As part of an ongoing mission to highlight diverse perspectives at Berkeley Lab, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the Women’s Support and Empowerment Council (WSEC) co-hosted a virtual panel discussion featuring women-identifying inventors and software developers from various areas across the Lab. Panelists included Daniela Ushizima (Computing Sciences), Ting Xu (Energy Sciences), and Vi Rapp (Energy Technologies), who discussed their experiences commercializing technologies, challenges they’ve faced as women in STEM, and advice for navigating barriers that women in STEM face. Vanessa Hsia-Kiung, Operations Manager for IPO, moderated the panel.
Women in Innovation panelists and moderator (from left to right): Daniela Ushizima, Ting Xu, Vi Rapp, Vanessa Hsia-Kiung.
Bringing Innovations to Market
Panelists discussed their experiences bringing their technologies to market, highlighting the value of team science, patience in conducting research, and resources at the Lab for developing entrepreneurial skills. Vi praised IPO’s I-Corps Lite program, a hands-on program where Berkeley Lab scientists learn entrepreneurial skills through a customer discovery process, for equipping her with the know-how that helped bring several of her inventions to market. The program also provided her with tools that can be used to pitch more successful research projects by identifying and addressing a funder’s pain-points.
Ting noted that basic science research is key to creating cutting edge innovations for the market. “The patents and technologies we’ve developed are based on years of accumulation of basic research,” she said. “If we didn’t go through that path, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Challenges Facing Women Inventors and Developers
While acknowledging improvements in the conditions for women in science, panelists were candid about the work that remains. There continue to be many instances in which women-identifying scientists’ contributions are undervalued and overlooked, and biases and stereotypes persist. Ting recounted how reviewers and potential collaborators sometimes assumed her gender incorrectly due to her gender-neutral name. Daniela shared a particularly shocking story in which a comment from a respected mentor made her question whether science was the right career for her at all. Vi also pointed out that some of the challenges associated with being a woman in STEM come from internal barriers, like the imposter phenomenon.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Each panelist emphasized the power that women hold when it comes to navigating glass ceilings and questioning the status-quo in STEM. Ting remarked that though there are structural barriers imposed upon women in science, many times the “glass ceilings” that women face are ideas that they can choose not to accept. In true scientific fashion, she remarked, “there aren’t a lot of things that really bother me. I decide to take a different absorption coefficient for things other people say.”
Vi shared a story in which she was told that she “doesn’t look like an engineer,” in which she fired back, “Well, what does an engineer look like?” She expressed that people often have their own biases but that you don’t have to internalize them.
Through perseverance and confidence in setting their own paths, Ting, Daniela, and Vi are proving that gender is not a barrier in STEM. “Women bring different views that can impact a broader group of people,” Daniela emphasized. Vi also pointed out that seeking out help and connection from trusted individuals can be an important aspect of navigating barriers that women face.
Ting remarked on the value of finding confidence in the different aspects of yourself. “I am so happy to be a woman scientist. I don’t think I would be where I am if I didn’t have my experiences and my different roles that are unique to myself and the fact that I’m a woman,” she expressed.
Resources for Women Innovators
To learn more about resources at Berkeley Lab for empowering women, please check out the Women’s Support and Empowerment Council (WSEC). WSEC focuses on providing support and addressing career-related issues for women across the Lab by shaping priorities and strategies related to recruitment, retention, work-life balance, and empowerment for women.
To learn more about technology transfer, visit ipo.lbl.gov or schedule a meeting with IPO.
Watch the full panel discussion here (recording).