RFS Briefings - August 4, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

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

We want to take this opportunity to again mark the centenary birthday of Rosalind Franklin (July 25, 1920-April 16, 1958), the chemist and X-ray crystallographer, whose contribution to the most significant biological discovery of the 20th century – the structure of DNA – was not recognized during her lifetime. We hope you had a chance to read our special issue commemorating the birthday of this remarkable scientist who inspired the Rosalind Franklin Society founded in 2008.

Of note, please see the compelling article about her that goes well beyond her work related to DNA. 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 in these trying times,  

Karla Signature
Karla Shepard Rubinger
Executive Director
Rosalind Franklin Society

Happy Birthday, Rosalind Franklin!
July 25 marked the centenary birthday of Rosalind Franklin, the chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA was not recognized during her lifetime. She died on April 16, 1958, at the age of 38. Though her gravestone acclaims that “Her research and discoveries on viruses remain of lasting benefit to mankind,” it is only in the last 25 years that her body of work has truly been acknowledged. Her name has been attached to a university, a medical school, several buildings and student dorms, lecture theaters, various prestigious medals and fellowships and, most recently, a future Mars Rover and a commemorative UK coin. The paper cited here presents a compelling narrative of Franklin that goes well beyond her work with James Watson and Francis Crick, who received a Nobel prize that did not include even a mention of Franklin for her singular contribution to their work. Read more

Covid Vaccine Front-Runner is Months Ahead of Her Competition
For more than two decades, Sarah Gilbert has worked anonymously to develop vaccines, and her research was rarely discussed outside scientific circles. Now, the Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University is leading the development of one of the highest profiled and most advanced vaccines against Covid-19. Gilbert and her colleagues at Oxford’s Jenner Institute started a human trial on 1,100 people, with a Phase III trial involving thousands of people currently underway in Brazil, South Africa, the U.K., and soon, the U.S. Her 21-year-old triplets, all studying biochemistry, decided to participate in the early trial for their mother’s experimental vaccine and they are fine.
AstraZeneca, the British pharmaceutical giant, will spearhead its global manufacturing and distribution to help run more trials around the world. Read more.

These Scientists Raced to Find a COVID-19 Drug. Then the Virus Found Them
This spring, researchers at Regeneron’s Westchester headquarters found themselves in one of the country’s first coronavirus hotspots. It did not deter 25-year-old Stephanie Giordano who is the youngest member of the company’s five-person rapid response team for infectious diseases. With a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, she began working at Regeneron in January 2020 as a research and development associate, and within months helped to develop what many consider one of the most promising new treatments for COVID-19. She worked in a lab that identified a cocktail of two antibodies that might not only treat the virus, but prevent it by giving the body the same natural defenses that people infected with it produce on their own. If the clinical trials now underway are successful, the treatment could be available by the end of this summer, according to company executives. It would serve as a stopgap until a vaccine is available by providing temporary protection to those at high risk of infection. Read more.

Moderna’s mRNA Vaccine Reaches its Final Phase
Moderna Therapeutics, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, began phase three of clinical trials on a promising coronavirus vaccine – a milestone that is one step away from bringing the drug to the public and commercial markets. Now the frontrunner, Moderna moved its drug from the lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts to human trial in a record-setting 63 days. The Phase III trial will involve about 30,000 participants at 89 sites across 30 states and the District of Columbia. Historically, Margaret Liu, chairman of the Board for the International Society of Vaccines, was among the first wave of researchers to try to use DNA and mRNA vaccines, which in the early days showed repeated success in animal models. Read more.

COVID-19 Research: Women Are Changing the Face of the Pandemic
To mark Rosalind Franklin’s 100th birthday, GEN spoke with female scientists at the forefront of some of the most influential COVID-19 research underway, including those who are tracking SARS-CoV-2 genomes, uncovering host factors influencing COVID-19 progression, developing saliva-based COVID-19 tests, and more. Reflecting on Franklin’s contribution to science, Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, an immunologist at Yale School of Medicine and a “fierce” advocate for women in science, said: “'Things have definitely gotten better since [Franklin’s] days. But we still have a huge disparity in women representation – especially at the senior level.’” Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News: GEN is the flagship publication of Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., launched in 1980. Read more.

