Archive of ‘Guest Post’ category

Solvay Sequel: Nine Women Scientists in the White House

The iconic photograph of the 1927 Solvay conference featured 29 stellar physicists and chemists, including Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. Only one, Marie Curie, was a woman. When Professor Teresa Giraldez came across a historical photograph of nine leading women scientists, she was intrigued.  Dated February 14th, 1980, this photograph marks a reception hosted by the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter (represented here by his Assistant Sarah Weddington). Here, Teresa tells us about the remarkable journey of these women who received high recognition at the White House.

Reception at the White House to nine American women scientists

PHOTO: Reception at the White House (Washington DC, USA) to nine American women scientists, dated on February the 14th, 1980. Left to right: Dr. Mary Good, Dr. Chien Shiung Wu, Dr. Janet Berry, Dr. Ariel Hollingshead, Sarah Weddington (assistant to President Carter), Dr. Mildred Dresselhaus, Dr. Elizabeth Crosby, Dr. Margaret O. Dayhoff, Dr. Mary Calderone and Dr. Charlotte Friend. The picture is dedicated “To Margaret Dayhoff, With best wishes, Sarah Weddington 2-14-80”.

The scientists portrayed in this picture were all born in the first quarter of the 20th century and many of them developed their career throughout extremely hard times: during or just after the Second World War (WWII). Interestingly (or should I say ‘sadly’?), tough times for society usually turn out into professional or social opportunities for women; this seems to be the case for some of the women in the picture. In the US, during WWII, the proportion of working women increased by about 15%. The reason for this increase was that many jobs, previously occupied solely by men, were now deserted–they had left to the war front. This situation was soon extended to the field of Science and Technology. For example, the United States Civil Commission, in its search for qualified personnel, “rebranded” many disciplines such as engineering (until then, mainly dominated by men). Thus, the Commission made it clear in its 1941 report that ”Feminine aptitudes may be well adapted to engineering design, testing, and inspection, research, preparation of plans and maps, and computation” (Calling women for federal war work, United States Civil Service Commission, 1941). However, most historians agree that this apparently auspicious achievement must be taken with a grain of salt: these women scientists were mostly hired in positions “according to their femininity”, often in lower level jobs and always as subordinates in the research teams performing research projects during the War. In most cases, it was expected that, after the War was over, they would stop working to go back to their ‘home duties’ (1, 2). While many women were hired during those years, only a few were recognized.

Tough times for society opportunities for women - Teresa Giraldez

Recent studies have shown that the role of women was pivotal in many scientific milestones during the War, but completely ignored by society until now. An example of such disregard is greatly documented in the film Top Secret Rosies: the female computers of world war II (directed by Professor L. Erikson, Temple University, Philadelphia (3)), which tells the story of five women involved in the development of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC). In the 1940s, a group of women mathematicians were recruited and trained at the University of Pennsylvania to systematically perform highly accurate ballistic calculations to be promptly sent to the European war front. In parallel, they contributed to the development of the first computer (ENIAC) that was able to perform very fast basic calculations, with unprecedented results at that time. None of these women was invited to the official dinner that was celebrated to present the ENIAC; to most observers, they were just “models” posing next to the original invention.

Nevertheless, all these women achieved an incredible milestone for the society: they broke the mould. The idea that women should stay home as “the only thing they could really do” was no longer sustainable. These women showed that their technical and intellectual abilities was not lower than men’s; they could indeed combine work and family to aspire to higher achievements in their professional careers. Role models now existed, and they could be followed by younger women who aspired to be medical doctors or University Professors. A new pathway was opened.

Let’s go back now to our photograph. The fact that makes it historical is that in 1980, those nine women were already leaders in their scientific research fields, Presidents of Scientific Societies or influential science policy makers at the federal government.

In the picture, the first one on the left is Dr. Mary Lowe Good (b. 1931), an inorganic chemist who in 1972 had been the first woman to be elected to the board of the American Chemical Society. In 1980, Dr. Good was head of the Engineered Materials Research division at Signal Research Center, Inc., with a staff of 400 scientists and technicians and annual sales of approximately $3 billion. Earlier that year, she was appointed to the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation by President Carter to participate in the elaboration of new plans for Scientific Research with public funding. She would later hold government positions under the administrations of Reagan, Bush and Clinton, combining stellar industrial and academic careers and receiving awards and recognition. In 1986, she was referred to as one of “Chicago’s 10 most powerful women” by the Chicago Tribune (5).

