RFS Briefings - November 9, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

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

Mark your calendar for November 20, 1 pm ET! The GEN/RFS “Women in Science” series is thrilled to host Jennifer Doudna in a live, candid “fireside chat”. 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. Join Jennifer and some special guests for conversation and celebration of a truly groundbreaking scientist. 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: Dr. 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.
  • The Great Convergence: How Biology and Engineering Unite to Reshape our World. Renowned neuroscientist Dr. Susan Hockfield, who served as president of MIT from 2004–2012, shares 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.

We're very sad to report that Angelika Amon, a Board Member of the RFS, professor of biology and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, died on October 29 at age 53, following a two-and-a-half-year battle with ovarian cancer. Amon made profound contributions to our understanding of the fundamental biology of the cell. “Angelika’s intellect and research were as astonishing as her bravery and her spirit. Her lab’s fundamental work on aneuploidy was integral to our establishment of the Alana Down Syndrome Center at MIT,” said Li-Huei Tsai, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience and co-director of the Alana Down Syndrome Center, in an article for MIT.

Angelika Amon. Credit: Constance Brukin, courtesy of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives

NYU Langone Health announced it would name the Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in honor of Jan T. Vilcek, MD, PhD, a renowned scientist and philanthropist whose transformative work has led to groundbreaking discoveries and vast improvements in human health. Dr. & Mrs. Vilcek are longtime supporters of RFS. “Naming our graduate school after Dr. Vilcek reflects our steadfast support for students who come here from across the globe to conduct groundbreaking research,” said Naoko Tanese, PhD, associate dean for biomedical sciences and director of the Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.

Marica F. Vilcek and Jan T. Vilcek, MD, PhD


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 Age of Living Machines” honored by the American Institute of Physics. MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield has received a 2020 Science Communication Award for her book “The Age of Living Machines”. The book describes how researchers from many disciplines are transforming elements of the natural world, such as proteins, viruses, and biological signaling pathways, into “living” solutions for some of the most important — and challenging — needs of the 21st century, such as providing sufficient energy, food, water, and health care for the world’s growing population. 

Susan Hockfield. Image courtesy of the Koch Institute.

Canada’s chief medical officers put women’s leadership in spotlight. Women are still underrepresented in health leadership positions, but a group of rockstar chief medical officers are showing us what it looks like. The COVID-19 pandemic has made chief public health officers and chief medical officers celebrities, and a significant number of these evidence-loving rockstars are women.

The New York Academy of Medicine is partnering with The Women in Medicine Legacy Foundation to recognize the achievements of Vivian W. Pinn, MD, the founding director of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health, with the 2020 Alma Dea Morani, MD Renaissance Woman Award. In addition to accepting the award, Dr. Pinn will discuss progress and challenges for women in leadership positions across biomedical and academic medical careers. This will be a virtual event on Thursday, November 19, 2020.

Harvard Medical School has announced the inaugural recipients of the Blavatnik Therapeutics Challenge Awards. Congratulations to Christiane Ferran, HMS Lewis Thomas Professor of Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess, whose team is developing a gene therapy approach with the potential to serve as one of the first alternatives to insulin therapy for Type 1 diabetes.

One in five Australian scientists planning to leave the profession, survey shows.“ Female respondents more commonly cited lack of recognition or opportunities, lack of career advancements and parenthood as reasons for considering permanently leaving the profession than their male counterparts,” according to a report by two groups that represent scientists and technologists across Australia. The survey also reveals a 17% gender pay gap among those who responded.

Ancient remains in Peru reveal young, female big-game hunter. Researchers have discovered a 9,000-year-old female skeleton buried with what archaeologists call a “big-game hunting kit” in the Andes highlands of Peru. The finding challenges one of the most widely held tenets about ancient hunter gatherers, that only prehistoric males hunted.

$2.2 million in grants will support biomedical research on aging. The Glenn Foundation for Medical Research Postdoctoral Fellowships in Aging Research support postdoctoral fellows who study basic research mechanisms of aging and/or translational findings that have potential to directly benefit human health. This year, ten $60,000 Fellowships are awarded.

Microplastic solution wins Imperial's top prize for women entrepreneurs. WE Innovate, a women’s entrepreneurship program run by Imperial Enterprise Lab, announced that Green Beads won the £15,000 top prize in the WE Innovate final for developing a sustainable product that could replace harmful microplastics often found in toiletries, paint and detergent.

Distinguished Professor Emerita of Psychology Linda Spear leaves a legacy in neuroscience. Spear made a major impact during her decades-long career in neuroscience, authoring or co-authoring more than 300 peer-reviewed publications, giving nearly 460 presentations and heading national organizations.

Women in STEM

Every minute counts.’ This immunologist rapidly reshaped her lab to tackle COVID-19. Meet Akiko Iwasaki, the Yale immunologist who overhauled her lab to drill down into some of the most vital questions posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Now this bold-minded immunologist is taking aim at COVID-19 long-haulers. Iwasaki has long advocated for female and minority scientists on Twitter. In one post, she advised female scientists who worry about pregnancy torpedoing a job interview: “If they don’t welcome you with open arms and offer child care options, they don’t deserve you.”

Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, professor of immunobiology and of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Photo by Yale School of Medicine.

