Podcast: Chocolate Cake with Dominique Brossard

UW–Madison undergraduates Michelle Chung (left) and Mary Riker (middle) with Dominique Brossard (right). Mark E. Griffin

How do we have conversations about the things that matter to us with people with whom we disagree? Where do we find common ground? And how do we make decisions about our future that reflects on those difficult challenges while moving society forward? Today, Dominique Brossard, professor and chair of the department of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, gives us a glimpse into the science behind finding common ground with a perfect analogy: chocolate cake.

Brossard talks about how her own journey inspired her to look into how we can understand different worldviews and offers advice on how to build a diverse community of scientists from her own perspective as a woman in STEM at the top of her field.

Listen right now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Youtube or anywhere podcasts are found. Or you can listen below! 

Hosts: Michelle Chung and Mary Riker
Producers: Michelle Chung, Mary Riker, Mark E. Griffin
Editors: Michelle Chung, Mary Riker, Mark E. Griffin

Music composed and performed by: Mark E. Griffin


Mary Riker: How do we reach people who may be extremely different from us ideologically, politically, and have them think critically about the issues that we're thinking critically about, especially when it comes to women in science and how do we get them to trust what we're saying and believe what we're saying?

Michelle Chung: How would you start answering this question?

Mary Riker: When it comes to having these conversations, it's very dependent on the type of person you're talking to, the relationship you have with them, and then their prior beliefs about certain things. And it can be hard to understand all three of those things and then tackle each one in a separate way.

Michelle Chung: I like what you said with there's like those three things that you need to know about who you're talking to. And I feel like a lot with talking about difficult issues, but someone that, you know, you're going to disagree with is trying to control the variables of how they could react. It's all of these questions that we've been asking and more that are a big part of what we talked about with today's guest.


Michelle Chung: Welcome to Propelling Women in Power, a podcast about the careers of women and energy at the Wisconsin Energy Institute on the UW Madison campus and our sister institution, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

Mary Riker: I am Meg Riker and I am a junior undergraduate student studying civil engineering. I am a science writer intern with a passion for meeting people from different scientific disciplines and sharing their stories.

Michelle Chung: And I'm Michelle Chung, a senior undergraduate student studying biology and environmental studies. I love finding fun ways to highlight the research and people here at WEI and GLBRC.

Mary Riker: Here we talk about women scientists and engineers, career paths, the obstacles they have faced, and most importantly, their advice for young women scientists and engineers.

Michelle Chung: It is our goal to highlight their individual experiences, mentors and work life balance while seeking advice for young women in science and asking the question Who and what facilitated your success? Today we talk to Dominique Brossard, who is the chair and professor of the Department of Life Sciences Communication at UW Madison.

Mary Riker: And she talked a lot about as a scientist who studies social phenomenons in people, how we negotiate big things that are happening to all of us in our society. These challenges and making space for contentious parts of society that may make people uncomfortable. So it was really fascinating to get her perspective on how to have these social conversations and what structures and implicit things need to be a part of the system in order to actually see change in people's beliefs.

Michelle Chung: Let's take it away with Dominique.


Dominique Brossard: So I'm Dominique Brossard, a professor and chair in the Department of Life Sciences Communication here on campus, and also an affiliate of the Wisconsin Energy Institute, the whole Center for Technology Studies and a bunch of other things. And basically, anything that is at the intersection of science, media and policy, you know, is interesting to me as I study how people feel about controversial science and technological issues.

So that can include issues in energy. For example, if you talk about how to use, you know, new nanotechnology, radial technologies, solar panels for sustainability, to things such as genetic engineering, human gene editing and so on. So basically any type of issue that includes ethical, legal, social and technical component as far as science and technology is related to my research.

Michelle Chung: Wow that’s a lot of things.

Dominique Brossard: A lot of things, I'm very busy.

Michelle Chung: If you wouldn't mind diving into like one of those topics just so we can get more detail into your research.

Dominique Brossard: So I'm in quantitative social science. I'm a communication scientist that relies on models to predict attitudes and behaviors. So if you think in terms of what makes somebody, somebody you have their education background, you have their personality, you have the people they interact with, but you also have a lot of components that are related to their values.