Mary Lowe Good

Next to her, Dr. Chieng-Shiung Wu (1912-1997), an experimental physicist who had been hired at Columbia University during WWII to work on the Manhattan Project. She developed a new method to extract Uranium, a chemical element that was used in the atomic bomb. After the war, she continued at Columbia as a Research Assistant, a position for which she was likely overqualified. Her experimental work had opened the door to the findings of her male colleagues Drs. Lee and Yang, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1957; Dr. Wu was not included as one of the awardees. She was appointed Full Professor in Columbia in 1958. Among her long list of achievements and Awards, she was the first woman to become President of the American Society for Physics, one of the first to become a member of the National Academy of Science, and first to receive the National Medal of Science of the United States (1975). She would retire in 1981 to become a Professor Emerita.

Chieng-Shiung Wu

To her left stands Dr. E. Janet Berry, who in 1980 was the first woman President of the American Institute of Chemists. Dr. Berry was doubly uncommon: after obtaining a PhD in Science in Purdue University (1946), she went on to get a Juris Doctor degree at NYU (1952), becoming in 1953 a member of the New York bar. After working some years in different patent departments, she became a private practice patent attorney in New York City (1965). Undoubtedly, her career path was exceptional for a woman at that time.

stem-women-janet-berry

The fourth in the picture is Dr. Ariel Hollingshead (b. 1929), a pharmacologist who is considered by many as the “mother of immunotherapy”. She discovered and developed tumor-associated antigens (TAA), and was the first to do clinical tests of TAA vaccines in lung cancer patients. Collaborating with oncologists from all over the world, she worked on developing vaccines for many types of cancer. In 1976, she had been named Medical Woman of the year by the Joint Board of American Medical Colleges, describing her as “one of the few women in our country who (…) will receive lasting distinction by applying the principles of basic research to the diseases of humanity” (6). In 1980, when this picture was taken, she received the Star of Europe Medal, chosen by the Ministers of Health for Germany, England and Italy. These were only two of the many achievements of her outstanding career.

Ariel Hollingshead

Dr. Mildred Dresselhauss (b. 1930), the next in the picture, was at that time Professor of Physics and Director of the Center for Material Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She would soon become President of the American Society of Physics (1983). Today she is considered pioneer in the birth of Nanotechnology and Nanoengineering. She is member of the National Academy of Sciences and has received the National Medal of Science (1990) and the International L’Oreal-UNESCO Award (1997), which adds up to a long list of international Awards and recognitions.

Mildred Dresselhauss

Next to her stands Dr. Elizabeth Crosby (1888-1983), National Medal of Science (1979) for her contributions to the field of Neuroanatomy. As many others in the picture, she had a long list of firsts: first woman to obtain full professorship at the University of Michigan Medical School (1936) and to receive the University’s Faculty Achievement Award (1956). In 1980 she was Professor Emeritus of Anatomy. In 1987 she would be instated in the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame (7).

Elizabeth Crosby

Next in the group is Dr. Margaret Oakley Dayhoff (1925-1983), possibly the founder of the field of bioinformatics. By 1980, when this photo was taken, Dr. Dayhoff had developed an on-line protein database system that could be accessed by telephone line, the first sequence database available for interrogation by remote computers. At that time she was President of the Biophysical Society (1980-1981). She was the second woman President after Jane K. Setlow (1977-78). Dr. Dayhoff was a true pioneer of bioinformatics – a field that by then had not been yet recognized as a distinct area of research. It is thanks to her, among many other things, that we use a single-letter code for the amino acids.

Margaret Oakley Dayhoff

To Dr Dayhoff’s left stands Dr. Mary Steichen Calderone (1904-1998), a physician best known for defying convention by advocating for sexual education, in a period when public discussion of such topic was considered extremely controversial. She had been medical director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1953 to 1964. She then co-founded the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Under her direction, this institution was pivotal for education about human sexuality in the schools as well as in the community. Her revolutionary contributions lead the way to many essential discussions in our society, which are still applicable today.

Mary Steichen Calderone

The ninth woman closing the group is Dr. Charlotte Friend (1921-1987). She described for the first time the murine leukemia virus (named the ‘Friend’ virus after her). She was one of many women who enlisted in the Army during the war, continuing her scientific career afterwards. Among her many achievements, she was Professor and Director of the Center for Cellular Experimental Biology of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York (1966), President of the American Society for Cancer Research (1975), elected member of the National Academy of Sciences (1976), and President of the New York Academy of Sciences (1978). One year after this picture was taken she would unfortunately be diagnosed with lymphoma. However, this fact did not disconnect her from science and the laboratory, which had been the most important things in her life.

