RFS Briefings - September 15, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

I am pleased to include another issue of RFS Briefings with some timely and encouraging updates on women in science. Of particular note, we congratulate two of this year’s exceptional Vilcek Prize winners: 

 Ruth Lehman, Whitehead Institute and MIT
 Silvi Rouskin,  Whitehead Institute and MIT

We continue to applaud the work of the Vilcek Foundation, a longtime supporter of RFS, and their influential work to support and showcase the contributions of scholars who are immigrants to the United States.  

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 Shepard Rubinger
Executive Director
Rosalind Franklin Society


Congratulations to Dr. Catherine Dulac for winning the US $3-million Breakthrough prize in Life Sciences! According to Nature News, her team provided the first evidence that male and female mouse brains have the same neural circuitry associated with parenting, which is just triggered differently in each sex. That went against the dogma that for decades said that male and female brains are organized differently, according to biologist Lauren O’Connell at Stanford University, California. Read more on Nature News.

Catherine Dulac, Harvard University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Kris Snibbe/Harvard file photo

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2021 Vilcek Foundation Prizes! Awarded annually, the Vilcek Prizes honor the outstanding contributions of immigrants in the sciences and the arts.

Ruth Lehmann. Photo courtesy of NYU Photography Staff.

This year, Ruth Lehmann, Director of the Whitehead Institute and Professor of Biology at MIT, receives the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science for unraveling the molecular basis by which germ cells, which give rise to sperm and egg cells, are formed.

Silvi Rouskin. Photo courtesy of Silvi Rouskin/Whitehead Institute. 

Silvi Rouskin, Andria and Paul Heafy Whitehead Fellow at The Whitehead Institute of MIT receives the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science for developing methods to unravel the shapes of RNA molecules inside cells and aiding the potential development of RNA-based therapeutics.

Meet Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist who has emerged as a clear-eyed, tactful narrator of the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic, helping to bridge the distance between the science community and American politicians. “One of my goals,” she says, “is keeping the energy—the intention—around the bigger question, ‘Are we headed in the right direction?’” Read more on Science Magazine.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) has launched the Enhancing Faculty Gender Diversity in Biomedical and Behavioral Science Prize to recognize institutions that have successfully and systemically addressed gender diversity and equity issues among faculty members in biomedical and behavioral sciences. Up to ten (10) winners will be selected, with each winning up to $50,000. To register for this prize competition and for full submission details, see the HeroX website.

Myriam Sarachik never gave up on physics. This is an inspiring story of overcoming regular obstacles in order to make significant contributions to physics. Dr. Myriam Sarachik, a retired City College of NY professor, won the 2020 APS Physics Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research for her contributions to physics. "I can’t even believe it, because I almost didn’t get into the field at all," she said. Read more on the New York Times.

Here is a wonderful review of two new books on studying space, including one by Sara Seager, past speaker at the RFS Board Meeting, and past MacArthur 'Genius' grant winner. “Both address the challenges of being female physical scientists in a male-dominated field, and both convey the struggle of operating in the vast scales of the universe at work, then commuting home to operate in the humbler scales of the domestic sphere,” writes Anthony Doerr for the New York Times.

This year, Fortune Magazine is highlighting 40 influential people in each of five categories: finance, technology, healthcare, government and politics, and media and entertainment. Meet some of the women in the healthcare industry:

  • A chemistry postdoc who arrived in the lab of Harvard’s David Liu not long after the discovery of CRISPR gene editing, Alexis Komor figured out how to edit DNA in a new, still more precise way—down to a single base unit in the DNA sequence. She is a Professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, and recently received the Rosalind Franklin Medal at the Genome Writers Guild Conference.
  • Nicole Gaudelli, Director, head of gene-editing technologies at Beam Therapeutics, made a scientific breakthrough that is driving forward the fast-moving field of gene editing. She worked with fellow postdoc Alexis Komor to develop base editors, which became the basis for Beam Therapeutics, the recently IPO’ed biotech that has a market cap of $1.3 billion.
  • As senior director of system-wide special pathogens for NYC Health + Hospitals, Syra Madad began tracking the novel coronavirus late last year. She is now focused on preventing a resurgence of the disease in NYC.
  • What do you do if your state refuses to publish accurate data? If you’re Rebekah Jones, you do it yourself. The geospatial scientist designed and managed the COVID-19 tracking dashboard for Florida’s Department of Health.
  • Science communicator and molecular biologist Raven Baxter has a deal to write a children’s book and another to create a science education television show with a major network. She launched a web series, The STEMbassy, featuring scientists of varying genders, races, and disciplines, under her stage name Raven the Science Maven.
  • Padideh Kamali-Zare is the founder of a biotech startup, Darmiyan, that uses artificial intelligence to analyze MRIs, looking for early evidence of microscopic changes in brain tissue.
  • Ma Chun’e, who also goes by Anne Ma, founded medical diagnostics startup Shukun Technology in 2017 in Beijing. Shukun’s artificial intelligence technology helps speed up the detection of illnesses like cardiovascular disease.
  • As a vice president of Time’s Up leading its work in health care, Lauren R. Powell fights for gender and racial equity throughout the health system.
  • Can a simple wristband replace invasive brain surgery? That’s the idea behind Cala Health, a medical-device company that makes wearable bioelectronics for people who suffer from essential tremors, founded by Kate Rosenbluth.
  • What if you could identify a potential cardiovascular condition simply by reviewing scans of people’s eyes? It may sound like the stuff of science fiction—but it isn’t, thanks to efforts of people like Lily Peng, product manager of research at Google Health.