Will the Pandemic Reshape Notions of Female Leadership?
Countries with governments led by women have six times fewer confirmed deaths from COVID-19 than those led by men. According to the authors, myriad articles have suggested that women’s superior performance reflects “well-established gender differences in leadership potential.” For example, media reports emphasize the pragmatism, prowess, and humanity of women. Though the premise that “’women are better leaders,’” as evidenced by the global response to the pandemic, may not always be consistent with the available data or how the data are interpreted, the authors argue that this critical period of the pandemic may in fact be a turning point for how we view leadership, with women such as Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, and Tsai Ing-wen becoming the “first visible wave of role models for generations to come.” Read More.

The Career Cost of COVID to Female Researchers
Female researchers, especially those at early-career stages, are the hardest hit by the pandemic when scientific-publishing output is considered. Early data suggests that female authors account for only one-third of all authors on published COVID-19 papers since January 2020. As a result, female researchers’ positions might be at risk. Moreover, the pandemic may also pose a serious threat to hard-won gender-equity gains achieved over the past decade. Nature asked journal editors, funders, and academic leaders how to mitigate these threats, as reported in this paper. Read more.

COVID-19 Risks Undoing Even Modest Gains in STEM Workplace Equity
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women has been especially significant, leaving them to face disproportionate increases in caregiving responsibilities and disruptions to working hours and job security. The STEM Workforce Report, based on 2016 Australian Census Data, showed that a fairer and more diverse STEM labor force was already slow. The authors argue that an emphasis on workplace flexibility as a result of the pandemic offers one solution to improving women’s workforce participation. Read more.

Women in Science
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics released the latest data on women in science and their representation among researchers. Overall, the gender gap is clear, with women accounting for a minority of the world’s researchers, at only 30%. This fact sheet provides global and regional profiles, highlighting where women thrive in this sector and where they are underrepresented. Read more.

Work-Life Balance Dwarfs Pay in Female Doctors’ Top Concerns
Medscape surveyed more than 3,000 women physicians about how they deal with parenthood, work pressures, and relationships. The report, Women Physicians 2020: The Issues They Care About, revealed that work-life balance was the top concern, substantially outweighing concerns about pay, 64% to 43%, respectively. An overwhelming percentage of respondents reported having to make personal tradeoffs for work obligations. Other important concerns acknowledged by respondents included: combining parenthood/work (30%), gender equity (19%), career development (16%), relationships with colleagues and staff (16%), age discrimination (6%), and sexual harassment (1%). Read more.

Sexist Description in Surgical Textbook Highlights Bias in Medicine, Physicians Say
A Twitter post on June 28 called out a sexist description in Dr. Pestana’s Surgery Notes, a widely used medical textbook, referring to the effects of Cushing disease as turning a “‘lovely’” young woman into a “’monster’” and saying that if a patient turned out not to have Cushing, she was “’just a fat hairy lady.’” Nearly 1,000 likes and retweets by medical trainees and professionals showed outrage that such a description could appear in a modern-day medical textbook. According to Lillian Erdahl, MD, surgical professor at University of Iowa Health Care, “’It’s an example of sexism and gender bias in medical education and culture that affects both patients and providers.’” Kaplan Test Prep, the publisher of the textbook, promised to correct future editions of the book. Read more.

NINDS Strategies for Enhancing the Diversity of Neuroscience Researchers
Michelle Jones-London – an African-American female neuroscientist at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) – offers strategies at multiple system levels that could enhance neuroscience workforce diversity. The implications are important because neuroscience, a multidisciplinary science, is one of the fastest growing fields for PhDs. The NINDS Open strategy for diversity and inclusion focuses on the following platforms: Recruit and Prepare Trainees; Support at Critical Career Transition Points; Develop Meaningful Mentorship and Supportive Networks; and Examining Policies and Developing Resources. Read more.

Top 10 Earners Among Women Biopharma Executives
Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology: GEN has recently published its updated annual list of the most highly compensated women executives at public biopharma companies, based on the executives’ total 2019 compensation. The data reflect substantial increases in compensation over last year’s figures for the top 10 earners, respectively. Despite these gains, it is noteworthy that the list does not include any women of color. To this point, Michelle McMurry-Heath, MD, PhD, the new president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), has made it clear that she aims to advance diversity within the industry in ways that go beyond symbolism as the first woman, and first African-American, to hold her current position. The Rosalind Franklin Society sponsors the Rosalind Franklin Award for Leadership in Industrial Biotechnology and Agriculture, presented each year at the BIO World Congress. Read more.

