Five scientists pursuing research ranging from migraine management to mosquito eggs will receive $60,000 grants to fund their postdoctoral work – and their outreach and mentoring opportunities to promote the next generation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – as recipients of the 2022 L'Oréal USA For Women in Science Fellowship.
The five fellows, announced Nov. 2 by L’Oréal USA, are:
- Sikoya Ashburn, a neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzing the connection of the brain’s cerebellum and cerebrum to better understand ADHD
- Sarah Burnett, a mathematician at the University of California, Los Angeles developing mathematical models to predict the behavior of different types of particles in fluid
- Marina LaForgia, an ecologist at the University of California, Davis studying seed dispersal to understand plants’ survival, particularly as climate change stresses the environment
- Sandya Subramanian, a biomedical engineer at Stanford University using wearable technologies to study interactions between the brain, the gut and the nervous system of migraine sufferers
- Margot Wohl, a microbiologist at Johns Hopkins University working to understand the processes that govern when and where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes lay their eggs.
Since its launch in 2003, the U.S. For Women in Science Fellowship Program has recognized and supported 95 postdoctoral female scientists and invested nearly $5 million in their work. Since 2005, AAAS has partnered with L’Oréal USA to manage the application process. As the administrator of the fellowship program, AAAS enlists scientists to review applications in their field of expertise. From those finalists, a jury of scientists representing a range of disciplines selects the five fellows.
Prospective fellows are evaluated for the quality of their proposed scientific research, but they also must demonstrate their commitment to supporting women and girls in the sciences. Fellows may allocate a portion of their funds to outreach projects, so several fellows are planning to expand existing efforts.
Ashburn, for instance, is the co-founder of a nonprofit called the Triangle Brain Bee, which aims to introduce neuroscience to high schoolers. As a L’Oréal FWIS fellow, she aims to enhance the experience by adding programming specifically for young women featuring talks from female graduate students and scientists, one-on-one mentoring and events focused on positive self-image. Burnett plans to launch a new chapter of Girls Talk Math, the free enrichment program she founded for high school students to promote the participation of women in math. Wohl plans to produce a new season of her podcast, Rad Scientist, which is distributed through her local NPR affiliate.
Others intend to set up new outreach programs – Subramanian, for instance, aims to create an outreach program targeted to girls’ schools in local underserved communities where students can learn about neuroscience and bioengineering.
“This year’s L’Oréal USA For Women in Science Fellows exemplify all that we aim to celebrate and accomplish with this program. We believe it’s imperative to create these opportunities and drive visibility to women in STEM for the next generation of girls and young women,” said Marissa Pagnani McGowan, L’Oréal chief corporate social responsibility and sustainability officer for North America, in a statement.
Several fellows will also hire a research assistant or coordinator with their grant funding, offering an undergraduate student or recent graduate the opportunity to gain valuable research experience – and a mentoring relationship.
Many fellows cited their own mentors in their applications, noting that their success in their fields has been shaped and inspired by the women in STEM who have come before them.
“My decision to pursue a career in ecology was largely shaped by two talented and strong female scientists during the final year of my undergraduate education. These women gave me a sense of belonging and inspired me to pursue my passion. It is my mission to pay that forward by inspiring and uplifting future generations of female scientists,” said LaForgia in her community service statement.
Said Wohl in her statement, “I aspire to get as many stories about female scientists as possible on stage and in the airwaves so that any young girl can see a part of herself reflected and think, ‘I am the kind of person who can explore the unknown.’”
Upon being announced as fellows, the five scientists took part in several activities focused on representation and mentorship in the sciences. A Nov. 2 event hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine celebrated the contributions of women in science and addressed the need to dismantle systemic barriers to women’s leadership in STEM. Alongside several more senior women scientists, the five fellows also shared their stories at “Breaking Glass: Advancing Women Leaders in Science.” Fellows also took part in a day of mentoring with Girl Scouts in Washington, D.C.
With the 20th anniversary of the program on the horizon, AAAS will be seeking applications for the next class of fellows beginning Nov. 28. Applications close January 27, 2023, and the awardees will be announced in November 2023.