Archive for ‘Women in STEM Interviews’

December 18, 2013

Meet Shaila Kotadia

Shaila Kotadia courtsey of Shaila Kotadia

Shaila Kotadia courtsey of Shaila Kotadia

Today I’m excited to introduce Shaila Kotadia. This month I learned about science policy, which is a topic that I had never considered as a possible career or just how important it is to the progress of science. But that is the amazing thing about this section of my blog it is an opportunity to learn about all the various careers in STEM that don’t just involve working in a laboratory.

A.H.:  Why did you want to go into STEM?

S.K: In high school, I first learned about the mechanistic details of diseases. In particular, in my freshman biology course, we studied the details of HIV/AIDS. Immediately, I was intrigued by the course of action taken by the virus and the body’s response. From that point on, I decided I wanted to find a cure to that disease. Similarly, the next year in a chemistry course, I learned about cancer development and switched to wanting to find a cure for it. I admit I was a bit fickle at first about my favorite disease, but I ended up sticking with cancer-related research for my career as a bench scientist.

A.H.:  What do you work on and why is this important?

S.K.: I currently work in science policy. This is an important issue because the majority of science funding comes from federal agencies. Oftentimes, scientists do not advocate to the government why the funding is essential to continue to discover new treatments and cures for diseases. Therefore, it is necessary to have informed individuals advocate for science and educate government officials on the benefits of funding science.

A.H.:  How can people learn more about science policy?

S.K.: People can learn more about science policy through various science organizations. For example, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, where I work, has an advocacy website that has tools to help you advocate for science locally and contact information for our public affairs personnel, who can answer questions. Also, many scientists themselves participate in advocacy and can be very informative of the steps they took to be involved.

A.H.:  What motivates you?

S.K.: I am motivated by change. I want to make the world a better place to live in. Originally, I worked in scientific research hoping to advance discoveries that would ultimately lead to new cures for cancer. With policy, I hope to help scientists across the nation and the world to make groundbreaking discoveries with deserved support that will make grand changes.

A.H.: Do you have any words of advice for young women interested in pursuing STEM?

S.K.: If you are intrigued by a problem, then pursue it. As you move along your educational and career path, you will meet obstacles along the way and you have the choice on how to overcome them. Instead of holding yourself back in the face of opposition, face it head-on. This will take you in all different directions and may take time, but eventually you will find your fit, and that is when you will be happiest.

A.H.:  What type of obstacles have you faced and how?

S.K.: Most of the obstacles I have faced tend to be more internal. Within the research realm, I had a subconscious feeling of not being good enough to make it in academia despite my accomplishments. This feeling also extended during my job pursuits in administration and policy. Despite working hard, publishing, and creating programs, I always felt like I was missing some qualification. To face these obstacles, I spoke with others with this mindset to understand how they overcame it. I also interacted with individuals in higher, more established positions to have a better perspective of the most important factors to concentrate on. While there is always someone more qualified, I learned, and am still learning, that you have to be confident in your own abilities, even if they are limited. The external obstacles I faced tended to be a bias based on my personality. In those situations, I chose to continue to work hard and rely on help from others when necessary to move forward and prove that I was capable of being successful.

A.H.:   How do you share your love of science with others?

S.K.: I share my love of science through multiple avenues. During my research career, I started an outreach program with another postdocs. We organized scientists to visit K-12 classrooms to demonstrate that science is fun, that there is a diversity of scientists who approach real-world problems, and that anyone can be a scientist with hard work and determination. The scientists briefly explained their work and themselves, answered questions from the students, and conducted experiments that related to lab work conducted at the university. I also use dance to teach ongoing scientific research. I have used iterative choreography to teach high school students about my research. This finished piece was performed for the community. I also participated in helping to organize a Science Café, where scientists shared their research in lay terms for the general public. Finally, I try my best to talk about my work, both past and present, to individuals that show curiosity. I find that the most effective way to share my love of science is in a casual conversation.

