How Today’s Google Doodle, Dr. Virginia Apgar, Made A Big Difference

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Today is the birthday of Dr. Virginia Apgar, who has helped make many, many, many birthdays possible.  The pioneering doctor lived from June 7, 1909, to August 7, 1974, and is the subject of today’s Google Doodle. You can’t really go through medical school without knowing Apgar’s name, at least her last name. Here’s why.

In 1952, Dr. Apgar unveiled the Apgar score. Besides being her last name, Apgar stands for the following five domains “Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration” of the score. Basically 1 minute and 5 minutes after a baby is born, doctors, nurses, and midwives will score the baby from 0 to 2 (with 2 being the best) for each of these domains. The following table from the KidsHealth website shows how this scoring is done:

You then sum the 5 domain scores to get a sense of the baby’s overall health. If you do the math, you will see that the total score can range from a 0 to a 10 with a higher score being better. A baby rarely scores a 10, because most babies have at least blue hands and feet when they are born (hey, life ain’t easy and not everyone is the best at everything). A score of 7 or higher is normal. Lower than 7 merits immediate medical attention such as potentially oxygen, clearing out the airway, or physical stimulation to get the heart beating faster as the U.S. National Library of Medicine describes. Time may be all that the baby needs, since low scores at 1 minute frequently become normal at 5 minutes. Sometimes a doctor, nurse, or midwife may check an Apgar score 10 minutes after birth if any questions remain.

Of course, an Apgar score is only an immediate assessment and usually does not forecast either good or bad health in the future. So putting your good Apgar score on your resume will impress no one. A high Apgar score doesn’t necessarily mean that everything will be beer and Skittles from thereon. Similarly babies with low initial Apgar scores can go on to have very healthy lives.

While it may seem routine now, using a standardized way to check a baby’s health was not standard practice before Dr. Apgar invented the score. Newborn care was a lot more haphazard, making survival among infants, especially those born prematurely, more challenging.

It was an accomplishment for Dr. Apgar even to get to a position to make such an important invention. Back when she graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1929 and then from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1933, the “Apgar” score for the medical careers of women and minorities was very, very low. Very few were even allowed into medical school, let alone progress in their careers afterwards. But Dr. Apgar was a persistent pioneer, eventually becoming the first woman to achieve the rank of full professor at her medical alma mater in 1949. Things aren’t smooth sailing for women and minorities today in medical and academic careers. But you can thank Dr. Apgar for at least making some initial inroads.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

How This Psychologist Is Making Therapy More Accessible For Black Millennial Women

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According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Services, African-Americans are 20%  more likely to experience psychological distress such as depression, suicide, PTSD and anxiety than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

Meet Dr. Bradford, a licensed psychologist based in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of Therapy for Black Girls. Passionate about changing the stigma surrounding mental health issues and therapy which often prevents black women from taking the step of seeing a therapist, Bradford aims to alleviate the process of seeking relief for mental health-related issues within the black community, by fostering a safe space to present mental health topics to black millennial women in a digestible way.

Previously a college counselor, Bradford leveraged her people person and problem solver skills to create the Therapy for Black Girls platform in 2014. The Therapy for Black Girls platform now reaches over 32,000 members with its blog, podcast, social media communities, and very own national therapist directory, that lists black women mental health providers nationally.

I spoke with Bradford about what inspired her to create Therapy for Black Girls, why there’s a stigma surrounding mental health in the black community and the challenges that isolate black women millennials from seeking mental health care.

Dominique Fluker: As a licensed psychologist, speaker and host of the wildly popular mental health podcast, Therapy for Black Girls, share why you decided to create the online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of black women and girls? 

Dr. Joy Bradford: I created the space because I really wanted Black women to have a place to go to get information about mental health that felt relevant and accessible to them. I wanted to be able to share information about recognizing signs and symptoms of mental illness but also to have conversations about the kinds of things we can do to encourage mental wellness.

Fluker: How is the Therapy for Black Girls platform combating the stigma surrounding mental health issues and therapy for African-American women?

