Boston’s Women in Bio Aims to Fuel STEM Curiosity In Middle Schoolers

12/23/11

According to the National Science Foundation, eighth grade girls are half as likely to be interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers as boys—a dramatic change from second grade, where the numbers are roughly equal. This trend continues through high school, college and into the workplace, as even women with advanced science degrees tend to leave the field at higher rates than their male counterparts. The numbers also show that careers of men and women in bioscience progress at markedly different rates; while women and men each hold about half of the graduate degrees in biology, far more senior leadership roles are held by men than women (17 percent vs. 83 percent, respectively.)

Women In Bio Greater Boston (WIB-GB) is one group that is trying to change that. It is the newest chapter of a fast-growing international trade association aimed at fostering leadership, entrepreneurship and careers of women in the biosciences. Comprised of professionals across the career continuum—from those just starting out to industry veterans—the group plans to leverage the region’s strong biotechnology supercluster to provide career development opportunities for women in New England. Programming being planned for 2012 includes networking, mentoring and educational events specifically geared at the interests of and challenges faced by women working in this industry.

Similar WIB chapters in Washington, DC/Baltimore, Research Triangle Park, Seattle and Chicago are enjoying enthusiastic participation in both social and career-enhancing programs, such as an expert lecture on IP in Chicago and a national team entry in the Walk for the Cure in DC. In addition, Washington/Baltimore, RTP, and now Boston have organized a special series aimed at young girls interested in science, called Young Women In Bio (YWIB).

As part of the YWIB series, Biogen Idec opened its doors as host to 25 curious middle school girls from across Massachusetts on December 1. It was an educational, fun program designed to provide the students with first-hand knowledge of the biotechnology and life sciences industry. Nadine Cohen, Biogen’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs, provided a welcome and an overview of the company, biotechnology, and the field’s range of career paths. Community lab director Tracy Callahan, and lab manager Jennifer Greenberg took the visitors on a site tour, engaged them in a hands-on lab experiment (involving M&Ms!), and visited the purification lab to share information about the crucial assays used in biotechnology. A shadow experience demonstrated a “day in the life” of several Biogen employees. Scientist mentors led the visitors to their individual work areas as they explained their roles, shared how they became interested in science, displayed and explained a variety of lab equipment, and answered insightful questions from the inquisitive young ladies.

Lisa Geller, program chair of the Women in Bio Greater Boston chapter, explained why the group is spearheading these events. “As successful women who are passionate about working in the biotechnology industry, we hope to fuel a similar interest in the next generation of female scientists and business leaders. We hope that our Young Women In Bio program blossoms into an ongoing series for girls from early middle school into high school to continue keep them interested as they get older.”

Amy Speak, an independent life science Public Relations and Communications strategist, chairs Women In Bio Greater Boston’s Communications Committee. Follow @

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