Stephanie Eisenbarth, a professor at the School of Medicine, spoke at a dinner with about 15 undergraduates on Thursday night as part of a monthly speaker series that provides opportunities for undergraduates to engage with science faculty at Yale.
The talk on Thursday was the sixth iteration of a new initiative created by Associate Dean for Science Education Sandy Chang ’88, in which each month, a science faculty member at Yale has dinner with undergraduates to discuss their research and career paths. The lecture series is designed to increase interactions between Yale undergraduates interested in science — particularly women and underrepresented minorities — and Yale faculty.
“I want women and underrepresented minorities to see that there are role models out there and to see them succeed — that they can do science, that just because you are a woman or are underrepresented doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do science,” Chang said. “I want those who are passionate about science to get to do science and to break down barriers.”
Since Chang became assistant dean for science education last April, two of his major goals have been reducing obstacles to research and increasing persistence in STEM. First years and sophomores rarely have the opportunity to get to know their professors in introductory science lectures, Chang said. Many students do not get to take smaller lab courses until junior or senior year, depriving them of valuable one-on-one interactions with professors.
Gender disparity in STEM fields further exacerbates the issue, as the majority of science professors with whom students interact are men, he noted.
“Yale women undergrads should know that there are women scientists out there who are good mentors,” Chang said. “A lot of them don’t see this because they don’t have enough mentors. All they see are male professors — maybe even all white male professors — who don’t look like them.”
Chang developed the dinner lecture series to link Yale undergraduates interested in the sciences with Yale faculty in a small group setting. He aims to foster an environment at Yale where anyone who wants to do STEM feels like there is a welcoming conduit for them to pursue it, he explained.
In September, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun hosted the first event of Chang’s program, munching on sushi while discussing his research and career with students. Previous professors who have given talks through the initiative include physics professor Meg Urry, ecology and evolutionary biology professor Paul Turner and School of Medicine professor Ellen Foxman.
“What I ask each professor to do is not just tell us their research objectives but, importantly, to tell us how they got into science and what propelled them into science, as well what they have succeeded and failed in doing,” Chang said. “It’s really important for students to hear that their professors aren’t perfect — their professors have gone through circuitous routes.”
On Thursday night, Eisenbarth spoke to students about her journey as a physician-scientist, including both her successes and struggles throughout her experiences.
Attendee Cindy Yang ’19 said she enjoyed hearing about potential career paths for doctorates from Eisenbarth.
“The intersection between the practice of medicine and the research that can be used to discover the cause of a disease or to design the treatment for a disease is extremely important,” Yang said.
Eisenbarth — a clinical pathologist and principal investigator of an immunology research lab — also discussed her perspective on gender bias in science, sharing several stories about being treated differently during her graduate school training because of her gender.
She emphasized to the students, however, that her route was only one of an infinite number of possibilities.
“Every single physician-scientist I’ve seen has found the balance of being a physician and doing science in a different way,” Eisenbarth said at the talk. “Part of that is figuring out what you want to do. There are no rules.”
The next talk in the series will feature Marla Geha, an astronomy and physics professor at Yale.
Amy Xiong | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Feb. 19: A previous version of the article referred to Sandy Chang as assistant dean of science education. He is associate dean of science education.