Bradford: I think it’s combating stigma because it is making topics that were once taboo, ok to be publicly discussed. I think that topics covered on the podcast have given people language for some of the things they may have been struggling with, and I think the directory has allowed scores of women to connect with mental health professionals across the country who are excited about providing high-quality care to them.

Fluker: What are the challenges that black women millennial face daily that might make them feel isolated from mental health care?

Bradford: I think that sometimes black millennial women worry that their issues are not “big” enough to go to therapy and so they don’t utilize the service. I also think that sadly a lot of black millennial women also don’t feel like providers will really get them and it feels really hard to go into space where you’re supposed to be very transparent but not able to be comfortable. Additionally, I think that the cost may be prohibitive for some people who may want to go to therapy. Even with insurance, it may be difficult to afford therapy, but without it, there can be a lot of hoops to jump through to find lower cost therapy that is a good fit.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

Here’s How This Latina Navigated Her Transition From Finance To Tech

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Marlene Arroyo may have started her career in finance, but it was the human aspect of any job that always drew her in. From Dell to her current role as Vice President of People Operations at Liftoff Mobile Inc., a high growth tech company in Silicon Valley, she has made it her career mission to champion employees and embrace how their humanity impacts their jobs.It was knowing what her career mission was at its core that made it possible for her to transition from one career path to the next.

“Philosophically, it became apparent to me that human resources was my calling when, as a finance professional, I’d enjoy spending most of my time dissecting costs associated to SG&A, training, hiring and coaching,” shares Arroyo. “Mechanically, the way I was able to make this transition was by having informational meetings with HR executives, taking evening courses, asking for help and being open about my aspirations to my sponsors. While the art of Human Resources came naturally to me, to differentiate myself, I needed to supercharge the impact I delivered by drawing from my finance experience and ensuring that my strategic recommendation were backed by data.”

Now, she uses her skill-set to help others achieve the kind of growth that she’s constantly challenged herself to work towards.

“My biggest motivation [through this journey] has been my family,” says Arroyo. “I feel incredibly blessed to be the daughter of immigrant parents who instilled in me work ethic and resilience. While my parents still do not completely understand what I do, they know I work hard and they are my biggest fans. Each education milestone and career progression has been theirs as well. Their American Dream lives in me and owning that, keeps me motivated .”

Growing up in the Latinx culture and within her own family unit can explain in part why Arroyo has felt the desire to pay it forward to other generations by way of her career.

Below she shares advice for Latinxs who are searching for advice on how to land their dream job, how to self-care if you’re in the position of constantly pouring into others, and how to make sure you’re learning the most from your current job.

Vivian Nunez: How has your Latinidad influenced your career?

Marlene Arroyo: Passion, humility, honor, perseverance – are all a part of my core values that I hold because of my Latinidad. Knowing that there is a lot more work to be done to help young Latinas see that they, too, can achieve their goals, keeps me in the arena.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

UCLA neurosurgeon named to National Academy of Medicine

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Election honors Dr. Linda Liau’s contributions to health care and science

Dr. Linda Liau, an internationally renowned neurosurgeon-scientist and chair of the neurosurgery department at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, has been elected by her peers to the National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.

Membership honors people who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements, commitment to service and contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health.

A scientist in UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, Liau has devoted the past 25 years to developing and refining treatment strategies for glioblastoma, the most deadly form of brain tumor. Her research in the early 1990s led to her creating one of the first personalized vaccines, using a patient’s own tumor specimen and white blood cells to activate the immune system to fight off cancer.

“I have always had a huge drive to prove that things that seem impossible can actually be possible someday,” Liau said. “When I first started working on brain tumor immunotherapy, everyone told me that you can’t mount an immune response in the brain. Now we know that’s not true.”

Recognized for her expertise in complicated tumor surgery, Liau attracts patients from around the world and has performed more than 2,000 brain tumor surgeries. Her research has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health for the past two decades, and she has written more than 160 research articles, along with several book chapters and textbooks.

