RFS Briefings - April 9, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

I am pleased to include another issue of RFS Briefings with some timely and encouraging updates on women in science.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly impacted “how the world does science”, according to an article in The New York Times. “Never before have so many of the world’s researchers focused so urgently on a single topic. Nearly all other research has ground to a halt.”  

In this issue, we highlight the work of women in medicine and science who are working at the forefront of a cure for this disease:

  • Among the scientists seeking to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 is Dr. Kizzmekia S. Cobert, a viral immunologist with NIAID. Cobert, a black scientist who is leading a team to find a vaccine, began her work in January when researchers first learned how easily the disease could be spread. Read more.
  • Some of the most exciting treatments for COVID-19 are emerging based on CRISPR technology, a tool for accurately editing genetic material, developed by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. Doudna has recently announced that she is converting her lab facilities for the purpose of viral testing. Read more.   

The fight against COVID-19 has also reminded us, perhaps more than ever, of the historic role of female scientists and physicians in the fight against disease.

  • For centuries, women have contributed to the fight against some of the most significant threats to human health, including AIDS, polio, malaria, tuberculosis, smallpox, and now, COVID-19. Read more.
  • Women’s History Month in March was a time to “salute our brave fighters on the front lines”. Ten ground-breaking women “who have forever changed the fields of science and medicine” are acknowledged in this article. Read more
  • Eight women who “pushed the frontiers of science” with research discoveries are featured by The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) in a story published by ONE, the global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030. Read more.

See below for more news about women in science

Please continue to share important news and opportunities with us so that we may share it with you, and others who are committed to supporting the careers of exceptional women in science. 
With regards,

Karla Signature

Karla Shepard Rubinger
Executive Director
Rosalind Franklin Society

Single Mutation Leads to Big Effects in Autism-Related Gene
A new study by NIH scientists offers insight into why autism spectrum disorder is more common among boys than girls. In some cases, a single amino acid change in the NLGN4 gene, which has been linked to autism, may be responsible for this difference. The research was led by Katherine Roche, PhD, a neuroscientist at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (MINDS). Read more.

The Difference Between Gender Equity and Equality – And Why It Matters
Despite the fact that data reported by the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report showed improvement in gender parity scores for 2019, education remains one of the many areas in which men and women are still not equally enabled. According to this Commentary in Fortune, “The key to removing such barriers is to shift the mindset away from gender equality to one of gender equity.” Read more.

Appointment Breaks Proverbial Glass Ceiling in Science in Nigeria
Professor Ekanem Braide, a professor of parasitology and epidemiology, was recently named president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, effective January 2021. She is the first female president in the Academy’s 43-year history. According to an interview with a fellow of the Academy, this appointment indicates that implicit bias, opinion, and attitudes that act as barriers to women can be overcome, which she likened to “’breaking through the glass ceiling.’” Read more. 

Six Women Who Combatted Humanity’s Deadliest Threats
The fight against COVID-19 has reminded us of the women who, for centuries, have contributed to the fight against some of the most significant threats to human health. Six disease fighters are featured in this paper, namely, those who fought against AIDS, polio, malaria, tuberculosis, smallpox, and now, Covid-19. Of note, some of the most exciting treatments for COVID-19 are emerging based on CRISPR technology, a tool for accurately editing genetic material, developed by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. Doudna has recently announced that she is converting her lab facilities for purpose of viral testing. Read more.     

One Last Hoorah: 10 Famous Women Scientists and Medical Professionals
Middle Tennessee State University focused on Women’s History Month in March as a time to emphasize the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic with a “salute to our brave fighters on the frontlines.” Ten women are acknowledged in this article: Marie Curie, PhD; Elizabeth Blackwell, MD; Jennifer Doudna, PhD; Audrey Evans, MD; Rota Levi-Montalcini, MD; Gertrude B. Elion, PhD (honorary); Jane C. Wright, MD; Gerty Cory, MD; Helen Brooke Taussig, MD; and, Rosalind Franklin, PhD. Read more 

4 Women Who Are Making an Impact in STEM
In honor of Women’s History Month in March, Guinness World Records featured four women in STEM. Biochemist Peggy Whitson who became the world’s oldest female astronaut at 56, also has records for most spacewalks by a female and most accumulated time by a female. To show her students the power of science, “everyday biology teacher" Jessica Finn achieved a record for the longest time spent living in an underwater fixed habitat in the Florida Keys. Biologist Rachel Albrecht, a lightening researcher, was part of the team that identified the location of the highest concentration of lightning strikes. Dyan deNapoli, a veterinarian often referred to as “’The Penguin Lady,’” played an essential role in a record-breaking rescue operation 20 years ago to save thousands of penguins in the world’s largest penguin airlift in history. Read more

Rising Up. Trailblazing Scientists Tell Their Stories
Science interviewed nine trailblazing female scientists who show that scientists, no matter their differences, are all ultimately “’people working together on a problem.” Read more.

