When it comes to inspiring young people to pursue a career within the sciences, you can't start too early. At least, that's what the JILA Excellence in Diversity and Inclusivity (JEDI) group believed when they collaborated with the Colorado non-profit organization Pretty Brainy to develop a speaker series. The series, designed for girls from ages 11 and up, featured the voices of several women JILAns, all focusing on their work and giving tools for success to this younger generation. Over the course of 8 weeks, women of all ages could virtually tune in to hear some of the brightest female minds from JILA discuss the importance of mentorship, perseverance, failure, and of course, some of the newest findings within physics.
In the first event, held on October 5th, JILA Fellow Ann-Marie Madigan spoke on her research within the field of astrophysics, and her day-to-day life as a scientist. "I'll go to work where I'll have a group meeting," Madigan said. "In there, we will discuss our latest results, we might read scientific papers, we might present to each other if we're going to give a talk. It's really good fun. This is a joy in my life, as I'm with really smart people." Madigan elaborated about how fulfilling this job was to her. "It's a really fun job and sometimes it doesn't feel like a job. Sometimes, I'm just walking around, reading, and talking to great people all day."
The next two talks were given by JILA graduate students. Ph.D. student Olivia Krohn, from JILA Fellow Heather Lewandowski's group, discussed her work on molecular collisions in cold, low-pressure environments. “I always knew I liked science and math,” Krohn said. She went on to emphasize the importance of finding what you love to learn about. Similarly, graduate student Rebecca Hirsch of JILA Fellow Mathias Weber's laboratory spoke on her research around cold, gaseous molecules in outer space, giving history on studying space molecules using the Hubble telescope, simulations, and other tools. Both of these talks, given by younger female scientists, inspired many of the young women in the audience, who gave significant positive feedback after each event.
The last two talks of the speaker series were given by JILA staff members: Chief Operating Officer (COO) Beth Kroger, and Science Communicator Kenna Castleberry. Kroger discussed the importance of perseverance for female scientists. “Each of you has already persevered,” Kroger explained. “It helps me to remember that it’s just a bad day, and it won’t always be this way.” In contrast, Castleberry focused on the importance of failing forward. "It's important to use your past mistakes as lessons to learn from, for your future successes," Castleberry explained. "We as female scientists take a lot on, and that can cause us to get overwhelmed and to focus more on our failures. It's important to take a step back and to say no if we have too much going on. No doesn't have to be a scary word."
A bonus talk was later added featuring Dr. Judith Olson from ColdQuanta, a Colorado quantum company.
From the feedback and impact the speaker series had on young women and their families, it was deemed to be a success. No doubt this is just the beginning of a collaboration between JILA JEDI and Pretty Brainy, as both work to inspire powerful young leaders within the scientific community.