Meet Dirk Frese.

Dirk's inquiries led him to found the nonprofit WISDOM, a platform that supports women in science as they explore their options outside academia.

How WISDOM Got Its Start

Dirk Frese, Ph.D., moved to the United States from Europe in 2014, to join the leadership team for a laboratory temperature control company. One of his first priorities was to visit customers and see their operations at work. He spent a lot of time traveling across North America, visiting pharmaceutical, biotechnology, aerospace, defense, automotive, cannabis, food and beverage, petrochemicals, polymers, electronics, semiconductors, academia, and other types of labs and industries. While it was fascinating to see all the innovations up close, he couldn’t help but notice something was missing. During these visits, Frese saw very few women. He kept wondering: Where are all the women in science? Why aren’t there more women working in these industries, engineering, and manufacturing labs? 

Like any good scientist, Frese followed his curiosity and began asking questions. Through his community involvement in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, he had numerous conversations with leaders in academia and industry. He started to hear a common theme. It wasn’t that women weren’t interested in industry; it was that they didn’t know how to get into industry. According to many professors and academics, students were curious about their industry opportunities, but professors and advisors weren’t sure how to help them. The pathway forward in academic science was clear, but industry was more of a mystery.

Frese knew this dilemma personally. He had left academia shortly after his daughter’s birth to find more stability and security in his career. He was tired of waiting for grants, funding, and equipment, not knowing if he’d be able to continue his research. So, with the help of some people he knew, he found a job in laboratory equipment. It didn’t take him long to feel entirely at home in industry, where he enjoyed the creativity, support, collaboration, and variety of projects he experienced.

Looking back, Frese admits it wasn’t an entirely easy transition for him. He was raised to revere academia. From an early age, he was expected to go into academia and to earn a Ph.D. He hadn’t imagined anything else; he had followed the path before him. So, when he decided to leave academia’s prestige for a commercial science career, it was a big surprise to his parents and a big adjustment in his thinking.

When Frese landed his job in the U.S., he began reflecting on his career and how he had made this dream come true. He started looking at a lot of things and putting different pieces together.  It wasn’t long before he was wondering if he could help others make a powerful personal transformation. He wondered if there was a way to help others see what it’s like to be a scientist outside academia. He also kept thinking about the women, who probably, like him, hadn’t imagined themselves in industry. He wondered, Do they have a support group, a network of women in industry to open the door? Frese had been fortunate to have guidance, and he was grateful for it. Now, he wondered if he could pay it forward.

Eventually, Frese’s inquiries led him to found the nonprofit WISDOM, a platform that supports women in science as they explore their options outside academia.  WISDOM connects women who are interested in industry with other women in science who have experience working outside academia. It also provides a resource for professors and academics who may not know how to guide their curious students. As the founder of WISDOM, Frese sees himself as an ally and a facilitator of information and opportunity. He hopes that WISDOM will be a valuable and empowering resource for women in science. He also hopes that as he continues to visit more laboratories, that he’ll run into some familiar faces, and a lot more diversity and inclusion.

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“When you know all your options, you make better decisions. WISDOM provides women in science with a supportive network and career opportunities outside academia. By including more women in industry, commercial science, engineering, and manufacturing, we can change society for the better.”