Meet a Scientist

The Power of Joy, Excellence, Resistance, and Radical Authenticity

The Power of Joy, Excellence, Resistance, and Radical Authenticity

This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Shawntel Okonkwo, a PhD candidate of Molecular Biology and Gene Regulation at UCLA and the founder of wokeSTEM, a unique entity that intersects social justice, STEM and science communication, while centering people of color. In this interview, she discusses the importance of embracing radical authenticity and truth-telling, which are at the core of wokeSTEM, as well as the transformative power of seeing yourself reflected in science.

Perfection, the Enemy of Good

Perfection, the Enemy of Good

This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Ann Holmes, an Ecology PhD candidate at the University of California, Davis. In this interview, she chats about a collaborative workshop organized between 500 Women Scientists and Inspiring Girls Now in Technology Evolution, her path into science, and unattainable standards of perfection. You can follow her on Twitter @planktonherder.

Understanding Our Curiosity

This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Reyhaneh Maktoufi, a science communication researcher getting her PhD at Northwestern University and a producer for the science-inspired storytelling show the Story Collider. In this interview, she chats about her path to science communication. She also shares her latest science-art endeavor, which features insights from women sharing their approaches to weaving empathy and inclusion into their science communication efforts. You can follow her online at @TheCosmicRey.

How did you find your way to science communication?

When I was in high school, I was an amateur astronomer. I’d wear my hand-made, weird-looking NASA pin in Tehran, go to a park or our school with my binoculars, and talk to people about astronomy. I loved learning about science, but the joy I’d get from telling stories about science was something different. Between high school and my PhD, I studied physiotherapy and then health psychology and focused more on health communication. I’d wear a cancer awareness pin, go to public places with brochures, and talk to people about cancer screening!

After working with different nonprofits developing advocacy campaigns, teaching experts how to become better communicators for a few years, I started a PhD at Northwestern in Media, Technology, and Society. There I got the opportunity to do an internship for the Adler Planetarium, where I started to expand my health communication knowledge to my original love, astronomy and physics. Now I focus more on general principles of science communication in different fields.

What does your research on communication center on?

Ah, curious about my research? I focus on curiosity! (budum, tss!) I study what planetarium visitors are curious about, what encourages them to ask more questions, and how we can elicit more curiosity. I’m also running a study to see if stories told by a person who self-discloses as a climate scientist can make their audiences more curious. I want to see if that curiosity would lead an audience to trust the scientist more, as well as perceive the risks of climate change as more plausible. My previous research was mostly about how scientists use pop culture references and science fiction to build a mutual ground with their audience.

Before your PhD, you worked in Tehran, Iran as a health communication facilitator. How did that experience of on-the-ground communication inform your work today?

It’s all about empathy! I worked for a while in a hospice and for a nonprofit in cancer advocacy. I remember one of my patients in the hospice just wanted to tell someone that she is scared of death, and that she doesn’t want to try to be happy. And it was hard to do so when the family constantly is trying to tell her that she is not going to die, and that she should try to find ways to be happy. Empathy is about listening, understanding, and not constantly offering solutions. As scientists, it’s hard for us to just listen. We don’t get trained to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, and most importantly, to not immediately focus on offering solutions. While the story of my patient might be a very intense example, it really made me realize what most of us truly want: to be given space, to be heard and seen. This is one of the reasons I study curiosity. I think being curious and asking questions helps us listen and learn from one another. So curiosity can ultimately make us more empathetic.

You also do quite a bit of communication through sci-art (or the intersection of science and art). You’ve got a project underway now featuring advice from women in science communication based on empathy and inclusion. Can you talk a bit about what inspired the project?

It all started when I attended a talk by Dr. Dominique Brossard about fake news and why people share fake news. Now, I’m a doodler, I usually can’t stop sketching when someone is giving a talk or teaching. The way Dominique talked about her research was so easy to understand and to follow that I could easily turn her words into sketches. I had an urge to share her words with others. I know many people like me are visual learners, so I went home, made a small simple comic about why people share comics, and posted it on my Instagram and blog. Some people seemed to enjoy it!

Learning about science communication from women I respected, like Dr. Katharine Hayhoe and Dr. Mónica Feliú-Mójer made me also realize different approaches they had as opposed to famous communicators like Bill Nye. While people like Bill Nye, who are role models to many young scientists, base they communication on anger, condescension, and rudeness, other women I knew were talking about empathy, understanding others, building mutual grounds, and understanding how our privileges affects our science communication. So I decided to start a project where I can share with more people their words.