A.H.: Do you have a favorite scientist?

S.K.: My favorite scientists are those who have taken the time to mentor me throughout my career. I have been quite lucky to have found several established professors who have given me sound advice and guidance and have helped me grow as a person and a scientist. In addition, their discoveries and creativity inspired me to be original and unique in my thought. An approachable, humble scientist will always be favorite.

A.H.:  What do you see as the biggest challenge to women in STEM? What can we as a person/society do?

S.K.: The biggest challenge to women in STEM is having the confidence to take that step to the next level. Women often desire to pursue STEM but express the inability to do so. I believe that, to overcome this barrier, women need to have positive role models who continued onto successful careers in which they are also happy. Women also need encouragement that they are capable and, while they may struggle at times and lose confidence, this is normal for everyone. Overall, there are many women who have a lot to offer in the STEM fields, but the perception of ourselves needs to reflect that, and we need to spread the same message to young girls.

A.H.: Who is your favorite Science Fiction or Fantasy writer?

S.K.: So I don’t really read science fiction or fantasy. I do love to read though. My favorite book is “The Winter of our Discontent” by Steinbeck. I love Steinbeck in general. “East of Eden” is amazing as well. I’ve read a variety of female authors but have not picked up on one in particular.

A.H.: I wish there was more time in the day, so I could….

S.K.: …travel all over the world (I guess this would require more days in the week or more weeks in the year!)

A.H.: If people wanted to learn more about you how could they reach you?

S.K.: I can be reached at @shpostrapheaila . I also have a YouTube channel: I have only two videos on there but will soon add another. The videos are my venture into using dance to describe scientific processes. I hope to continue this outreach effort and have more videos posted in the future.

A.H.: Thank you,Shaila!




December 9, 2013

Tis the season to bake with Lillian Gilbreth

Lillian Gilbreth



Dates: May 24, 1878 to January 2, 1972

Field of study: Ergonomics, industrial/organizational psychologist

Invention: Kitchen design, electric food mixer, shelves in refrigerator, trash can with foot-pedal lid-opener

I spend a lot of time in my kitchen this time of the year, but I never give much thought to it. We’ll that’s not exactly true, I think about buying new appliances but not the layout how it came to be, why and who decided it should be this way. Today I’m sharing with you Lillian Gilbreth, the Mother of Modern Management and the woman behind our kitchens. In the 1920’s she was a pioneer in making domestic work a field of study. One of her greatest accomplishments was cutting the number of footsteps in the kitchen from 281 to 45! Two of her twelve children, co-authored a book about their home growing-up maybe you’ve heard of it “Cheaper by the Dozen.”

Lillian Gilbreth was born and raised in Oakland, California into a large wealthy family in 1878. Her parents believed in education for their daughters up to secondary school after that it was expected that they would marry. However Lillian didn’t have her parents’ confidence that someone would marry her, so she decided to become a teacher.  She studied at University of California Berkeley where she graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in literature. After graduation she moved to New York where she attended Columbia University for a year before returning home to finish her Master of Arts at University of California Berkeley.  She completed her Ph.D in psychology from Brown University in 1915. She met her husband Frank Gilbreth before she left on summer vacation to Europe.

By utilizing new techniques and working with their family Frank and Lillian Gilbreth created a new field of science called ergonomics and industrial psychology. Today the International Ergonomics Association defines it as “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.” But back then there was no definition or defined field, instead Lillian and Frank pioneered their field through trial, error and demonstrating the benefits. Lillian was introduced to the idea of finding “the best way” to do things by Frank who had begun his studies years before. It was also Frank’s encouragement which caused Lillian to change her major from English to psychology. In their partnership, Lillian was the advocate and promoted the human side of the worker while Frank was the technical side.  In their consulting firm, they were the first to use short films to watch how industrial processes and office tasks were done, breaking them down into components parts.  The Gilbreth’s  worked from home conducting trainings for managers and develop practices with the aid of their children. Frank and Lillian consulted for industry, lectured and wrote for national publications and published 5 books on organizational management, none of which bore Lillian’s name.

