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Blown away!
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Living in the Void: How much is a postdoc worth?
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The Tale of Mrs. T and the Rats
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DonorsChoose: The Rat Race Is On!!!
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Science Bloggers for Students: The Prelaunch
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Repost: What's in a name?
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Method Madness
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A friendly warning
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Lighting fires
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Learning without teaching: A repost and addendum
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The Changeup
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I wish that I knew what I know now...
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For Science's Sake, Pay Attention
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#ACS_Boston: In my PJs
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Turning the Spotlight on Women in Science
Saturday, August 21, 2010

Give us something to talk about
Thursday, August 19, 2010

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Blogging with substance-which substance, we won't say
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Living in The Void: Healthcare
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Give and take
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What some smart women have to say about balance
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Viewpoints on Mega-Science
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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Surviving the game
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biochem belle

Research-and careers therein-rarely follows a linear path. Instead, it is often a long and winding road. These are stories about science and my personal experiences on this road.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

DrDoyenne over at Women in Wetlands has noted over the years how often the students comment on the lack of female role models in science... and how difficult it is for them to name famous female scientists and their contribution to science on the spot. She points to a survey that reported 65% of Americans polled could not name a single female scientist. I find that statistic disheartening. Let's hope that the 2009 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Medicine & Physiology drop that number. DrDoyenne recently highlighted what I consider a gem providing a glimmer of hope. The Library of Congress has posted a reading list of biographies of women scientists.

A small gripe is that it's listed "For Girls and Young Women". Now I think we should be doing things to get girls interested in science, to show them that it's not just the playground of boys. But I also think it's just as important for the boys to know that women do science too. So, Library of Congress, why don't we just leave it at "Biographies of Women Scientists: For Students"?

Aside from that, it's nice to see the collection. So kudos and thanks for making the list, Library!

DrDoyenne's post and the reading list got me to thinking about how many famous female scientists I could name. Here's who I've come up with off the top of my head (with field/contribution):

- Ada Yonath (ribosome structure)

- Susan Lindquist (protein folding control/chaperones/function of Hsp90)

- Elizabeth Blackburn (telomerase)

- Carol Grieder (telomerase)

- Rosalind Franklin (crystal structure of DNA)

- Marie Curie (radioactivity)

- Laurie Glimcher (plasma cell differentiation)

I realized as I was making my list, though, that I very well might not know them if I wasn't in science. And it also occurred to me just how few female scientists I've ever seen on television--whether getting kids interested in science (like Bill Nye) or talking about their science on a show like NOVA. Do I simply have selective memory? Have I not watched enough of these shows? Or do female scientists--for one reason or another--tend to stay in the background, away from the limelight?

In the end, I suppose, it didn't make a difference that I didn't know about women scientists as a kid. I had a strong female role model in my mother. She went after what she wanted and didn't take nonsense off anyone; I inherited that "don't tell me what I can't do" mentality. As an undergrad, there were 3 female professors in my department with about 12 profs, and I had strong encouragement from male scientists I worked with or took classes with. Even my male high school chemistry teacher in a tiny town in the rural Southeast suggested that I consider a career in chemistry (although I didn't decide on that route until much later).

Maybe it didn't matter for me, but it could make a huge difference for others.

How many famous female scientists can you name?

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Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Rosalind Franklin, Barbara McClintock, Marie Curie, That lady that just won the nobel, Blackburn? (This is what popped into my head after reading your first sentence :P) But yes, I think very few people understand the amazing contributions of women in science. What can we do to help promote it more?? We should get Joanne more involved here. She's been doing a lot to promote girls in science at UIllinois.

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It is hard for me to know who is "famous". I could name a lot of female scientists in the Biological Sciences, but because I am a scientist in that field. As for promoting, the American Society for Cell Biology has a great (and long-standing) Women in Cell Biology committee that has a super website ASCB WICB

As a side note, in an interview that Carol did with NYT after the Prize she talks about women in science. I think it is worth highlighting that Liz Blackburn started this work as a postdoc with Joe Gall, who won the 2006 Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science, for both his excellent science and having "been a long-standing champion of women in science".

biochem belle
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It is hard to define "famous". I could name more female scientists in my field but don't know that they'd be counted as famous. I suppose I'd consider those who have public exposure-either through history, TV, or awards-as famous. By that definition, we're basically talking Nobel laureates, but the exposure of the general public to those is so fleeting, it perhaps isn't surprising that most people can't name a female scientist.

