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SAU representatives attend GSK Women in Science Conference

By Maria Dalmasso
Communications Assistant

The Glaxo-Smith-Kline Women in Science scholarship and mentoring program invited 30 North Carolina colleges and universities to participate this year, including St. Andrews University.

“Invited schools select two outstanding female science students every two years to receive a scholarship and be paired with a woman scientist working at Glaxo,” said Bonnie Draper, assistant professor of biology at St. Andrews. “Michelle Hustad and Christine Harrelson are both entering into their second year in the program.”

Although this was a return to the conference for all three SAU representatives, it was a program Harrelson was unaware of prior to her own involvement.

“I actually did not know about the program until my advisor asked for my resume,” Harrelson said. “He didn’t tell me why, but I sent it to him anyways. A few weeks later he finally told me about the program and that I had been accepted into it.”

Draper, Hustad and Harrelson all agree that the Glaxo-Smith Kline Women in Science Conference is a great benefit for the future careers of women in the science field and helps to show them the different career paths they can take.

“The fall conference we recently attended featured talks about non-traditional career paths,” Draper said. “One speaker explained how she was able to turn a temporary lab assistant position into a full-time employment as a staff scientist at GSK. It was beneficial for the students to hear that they can still be involved in science if graduate school is not a good fit for them.”

The conference experience also allows for mentoring and networking.

“I have made different contacts in the GSK community that will help me progress in my future career,” said Hustad.

Harrelson adds, “At the meetings we get to sit through different discussions on topics within the science field given by fellow students or mentors. We also get the chance to talk one on one to our mentors.”

Those conversations are vital to the program, according to Draper.

“The most important aspect of the WIS program is the opportunity for undergraduate students to speak one-on-one with working scientists and ask questions about education, working on a research team, and developing new research projects,” she said.

And the meetings are not beneficial just to the students.

“As the faculty sponsor, I have the opportunity to connect with other researchers and share ideas and contacts,” said Draper.

The conference also brings home the importance of having women in the science field.

“We are just as capable and can bring different ideas to the table than men do,” said Hustad.

Harrelson agreed, “I think women can bring something to the table whereas men would have left out or not thought about. Having more gender diversity within the science field could bring about more answers to questions that we have not solved yet and lead to new innovations.”

While the conference serves as a central point of the program, it is not the only connection.

"These conversations don’t stop after the conference---the students and their mentors communicate regularly by e-mail, and several students attending had visited or worked in her mentor’s lab to gain exposure to research,” Draper said.

The SAU representatives strongly believe that other opportunities will spring from their involvement.

“I hope being in this program will help me get jobs and get into graduate school,” Harrelson said.

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