She also is a trailblazer in her specialty: Just 6 percent of licensed neurosurgeons in the U.S. are female, and Liau is only the second woman in the nation — and the first Asian-American woman — to lead an academic department of neurosurgery. As chair, Liau directs a clinical team of more than 60 neurosurgeons, neuroscientists, residents, fellows and other specialists in the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery, one of the world’s foremost centers for neurosurgical research, clinical care and education.

Continue onto UCLA Newsroom to read the complete article.

Donna Strickland is the 3rd woman ever to win the Nobel prize in physics

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“I thought there might have been more,” Strickland said, reacting to her win. She shares the prize with two other laser physicists.

The 2018 Nobel prize in physics has been awarded to three scientists — including one woman — for advancing the science of lasers and creating extremely useful tools out of laser beams.

The winners include Arthur Ashkin, 96, a retired American physicist who worked Bell Labs; Gerard Mourou, 74, now at the École Polytechnique in France and University of Michigan; and Donna Strickland, 59, now at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

These scientists are responsible for two important inventions. One is laser tweezers, which allow scientists to manipulate microscopic particles (often viruses and bacteria) within a laser beam. The second is a technology that led to the rapid increase of laser beam intensity, which has allowed for myriad laser-based tools, including the beams commonly used in laser eye surgery.

Ashkin, who took half of the $1 million prize, invented the optical (i.e., laser) tweezers in his work with Bell Labs in the 1980s. Mourou and Strickland worked on laser amplification at the University of Rochester, also in the 1980s.

Astonishingly, Strickland is just the third woman to have ever won the Nobel prize in physics. The prize has not been awarded to a woman since 1963 when Maria Goeppert-Mayer won for her work on atomic structure. That was 55 years ago! The only time a woman was awarded the prize before that was in 1903 when Marie Curie won for her work on radioactivity.

During the Nobel Prize press conference Tuesday morning, Strickland was reminded by a reporter she was the just third woman to win, and immediately responded, “Is that all, really? I thought there might have been more.”

She went on: “We need to celebrate women physicists because we’re out there. Hopefully, in time, it will start to move forward at a faster rate.” The Nobel committee has long been criticized for neglecting to honor women (who have been denied prizes, despite being behindsome incredible discoveries in recent decades.)

Why laser physics is worthy of a Nobel Prize

The Nobel prizes award discoveries and inventions that lead to the betterment of humanity. Strickland, and co-inventor Gerard Mourou, did just that. After lasers, which are focused beams of light, were first invented in the 1960s, the power and intensity they could reach quickly plateaued. That’s where Strickland and Mourou came in.

Continue onto Vox to read the complete article.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: What to know about the latest developments in breast cancer research, treatment and prevention

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month kicks off on Monday.

Often associated with pink ribbons and 5K walks, the movement has been wildly popular: National Cancer Institute (NCI) funding for breast cancer totaled $520 million in 2016.

The increasing breast cancer awareness comes at a time when women can find substantial improvements in breast cancer treatment.

Here’s what you need to know about the latest developments.

How common is breast cancer?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women (besides skin cancer), and the second most common cause of cancer death in women.

Approximately 266,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer by the end of 2018.

In 2015, there were an estimated 3.4 million women living with breast cancer.

What you can do

We’ve known for a while that your risk of breast cancer gets lower with some lifestyle changes. Women who exercise, don’t smoke, don’t binge drink, stay a healthy weight after menopause, and use the pill for a shorter number of years have a lower risk.

Breast mammography, although imperfect, has been instrumental in detecting breast cancer when it does occur. Recommendations regarding screening are controversial: the question is the age that screening should begin.

The American College of Radiology (ACR) recommends annual screening starting at age 40, while the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) believes that you should be screened every two years starting at age 50.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends annual screening at age 45, with the option for women to be screened when they’re 40 if they prefer. The differences reflect changing opinions on what age the benefits of screening outweigh the risks.

