Mom's brain

I need countless organizers and notebooks to organize my days

Pregnant women often have a feeling of forgetfulness, it is the so-called “mom’s brain”, or “baby’s brain”.

Is it just an expression or is there any scientific truth behind it?

The brain of pregnant women has always been an interested topic for scientists. In 2017 Hoeckzema and collaborators published on Nature the definitive paper about this topic. Researchers applied MRI (computer imaging) to measure the structural changes that occur in the brain of 25 women before they were pregnant and after pregnancy.

Results show a reduction in the gray matter of the brain, specifically in the front and temporal lobe regions, the ones involved in social interactions.

Although the idea of loosing grey matter is not so appealing, apparently it is an evolutionary trait which help mothers to have greater feelings of attachment and fewer negative emotions towards their babies. The smaller the brain gets, the more efficient it becomes. In that way newly mothers’ brain is preparing itself to better interpret baby’s body language, cry types and to identify possible threats.

Researchers analyzed also the brain of 19 fathers. MRI results show that the changes occur only in mothers’ brain.

Scientists reanalyzed the women’s brain after 2 years. 11 of the original 25 women did not have a second child. The changes detected 2 years before, were still there in both women without other children and women who gave birth to other babies.

This study does not support the popular idea that pregnant women and newly mothers forget things more easily. The brain needs to focus more important things that “I have to record this TV show tonight”.

Mother’s brain becomes more efficient and organized to help women taking better care of these little and helpless creatures called newborns.

References:

Brett and Baxendale, “Motherhood and memory: a review”, (2001), https://doi.org/10.1016/S0306-4530(01)00003-8

Buckwalter et al., “Pregnancy and postpartum: changes in cognition and mood”, (2001), https://doi.org/10.1016/S0079-6123(01)33023-6

Hoekzema et al., “Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure.”, (2017), https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.4458

Oatridge et al., “Change in brain size during and after pregnancy: study in healthy women and women with preeclampsia.”, (2002), http://www.ajnr.org/content/23/1/19.long

How can I meet a scientist?

Me, proudly wearing my lab coat

Unfortunately, it is well established that scientists are in someway distant from society. Thus, the communication between these two worlds seems to be difficult.

Fortunately, in the last couple of years, different initiatives started to create a link between science and society.

Today I will give you some hints to meet and talk with scientists.

Skype a Scientist

Skype a Scientist: teachers can send a request to meet a scientist in one specific field (chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy…) and they can have a Q&A session via Skype with their students.

If you are a scientist: sign up!

If you are a teacher: send the request and allow your students to live an incredible experience.

If you are a student: inform your teacher(s) about this amazing possibility.

The Social Scientist

The Social Scientist: it is a community were people interested in STEM (students, academics, people working in industry) have the possibility to chat with scientists, who will act as mentors. They will share their stories, how they achieve their goals, how they overcame the difficulties they met during their studies and much more.

If you are a scientist: sign up!

For any other person: get in touch with scientists.

Soapbox Science

Soapbox Science: it is a public outreach platform for promoting women scientists. Their events (check their website, there are events all over the world) are a way for public learning and scientific debate.

If you are a female scientist: sign up!

If you are a male scientist: tell about this initiative to your female colleagues.

For any other person: participate to the events and spread the news!

Women in STEM: Natalie

The engineer Natalie

For the fifth episode of Women in STEM I gladly host Natalie, founder of @sheengineered.

Hi sheengineered! First of all would you like to tell us something about you?

Hi, I’m Natalie. I’m originally from Austin, Texas and I completed my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at Texas State University and I am now a first year PhD student in electrical engineering at the University of Virginia.

When did you start your blog and your Instagram account? How did you get the idea?

I started my blog and Instagram this past September. The idea came to me in two different ways. I was originally motivated to do this because, as I was applying to graduate school, I realized there was SO much I didn’t know about the application process, how to choose a school what to expect, etc. I also felt like there were so many resources that were hidden or not well advertised. I knew I wanted to find a way to create a platform to share what I had learned. At the same time,  I had been listening to a lot of podcasts from female entrepreneurs who talked about how they had tuned their passions and the message they wanted to share into a business helping others learn what they had.

