The Age of Scientistas

New York-based The Scientista Foundation works to provide platforms to empower and connect pre-professional women in STEM fields.

Women in STEM are two times less likely to receive a call back after a job interview than their equally-qualified male counterparts, says Brandy Grove, executive director of The Scientista Foundation. STEM is the commonly-used acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

New York-based The Scientista Foundation seeks to address the dearth of resources and role models for women college students in STEM majors.

It was founded in 2011 by Julia and Christina Tartaglia, two sisters who were biology majors at Harvard University. They noticed a lack of resources for women in higher education in STEM fields and came up with the idea of Scientista. After being named a Harvard College Innovation Challenge semi-finalist and winning a Harvard TECH Prize, they launched the online platform and national network.

“Julia and Christina started with one chapter in 2011 at Harvard University,” says Grove. “It has grown so much since then! Currently we have 24 active chapters across the United States and Canada. We are always looking to help foster more chapters at new universities.”

Scientista seeks to empower and connect communities of pre-professional women, both to improve their visibility and to build a unified network of women in science. It is now one of the largest networks of campus women in STEM disciplines.

Their efforts include a blog and periodical, which allow women to discuss and read about issues of interest, view profiles of Scientistas and get science news. “Scientista also provides female role models for college women and keeps these women visible to society at large, which helps make the transition to a diverse workplace more normalized for the average person,” says Grove.

The organization hosts an annual national symposium, which offers a job and internship fair, talks and panel discussions, workshops, poster presentations, and pitch competitions.

Scientista partners with organizations like the Association of Women in Science, NASA, Microsoft and the Huffington Post. In fact, three national Scientista symposiums have been held at Microsoft headquarters.

Scientista has also partnered with skincare company Perricone MD to launch the Born Seekers Fellowship. The speech competition will award four women in STEM who embody the qualities of a “born seeker” with $20,000 [Rs. 1,424,000 approximately] fellowships.

“The women selected as our 2018 Born Seekers will build skills in communication and leadership, serving as role models for the next generation of scientists, engineers, doctors and STEM professionals,” says Sangeetha Selvam, one of the many students Scientista has benefitted.

Selvam was the president and secretary of the graduate chapter of Scientista at Kent State University, and is now a postdoctoral associate at the University at Albany - State University of New York. She found out about Scientista during her third year of doctoral studies.

“The same year, we started a chapter in our university as part of the Scientista Foundation, with about 20 female graduate students. We met once monthly to brainstorm ways to address the lack of resources and the needs of fellow graduate students in the workplace.”

Their numbers rose to about 70 members by the following year, Selvam says, due to the popularity of professional events like speaker panels, job interview seminars, and presentations on workplace harassment.

Although she’s now in the United States, her studies began in India.

“Like many kids, I was enthralled by science during my school days and was sure that I wanted to do something in science. I was unaware of the various career paths in STEM at that time. As I continued with my undergraduate studies, I came across the opportunities of higher studies, with a focus on research and scientific writing. Hence, I went on to pursue my master’s from the University of Madras,” says Selvam.

Today, Selvam pays back by serving as the director of sponsored content for Scientista, the section editor of its lifestyle blog section, and the marketing chair of the organization’s 2019 symposium committee. Such efforts are critical in helping women navigate their careers, she says.

“The existence of the gender gap today is a fact, and it needs to be addressed by creating an environment that nurtures talents irrespective of the gender,” says Selvam.

She says, some of the biggest challenges women in STEM encounter include finding a mentor, locating resources for their education and learning necessary negotiation skills.

“Furthermore, there is the problem of women in STEM having to choose between their home life and their work life,” says Grove, who also cites issues of hostile work environment and low pay compared to male colleagues. “Although much progress has been made in recent decades, there are persistent hurdles to the advancement of women in the sciences.”


Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California.