it is the job of women to defend themselves against bias. I believe that the conversation needs to shift, and to we make sure that men, white people, and those with privilege recognize their own biases, racism and misogyny, and that we need systemic change. I am a white woman in science, and therefore have experienced a lot privilege

in my career. With this privilege, I recognize my responsibility in working to dismantle

current unjust system, and work to create better, more equitable systems in science.

Diversity in science = better science.To those feeling discouraged from pursuing a

career in STEM, know that your voice is needed and important and wanted in science!





Hey FemNeuro readers! My name is Angela Griffo, I'm a 23-year-old graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s of science in psychology. Currently, I’m working as a Research Specialist in a clinical neuroscience lab in the University of Pittsburgh’s department of Psychiatry. The primary study I work on involves an infusion of intravenous ketamine and how it can be used as a treatment for depression. Ketamine has been known to have rapid-acting antidepressant effects in treatment resistant patients, so we’re investigating ketamine as a treatment of depression in combination with a neurocognitive measure designed to extend the effects of ketamine in patients, since its half-life is so short. We obtain all sorts of interesting data for this study: clinical assessments, cognitive measures, and fMRI data. Unfortunately, we had to halt in-person procedures due to COVID-19, but in the meantime we’ve been pre-processing some really fun Diffusion Tensor Imaging data that’s going to be used for projects in the future. This type of data can generally let us see how ketamine changes the microstructural organization of the brain as it’s metabolized by the body, and how it could potentially alter or improve certain circuitry related to psychopathologies such as depression.


I’m a first generation college student, so that in itself was a challenge. It was very difficult to navigate my academic interests, but I’m an innately curious person and I love to learn, so I knew that going to college was something I was interested in doing. My parents are small business owners in a rural town, and while I fully support their drive and detection to their craft, I decided not to work for the family business and pursue a degree. There was some dissonance involved with this decision, for sure, but ultimately I’m glad I was supported when I decided to stay true to my interests and hopefully will pursue a PhD in clinical psychology or behavioral neuroscience in the future.


I encountered a lot of obstacles in my education experience growing up, and I am still struggling to not internalize these issues every single day. I attribute a lot of these issues to gender biases in the academic setting, which often leads to something women in academia know all too well -- Impostor Syndrome. Growing up, remarks and assumptions received from teachers and classmates inherently made it harder to believe that I was capable of being successful because of who I was. Intelligence is relative, but at the time, I felt like it didn’t fit it. After interactions that I’ve had, I started to feel ashamed to ask for help. It wasn’t until I met some of my strong female mentors in college that I’ve looked up to throughout the years, who made me feel competent and motivated. These women helped validate my academic interests, and saw my career goals as legitimate, which was so refreshing to hear!


I noticed that I was not the only girl struggling with math and science, but the embedded gender biases that exist in the classroom setting create a self-fulfilling prophecy -- girls having generally less positive STEM attitudes, higher anxiety, and lower levels of confidence. It’s also hard to see yourself excelling in science as a child when there’s a lack of representation of women role models. For this reason, we need to help encourage girls to identify with STEM if they show interest. In my personal experience, I really appreciate the professors and teachers I had who took my concerns seriously and helped me become a better student. On the other hand, I also did have a professor who, unprovoked, told me that I should get tested for a learning disability, assuming because I asked too many questions, so that wasn’t fun. 


When I decided that I was going to study psychology, I was met with pushback from a lot of people as to why I wouldn’t want to study something more practical, like “an actual science.” Everyone assumed I wanted to be a therapist, which is a reasonable assumption considering counseling is something you could pursue, but I wanted to run experiments. I wanted to learn about cognition, psychopathology, neuroscience, imaging, data, and integrate those themes in an impactful research question that could possibly help people struggling from clinical diagnoses. For this reason I felt illegitimate in academia for a long time, even though I still held interests in neuroscience, computer science, etc. I realize now that this pushback could have been motivated by, you guessed it, gender biases.


My greatest accomplishment is getting to work on impactful research in clinical neuroscience and maintaining the same goals that I didn’t think were possible only four years ago. I attribute this accomplishment to my mentor in undergrad, who was one of the most kick-ass ladies in research I’ve come to know, who, without judgement, encouraged me to gain experience and build up the credentials I would need to make my goals achievable. My mother was also a huge motivator for me. She always had very real and very honest advice, like “you have to work for what you want.” Encouragement from my women mentors helped me gain the stamina and confidence throughout college to pursue a career in science.


It still feels like I’m looking through rose-colored glasses sometimes because a lot of my coworkers are also women in science, but I only know that was possible because of the women who helped other women obtain these positions. This chain reaction is so beautiful to me -- because I’m working with a relatively diverse group of people. Because of the opportunities that I had, I feel empowered to advocate for diversity in STEM, to encourage people to pursue their interests, because ultimately you are capable, no matter who you are. When I realized I wanted to pursue a career in research, it felt against the grain, like I was rebelling in some way. What it actually was -- was confidence. 