New to the scene is breast tomosynthesis, a 3-D screening tool that received FDA approval in 2011. Research has shown better cancer detection rates with tomosynthesis, and fewer “false alarms,” when women with no disease are mistakenly called back for further testing.

In patients with dense breast tissue, screening ultrasounds can improve detection rates. In patients with the highest risk of developing breast cancer, screening breast MRIs, in combination with mammography, have been shown to improve survival.

Continue onto ABC News to read the complete article.

Digital Skills Help Narrow the Workplace Gender Gap

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Digitally savvy women are helping to close the gender gap in the workplace.

And digital fluency, the extent to which people embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected and effective, plays a key role in helping women achieve gender equality and level the playing field.

A new research report from Accenture—Getting to Equal: How Digital is Helping Close the Gender Gap at Work—provides empirical proof that women are using digital skills to gain an edge in preparing for work, finding work and advancing at work. The report provides ample evidence that digital fluency acts as an accelerant at every stage of a woman’s career—a powerful one in both education and employment and an increasingly important factor for advancing into the ranks of leadership.

If governments and businesses can double the pace at which women become digitally fluent, gender equality could be achieved in 25 years in developed nations, versus 50 years at the current pace. Gender equality in the workplace could be achieved in 45 years in developing nations, versus 85 years at the current pace.

“Women represent an untapped talent pool that can help fill the gap between the skills needed to stay competitive and the talent available,” said Pierre Nanterme, Accenture’s chairman and chief executive officer. “There is a clear opportunity for governments and businesses to collaborate on efforts that will empower more women with digital skills—and accelerate gender equality in the workforce.”

Although digital fluency clearly helps women train for and gain employment, the relationship between digital fluency and women’s advancement is not as significant. This is expected to change as more millennial women and digital natives move into management; the research found that in the United States, six in 10 millennial women surveyed aspire to be in leadership positions.

While the research determined that digital fluency is having a positive impact on pay for both men and women, the gap in pay between genders is still not closing. Men are, by far, the dominant earners by household across all three generations—Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers.

“There are many ways to narrow the gender gap in the workplace, but digital is a very promising avenue,” said Julie Sweet, Accenture’s group chief executive for North America. “This is a powerful message for all women and girls. Continuously developing and growing your ability to use digital technologies, both at home and in the workplace, has a clear and positive effect at every stage of your career. And it provides a distinct advantage, as businesses and governments seek to fill the jobs that support today’s growing economy.”

Source: Accenture

Science ‘Mojo’ and an Executive Dream Team: CEO Emma Walmsley’s Bold Prescription for Reviving GlaxoSmithKline

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The new boss is quickly shaking up the three-century old pharma firm.

EMMA WALMSLEY was just six weeks into her tenure as CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, the $38.9 billion British pharmaceutical firm, when “Glaxit” happened.

Glaxit was not a world-shaking geopolitical tremor à la Brexit, but for GSK it may have seemed hardly less significant. Neil Woodford, the much celebrated British fund manager—who had gained fame for coming out of the dotcom crash and the global financial crisis unscathed, and one of GSK’s largest shareholders—announced he was quitting the company. In a blistering 958-word critique—published on May 12, 2017, and garnering coverage from Reuters to the Telegraph—Woodford explained why, after 15 years, he was pulling every last pence out of GSK stock.

Those 15 years had been “frustrating” for him; GSK had remained throughout, he charged, “a health care conglomerate with a suboptimal business strategy.”

Woodford had long been one of GSK’s most vocal critics; for years he had clamored for it to break up into its constituent businesses. (The company has pharmaceutical, vaccine, and consumer health divisions.) He argued the gambit, fashionable in Big Pharma these days, would unlock shareholder value through more focused stand-alone companies. GSK’s leaders—most recently former CEO Sir Andrew Witty—had consistently rejected the idea, contending that the firm’s conglomerate structure provided stability and some synergies.

But the last straw for Woodford seemed to be Walmsley. Of the company’s new chief executive, he wrote, “Even before taking her seat she has been keen to portray herself as a ‘continuity candidate.’” In other words, more of the same.

