Every year, the L'Oréal USA For Women in Science program (FWIS) awards five $60,000 grants to female postdoctoral scientists from across the USA in an effort to advance the leadership of women in STEM. Laurie Bizimana, a post-doctorate researcher at Cornell University’s Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering,has been selected as one of the five recipients and will use the funding for research.
Bizmana’s research centers on a non-invasive technique that will improve current brain-machine interface (BMI) technology. She became interested in neuroscience after spending a year in Rwanda. While there, Bizimana wanted to learn more about how the brain responds to extreme psychological trauma and how it heals from trauma. That experience has informed her current work, and spurred her interest in the field.
“I’m working on developing a new technology to connect the brains and bodies of people who have some disconnection, either due to injury or disease,” Bizmana said. “If we’re successful, we are hoping this technology will be able to bring sight back to people who have gone blind, bring hearing back to people who have gone deaf, bring movement back to people that have experienced traumatic brain injuries. This technology could also be used by researchers as a way to study the brain.”
Much of the technical knowledge of her doctoral work has been largely transferrable because, as she develops this new method of studying the brain, there are some technological aspects from her previous work to outline how the technique will function successfully. She’s been working with the L’Oreal scholarship for a few weeks now, having already worked on her post-doctorate research for over a year.
In terms of the challenges in her work, she has worked to dispel the stereotype of common in science that a person has to dedicate their entire life to their research or they won’t be able to accomplish it. Rather, she has found most people in her field have been more supportive than expected, making it an overall good experience, even as the redundancy of the work can still present an obstacle.
“There’s a lot of time that goes into preparing the background research for this kind of work and some of it is kind of mundane,” Bizmana said. “It’s repetitive work that has to be done in order to advance the research. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so glad I got this L’Oreal scholarship because it’s going to allow me to hire a research technician who will be able to help me with a bit of the more mundane time-consuming tasks so that I’m able to function more on advancing the knowledge base.”
This is the 16th year of the program, which has granted $4 million to 80 postdoctoral female scientists since 2003. While she is working with the fellowship, Bizmana has several additional goals she would like to accomplish with the funding from the fellowship.
“One is to be able to share my experience as a mom in science,” Bizmana said. “The other is to work on an extension of a program my lab has in Tanzania, working with the University of Arusha. I’m very interested in inspiring girls in science in East Africa because it’s not a very well represented field for women in Africa. During next summer, I’m planning on going to Tanzania to work on a program for encouraging more secondary school students, female students, in East Africa to pursue science. Then, hopefully, I’ll be able to make some good progress in the lab with the help of this research technician that the L’Oreal fellowship is going to allow me to hire.”