Yale Science and Social Science Library Has New Endowment
A gift from a four-generation Yale family has created a permanent endowment for the Library’s Center for Science and Social Information. Located in the existing Kline Tower, it will be renamed Marx Science and Social Science Library in honor of the Marx family’s support of Yale’s library over many years. It is designed to support key university initiatives in the sciences and social sciences. Read more. 

Director’s Forum: A Blog from USPTO’s Leadership
A guest blog post by Allison Bourke, a supervisory patent examiner in electrochemistry technology at the Department of Commerce’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, describes her work. She shares that one of her proudest accomplishments has been the co-founding of two women’s organizations: Women in Science and Engineering at the Alexandria campus, and Women in Technology and Science at the Rocky Mountain Regional Office. Both initiatives are designed to promote STEM/Intellectual Property for K-12 and college students through social and enrichment activities. Read more.

Women’s History Month: Celebrate More Researchers
Hundreds of events scheduled to be held during Women’s History Month in March were curtailed or postponed because of COVID-19, a time during which women’s contributions to society would otherwise have been commemorated and celebrated. An Editorial in Nature, referring to this setback, urges for more attention to female scientists, clinicians, and engineers next March – not only well-known scientists who are under-recognized in this event, but also women from low- and middle-income regions and from under-represented or minority groups in their countries. One simple option would be to make it easier for readers to find researchers or scientists on the official Women’s History website (go.nature.com/2xysrj4). Read more.

Medical News Site Saw the Coronavirus Coming Months Ago
As early as December 31, 2019, Stat reporter Helen Branswell identified news of “an unexplained pneumonia’” in central China, which she shared on Twitter. Two days later, she tweeted a South China Morning Post article about the outbreak. And, on January 4, Stat published Branswell’s first article on the “’growing cluster’” of cases. During January, a month before the first confirmed case of unknown origin in the U.S., Stat published articles about: coronaviruses’ ability to be spread by asymptomatic carriers; its ability to test President Trump’s proclivity for undermining established science; and the possibility that containing it might be unfeasible. Read more.   

Viviana Gradinaru: ”Make Yourself Useful.”
Dr. Viviana Gradinaru, winner of the 2020 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science, hopes that others see this accomplishment “as an encouragement; that scientists – immigrant scientists – are valued and seen and appreciated.” Reflecting on her childhood in a farming community in Communist Romania, Grandinaru shares that her grandma’s heed to “Make yourself useful” contributed to her own “ingenuity and creativity in problem solving” and, in turn, “her passion for the sciences.” She attended Caltech, where she studied neuroscience, then earned a PhD from Stanford, and is now a laboratory director at Caltech. Read more.    

Meet The Black Woman Taking the Lead to Develop a Vaccine for COVID-19
Among the many scientists around the world working to find a vaccine to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 is Dr. Kizzmekia S. Cobert, a viral immunologist with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Cobert, a black scientist who is leading a team to find a vaccine, began her work this January when researchers first learned how easily the disease could be spread. Read more. 

Worldwide Research into A Sea of Opportunity
Each year, Bigelow Laboratory scientists search the globe for “ways to unlock all the ocean has to offer.” The Bigelow Impact Report 2019 focuses on work related to: understanding our planet; utilizing the unseen; adapting to global changes; and safeguarding ocean health. Bigelow Laboratory of Ocean Scientists, led by Debra Bronck, PhD, is a member of the Rosalind Franklin Society Council of Academic Institutions. Read more.

Jane Goodall Is Self-Isolating, Too
Jane Goodall, whose research on chimpanzees began 60 years ago, is self-isolating at her family home in England due to the coronavirus pandemic. In an interview reported in The New York Times, she talks about how she keeps busy – catching up with unread emails and work-related material, but also worrying about how people in Tanzania and others around the globe are coping with the economic impact of the pandemic. She also ponders how human isolation compares with the isolation of chimpanzees in captivity, who depend on physical closeness and touch. Her advice is to maintain a sense of humor – even including what she refers to as the ”nonsense about loo paper.” Read more

The Countries With The Most Female Tech CEOs
A report last year found that less than 5% of women hold CEO positions at companies around the world, notable particularly because a CEO is the highest ranking executive in a company. The United States ranks first, with 4,490 female CEOs, followed by India with 1,502 CEOs. Women are especially underrepresented in leadership positions or technical roles in the tech industry. Read more. 

Better Late Than Never
The new Editor-in-Chief of Science journals, H. Holden Thorpe, announced that Science will continue to include Retrospectives on scientists who have passed away. While admittedly not being able to include all those who deserve to be recognized, Science will now “widen our Retrospective lens,” he said, to include more women and people of color. This gap has been due to the fact white males constitute the majority of those who were given opportunities to excel in science in the past. In the March 20 issue, the Retrospective focuses on Stanley Cohen, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering nerve growth, which was shared with Rita-Levi Montalcini – who was not featured in a Retrospective when she died in 2012. “No matter the reason, it was a bad oversight. We missed an important opportunity to praise a remarkable role model for women pursing excellence in science,” said Thorpe. Read more. 

