Last but certainly not least in this series of phenomenal women in STEM is Beth Papanek, a graduate of the Bredesen Center's Energy Science and Engineering PhD program (a third year at the time this blog was published). She grew up northwest of Chicago and attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for her Bachelor's in Chemistry and a Professional Science Master's in Bioenergy. After spending years in a very academically-minded chemistry department, Beth decided that she wanted to work in a more applied field. Some business classes and experience with Illinois Business Consulting led her to her current career path working with technology transfer and commercialization. Her graduate work dealt with the characterization of Clostridium beijerinckii for the production of butanol as a biofuel. Her research in the lab of Dr. Adam Guss with the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) focused on generating metabolomic data to use in conjunction with metabolic models to better understand the organism's switch from acid production to solvent production. Here, Beth summarizes her experiences at the interface of science and entrepreneurship. She describes how she has been able to navigate her way through these two male-dominated fields to find the support system and encouragement she needed to be successful, but emphasizes a need for women to take the reins and make the success on their own too.
The graduate program that 104 of us are now fortunate enough to call home is an interdisciplinary program. It's interdisciplinary in a number of ways; not only do the students do research on a whole range of energy technologies, but the program also encourages interests the students have in science entrepreneurship and policy. I have known for a few years that the business side of science technology is what fascinates and excites me. I want my career to focus on the effort to move science technology from the lab level to commercial viability (not particularly common amongst science PhDs). When I interviewed for the program, I was offered the opportunity to intern/shadow in the Office of Industrial Partnerships and Economic Development at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). This seemed like an unbeatable opportunity for my career development, and it played a huge role in my decision to attend the University of Tennessee. In addition, as part of the graduate program, we are given the chance to take classes in entrepreneurship. I registered for these courses with enthusiasm. My thought was that if I had the skills to start my own company, I would be more qualified to assist others in their entrepreneurial efforts. I knew from the outset that this interdisciplinary program was where I needed to be.
"I knew from the outset that this interdisciplinary
I wasn't wrong about the career development. I have been given invaluable opportunities, support, and mentorship over the past two and half years. I am going to have an incredible network to leverage when it comes to finding a job. Everyone I have met in connection with technology development has been nothing but encouraging, and I believe that at least part of this is because I'm a woman.
Having experienced the gross gender imbalance in scientific disciplines for years, I naively anticipated that it would be more equal in a business-minded field. I was shocked to find myself, once again, the only female in classes and meetings where entrepreneurship and technology development was being discussed. I noticed that the trend was not limited to ORNL circles either. I have now interacted with many local organizations that are separate from either the University of Tennessee or ORNL, and the same gender disparity is prevalent. Unlike science, however, I have found the community to be nothing but welcoming to women joining their ranks. They want female business owners to speak at events, apply for small business grants, and become CEOs of their own companies. I can't say that this is an overarching trend within the entrepreneurial culture, but it is what I have seen in this region. I was also recently directed to an incredible article by CNN Money that discusses the desire for more female entrepreneurs. Even the government sets aside Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grant funds specifically for women-owned start-up companies. What I find disheartening is the lack of women willing to step up into those positions. The opportunities are there waiting, ladies. Make the moves!
"Unlike science, however, I have found the [entrepreneurial] community to be nothing but welcoming to women joining their ranks."
Here are some statistics from a Forbes article and a Kaufman Foundation Report from last year:
- Only 20% of angel investments go to women-owned businesses
- Just 15% of employer firms are woman-owned
- Revenues and employees from women-owned employer firms account for less than 10%, and
- Less than 10% of high-growth firms are owned by women
- Women-led technology companies make an average of 35% higher return on investment
- Venture capital deals made with women-led companies grew 20% in 2013, and
- The U.S. is currently the #1 country for fostering female entrepreneurship
The leadership and creativity is there in the female population, we just need to take a leap and realize that there is a whole support system there to catch us.
It can be challenging being in a field with stark differences in gender representation and equality. It's harder to find mentors or peers and colleagues to relate to, and it can lead to a lot of new and potentially uncomfortable circumstances that aren't discussed or talked about during undergraduate education. But there are new opportunities popping up every day. More and more success stories, like the one Beth is currently 'writing' for herself right now, show how the trend lines for the representation and status of women in science and entrepreneurial fields are slowly but surely heading in the right direction. What are some examples you have seen? How are you 'making success happen' for you under similar circumstances?
Welcome to Think Like a Postdoc. If you're a fan of science as much as I am, and/or are curious about getting a degree in a STEM field, or pursuing an interdisciplinary graduate degree (all from the perspective of a graduate student), then you're in the right place. Think Like a Postdoc also includes posts about my current lab and field research, including analytical chemistry, Arctic biogeochemistry, and energy & environmental policy. Comments and questions are always welcomed. And please tell me what you want to hear about next!
Questions to Ask Before Choosing Grad Program
First Semester of Grad School
Field Work in Alaska
Science Conference Dos and Don'ts
Women in STEM Series
Things I've Learned in Grad School Series
Blogs I Follow
Mass Spectrometry Blog
The Grad Student Way
Anthony's Science Blog
The Thesis Whisperer
Fossils and Shit
Science Communication Breakdown
Science Communication Media
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