Their world views, the way they feel about the world. So try to put all of these in a model to explain how they feel about the specific issue will lead to what we call, you know, a predictive model in statistics. So one thing that we do, for example, is try to predict why people would not believe that climate change is linked to human behavior.

How can you once you have taken into account, you know, the impact of their socioeconomic status, how much education they have, what part of the country they live in and so on, what are the belief systems that can explain why they feel that way. So that's one example. And this relies in a big public opinion survey with representative sample of the population.

But we also do research at the local level to, you know, induce social change. So now the example with one of my grad students, we’re interested in community engagement and foster policy change for sustainable issues, for example. So Beloit, the community of Beloit, has a proclamation to be carbon free a long time from now. And we try to help a number of organizations, the Beloit region, to mobilize to make that the reality.

So how do you go from a stated goal to actually policy action and how can you, you know, involve stakeholders at the community level to make sure that actually going to direction that's good for everyone. So those are two examples. One at the national level, one at the local level.

Michelle Chung: I'm curious to see how you quantify how someone feels.

Dominique Brossard: That's a very good question. Well you know, you have what we call the indicators and you build the scales. And so scale will be a number of items and other statements that you ask people to answer that have been identified usually based on qualitative research. So that's what we call you know, case studies or focus groups or interviews that go to the underlying mental models that people have when they think about an issue.

And so based on that, you're going to build those skills that have several statements that are supposed to, you know, complement each other. And the way you measure if those are good is by making sure they are reliable and they're valid. Reliable means that if I take a sample of the population, random sample, that's exactly the same as another random sample, right?

They should because they're random. The way they answer those questions, they distribute it the same way. I have a normal, normal curve. So that's a relative system, that's why you have several statements. So then the validity means that you are, you want to make sure you measure what you want to measure, so it’s the validity aspect of that. So we have some statistical techniques to do that.

You correlate that with all the things that are supposed to be linked to that. So imagine that. I want to ask you how much you like a chocolate cake, you know, and that's what would be the stigma. How much do you like this chocolate cake? And you would say a lot and then you would say a lot. Well, that's actually maybe a very reliable question because you answer the same way.

In two samples of students here. But it's not valid because at the end of the day, you may like the chocolate cake because you love butter. And that chocolate kid had butter and your super into sugary things. That's why you like the chocolate cake. So you need to have a way to measure, you know, some concept with all those variables that explains.

So in my example butter, you know chocolate sugar and so on are all those variables education and so on and so that you take out of the equation because once you have control, the fact that you like sugar and you like chocolate, actually you don't like that cake because the rest is not something that you like.

So that's kind of what we do at the psychological level.

Michelle Chung: Okay. Wow. I loved how you explained that, explaining it to me in terms that I know, I love chocolate cake. You're right. Okay. If we can go back to how you got to explaining chocolate cake to me right here, where did your interest in to looking at how people perceive things start?

Dominique Brossard: All right. So I'm going to give you the short version, but I apologize if this looks kind of long anyway, and I want to start by, I was born, and you’ll say oh no. But it's actually relevant because I was born in Argentina from French parents. So I grew up in South America with French parents. So right away I was, you know, confronted with different cultures that were just stuck with, you know, like they were together, but they don't always mix.

So I grew up speaking Spanish. I was not allowed to speak Spanish at home, all that stuff. And then I went to France after high school to go into biology and math, and an agronomic engineering degree, and then I did genetics, etc., etc.. But I never liked working in a lab. I thought it was really boring. By the way, after Masters, no offense to anybody in the lab here, but it's not my thing to be stuck, you know, in the lab, repeating it all the time, the same thing.

So after my first degree, that degree, I went to work for a big management consulting called Accenture for five years. And I was in the public health environmental sector at that time. The French government was taking some of the divisions from the center state, to, you know, like the local state, the regions. And we were asked, tasked to have that transition.

And it was in a division that’s called change management services. And I realized that actually it was really hard to make people change. I was convinced it was much better to do environmental issues and health at the local level. And those people didn't believe me. How come? How could they dare? I knew better. I was a scientist. I should. At least that was the way I was bringing this into the equation.