What’s been the biggest take away from the project?

To be inclusive when talking about inclusivity. The main theme of the comics is empathy and inclusivity in science communication. When I was talking to NPR’s Madeleine Sofia (she’s a great mentor) about the comic, she reminded me of the importance of inclusivity in my own project. This was a good reminder for me to be more aware of who I’m representing in the comic series and who I’m missing out. I still have a long way to go through.

When you’e not working on your PhD or engaged in science communication efforts of your own, how do you relax and unwind?

Apart from staring at the wall and making up soap opera stories in my head, one of my favorite things is practicing samurai swordsmanship (Mugai Ryu style) at the Japanese culture center. While it just makes me feel badass, it’s a great way to meditate and build a community outside of school and academia!


Reyhaneh Maktoufi is a Ph.D. candidate in Media, Technology, and Society at Northwestern University. Her main fields of interest are science communication, curiosity, and public engagement with scientists. She works at the Nonprofit Network and Social Impact Lab where she researches nonprofit mergers and attitudes toward nonprofit-corporation partnerships. She is also a visiting researcher at the Adler Planetarium, where she studies science communication and facilitates workshops on communication skills and a producer at The Story Collider.

Before starting a Ph.D., Rey has been working as a health communication facilitator and cancer preventive/palliative care campaign manager in Tehran, Iran. Rey currently enjoys working with different nonprofits such as the Communicating Science Conference (ComSciCon). She also engages in science outreach through writing blog-posts and making science comics.

Meet the SciMomJourney Team

In March 2019, we launched 500 a campaign to bring more visibility to the challenges mothers in science face when starting or building their families. The SciMom Journey campaign was spearheaded by a few women scientists who shared their experiences in a series of op-eds in the Scientific American and created a repository of resources for sci-parents. Today, for Mother’s Day, we wanted to introduce you to some of the women behind the campaign as part of our #meetascientist series.


Tanya Dapkey is an entomologist, research technician, and a mother of two, who is currently working at the University of Pennsylvania for Dr. Daniel Janzen on the Barcode of Life project. Learn more about her at or follow her on Twitter @TanyaDapkey


Emily Lescak is a fisheries geneticist in Alaska. Follow her on Twitter @elescak.


Susanne Brander is an ecotoxicologist in Oregon, follow her on Twitter @smbrander.


Wendy Bohon is a geologist who studies earthquakes and works to improve the communication of hazard and risk before, during and after rapid onset geologic hazards. She is currently a science communication specialist for the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology. Follow her on Twitter @DrWendyRocks for science and snark and @TwinningBlog for parenting and snark. Her blog is

Gretchen Goldman is a mother of two and the  research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, where she leads research efforts on the role of science in public policy. You can follow her writing at and her tweets at @GretchenTG


Elizabeth (Liz) McCullagh is a few months away from being a mother of two and a newly hired Assistant Professor (starting in January 2020), working on auditory neuroscience at Oklahoma State University. You can check out her work on her website or follow her on Twitter @ZaarlyLiz,


Emma Kate Loveday is an infectious disease biologist who studies host-pathogen interactions. She combines engineering and molecular biology to study influenza A virus at the single cell level using microfluidic systems at Montana State University Center for Biofilm Engineering and Chemical and Biological Engineering Department, where she is a postdoc. Emma’s PhD is in microbiology and immunology from the University of British Columbia. She has a five-year-old daughter with another on the way later this year and Emma is the pod leader for the 500 Women Scientists Bozeman Pod. Follow her on Twitter @DoctorLoveday.


Theresa Jedd recently finished a postdoc in environmental policy at an applied climate science center. Her research focuses on the ways that climate affects social outcomes and how policy and planning can prepare communities and governments for climate extremes (specifically drought and water shortages). She is beginning a new appointment this fall as a policy scientist and instructor of sustainable development and environmental policy in Munich, Germany.


