As a biologist, Cara Brook recognizes the link between the diversity of species in an ecosystem and how well that ecosystem functions.
“At almost every level of the tree of life, communities function better when more diverse,” she wrote in her application to the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship. “As a woman in male-dominated field biology, who conducts research in the low income setting of Madagascar, I am committed to advancing diversity—of gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomics—in STEM,” she said in her statement.
As one of five female scientists who will receive grants of $60,000 each from the fellowship program, Brook will have the opportunity to advance her scientific research studying viral tolerance and aging in bats and advance diversity in STEM through her ongoing mentoring and outreach activities.
The 2020 fellows, announced Nov. 16 by L’Oréal USA, are:
- Cara Brook, an ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley.
- Wendy Brown, a biomedical engineer at the University of California, Irvine seeking to engineer nasal cartilage tissue.
- Kayla Nguyen, a materials researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who is using electron microscopy to study of the spin of electrons.
- Nancy Padilla-Coreano, a behavioral neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, who is researching and testing how the brain encodes and modulates social dominance.
- Silvania da Silva Teixeira, a physiologist at the University of Colorado Denver studying the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.
Since its launch in 2003, the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship program has awarded more than $4 million in grants to 85 female scientists as the American component of L’Oréal’s global efforts to boost the participation of women in STEM.
AAAS has partnered with L’Oréal USA since 2005 to manage the program’s application process and two rounds of peer review. AAAS enlists scientists to vet applications in their field of expertise and select finalists, then coordinates a jury that draws from multiple disciplines to select the five winners.
The fellowship reaches female scientists at a crucial time during their careers, according to L’Oréal USA. A study of past fellows conducted in 2019 for the fellowship program by RTI International found that the attrition for women in STEM is high during the postdoctoral stage. Yet 100% of past fellows continue to work in science, and nearly all said that obtaining independent grant funding was important in enabling their careers.
The fellows are recognized for their contributions to STEM fields and their commitment to serving as mentors to younger women and girls; accordingly, the grants will fund their scientific research as well as a diverse range of outreach and mentoring activities.
Brook, for instance, will continue and advance her support of women and girls in science in Madagascar by funding scholarships for a programming course she has run for the last five years. She will also support the Madagascar chapter of Girls Who Code, a global nonprofit that equips girls with coding skills. Padilla-Coreano will fund an expansion of Stories of Women in Neuroscience, a project that catalogs interviews and profiles of female neuroscientists to highlight their successes and inspire younger women. The grant will enable her to interview more female scientists around the world.
Fellows also plan to reach out to their local communities with opportunities for scientific engagement. Nguyen plans to create science kits for local students – who may live close to a world-class research institution without knowing any scientists – to teach them about chemistry, physics, optics and materials science. She also plans to visit schools with her fellow female scientists to inspire and show diversity in STEM.
Several fellows will also use funding to pay stipends to undergraduate students who assist with their research, incorporating two key goals of the For Women in Science fellowship: advancing innovative scientific research and cultivating the next generation of female scientists.
“The L’Oréal fellowship will not only allow me to advance my career goals, but also impart to others what I gained as a mentee: enthusiasm for STEM and the confidence to pursue my dreams,” said Brown. She hopes to mentor two female undergraduate students who will serve as paid research assistants.
The fellows will take part in a Nov. 17 virtual roundtable hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in collaboration with L’Oréal USA about the experiences of postdoctoral women during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Applications for the 2021 fellowship will open Nov. 30 at https://lorealfwis.aaas.org.