RFS Briefings - October 26, 2020

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

Mark your calendar for Wednesday, October 28th. We will be hosting our third Women in Science Webinar with Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. In this webinar, renowned neuroscientist Dr. Susan Hockfield, who served as president of MIT from 2004–2012, will share her views of the future that she lays out in her recent book, The Age of Living Machines: How Biology Will Build the Next Technology Revolution. Dr. Hockfield will assess several breathtaking new technologies, such as virus-built batteries, protein-based water filters, cancer-diagnosing nanoparticles, mind-reading bionic limbs, and computer-engineered crops. The development of these technologies, as Dr. Hockfield notes, is the scientific story of the 21st century—one that holds the promise of overcoming some of the greatest humanitarian, medical, and environmental challenges of our time. Register today!

CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna, PhD (University of California, Berkeley/HHMI) was recently awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Emmanuelle Charpentier, PhD, a microbiologist at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin. The GEN/RFS “Women in Science” series is thrilled to host Jennifer Doudna in a live, candid “fireside chat”.
Join Jennifer and some special guests for conversation and celebration of a truly groundbreaking scientist, on November 20, 2020. Register now!

In case you missed our previous webinars, you can watch them now:

  • The Life and Times of Rosalind Franklin: British biologist and author Dr. Matthew Cobb explores Franklin’s contribution to DNA structure and how they have been seen in popular culture.
  • The Empowerment of Having a Lab of One’s Own: Rita Colwell, president of the Rosalind Franklin Society, is a pioneering microbiologist and the first woman to lead the National Science Foundation. She is a Distinguished University Professor at both the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

We are excited to announce that
Raven Baxter, also known as Raven the Science Maven, is the newest member of the Rosalind Franklin Society's advisory board! She is an internationally acclaimed science communicator and molecular biologist who works to progress the state of science culture by creating spaces that are inclusive, educational, and real. She is recognized as a global influencer in Fortune Magazine’s 40 Under 40 list for 2020.

Raven Baxter, also known as Raven the Science Maven.

We are also pleased to announce that Dr. Mona Singh, Professor of  Computer Science at the Lewis Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, Princeton University will be assuming the role of Editor-in-Chief of Journal of  Computational Biology on January 1, 2021 taking over the mantle from Drs. Sorin Istrail and Michael Waterman. Dr. Singh will start transitioning into her role on Nov 1, 2020.

Mona Singh. Image: Butler College, Princeton University

Dr. Singh started her journey in Computational Biology with her B.A and M.S at Harvard University followed by her PhD from MIT all majoring in Computer Science. She currently works broadly in Computational Molecular Biology focusing on the development of algorithms to decode genomes at the level of proteins.  

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


The Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education, a group of over 60 colleges, universities, and research institutions working to prevent sexual harassment, has released new resources for addressing and preventing sexual harassment, a repository of information on their efforts, along with an annual report on the Action Collaborative’s activities. 

The winners of this year’s Nature Research Award for Inspiring & Innovating Science, which is organized in partnership with The Estée Lauder Companies, have been announced at a digital award ceremony: Samira Asgari, an Iranian computational biologist, and Chicas en Tecnología, an Argentinian non-profit organisation. Now in its third year, the award celebrates and supports both the achievements of women in science and initiatives promoting STEM subjects to girls and young women.

Plant Pathologist Pamela Ronald named GCHERA World Agriculture Prize Laureate. “This award is a really special honor and I’m very grateful,” said Ronald. “I’m happy to be part of a global community of agricultural scientists that has been able to make a huge difference in the lives of farmers.”

All-female scientific coalition calls for marine protected area for Antarctica Peninsula. Dr Carolyn Hogg, from the University of Sydney School of Life and Environmental Sciences, was part of the largest ever all-female expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula, with the women in STEMM initiative, Homeward Bound, in late 2019. In a new commentary piece published in Nature, Dr Hogg and her colleagues from the expedition outline these threats, and importantly, offer ways to counter them.

NASA finally made a toilet for women. Although men still make up the majority of NASA’s astronaut workforce, there are more women astronauts than ever before, and the agency has recognized that it must adapt its technology to meet their needs, according to Marina Koren, Staff writer at The Atlantic. “It’s about time,” Nicole Stott, a retired NASA astronaut who flew two missions to the space station, told her.