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Hey, thanks for fixing my horrible attempt at commenting!! I just hope that evetually I'll be able to figure out how this new-fangled intertube works.

biochem belle
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Gerty-Z, if I can figure this out, just about anyone can :P Oh and Brian gets the props for fixing the comment-thanks, Brian :)

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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I try to keep on top of this stuff :)

Joanne Manaster
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At the Science Online conference in January 2010, I made a presentation about the characteristics of American science popularizers, meaning people whom my mom would probably know. The only female I could think of was Ms. Frizzle of 'The Magic School Bus', a cartoon 3rd grade teacher!
Some will point out that Kari from the Mythbusters is a female science popularizer, but I contend she is not a scientist by any stretch, and is primarily an accessory to the show. Even G4's new show 'Effin Science' places a non-scientist female as a show host, flanked by two men, neither of whom is a scientist (although one is an engineer).
If TV is the method by which we measure the involvement of women in science, no wonder the viewpoint is very much skewed.
I believe the time has come for women to be seen articulating science by both boys and girls, and the internet will necessarily have to be the place this happens.

biochem belle
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Joanne Manaster said:

I believe the time has come for women to be seen articulating science by both boys and girls

I think you're absolutely right on this point. It's important to target girls, to get them interested in science, to show them they really can do it just as well as anyone else. But at some point, there must be an effort to change how society as a whole sees science and the roles of women in science, not just how girls/women perceive science.

Dr. O
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Nice post. Funny, but I think I could list a lot more female scientists in my own field, who aren't really famous, than those that might be considered famous (aside from Rosalind Franklin and Marie Curie). And I never had much of a female role model until I was in graduate school. My mom talked quite a bit about how she was pushed out of research in college, however...not that she regretted going into teaching (math and science, of course), but she always said she'd hope it would be different for me.

I think this kind of exposure definitely starts at home, no matter what the parents do. Even if they don't know a lick of science, exposing their daughters (and sons) to science (and female scientists) early on in their childhood is probably the best "cure" for the dearth of female role models in science. This might also be the hardest tactic to achieve, but the internet would be a great medium if it could be targeted to parents.

Lab Mom
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I blogged about this once. Even more rare are FEMALE MOTHERS Scientists. You can never name of those..
One of the commenters pointed out the Women Scientists on CSI (they run PCR and Mass Spec don't they?), and there are female grad students on Big Bang Theory, and Abby Sciutto on NCIS. Not a huge selection, but more than say, 1980s primetime.

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Biochem belle, I followed your comment from disgruntled Julie's place. Very nice post! Let me add, off the top of my head, Millie Dresselhaus (MIT, carbon nanotubes, thermelectrics), Emmy Noether (quantum field theory), Lisa Randall (Harvard, string theory).

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I just saw your tweet that mentions you dislike the "hard STEM" vs "soft STEM" distinction. I always thought "soft" vs "hard" STEM simply implies bio-related vs not bio-related, that's all. I don't think anyone thinks bio-related fields are easy; in most ways bio systems are much more complex than any systems dealt with by a typical "hard STEM" person (e.g. electrical or mechnaical engineers). I certainly never imply anything derogatroy when I use these terms, but perhaps another designation should be used... Perhaps simply bio vs non-bio, or something similar?

biochem belle
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GMP, thanks for commenting. Regarding "hard" vs. "soft" STEM disciplines, I realize that the general idea is to distinguish physical/computer sciences from psych/biomed sciences-maybe that has something to do with terminology, hard machines vs. squishy organisms? But there's also a significant amount of elitism in science (from all sides and aspects), and I think such distinctions, with terminolgy that can carry such connotations, is one way it manifests itself. Add to this, we've moved into an era where it's increasingly difficult to fully separate fields, and even within "hard" and "soft" STEM, there are immense differences-in funding, publishing, approaches, everything. So I guess, to me at least, the terminology is fuzzy at best.
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