At the top of her field, a Covid-19 researcher fights back against a different kind of virus: sexism and power imbalances in science. "If we want to do the best science we can, we need a diverse set of people." — star Yale immunologist Akiko Iwasaki talks to Shraddha Chakradhar about battling sexism and toxic behavior in academia. Iwasaki shares frustrations about mansplaining, gender discrimination, and the extra work that women, especially women of color, endure in dealing with messages that question their expertise and position. “I’m exhausted from having to do this, which takes time away from my real work,” she tweeted.

Harvard students and alumnae are working with the Science Club for Girls to help inspire the next generation of scientists. “The club is a gateway for a lot of young women — specifically women of color, specifically Black women,” Kaelyn Brown said. “I’m helping build up a community that, in a lot of ways, has never really been meant to succeed in our society.”

US Congress hopeful Nancy Goroff: 'We need more scientists in public office' Nancy Goroff will be the first female research scientist to serve in the US Congress if she is elected this November. “I want to make sure Covid-19 stimulus spending is focused on investment in clean energy infrastructure. That will bring jobs and move us closer to a carbon neutral future. Then – I’m a scientist, I am well versed in the data – I want my office to be a resource for every member of Congress on scientific questions,” she said in an interview for The Guardian.

The future of STEM is female: Meet 5 university scientists working on breakthrough healthcare ideas. Using artificial intelligence to help detect and treat cancer, engineering bacteria and microbial communities to help treat disease, a foldable, 3-D printed robot that can serve as a heart stent, and delving into data to create better health outcomes. These are just some of the areas of fascinating research that this year’s winners of the Johnson & Johnson WiSTEM2D Scholars Award are focused on in their labs across the United States.

The cosmologist who dreams in the universe’s dark threads. “As a young girl in Argentina, Dvorkin read Stephen Hawking and fixated on the grandest questions humans can ask ourselves. She moved to the U.S. to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago. Now a theoretical cosmologist at Harvard University, Dvorkin comes up with new ways to ask those grand questions and then tries to find the answers. For her, cosmology is like philosophy, but with data,” writes Rebecca Boyle in an article for Quanta Magazine.

Searchable STEM Women database increases representation of women. STEM Women from the Australian Academy of Science is a searchable database of women in STEM in Australia. By creating a STEM Women profile, women can gain more opportunities to share their expertise and progress their careers and personal capabilities. Over 2600 women have created a profile, and more than 41,000 people have visited the site.

A role model for the changing face of science: Jennifer Stimpson, a teacher, chemist, and recent alumna of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education’s mid-career program, was named an IF/THEN ambassador. The initiative aims to empower 125 women in STEM, with an eye toward inspiring the next generation.

Valerie Jarrett and 25 leading women were announced as winners of the Million Women Mentors (MWM) Trailblazer Awards celebrating women in STEM. STEMconnector, the United States’ largest professional services organization dedicated to developing a diverse, STEM-ready workforce, announced the 26 winners for the awards celebrating women in STEM. They were recognized on October 27 at the 2020 MWM Summit: Focusing on the Future.


A power list of the LatinX scientists who are changing the world. In honor of LatinX heritage month (September 15 - October 15), The Biota Project and Massive Science are spotlighting a number of influential LatinX scientists and STEM professionals who are working to make a difference in their communities and are actively addressing issues that inform public policy.

Gender inequality in academia: Problems and solutions for women faculty in STEM. In a new minireview, researchers describe three factors that likely contribute to gender inequalities and women's departure from academic STEM fields: numeric underrepresentation and stereotypes, lack of supportive social networks, and chilly academic climates. They discuss potential solutions for these problems, focusing on National Science Foundation‐funded ADVANCE organizational change interventions that target recruiting diverse applicants, mentoring, networking, and professional development; and improving academic climate.

Why young STEM researchers are calling for paid family leave. A group of young scientists and engineers has published a policy memo in which they recommend “instituting 12 weeks of paid family leave through the proposed Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which has been introduced in both the House and Senate. This policy would be one step in the path to retaining women in the STEM workforce.”

Equality and diversity efforts do not ‘burden’ research — no matter what the UK government says. According to an editorial in Nature News, the UK government recently “said that universities need no longer comply with some voluntary membership schemes to get grant funding. Such schemes include those designed to promote and protect equality and diversity, such as an internationally recognized gender-equality charter called Athena SWAN. The move is part of a broader retreat from what the government sees as “unnecessary bureaucracy” in research and teaching.”

4 ways men can support their female colleagues — remotely. Men tend to dominate conversations during virtual meetings. If that's you, look for opportunities to toss the conversation to a woman on your team and acknowledge her as an expert in a given topic. To achieve gender equity as we continue to live through this pandemic, the first step is to cultivate an awareness and understanding of the unique remote-work challenges that women confront now on a daily basis, according to the authors. 

Study sheds light on what it takes for women to succeed – or not – in science in Africa. Researchers found that seeing other women working in STEM fields was a significant factor in influencing their choice to be in these fields. Nearly 80% reported that women faced obstacles in the work environment that men did not. Even though 90% of the respondents agreed that they were recruited on merit, only about 57% said they were sufficiently rewarded based on their qualifications. They also had fewer career opportunities than men.

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.


Marianna Limas, Social Media Manager 
Nilda Rivera, Partnership and Events Manager