frank and lillian from purdue university engineeringAfter Frank’s unexpected death in 1924, Lillian was forced to reinvent herself.  She took a visiting lecturer position at Purdue University and several years later was given a faculty position in the home economics department, which is ironic because she wasn’t a cook. The home economics department allowed her the opportunity to create a new niche for herself where she could apply the technical skills she learned from Frank and her humanist approach to improving the lives of women.  She consulted for Macys and General Electric, wrote several articles for national publications, guest lectured, conducted training session out of her home and patented several household appliances.

After reviewing all of Lillian’s contributions I find her contributions to the home to be the most revolutionary. Lillian patented several home appliances and designed the contemporary kitchen. After an in depth investigation into the amount of walking that a woman does in the kitchen Lillian redesigned it to create a tight circuit where the cook wouldn’t need to move their feet as frequently. Lillian’s concept was that “In an efficiently planned kitchen, the perimeter of the triangle formed by stove, sink, and refrigerator should be no greater than 26 feet, with a typical distance of 5.5 feet between appliances.”(Slate) This design was and still is called the L, C, or U Shape arrangement. She also designed a kitchen for handicapped people. She patented the electric food mixer, shelves in the refrigerator and the foot-pedal lid-opened trash can.

Lillian Gilbreth was an accomplished woman by any standards and her accomplishments are still relevant today. She was the first person to show industry management the importance of direct and indirect incentives to motivate employees, something that I think we are all grateful for, by studying the psychology of workers at work.  She was also able to identify how detrimental the effects of fatigue and stress are on time management.  By combining the technical knowledge she learned from her late husband, Frank, with her own understanding of the psychology of women, she did more than just the improve the kitchen, she advocated for the improvement of the lives of women and people with disabilities.

If you want to learn more about Lillian there are numerous options. There are several autobiographies and biographies about her

Local Input~ A model kitchen created by Lillian Gilbreth for optimum efficiency.

Local Input~ A model kitchen created by Lillian Gilbreth for optimum efficiency.

available. Plus there are several websites, which I have listed below each tells a slightly different story about her accomplishments. You should also check out the interview with Historian, Jane Lancaster over at The Lemelson Center for the study of Invention and Innovation. Also, I have listed a couple of website and a blog post about Lillian Gilbreth.



Bailey, Martha J. American Women in Science A Biographical Dictionary. Denver: ABC-CLIO, 1994. Print   132-133

There are number of books about Lillian Gilbreth and her work.


“The Woman Who Invented the Kitchen” Alexandra Lange


Grandma Got STEM

November 20, 2013

Meet Misha J- Associate Clinical Project Managaer

The thing that I love the most about this new section to my blog is learning about the incredible women working everyday to make the world a better place through S.T.E.M. Today I have the pleasure to present to you Misha Johnson, an Associate Clinical Project Manager. Through her research, Ms. Johnson is working to help find a treatment for Parkinson disease.

Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Don Butto, Studio Art Lab

Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Don Butto, Studio Art Lab

A.H.: Why did you want to go into STEM?

M.J.: As a child, I was naturally inquisitive, always interested in the why and how. Science has always interested me in some capacity.  At the age of 10, for Christmas, I received a Chemistry set, and that solidified my aspirations for a career in chemistry.  I majored in Chemistry in college and was certain that I wanted a career as a Medicinal Chemist in Industry.  However, after an internship, I realized that I really wanted to learn more about the biology and the mechanisms of action of the compounds that I was synthesizing, and thus, opted to study Pharmacology in graduate school. For my thesis project, I focused on Neuropharmacology and c possible mechanisms for sex differences in midbrain dopaminergic systems.  My research had implications for both drug addiction and Parkinson’s disease. Having a grandmother with Parkinson’s disease, I loved the idea that the research that I was doing could be potentially advance the field.  From there, I knew that a career in clinical research would be a great fit as I wanted to play an active part in bringing new therapies to the people who need them.