Walmsley may not be ready to ditch GSK’s conglomerate structure, but in almost every other way, Woodford’s description couldn’t be more wrong.

To begin with, there’s who she is. Neither a man nor a scientist, Walmsley is something of an outsider in pharmaland. She’s the only woman to run one of the large innovative drugmakers, and her path was hardly a typical one. A marketing whiz who spent 17 years at L’Oréal, Walmsley joined GSK in 2010 and started running the company’s consumer health care business the following year.

Then, there’s what she’s done. Since taking charge in April 2017, Walmsley, No. 1 on Fortune’s International Power 50 list, has made swift and radical changes. Within months, she had replaced 40% of her top managers and pulled the plug on 30 drug development programs and 130 brands. She announced plans to stop selling Tanzeum, a diabetes drug for which GSK had won FDA approval only three years prior.

Within a year, she sold off the rare-disease unit and initiated a strategic review of the company’s cephalosporins antibiotic business. She assembled a roster of all-star talent to fill out her executive team, and in July she did a $300 million deal with 23andMe, the data-rich direct-to-consumer genetic testing company. She instituted new (and unheard of, at GSK) levels of organizational hygiene—implementing uniform key performance indicators, employee standards, and strategies across GSK’s three businesses. As Walmsley told Fortune in June: “The way I define the job is, firstly, in setting strategy for the company, and then leading the allocation of capital to that strategy—because until you put the money where you say your strategy is, it’s not your strategy.” For the new boss, that means a new commitment to R&D.

She has also embarked on a cultural overhaul: Meetings get straight to the point and often begin with the question, “What are we here for?” In her first interview as CEO, she told the Financial Times, a bit clumsily, that GSK scientists would no longer be “drifting off in hobbyland” under her watch.

Walmsley is the fresh face of discipline and rigor at GSK. When asked how her communication style compared with that of her predecessor Witty, a senior leader who recently left the company chuckled before responding they couldn’t be more different.

Continue onto Fortune to read the complete article.

Memo to the Silicon Valley boys’ club: Arlan Hamilton has no time for your BS

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Backstage in the greenroom of the podcast festival where she’s scheduled to appear, Arlan Hamilton is quietly singing the lyrics to Janet Jackson’s “Control.” She’d like to walk on stage as the song plays, but the festival crew has copyright concerns. So instead, she is shimmying offstage in her chair, half-humming the chorus under her breath: “I’m in control / Never gonna stop / Control / To get what I want / Control / I like to have a lot.”

Like everything Hamilton does, the song request is equal parts self-aware and unapologetic. Hamilton knows that she stands out—she is the only black, queer woman to have ever built a venture capital firm from scratch. She also knows that she has a reputation for being direct, particularly when it comes to Silicon Valley biases, and how her own story is portrayed. (Indeed, the song is a jab at Gimlet Media, the podcast festival hosts, who devoted an entire episode of their StartUp series on her to what they saw as her sometimes counterproductive need for control.) But Hamilton exudes calm, even as she attempts, through her L.A.-based firm, Backstage Capital, the near impossible task of disrupting the way that venture investors pick winners and create wealth.

“It was crazy to me that 90% of venture funding was going to white men, when that is not how innovation, intelligence, and drive is dispersed in the real world,” she tells me. “I had no background in finance, but I just saw it as a problem. Maybe it’s because I was coming from such a different place that I could recognize it.”