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps to be first Black woman to join International Space Station crew. Her flight is scheduled for next year! She will become the first Black woman to live and work long-term aboard the International Space Station. Read more on CBS News.

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps (NASA).

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio®) announced that 164 CEOs in the life sciences industry have signed its Open Letter 2.0 – The CEO Pledge for a More Equitable and Inclusive Life Sciences Industry. This pledge serves as a call to action for CEOs to create change within their organizations across areas such as: leadership and executive culture, inclusive company culture, recruitment, retention and development, accountability and sustainability, and supplier diversity.

‘We do belong here’: The scientist behind #BlackInNeuro hopes to transform a Twitter movement into a lasting community. Angeline Dukes recently spoke with STAT News about the creation of her #BlackInNeuro hashtag and the importance of minority representation in neuroscience.

Women scientists have the evidence about sexism. Rita Colwell, president of the Rosalind Franklin Society, and professor at the University of Maryland at College Park and at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, recently launched a book in which she argues that women remain a minority among scientific leaders overall. Once women earn their Ph.D., they receive only 39 percent of postdoctoral fellowships and 18 percent of professorships. The typical National Institutes of Health research grant to a male principal investigator is $41,000 larger than to a female one, according to a study from last year. Read more on The Atlantic.

Meet the woman who gave the world antiviral drugs. Fifty years ago, few scientists believed a drug could fight viruses with low side effects. Then Gertrude Elion showed that it could be done. Already useful for many treatments, such as herpes, hepatitis, HIV, Ebola, her discovery can now help find drugs for COVID-19. Born in 1918 in Manhattan, she won the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Read more on National Geographic. 

Women scientists have a vital part to play in Africa's scientific leadership, but they remain substantially under-represented in higher education and in STEM. In a recent report, The African Academy of Sciences and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative outline how to increase their participation in science.

Engineering professor aims to increase participation of women in STEM “The ultimate accomplishment would be making it so this chair is not required anymore, when we have a system and culture that’s truly inclusive,” explains Laleh Behjat, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Schulich School of Engineering, who has been named the University of Calgary’s NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (Prairies). Read more.

Meet medical writer Nina Chhita, who devotes her free time to champion women in STEM through beautiful illustrations that she shares on Instagram. Not only do her posts teach people how these women have contributed to science, but the illustrations themselves help celebrate diversity and buck stereotypes about who belongs in STEM. Read more on Mental Floss.

Chhita's illustration of the 21 female Nobel Laureates awarded prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology/medicine, or economic sciences. NINA CHHITA for

Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith continues as the Australian Government’s Women in STEM Ambassador.
The role plays a key part in the Government’s efforts to encourage girls and women to take up STEM, and reduce the barriers that prevent them from doing so. Read more.

A day in the life of a science gaming entrepreneur. Carla Brown, a Ph.D. microbiologist and “a massive gamer,” has embarked on a career that aims to communicate health information in an unconventional way—using gaming technology. She founded a company, Game Doctor, to develop evidence-based digital games for education and health care organizations. Read more on Science Careers.


Let's discuss the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women in science: Join Women in science & COVID-19 impact on Slack, created by the organizers of EMBL’s recent virtual event “The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women in science: Challenges and solutions”.

Alaina G. Levine, a STEM careers consultant, shares some tips on how to network during challenging times. “When we share our authentic enthusiasm and generosity, we can make a big difference in one another’s careers and lives. We all have something of value to offer. We all have ways we can care for ourselves together with our community,” she writes in an article for Science Careers.

Bulgari is supporting women scientists who are working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Bulgari will establish scholarships or fellowships for top women scientists from the Rockefeller University so they can continue their post-doctoral education and research during the pandemic. Read more on Forbes. 


Marianna Limas,  Social media manager
Nilda Rivera, Partnership and events manager