In 2023, MIT shed light on a sobering reality regarding the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics): women comprise only 28% of the STEM workforce, underlining a significant gender disparity that still exists today.
Despite this challenge, it's important to recognize and celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of women who have driven advancements in STEM.
As we mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we not only acknowledge these achievements but also seek to inspire the next generation of women in STEM.
Today, we're thrilled to present a special Q&A with Ariel Garten, co-founder of Muse and a trailblazing Canadian female neuroscientist. Ariel shares her career path in STEM, the birth of Muse, and the successes and challenges that have shaped her path to where she is today. Read on to learn more about her inspiring STEM journey!
Ariel's journey in STEM
Can you tell us a bit about your background in science and what led you to co-create the Muse headband?
My journey into science began in high school, sparked by a fascination with the world's workings and our biological systems.
A pivotal moment was in 1996 when a forward-thinking teacher introduced biotech equipment, including a PCR machine, in our science class. This led to a co-op in a research lab that evolved into a summer position, and I was hooked on science.
In university, I specialized in Neuroscience and later collaborated with Dr. Steve Mann in the early 2000s. Our work focused on using EEG technology to sonify brain activity, aiming to make the brain’s processes more accessible. For over a decade, we experimented with this technology's potential, exploring how we could use it to help people improve their brains.
A big “aha” moment came when we realized we could help people meditate with EEG technology. We knew there were studies demonstrating that meditation could significantly improve brain health.
We also knew most people found it challenging to meditate since it was difficult to understand what was happening in their minds during meditation, which made it hard to know what they were supposed to do. Our technology, which we named Muse, could solve that problem. We could let meditators know in real-time what their mind was doing while they meditated and guide them to meditate more effectively—that’s how Muse was born.
Now, we've evolved far beyond just a meditation tool. We delved into the next problem of helping people get better sleep. The sleep technology introduced with our Muse S Headband has proven to match the accuracy of sleep experts and improve sleep by 20%.
Over 200 research studies highlight the benefits of Muse, ranging from monitoring stress reduction and improving quality of life in breast cancer patients to supporting researchers and clinicians in critical areas such as anxiety detection and stroke diagnosis.
The possibilities of Muse are endless. With the emergence of other neurotechnology tools, we’re marking a new era in understanding and enhancing brain health.
Were there any challenges you faced as a woman in science, and if so, how did you overcome them?
In my generation (I’m currently 42 years old), starting from my teenage years when I first became interested in science, it has been a welcoming and inclusive field.
However, in the world of engineering and computer science, I've observed gender disparities. I have personally faced obstacles as a woman in the technology sector, and I imagine there may have been some hidden challenges in corporate environments that could have been different if I were male.
It's truly inspiring to witness the success of numerous women in the science sector. I firmly believe that by consistently highlighting and celebrating female representation and accomplishments in the technology and engineering industry, we can make significant progress, because female representation matters.
Have you seen the landscape change for women in science and technology since you began your career?
The landscape for women in technology has undergone significant changes in the 20 years since I began my career.
Initially, there was a noticeable gender gap, particularly in engineering, but we have started to witness a shift in recent years. For instance, the number of women earning degrees in engineering has more than doubled since I started my career. Still, the current statistics show that only 1 in 5 engineering degrees goes to women.
At Muse, we've made it a priority to hire more women in technical roles, such as our brilliant Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Marcela Guerra.
Continued progress is essential, and this change can be attributed to proactive initiatives aimed at making science and technology more appealing, as well as efforts to dismantle gender stereotypes.
What has been your most rewarding moment with Muse?
There have been so many! One that stands out is from our first Amazon reviews.
A woman mentioned that her husband was undergoing cancer treatment, and using Muse helped her be more supportive of him and their children during this challenging time. I couldn't help but cry when I read that. Knowing that Muse has made a positive impact on so many people, sometimes during their toughest moments is incredibly rewarding.
The Mayo Clinic has now conducted studies on Muse, including its role in cancer survivorship and breast cancer diagnosis management.
How do you see Muse contributing to the broader conversation and understanding of mental health, especially for women?
As the co-creator of Muse, my personal journey towards enhancing my mental wellbeing led to the development of tools to manage distractions and process emotions.
My perspective as a woman encouraged me to consider what could benefit other women throughout various stages of life, particularly given the underrepresentation of females in healthcare research.
Muse recognizes the importance of supporting and studying the unique needs of all genders, and over 500,000 individuals have since used Muse to help manage stress, focus, sleep, and emotional regulation.
What advice would you give to young girls and women aspiring to enter the fields of science and technology?
It's an exciting time to be a woman aspiring to enter the fields of science, mathematics, and technology! Today, there's an abundance of enthusiasm, mentorship, and financial support more accessible than ever before.
If you have a passion for these fields, start by taking relevant subjects in school, consider joining robotics clubs, and don't hesitate to reach out to local scientists to explore opportunities to volunteer in their labs. You can even embark on your own scientific adventures with the wealth of resources available online, such as DIY experiments from YouTube.
My final piece of advice for aspiring girls and women seeking to make their mark in STEM - embrace your curiosity, work hard, and remember that the world of science eagerly awaits your invaluable contributions.