And because of that, I got interested in human psychology and why humans behave a certain way in the context of science, technology and health and I went back. I did my PhD at Cornell University. At that time, I was one of the first ones that looked at that whole modeling approach to attitudes toward GMOs. And going back to my first statement about, you know, how people, you know, didn't know how GMOs was related to society.and so on. I was curious to hear that people actually in different parts of the world were really feeling very differently about technology. And it went back to my whole point about being born in Argentina. And so things that look good from a French side look bad, you know, in South America, you know, people in Argentina hated Americans, those darn Americans down in America.

And I loved it. And I'm an American citizen. So, you know, like that whole idea that we bring our worldviews and our prior experiences and our background in issues that are relevant to us really kind of went together to actually define my research project. And that idea that, you know, it's not that people are right and wrong, it's just that people feel differently.

And the reason why people feel differently is for us, the people that are trying to communicate or to actually reach out, it's our job to understand that it's our job to listen, it’s our job to actually make a way to measure all these things so we can, you know, make sense of those controversies at the end of the day to make a better place for all of us.

And I think, you know, the Energy Institute is a good example of that. This is the idea that we want to make sure energy and so on is good for society, right? We don't want to just impose on people what we think is good. We want to work all together to make sure that it works out. So that's in a nutshell, is my journey.

Michelle Chung: What other factors from you, like as a person, as a woman, guided that journey?

Dominique Brossard: As a person, I was always interested in science and nature. You know, I was basically a nerd. So that's a, that's the thing as a woman, you know, like it's, you know, like, interestingly enough, I don't even think as a woman, I mean, it was just as a person, as an individual, as what I liked, what I don't like.

I mean, I always had like a very supportive family and I was never felt that I was either a woman or not a woman or whatever. You know, I was just a kid in the family. And also remember that I grew up always being a little different than everybody else around me because I was the one foreigner in the classroom.

And then I lived for years in Ethiopia, and then I lived in Senegal. So I was always like, just because of my parents traveling abroad, right, living abroad. So the woman thing is interesting because I felt that was not the problem, but I felt like a woman when I came to the United States, like I felt that there was a lot of sexism in science, so on when I came to UW.

And it was weird to me because before, like when I was, for example, in France and I was in that engineering school, we were maybe like, you know, I don't know, maybe 8% women then, but that's what it was, you know. And actually it was just the same and then when I went to that management consulting company, like the the partners really clearly told us, you know, as young woman, you're not going to be felt as credible.

So you need to actually know that and just like fight it and whatever. So to some extent it was we knew there was problems in women in science on, it was a problem it was just clearly established. It was never kind of like, you know, oh, we are perfect. But then the real realization is that sexism still exists. Academy is a very sexist environment and it's much better now than it used to.

But look, we’re 16 departments in CALS and there's only two women that are chairs. Among other professors at UW, only 20% are full professors, as women. So that you know, the academic environment makes me feel this is really a problem. But you pretend it’s not, you know, kind of like we're better than anybody else in this environment.

There's no problem. But there is. I'm just saying as a culture and it has changed recently. But I've been at UW since 2004, so I think it’s going in the right direction. But, you know, the fact to be, you know, I don't think my career, the fact that I'm a woman, you know, I don't think has made me think this type of career.

But certainly it has me making sure that the women that work with me get the support they need. It made me aware of the importance of like building allies and relying on male or female, whatever, like a network of supportive people. And that's something that I think, you know, everybody has to do, like build the support of allies and so on.

Michelle Chung: The, the big change between like the US and other places, is that-

Dominique Brossard: I’m not saying the US, I’m saying the Midwest.

Michelle Chung: The Midwest. Oh okay, you said the Midwest. Midwest. Is it the denial factor?

Dominique Brossard: I don't think it's a denial factor. I think it's um, I don't know if these people are trying to be nice and then they're not overtly anti something. But you know like and the racism is the same issue there was a very interesting thing posted about you know that the black protest of the 1969 on campus you know and some kids you know coming from Georgia and saying look it seems that they think this is going to be a non racist place.

Yes, it is. But it's not to your face to some extent. Bizarrely, when you have issues such as sexism, a woman in science on, when it’s overt, it's better because you can react and you can, you know, take a stand. But when it's kind of like, you know, insidious it’s more complicated. But, you know, I think obviously for you young women in science, I mean, the things are better than they used to and we're going in the right direction.

So I want to be positive. And and I think, you know, like, we are, there's still work to do, but we are going the right direction. So that's really nice. And I'm really happy to see you both here doing this because to show that there's a voice and that we can all together go in the right direction.