Charlotte Friend

Apart from their outstanding scientific achievements, all these women were known for their enormous interest and effort to promote the role of women in science. Dr. Good and Dr. Dresselhaus created specific Programs aimed to promote the scientific career of women in the male dominated fields of Chemistry and Physics. Dr Hollingshead’s efforts to support women in science was widely appreciated by her peers. It was well known that when Dr. Dayhoff saw a female student on the hallway, she would enquire with interest about her situation and line of work. She would encourage female students to persevere, and not give up despite the hardships of academia and scientific research. Dr. Friend was known for her strong arguments in Scientific Committees, where she would fight to assure a fair number of female speakers at symposia. Their efforts are kept alive in the form of two Awards that are given annually in their honour. The Margaret Oakley Dayhoff Award from the Dayhoff Foundation, supported by the Biophysical Society, is awarded to the “most promising young woman in Biophysics”. Likewise, the AACR-Women in Cancer Research Charlotte Friend Memorial Lectureship recognizes the role of men or women who not only have contributed significantly to the advance of cancer research, but who have significantly helped along their way to integrate women in science.

This photograph is a reminder of the effort and hardship that many women endured during difficult times, of how they prevailed to change the view of their world and to open paths for new generations of women scientists. This snapshot immortalizes nine achievers that undoubtedly took their society one step further from gender-biased stereotypes and inequality. We must embrace their legacy and continue striving for gender equality, in and out of Science.

About the Author

Teresa GiraldezDr Teresa Giraldez is a Lecturer and Group Leader at the University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain and Deputy Director of the Institute of Biomedical Technologies (ITB). Her research is on ion channels biophysics and physiology, control of neuronal excitability, and calcium signaling in subcellular domains, using state-of-the-art imaging techniques and electrophysiology. She is the recipient of the 2009 Margaret Oakley Dayhoff Award from the Biophysical Society and the European Research Council Consolidator Award. She has been a member of the Biophysical Society Committee for Professional Opportunities for Women (CPOW) and was recently elected to the Biophysical Society Council.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Margaret W. Rossiter (1998) Women Scientists in America: Before Affirmative Action, 1940-1972. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
2. Jordynn Jack (2009) Science on the home front: American Women Scientists in World War II. University of Illinois Press.
3. Top Secret Rosies: The female computers of World War II. LeAnn Erikson. Documental. http://www.topsecretrosies.com/Top_Secret_Rosies/Home.html
4. Rediscovering WWWII’II female ‘computers’, J. Gumbrecht, CNN Feb. 2011: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/TECH/innovation/02/08/women.rosies.math/index.html?hpt=C2
5. “Chicago`s 10 Most Powerful Women”. Chicago Tribune. November 18, 1987. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
6. Ariel Hollingshead Biographical Statement in http://www.precision-biologics.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/ACH-bio.pdf
7. “Inductees” from Alabama Women’s Hall Of Fame. http://www.awhf.org/inductee.html

“If You See/Hear Something, Say Something”

Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe is the founder of STEM Women and is a science communicator with a background in molecular biology and cancer research. Buddhini has authored a series of articles in Scientific American, titled “The Hallmarks of Cancer.” She provides science outreach through broadcasts on YouTube. Her science writing can be found at JargonwallConnect with Buddhini on Google+ or on Twitter @DrHalfPintBuddy

Last Monday I had the pleasure of attending a private event organised by Digital Science. It was a round-table discussion on what inclusivity looks like in STEM, led by the lovely Amarjit Myers and Laura Wheeler. I got to meet some insightful people who had great ideas for how we can move this conversation forward. We also looked at the ever-present issue of sexual harassment in academia. With Ada Lovelace Day approaching, I wanted to write down some thoughts I had on this broad topic.

Connecting with such a broad group of women, in diverse disciplines, all passionate about the same cause made me realise how easy it is in this day and age to ‘find your tribe’ online. We have so much access to communities and support, various networks and organisations (such as this one!) that help us navigate a system that has always had structural biases that disadvantage women and people of colour. It made me consider an earlier time, and how isolated and alone a woman in STEM would have felt navigating this. Many conversations with my own mother, who is now a retired professor of Chemistry, make me appreciate how much the environment seems to have changed.

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Is the Gender Gap Solved in Liberal Sweden?

Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede is a professor and division head of Chemical Biology at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden. In this post, Professor Wittung-Stafshede goes beyond the progressive nation’s gender policies, to examine the everyday and institutional sexism experienced by women in science. 