Preventing Campus Sexual Assault Isn’t Just About Sex. It’s Also About Race
A study of college students at Columbia University and Barnard College, based on interviews and observation of day-to-day campus life, examines gender and racial differences in campus sexual assault. The findings, published in the book “Sexual Citizens”, report the experiences of 150 students, more than half of whom are students of color. The authors argue that existing research and prevention efforts have focused largely on a gender-lens to understand the problem, but that racial dimensions of campus sexual assault must also be considered. Read more. 

Why the Coronavirus Has Been So Successful
A paper in The Atlantic presents a comprehensive overview of the coronavirus and its trajectory, with important content provided almost exclusively by female scientists. Based on what we know about SARS-CoV-2 over the past three months, Ed Yong, a British journalist, covers its origin and behavior, including the viruses’ structure, survival, symptoms, spread, outcome, seasonal variations, and more. Read more. 

HHMI Opens New Program for Medically Trained Scientists
Despite the value of medical training to basic research, the number of medically trained scientists is projected to decline in part because of the increasing professional demands of both medicine and science. This month, HHMI unveiled the Medically Trained Scientists Program (MTSP), designed to support scientists with a medical background. Beginning in 2021, this $120 million research program will offer long-term support of up to 8 years, for up to four cohorts of 10 early career biomedical scientists who are committed to conducting fundamental research. The goal is to tap scientists’ knowledge of the human body. Applications are due August 11, 2020, with awardee notifications in January 2021. Read more. 

An Interview with Nancy Wexler
The Lasker Foundation shares the first of a multipart video interview with Nancy Wexler, who discusses her life’s work to increase awareness, and find therapies for, Huntington’s Disease. Given her family’s history with the disease, she explains why she chose to dedicate her life to researching this genetic disorder. In 1993, Wexler received the Albert Lasker Public Service Award for her work that led to the localization and then the identification of the disease gene, and for mobilizing research, policy development, and scientific advocacy in the global effort to find a cure. Read more. 

Dr. Fatimah Jackson Receives the Charles R. Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award
Fatima Jackson, PhD, a professor of biology and director of the W. Montage Cobb Research Laboratory at Howard University, is the first African American ever to receive the prestigious Charles R. Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. It is given to a scholar who has shown a lifetime of contributions and distinguished service to the field of physical anthropology. Her studies focus on African human genetics and human-plant co-evolution. Read more. 

Harvard Medical School’s First Black Women Class President
LaShyra Nolan, who most people call “Lash,” is the first black woman to be elected class president of Harvard Medical School. In an interview for Teen Magazine, this Fulbright Scholar, community activist, and emerging leader in medicine shares her personal story and offers advice for black girls everywhere. To those wanting to pursue their wildest dreams, she says “Go get it.” As a young girl, she did not see black women leadership in society but, with this opportunity, she hopes to “’create a pipeline for others who look like [her]’” to hold positions of leadership at HMS and beyond. Read more.

Women in Their Element
On February 20, 2020, The Wise Festival presented a seminar by the co-editors and contributors of the recently published book, Women in Their Element, to provide a fresh perspective on the “unsung contributors to science” with a focus on women and the periodic table. Read more.

Joy K. Ward Named New Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
Joy K. Ward, PhD, an accomplished scientist and academic leader, will begin her role as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve University on July 1, 2020. Currently an associate dean for research and dean’s professor at the University of Kansas, she has also served in advisory and leadership roles for federal agencies and other organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences’ Frontiers of Science Program. Dr. Ward is internationally recognized for her studies on how plants adapt to changing environments, which has significant implications for feeding a growing world population. Read more.

8 Women Who Made Modern Vaccines Work
A 2018 story provided by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and published by ONE, the global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030, is particularly timely during this COVID pandemic. It features women who “pushed the frontiers of science” with research discoveries: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1869-1762) introduced the smallpox inoculation into Western medicine; Dr. Anna Wessels Williams (1863-1954) developed a diphtheria vaccine; Drs. Pearl Kendrick (1890-1980) and Grace Eldering (1900-1988) developed whooping cough vaccine, which they later combined with diphtheria and tetanus vaccines into a single shot; Dr. Margret Pittman (1901-1995) contributed to the development of the HIB vaccine to help prevent meningitis and pneumonia; Dr. Isabel Morgan (1911-1996) had an early and important role in the race to find a polio vaccine; Dr. Anne Szarewski (1959-2014) showed that human papillomavirus (HPV) was linked to cervical cancer; and Dr. Ruth Bishop (1933-Age 85) led a team that isolated rotavirus and helped discover the vaccine. Read more

Why We’re Editing Women Scientists onto Wikipedia
Though published in August 2018, the Career Column in Nature serves here as a reminder that more women scientists need to be included in Wikipedia. The authors argue that the people who edit Wikipedia and the biases they hold matter for decisions about what gets published. Between 84% and 91% of editors are reportedly male, and only 17% of Wikipedia biographies written in English are about women. The WikiProject Women Scientists and other WikiProjects are helping to address this gap. Read more