Acknowledging Female Voices
Citation count is acknowledged as one of the most important metrics of a scientist’s contribution. An analysis of five leading neuroscience journals – Brain, Journal of Neuroscience, Nature Neuroscience, NeuroImage, and Neuron – examined gender bias in the citation process. The findings show evidence of gender bias in citation practices that can have long-term, adverse effects on women’s careers. Moreover, though the proportion of female-authored papers has increased by about 40% over the past decade in the examined dataset, citation practices have remained relatively stable suggesting that citations have become increasingly unrepresentative of the field rates over time. Read more.

The Extent and Drivers of Gender Imbalance in Neuroscience Reference Lists
Like many scientific disciplines, neuroscience has increased its efforts to tackle pervasive gender imbalances, with attention to publishing and conference participation in particular. Recent research, however, has begun to focus on gender imbalance in citation practices, which is believed to be vital for addressing scientific inequity. Trends in gender author within top neuroscience journals between 1995 and 2018 were examined based on the gender makeup of reference lists rather than the number of citations that articles receive. This allowed for an examination of both the gender of the citing authors and that of the cited authors. The findings show that reference lists tend to include more papers with men as first and last author than would be expected if gender were unrelated to referencing, an imbalance attributed primarily to the citation practices of men. Read more.

She’s an Authority on Earth’s Past. Now, Her Focus is the Planet’s Future
Maureen Raymo, PhD, one of the world’s leading oceanographers and climate scientists, has become interim director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. She is the first woman scientist and the first climate scientist to head Lamont in its 71-year history. She will play a significant role in Columbia’s effort to make climate a more prominent part of the school’s platform. Moreover, her leadership position comes at a time when efforts to address diversity and equity in the field and within the institution are long overdue. Read More.

If Only Marie Curie Movie Radioactive Had Been More Experimental
Marie Curie, who was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the only woman to win it twice, faced many scientific and societal hurdles in her time. Among them, was the profession’s refusal to acknowledge women’s contributions to scientific research, such as the fact that a nomination for the Nobel prize originally named only her husband, Pierre Curie. She also dealt with personal tragedy, including her illness and ultimate death from prolonged exposure to radiation and the untimely death of her husband from an accident, as well as increased public scrutiny after the Nobel, including the suspicion of her being Jewish and a scandal involving her affair with one of her husband’s former graduate students. In light of these circumstances, the film Radioactive, based on a 2010 graphic novel, fails to address “the complexities of a singular figure.” Rather, it serves as simply a reminder of her contributions to 20th century life, according to one reviewer. Read more.

Flossie Wong-Staal, Who Unlocked Mystery of H.I.V, Dies at 73
Flossie Wong-Staal, a molecular biologist, helped establish H.I.V. as the virus that caused AIDS, identified its inner-workings, and ultimately laid the foundation for treatments. Her virology work is now being used in the fight against the novel coronavirus. Amid personal and professional turmoil in a lab run by Robert C. Gallo – where her trailblazing work was conducted – Dr. Wong-Staal “was known for navigating this brutally competitive male-dominated research world with quiet confidence, while supporting the many younger researchers in her lab who went on to have extraordinary careers.” She died on July 8 in San Diego. Read more.

2020 Simons Investigators Announced
The Simons Foundation announced the 2020 Simons Investigators in mathematics, physics, astrophysics, and theoretical computer science. Fifteen outstanding theoretical scientists, including only three women, will receive research support from the foundation: Claudia de Rham, PhD, Imperial College London (Physics); Kathryn Zurek, PhD, California Institute of Technology (Physics); and Karen Öberg, PhD, Harvard University (Astrophysics). Read more.

Teen Scientists Win $1.8 Million at Virtual Regeneron Science Talent Search
The Regeneron Science Talent Search 2020, a program of Science for Society & the Public, established in 1942, is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. Forty finalists were honored at the July 29 award ceremony for the scientific rigor of their projects, their exceptional problem-solving abilities, and their potential to become scientific leaders. Seventeen-year-old Lillian Petersen, of Los Alamos, NM, won the top $250,000 award for her invention of a simple tool for predicting harvests early in the growing season, which could help to improve food distribution planning and provide a resource to those working to address global food insecurity. Three other young women were among the top ten prize winners. Read more.