RFS Briefings - August 31, 2019

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

RFS is pleased to announce that the winner of the Rosalind Franklin Award for Leadership in Industrial Biotechnology – sponsored by RFS and presented each year at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Agtech – was Reshma Shetty, PhD, a co-founder of the synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks and a trailblazer in the field of synthetic biology.

Of note in particular, see details below for the call for applications for the Sartorius & Science Prize for Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy.

And, of course, registration is now open for the RFS Board Meeting & Colloquium in November in Philadelphia at the Wistar Institute.

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 Signature

Karla Shepard Rubinger
Executive Director
Rosalind Franklin Society

Applications Now Open for the 2019 Sartorius & Science Prize for Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy!

Sartorius and Science are accepting applications for the 2019 Sartorius & Science Prize for Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy, due October 1. This annual prize, established in 2017, targets researchers focused on basic or translational research that advances regenerative medicine and cell therapy. The prize includes US $25,000, publication of the Grand Prize essay in Science, 5-year AAAS membership and online subscription to Science, other benefits. Read more.

The Science of Addiction: A Personal Struggle to Kick Cocaine Gives a Neuroscientist Unique Insights

Professor Judith Grisel survived a decade of drink and drugs as a young woman, including a treatment facility in Minnesota and a 3-month stay in a women’s halfway house where she began to repair her life. Staying sober was a key factor in her determination to find a cure for addiction. Her book, Never Enough, a guide to the neuroscience of addiction, dovetails her personal and professional experience. She found that there was no single factor that predicted her drug problems, a finding consistent with that of neuroscientists who have identified “a complex blend of nature and nurture at work in addictive tendencies.” Grisel believes that “we need better ways to cope with life and to be present in our experiences.” Read more.

Liane Russell, Who Studied Radiation’s Effects on Embryos, Dies at 95

Dr. Liane (“Lee”) Russell, a geneticist, died on July 20 at the age of 95. Her pioneering study of the dangers of radiation on developing embryos is the reason doctors today ask women if they are pregnant or think they might be pregnant before giving them X-rays, and why non-urgent diagnostic X-rays should be taken in the 14 days after onset of the menstrual period – practices that are followed around the world. Dr. Russell was also the first to find that the Y chromosome determines maleness in mammals, setting off a rush among scientists to see if this applied to humans as well, which it did. The discovery led to new avenues of research in genetics and genetic abnormalities. Read more

An Indian Space Mission Inspires a Bollywood Reckoning

On August 15, India released “Mission Mangal,” a film based on the country’s 2014 Mars Orbiter Mission, which surpassed the Americans, Soviets, and Europeans by reaching the planet on its first try and on a shoestring budget. The Indian Space Research Organization completed the entire mission within 15 months and with only $73 million, a story which was described as “’amazing’” by the filmmaker. Also of note is the important role of women in this mission, including the director who is known as “’Rocket Woman’” of India, the deputy operations director, and the program director.  Read more.

Marc and Lynne Benioff Donate $35M to UCSF, Stanford to Advance Microbiome Science

The University of California San Francisco and Stanford University received gifts totaling $35M to leverage the growing science of the human microbiome on their respective campuses. UCSF will receive $25M to launch the UCSF Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine, to be led by Professor Susan Lynch, PhD and Stanford will receive $10M for the Stanford Microbiome Therapies Initiative, which is being led by Michael Fischbach, PhD. The goal is to develop microbe-based diagnostics and precision therapies ranging from allergy and asthma to inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis. These gifts reflect the Benioffs’ ongoing commitment to the scientific community in the Bay area. Read more

Women Entrepreneurs Featured at Pathways to Entrepreneurship

“Pathways to Entrepreneurship,” hosted on July 24 by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council and Princeton Alumni Angels at IEX in New York City, featured four female alumnae founders and investors. In a panel presentation, they discussed their path to entrepreneurship, the major obstacles faced, and decisions that drove their success. Among the panelists was Karen Drexler ’81 who is the CEO of Sandstone Diagnostics, a company that uses portable centrifugal technology to improve diagnostics in the healthcare industry. She is also a director of ResMed, founder of Amira Medical (acquired by Roche Diabetes Care), and founding member of Astia Angels. Drexler, whose entrepreneurial spirit began at an early age, said “’Ultimately for me [entrepreneurship] is about making a difference in people’s lives.’” Read more

Tina Liu Wins Women World Award

Tina Liu has been honored as a Gold Winner of the Women World Awards in the category of Female Executive of the Year for her contributions to developing a novel technology to make gene therapies safer and more effective. The Women World Awards are the world’s foremost business awards for female entrepreneurs, executives, employees, and organizations they run. Liu formerly served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University (2017-2019) where she worked on developing safer and more effective gene therapies. She is currently working with Wyss’ Research Scientist to commercialize their technology through a start-up company, the latest in the Wyss Institute’s legacy of turning groundbreaking science into successful businesses. Read more

