Advancing the Science

Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog – an eclectic collection of research- and research education-related stories: feature stories, mini news bites, learning opportunities, profiles and more from Mayo Clinic.

October 30, 2019

Giving women the tools to take off

By Advancing the Science contributor

Jennifer Westendorf, Ph.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Office of Research Diversity and Inclusion, says there’s a strong need to help women advance their projects involving research, patents and intellectual property. She cites statistics from the National Science Foundation, Association of American Medical Colleges and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which show that:

  • Women receive more than half of all doctoral degrees in the U.S., and hold 42% of full-time faculty positions at U.S. medical schools but lead only 19% of departments.
  • In 2016, only 12% of inventors listed on patents were women. Patents attract venture capital.
  • Female business founders receive only 2% of venture capital financing.

The Office of Research Diversity and Inclusion is collaborating with the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship and Center for Biomedical Discovery to give women at Mayo Clinic the tools they need to advance their research for scientific excellence, entrepreneurship and innovation. The two groups have engaged a Minneapolis-based consulting company, Capita3, in this effort.

Capita3 provides the Leader Launch Program designed to enhance women leaders’ confidence and effectiveness to help them deliver on their business, research or technology projects. Participants meet four times for three-hour sessions over three weeks to address the fears that hold them back from achieving their goals. They then develop a process to accomplish a near-future milestone related to an entrepreneurial or research project.

“Diversity of thought and experience are important for advancing research to application,” says Dr. Westendorf, Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and the Margaret Amini Professor of Orthopedic Regenerative Medicine Research. “Teams with diverse perspectives are more productive and more likely to address problems in new ways. This program aims to provide women with the tools they need to advance their ideas.”

Jennifer Westendorf, Ph.D.

Teams with diverse perspectives are more productive and more likely to address problems in new ways.”

Jennifer Westendorf, Ph.D.

To date, 36 Mayo Clinic staff members and students have participated in Leader Launch, with more cohorts planned. The Office of Research Diversity and Inclusion will track participants’ outcomes to determine the program’s effectiveness.

How it's helping

Luz Cumba-Garcia (left) and Yuguang Liu, Ph.D. (right)

Senior research fellow Yuguang Liu, Ph.D., trained as an electrical engineer but has worked extensively on biological projects in the last few years. She hopes to transition to a junior faculty position in the biomedical engineering track in the near future. She describes Leader Launch as a self discovery program well suited to her needs as she starts this journey.

“The program helped me look at myself and my career goals differently, discover my strengths and weaknesses, and improve how I position my skills and abilities in the best light,” says Dr. Liu. “The knowledge I gained from the program will help as I reach out to people for faculty opportunities, present my work and approach collaborators for grant applications.”

Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student Luz Cumba-Garcia participated in Leader Launch to organize her journey toward a patent.

“I’m aiming to patent my research focused on a noninvasive way to diagnose brain tumors such as glioblastomas (GBM) and monitor treatment outcomes with a simple blood draw,” says CumbaGarcia. “The technology is a diagnostic tool to analyze small particles in blood called extracellular vesicles that are shed from brain tumors and can be found in the plasma of GBM patients. We plan to develop a kit that anyone could use to screen for brain tumors and assess therapy outcomes. We envision that this kit also could be used to monitor other kinds of tumors. I would like to start a company around this technology.”

Cumba-Garcia says the course taught her how to be more specific in her goals, establish task deadlines and accountability measures to achieve them, identify and learn from her strengths and weakness, and be a professional leader.

“Patents can take a long time, but we’re making progress. I’m doing a lot of networking and contacting potential investors,” she says. “I feel more empowered and optimistic about my project after participating in this amazing women leadership program.”

This article was originally published in Mayo Clinic's Alumni Magazine, Issue 3, 2019.

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Tags: diversity, Education, entrepreneurship, Jennifer Westendorf, Luz Cumba-Garcia, Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, News, People, Yuguang Liu

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