Duquesne Scientists Share Insight, Advice Ahead of 'Lab Girl' Panel Discussion

Gumberg Library will continue its National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Big Read programming with a panel event featuring female Duquesne professors and scientists reacting to Lab GirlLab Girl is a memoir documenting Geobiologist Hope Jahren's successes and sacrifices as she navigates financial instability, mental illness and a field traditionally dominated by men

The panelists are:

  • Dr. Fatiha Benmokhtar, assistant professor of physics
  • Dr. Plaxedes Chitiyo, assistant professor in the Center for Environmental Research and Education
  • Dr. Jelena Janjic, associate professor of pharmaceutics
  • Dr. Lauren O'Donnell, associate professor of pharmacy
  • Irene Qualters, Duquesne alumna and associate laboratory director for simulation and computation as Los Alamos National Laboratory.  

The panel will be moderated by Dr. Kristin Klucevsek, teaching assistant professor of scientific writing in the Department of English. 

The discussion will take place Tuesday, Feb. 11, from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Africa Room of the Student Union. In anticipation of the event, the scientists shared insights and advice for other women looking to enter STEM fields.  

Did you have a female mentor during your educational experience? If so, who, and how did her work impact you?

Dr. Kristen Klucevsek

"I never saw being female as a barrier to what I could do as a biologist."

- Dr. Kristin Klucevsek

Klucevsek: "I've been fortunate. I had amazing female mentors running all five labs in which I researched. I think this had a significant impact on how I viewed women in science when I was younger because I never saw being female as a barrier to what I could do as a biologist."

O'Donnell: "One of my mentors as a graduate student was a new faculty member in our department, who ended up advising me on my thesis work. I watched first-hand as she started a new lab, had two kids, negotiated departmental politics as a new mother, and eventually earned tenure. She's now the director of my old graduate program and an associate dean. Her example of perseverance and leadership is one that I still aspire to."

Janjic: "Almost all of my mentors were men, although I did have one female mentor when I was earning my doctorate at Pitt. For me, it didn't really matter [whether they were male or female] as long as I could approach them and have open dialogue."

What is your favorite part about your job and your field of study?  

Dr. Lauren O'Donnell

"I get to help [students] learn to maximize their strengths and to witness them become independent scientists and thinkers."

- Dr. Lauren O'Donnell

Benmokhtar: "My favorite part is the continuous challenge. I love sitting in the 'counting room' running particle physics experiments with the biggest scientists in the field. There, there is no difference if you are from M.I.T, a director of a department of energy national lab, a professor, or a Duquesne student. All of us work for the same goal and everyone takes equal responsibility in the experiments. I also love sharing my passion with my undergraduate students by getting them involved in my research. My research work involves different institutions and laboratories from all over the world, which teaches my students about globalization, team work, responsibility, international collaborations and other cultures."

Janjic: "I love getting to mentor students in my lab and help them get excited about research and problem-solving. My work with pain nano-medicine is specifically tailored to each person, so I like making things and figuring out what will be the best fit. I spend a lot of time grant-writing, so you have to be willing to do a lot of administrative work to do the research you love."  

O'Donnell: "My students are easily my favorite part of my job. I get to help them learn to maximize their strengths and to witness them become independent scientists and thinkers."

What advice do you have for younger females looking to enter STEM fields?

Dr. Jelena Janjic

"Look for integration between science and your personal life and be open to new opportunities."

- Dr. Jelena Janjic

Janjic: "Be more flexible and plan less! Your path will not be linear and life will evolve with you. Look for integration between science and your personal life and be open to new opportunities. This is good advice for men, too! I'd also recommend staying away from combative language between men and women in STEM. It doesn't help women or men and it brings negativity into the field."   

Benmokhtar: "If you want to do it, you can do it! Nothing should stop you. In contrary, if you work hard toward your goals, you will see that all the doors will open for you. You will encounter bumps on the road, but these make you only stronger."  

Klucevsek: "Surround yourself with mentors and peers who support you as an individual. You deserve the space to explore and find your own path."   

O'Donnell: "Find mentors who see you for who you are and who understand where you want to go. So often, I think students fall into the trap of trying to fit themselves in a box or mold that doesn't suit them.  A good mentor will help you apply your talents and skills in a way that allows you to excel in your field and not lose yourself in the process."

Media Contact: Emily Stock 412.396.1317 / 412.277.9273 (cell)

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University's academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim. 

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