Alice B. Popejoy
Name: Alice B. Popejoy
Place of Employment: Association for Women in Science (AWIS)
Job Title: Phoebe S. Leboy Public Policy Fellow
Education: Biology and French, Hamilton College
As the inaugural Phoebe S. Leboy Public Policy Fellow at the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), Alice Popejoy has contributed to raising awareness about barriers for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) on Capitol Hill and across the nation through her monthly newsletter, AWIS in Action! In addition to educating and advocating on behalf of women scientists and engineers, Ms. Popejoy is the lead research assistant on the AWARDS Project, an NSF-ADVANCE grant to increase the proportion of female award winners in STEM. Through her research on the recognition of women in scientific disciplinary societies, Ms. Popejoy has helped society leaders recognize implicit gender bias in their awards processes and has contributed to fostering a more equitable system of scholarly recognition. In her undergraduate work as a Biology and French double-major at Hamilton College she focused on the intersection of genetics research and public policy, encouraging scientists and others to consider the ethical and legal implications of genetic information. She will attend graduate school in the Fall of 2012, and intends to earn her doctorate in a field related to genetics and bioethics.
What is the greatest challenge you’ve encountered during your career in STEM?
The greatest challenge I have encountered in my burgeoning career as a woman in science is overcoming the stereotypes about what a scientists should "look like". As a young blonde girl from California, I have found that many people on the East Coast are astounded when I tell them I studied Biology -- as if my appearance negates my ability to do science and diminishes my intellectual capacity. While I have had many great mentors and supporters helping along the way, both men and women have contributed to my feeling unworthy of a degree in science. These subtle barriers and lack of encouragement are often deadly for young women coming up in the sciences, so we need to support each other and derive strength from the unforeseen obstacles.
What do you think is the most exciting thing about having a career in STEM?
The most exciting thing about working in STEM is the endless possibilities for discovery and innovation. Science works at the forefront of knowledge exploration, so if you have ideas and creative energy this is a most rewarding outlet. In my particular field of genetics, there are exciting discoveries happening every day as our idea of what a "gene" is changes and evolves with each breakthrough. Knowing that my efforts in trial and error will contribute to our ability to detect and treat disease is what motivates me to continue my education in science, and the fact that every "failure" is actually a success in the research process is inspiring.
If you could give one piece of advice to a girl who is considering doing a Silver or Gold Award based on STEM or pursuing a career in STEM, what would that be?
Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. Despite the inherently progressive nature of scientific research, many people along the way will tell you that a particular idea is not good. This is most likely based on their narrow experiences and should in no way deter you from studying what interests you most. The media and teachers and even parents give us implicit ideas about what we are and are not capable of; do not let this affect your desires or aspirations. If you are interested in pursuing a career in STEM, by all means -- go for it!
Did you have STEM mentors?
I have had many mentors in STEM, including my parents, professors, and many wonderful scientists, mathematicians and engineers at the Association for Women in Science. The most inspiring mentor I have had is the namesake for my current fellowship, Phoebe S. Leboy. Not only has she done groundbreaking research in her field of biochemistry; she was also a pioneer woman in science and has told me horror stories about being the only tenured woman faculty at her institution for 20 years. Her story and her passion for science are what motivated me to apply to PhD programs, and I only hope that every young woman in science encounter champions like Phoebe.