Three years ago, the then 34-year-old Hamilton arrived in Silicon Valley with no college degree, no network, no money, and a singular focus: to invest in underrepresented founders by becoming a venture capitalist. The story of how the former music-tour manager studied up on investing from her home in Pearland, Texas, and pushed her way into the rarified world of venture capital, scoring investments from the likes of Marc Andreessen and Chris Sacca, has become legendary in the industry. After making contact with Y Combinator president Sam Altman, she bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco. For months she stalked investors by day and slept on the floor of the San Francisco airport at night. She was broke. Finally, in September 2015, she got her first check, for $25,000, from Bay Area angel investor Susan Kimberlin, who believed in Hamilton’s vision that the Valley’s lack of diversity wasn’t a talent-pipeline problem as much as a resources problem: Diverse entrepreneurs needed money. With Kimberlin’s endorsement, Hamilton created Backstage Capital and began investing. Other funding soon followed, from backers including Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and Box CEO Aaron Levie. This past June, Hamilton announced that Backstage had exhausted its first three seed funds, doling out between $25,000 and $100,000 to 100 startups in everything from beauty products to business analytics. And at all 100, at least one founder is a woman, person of color, or someone who identifies as LGBTQ.

Now Hamilton is gearing up for Backstage’s next chapter, a $36 million fund dedicated exclusively to black women founders, a demographic that’s glaringly absent in Silicon Valley: Just three dozen black women entrepreneurs, nationwide, have raised more than $1 million in venture funding. Hamilton calls her latest initiative the “It’s about damn time fund.” Her first two $1 million investments, to be announced before the end of the year, will go to existing Backstage portfolio companies. And that’s just the start. This spring, Hamilton will launch the Backstage Accelerator to foster early-stage startups with locations slated for L.A., Philadelphia, and London. She’s also laying the groundwork for a $100 million fund to provide underrepresented founders with even larger checks.

Every nascent VC is under pressure to demonstrate success—Hamilton even more so. Those in Silicon Valley who believe that the next Facebook will be created by a woman or person of color are watching her portfolio closely. Others view Backstage with more skepticism, seeing her funds as relatively inexpensive ways for investors to appear committed to diversity without having to do the hard work internally.

Hamilton shrugs it off. In an industry where privilege begets privilege—and at a time when racial justice in this country seems precarious, at best—she is claiming her seat at the table. “How much of a fist in the air would it be to just be obnoxiously wealthy as a gay black woman?” she wonders. “And [how powerful] to be able to help other people do the same?”

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

How This Tech Founder Is Giving The Internet A Face Lift By Changing The Way We Shop

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Shirley Chen’s list of experiences is as diverse as it is impressive: she spent her childhood on China’s national gymnastics team, studied biochemical engineering at Columbia University, interned at Chanel, Bergdorf Goodman, and Vogue, and worked as a media and retail consultant at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.

Chen never imagined her resume would include founding a company. But when a former Vogue colleague tapped her on the shoulder to run the marketing and business development for luxury goods brand Moda Operandi, a seed was planted. Chen was tasked with driving customer acquisition with a specific focus on digital e-commerce, and that’s where she spotted a gap in the market.

Companies were so focused on the traffic from traditional platforms like Google and Facebook that they were missing a valuable source of customer acquisition—online content. When consumers wanted to find the trendiest swimsuit, most effective blackout curtains, or best-priced coffee maker, they looked for the answer in online magazines and blogs. The problem with that was two-fold. On the one hand, thanks to an aging internet, many older links on publishers’ pages are dead, leading consumers to 404 pages. On the other, many publishers were using hardcoded, static links to Amazon product pages (some 650 million times per month), meaning consumers didn’t have the opportunity to consider purchasing from other retailers, even if Amazon didn’t have the best price. In either case, it was a lose-lose-lose situation for consumers, advertisers, and publishers alike.

Chen devised a solution with Narrativ, a tech company that’s using AI to #EndThe404 and build a better internet for shoppers by making sure that every time they click on a product link on a publisher’s site, it will lead not just to an active page, but to the retailers with the best price.

“We built a SmartLink technology that repaired broken links online, and we democratized that pipeline that was being hard credited to Amazon through content,” Chen explained. “The mission is to improve the consumer shopping experience and build a better research experience as well when it comes to buying products.”

The results so far have been stellar. In the year since their launch out of stealth mode, Narrativ has raised over $3.5 million in venture capital, rewired more than one billion links, and impacted more than 200 million internet users each month. Narrativ, who has also partnered with notable brands like Dermstore, Ulta Beauty, and New York Magazine, is set to deliver more than $600 million in advertiser value in 2018, and has earned a nod from the World Economic Forum as a Technology Pioneer.