PJ Teichholtz is a full time parent and student in secondary biology education at Central Connecticut State University. Previously she has conducted research in marine ecology, population genetics, and science and technology studies. She is also helps to produce the podcast Frankenstein’s Afterlife


Tania Kim is an assistant professor at Kansas State University in the Department of Entomology. Tania studies how land-use and land cover change affect insect biodiversity and ecosystem function.  In particular, she is interested in how agriculture and climate change interact to affect the ecology of beneficial insects such as pollinators and predators with the goal of moving towards sustainability in agriculture and food systems.


Dare Henry-Moss holds a bachelor’s  in Anthropology and a Master’s in Public Health. She has worked in research on family planning, reproductive health, adolescent health behavior, and health communication at the Family Planning Council (now AccessMatters) and the Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania. Her most recent research has been on designing lactation accommodations and she started a consultancy to help businesses use evidence and data to improve their lactation support and spaces. You can learn more (or hire her!) at or follow her on Twitter @MissDare if you’re into reproductive and economic justice.


Dr. JoEllen McBride is a mom of two girls, Carina and Alessa, a science communicator and an astrophysicist. She earned her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2016. She is an AAAS Mass Media Fellow and has written for Voice of America, MassiveSci, and Scizzle. She currently works as a staff writer for Penn Medicine Development and Alumni Relations, is the Advocacy Director for the 500 Women Scientists Philadelphia Pod, and is a board member of the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center. Her twitter handle is @astrophyspunkin and she periodically updates her website with her writings


Why did you support and participate in the 500 Women Scientists #SciMomJourney Campaign?

My twin boys were the result of multiple different types of fertility treatments and that process was really difficult and lonely for me. I was honored to participate in the #SciMomJourney campaign so that I could provide other women with the support and guidance that I wish I’d had during that journey, and give them resources to help them thrive as mothers and women in science after conception, childbirth and beyond - Wendy Bohon

I was excited to begin my journey to become a scientist mom but didn’t always feel like I was in a culture that would support that journey. I knew that becoming a mom wouldn’t change my dedication to my job or my productivity but I felt I had to prove that again and again.  I wanted to participate in this initiate to help other moms and aspiring moms to see a path forward where they can excel at both being a mom and being a scientist. To achieve this, we need support from our work environments. Our institutions need to be better and that only happens if we speak up.  We can ensure that scientist moms have the tools they need to succeed as both moms and scientists - Gretchen Goldman

I think being a scientist mom is a really important and under discussed issue impacting many women’s careers. I really wanted to highlight some of the unique, and not so unique, challenges facing women as they pursue their dreams and goals in STEM fields. We really need to advocate for increased women’s reproductive rights and support in the workplace, it’s one of the only ways we are ever going to achieve true gender equity - Elizabeth (Liz) McCullagh

I am pretty new at my role as a mother, but I’ve already found that being a mom comes naturally to me. The times that I’ve found it difficult are usually when I’m trying to juggle too many things that are work-related. Writing reports, preparing presentations, and revising manuscripts all take me more time than they probably should because I second-guess myself. The nice thing about being a mom is that I never question my decisions or regret spending time with my son. Being a mom has helped me realize that there is more to life than getting that next publication, credential, or position. I wanted to help other moms realize that it’s possible to be great in multiple roles, and to honor the ebb and flows of work-life balance - Theresa Jedd

I think it’s important to work to create a culture in science where people feel safe to discuss challenges in their lives. There’s so much pressure to dehumanize science and to project an image of ourselves in our role as scientists as these completely objective beings separated from the rest of our lives, which is ultimately really harmful, not just to individual scientists, but to science itself. The discomfort we tend to have discussing subjects like pregnancy, breastfeeding, infertility, and miscarriage makes a lot of women feel very alone. I’m hoping that my participation has helped women feel less alone and opened the door to have those difficult conversations - PJ Teichholtz

What challenge have you faced as a science mom and how were you able to find a solution?

