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L’Oréal Fellowships Fund Research and Opportunities for Female Scientists

The five recipients of the 2017 L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship were celebrated during an awards ceremony at the Embassy of France in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 9. | Stephen Waldron/AAAS

Five early-career female scientists were honored Thursday evening as this year’s recipients of the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship awards that grant each winner $60,000 to further their postdoctoral research.

The scientists were formally recognized for their achievements and acknowledged as representatives of the fellowship’s goals to boost representation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at an awards ceremony at the Embassy of France in Washington, D.C., where the winners celebrated with other women in science and their supporters.

“Only about a quarter of STEM researchers are women,” said Celeste Rohlfing, chief operating officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in applauding the winners. “This remarkable gender gap must be closed if we are to harness all of the world’s brain power to solve the myriad of challenges that face our global society.”

Women are particularly underrepresented in specific scientific fields, noted Rohlfing. For instance, they make up just 8% of electric engineers and 15% of chemical engineers, according to L’Oréal. Additionally, women are underrepresented in scientific leadership positions, Rohlfing said.

The L’Oréal USA For Women in Science program seeks to close these gaps by recognizing the accomplishments of early-career female scientists and awarding funds to further their projects. Since 2003, the program has bestowed more than $3 million in grants to 65 female scientists. AAAS partners with L’Oréal to administer the grants and manage the application process, through which experienced scientists review applications from candidates in their field of study.

The fellowships will enable this year’s winners to achieve a diverse range of goals.

Take Kellie Ann Jurado, a postdoctoral scientist in immunobiology at Yale University, who will use the funding for research on the effects of the Zika virus on the nervous system. It will also support Cut the Risk, an educational campaign on sexual and reproductive health that Jurado is developing with partners at Yale Medical School and Yale New Haven Hospital.

Ritu Raman, a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical and biomedical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will use her funding to further research on the design of smart materials, which respond to their environment and be used to deliver oral medications. In particular, Raman hopes to collaborate with other scientists around the country.

For Molly Schumer, a postdoctoral fellow in genetics and evolutionary biology at Harvard Medical School, the fellowship will help fund her research on how evolutionary forces affect our genes, focusing in particular on a persistent trait that can cause melanoma in swordtail fish. Schumer also plans to start a coding program for middle and high school girls in partnership with local schools.

Providing opportunities for other women in science also is a goal for many of the fellowship winners. Sydney Schreppler, a postdoctoral fellow in physics at University of California, Berkeley, seeks to hire a female graduate student mentee to contribute to her work on circuits that mimic the behavior of the world’s smallest particles, known as superconducting qubits. The funding will also support the costs of materials and manufacturing to help Schreppler build additional experiments.

“CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell, left, L’Oréal USA Chief Executive Officer Frédéric Rozé, and AAAS Chief Operating Officer Celeste Rohlfing presented Molly Schumer with her L’Oréal USA For Women in Science Fellowship award during a ceremony on Nov. 9. | Stephen Waldron/AAAS

Inspired by female mentors who helped spur her own career in science, Felicity Muth, a postdoctoral fellow in biology at the University of Nevada, Reno, also plans to hire a female research assistant. Muth plans to purchase equipment that will improve her research on the impact of pesticides on bumblebee foraging and pollination behaviors.  

Rohlfing also saluted past winners of the award in attendance. Among them was M. Nia Madison, a microbiology professor at Miami Dade College, who earlier this year received a 2017 Changing the Face of STEM grant to support her work in mentoring and engaging women who are interested in STEM fields.

Madison said that the grant will allow her to expand the reach of her Miami Dade College Microbiology Girls Club. She said that she is grateful, not just for the support that she received for her research as a fellow, but for the opportunity to “pay it forward for the next generation of women in science.

The ceremony was the culmination of a week of outreach and mentoring events held for the winners. The winning fellows visited L’Oréal’s corporate headquarters in New York and its research and innovation facility in New Jersey. The fellows also had an opportunity to serve as guest teachers and mentors for students at a New Jersey elementary school.

In Washington, the scientists participated in a roundtable discussion at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and attended an Atlantic Live summit on recent achievements by women in STEM and strategies to boost their ranks. The fellows also connected with AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows – scientists serving one- or two-year assignments in the federal government – at a happy hour on Capitol Hill.

Stephen Waldron contributed to this report.

[Associated image: Amaury Laporte/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)