Obstacles still exist for women in science, but this young researcher is breaking the mould

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Lukas Bester, Freelance Researcher and Writer – World Economic Forum, Sustainable Development Consultant in Emerging Markets

  • Kaitlyn Sadtler is an immunologist and bioengineer at the National Institutes of Health, just outside of Washington, D.C., in the US.
  • Her team is currently developing a model to evaluate the body’s response to injury.
  • They have re-invigorated their work on traumatic injury and how the immune system can promote healing and tissue regeneration.

Dr Kaitlyn Sadtler is an immunologist and bioengineer at the National Institutes of Health, just outside of Washington, D.C., in the US. Growing up in rural Maryland, not far from where she works now, she’s always been fascinated with puzzles and problem-solving. She attributes this to ultimately leading her to pursue science – a field that, according to her, is essentially one giant puzzle.

Even though she considered careers in policy, diplomacy, and communication, her love for the process of discovery always drew her back to the laboratory. She also enjoys training the next generation of scientists and leading them beyond the current frontiers. We spoke to Kaitlin about her career and her experiences being a leader in her team.

What does your current position entail and what have been your greatest successes and challenges?

In the US academic system, a large part of the work necessitates applying for grants and keeping your head above the water. The position as Chief of the Section at the NIH provides me with the intellectual freedom and flexibility to focus on the science and enjoy the accompanying innovation and excitement without having to work through grant systems, which in turn allows for more time to train young scientists.

As the head of a laboratory, my duties range from balancing budgets to filling out paperwork, teaching my students new techniques, and facilitating the design and interpretation of experiments.

Our lab is diverse, and diversity drives innovation, and we have made several advances in immunology, both in COVID-19 research in wound healing after traumatic injury. However, the greatest challenges lie outside of the experiments.

When cultivating an inclusive environment as a young woman in science, it becomes imperative that I confront my own biases to drive personal change before implementing those changes to defend those who cannot stand up for themselves. At the same time, I am continuously working through obstacles that still exist for women in STEM. There are days when I feel I must justify that I am here because of my contributions as an accomplished researcher and a capable leader, not because I am simply ticking a box as a female engineer. Unfortunately, even if I do everything right, there are days when I will still lose.


What is a YGL?

The YGL community is made up of more than 1,300 members and alumni, including public officials, business innovators, artists, educators, technology developers, journalists and activists.

The mission of the Forum of Young Global Leaders is to create a dynamic global community of exceptional people with the vision, courage and influence to drive positive change in the world.

Aligned with the World Economic Forum’s mission, they seek to spur public-private cooperation amongst these unique actors to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest.

Representing more than 100 nationalities, Young Global Leaders are united by the belief that the urgent problems of today present an opportunity to forge a better future across sectors, generations and borders.

Visit the YGL website at: https://www.younggloballeaders.org/

What are you currently working on?

In finalizing some of our COVID-19 research, we have had the chance to re-invigorate our work on traumatic injury and how our immune system can promote healing and tissue regeneration.

Recently, we posted new research on our immune cells’ astonishing ability to refrain from attacking our bodies during injury. As our immune system tries to fight off bacteria, it also has to know not to attack our tissues. Through our studies, we identified a cell type previously described in cancer that was critical in regulating immune responses during trauma and without which there was extensive tissue damage past the initial injury. We are leveraging this finding to design new therapeutics, from wound healing to medical device development.

How did COVID-19 change your approach to work as a scientist?

For me, the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly underscored how vitally important scientific communication and openness in data sharing are. Communication with the public about what we do in the lab, using language that everyone understands, will encourage input from non-scientists and lead to better public insight into the potential for new frontiers in research and medicine.

As one of the Forum’s young global leaders, how has the community impacted your work?

Although I have just started in the Young Global Leader community, I have already had the privilege to meet people who have directly impacted my work.

One example is when I searched for members to join my laboratory, and a fellow Young Global Leader approached me. They shared that they were working with a talented medical student in Ghana and that she was interested in getting a year of research experience before completing her clinical work. It sounded like a perfect fit, and she is joining our group this fall for a year-long research fellowship.

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