You know, there is something that’s called social conformity, right? In social psychology. And we, social norms are a very important, you know, feature of human beings. We are social animals, right? So like, human beings live together and they tend to do what's expected of them. And that’s seen in a lefty progressive city. There's some expectations that you behave a certain way that you know, that your system was there.

But that doesn't mean that everyone to their core have those values, actually, as their own. They may be displaying them because that's what’s expected from them from a social conformity perspective. So I think that's also the issue that we have here and it’s just something that, you know, human beings display.

Michelle Chung: So you mentioned that like you think it's getting better. In what ways do you think it's getting better and like, what would you want to change.

Dominique Brossard: I think is getting better because of things like you're doing together today, you know, like a podcast giving voice to women, building, you know, allies, younger women, understanding that they can, you know, hear from others and so on. There is that cohort effect that's very important. Right? And also because, you know, you have policies that need to be in place to make sure that, you know, that abusive behavior or like, you know, hostile environment, all that stuff is not happening.

So this is important. You know, like you don't change, unfortunately. And that's going to sound sad, but there's something in persuasion that we call the carrot and the stick, right? So the carrot is like, I'm going to make people do something the way I want them to do because it's good for them, let’s say, you know, like I'm going to make them work very hard to get tenure.

But at the end of the day, they're going to have tenure, they're going to have more money, they're going to have whatever, whatever. So that's the carrot. The stick is that, look, if you don't behave the way you're supposed to behave, there's going to be consequences. So when we started to have laws that said that smoking, you know, was not allowed in inside, you know, a lot of people were against it because of freedom of doing whatever they want right, smoking.

But the policy was it's not allowed to do it. Slowly but surely, people change their behavior. So there was different ways to actually, you know, make them change their behavior, the carrot and the stick. So for women in science, I mean, if it said, you know, it's not tolerated and there's going to be consequences when things are done that, you know, that are not helping their career and so on, that, you know, that is not helping them be the best they can in that environment for whatever reason. You know, if there's no consequences, you will never change, but then you were beginning to see consequences.

Michelle Chung: Is there anything like specifically where we could see a consequence and that could lead to change?

Dominique Brossard: Well, you know, I mean, I've been part of the Women in Science Mentoring program here at UW. When you have a young assistant professor that comes they pair that person with the older tenured, female mentor to kind of like, they come and they can talk about things that you know, you're not in your department, you are, you can talk to somebody that's, you know , does not involve in the departmental life. So like the mentoring science for tenured women, for example is that for the woman in science and tenure is one example but I have heard a lot of grad students that
are in labs, you know, where they feel there's like sexism in the lab.

They let one or two women in a lab, and they feel that there is a problem because people do not take them. You know, as much in consideration that the others, like you know, it’s going to sound horrible but you know the professor is going to say, can you make coffee or like things like that, this is still existing.

I mean this is the 21st century. Well then they can come to me, they can speak up. I can be loud. I can be very loud, you know, and so like things like that. So it’s by making these kind of things that even if there's policy in places where sexism is not allowed, there's still there's settings where it still happens.

Because if you're the only one and nobody notices, you know, it's really hard. So I think by building those coalitions and the younger professors are not like that and, you know, the older generation is retiring. So these are all going to be all the better because I think, you know, new generations are different.

Michelle Chung: What do you make sure that you do to support someone?

Dominique Brossard: You know if you think in terms of why society reacts a certain way, right? I mean, we have ingrained stereotypes and all that, things that make this history, it will lead society to a certain point, if you think in terms of women in general in this country, and again, I come from multiple cultures. So for me, that's why I'm more aware of that when I came here.

But I think, you know, I don't think the educational system in the United States as a whole, train women to be very vocal, I don't think. And, you know, like you heard all the stereotypes about, you know, like if a woman is loud they say she's a b-something, if a guy is loud it’s like oh, he's assertive, you know, this kind of thing is still true.

So one thing that I'm very, very careful about is really explaining to my female grad students that they need to stand their ground, and teaching them that they need to actually believe in themselves. The whole thing goes like, and we even keep on talking about the imposter syndrome thing, and whatever it’s like, you know, you are really good and you're not as vocal as potentially a guy or whatever.