Sweden is considered one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. We have the longest paid maternity leave in the world (16 months), and at least three of these months must be taken out by the dad. Sweden has free daycare, schools (including university), and afterschool programs. Swedes are very liberal in terms of household duties: men and women share a lot of responsibilities, and there are no stay-at-home moms. Based on this culture, I expected no gender problems in Swedish academia when I returned to a full professor position in Sweden after 10 years as faculty in the United States. I was mistaken.

I expected no gender problems in Swedish academia when I returned to a full professor position in Sweden after 10 years as faculty in the United States. I was mistaken. - Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede

I expected no gender problems in Swedish academia when I returned to a full professor position in Sweden after 10 years as faculty in the United States. I was mistaken. – Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede

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Gender Bias in STEM: A Southern Perspective

By Cathy Newman

Cathy Newman gives a postgraduate student perspective on how local culture impacts on the careers of women in STEM, and why it’s important for women students to learn about the challenges of gender bias as part of their education and career planning.

Last month, the College of Science at Louisiana State University hosted a Women in STEM event. The event consisted of a keynote address followed by a panel discussion, the latter of which I attended. All speakers were LSU alumni holding or retired from prominent STEM positions.

Panelists were the following:

  1. Dr. Karen Adler Storthz: professor emerita at the University of Texas Health Science Center,
  2. Sorcha Clary: project engineer for Marathon Petroleum.
  3. Judea Goins-Andrews: director of school engagement for Louisiana at Project Lead the Way,
  4. Rebecca Guidry: clinical medical physicist at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center,
  5. Pat Bodin: former chief information officer and VP of global information for ExxonMobil.
Louisiana State University Women in STEM

LSU Women in STEM panel (Left to right): Dr Adler Storthz; Sorcha Clary; Judea Goins-Andrews; Rebecca Guidry; Pat Bodin. Photo: Cathy Newman (copyright)

As a graduate student in biology at a major research university, I rarely have the opportunity to interact with women in STEM careers outside of academia, so I especially appreciated that the panel included women in industry and education/outreach. The panel also spanned a wide range of career stages, from a few years out of college, to retired. Despite the wide range of careers and career stages represented on the panel, the advice to early career STEM women was remarkably consistent, emphasizing self-confidence, assertiveness, and patience.

I live tweeted the panel discussion. Here are some of the highlights.

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Death by a Thousand Cuts

By  Kristin Milton

Kristin Milton

Kristin Milton

Kristin Milton wants the conversation about “the leaky pipeline” to broaden, and include applied researchers and specialists who navigate gender discrimination in STEM. Her post focuses on the “many little cuts” that applied women in STEM face in their daily work. Her story shows that the conversation about gender inequality needs to be inclusive of women in STEM beyond academia, as there are many intersections in our experiences of “everyday sexism,” as well as some unique challenges that we should collectively support.

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The Most Important Scientist in My Life: My Mom

By Jonah Miller

This guest post is by computational physicist Jonah Miller, who interviews his mother, Dr Arleen Miller, about her experiences getting a STEM degree in the 1970s. Her dissertation was focused on mathematical outcomes of girls and boys. She also shares experiences teaching mathematics in Sierra Leone.

Dr Arleen Miller

Dr Arleen Miller

January 6th is my mother’s birthday. As a present, I decided to showcase the first scientist I ever knew—one who I met before I was even born.

Arleen Garfinkle (one day to be Arleen Miller) entered graduate school  at the University of Colorado in the fall of 1973 and graduated in 1979. During that time she developed a battery of tests designed to track a child’s numerical and logical reasoning skills, based on the theories of psychologist Jean Piaget.

Once she developed the test, she gave it (and several other tests) to over 200 pairs of twins aged four through eight and correlated their success rates to other factors, such as their gender and how much their parents emphasized success. One of her most significant findings was that a young child’s ability to learn math was highly dependent on genetics. Another was that gender had no effect on performance—i.e., girls and boys were equally good at math.

Despite being offered a prestigious position at Yale University, my mother left academia to pursue other interests. But to me, she’ll always be my favorite scientist. (more…)

Science Magazine Uses Transgender Sex Workers As Bait

By A.V. Flox

This post first appeared on Slantist

Science magazine’s July 11, 2014 issue unleashed a firestorm on social media today. The issue, a special focused on ways to stay ahead of HIV and AIDS, prominently features two transgender women sex workers on its cover. While relevant to the focus of the issue — transwomen sex workers in Jakarta have been largely ignored by the Indonesian government in its efforts to combat HIV and AIDS — the focal point of the photo is incredibly problematic. Instead of showing viewers a humanizing glimpse into the lives of these women, the reader’s eye is drawn directly to their thighs, which are placed almost dead center on the cover. Indeed, their legs take up about half of the cover, and their heads have been cropped out of the picture.

