By Poornima Peiris
On April 8th & 9th Scientistas from across the country gathered for the annual symposium at the Microsoft Office in Times Square, New York City. The symposium was attended by more than 100 undergraduate and graduate scientistas in various STEM disciplines. The two-day event included a poster competition, workshops, a career fair and the opportunity for attendees to network with other driven and motivated individuals in STEM careers.
The day was kicked off with a passionate talk by the keynote speaker Apoorva Mandavilli. Apoorva is the editor in chief of Spectrum, a website that details the advances that are being made in autism research. She has made a name for herself as an award-winning science journalist with her work appearing in such notable publications like The New York Times, Nature, Atlantic and many others. Apoorva’s honest & heartfelt message of the importance of navigating one’s own path through the career maze resonated with many of our attendees who spoke of their own insecurities in forging a path ahead. One such attendee, Preshita, a PhD student at Rutgers said that she could see herself in a similar non-traditional scientific role in the future.
The event consisted of several engaging panels that included topics in leadership in science careers and healthcare, STEM innovation and entrepreneurship and how STEM leaders could use their expertise for social good. Some of the panel speakers like Rokeya Jones from Microsoft and Dr. Nicola Partridge from New York University spoke of their experiences with juggling careers while raising a family. The leadership workshops taught us how to launch one’s own startup and how to dress for success. Dr. Christine O’Connell from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, lead a highly engaging workshop on how to clearly communicate our science and research to the public. As many scientists have chosen to become more vocal in our current political climate, this is a critical skill to posses. During Mckenzie Lowry’s workshop on “Building Confidence”, she opened with a hilarious Amy Schumer skit, that emphasized a problem that resonated with many in the audience - overly apologizing in our day-to-day communications. Mckenzie focused on being firm and confident when addressing male colleagues as well as being less apologetic in our daily conversations, particularly in the workplace.
At the poster session, fourteen different and unique fields were on display. With such a robust number of entries, attendees were exposed to a variety of topics that ranged from 3D printing in healthcare to imaging modalities used in neuroscience. In total, thirty-eight undergraduate and twenty-one graduate scientistas presented their work. Regina Zhang, a student at Cornell University and one of the many poster presenters, said that she hoped to gain insight and advice on tackling what was expected vs the reality of the different careers she had heard about from the speakers at the symposium.
Each poster was evaluated by two judges with a total of forty-one judges from various STEM fields in attendance. On the second day of the summit, the winners for each category were announced with Claudia Mimoso from Cornell University taking the top prize, Stephanie Sawicki from Fairfield University and Zollie Yavarow from Mount Holyoke College taking the second and third place respectively in the undergraduate section. The honorable mention from this category included Meghan Zimmer, Fairfield University. In the graduate category, first place was secured by Shuoxun Wang from Columbia University, Second Place by Martha Arellano of Columbia University and third Place by Kaela Singleton of Georgetown University The honorable mentions included Sarah Edmunds of Miami University and Catherine O'Brien of New York University. Martha Arellano, one of the poster winners got wind of the symposium through her research advisor and was excited to meet other women in her field. One of the judges, Dr. Nicholas Gomez, enjoyed seeing a wide variety of in-depth research projects from both undergraduate and graduate scientistas.
Many in attendance said that they heard about the symposium through their school departments as well as through friends and past attendees. As our community grows, it is encouraging to know that more and more people are taking notice in what we are building. Undergraduates in attendance also learned about a great scholarship opportunity that Cards Against Humanity started in 2016. The Science Ambassador Scholarship provides a full tuition scholarship for a woman seeking an undergraduate degree in a STEM field. This is the second year that the scholarship has been awarded. The application process is rigorous and as one can imagine highly competitive. You can find more information about the scholarship and past years’ winners on their website.
Overall, it was an incredibly empowering weekend that brought together incredible women working in science. Brandy Grove, the symposium chair and graduate student at Case Western Reserve University, said that she’s really looking forward to organizing the next year’s event!
About the Author
Poornima Peiris is currently a graduate engineering student interested in all things STEM related. She has conducted research in various stem disciplines at national labs and was a participant of NASA's space grant program. Her scientific contributions include a collaboration on a paper, published in Plant Medica Journal. Besides reading up on scientific innovations, she also loves to read books on neuroscience, paint landscapes & create personalized wedding gifts. Aside from dabbling in the creative arts, she does fencing & tennis. Always a Sri Lankan at heart, she loves the ocean & spring weather. She currently splits her time between Massachusetts & New York.
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