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Strong female presence helps fuel success at McLaughlin Research Institute

McLaughlin Research Institute
Strong female presence helps fuel success at McLaughlin Research Institute
Renee Reijo Pera
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Posted at 9:54 AM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 11:54:02-05

GREAT FALLS — February 11th marks the International Day for Women and Girls in Science. In Montana, you have to look no further than the McLaughlin Research Institute in Great Falls as a leading example.

“We have really strong women here,” said MRI Presient Dr. Renee Reijo Pera.

Reijo Pera is just the fifth director in the nearly 70-year history of the McLaughlin Research Institute.

She leads a team of researchers studying neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s. Much of that research is conducted by women.

“The quality of the people in this institute is unsurpassed,” said Reijo Pera. “I’ve been at Montana State University, at Stanford, the University of California system, and the quality of the folks here is extraordinary.”

Renee Reijo Pera
Renee Reijo Pera

Like many, Reijo Pera would like to see more girls and women enter science and be recognized for their efforts.

According to the United Nations, women are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues. They represent 33% of all researchers, but only 12% of members of national science academies are women.

In cutting edge fields like artificial intelligence, only about one in five or 22% is a woman.

Tiffany Hensley McBain is an immunologist and microbiologist at McLaughlin. She says more women in science means more ideas, which could lead to more break throughs.

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“If you have representation of both men and women and people of different backgrounds, I think the science is going to better, the ideas are going to be better,” said Hensley-McBain.

Andrea Grindeland is Mclaughlin’s Clinical Veterinarian. She just wrote a grant to study the genetic predisposition of Montana Wildlife to Chronic Wasting Disease.

While pay scales between men and women can vary, she feels a job in science can offer women more money, and in her case, family flexibility.

“I do have a family and I’m able to have a good work life balance here, unlike some other professions I could think of,” said Grindeland.

Reijo Pera says it might take a little to relay to girls that it’s alright to be a scientist, but that’s ok.

“It still is hard to identify as a scientist,” said Reijo Pera. “I think it’s important for us to show people that we can be somewhat normal and be a scientist.”

You can learn more about the research done and the history of the McLaughlin Research Institute by listening to the latest podcast of "McGonigal’s Chronicles: Making Montana Connections."

The "McGonigal’s Chronicles: Making Montana Connections" podcast is available on Omny.fm, iTunes, Spotify, Google, and Stitcher.
Previous guests include:

  • Jeff Ament of the rock band Pearl Jam
  • Sarah Calhoun, creator of the Red Ants Pants Music Festival
  • Jamie Ford, Great Falls-based NYT best-selling author
  • Nada Bakos, former CIA operative
  • John Cameron, retired Great Falls police detective
  • Dava Newman, former deputy administrator of NASA

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