North Shore High School seniors Kate Weseley-Jones and Lucia Martin, both 17, have been named two of the nation’s 300 semifinalists in the 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competitions for high school seniors. The two will now compete to become one of the nation’s 40 finalists.
Weseley-Jones and Martin have spent the past year working on projects in NSHS’s science research class, taught by Dr. Molly Mordechai. Weseley-Jones examined the effects of the “motherhood penalty,” the all-too-frequent assumption that women are less competent or committed to work after having children. Martin sought to find the correlations among political affiliations, preferred news sources and adherence to Covid-19 guidelines.
“I’m very proud,” Mordechai said. “It’s a huge accomplishment for the students, and it feels good to know that I’m helping to shape these young minds into scientific thinkers.”
“Kate Weseley-Jones and Lucia Martin have demonstrated a commitment to scientific inquiry and innovation,” NSHS Principal Eric Contreras said. “Our immediate global challenges remind us that our local initiatives to develop the scientists and innovators of tomorrow are more important than ever.”
Motherhood and societal perception
Weseley-Jones, who is also the class of 2021’s salutatorian, said that her interest in social psychology, and her desire to use psychology to change the world and reverse negative phenomena, drove her to investigate the so-called motherhood penalty. Past findings validating the phenomenon have largely focused on male-dominated fields, she said, so she wanted to see if it was also evident in female-dominated fields.
In 2019, Weseley-Jones created an online survey on Amazon Mechanical Turk, asking people around the country if they would be more or less inclined to be treated by a pediatrician who had children than one who did not. Some 300 people responded, and, she said, the motherhood penalty was not apparent, with no perceived difference between male and female doctors. In fact, she found the opposite to be true, with many participants saying they would be more inclined to see a pediatrician who had children, whom they perceived to be warmer.
Weseley-Jones said she next decided to investigate orthopedics, a more male-dominated field, using the same methodology, which yielded the opposite results. With 367 answers, she said, participants said they did not perceive male or female doctors differently, but said they would be less likely to see an orthopedist with children because they might be less committed to their work than childless doctors.
It was interesting to see her study yield evidence of a parenthood penalty in orthopedics regardless of gender, Weseley-Jones said, which showed that there are subgroups of people who could be discriminated against in the workplace, as opposed to just gender differences.
Even though these results had never been seen before, she said she was nonetheless shocked when she heard she had been named a Regeneron semifinalist. “It’s really amazing,” Weseley-Jones said. “It’s something I’ve known about for a long time, but I’ve never actually imagined getting it, because you don’t want to get your hopes up like that.”
Though she is not taking science research classes this year, Weseley-Jones is as hardworking as they come, Mordechai said. She interns for Mordechai, looking over freshman papers and providing feedback on them, demonstrating her commitment to science.
“It’s nice to see how she’s able to apply everything she’s learned in my class to giving advice to freshman kids,” Mordechai said. “She’s just very motivated, and devoted to everything she does.”
Though she is not yet sure where she will go to college, Weseley-Jones said she is interested in studying the intersections of psychology and philosophy. No matter where she goes, she said, she wants to learn more about people and what affects the ways they think and act.
Politics, news and Covid-19 guidelines
As the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the U.S., Martin said, she has noticed major differences in the ways different news networks report Covid-19 guidelines. Some networks have said that compliance isn’t a big issue, she said, so she sought to find out if this had a larger effect on the public.
Martin also set up a survey on Amazon Mechanical Turk, which was answered by 1,000 people from across the country last summer. She asked participants about their political orientation, their preferred news outlets and which Covid-19 guidelines they followed, including wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing. She gave participant a variety of news outlets to choose from, ranking them based on their politics, with 1 being the most conservative and 5 being the most liberal.
As answers rolled in, Martin said, she didn’t find many significant correlations between political affiliation or preferred news outlets and Covid-19 guideline adherence on a nationwide level. Results started to vary, however, when she divided participants into regions of the country, because, she said, those from the Midwest, a largely conservative region, were less likely to follow guidelines.
Overall, Martin said, she found that people who get their news from liberal outlets were following guidelines more often than not. There was not enough evidence to prove correlations for conservatives, she said, though she found that by a slight margin, they were less likely to follow guidelines than liberal participants.
Media coverage of the pandemic has proven to be largely political, Martin said, which shouldn’t be the case in a health crisis. She said her research demonstrated the danger of this phenomenon. “I think it points to larger truths about the power of the media in this country,” she said, “and also the dangers of political polarization.”
Mordechai said that Martin has well-balanced personality, calm and laid-back while still motivated to work hard. Where many students work primarily to improve grades, Mordechai said, Martin focuses on getting better at her craft while still receiving excellent grades.
“She really internalizes it and reflects on her work,” Mordechai said, “which I think is really mature for a high school student.”
Like Weseley-Jones, Martin has yet to choose a college, though she is looking to study biomedical engineering. She likes to use scientific problem-solving to help others, she said, which makes biomedical engineering the perfect path.