Women in STEM

Five women in lab coats in a laboratory
Members of Assistant Professor Colleen McHugh’s lab: (L-R) Aileen Button, MS ’20, Emily Lara ’20, Ellen Lavorando ’19, McHugh, and Nada Boutros ’19.

The XX Factor

Nobel Prize winner Maria Goeppert Mayer… pioneering astronomer Margaret Burbidge… esteemed educator and chemist Katja Lindenberg… brilliant biochemist Susan Taylor… the first American woman in space, Sally Ride.

The 60th anniversary of UC San Diego’s founding sciences brings an opportunity to celebrate the long and distinguished history of women who made groundbreaking contributions to scientific research, as well as to the growth and success of UC San Diego.

Since arriving on campus in 2016, I’ve been awed by the number of pioneering women in our ranks and the achievements they have made over the past 60 years. Recently, I was honored to moderate Trailblazing Women in STEM, a panel discussion at the 2021 Triton Leaders Conference featuring alumnae Jessica Droge ’90, Shiva Malek, PhD ’00, and Jessica C. Moreton, MS ’16, PhD ’20—all women leading the way in scientific industry. Despite being remote, these extraordinary Tritons were able to connect to the audience in meaningful ways by sharing their personal journeys.

It’s critical that we appreciate the experiences of women throughout UC San Diego’s history and use them to chart a course through the university’s next 60 years. UC San Diego is a very different place than it was 60 years ago, even 10 years ago. Black Lives Matter and recent social justice movements, along with inequities magnified by the pandemic, have brought challenges to light that could benefit from a diversity of perspectives, especially those of women and other underrepresented populations working in STEM subjects.

UC San Diego was built around a culture of excellence, and the women who made that happen should be applauded for positioning our campus as one of the world’s top universities in such a short period. Now, we are waking up to 2021 as a very different world.

As our society and university continue to grow, women will be integral in defining the path forward. Our culture of excellence continues with a new lens of transparency and a new way of developing tomorrow’s leaders. It is clear that the way we do things will significantly evolve. Now is a very exciting time, a time to re-envision our future and re-imagine Physical Sciences in the next 60 years.

Woman with brown hair and black turtleneck sweater


Vicki Grassian is a distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. View her panel discussion and learn about women in physical sciences at tritonmag.com/physicalsci