I (Ashley Bateman) recently won a scholarship from the Women in Graduate Sciences organization at the University of Oregon, to attend the 2016 Pacific Northwest Women in Science Retreat. The event was held at Camp Magruder in Rockaway Beach, OR from July 8th-10th. The attendees and workshop leaders featured over 100 women from across the STEM career spectrum, from graduate students, technicians, and post-docs to government and industrial early and late career scientists. The focus of this retreat is on professional skill development and professional networking, especially for and with other women scientists in the region. The retreat featured 3 main workshops: A COACh workshop on the Performing Art of Science Presentations, a Rehearsals for Life: workshop, and a Bragging workshop led by the enthusiastic Judy Giordan. We also heard from and asked questions of a diverse group of women on academic, industrial, and alternative career panels.

I want to give a special thank you to my advisors Drs. Brendan Bohannan and Jessica Green, who both provide such a supportive and inclusive research environment in their respective laboratories. Many of the women at this retreat could not say the same for their departments and/or their advisors at their workplace and/or institution. I feel very fortunate!

The COACh workshop was particularly helpful. Nancy Houfek, who led this workshop, is a stage director, award-winning actor, and nationally recognized theater educator, and presents workshops that combine theatre, storytelling, and leadership techniques for corporations, think tanks, universities, and professional organizations.

A few of my favorite summary points from her workshop:

  • Connection to the Audience: Energy Flow
    • Hold gaze 3-5 seconds with individual audience members. Make a connection.
    • Tennis ball exercise: tossing the ball between partners imitates the timing and feeling of making a connection with an audience member.
  • Physical Expression: Body Language, Gesture & Movement
    • Posture: Grounded & Open
      • Bring your feet to hip width, lengthen your spine from the tailbone to the base of the skull, float your head upward, let your shoulders drop and widen, allow your chest to be open and free, let your arms and hands hang loosely at your sides, breathe deeply into the ribcage, open your face and smile with your eyes.
    • Make sure to physically warm up for presentations, with virtually any kind of exercise.
    • Gestures: intentional use, to illuminate concepts
    • Moving around on stage: intentional
    • Mirror neurons & the audience: they mirror your attitude and vice versa
  • Think of other tactics to use besides Powerpoint.
    • Metaphors & Stories, in particular, can be very useful to connect with the audience.
  • Think about, “what do people need to know right now?”
    • Organize it into 3 main points, then pick powerpoint slides/make powerpoint slides, and use as few slides as possible.
  • Purpose & Passion: Clarify Goal and Connect to Self
    • Find a way to get the audience to ___________.
      • Example: get the audience to be excited about what I’ve contributed to my field…
    • Passion is contagious! Share it with your enthusiasm on stage.
  • Vocal Expression: Clear Speech, Operative Words
    • Vocal warm-up exercises
    • Intonation of voice: keep inflection downward; demonstrative.
    • Focus on articulating operative, keywords that all of us say rapidly.
      • Move your mouth!
  • Rehearse!


The Bragging Workshop was also a very useful, practical exercise. Led by the amazing Judy Giordan, a Vice President, Managing Director, and founder at ecosVC, a venture development and investment aligned firm; co-founder of the Chemical Angel Network; a member of the board of directors and/or advisor to science and engineering intensive start-ups; and Professor of Practice at OSU, we practiced working through several real-life scenarios from audience “volunteers”, that would allow us to practice effective negotiations/pitches/bragging sessions with colleagues and bosses. Asking for what you want, and effectively and positively sharing your value proposition are the most important take-a-aways from this particular workshop. A few of my other favorites are below:

  • Be the “CEO of me.” You are constantly shaping and marketing your brand of “you”. Be aware of that, and embrace it!
  • Share truthful proof points.
  • Some useful starting phrases: “The kind of challenge I like best is…”/“I really go for situations that require me to…”/“There’s nothing that gives me more satisfaction then…”
  • Ask yourself, “what am I proud of?”
  • Make sure you have an “ask” at the end of your pitch.
  • Find a clear differentiator for yourself. (Especially if seeking a position).
  • Establish your “what”, “why”, and with “whom” for your pitch, for effective and clear communication. Practice!
  • Use “ands” not “buts” in your sentences.
  • Practice memorable sound bites for yourself so that you have them ready to go!


The final workshop was titled, Rehearsals for Life: Addressing the Current State of Science Culture and the Tools to Improve your Community. 

“Rehearsals for Life” is a project of the UO Graduate School and the Office of the Dean of Students. Utilizing scenario-based learning founded on the model of Theatre of the Oppressed and other applied theatre modalities, students develop interactive presentations for their peers on issues facing graduate students today.


I would love to attend the conference next year, especially because I will be graduating and actively networking for my next career move. I hope to also be on the 2017 planning committee, in order to increase the amount of representation from women in the life sciences at the University of Oregon. I met some great collaborators for my dissertation research, including one doctoral student who I plan to visit at her home institution in order to share and learn laboratory methods.

A worthwhile retreat! Practical workshops at a beautiful location with new science friends – I can’t wait to attend next year!