A.H.: Where did you earn your degrees?

M.J.: I attended North Carolina Central University where I earned a B.S. in Chemistry.  For graduate school, I attended Duke University and earned a PhD in Pharmacology.

A.H.: Tell me about what you work on and why is this important?

M.J.: I am working as an Associate Clinical Project Manager for Quintiles in the Oncology Therapeutic Delivery Unit. I provide oversight for various functional groups to ensure that project deliverables are met and that a quality product is presented to the Pharmaceutical/Biotech companies that sponsor the clinical trials. While a departure from bench science, I still have the opportunity to learn about the mechanisms of action for the investigational products that we are researching.  It’s fulfilling to know that your contribution in the drug development process helped to advance a therapy that can eventually treat and/or improve the quality of life for patients with a life-threatening illness.

A.H.: How can people learn more about what you do?

M.J.: There are some great professional organizations, such as the ACRP (Association of Clinical Research Professionals) that provide opportunities for continued learning and networking.  If you are student at an academic institution with a medical center, there is likely clinical research being conducted in your backyard.  Try to connect with these individuals for opportunities to ask questions about their daily activities.

A.H.: What is the coolest thing you’ve learned since you started working in your field?

M.J.: Honestly, I believe that clinical research is really exciting in that I believe the work that we do is helping others. The field continues to change to incorporate new regulations and technologies, and so, I love that I am constantly learning either new skills or new information that is critical to my role. However, I have worn many hats during my time in the industry, including working as a Clinical Research Coordinator for a research site.  There, I learned phlebotomy – a skill that I never thought that I would acquire.

A.H.: Who has inspired you?

M.J.: The people who have inspired me through the years are my parents, who have encouraged and supported me.  I never felt that I had any limitations as to what I could achieve thanks to them.

A.H.: What motivates you to keep going?

M.J.: I am motivated by my faith, family, and the need to help others.

A.H.: What type of obstacles have you faced and how have you coped with them?

M.J.: I’ve been faced with several challenges in my career.  However, the one that stands out is finding my place in science.  During grad school, I learned that I did not enjoy the process of writing grants and publications.  I had also burned out on bench work.  It was a little disheartening to find that the things that I once enjoyed about research were now major roadblocks in my career.  I decided to change paths to clinical research. I was uncertain about how my skill set and background at the time would prepare for my new venture.  This was also an area for which I did not have a great deal of information.  To ensure that I was making the right decision career-wise, I began to reach out to others in the industry to educate myself about the industry. I am firm believer that knowledge is power.  Communications with professionals in various functional helped to steer me in the right direction.

A.H.: Do you have any advice for young women interested in going into clinical research?

M.J.: My advice to young women who are interested in my career is that it is never too early to begin research careers in Clinical.  Take advantage of opportunities for internships in the industry and/or opportunities to volunteer in a clinical setting. Also, becoming a student member of an organization such ACRP can provide an opportunity to be exposed to the various specialized areas of the industry and connect with professionals who can provide valuable information to better direct your career.  Taking in all of the information you can and taking advantage of all opportunities presented to you are key for making an informed decision and being successful in any industry.

A.H.: How do you share your love of science with others? Do you mentor, teach, etc?

M.J.: As I have received great mentoring from different individuals at various points in my career, I like to pass along the knowledge that I have acquired to undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in careers in clinical research.  I do serve as mentor for aspiring clinical researchers and enjoy participating in discussions/forums for students who may have questions about how to make the transition from basic to clinical research.

A.H.: I wish there was more time in the day, so I could….

M.J.: Channel more energy into Pomp & Panache, a candy buffet and sweets display company that I co-own with my sister.

A.H.: I have to ask, do you read science fiction or fantasy?

M.J.: I do not get around to doing much recreational reading of any kind these days.  😦 I am more a film buff! Some of my all time favorites include: Magnolia, Blue Velvet, and Gozu.

