Celebrating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science

CZI Science staff share their stories of women who inspired their scientific careers

February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science — a day designated by the United Nations in 2015 to shine a light on the contributions of women and girls to scientific progress. It’s also a day to remind us how much more work is needed to reach equal participation in STEM fields.

According to the United Nations, less than 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women. Globally, women only count for 5 percent of the students enrolled in higher education in natural science, mathematics and statistics. When it comes to engineering, manufacturing and construction, women make up only 8 percent of the students in these fields.

Yet, for many CZI Science team members, female scientists have inspired their careers. Read stories from some of CZI’s Science team about the women who have mentored and encouraged them.

Despite the lack of gender parity in STEM fields, I have been extremely fortunate to have several women in my life who provided me with support and mentorship in the early years of my science career. Marina Garrett, Natalia Orlova, and Kate Roll educated me in more than just science and technology — they taught me how to stand up for myself in a male-dominated field and make myself be heard.

Their leadership and confidence were a constant reminder that I should always express my opinion. Like most early career scientists, I am constantly weighed down by imposter syndrome, and this is only increased when I am the only woman in the room (an experience that is much too common). In these moments, I think of my mentors and remember the many times that they would not be dismissed and fought for their voice.

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Fiona Griffin meets with CZI grantees working on the Human Cell Atlas.

To young women interested in pursuing science, know that science needs and wants you! Every woman in science brings a unique perspective that increases the diversity of our understanding of the world. Be curious, listen as much as you can, but most importantly, sit at the table and don’t be afraid. You belong there.

My mom, Denise von Muhlen MD PhD, inspired me — by example and via lifelong mentorship — to apply rigor and creativity to understand and treat human disease. She taught me 1) correlation is not causation and 2) be skeptical about claims from authority. This advice drove me to seek to understand everything from first principles, which led to me getting my own PhD.

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CZI Group Product Manager Marcio von Muhlen and his mother, Denise von Muhlen.

To young women interested in pursuing science, the world needs your contribution! Be bold in dreaming how you can help others.

I have been blessed to have strong women as teachers and mentors at pivotal times in my life. Fifth grade teacher Ms. Livingston’s deep encouragement of girls in math. Seventh grade science teacher Ms. Benoit highlighting the inherent biases in the way we see “who is a scientist” and providing tools to push back against these biases.

Game-changing advice from legendary researcher Patsy Babbitt in graduate school. Tremendous community from a small group of women scientists with young children. Career-long mentorship from incredible PhD advisor Katie Pollard. This consistent support has been fundamentally important to my career as a scientist.

Hongjing Lu, a Cognitive Psychology professor at UCLA, invested a great deal of time in what I consider to be my ‘second education’ while I was a research assistant at her Computational Vision and Learning Lab.

Hongjing taught me how science works: how to design an experiment, how to write research articles, how to read scientific literature, how to think critically about experimental results, and, when results didn’t pan out, how to admit your approach was incorrect and persevere.

I would have not known how compelling science could be, nor recognized the importance of the work that CZI does, without the insights that working for Hongjing afforded me.

When I was contemplating career options throughout graduate school and my postdoc, I knew that I wanted to do something at the intersection of social behavioral science and applied clinical science. Luckily for me, I had exceptional women mentors like Dr. Maria Finnell, who helped introduce me to translational sciences, the sweet spot between basic and applied sciences.

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Science product design and user experience (UX) research team at CZI, with Kristin Hendrix second from the left.

Through translational research, I was able to conduct experiments, leveraging social behavioral science to inform clinical science with the overall goal of improving health outcomes. Maria and other incredible women mentors taught me that it takes a variety of backgrounds, sets of experiences, and expertise to effectively move science forward. I’ve carried this lesson with me throughout my career, including here at CZI, and I share it with young women in STEM whom I have the privilege of mentoring.

To learn more about our work in science and to stay updated on funding opportunities, visit our website, where you can sign up for our mailing list. You can also follow us on Twitter. To learn more about our science team, follow the CZI science blog. And you can always reach us at science@chanzuckerberg.com.

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