You know, because they've been in this culture where they’re like much more, you know, likely to brand themself in a positive way than a woman, well you need to do it! So I force them to be loud, to present, you know, for the job talks we make them rehearse so they're really like sure and so on.

I think it's a cultural thing also how women grow up in this country, and again, I’m making it, I'm talking about patterns. Obviously there's differences and so on, obviously. But I would say in general I have, you know, observed that the grad students that I have, the females tend to be less, you know, sure of themselves than their male counterparts and maybe it is going to change. But I think that was something that we need to all together work.

Michelle Chung: Do you think it's as simple as telling them they can do it or is there more to it?

Dominique Brossard: You know, in science education, there's something that’s called experiential education that you learn by doing. And you know, like one of my students actually, she's in China. She Chinese, she just found a job, actually. And you know, I told her and we talked for multiple times, she's quite shy. And she comes from a culture where you tend not to be vocal and you really respect authority, right.

So we actually told her, you know, imagine this is like a theater performance. You have a lot of actors when they're on stage, they behave in a way, you know, that's very different from what they do in their everyday life. But when you are in the classroom or when you are, like me now I'm performing for you guys, right?

So like, imagine that. So like, just imagine who you would want to be. And so one of my grad students that is Chinese and now is here, she says what she does, she imagines being me. She's like, I remember Dominique in class when I'm like, I'm like that. You. know? And so like, she says, yeah, it's a performance.

So yes, you can train people to be that way. You can, obviously you don't want to make people change your personality and so on. But still, you know, like doing or giving a job talk, or in the classroom, at the end of the day those are performances that we do for persuasive reasons. You give the job talk to get hired, you give the class to actually make the kids learn or the students learn.

So there you have to actually make sure that you use the tools that you have as a human being to do that. I was different, like in a way, you know, like the minority always. Like I had to always be loud. And I'm also the fourth of the children, so I had to be loud to have a piece of the chocolate cake.

So maybe that's part of it, right? We bring our own background to the table, but this is not to say that I have never, like, you know, suffered from any discrimination based on my gender and so on.

Michelle Chung: Is part of the step to making it better, like having that be out in the open?

Dominique Brossard: Yes. You know, like, I think, you know, like problems can be addressed when they’re out in the open. So if people feel, you know like, they are having a hostile, intimidating behavior in the lab they need to be vocal about it. They need to do. And that's why it's important to have allies, you know, like people you can go talk to and that mentoring program or anything and it doesn't have to be only women, by the way. There's also obviously a lot of people on campus that, they're very supportive of a diverse population.

But I think it's important to actually have those networks and also for things to be in the open so we can address problems. That's the only way to to promote change. Some of my friends actually, they look at me like I'm crazy. I get that a lot. So I say, you know, I don't think you think so but you're just mansplaining me. And they would say, no, I'm not.

Because I say I'm like, well, I'm a communications scientist. You just disagree with me about how media portrays some things. Yes, you are. They say well if I was a woman, I would be mansplaining, though and I say no, I wouldn't use the same term, but I would say something else. You know, so I think like, you know, you can be joking about it, but you need to make people aware of when you feel that, you know. And maybe like, you know, we had the MeToo movement and so on.

Are we overreacting right now? Potentially? Sometimes? But if one person out of 1 million overreact, you know so what? We had 2000 years or more before of like abusive behavior. So like, I think the guys need to actually deal with it. Right. So I think, yes, we do need to be vocal to your point.

Michelle Chung: Like step one, be vocal, make people aware, like where do you go from there in the lab in this institution, like in industry as well?

Dominique Brossard: Definitely in industry that's a big one. And you know, like I have a lot of former students, they’re working in industry and you know, they do face a lot of issues. I mean, the glass ceiling is still a problem. Women are still paid less than men and so on. So there's a lot of things to address.

But again, I think we're moving in the right direction. But I think we cannot become complacent because when you become complacent, then you lose the ground on what has been, you know, achieved. And I'm very concerned about the effect of the pandemic on women in STEM, at higher education and so on. And I've been part of different groups at the National Academy of Science looking at those effects.

And, you know, how the pandemic has affected women in STEM is a real one. You know, like a lot of women have had to actually take care of their kids at home or have lost time in their research and so on and so forth. And they have been more affected than men, generally again, these are patterns.

