Scientista Presidents' Circle - Meet The President!
Brenda Rubenstein, Ph.D., Chemical Physics, Columbia
Meet Brenda Rubenstein; Co-Chair, Women in Science at Columbia (WISC); Columbia University
February 06, 2012
Tell us about yourself! Hey there! My name is Brenda Rubenstein and I am currently a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Chemical Physics at Columbia University. I am a licensed quantum mechanic who spends most of her days trying to develop ways to solve fundamental problems from the quantum world exactly. You may find me with paper and pencil in hand or in front of a computer either at Columbia or Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. I also pose as one of the Co-Chairs of Women in Science at Columbia (WISC), a group of graduate students, both male and female, dedicated to advancing women in science on campus and beyond. As a kid, I grew up in a rough suburb of New York where education, and certainly, science took a back seat. It was only with the help of mentors like the Scientistas along the way that I pursued science. If it wasn't for them, I would never have had the opportunity to study science across the country and across the globe, even at the House that Newton built, the University of Cambridge.
How did you decide to get involved in your organization? During my first couple of years as a graduate student at Columbia, I attended WISC socials (yeah food!) and other events here and there, but was never an officer. When it came time for the previous WISC Chair to graduate, she called upon me to step-up and take the reigns alongside my partner in crime, Holly Wolcott. For the past two years, Holly and I have been trying to broaden WISC from a Chemistry Department-dominated organization into one that serves women in all fields of science on campus and in the broader NYC area.
What is your favorite organization event? While all of our events are uncategorically fabulous, I most enjoy our Discussion Series. Every month or so, we choose a topic that we are sure will elicit conversation. Past topics have included Science in the Closet and the 24/7 Lab. We then pick a related article to get people's thoughts going beforehand and discuss it over dinner. Our conversations are always intimate and enlightening. They are a fantastic way to develop community as well.
When you are not being a Scientista, you are most likely… I am most definitely hiking the steepest mountain I could find! Choose the most strenuous hike on the map and I'm there! See my picture below. It was mid-March in New Hampshire and I forgot that mid-March in New Hampshire means that the mountains are still covered in 3 feet of snow. But, I summitted Mt. Monadnock anyway. Too bad for that old pair of sneakers...
Which woman in science inspires you the most? The famous female physicists of yesteryear, including Chien-Shiung Wu and Maria Goeppert-Mayer, always inspire me. Given what most female physicists go through today, I can't imagine what they went through just to have their work appreciated for what it is!
Why do you think organizations such as yours and the Scientista Foundation are important? WISC and the Scientista Foundation are important because they allow female scientists to express their concerns within a supportive setting. Science is tough for everyone, but particularly tough for women and minorities who must not only surmount challenges once in the lab, but barriers to getting into the lab in the first place. It is therefore important that female scientists be able to discuss what they are experiencing with others who have had similar experiences. WISC and the Scientista Foundation help make those conversations happen.
What do you think is the most important scientific research or discovery of today? I would love to say that quantum mechanics is home to the most important problems of today, but when I'm honest, I'd say today's most important research problems are in neuroscience. We use our brains every second of the day and yet we know so little about them! How is a thought made? What makes up a personality? How can we make our brains more efficient? Finally, neuroscience is at the point where it can start answering these questions. What could be more interesting?