ORP Feature – Women in Research

Apr 27, 2023 | Education and Human Sciences, Engineering and Science, Faculty/Staff, General News, Research

To celebrate Women in Research, Louisiana Tech’s Office of Research and Partnerships recognizes two women in the campus community who have made an impact on their departments, students, and careers — Dr. Elizabeth Matthews, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering and Director of the MALT Center, and Dr. Jane Jacob, Interim Associate Dean of the College of Education and Assistant Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences.

Women in Research, which provides new perspectives to students and colleagues through innovative approaches and unparalleled educational experiences, is an important element of the culture of the University.

Matthews graduated from Tech in 2005 with a degree in Civil Engineering and earned her graduate degree in ’07 before gaining a PhD from Louisiana State University. Her research focuses on resilient infrastructure, specifically disaster resilience.

“As a freshman, I knew that there were a lot of options in front of me that could help me fulfill my passion to improve people’s lives,” Matthews said. “Hazard mitigation and sustainability are very personal to me with the events of Hurricane Katrina and Rita happening close to the home. I knew that civil engineering could provide me with a way to make a difference in the communities that were affected.” 

Currently, she is working on state-funded research to better understand how different materials used to build homes withstand various levels of flooding from salt and fresh water. 

“Through this research, we can better understand flood damage in a building or in a large community,” Matthews said. “If we can predict the amount of damage, then we can take measures to prevent future loss.”

Matthews also serves as co-director of the MALT Center, mentoring students as they gain real-world experience in completing building assessments focused on sustainability.

Aside from her research, Matthews is the mother of three children and wife to Dr. John Matthews, Director of Tech’s Trenchless Technology Center. When asked about being a woman in a male-dominated field, Matthews said that through the challenges there has been an “invisible village” supporting her.

“Behind every great researcher, male or female, there is an invisible village that provides support through the challenges,” Matthews said. “Whether it was a graduate student, professor, family member, or friend, I always felt supported through all of the work.”

Jane Jacob joined Tech in 2017 as an Assistant Professor in the Psychology and Behavioral Sciences. She received her graduate degree from the University of Houston in the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience program. There she joined the lab of Dr. Bruno Breitmeyer, known for his work on nonconscious visual priming and research in visual cognition.

“As an assistant professor, I had the opportunity to grow my lab and pursue various research interests in visual cognition and working memory through a large multi-site National Science Foundation (NSF) grant led by Dr. Leonidas Iasemidis in Biomedical Engineering,” Jacob said. “Through this, I also joined the Center for Biomedical Engineering and Rehabilitation Science (CBERS), which is a great way to engage in transdisciplinary collaborations on our campus.”

At the end of September 2022, Jacob began working as the interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for the College of Education. During her time at Tech, she also met and married her spouse, who is also a faculty member at the University.

When Jacob began her undergraduate career, she enjoyed classes that brought brain and behavior together, like sensation and perception, biopsychology, and cognitive psychology. During her junior year in college, Jacob took a neuroscience class and “fell in love” with the topic.

“I like learning about how we function daily,” Jacob said. “From the first lights you turn on in the morning, to finding your car keys, to navigating to work, to answering emails, to recognizing and responding to loved ones — you are processing, recognizing, and reacting to so many visual stimuli. I like learning the details of how we do this, particularly the different things that affect our visual processing.”

As a woman in research, Jacob said her biggest challenges are “reviewer number 2” and imposter syndrome.

“I developed imposter syndrome during graduate school. I think this is common among people in academia,” Jacob said. “It’s been really helpful working with colleagues who value my work. I have really benefitted from this and I am grateful for their support.”

Women in Research across campus can provide support to fellow women, especially students, through mentorship and advice as they navigate their undergraduate or graduate careers. Both Jacob and Matthews offered pieces of advice to young women pursuing careers in research and academia.

“If there is something you want to do, do it because you are passionate about it,” Matthews said. “But don’t rush life as it is right now; don’t be so worried about getting your life or career started that you miss out on unique opportunities to grow.”

“Run toward the topics that you feel challenged by. Spending more time on these topics will equip you with more knowledge, skills, and confidence,” Jacob said. “That class that feels like a stumbling block can be a stepping stone if you let it.”