Rachel, 26 – FUNDED

Rachel Johnston completed her B.S. from the University of Michigan with a major in cellular, molecular biology and a minor in women’s studies in 2016. The Paliwal Club of 100 grant winner is now a Ph.D. candidate at Washington University in St. Louis in the division of biology and biomedical sciences. Every step of the way, resiliency has been key for her — and she knows the same goes for many women in STEM.

What is your professional dream?

My dream is to continue to advocate for the advancement of women in science, technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM) fields at all stages of their lives. After I finish my Ph.D., I hope to continue to do research in a university or industry setting.

What does being in the Paliwal Club mean to you?

Being in the Paliwal Club is an immense honor. I am so appreciative to the Paliwal Club for including me in their efforts to advance women in all aspects of life.

Women are underrepresented in STEAM. How can we change this?

There are many factors that lead to women being underrepresented in STEAM fields — from very direct remarks saying that women are not good enough to microaggressions that underrepresented minorities face on a daily basis. The most important factor for the advancement of women is to ensure support at every stage of their career from early on.

Young girls need role models like female doctors, scientists, broadcasters, and artists who look like them. They need to have the confidence to boldly walk into their physics study group as the only girl and speak up. They need mentorship and support from women who have been in their positions before them, whether it’s helping them apply for college or advocating for their promotion to full professor.

What are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?

I have faced various challenges as a woman in STEM. From feeling uncomfortable speaking up in AP physics or biology to being completely intimidated walking into a 500-person organic chemistry lecture, I have felt inadequate at many stages in my journey. Evidence shows that women often sell themselves short on resumes and in interviews and face imposter syndrome more than men. Getting to every next step in my career has felt like such a big step — and having peers or faculty tell me that I wasn’t good enough to get there or be surprised that I was going into the research field didn’t help.

A few years into my Ph.D. program, I decided to go to administration with the idea of forming a group dedicated to the advancement of women in science. Students and faculty have questioned me at every step of the way, asking me if it was worth it. Garnering support from other like-minded women is key in moving past these roadblocks.

How will this grant from the 1,000 Dreams Fund help you reach your goals?

This grant will be instrumental in finishing my Ph.D. With the COVID-19 pandemic, I have shifted out of the lab full time to only part time. This has given me time to do much more data analysis and thesis writing as I prepare for graduation. However, many of the data analysis software programs I need are only available on the computers in our lab, meaning that I have to carefully schedule time in the lab to work. These funds will allow me to obtain tools to help me work more efficiently from home while staying safe during the pandemic.