Women in STEM Rebecca Silton, neuroscience and clinical psychology
Minding the gender gap
Rebecca Silton, PhD, has been passionate about women working in STEM fields ever since she was in graduate school. While serving on a committee to promote student interest, she found that women were noticeably absent from the Society for Psychophysiological Research. Even though there were plenty of women studying science in school, they seemed to disappear from the field after graduation. To combat this exodus, Silton and a few other graduate students started an annual luncheon, which has since grown into a standing committee to encourage women to pursue careers in science.
Now Silton, a professor of neuroscience and clinical psychology, chairs the Women in Science Education Committee. She currently teaches both undergraduate and graduate students at Loyola, leads laboratory studies on the neural correlates of well-being and positive emotion, and mentors students—all while balancing a family life. And she was more than happy to find the time to discuss her passion for women in STEM and how she navigates a career in a male-dominated field.
You’re very passionate about women in science. Who or what inspired you to get involved in your field?
I went to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and my sophomore year I had an instructor by the name of Jaine Strauss. I just wanted to be her when I grew up. She was very inspirational and was a great mentor.
During that time, I fell in love with psychology and went to graduate school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. While there, Wendy Heller was my mentor and she was instrumental in my career. Having a female mentor and seeing that it’s possible to be female and brilliant, and have all of these other identities such as being a mother and daughter, was really important. I found that all of those identities really come together and inform our work as scientists. I’m still in contact with both Jaine and Wendy, which is so nice because they’re lifelong contacts that continue to make me feel inspired. Having role models who look like you in science is really important.
How has Loyola influenced or supported you throughout your career?
I’ve been at Loyola for nearly eight years—the longest I’ve been at any higher education institution—and I think I’ve been shaped positively by my colleagues in clinical psychology and in the Department of Psychology as a whole. Loyola’s lens of social justice and working towards a just society has really helped me think about how neuroscience can inform and develop a just society in a way that I maybe wouldn’t have thought about had I been at a different institution. It’s this concept that our education isn’t really for us—we’re doing this to better our society. It’s really made me think about how I can apply that to the research I’m doing in neuroscience, teaching, and mentoring students.
of STEM jobs nationwide are held by women.