So this is something that we need to be careful. We don't want to lose, you know, the ground that we had gained because of the pandemic. So we cannot be complacent.

Mary Riker: Something I’m balancing is whether to go into academia or continue my academic education or to go into industry after I graduate. I'm wondering why you chose to go into industry and then return to academia.

Dominique Brossard: Yeah. So actually, you know what? I would advise everybody, like my own stake, my own view on this is that going to grad school is a big commitment. And it's, you need to be sure you're going into a field that is really good for you. And going for a few years in industry or in the private sector may help you sort out exactly what you want to do.

And so, you know, like in engineering, you may end up doing a master's in environmental science or so on or whatever, or you just stay with your engineering degree. So I think like going a few years out of academia, it's always good for everyone. And there's even, in fact, the grad students that I see at the master level or even Ph.D. that have been in the real world for a while, have a perspective that's interesting that that gives them, I think, you know, like more of a different appreciation of what they do in grad school.

So for me, literally, like the reason why I went to the private sector is because I was bored in the lab. But that's you know, that's a good way to do it. But you know, so if you go from undergrad to grad, a lot of people do that directly because they're kind of scared to go into the real world and industry.

That’s not a good reason because you cannot, if you go to industry you can always go back to grad school, but you can never make up those years of like you know in your 20’s, being in the private sector with a decent salary, you know that you may actually appreciate. So that's why you know look at the pros and cons and yeah it's true that it looks like you’re delaying, a lot of people are delaying the decision to actually go because at some point you will have to find a job.

So that's my take. But again, you know each, I think it's an individual choice and people have to weigh the pros and cons of both decisions. But my own personal view on it is like it doesn't hurt to have a couple, at least a couple of years in the private sector before, and if, coming back to grad school. For me, you know, I'm a scientist, I study science communication, right?

Michelle Chung: Yeah.

Dominique Brossard: The science of science communication. So then I have results that come out of my studies. I need to be able also for those results to be communicated to larger audiences. Right? So I do that in different ways. I'm part of the public speaker bureau at UW, so which is a number of professors that, you know, they're trying out on a roster and, you know we talk to retirement homes, to libraries, to you know you name it, community groups, like they ask you to do that.

So that's one thing you know I'm on the expert database for the university. So for example for COVID anything with COVID, because I study risk communication right, risk, people fear stuff. So I'm part of their experts. So I talked to numerous journalists about that and so on. So I think as far as communicating, my research is like the same way as everybody that is interested in outreach would do it.

You try to explain it in ways that make sense to people and in a way that takes into account what we know about human psychology. So if I talk to different groups of people knowing where they come from, what's their background, what’s their interest. I may not communicate the same way that I talk to others. So for example, in the GMO context, you know, I was in a lot of, talking to a lot of groups that were against GMO, so obviously I'm not going to tell them this is good.

So, you know, like you tried to, to tailor your points to your audience’s communication one on one. Who are you talking to? Why are you talking to them? What are you trying to achieve and how is the best way to do it?

Michelle Chung: So you, you have like those steps, like who are you talking to? Like, how do you communicate it? How would you take like that framework in trying to address problems in inclusivity and diversity? Is it applicable in the same way?

Dominique Brossard: I think it is, but I'm not, you know, an diversity or inclusiveness expert . So those are not the issues that I have looked at. And there's a lot of people in social psychology, and they have looked at stereotypes and so on and racial, what explains racial attitudes. So I mean, the science should feel like it’s the same.

It is the same, you know, process to some extent trying to understand why people think or behave a certain way and then try to understand what's the best mechanism to actually address that. So it's the same, the same logic.

Michelle Chung: You mentioned imposter syndrome, like very briefly earlier. What are your thoughts on that?

Dominique Brossard: I think most human beings have that feeling sometimes, you know, like I think everybody in this room does. But what we have observed in academia, it seems that women tend to have it more than others. And people have debated that. By the way, I don't want to open the door. So the whole debate is persuasive, like yes or no.

I think it's real. And from my own little, you know, my experience with people around me, that women tend to feel this more than men. So this is something we need to work on and make sure that, you know, it's addressed.

Michelle Chung: You've observed women in academia. What would your advice be to them?

