WASHINGTON, PA (April 4, 2018)—While the world of STEM careers may have originally been a boys’ club, more and more women are pursuing their passions and making an impact in these fields, with many getting their education right here at Washington & Jefferson College (W&J)! In honor of the strong, intelligent women who are defying gender stereotypes in the workplace, we’re highlighting a few of our own in a new series on W&J Women in STEM.
Jennifer Logan Bayline, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry. Her area of interest is creating nanoscopic structures using diblock copolymers and developing these thin films as templates for other molecules. Her favorite polymer is polystyrene-b-poly(ethylene oxide) (PS-PEO), having extensively studied it both in graduate school and during her postdoctoral work at Harvey Mudd College. She has even dabbled in synthesizing PS-PEO stars at the Université Bordeaux in France.
We asked Dr. Bayline about her work in mathematics and her path to W&J. Check out what she had to say!
How did you become interested/involved in your field of study?
My area of research is polymer nanostructures. When students work with me, they investigate one of the many parameters involved in making these tiny structures. The idea is, “If I tweak this, how does that impact the nanostructure I make?” I was intrigued by this field of study because it is very visual and involves controlling polymers at the molecular level. It also helped that in graduate school, this project involved me going to France to synthesize some of the polymers I would then study back at the University of Florida (where I earned my Ph.D.). As a double major in chemistry and French, the research appealed to me with its aspects of international science.
Who are some of your role models or inspirations in the field?
My post-doc advisor, Dr. Shenda Baker, was very much an inspiration. She taught at another undergraduate institution (Harvey Mudd College) and I was impressed at how she combined dynamic teaching with high caliber research. Teaching undergraduates both in the classroom and the lab were her top priority and I aspire to emulate her.
What challenges do women face in your field? What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
I don’t recall any specific instances where I would say, “Oh, this is discrimination,” or, “I lost out because I’m a woman.” I think gender bias tends to be much more subtle and it’s not always easy to recognize. I don’t recall feeling this as a college student—my male and female peers all had career goals that were equally ambitious and they had what (to me) seemed to be equal opportunities to succeed. But now that I’m older, I notice that I know more women than men who are no longer in the workforce. These are usually for personal reasons like raising a family but it makes me wonder why (in my own experience) a woman seems more likely to make that decision than a man.
What made you want to teach others about your field?
I enjoy the challenge of chemistry. It always felt like a puzzle to me, one that I could solve by mastering the rules and applying logic. I liked that I could reason out “an answer.” I also love all the different aspects of teaching chemistry—from lecturing to lab to mentoring students one-on-one in independent research. The job never gets old. I enjoy seeing the moment when a student solves a problem on their own or collects beautiful data and realizes, “Yes, I, too, can do this.”
What advice do you have for young women interested in STEM studies?
My advice would be to seek out opportunities to try new things—both in the classroom and in the lab, be it during the school year or over the summer. It’s hard to figure out what career you want to pursue, and opening yourself to possibilities will make it easier to decide what you do or don’t want to do.
This article is part of a larger series on W&J Women in STEM. Get to know some of our other professors: Dr. Alice Lee, Dr. Jennifer Bayline, Dr. Deborah Polvani, Dr. Kelly Weixel, Dr. Jenny Kline, and Dr. Amanda Holland-Minkley.
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.