MLS 2023 retreat

Mothers Leading Science continues to build and inspire a network of leaders

John Merritt

How do you sustain momentum and create an ever-expanding network of institutional changemakers over the long haul? This was top of mind for the leaders of the CTSI Mothers Leading Science (MLS) program when they designed the program in the hopes they would be building a community that remained relevant and enriching to its members.

Those hopes are clearly being met, since nearly 90 percent of past MLS participants attended an annual half-day retreat in December 2023. Such a strong turnout is a clear indication of the value they derive from MLS and the deep bonds they form with other participants.

“This program has been revolutionary to me,” said Susan A. Novotny, PhD, assistant professor
in the UMN Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and co-director of Orthopedic Research at Gillette Children’s. “It's really allowed me to find my worth as an individual, as a scientist, as a mother, as a collaborator. It's allowed me to see what I'm capable of and what my dreams can be, and it put me on a journey of change.”

The MLS program was created at the University of Minnesota in 2017 to address the lack of representation of women in senior leadership, the high rates of attrition of female scientists, and the challenges of women in academic health sciences research at the intersections of career, gender, and motherhood. It involves one year of formal programming, followed by an annual retreat and monthly leadership seminars led by past participants who talk about how they are applying what they learned. The program has graduated 39 participants and started its fifth cohort in January of this year.

Ann Weaver Hart at 2023 MLS retreat
Dr. Ann Weaver Hart addresses MLS retreat attendees

As part of this year’s retreat, MLS program leaders Michelle Lamere, MPA, ACC, CDTLF, and Allyson Hart, MD, MS, invited Ann Weaver Hart, PhD, to speak to attendees about her experience as a woman in academia and in leadership positions. Among her many career achievements, Weaver Hart has served as the president of three institutions: University of Arizona, University of New Hampshire, and Temple University.

“To hear from someone who made it so far in her career in different iterations, both in academia and as a university leader, was really inspiring,” said Rene Pierpont, PhD, assistant professor in the UMN Department of Pediatrics. “She talked a lot about different roadblocks that she met and different strategies that she used to overcome them. She spoke about persistence, about not letting people tell you that you can't reach the goals that you have set for yourself.”

Weaver Hart also addressed the self-doubt and guilt that arises for women when they pursue an academic career and have young children.

“I think there is always going to be that question in your mind of, ‘Am I doing enough at home, and am I doing enough at work?’,” said Pierpont. “She talked about that in a humorous way, but also in a very real way, which I appreciated. She talked about how you have to have some trust that your kids are going to be okay, they’re going to thrive, even with – or maybe even perhaps because of – having a mother who is super engaged with work.”

Program co-director Michelle Lamere described the importance of the annual retreat in keeping the lessons fresh and the network vibrant.

“The all-cohort retreat provides an opportunity for MLS alumni to be inspired by women who navigated leadership and motherhood in academia and their hopes for future generations of female leaders,” said Lamere. “It also ensures that the learning and the network grow and endure. This is not something that ends after the year of formal programming. It’s not a one and done with a line on your CV. We are creating a cadre of future institutional leaders who will transform health science research to make room for everyone to bring their best selves to their work and home lives.”

Both Novotny and Pierpont talked about the relationships that they have formed with other MLS participants and how much they value them.

“These women that you've formed these tight bonds with, we can get together and pick up right where we left off,” said Novotny. “When we get together in these informal capacities a lot of rich and meaningful conversation comes from it. They're asking, ‘Hey, you were struggling with so and so last time we met. How's that going? Did that get resolved?’ It's a friendship that you can't even really describe. It's somebody who knows you really well.”

Applications for the next Mothers Leading Science cohort will open in early summer 2024. Sign up for the CTSI email list to be notified when the RFA is released, or email [email protected] for more information.