I became a science mom at the end of my PhD. I was fortunate to have been able to work from home after my daughter was born and finish my thesis and study for my defense. This was necessary at the time, but I am not sure how I did it. I look back now and was probably way more stressed out than I realized, but I also did it and if I can do that, I can do just about anything.  I have struggled with that ever consuming feeling of guilt about spending time at work and time at home. It is either a feeling of not doing enough work, or not being home enough with my family. I have tried to limit my working hours to between 40-50 hours a week as much as possible. This does make me plan my weeks out extensively and I am constantly thinking about how to best plan experiments to fit within certain time frames as much as possible. I did have a previous postdoc where my attempt to balance my  work/family time was not supported and ultimately had to make the decision to leave the project and lab. This is always hard as you put lots of time and energy into scientific projects. However, I was able to transition to a lab where the PI also has two kids and is 100% supportive of me and my family. Finding that support from my new PI and from the new department in which I work where there are numerous ladies with families has been a game changer. I am more confident now about my abilities to navigate the crazy world of academia as a science mom.  This has also made me a better scientist and allows me the time to do special things with my husband and daughter with way less guilt than before. We are lucky to be so close to such great outdoor activities throughout the year. For example, we go skiing every Sunday during the winter time and in the summertime, we go to Yellowstone National Park and camp a lot! As I move forward with my career, my goal is to support the next generation of women who want to be science moms! - Emma Loveday

I think my biggest challenge has been not being too hard on myself for leaving my field. I had my first daughter while in graduate school and it seemed like my only goal should be to finish my PhD and be there for my family. I was able to finish my degree but when I asked my adviser about publishing, I was given a long list of things I needed to do. The only job I was able to find after graduating was as a part-time adjunct and while I wanted to publish, I also needed to get paid. So I declined. 

My only solution so far has been to move into the field of science writing and find a 9-5 job that I don't have to take home with me. This allows me to be with my family and also do advocacy work on the side. I still give talks and do science writing/communication in astronomy which allows me to keep up with what is going on in the field. In all my advocacy my goal is to make science more inclusive on all levels-from the science we do to who is doing the science. The one thing I always try to do is be honest with people when they ask me what they should do to be a scientist. My response is always: "Build your network now. You need people around you who will support you and give you those pushes that propel you towards your next goal. You can't do it alone and you shouldn't be expected to." - JoEllen McBride

What advantages do you think being a Scientist has given you during your parent experience?

I thought that having children would hold me back in my career. I was wrong as it actually taught me some new skills I now use to communicate science to the general public. I shared my love of insects with my children first, and then realized I could share with anyone. I started small with elementary school demos sharing my insect collection with 10-20 toddlers. Now I participate in the Philadelphia Science Festival where I can share my love of science with thousands of people. Becoming a parent has given me confidence and a passion for sharing my love of science - Tanya Dapkey

Being a scientist has given me confidence in my ability to make decisions and to balance multiple tasks. It has also taught me not to sweat the small stuff, communication skills, and the ability to work well with others. All of these attributes are important aspects of parenting, as well. Having an understanding of and appreciation for the natural world and a strong desire to be a lifelong learner have influenced how I teach my children and how we spend our time together. It’s taught me to find teachable moments in our everyday lives and foster my children’s curiosity - Emily Lescak

Being a scientist has really enabled me to broaden my children’s learning experiences, and it’s helped me learn from them too. The conversations we have during dinner often extend beyond ‘how was school?’ to things like “how does solar power work” or “why are microplastics bad for fish?” We do experiments together at home sometimes, they get to come out to do field work with me every once in awhile, it’s a blast. At the end of the day, even though balancing parenthood with being a research scientist and faculty member is challenging, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. Being curious is a big part of my job, and I think this helps me better understand how my children are experiencing life, we can relate to each other via that shared curiosity - Susanne Brander

Having two children while also working full time and pursuing a Master’s degree was extremely challenging and isolating. It really brought into focus the lack of supports we have for women and families: short maternity leave, unreasonable expectations about meeting work and family responsibilities, inadequate lactation facilities, and many others. Instead of just being privately frustrated and angry about difficulties and injustices, I was able to use my social science training to understand the problems involved, collect data, and publish research to support better lactation policies and advocate for other moms.

Being a scientist has also helped me keep calm in the midst of so many pressures and so much advice about raising kids, since I feel confident about evaluating evidence to determine what I should really prioritize and what is just noise - Dare Henry-Moss

There are  many advantages to being a scientist-parent.  First, I am a visible minority in a largely male dominated field, and I am an example to my daughter that girls can pursue a career in STEM and Entomology in particular. Next, as an instructor, I adapt my teaching skills depending on student needs.  I can use the same skill sets while parenting and that has enabled me to be more patient and creative with my daughter. Lastly, I get to be a kid with my kid! As a researcher, I love learning and discovering new things about the natural world. As a parent, I get to re-experience discoveries that I uncovered LONG ago with my daughter and appreciate the subtle yet magnificent things that nature has to offer (like Rolly Pollies and caterpillars!) - Tania Kim

Photo by guille pozzi on Unsplash

The Journey I've Begun

The Journey I've Begun

This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Dr. Kirsty Nash, a marine ecologist at the Institute for Marine & Antarctic Studies and founder of The website is an online resource to connect parents and carers working in research or academic settings to information to support their work and their child caring responsibilities. In this interview, Kirsty chats about her work studying the resilience of marine social-ecological systems, as well as the inspiration for launching the aKIDemic Life, as part of our #SciMomJourney campaign.

