RFS Briefings - May 28, 2019

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

Of note in particular:

World Science Festival: Awaken Your Inner Genius
This year’s event will take place from May 22 through June 2.

The World Science Festival, a production of the World Science Foundation, a nonprofit organization headquartered in New York City, was launched in 2008. Gathering great minds in science and the arts to produce live and digital content, the Festival allows a broad general audience to engage with scientific discoveries. Of note, the program will include “Women in Science: Lab Tours for Girls” on June 1 at the NYU Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, including introductory talks, “for the next generation of scientific genius – girls.” The annual live, week-long Festivals have collectively drawn over 2.9 million visitors worldwide, with millions more viewing the programs online.

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 Shepard Rubinger

Executive Director

Rosalind Franklin Society


CRISPR in Context: The New World of Human Genetic Engineering

The internationally renowned microbiologist Jennifer Doudna, U.C. Berkeley, will present at the World Science Festival (May 22–June 2, New York City) on May 28 as part of a series sponsored by The Kavli Foundation: “The Big, the Small, and the Complex.” Doudna, a co-discoverer of CRISPR, will explore the “perils and promise” of this powerful technology. The first children genetically engineered with CRISPR-Cas9 have been born to a woman in China. Read more.


The Search for Kryptonite That Can Stop CRISPR

Jennifer Doudna, professor of Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology at U.C. Berkeley, and her colleagues are globally recognized for transforming the discovery of CRISPR, found inside bacteria, into a revolutionary gene-editing tool that has contributed to new research and potential cures. Since 2012, in the race to learn how to use CRISPR inside plants, animals, and humans, the risk of some type of biothreat has become of paramount concern. By 2015, Doudna even began to question the potential dangers of using CRISPR in routine laboratory settings. In the face of the debate about CRISPR’s real or exaggerated danger, efforts by key agencies are underway to better understand this issue. Doudna is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) where, this year, teams of scientists will begin their first experiments in mice to explore the possibility of protecting them from CRISPR. Read more.


Google Doodle Honors Lucy Wills, Pioneering Prenatal Care Researcher

Lucy Wills, MD, who died in 1964 at the age of 75, is responsible for the critical research that led to the creation of a prenatal vitamin that prevents birth defects in the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Her discovery was the first step toward the creation of folic acid. This pioneering work was recognized by Google with a dedicated Doodle on May 10, Wills’ 131st birthday. Born in England in 1988, she came of age when educational opportunities were improving for women pursing a profession. In 1920, she became a legally qualified medical practitioner having earned degrees in medicine and science from the London School of Medicine for Women, but chose research and teaching rather than clinical medicine. Read more.


Mice in Space

In 2014, NASA launched the Rodent Research Project to study mice in space to better understand the effects of spaceflight on the human body. Since then, there have been 12 such studies, each with its own health related objective. This Project has contributed to discoveries about improving astronauts’ living conditions and health in space, and also improving the lives of humans on earth, for example, related to muscle loss, vision and sleep disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, and osteoporosis. The study related to osteoporosis, in which 40 mice were launched in a capsule up to the International Space Station Lab (ISS), has led to the treatment of bone loss in mice which may ultimately translate into an injection therapy for humans. Read more.


Americans Like Diversity at Work – But Only in Theory

A study published by the Pew Research Center on May 9 found that three-quarters of Americans agree that workplaces should promote racial and ethnic diversity, with little variation by the race of respondents. At the same time, the study suggests that support doesn’t necessarily extend to action to insure that it increases. About one-fourth of Americans said a person’s race or ethnicity should be taken into account along with their qualifications in hiring decisions in an effort to increase diversity. Nearly three-fourths said only an applicant’s qualifications should be considered in hiring even if it meant less diversity. Read more.


Melinda Gates Wants to Fight ‘Sexist’ Data

After nearly 20 years as a philanthropist, with her husband, at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda has written her first book. The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, referred to as part autobiography and part call to arms, is a New York Times bestseller. In 2000, she established Pivotal Ventures, an independent investment firm focused on supporting women and families in the U.S. Tackling the issues of contraception in the developing world, one of her passions, she found that data are not fairly tracked, including women’s unpaid labor at home, productivity in the workplace, household income, and the distribution of VC funding to women-founded businesses. This, and the fact that only a quarter of Congress is women, inspired her to write her book and do a speaking tour. Read more.


Jenifer Rexford Talks to ‘She Roars’ Podcast About Partnering with Google and Computer Science’s Revolution

Jennifer Rexford, the Gordon Y. S. Wu Professor in Engineering and professor of computer science at Princeton University addressed the transformation brought by computer science to university education and “almost every walk of life.” Princeton’s computer science department, established in 2005 with just over a dozen peers, is now home to about 47 tenure-track faculty. As of May 2, Google’s newest location is located across the street from Princeton as part of a trend, according to Rexford, where many companies are beginning to locate near a university to connect with faculty and the broader university community as a means to recruiting top students as they look to the future, be it one or two years or even ten years from now. Read more.