It is so important to seek a support system from friends, family, or mentors. It’s difficult to pursue something when you’re afraid of failure, when you’re not confident in your own abilities, when you feel like an impostor. These premonitions are scary, but can be overcome. Surround yourself with women or people that take you seriously. Find a mentor that can help guide you professionally. Talk about your experiences when you are met with adversity. The chances are that there are a lot of people who have experienced the same thing, and can offer consolation and encouragement. If someone assumes pronouns for a doctor or scientist, the pronoun would most likely be “he,” rather than “she” or “they.” These biases are formed based on the associations we made growing up due to lack of representation. Alas, we are here to dismantle biases and discrimination of any kind, to be an advocate for diversity, and most importantly, for yourself.


I love the field I’m currently in (clinical/cognitive neuroscience) -- it’s what I’ve dreamed of doing. Just over here, chilling, and helping solve the mysteries of the brain! Currently, I have the opportunity of working clinically with patients, which is awesome. I also have the opportunity to learn about some of the tools we use to analyze fMRI imaging data, like Diffusion Tensor Imaging. Imaging and software use a lot of concepts from physics, which in turn, can be really interesting when applied to our brain and its microstructural organization (also metaphysics, so fun to consider those theories, too). So currently, I’m interested in investigating the role of entropy in brain organization using MATLAB software, and how these changes may be indicative of how ketamine works as an antidepressant.




Hey FemNeuro readers! I’m Lauren Edwards, 25 years old, and am a Black, female, Neuro-scientist. I started Emory’s Neuroscience PhD program back in the summer of 2016. My thesis lab is clinically focused and we examine motor recovery and learning after stroke. I loved it as I’ve always wanted to be a physician-scientist. The ability to work with patients in a hospital setting was the highlight of my degree pursuit and reaffirmed for me the desire to pursue my medical degree after graduate school. Outside of my daily school activities, I absolutely love reading; writing poetry; and I’m also down for a good twerk or two as well.


Pursuing Your Passions

It was not difficult to pursue this career path for me. I fared well at science early on and started in research the summer after graduating high school and stayed in research all throughout college. I began as a biomedical engineer but once I discovered that math wasn’t my forte, I switched to neuroscience. While many others love the heart as their symbolic organ of all their feelings, I truly am in awe of the brain and fell in love with learning about it. The brain is more responsible for our emotions than the heart, but people aren’t ready for that conversation.

Obstacles

I’m sure gender discrimination may be so pervasive that it may be harder to pinpoint how often it has impacted me. Currently in the field of neuroscience, I know women are outnumbering men in graduate school, as was the case with my incoming cohort. However, in academia as a whole, women are typically outnumbered, underpaid, and less likely to be tenured compared to men. There are discriminatory discrepancies that I know are coming because of how the system is set up to reinforce deterring women as much as possible. Furthermore, as women were subjected to stricter expectations on appearance and the unnecessary policing of our bodies and images as acceptable. I do believe it is harder for us women to show up as ourselves. I am fond of the fact that I have piercings and tattoos and keep 4 different colored lipsticks in my purse for different occasions. Presenting as ourselves at all times allows us to also change the image of what a stereotypical scientist looks like.


Intersectionality

I believe that the intersection of my race and gender have much more of a bearing of my facing discrimination than my gender alone. I work with human subjects and there have been times that they have said inappropriate racist or sexist remarks in the setting of data collection. I have been passed up for awards or opportunities I was certain to be one of the best candidates for. In those times, I must choose between my identity as a scientist and my identity as a Black woman. There are times that serving these identities are indeed mutually exclusive. I have had to learn to pick my battles under the realization that if every macro or microaggression was addressed, it would hurt my career trajectory. I have learned to differentiate the stances I can let go and those that I must stand up for in order to be whole within myself.

Identity

I have settled comfortably in the identifier as not only a scientist, but very specifically, a neuroscientist. I studied neuroscience in college, but graduate school has made me more intimately aware of the role of a researcher. I think more critically now; I am better able to analyze gaps and propose how to fill them. I value my scientific thought process, and while it is a continuous process of learning and growing, I appreciate it. And if I had to do it again, I still would have chosen neuroscience, even if my overall path looked differently.

Family Vs. Career

I have regular discussions about family planning and school. I’m in a more unique position in wanting to pursue medicine after finishing graduate school such that I won’t be finished with school until after the age of 31 years old but will still have to complete years of residency. I always believed I wouldn’t have children until I was settled in a career but that isn’t realistic with my career pursuits. I have not felt pressured though to choose between having a family and a career. I acknowledge the limitations that exist in having both, but generally, the idea has been well-received. I also was intentional about surrounding myself with women in careers that I aspired to, who also had children and learned the balancing act enough to share it with me.

Representation

It is not enough for me to see white women; I specifically want to see women who look like me and in that case, neuroscience (and most of the sciences) are in desperate need of diversification. The gender and racial disparity in science is visible and it is because of this that I joined the non-profit organization 500 women scientists. I currently am the Director of the Fellowship for the Future, developed to recognize and amplify the crucial role of women of color in STEM.

Life Lessons

The biggest lesson I have learned in my career thus far is that it is okay to walk when things no longer suited me. That is okay to take a detour and that it isn't a terrible reflection of me. I've learned that being happy and mentally whole takes precedent over being successful and that success will come, even if it looks different from what was initially imagined.


Taking Control

I do not think girls should have to defend themselves against gender-bias in their school and college careers. I think we should focus less on telling women how to survive a tainted system and focus more on how to dismantle the system, so it is better suited for them.

LET'S TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

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