Women in BME: Elizabeth Bottorff

Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Pre-Candidate

“My work focuses on neural engineering approaches to treat female sexual dysfunction. Neural engineering is a rapidly growing subdiscipline within biomedical engineering and my research focuses on neuromodulation. Neuromodulation, in short, is controlled delivery of electrical stimulation to nerve targets. It has an amazing potential to treat disorders and diseases historically treated with pharmaceuticals, such as female sexual dysfunction. Female sexual dysfunction is a prevalent disorder, affecting up to 40% of non-neurogenic women and almost all women with spinal cord injuries (SCI), with extremely complicated etiology that is still not well understood. I hope to impact the field in two main ways: I want to uncover some of the neural mechanisms that underlie female sexual function by developing a pre-clinical and clinical SCI model. This will allow us to “map” out the nerve pathways by comparing what stimulation locations work with what spinal circuits are intact. Second, I want to normalize female sexual dysfunction and facilitate discussion of female sexual health. It’s still a taboo subject in many cultures. The more we talk about it, the more we can give it the attention it deserves and focus on finding viable treatment options.”

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“Like many others that end up in this field, I was originally a pre-med student. I had only selected BME as a backup because it was relevant to medicine and I was good at math. Within the first year of undergrad, my backup major became the main one. It was a slow decision, but I think the combination of novel technology, helping others, and the beauty of objective thought are what pulled me in. Now that I’m fully here, I really enjoy what I do and it’s about as simple as that.”

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“My experience as a woman in BME was very privileged in the beginning. My first work experience was as a co-op student at a small medical device company. The office had maybe 20 people, and among them my lab manager, the vice president, and the chief scientific officer were all female. They are still people I admire to this day. I didn’t give gender bias a second thought. But as I have progressed through my graduate career, I’ve begun to notice a lack of female representation in senior faculty, conference panels, and research society leaders. My advice, and the advice I continue to try to take, is this: fake it ‘til you make it. If you don’t feel like you belong, pretend you do. If you don’t think you’re smart enough, pretend you are. Someone has to run that lab, make that discovery, or find that cure – don’t let doubt stop that person from being you.”

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Learn more about her lab here.

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