How the First Female Dean of N.Y.U.’s Engineering School Spends Her Sundays

In 2018, Jelena Kovačević became the first woman in N.Y.U.’s history to serve as the head of the Tandon School of Engineering. Her diverse research interests range from traffic management to medicine, and her commitment to gender parity at Tandon is of special interest. Her goal is to increase the percentage of incoming women to 51%, up from the current rate of 43% which is already twice the national average. “I hope my appointment shows both girls and boys what they can do in a STEM field,” she said. Dr. Kovacevic lives in New York City with her husband who works for IBM and their daughter who is about to graduate with a master of science in nursing from Johns Hopkins University. Read more.


National Academy of Science Elects Members and Foreign Associates: Historic Number of Women Elected to its Membership

The National Academy of Science announced that 40% of its newly elected members are women, the highest representation ever elected in any single year to date. Overall, 100 new members and 25 foreign associates were elected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research, bringing the total number of active members to 2,347 and the total number of (non-voting) foreign associates to 487. This press release includes a list of the newly elected members and their affiliations at the time of election. Read more.


Science Academy Pushes to Eject Sexual Harassers

The National Academy of Sciences approved an amendment to the organization’s bylaws that would give it the power to remove any scientist who engages in sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying or other activities as defined in a new Code of Conduct. The final vote by the academy’s full membership of about 2,000 scientists, including some of the world’s most prominent scientists, is expected by mid-June. Members, who are elected to lifetime positions, could be forced to resign rather than be “asked to depart” as defined under the current policy. RFS Board Member, Nancy Hopkins, Professor Emerita at MIT, said this “move was an ‘excellent idea.’” Twenty-five years ago, she wrote a nationally renowned report on gender discrimination, based on a comparison of measured laboratory space. Read more.


Shake-up at NIH: Term Limits for Important Positions Would Open New Opportunities for Women and Minorities

NIH, through its intramural program, has the largest assemblage of biomedical researchers in the world. Next year, it is preparing to impose 12-year term limits on midlevel leadership positions toward the goal of recruiting more tenure-track female and minority faculty. As the vacant positions become available, they will be filled through “’open and transparent processes’” according to the draft policy released in January 2019. Looking toward the future, NIH hopes its intramural leadership will reflect the representation of women in the biological sciences where women now earn more than half of new PhDs. This plan has generated some controversy at the NIH campus. Read more.


Women Did Everything Right. Then Work Got ‘Greedy’

Though American women are the most educated ever, the top most educated women face the largest gender gaps in seniority and pay. America’s obsession with long hours, particularly in the so-called “greedy” professions like finance, law, and consulting, has widened the gender gap. This powerful trend has canceled the effect of women’s educational gains according to researchers. In effect, when more highly educated women began to marry men with similar backgrounds and have children, couples with equal career potential have been pushed to assume unequal roles. Simply stated by Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist who is writing a book on the topic, “’It just so happens that in most couples, if there’s a man and a woman, the woman takes the back seat.’” Read more.


Lawyers for Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes Get Delay in Trial Date

A federal judge has agreed to delay setting a trial date of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes to allow the further review of evidence, mounting to some 20 million pages of documents. They will return to court on July 1st.  According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, it is not clear whether prosecutors would bring charges in addition to the existing fraud charges against Holmes and her former COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani in connection with their allegedly misleading doctors, patients, and investors about the results of their blood-testing device, Edison. In 2015, a series of reports in The Wall Street Journal showed that the company had been using standard lab-testing equipment to perform tests on patients’ blood. Holmes went from “a celebrated” young entrepreneur, the youngest female self-made billionaire, to be dubbed by one columnist as a “’millennial Bernie Madoff.’” Read more.


Katie Couric: How We Can Eliminate Bias Against Women in Science

Katie Couric examines the implicit and explicit biases that have shaped our society’s views about women’s place in STEM fields, including her own experience as a young girl. She has recently partnered with 3M to share the findings of 3M’s newly released global research study, the “2019 3M State of Science Index Survey,” that examines how people view science around the world. The findings show that about two out of three women compared with only one half of men surveyed were not confident in their knowledge of science. Even more concerning, according to Couric, is that more women than men say they “knew nothing’” about science. It is not surprising, therefore, that fewer than 30% of researchers in the world are women despite the fact that women account for up to half of the global population. On a positive note, nearly 90% of respondents felt hopeful about the potential for science to solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges. Read more