Loryn Phillips: On Being a Christian Woman in Science
Loryn Phillips shares her journey into science, and her experience being a Christian woman in science.
Loryn Phillip is a Ph.D. student at Indiana University in the Cell, Molecular, and Cancer Biology program. She is also on the leadership board of the group Christian Women in Science (CWiS).
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey into science? How and when did you know you wanted to become a scientist?
My journey first began when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was filled with a desire to understand what was happening inside my body. My cousin at the time was a medical student, and learning from her further contributed to my curiosity. I started attending my local community college during chemotherapy to gain a better understanding of biology and human anatomy. My grandfather became ill with stage IV lung cancer, during this time as well; we shared a common enemy. One day while we were sitting and talking, he told me to find a cure. This charge further solidified my determination to become a scientist.
What role did/does faith have in your science journey? Did you ever encounter conflict?
My faith used to consist of cherry picking from different religions to suit my needs and wants. After being diagnosed with cancer, I recommitted my life to Christ. My faith is what continues to guide me through my science journey. I do my best to keep God at the center of my life by doing small, but meaningful actions each day, like praying before my experiments. Even with large decisions, like deciding which graduate program to attend, I submit them to God and allow him to guide me.
As for conflict, I have not really encountered it. I initially only believed in microevolution, but over the years, God has shown me how science seeks to understand his majesty and design and how evolution, both at the micro and macro levels, reveals this too. Instead of being in conflict, I think science and faith rather complement each other and point to our amazing God.
God has shown me how science seeks to understand his majesty and design and how evolution, both at the micro and macro levels, reveals this too. Instead of being in conflict, I think science and faith rather complement each other and point to our amazing God.
You are on the leadership board of Christian Women in Science (CWiS). What is CWiS, and how did you get involved with the organization?
Christian Women in Science (CWiS) is an affiliate group of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), and it aims to support Christian women who are interested in the integration of faith and science, and to encourage them in their professional development and spiritual growth. CWiS is committed to affirming the role of women in science, supporting them at all stages of their professional calling and personal lives, and creating dynamic spaces to promote dialogue about the integration of Christian faith and science.
I got connected to CWiS in a somewhat fortuitous way. After receiving my Associates degree in Biotechnology, I started working as a laboratory technician. My faith and science started to collide in the working world. As I pursued my bachelors degree, I started to realize the need to have a safe place to engage with science and faith. I felt the call to start my own organization after my initial search did not yield anything. Fortunately, I stumbled upon the group Christians in Science (CIS) in England and decided to call them to inquire about joining a potential chapter here in the States. They introduced me to the American Scientific Affiliation, an International network of Christians in the sciences, which I immediately joined and registered to attend their annual conference. At the conference, I met Lynn Billman, an ASA member who founded CWiS. I had finally found the group and community I had been searching for. I immediately got plugged in, and the following year, I took over leadership for CWiS with help and guidance from Lynn.
Our goal (at CWiS) is to empower women as they impact their professional and Christian communities. Additionally, we aim to uphold women in Christ by encouraging them to pursue excellence and flourish in their profession.
On the CWiS website, there’s a quote from former First Lady Michelle Obama: “If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).” In your experience, what are some of the hurdles that women and girls in STEM face? What is some of the work that CWiS does to help address these challenges?
In my experience, some of the hurdles that women and girls in STEM face include being passed over for opportunities, harassment, reduced access to training and benefits than male counterparts, and so much more. Some of the work that CWiS does to address these issues is to offer resources, community, encouragement, host events that are catered to the needs of women, and provide a safe environment for intimate conversations about faith, science, and being a woman. Our goal is to empower women as they impact their professional and Christian communities. Additionally, we aim to uphold women in Christ by encouraging them to pursue excellence and flourish in their profession. Finally, CWiS seeks to equip and embolden women to contribute to dialogue about Christian faith and science.
We host online events called CWiS Live, which often have themes related to current topics and struggles in professional fields. Furthermore, we partner with other organizations like the ASA, The Well and the Emerging Scholars Network to co-sponsor or host events that encourage networking, collaboration, and dynamic conversation on various topics. Some of the recent events we have hosted include a screening and discussion of the documentary, “Picture a Scientist” (which I highly recommend watching) and a webinar on the topic of thriving as a woman in science. Taking part in events like these further illuminate to both men and women the struggles that Christian women in science face and can aid in changing the conversation and system. Hopefully, as these conversations grow, we can work together to overcome these hurdles that women often face.
Are there any unique challenges that Christian women in science face? What can colleagues, mentors, and even churches do to help?
On top of the challenges that already come with being a woman in science, Christian women in science carry additional burdens. We don’t want to lose the respect of our colleagues or jeopardize our careers because we identify as Christian, especially when we desire to be public and vocal about sharing God’s majesty in our work with others. I’ve noticed that sometimes when faith comes up in a conversation about my research, the atmosphere can change and become a little bit uncomfortable. It can be especially tricky navigating when to share my faith with more senior scientists or my superiors because of the power dynamics. There are additional challenges in the Church that Christian women in science may face as well. These can include feeling ashamed or not feeling safe to discuss their research for fear of ridicule or judgment, and feeling alone.
Thankfully organizations like BioLogos and the ASA, and groups like CWiS can help bridge the gap for Christians in the sciences, providing encouragement, fostering community and equipping the church to help. Their work helps to change misconceptions about an inherent conflict between faith and science, and together we can partner to combat issues Christian women in science face.
There are additional challenges in the church that Christian women in science may face as well. These can include feeling ashamed or not feeling safe to discuss their research for fear of ridicule or judgment, and feeling alone.
The representation of women in science is increasing, which may reflect the recent finding that school-age children, when asked to draw a picture of a scientist, are drawing more women than ever before. However, the study also found that boys still tended to draw male scientists more often than girls, and that as boys and girls grew older, both drew female scientists less and less. What do you think might be contributing to this? In what ways do you think we can make our impact on the next generation more permanent?
I think one contributing factor is that as children grow up it becomes apparent that women have historically had different or fewer career options than men. While the times are changing, women have traditionally been portrayed as primary caregivers and housewives. This was the case for me. I was ingrained with the idea that women become mothers and either stay at home or have a job that is more flexible to suit the demands of motherhood. While nothing is wrong with being a stay at home mom or primary caregiver, it is important that women are aware of the full gamut of opportunities available to them, and/or see examples of other women balancing careers with things like motherhood. I didn’t have many female role models growing up, but fortunately, when I became an adult, I was exposed to women changing this dynamic and speaking up for women’s rights and equality.
If anyone is interested in becoming a member of CWiS or learning more about the group, how can they do so? Also, anyone is welcome to join CWiS, correct? You just have to share in the values and mission to support Christian Women in STEM?
It is easy to become a member of CWiS. Go to the American Scientific Affiliation’s (ASA) website, click the Chapters pull down menu, select affiliate groups, and click on CWiS. You can follow the instructions described on that page or simply join ASA and become a member that way. You can also follow us on social media to stay updated on our events.
While CWiS is an organization primarily for women who are in science or interested in science, anyone is welcome to join our events and take part in respectful conversation regarding faith, science, and women in science.
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At BioLogos, “gracious dialogue” means demonstrating the grace of Christ as we dialogue together about the tough issues of science and faith.
About the authors
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