International Day of Women and Girls in Science: Q&A with Level Ex

Matter

Today, February 11th, marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. To celebrate the scientific accomplishments of women around the globe, Matter’s Women Professionals Circle teamed up with Matter client Level Ex, creator of industry-leading medical video games for physicians. We spoke with Victoria Perizes, Senior Biomedical Solutions Specialist at Level Ex, to discuss the importance of science, her journey in the industry and being a woman in a male-dominated industry. 

Why is science interesting to you/what does it mean to you?

Being a scientist is one of the few occupations that allows you to ask the wildest questions and then investigate them. The thing we colloquially call “Science” is merely a tool set that allows us to explain the relationship between things on earth, in our bodies, in space, etc. People often think science is the citadel of facts and regard it as this rigid, cold process. In reality, it gives you the tools and space to feed the imagination and curiosity we all have when we’re kids — the big difference is that you actually get paid to do it. The fact that humanity has created this tool is quite poetic, in that the application of science has progressed humanity in countless ways. To me, science is the vehicle for both exploration and progress.

How did you get your start in science?

There was no eureka/defining moment that really drove me to science. When I was graduating high school, I essentially gave myself three options: (1) Become a pilot (I come from a family of pilots), (2) become a chef (I LOVE cooking), or (3) go into the sciences and/or medically related field. At that time, the aviation industry was not in a good spot — you saw major airlines filing for bankruptcy and others going out of business. So I scratched that off the list. Becoming a successful chef pretty much requires you to be a business owner, and at 18 I really did not think I had that in me. So, the only thing left was something in medicine or science. I somehow decided I wanted to become a physical therapist only to completely change my mind my senior year of undergrad (majoring in Kinesiology). At that moment, I really thought hard about graduate programs that complemented the BSc I was about to receive…long story short, I decided to get a master’s in biomedical engineering. How the hell did a non-engineer go and get a master’s in an engineering discipline? That’s a whole other story.

Share a bit about your journey in the industry, and how it led you to where you are today.

This is an interesting question, because biomedical engineers don’t really go into the video game industry and you’re certainly not told it is an option when you’re in school. I did a lot of research when I was in grad school, but generally focused within the discipline of biomechanics.

After I graduated from grad school, I knew I did not want to continue academic research and was determined to work at one of the big med device companies with the goal of designing implants (hip and knee replacements, mainly). That didn’t happen, despite me applying to over 120 jobs. I saw a job opening at Level Ex (a company I knew very little about), applied on a whim and got an interview. Next thing I know, I was being offered a job and I thought to myself, “How many opportunities will I have to work in the video games industry?” The answer is very few. Regardless, it was an incredibly difficult decision, but I took the job and, in all honesty, did not expect to love it as much as I do. 

To my knowledge, Level Ex is one of the only studios that employs biomedical engineers. And the only studio that seeks to deliver medically credible, plausible and engaging content to our audience of attending physicians — effectively creating awesome video games through medical content. Making the decision to work at Level Ex has been one the best I’ve ever made. I get to use so much of my background in biomedical engineering and kinesiology in the most unique and creative way in order to help the company fulfill that promise. More importantly, I have learned so much about how videogames are made and have developed such a deep respect for the artists and designers that work in this industry. 

Any notable mentors you’ve had along the way?

My graduate advisor was really a great mentor, not just from a technical/research perspective, but also from a career advice perspective. He always gave me his honest opinion and never sugar coated anything. This would seem like a commonsense thing for advisors to do, but anyone that has done academic research will tell you it is very hard to find a good advisor. 

And then there’s my sister, Angela. I don’t know that I can call her a mentor in the traditional sense, but she definitely influenced my decision to go into the sciences. Growing up, we would always have (and still have) some of the craziest/passionate conversations about physiology at the dinner table and we would just get so excited about random enzymes or biological processes (I know, very nerdy). I think about these moments and realize that those conversations really made me fall in love with science even more. 

What was a key piece of advice you learned from a mentor?

There are two key pieces of advice that have stuck with me:

  1. Don’t reinvent a solution that already exists — just add your two cents to make it better.  
  2. Whatever it is that you pursue in your career, do it with gusto and an unquestionable curiosity.

What do you think is important to note as a woman in a male-dominated field?   

If you’re a woman in science, find other women in STEM fields and build a support network — it makes a world of difference.

Any notable career milestones you’d like to share?

This past summer, we were awarded a grant from TRISH (the Translational Research Institute for Space Health) that I co-authored. Effectively, this means we’re working with NASA to bring our video game technology to space medicine. I’ve been a lifelong space nerd, so being the lead Biomedical Researcher on this project has been an absolute dream come true.

Anything else relating to your career or being a woman in the industry that you’d like to share?

Being a woman in the video games industry and a scientist, I think it is so important to hold your ground and be confident in yourself and your skill set. Be confident about what you know and candid/honest about what you don’t know. You’ll be tested every day, but remember that you are just as qualified as your male peers. Above all, do not entertain any nonsense that degrades you at the expense of avoiding an uncomfortable situation.

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