Dominique Brossard: To believe in themselves. You know, first of all, if they're here at UW, this is a really good school. So undergrads or grads, you know, like if you're here it’s because you were accepted into this institution and you’re good. I mean there's no reason why you cannot be, you know it’s good. And then the second thing I would say is that do not do what others expect from you.

So if you're a woman in science, you feel like you have to be very good at something. You know, maybe there's something else that you want to do in another science field or whatever. What I mean is like, just don't care about what people think. So basically the advice I would do and believe in yourself because, you know, at the end of the day, you are in control of your destiny. I mean, we are in charge of our own happiness and our own future, and we are the ones who have to do it independently of what others feel.

And it's easy to say not so easy to be done, but keeping on reminding yourself that. Also you're not alone and that you have others that are facing the same challenges and so on. But you know, like keeping quiet when you have challenge never helps. So really speaking up and try to find allies in sharing your problems and so on to move forward.


Michelle Chung: After every single interview, I always just feel so ready to conquer the world.

Mary Riker: Yeah, I mean, for me, I feel I don't know, I feel like a mix of emotions. I feel, it's like all these positive things that like I never feel in my academic experience. I don't know if it's never, but not often enough to recognize that feeling exists. Okay, so an example of that is like last semester I got a 96% on an engineering exam, which has never happened to me ever.

And I wrote that down, that score down on a sticky note and I put it on my wall. And I kept it up there for the rest of the semester to be like, you are, you can do this, you can get through this. And I feel like these are like my sticky notes, like, through my academic experience, um, or to like, correlate with it and make it feel, you know, like I have some validity.

Michelle Chung: Yeah. The thing that I've discovered here, not discovered, rediscovered or it's really just been emphasized in interviews is the amount like, just like saying you can do it changes things. And maybe we we ought to have more sticky note moments like before you even get that test score. It's like, yeah, like you can do it. I don't think that happens enough.

And yeah, it's clear that it doesn't happen enough. That's like why it's everyone's advice to younger women in STEM.

Mary Riker: Believe in yourself.

Michelle Chung: Believe in yourself. Another part of the conversation that I really related to, she had all these other minoritized identities growing up that being a woman wasn't really like that, being a problem. Like that being like something that she felt left out because of wasn't really at the forefront. And I don't think how I was raised, because I was an Asian in a small town.

The woman part was never really like big, big like you're, you're different because you're a woman. It's you're different because you're Asian. Like I feel like only now I'm really realizing the, like, intersections of that with being a woman, like with being Asian and a woman. I never had like those moments where it's like, this is happening because you're a woman.

But there were implicit things that I'm realizing now. It's like this is happening because you're an Asian woman. That's not what's talked about. The female intersection of it.

Mary Riker: That's a problem, right? Because that's putting one problem before another.

Michelle Chung: You have to address both of them to address either of them at all. And this goes back to how we address complicated topics like diversity in STEM. Like Domonique said, there are so many factors, identities, different environments that can shape a person. It's all of those things and the intersections of someone's experiences that go into how someone might think about these topics.


Michelle Chung: And that's our show. Thank you to everyone Listening. We're your host, Michelle Chung and Meg Riker. The show is produced by us and Mark Griffin and edited by us and Mark Griffin. Thanks again to our guests, Dr. Dominique Brossard, the chair and professor of the Department of Life Sciences Communication at UW Madison.

Mary Riker: And see you next time, on Propelling Women in Power.

Mary Riker: What do you consider to be your superpower?

Dominique Brossard: Oh, well, you know, I would tell you that I have several superpowers and that that depends on the context in which I deploy them. So you actually have to choose what superpower you're going to put into practice, depending on where you are and with whom you are. I think one of my superpowers here, when I'm the public speaker bureau, talking to let's see a bunch of people in rural Wisconsin, is that I have that weird French Spanish accent so I can tell them things, you know, where they're not going to think I'm that lefty professor because I'm different.

So it gives me the superpower of not all kind of being like, yeah, I'm from the campus, but I'm like kind of external, you know, like, so it gives me the superpower of being like, I'm not there. Like, you know, pontificate it as a lefty American, you know what I mean? So like that, the fact that you're difference can be a superpower, you know. And I would say, you know, being a woman can be a superpower as well, depending on where you are.

You establish linkages with people, you know, ways that you may not in other instances. So it's a silly superpower, my accent, I guess.