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Rising Stars workshop puts the achievements of women researchers in the spotlight

December 6, 2018
Sri Sarma is speaking to a group of female scientists.

Many scientists could advance their careers if they could just get the hang of storytelling. Impact statements that describe how their research improves people’s lives could help researchers secure funding, find collaborators, and share their findings with wider audiences.

“It’s not a matter of if your research will have an impact, because it will,” said Harvard’s Deborah Burstein Mattingly, associate professor of radiology, health sciences, and technology. “We want you to focus on how and why your research will have an impact, and design it accordingly.”

Mattingly’s audience, a group of female scientists quickly rising in their fields, came together last month as part of the Rising Stars in Biomedical Engineering workshop held on Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus. Funded by several Hopkins institutes and departments and held at the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute, the workshop aimed to give women the skills they need to pursue faculty positions in biomedical engineering.

While the number of women in labs and classrooms is growing, men still outnumber women when it comes to holding faculty positions in engineering disciplines. Johns Hopkins University and MIT are trying to change those statistics through programs such as the workshop, which was first held in 2016. It brings together a cohort of talented women graduate students and postdocs who represent the next generation of leadership in biomedical engineering research.

A group of young women are chatting.
The workshop was an opportunity for leading female researchers to meet, collaborate, and learn Image credit: Will Kirk / Homewood Photography

Participants at this year’s workshop, nominated by faculty members at their respective institutes, came from organizations such as the NIH, MIT, Stanford University, Columbia University, the University of Washington, and UC Berkeley. Six came from Johns Hopkins: Chloe Audigier, Sarah Dougherty, Kate Fischl, Sarvenaz Sarabipour, Ayushi Sinha, and Sooyeon Yoo. Their research interests include computational cancer genomics, regenerative medicine, neuroimaging, minimally invasive surgery, 3-D printed brain models, and epidemiology and public health.

“Rising Stars began in 2012 at MIT with the mission of providing critical career development training for women in electrical engineering,” said Sri Sarma, associate professor of biomedical engineering and associate director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Computational Medicine. Sarma co-organized the workshop along with MIT professors Polina Golland and Martha Gray.

“We want these young rising stars to leave Hopkins empowered and excited to move onto the next phase of their careers,” she said.

One of the goals of the Rising Stars workshop is to provide a forum for participants to connect and learn from women working in different fields.

Sarah Dougherty, a postdoctoral fellow studying neuroregeneration at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said the workshop helped her establish valuable professional connections and discover the exciting work being done by other women researchers. And meeting other scientists helped her put her communication skills to the test.

“As a scientist, you sometimes forget what you didn’t know before you knew it—so it’s easy to slip into jargon and assume everyone knows what you mean, but that’s not usually the case,” she said. “It’s important to learn how to communicate with nonscientists and with scientists in similar fields who aren’t working on your exact topic.”

Workshop participants also got tips on interviewing and landing faculty positions, and they heard from panels of junior and senior faculty who reflected on their own early-career experiences and the challenges that come with a career in academia.

“It was really exciting to spend two days interacting closely with both established and upcoming experts in our field, and learning how to communicate about our work effectively to a broad audience,” said Ayushi Sinha, a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics at Johns Hopkins. “I feel like I have insider information on how to make my job application stand out, which makes me feel a lot more confident going into my job search than I did before.”

– Catherine Graham

Category: Department
Associated Faculty: Sridevi V. Sarma

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