Julie Bierer is an Associate Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences. She received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Michigan in 2001 and served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, San Francisco after she received her doctorate. In addition, she also earned a Master’s of Science in Audiology degree from San Francisco State University and completed clinical training in the Department of Otolaryngology at Stanford University. In 2005 she joined the faculty at the University of Washington, where she researches auditory neuroscience, or how the brain processes sound, in her Cochlear Implant Psychophysics Laboratory. Why did Dr. Bierer pursue a career in academia specifically? “I want my research and training to have the biggest impact possible on the next generation of scientists and clinicians.”
In an interview with UW ADVANCE, Dr. Bierer discusses her current research and advice for women in science.
Q&A: Current research and advice for female scientists
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: I seek to translate research from basic auditory neuroscience to clinical practice, with the end goal of improving the quality of life for individuals who are deaf, especially those who utilize cochlear implants. The implants are used on a wide scale and restore some degree of hearing by electrically stimulating the auditory nerve in those who do not benefit from traditional hearing aids. However, in my lab, we seek to develop new methods for stimulation founded in neuroscience, that we hope will be even more effective. For example, we are currently working on methods to target the surviving, healthy populations of neurons in our deaf patients so that we can maximize the signals that reach the brain to improve hearing ability.
I originally studied animal physiology, which informed my understanding of basic auditory neuroscience, and later veered toward research with human patients. I would love to do parallel research with both animals and humans, but running two laboratories requires more time and effort than I currently have available, so I now primarily work with humans and continue the animal research through collaborations.
Q: What advice do you have for women pursuing scientific careers?
A: When I was growing up, my parents told me that I could do anything. As I was looking for a major and career, I found myself wanting to prove that I could do something that few women do. I like a challenge! Based on my experience so far, I recommend that women in the sciences, or other male-dominated fields, be bold and assertive when negotiating about anything—space, resources, or salary. If possible, find out what the going salary rate is for your male and female colleagues and be sure you get equal pay from the beginning, otherwise we will always lag behind. I try to put myself out there and negotiate hard even though that’s not my natural tendency. In this way women can remain competitive and help close the gender gap in the sciences and other fields.