So Much Left to Learn

So Much Left to Learn

This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Dr. Jessica Ware, an entomologist, evolutionary biologist, and Associate Professor at Rutgers University-Newark. In 2014, she and her colleagues discovered a never-before-seen species of cockroach in New York City! In this interview, Dr. Ware chats about how she found her way to studying insects, as well as her experiences being a single queer mother to two LGBTQ children in line with our #SciMomJourney campaign. You can follow Dr. Ware’s research group on Twitter @JessicaLWareLab.

Critical and Conscious Reiteration

Critical and Conscious Reiteration

This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Shaila Kotadia, Director of Culture and Inclusion at Stanford University and a member of 500 Women Scientists’ advisory board. Shaila received her PhD in Genetics and Developmental Biology, and now works to eliminate barriers in STEM through building creative programs, mitigating bias, and changing policies and practices. In this interview, she chats about her work in the equity and inclusion space, as well as a little bit of her #SciMomJourney.

Developing a Thick Skin

Developing a Thick Skin

This week on #MeetAScientist get to know Dr. Liz McCullagh, a neuroscientist and leadership team member of 500 Women Scientists. She has co-led some of our major initiatives like the Request a Woman Scientist resource and our newly launched #SciMomJourney campaign to raise awareness around challenges facing science moms in STEM fields and connecting them to resources and support. In this interview, she chats about these initiatives and what has propelled her through her career in science.

Sharing Our Discoveries

Sharing Our Discoveries

This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Dr. Susan Cheng, an ecosystem ecologist and member of the 500 Women Scientists Leadership Team. She has spearheaded our newly launched Fellowship of the Future, which will recognize the contributions of women of color leading in STEM. 500 Women Scientists is currently fundraising to support the first cohort of fellows in Fall 2020. To learn more and support the future of STEM, you can donate today.

Building Networks for Girls in STEM

Building Networks for Girls in STEM

This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Erin Hogeboom, Director Of Strategic Partnerships at National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP). NGCP works to bring together organizations that are committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In this interview, she shares the NGCP’s approach to supporting girls in STEM.

500 Women in Medicine

500 Women in Medicine

Today marks the launch of 500 Women in Medicine, a satellite of 500 Women Scientists established by five women medical students. Celebrate by getting to know the five women running this initiative. We believe women play a critical role in medicine and for medicine to truly serve the people, it must be inclusive and reflect the true diversity in our society. To learn more, check out their official page and follow them on Twitter @500WIM, Instagram @500womeninmedicine, and Linkedin.

Education Is a Right

Education Is a Right

This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Teresa Ambrosio, a fourth-year PhD student studying Chemistry at the University of Nottingham. She runs a blog and Instagram account, which is centered on her experiences navigating through academia, imparting career advice she’s gathered over the years. In this interview, she shares her journey to chemistry, as well as her inspiration for getting started in science communication and advocacy.

Women Doing Science

Women Doing Science

This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Alex Phillips, a graduate student in organic geochemistry at Caltech and the founder of the Instagram account The account features women in STEM fields sharing their research stories, as they change the idea of what a scientist looks like. In addition to following their stories on Instagram, you can find them on Facebook and Twitter.



This week on #MeetAScientist get to know Dr. Diana de la Iglesia is a bioinformatician working at the intersection of artificial intelligence and cancer research. She’s also one of the Pod coordinators of 500 Women Scientists Madrid. Along with three fellow women scientists—Ana Isabel Gozález, María de la Fuente, and Carmen Agustín—she co-organized the #oCientificaoMadre ( #ScientistorMother) campaign to raise visibility around the challenges that come with being a scientist and a mother. Here, she talks about her work, the success of the campaign, and her ideas for the Madrid Pod.