Between wanting to share what I learned about doing well as an engineering student and applying for grad school, and hearing so many stories of these entrepreneurs, I decided to start sharing opportunities with the eventual goal of turning all of that content into workbooks and things like that for other girls in engineering.

Basically, it all came down to the belief that figuring out your path in engineering, and especially grad school, shouldn’t be a big confusing process.

Can you tell us something about how you balance work and private life? 

A big thing I am working on right now is not taking any work home with me. As a grad student, I have a desk and can keep a more normal 9-5 or 9-6 schedule if I really stay focused during that time. There are definitely exceptions to that around deadlines but for the most part I can get my work done during normal hours. I have a bad habit of telling myself “I’ll just finish that when I get home” and then the work bleeds over into my personal time.

It is definitely something I have to pay attention to but if I really put in good work when I am at my desk I can leave at the end of the day and not feel like I should be working.

During your studies how many women were in courses? Why in your opinion?

During my bachelor degree, my classes were ~40% women, now in my PhD my lab group is 4 women out of 13 students and my classes are closer to 40 – 50% women. I think for electrical engineering especially, there is a big disconnect in that people don’t view EE as a “helping” profession. When we think of EE we think of fast computers and self-driving cars and fail to see things like biomedical applications, and public health and safety applications. From my experience a lot of women want to make sure their work has a positive impact on society, and the engineering field is not always portrayed as such even though it is.

Have you ever felt harassed or being kept apart as a scholar because you are a woman?

I haven’t had any times where I have felt particularly singled out. I think there have been times where I’ve taken criticism harder or more personally that my male counterparts.  

How did you became passionate about science? 

When I was maybe 12 years old I saw the Paralympics on TV and was totally mesmerized by the prosthetic devices that some of the athletes used. I decided then that I wanted to design and build prosthetics. I did some googling and learned that engineers are the people who make them so from then on I wanted to be an engineer. I think that experience is what helped me frame engineering as a “helping profession” in my mind and made me even more interested in STEM because of how it could help people.

My dad is also an engineer and we would build rockets or furniture for my dolls or build-a-bears or solder LED lights together, so I wasn’t really intimidated by any of that, engineering always felt like an option to me.

Would you like to talk briefly about your job?

Right now I’m a PhD student in a robust low power VLSI lab. Basically, our group’s motivation is to design self-powered systems. Things like heart rate monitors that are powered by body heat, room occupancy sensors that are powered by light, etc. The idea is that as the Internet of Things expands and we start putting wireless sensors on everything, we will never be able to replace all of the batteries they require, so self-powered sensing nodes will be really important. The work the group does is primarily in designing ultra-low power circuits. The circuits in these sensing nodes have to be low powered enough to use things like solar and thermal energy.

I am still finding my place in the group, but one of the projects I am joining is developing a low power analog front end chip for sensing things like ECG for heart rate, PPG for things like blood pressure and blood oxygen saturation and sensing ozone. I really like how this project combines lower level engineering work to a big, “helping” application.

Thank you so much for your time. Lastly, can you give any advice to girls interested in stem?

The biggest thing is to find a mentor. Even if you aren’t sure you want to study engineering, find someone who is an engineer and learn more about what they do. As you move forward you will want mentors who can help you figure out your career path, work through imposter syndrome and things like that. The different mentors I have had along the way totally shaped my experience.

Another thing is to expect to be a little bit uncomfortable but know that you aren’t alone in that and that the discomfort is making you better! Engineering does take a lot of concentrated work and there will be times where you feel like the dumbest person in the room but don’t let that drive you away. Engineering is so rewarding in part because you have to overcome some challenges.

Have a look to the blog of Natalie: http://sheengineered.com/

%d bloggers like this: