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Rebecca Calisi

Rebecca Calisi

Assistant Professor, Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior
CAMPOS Faculty Scholar

Rebecca Calisi studies how the environment affects animal behavior. When a faculty position opened two years ago at UC Davis — ranked first in the world in veterinary medicine — she said she “jumped at the chance to work among giants.”

She also jumped into her duties as a faculty scholar of the Center for the Advancement of Multicultural Perspectives on Science (CAMPOS), helping to promote women and underrepresented minorities in the sciences.

“It’s my job not only to serve as role model as a Mexican-American mother in science, but also to push department research groups and the campus community to be more equitable and inclusive,” said Calisi.

Leveling the playing field for working mothers

Working mothers at UC Davis receive a quarter off for maternity leave and “teaching relief” — a quarter of active service with modified duties — within the first year of giving birth. Calisi, who had a son last year, says these are great ways that UC Davis helps support working mothers.

“It’s my job not only to serve as role model as a Mexican-American mother in science, but also to push department research groups and the campus community to be more equitable and inclusive.”

“The first year of having a child is so demanding physically and emotionally, and you want to be with your baby to foster that bond,” said Calisi.

As a culture in general, though, Calisi feels “we still have a long way to go.” She’s vocal about how to level the playing field and believes even small changes, like family friendly parking on campus or covering the cost of shipping breast milk while traveling for work, can make a difference.

“These are simple, low-cost ways that would make life easier and help lessen the issues women deal with that can create barriers to career advancement,” said Calisi.

Fostering confidence in a supportive space

Teaching is a vital part of what Calisi does and who she as. At the undergraduate level, she wants to break down the psychological barriers keeping women and underrepresented minority communities from pursuing their interests.

“Inspiration, confidence and curiosity are so crucial to foster at this level, as well as seeing what actually takes place in a lab,” said Calisi. “They want to change the world and I want to create a foundation that helps them to do it.”

Twenty of the 23 undergraduate students working in her lab are women, and seven of those are Latina. Calisa says her lab’s diversity came about naturally.

“Inspiration, confidence and curiosity are so crucial to foster at this level, as well as seeing what actually takes place in a lab. They want to change the world and I want to create a foundation that helps them to do it.”

“Many women and minorities are attracted to my lab not just for the science, but also because we work on creating a space in which we support each other and build each other up,” said Calisi.

She also employs two Ph.D. students and three postdocs, and tries her absolute best to support them emotionally and financially.

“Graduate school is a particularly pivotal time for women to feel encouraged and supported because they see the field dominated by men,” she said.  “They begin to feel their voices are not heard as much.”

Learn more about Rebecca Calisi and her research.