UConn Health’s Dr. Linda Barry Honored for Mentoring Women in Science

Dr. Linda Barry is the 2015 winner of the Connecticut Science Center's Petit Family Foundation Women in Science Leadership Award. (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health)
Dr. Linda Barry is the 2015 winner of the Connecticut Science Center’s Petit Family Foundation Women in Science Leadership Award. (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health)

Dr. Linda Barry, assistant professor of surgery at the UConn School of Medicine, has made it her life’s work to eliminate disparities in health care delivery and research.

This weekend, the Connecticut Science Center is presenting her with its Petit Family Foundation Women in Science Leadership Award.

As a UConn Health faculty member, Barry serves as chief operating officer and assistant director of Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (CICATS). She also heads the CICATS Young Innovative Investigator Program and the CICATS Mentorship (M1) Award, and co-directs the CICATS Pilot Program for Collaborative Translational and Clinical Research.

“We need to continue to raise awareness — among both women and men — to break down the barriers that have traditionally discouraged women from joining these technical fields and to facilitate the realization of their potential as leaders in their own right,” Barry says.

Barry cofounded and coordinated the first National Women in Surgery Symposium, now in its sixth year. She established the Women in Surgery Interest Group at the UConn School of Medicine three years ago, and represents the school at the American Association of Medical Colleges. Barry also is co-managing editor of the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.

The award recognizes leadership in promoting women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The selection committee chose Barry “based on her unique background in both clinical and basic science research and her extraordinary commitment to mentoring and advancing the charge to recruit women and underrepresented students into medicine, and the field of surgery in particular,” according to the Science Center.

This is the third year of the Petit Family Foundation Women in Science Leadership Award, which is part of the Science Center’s Women in Science initiative. Barry was one of five finalists.

“I am honored to have been chosen for the Women in Science Leadership Award,” Barry says. “This prestigious award highlights that as far as we have come with more women deciding to pursue STEM disciplines, women continue to be underrepresented in these fields. The important work of organizations like the Petit Family Foundation, the Connecticut Science Center, and the Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science at UConn helps to create a future filled with professional success, achievement and opportunities for women and girls in science and technology.”

Barry will accept the award Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Green Gala, the Connecticut Science Center’s signature annual fundraiser for science learning.

“Dr. Linda Barry lives the mentorship ideal,” says Dr. William Petit, whose family foundation sponsors the Women in Science initiative. “She teaches medical students, residents and fellows as well as her patients. In addition she leads by example in exploring disparities in care and trying to lessen those barriers and to be sure her pupils gain an understanding of the issues at play in our society.”

Research Spotlight: Improving Communication in STEM Training

By: Jessice McBride

An interdisciplinary group of UConn researchers has collaborated on an innovative graduate training program to achieve an important and ambitious goal: teach science and engineering students to successfully communicate technical concepts to diverse audiences.

Margaret Rubega and Robert Capers from UConn’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Robert Wyss from the Department of Journalism, recognize that for scientists in all disciplines, the ability to effectively convey the importance of their research to non-scientists is critical to the success of research projects. That is why they developed a novel science communication program to prepare scientists to talk about their work and a way to measure their success.

“Effective communication in STEM is incredibly important for many reasons,” said Rubega. “Whether a scientist is trying to explain technical findings to a policymaker to enact change at the governmental level, to describe a technology’s potential to commercial partners to spur economic development, or just help a kindergartener understand a scientific concept—a STEM practitioner who can clearly transmit complicated, technical concepts to any audience is a valuable asset to her discipline and to society.”

The program, which has already seen successes in the classroom, pairs graduate students from STEM fields and journalism to increase verbal communication skills through interviewing. It also teaches the STEM students written and multimedia communication skills that can be applied to traditional, digital, and social media. Innovative assessment tools have been developed to allow researchers to validate that the program successfully increases both the activity and quality of communication amongst STEM graduate students.

“Science isn’t just about designing experiments and collecting data,” said Jessie Rack, a PhD candidate in EEB who took the course last year. “You need to be able to explain what you did and why, why you need money to do more or why the public should care. Unfortunately, scientific training doesn’t often include courses on communication, so this type of training is hugely useful and necessary.”

Rack is currently in Washington, D.C. for the summer where she is interning at the National Public Radio Science Desk, thanks to an AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. She credits the science communications course with preparing her for this opportunity

The National Science Foundation has provided substantial funding to continue to grow the program over the next three years in the form of a $500K Research Traineeship Award. The highly competitive program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, potentially transformative, and scalable models for STEM graduate education training.

“For years, we have felt there was a need to do more to help students, both in journalism and the STEM fields, better communicate complex issues to the public,” said program collaborator Robert Wyss. “This NSF grant gives us that opportunity, and we are both grateful and excited by the opportunity.”

Both the NSF and the UConn researchers expect that this program will enrich, improve, and extend the knowledge base in STEM graduate student training, and are confident that it will serve as a model for universities nationwide.

UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research applauds the researchers for their innovative project. The development of improved communication skills in STEM graduate education will ultimately produce a more informed citizenry, expanding public engagement and fostering greater understanding of some of the world’s most pressing scientific concerns.

For more research news and information, visit UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research.