Women In STEM

(Originally published by C2ST, February 3, 2016)

Science is one of the engines that fuels our city. C2ST’s Women in STEM: Connect put three successful local women under the spotlight to paint a picture of their careers in the field. The event was sponsored by Horizon Pharma, HDMZ and the School of the Art Institute.

The panel discussion provided three different lenses into non-traditional science careers, and included an entrepreneur, a policymaker and a head brewer. Each woman spoke about how science differently impacted their career path.

Kapila Viges, Director of EnterpriseWorks Chicago, knew that her science career was not heading towards the lab, and recognizes that “scientific training is incredibly valuable in almost any field.”

Debra Shore, working at the intersection of science and policy on the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, purports that even though she does not possess a scientific background, her ability to ask good questions helped her thrive. However, she stressed that policymaking needs more people with scientific training.

Mary Bauer found a way to continue using her scientific knowledge base while also becoming a leader, as Head Brewer of Lagunitas Brewery in Chicago. Brewing, a scientific and creative process, allows her to learn about the enzymes and reactions hiding behind our pints.

The panelists addressed their experience as women in the field as well. Bauer often gets comments like “where’s your flannel?” or “how come no beer belly?” Rather than taking this to heart, she feels lucky to be in an attention-grabbing position. Her experience leading a team of mostly men has been positive; they welcomed her with open arms and treat her with respect.

In addition to sharing their experiences, Viges, Shore and Bauer offered advice. Shore believes she wouldn’t be where she is today, if she hadn’t been willing to get outside of her comfort zone. In a similar vein, Viges said, “There is risk in everything we do. It’s about understanding risk and getting a little bit more comfortable with it.”

Viges also highlighted the importance of continuing to seek out mentorship, because there will always be something you don’t know and need help with.

When asked to go back and give advice to their eight-year-old selves, or any young girls in the room, all three speakers encouraged hard work, and getting involved to expose yourself to varied experiences early on.

The panel discussion was followed by a networking session, where the 120-plus attendees, which included women of all ages and at all stages of their careers, students from grade school to post-graduate, and a good number of men in the sciences, some with daughters interested in a career in science, mingled with the presenters, representatives from other ‘women in science’ and coding clubs, and one another. Food—and of course Lagunitas beer—was enjoyed.

C2ST will be hosting more Women in STEM events in 2016; visit our website, c2st.org, or follow us on social media for announcements.

By Julia Turan, C2ST volunteer and science writer, Communications Assistant for EuroStemCell at the University of Edinburgh

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