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L’Oréal USA Funds Research and Mentoring Activities for Five Female Scientists

The L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship program has awarded 80 postdoctoral women scientists over $4 million in grants since 2003. Since 2005, AAAS has administered the program’s application and peer-review process. | Neil Orman/AAAS

The L’Oréal USA For Women in Science program is rewarding five female scientists and engineers to advance their postdoctoral research and enhance their mentoring and outreach efforts as role models for girls and women interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – support that is essential to keeping women in STEM, according to a study released by L’Oréal USA and the Heising-Simons Foundation last week.

L’Oréal USA announced this year’s five fellows on Oct. 31:

  • Aparna Bhaduri, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco who studies brain development to provide insight into glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
  • Laurie Bizimana, a biomedical engineer at Cornell University who seeks to improve brain-machine interface technology.
  • Samantha Bova, a paleoceanographer at Rutgers University who analyzes ocean floor sediment to better understand climate change.
  • Lisa Poulikakos, a materials scientist and engineer at Stanford University who is developing an optical technology to diagnose breast cancer tissue biopsies.
  • Christine Roden, an RNA biologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is studying the organizational structure of RNA and the disease-causing disruption of that structure.

L’Oréal USA launched the program in 2003 to boost the representation of women in STEM fields. Since then, L’Oréal USA has provided more than $4 million in grants to 80 female scientists. Each of this year’s fellows were awarded $60,000. 

Since 2005, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has managed the application process for the fellowship program and coordinated two rounds of reviews. AAAS enlisted scientists to examine applications from candidates in their field of study, and a multidisciplinary jury conducted a final review to select the five winners.

To mark the 15th anniversary of the fellowship, L’Oréal USA and the Heising-Simons Foundation commissioned research firm RTI International to survey past fellows of the For Women in Science program to gain better insight into the challenges faced by women in science and the strategies and interventions critical to their success. The study, “Staying Power: Women in Science on What It Takes to Succeed,” focused heavily on the retention of women at the critical postdoctoral stage of their careers and beyond, particularly since the postdoctoral stage is a "leaky pipeline" when women leave STEM.

While all alumni surveyed still work in scientific fields, fewer than half of respondents agreed that women in their field are given equal career opportunities as men.  Respondents offered insights into effective interventions to support female postdocs, including independent grant funding opportunities and mentoring and networking opportunities – all of which the For Women in Science program provides to its fellows. 

Funding from the For Women in Science fellowship, for instance, will enable Poulikakos to organize an outreach event for women studying biomedical optics to highlight their contributions to the field and inspire the next generation of women. Bova plans to continue her outreach and mentoring work within her university community, including at local elementary schools.

Bhaduri will work with colleagues to organize a symposium for local high school girls to expose them to different types of STEM careers and offer guidance on how to pursue those career opportunities. She hopes to reach girls who are interested in science but may not feel prepared to pursue a career in science. The L’Oréal USA study affirms how common insecurity is: 100 percent of respondents identified self-doubt and lack of confidence as a career obstacle for women in science. Bhaduri aims to let female high school students know that even if they lack confidence, they can still succeed in science.

“That kind of empowering message is very important. I feel that I’ve been very fortunate to get that message a lot from my mentors and colleagues, but not everyone gets that voice in their head to overcome some of their self-doubts,” Bhaduri said.

The fellows will be honored at an awards ceremony at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 7, just one of several events to highlight the new fellows and the study findings. AAAS and Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson will host a roundtable discussion on retaining women in STEM at a Nov. 5 Capitol Hill event featuring L’Oréal USA representatives and Shirley Malcom, director of AAAS' SEA Change program. A Nov. 6 gathering at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Mathematics also will focus on supporting postdoctoral women in STEM. A webinar on the research findings will be held on Nov. 21.

Applications for 2020 will open in early December.

“I think the more that we draw women and other underrepresented groups into science, the better science will be and the better society will be,” said Bhaduri.

[Associated image: L’Oréal USA]



Andrea Korte

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