The Army is seeking to improve coordination among the U.S. Army's synthetic biology research and development stakeholders and to increase awareness of its current and future synthetic biology capabilities in the broader research community. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will develop a Synthetic Biology Roundtable, in a neutral setting, for exploring synthetic biology and the associated science, policy and industry capabilities. They invite you to submit nominations for committee members for workshops by November 2, 2020.

Apply for The Women In Bio Founders Scholarship by November 9, 2020. The scholarship was established to advance the educational development of women by encouraging and supporting education on all aspects of life science.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation 2021 Physician Scientist Fellowship competition is now open. The Doris Duke Physician Scientist Fellowship program provides grants to physician scientists at the subspecialty fellowship level who are seeking to conduct additional years of research beyond their subspecialty requirement. The goal is to aid in the transition into a research faculty appointment.


Ten simple rules for building an antiracist lab: Here are 10 rules to help labs develop antiracist policies and action in an effort to promote racial and ethnic diversity, equity, and inclusion in science: 

  • Rule 1: Lead informed discussions about antiracism in your lab regularly
  • Rule 2. Address racism in your lab and field safety guidelines
  • Rule 3: Publish papers and write grants with BIPOC colleagues
  • Rule 4: Evaluate your lab’s mentoring practices
  • Rule 5: Amplify voices of BIPOC scientists in your field
  • Rule 6: Support BIPOC in their efforts to organize
  • Rule 7: Intentionally recruit BIPOC students and staff
  • Rule 8: Adopt a dynamic research agenda
  • Rule 9: Advocate for racially diverse leadership in science
  • Rule 10: Hold the powerful accountable and don’t expect gratitude

Three trouble spots facing women in science—and how we can tackle them. “Many of the problems we discuss aren’t new—in fact, they’ve been voiced for decades—but that doesn’t mean solutions will elude us. It is only with continued work and awareness that we will progress toward equality,” according to Leah H. Somerville and June Gruber.

Too intelligent for the life sciences in Brazil: how two female researchers fought back. Luciana Leite and Luisa M. Diele-Viegas are using their own negative experiences to research the impact of societal and family expectations on women’s career choices:We call our support network Kunhã Asé, which is a combination of two languages: Guarani and Yoruba, which have Indigenous South American and African origins, respectively. Kunhã means woman and Asé means powerful, and together they express our aspiration to empower Brazilian women from different ethnicities who have historically been oppressed and under-represented in science.”

How to get more women and people of color into graduate school — and keep them there. In a new book, Equity in Science: Representation, Culture, and the Dynamics of Change in Graduate Education, Social scientist and education researcher Julie Posselt warns that we must learn from previous efforts or we are doomed to repeat past mistakes. Early in her narrative, Posselt asks a crucial question: how much should graduate programmes reform “to accommodate the diverse career pathways in their fields”?

Physical sciences funder wants UK women to go for bigger grants. How can we encourage more women from the physical sciences and engineering community to apply for grants? The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the UK says that in any given year, just 11–15% of applications come from female principal investigators. In the last 13 years the EPSRC has received just 5 applications for grants over £10 million from women, compared to 80 from men, and in one year they received no female applicants at all for awards above £2.5 million.

Women in STEM

This 14-year-old girl won a $25K prize for a discovery that could lead to a cure for Covid-19. Anika Chebrolu, a student from Texas, has just won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge for a discovery that could provide a potential treatment for Covid-19. Her invention uses in-silico methodology to discover a lead molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The scientist-gardener who is harnessing tobacco’s power to heal. Molecular immunologist Audrey Teh is using tobacco plants to produce antibodies for drug development, to fight diseases including cancer and Covid-19. “Tobacco has a horrible health legacy, so it would be nice to reform this plant’s image by engineering it to produce cancer treatments,” she says.

Women who inspire: 5 must-know leaders in medicine, science and tech.

