Daphna Joel is a neuroscientist and professor whose research on questions related to the brain, sex, and gender is featured in this Newsela article. You can find the Text Set of articles she selected here.
What led you to the work you do today?
I have been a neuroscientist for around 20 years, and following the retirement of a colleague decided to replace her in teaching a course on the psychology of gender. While reading on the sexual differentiation of the brain in animals, I ran into a group of studies that demonstrated that the effects of sex on the brain may be different and even opposite under different environmental conditions (i.e., what is typical in one sex under some conditions may be typical in the other sex under other conditions). These observations made me realize that I was implicitly using sex effects on the genitals to conceptualize sex effects on the brain, that this conceptualization was completely wrong, and that if I am to understand the relation between sex and the brain, I need to put aside my preconceptions about sex effects.
What challenges have you faced as a woman pursuing a STEM career? What advice would you give to young women planning to pursue STEM careers?
As a woman pursuing a career in a society in which having kids is still considered a woman’s best achievement, I had to find my balance between career and family. At the workplace itself I rarely encountered explicit discrimination, although I am sure stereotypes about men, women and science affect my expectations from myself and the behavior of others towards me. My advice to everyone is - follow your passion and don’t pay too much attention to whether others think it is "gender-appropriate". The only question is whether your passion is appropriate for humans. The form of your genitalia has no relevance to this question.