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Women in Medicine: Jazmin Stenson

September is Women in Medicine Month, presented by the American Medical Association Women Physicians Section. Penn State College of Medicine honors Jazmin Stenson, biomedical PhD student at Penn State College of Medicine, in part one of this seven-part series.

Headshot of Jazmin Stenson

Jazmin Stenson, second-year biomedical PhD student at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa.

Jazmin Stenson remembers being in elementary school when a teacher told the class something that has stuck with her for more than two decades.

“She told us to dream big about what we wanted to be,” said Stenson, “but I remember during my childhood thinking what my teacher said was hard to believe. Our reality, and lack of resources, made it difficult to think big.”

It wasn’t until Stenson was older that she realized she could have oversized dreams. She’s now a second-year biomedical PhD student at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa.

It hasn’t been easy being so far away from home and family located in Oakland, Calif., but Stenson said she has learned that “You are your own best advocate, and you need to lean on yourself.”

Stenson and many other female students at the College of Medicine are creating a pathway for themselves in science. In her case, Stenson is immersed in research looking at proteins related to calcium signaling and its dysfunction in a variety of diseases.

Yet despite her tenacity, accomplishments and praise from her professors, Stenson occasionally has doubts about herself and thinks she needs to prove her worth.

“I feel like I have to show people that I earned my spot here – that there may be some doubt about it,” she explains.

Stenson isn’t alone. Studies show that young women, especially those in highly competitive programs, can have a sense that they don’t belong. They believe they need to work harder to show they should be in their position.

But despite those moments of questioning, she said she loves her research field and feels she can make a difference in people’s lives through her work. That is one of the things that keeps her going when she has a difficult day. She said she is astounded by all the great research done at the College of Medicine.

And while she respects all of her professors and the physicians she works with, she wishes she had more personal role models. Stenson doesn’t see many women in leadership roles in science and academia, especially women of color, which she hopes will change.

Her drive and motivation come from her grandparents, she explains. They grew up during the Jim Crow laws in the South. That experience, she realizes, limited their professional possibilities.

“I’m doing something they couldn’t do,” she said. “They didn’t have the opportunity that I do, so I want to make the most of it.”

If there is one piece of advice she would give to other women, especially Black women, Stenson doesn’t hesitate.

“Don’t be afraid of who you are. Don’t hide who you are,” she said. “You have a different perspective, which is good.”

She said she hopes more Black women will consider science and research as a career because the field needs varied voices and increased diversity can help mend the strained relationship between the science and medical communities and historically disenfranchised communities.

Harkening back to her elementary school teacher she adds “And don’t give up. Dream big.”

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