Editor’s note: Have you ever thought an online conference could double as a supportive community of scientists who empower each other? It’s a whole new way to educate yourself and interact with colleagues from around the world. Hear from Dr. Krithika Muthukumaran, a woman in science we met through Her STEM Story, as she shares her perspective on a very special online conference that was one of her highlights of the past year.
Krithika Muthukumaran, MS, PhD
Education: PhD in Biochemistry, University of Windsor (Canada); Master’s in Molecular Genetics at the University of Leicester (U.K.)
Occupation: Neuroscientist & science writer
Passion/Hobbies: reading fiction, sushi, yoga, trees (I love trees!)
As I reflect on all the ups and downs of the past year and make my gratitude list, without a doubt, attending Her STEM Story’s Wonder Women in STEM (#WWinSTEM19) online conference was one of the highlights of the year. The conference has helped me look at the upcoming year with optimism.
We have more women pursuing STEM degrees, assuming roles that were never held by women before, and breaking the glass ceiling. These changes are heartwarming, and these changes come with a unique set of challenges. Women often do not feel safe and welcome at workplace and conferences, their work goes unrecognized, do not get equal pay, not enough leaders speak for them, and the list goes on. Like Melinda Gates said, “We are sending our daughters into a workplace designed for our dads.”
What can we do about this?
During my PhD, I saw a similar pattern at universities too. Women face discrimination, do not get equal opportunities, are overlooked, do not get grants, and their work goes unrecognized. Things are harder for women of colour. Biases and challenges can make it hard for women to stay motivated and dream big.
What is Wonder Women in STEM conference?
It’s a yearly online event, held by Prasha Dutra Sarwate, the host and founder of Her STEM Story podcast. This year, the conference was held in the first weekend of November and it was my first time participating in an online event.
I live in Toronto, Canada. There were attendees from Canada, U.S., India, Australia, Germany, and U.K. We got together over zoom and participated in open and honest conversations about mental health, science communication, resume, entrepreneurship, how to get clarity with our goals, and how to create a support system. In those two days we were able to create a safe, non-judgemental space and a close-knit community.
The speakers were science communicators, engineers, entrepreneurs, and graduate students, from various countries, sharing their stories, how they overcame challenges, offering tools and answering questions.
The best part of the conference was that it was virtual. We did not have to worry about visa, travel and accommodation expenses, and did not have to get permission from work. We could participate while we were doing our weekend chores and while spending time with our families.
What are the benefits of attending a women’s conference
A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that a well-curated women’s conference can increase the conference attendee’s income and optimism. They compared two groups for this study, people who registered but did not attend the conference (control group) and the conference attendees. The attendees were twice as likely to receive a promotion within a year of attending the conference. They were also three times as likely to get a 10%+ pay increase.
In addition, 78% of the attendees reported they were feeling more optimistic about the future, 71% said they felt more connected to others.
While I was doing my postdoctoral fellowship, I discovered my passion in science writing. However, I did not know how to switch from academia to science writing. I was overwhelmed and unsure how to take it forward. This conference helped me get clarity and challenge my limiting beliefs. It showed me I was not alone. I became part of this wonderful network of women with whom I have so much in common.
Do I stay in touch with the other conference attendees? YES! I know I can reach out to them when I face career/workplace challenges. I know they are here to listen to me and guide me.
In the meantime, tune in to Her STEM Story podcast to listen to inspiring stories of women in STEM from across the globe and their amazing work. You can also find me on Twitter @mkrithika_phd and check out my blog at krithikamuthukumaran.com. Always here to talk STEM!
For Research Use Only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.