News & Stories

Dana Peterson, Ph.D., in lab

Scientistas in the Spotlight: Dana Peterson, Ph.D.

Scientista is a national organization that works to empower the women of this country who are interested or currently involved in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Students in NEOMED’s chapter have interviewed four very special Scientistas who have been generous enough to share their stories with the community. We hope everyone is able use these stories as a source of empowerment and encouragement to succeed in the field of STEM!

When and why did she first become interested in STEM?

Her seventh-grade teacher’s ability to be admirably passionate and energizing about life science is what first inspired Dr. Dana Peterson to become interested in STEM. It was under the mentorship of this teacher that Dr. Peterson really discovered her love for science and all that she can do with it. After receiving a college degree in biology, she continued her education to obtain a master’s degree in biology and education, then an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in biochemistry, molecular biology and higher education.

Did she face any challenges as a woman in STEM? How did she overcome these challenges? 

A great difficulty faced by Dr. Peterson throughout her career was paying for her own education.  She had to work in order to put herself through college and obtain her multiple degrees.  She encourages those facing the same kind of predicament that “It is hard, but it can be done!” In terms of gender inequalities, Dr. Peterson discussed that even at NEOMED, there is a lack of women anatomists and it is always a challenge being among the minority.  “I think you just have to have a lot of confidence in yourself and be willing to step into roles of leadership when the opportunity presents itself,” she encourages.

Why does she think it’s important to advocate for STEM as a woman and to spark that interest in young women within our generation? 

Dr. Peterson believes it is extremely important to advocate for STEM because the world really needs more women to consider leadership roles in science. The more we as a society role model that, the more it encourages young scientists to take on similar roles, she says: “I’m all about girl power!”

What advice does she have for Scientistas like us who wish to be successful in the field of STEM?

Dr. Peterson urges young women interested in STEM to find a mentor early on, as she did. Such a mentor can help you navigate the obstacles facing women in science. She believes that women in medicine today are a cohort that will bring equity to women in medicine everywhere. Dr. Peterson encourages current women in STEM to mentor the younger students and to find a mentor for themselves as well.

“You have to put yourself out there through networking and volunteering. Try to get on a committee, volunteer in a research project or afterhours in a free clinic. That’s where you’ll meet people with similar goals and interests who are willing to get to know you as a person,” she advises.