Monday, March 9, 2009

Women in Science: Connie Chow

Connie Chow, PhD
  • Education: BS in Microbiology/Minor in Biochemistry, Brigham Young University; PhD, Program in Virology, Harvard University
  • Current Position: Executive Director, Science Club for Girls, Cambridge, Massachusetts
I was fortunate to encounter Connie while she was an assistant professor in Biology at Simmons College. I signed up for Connie’s course on HIV/AIDS and can honestly say that it changed my life. I studied Economics and Psychology during college so science was a small step outside my comfort zone. I had always had an interest in public health, but had never actually explored it.

The great thing about Connie’s HIV/AIDS class was that it was designed for Honors Program students who came from a variety of academic backgrounds. Therefore, Connie interwove a multitude of disciplines we were studying—economics, public policy, international relations, etc. —into the coursework to help us understand how science related to our existing world views.

Connie has since taken her enthusiasm for science to a different type of venue, as the Executive Director of the Science Club for Girls (SCFG). This organization runs science clubs for elementary and middle school students. The goal is to introduce fun, hands-on explorations to girls as early as possible to create a safe environment to model “science-ing,” i.e.—to foster an environment in which girls can ask questions, make mistakes, learn to work with each other, and defend ideas. The Club seeks to create positive psychological associations with science so the girls develop an interest and realize the relevance of science in their lives.

SCFG brings in scientists and scientists-in-training to work with the girls. These women are undergrads, grad students, and professionals. The partnership provides role models and mentors in science. The girls typically do not have a lot of hands on experience with science in school, so the science clubs provide that in an encouraging setting.

The science clubs meet weekly over 10 weeks and each session is based on a theme. The clubs are based at schools, community centers and churches and target girls from underrepresented groups and primarily low income families. The programs are completely free and open to everyone. Some of the girls might be the first in their family to go to college.

I took the opportunity to ask Connie a question that many women may wonder about at some point in their lives.

What advice do you have for young women looking to choose science as a career?

“Try to build a network of people to support you---peers, mentors, women in different aspects of your life. It is important to develop this support group because when you are going through a tough time, you can realize, hey, other people have gone through this before and faced similar challenges, I can ask them for help. Knowing that you are not alone in this enterprise is important.”

Additionally--“Don’t try to do everything at once. We have the advantage of having a longer life, take your time getting there.”

This is Part 2 in the New Voices celebration of International Women's Day and Women's History month. (Part 1 - Introduction)

Correction: Dr. Chow received her B.S. from Brigham Young University, not Harvard (as posted this morning).


  1. I love Connie Chow and the kind of dedication and commitment she put in her HIV/AIDS class I took with her. It was an immensely tough class (for me because of my non-existent background in science) and she made us work hard like hell. However, the amount of information and knowledge I gained not only about the disease itself but the politics behind the funding for it, was just great.
    Now I have an idea of pharmaceuticals and the issue of expensive drugs for the developing and poor countries, problems with government programs such as the PEPFAR, and taboos attached with the disease that makes it very hard to detect/treat it.

  2. Thanks so much for posting! It's great to reflect back on the uniqueness of our class. Connie really did an excellent job blending all of our different majors and backgrounds into the course. The course really challenged me as well, and I'm glad that I got a chance to study the material that we did and collaborate with the rest of you guys!