UT Austin Biomedical Engineering Professor Dr. Mia K. Markey discussed her career as a scientist, researcher, and professor in a male-dominated space; offering advice to other female scientists about how they can navigate similar challenges.

Dr. Markey said that early in her career, role models and idols were hard to come by. Specifically, finding role models that were also parents and could understand the difficulties of a work-life balance became frustrating.

To overcome these challenges, Dr. Markey became a strong advocate to “make spaces” for women in the male-dominated field. This included baby-changing areas and access to female and all-gender restrooms, which didn’t exist when she entered the professional academic space. Dr. Markey cites Dr. Janet Ellzey (Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering) and Dr. Lynn Katz (Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering Department) as key role models that inspired her to advocate for equity in the Cockrell School.

While the times are slowly changing, the difficulties for women in biomedical engineering and the scientific field at-large are still rampant. Dr. Markey suggests that women remain mindful there are multiple pathways to success and be open to a variety of career opportunities.

Dr. Markey said it is important for people to remember that when they see successful women scientists, they don’t see previous psychological or career struggles that were overcome in the past.

Lastly, Markey advised it is important for women to recognize there remains a bias toward male scientists and that women can experience ‘cultural taxation’ because they are expected to mentor many students and junior colleagues. Thus, when seeking out mentors or idols, Markey suggests that gender must not be the only factor. In addition to mentorship by other women faculty, especially early-career mentoring by Dr. Melba Crawford (now with Purdue University), Markey says that the support of allies like Al Bovik (Chandra Family Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering) has been crucial for her.

Dr. Markey’s research focuses on developing computational algorithms to advance post-operational care for patients, particularly those who have a mastectomy to treat or reduce their risk of breast cancer. A key goal of the research is improving communication between patients and providers for shared decision-making and enhancing the informed consent process.

“When a patient undergoes a surgery such as a mastectomy there can be major changes to their body image.  Partial or complete removal of the breasts can introduce challenges related to gender expression and sexuality. It is crucial for people to fully understand their surgical options, the possible outcomes, and the bodily changes they may face in the long run,” said Dr. Markey.

Dr. Markey’s Biomedical Informatics Lab designs decision support systems for clinical decision-making and scientific discovery. The group seeks opportunities to advance health-related quality of life and health equity as part of the Multidisciplinary Breast Reconstruction Research Program.