Photographers who are sensitive to the privacy of their subjects use a number of techniques to capture a moment without revealing the identity of people involved. One of these techniques is the cropping of the face — most often before or after the nose, in order to convey some emotion through the mouth, but occasionally the face is cropped in its entirety.

This isn’t necessarily dehumanizing, but the context is extremely important. When you are dealing with members of a highly stigmatized population who are at risk of systemic violence and murder, it is unacceptable to commit the metaphoric violence of beheading for the purpose of staging. If this is somehow confusing to you, look up Gary Ridgeway.

When dealing with members of a highly stigmatized population who are at risk of systemic violence & murder it is unacceptable to commit metaphoric violence.  - A.V. Flox on Science Magazine using transgender sex workers as “reader bait.” (Original photo Jennifer C., CC 2.0 Adapted by StemWomen.net)

When dealing with members of a highly stigmatized population who are at risk of systemic violence & murder it is unacceptable to commit metaphoric violence. – A.V. Flox on Science Magazine using transgender sex workers as “reader bait.” (Original photo Jennifer C., CC 2.0 Adapted by StemWomen.net)

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“Science Helped Me to Overcome Challenges in Life”

Professor Siromi Samarasinghe

Professor Siromi Samarasinghe

By: Siromi Samarasinghe, PhD

Our guest post by Prof. Siromi Samarasinghe is part of our Role Model series. Siromi describes how she overcame cultural, social and financial hurdles to pursue a research career in tea chemistry at a time when it was highly unusual for women in Sri Lanka to obtain higher education.

For my tenth birthday my father gave me The Pictorial Encyclopaedia of Scientific Knowledge. He was a medical practitioner and was always encouraging me to read and learn about science. I found that book utterly fascinating; it shaped my lifelong passion for learning. It was my very first step on the road that led, decades later, to the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, and my present position on the tutorial staff of the Department of Chemistry.

From that book I learned about the diversity of the plant and animal kingdoms, about rocks and minerals and the Solar System. Another book I loved to read was A Hundred Great Lives, about great scientists and their achievements. I imagined myself making great discoveries and dreamed of becoming a great scientist some day!

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Don’t be a Spectator to Sexism

By: Michael Habib, PhD

We have a guest post from Dr. Michael Habib as part of our series on How Men Can Help. Michael is an Assistant Professor in Neurobiology at the University of Southern California where he teaches Clinical Human Anatomy and researches paleontology, biomechanics, robotics and comparative anatomy.

Sexism is rampant in many professions, and academia is no different. In the setting of universities, much of the ongoing sexism is not loud or obvious. Instead, there are persistent, subtle asymmetries in how men and women are treated on a daily basis. Academics, like myself, are often reticent to acknowledge and face the lingering sexism that exists in our workplaces, often under the illusion that our ivory tower is less susceptible. While it is true that some forms of harassment common in other work environments are rare in academics, plenty of problems remain.   In many cases, problems arise because of a lack of perspective – comments that might seem perfectly innocent and complimentary to the speaker can have a negative impact in the wrong context. The negative repercussions are not limited to those on the receiving end of subtle sexism. In academia, those of us in the privileged classes can end up in trouble quite rapidly if we are too naive.

Be ready to step up and challenge your colleagues when they show sexism in the work place. - Michael Habib, PhD. Paleontologist

Be ready to step up and challenge your colleagues when they show sexism in the work place. – Michael Habib, PhD. Paleontologist

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How I Became a Computational Biologist

By Elena Giorgi, PhD

We have a guest post from Dr Elena Giorgi as part of our Role Models series. Elena describes how she became a computational biologist, and how she successfully dealt with two common problems in science; constant geographical flux and the ‘two body problem’.

AuthorPic

Dr Elena Giorgi, Computational Biologist

As the daughter of a developmental biologist, growing up, I shared the house with fruit flies, newts, stick insects, and toads. And, as paradoxical as it may sound, I wanted nothing to do with biology. I majored in theoretical mathematics and I went on to graduate school determined to study differential topology—one of the most abstract branches of math.

Math is pure and beautiful. It’s like a Michelangelo painting—perfect all around. You can’t be wrong when you follow the steps dictated by logic.

I was accepted into graduate school in the U.S., and my husband arranged to finish his Ph.D. dissertation off site so we could both go. We fit all our belongings into two suitcases (that’s all we had) and left.

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