Here are a few women who are shattering ceilings, making groundbreaking discoveries, and spreading public awareness amid Covid-19: 

  • Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League (AJL), a computer scientist and an expert in artificial intelligence bias.
  • Dr. Corbett, a viral immunologist and research fellow in the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). She went viral on social media this year after news broke that Dr. Corbett, a Black female scientist, was leading the team of researchers working on a Covid-19 vaccine at the NIH!
  • Kathrin Jansen, a senior vice president and head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, is leading a group of more than 650 people focused on delivering the next wave of vaccine innovation.
  • Dr. Nita Patel, the director for vaccine development and antibody discovery at Novavax, leads an all-female team working to create a viable vaccine for Covid-19.
  • Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, has been a leading voice in public health and a frequent commentator about coronavirus.

Act now, wait for perfect evidence later, says ‘high priestess’ of U.K. Covid-19 masking campaign. Meet the free-thinking "high priestess" of Britain's mask campaign, Trisha Greenhalgh—a fierce proponent of evidence-based science who believes Covid-19 has revealed the limits of evidence-based medicine, masks being a potent case in point.

Sheila Widnall: A lifetime exploring the unknown. On September 30, the MIT community came together to celebrate the career of Institute Professor Emerita Sheila Widnall, who recently retired after spending 64 years at MIT. She was the first woman to lead a branch of the U.S. military as secretary of the Air Force in the 1990s. She also served as co-chair of a 2018 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that examined the costs and consequences of sexual harassment in these fields.

Research internships inspire continued discovery. Phoebe Keyes '19, a chemistry major, turns a summer internship at Bigelow Laboratory into a job there as a research technician. “During the time I spent at Bigelow Laboratory, I grew as a scientist twice as much as I had during my entire time as an undergraduate student,” Keyes said. “The experience taught me so much, and it really cemented that I wanted to continue pursuing environmental chemistry research for my career.”

Concordia math undergrad aims to inspire more women in STEM fields. Catherine Dagenais-Roberge, a third-year student in Concordia’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the Faculty of Arts and Science, was part of the Concordia team that recently won the prestigious Munich Re Cup, which rewards projects that apply real-world solutions to business problems using analytical, technical and problem-solving skills. “I would like to tell [women in STEM] to support and encourage one another, and do not be afraid to offer or ask for help. I think that for women in STEM, it is very important to project confidence and not to be afraid to dive into a challenging, uncomfortable situation. Speak up in that meeting, share your innovative ideas and apply for that “reach” opportunity. Network with senior professors, researchers or professionals. Keep being resourceful and curious because that is how you will grow and progress in your career and as a person.”

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), was an English mathematician and is regarded as the first person to recognize the potential of computing power and programming. Since 2009, the second Tuesday of October has been commemorated as Ada Lovelace day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). In this article, Ankita Anirban tells the stories of five pioneering physicists.

What is success for women in STEM? In this Q&A with Comfort Dorn, Marilee Benore and Rana Dajani share their stories, how they connected over a mutual interest in supporting women in STEM and how they use methods of social scientists to interview women scientists around the world and enact change.

In New York, chemist Nancy Goroff is battling a Trump loyalist for a seat in Congress. A physical organic chemist and longtime faculty member at Stony Brook University, Goroff will face off in November against Representative Lee Zeldin (R–NY), a lawyer seeking his fourth term. If she wins, Goroff would become the first female Ph.D. scientist to serve in Congress. “I’m running for Congress to use my science to lead us out of this crisis,” she said in an article for Science Magazine. 


Co-directors/producers Sharon Shattuck and Ian Cheney discuss their film Picture a Scientist (2020), which chronicles the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. Their conversation gives insight to the film’s portrayal of the brutal harassment, institutional discrimination, and years of subtle slights faced by women in STEM.

American Women of Science: Recovering History, Defining the Future. The virtual symposium aimed to 1) recover lesser-known histories of women in science, 2) share current research and programming breakthroughs, and 3) discuss opportunities to define a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future.


Georgina Mace (1953–2020). Pioneer of biodiversity accounting who overhauled the Red List of threatened species. “Georgina was a role model: firm but fair, collaborative, reliable, unassuming, approachable — the kind of critical friend we all need. She supported the career progression of numerous ecologists and influenced many more,” said Nathalie Pettorelli, a senior research fellow who started at the Institute of Zoology, London under Georgina’s directorship. 



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