On science, diversity and finding your passion

'Whatever contributions I make in this field give me purpose in my life and momentum to make a change'
July 20, 2017
Jenna Libera seated in front of microscope

What’s it like to be a young woman scientist in 2017? We asked Jenna Libera ’18, a double major in biology and psychology at Clark University, to reflect on the topic. Libera grew up in Charlton, Massachusetts, and graduated from Shepherd Hill Regional High School. She recently received Clark's Simon and Eve Colin Undergraduate Creativity Award in Psychology to fund her senior research project. After graduating next year, she hopes to pursue graduate school, eventually seeking a Ph.D. in neuroscience.

Here’s what she wrote:

From an early age, my parents encouraged me to do whatever made me happy, giving me free range to explore whatever piqued my interest. I was involved in numerous activities in my childhood; I played sports, danced, learned how to play the piano and trumpet, pursued musical theater and served as president of our Student Council. Because of my supportive family, I believe I developed an intrinsic reward system rooted in personal value and enjoyment. This mentality has played a major role in helping me stay focused on my research; I love research because the challenge of it is fun and rewarding. As such, I never once doubted my ability to thrive as a STEM major due to my womanhood.

Read more about Jenna Libera's experience as an undergraduate student at Clark.

Clark University has provided me with amazing opportunities to put my research interests into practice. From the very beginning, I knew that I would engage in research here. My curiosity about the brain and mind dabbled in the realm of biology and psychology, which are my two majors. Naturally, a narrower focus on neuroscience grabbed hold of me. It is not trivial to thoroughly investigate the relationship between biology and psychology, yet it is so important for our understanding of human development and health. I feel that whatever contributions I make in this field give me purpose in my life and momentum to make a change. I satisfy my own quest for knowledge by educating society and, ultimately, improving global health-care conditions. My drive is fueled by my curiosity, excitement and ambition; I don’t even acknowledge my gender as a barrier or feel that I am incapable of my aspirations because I am a woman.

In my lab experience, I believe that I have focused on my passion so much so that I was oblivious to any setback due to gender. I think it is a shame that some potential researchers hesitate to fulfill their aspirations because of a self-identification matter. Science is about studying how the world works, and in doing so, it unites us so we can share and celebrate our discoveries. Research is the first step in this process; it is also uniting in itself. I believe that women and other minorities in STEM offer unique perspectives that can lead to greater discoveries. The more diversity we have, the broader the scope we view the world. While I may be a small piece of the puzzle, I hope that my actions and tireless pursuit of research show that steadfast ambition can overpower any potential drawback.

I believe I am lucky that my gender has not impeded my desire to pursue neuroscience research. While it is a primarily male-dominated field, I find it that much more necessary to contribute. I know other women may struggle feeling comfortable in these situations or may not think they belong because of a lack of female representation. I think that the more equal STEM fields become, the less this gender discrepancy will be apparent. One way to combat this is to provide open and effective opportunities to communicate the necessity of equal representation. Creating the appropriate space and advocacy for these conversations has the potential to identify solutions for this inequality.

Ideally, all who strive to become scientists, engineers or mathematicians would feel no apprehension to pursue their ideal career. As such, I think my role in research is to happily and confidently produce good scientific work, which will successfully represent women in STEM. Together, researchers can shape their labs into respectable and healthy communities of innovators of all backgrounds and all levels of diversity.