Chen stands at the helm of it all, CEO of a game-changing tech company she was once almost too afraid to build. She recalls the nervousness she felt when the idea first came to her. She approached two former employers to build it, but both declined. That’s when Chen’s mentor, head of McKinsey’s North America Media spoke the words that fired her up: “Why don’t you build this thing on your own? I think you’re being a real coward.” She knew that he spoke not to discourage her, but to push her to make a move.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

Decades After Being Passed Over for a Nobel, Jocelyn Bell Burnell Gets Her Due

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Honored with a Special Breakthrough Prize, the astrophysicist says she’ll use the winnings to fund scholarships to support today’s outsiders in the field.

The Nobel Prize is infamous for snubbing women in the sciences. Just ask astrophysicist Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell, whose groundbreaking discovery of pulsars was overlooked when her male advisor was awarded a Nobel in 1974. Now, as Sarah Kaplan and Antonia Noori Farzan report for the Washington Post, 51 years after Bell Burnell made the first documented observations of the energetically charged corpses of bygone stars known as pulsars, her contributions to the field are being honored with a $3 million Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. Bell Burnell is the fourth recipient of the prestigious award, whose previous honorees include Stephen Hawking, the seven CERN scientists whose leadership led to the discovery of the Higgs boson and the LIGO collaboration that detected gravitational waves.

“Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s discovery of pulsars will always stand as one of the great surprises in the history of astronomy,” says Edward Witten, the chair of the Breakthrough Prize selection committee, in a press release.

Bell Burnell was a doctoral student in physics at Cambridge University when she first noticed the series of mysterious, highly regular blips in the readout of a radio telescope in 1967. Further observations showed that the pulses were occurring every 1.3 seconds, creating barely perceptible “squiggles” in her data. Bell Burnell’s advisor, Antony Hewish, was, at first, skeptical of the findings, dismissing them as artifacts in her readings. But Bell Burnell was certain it was not just artifical noise. In early 1968, her work paid off with the publication of the first scientific paper documenting pulsars.

As Space.com writer Calla Cofield explains, pulsars, compact, spherical objects belonging to the “family of objects called neutron stars,” emit beams of radiation from their two poles—but because pulsars rotate, these energetic jets appear to “pulse” as they pass in and out of view. Due to these precise pulses, astronomers can use pulsars as landmarks to map the cosmos, or as metronomes to track the timing of interstellar events millions of lightyears away. In the decades since their discovery, physicists have also used pulsars to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity and detect gravitational waves.

The discovery of pulsars was such a big deal that in 1974, Hewish shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for it alongside fellow astronomer Martin Ryle. It was the first time the prize had ever been awarded to the field of astronomy—but Bell Burnell’s contributions to the breakthrough find went unmentioned.

As Bell Burnell told Jane J. Lee at National Geographic in 2013, such an oversight was more or less par for the course: “The picture people had at the time of the way that science was done was that there was a senior man—and it was always a man—who had under him a whole load of minions, junior staff, who weren’t expected to think, who were only expected to do as he said.”

The Special Breakthrough Prize honors not only Bell Burnell’s landmark discovery, but also her constant engagement with the scientific community and beyond. In the past five decades, she has remained both an educator and researcher, serving as president of the Royal Astronomical Society and the first woman president of both the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Currently, Bell Burnell is a visiting professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford and chancellor of the University of Dundee. She was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2007.

Bell Burnell will officially receive the award in November at the Breakthrough Prize’s 2019 ceremony in California’s Silicon Valley. However, she has already announced her plans to donate the $3 million associated with the Prize to Britain’s Institute of Physics to fund scholarships for women, underrepresented groups and refugees interested in studying physics. Drawing from her own experiences as a woman in science, Bell Burnell says she wants the money to help counter the “unconscious bias” that still pervades the field, reports Pallab Ghosh at BBC News.

Continue onto the Smithsonian to read the complete article.