A.H.: Thank you Misha for taking the time out of your schedule to do this I’ve learned a lot and I know others have too.

Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Don Butto, Studio Art Lab

October 16, 2013

Women in STEM Interview: Alexandra Reid- Academic Technology Specialist

It was really exciting a couple of weeks ago when I started receiving feedback from my Tweet to @BlackGirlNerds about looking for women to interview for this new section to my blog. During the last few weeks, I’ve learned some interesting things about current research and I can’t wait to share it with you all.

Courtesy of Alexandria Reid

Courtesy of Alexandria Reid

For my first interview I present to you Alexandra Reid, M.Ed. She is a self-professed “lifelong learner with a passion for education,music, and all things digital.” Currently, she splits her time between a Graduate Assistant-ship for IT-Academic Technology Services, a music teacher at the New Castle Dance and Music Academy,  a freelance web developer, and oh yeah, a doctoral student.  I was really impressed with Alexandria for several reasons but mostly her dedication to enriching the educational environment for future generations.

A.H.: How did you get started in educational technology?

A.R.:I have always had an interest in technology, specifically it’s benefits in the classroom. My bachelor’s degree is from the University of Delaware in instrumental music education. When I started teaching I realized that there was a need, especially in the populations that I was working with, for more active learning activities that could be enhanced though technology integration. Three years later, I pursued a master’s degree in Educational Technology also from University of Delaware. And now I am working on my doctorate in Educational Leadership with a focus in Curriculum, Technology, and Higher Education from University of Delaware.

A.H.:Why is educational technology important?

A.R.:My current research focuses on the achievement gap between underrepresented minority students and non-minority students in introductory mathematics courses at the undergraduate level. I believe that this gap can be assisted with mobile devices and active learning strategies implemented in the classrooms.

A.H.:How can people learn more about educational technology?

A.R.:Academic Technology is an exponentially growing field, especially at the college level. The best way to get an idea of what’s happening is to consult your college or university’s IT Department – we are always willing to assist faculty and students with the newest and most intuitive devices for scholastic productivity.

A.H.:What is the coolest thing you’ve learned since you started working in technology?

A.R.:UNIX is a recognized language, just as English or Portugese. Who knew!

A.H.:What motivates you?

A.R.:Being a minority female in a STEM field is motivation enough to not only meet, but exceed the expectations of my peers and supervisors. When I was first accepted into my doctoral program in 2012, I made a promise to two very dear family members that they would see the second doctor in the family. Unfortunately, they passed away months apart. I don’t plan on breaking that promise regardless.

A.H.:Do you have any words of advice for young women interested in pursuing STEM?

A.R.:Demand to be treated and seen as an equal peer in the field. Your talents and strengths should not be outshines just because you are a female!

A.H.:Do you have an Inspirational phrase or story you use when you need strength?

A.R.:When there were times I felt I wasn’t strong or smart enough to keep going, my Grandmother always told me, in the words of MLK Jr., “Keep on keepin on’!” Though she is not with me anymore, I still hear those words when times get tough.

A.H.:How do you share your love of science with others? Do you mentor, teach, etc?

A.R.:In my spare time, I teach music at a private studio. Each lesson integrates a type of technology that my students can experiment with at home. It allows them to connect with the material in a more engaging way, and they all seem to enjoy it very much.

A.H.What do you see as the biggest challenge to women in STEM? What can we as a person/society do?

A.R.:We can collectively stop calling it a male dominated field. Enforcing that stigma creates an air of exclusion to women.

A.H.Who is your favorite Science Fiction or Fantasy writer?

A.R.:Gene Rodenberry. I mean, isn’t he THE science fiction writer? 🙂

A.H.: One last thing just for finish this sentence.  When I was a 14 I thought –

A.R.:I would be a high school band director. My how things have changed!

 A.H.: Very true. Thank  you for taking the time to do this interview. To learn more about Alexandria you can use the links below to view her portfolio and projects. (web developer) (web developer)