Female Scientists Killed Going Running: Women Shouldn’t Have to Change Their Ambition to Survive

The body of a 35-year-old British female astrophysicist living in Cyprus was recently found while vacationing in Ikaria, and last month the body of a 59-year-old female scientist from the U.S. was found in Crete. Each had gone out for a run and did not return. Acknowledging that women’s behavior is not to blame in circumstances that are not their fault, the author offers the following advice to women: (1) “Don’t let your actions be driven by fear,“ and (2) “It is not your problem to fix.” Read more

Early Career Funding Opportunities

Johns Hopkins University continuously updates a repository of federal and private funding opportunities typically intended for late postdoctoral investigators and early-career faculty and sometimes for mid-career faculty. Read more

Dartmouth Reaches $14 Million Settlement in Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

In a case against Dartmouth University, nine women accused three male Dartmouth professors in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences of rape, sexual assault, and harassment. In a department whose research included studies of sexual desire and attractiveness, the professors “used their power over their students’ academic careers and future employment to keep them from complaining,” according to the women. The case triggered protests from students and alumni about how the college handled sexual misconduct, going back as far as 2002. Though the full details of the settlement were not disclosed as of August 6, the women jointly announced they were satisfied with the settlement, though less than the damages they originally sought. The women and the university plan to work together to create a better climate on campus. However, an alumni group was critical of the settlement, calling it “’self-serving’” and “’publicity driven.’” Read more

Editas Medicine Appoints Cynthia Collins as President and Chief Executive Officer

Editas Medicine, Inc., a leading genome company, announced the Board’s unanimous appointment of Cynthia (“Cindy”) Collins’ appointment as CEO. Collins, with more than 3 decades of industry experience – and a recognized leader in gene and cell medicines, molecular diagnostics, life sciences, and therapeutics – was serving as the company’s interim President and CEO. Read more

Author-Reviewer Homophily in Peer-Review

An exploratory analysis of publication outcomes was conducted to examine the fairness of the scholarly peer-review process, which has been challenged based on disparities attributed to author demographic characteristics. The study found that women and authors from outside of North America and Europe were underrepresented both as gatekeepers (editors and peer reviewers) and authors, suggesting a homophilic relationship between the demographics of the gatekeepers and authors and the outcome of the peer-review with higher rates of acceptance in the case of gender and country homophily. Read more.

44 Gilliam Fellowships Awarded to Support Diversity and Inclusion in Science

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded grants to 44 doctoral advisor-student pairs to improve faculty mentoring skills, support new scientific leaders, and foster diversity and inclusion in science. HHMI is a member of RFS’ Council of Academic Institutions. Among the winners of the 2019 Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study is Samara Reck-Peterson, an HHMI investigator at the University of California, San Diego. Though she has taken courses, led workshops, and even contributed to a book for postdoc and faculty, Reck-Peterson remarked that “’One of the most important things I’ve learned is that you’re never done learning how to become a good mentor.’” Erin O’Shea, head of HHMI, will be speaking at RFS’ upcoming annual Board Meeting. Read more.

SEA Change Honors the Diversity Efforts of Universities

Three universities – Boston University, the University of California-Davis, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell – are initiating a program designed to recognize effective institutional efforts to attract, retain, and advance underrepresented students and faculty in STEM fields. These universities have been selected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as the first institutional awardees in the SEA Change program. The goal of SEA Change, short for STEM Equity Achievement, is to expand the talent pool for the STEM workforce by engaging colleges and universities in an effort to identify and remove barriers to diversity, equity, and inclusion. AAAS is developing two other program components: the SEA Change Community, a group of stakeholders committed to diversity in STEM, and the SEA Change Institute, a repository of research and training materials. Read more

JPL Researchers Win Presidential Early Career Awards

Three leaders at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA received the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor given by the U.S. government to those beginning their research careers in these fields. The award recognizes recipients’ potential to “advance the frontiers of scientific knowledge” as well as their commitment to community service as exemplified through professional leadership, education or community outreach. Among the JPL recipients is Laurie Barge, an astrobiologist, for her fuel-cell based research. She describes her work as an innovative approach to the search for life. Read more

Should the Rich Be Allowed to Buy the Best Genes?

Tulane professor of history and renowned writer and journalist, Walter Isaacson, who attended a conference on CRISPR on July 27, writes about the dilemma posed by this discovery. In particular, he addresses its potential to allow for the editing of embryos to alter heritable traits from fixing bad single-gene mutations such as Huntington’s disease and sickle-cell anemia to human enhancement such as improving I.Q.’s and cognitive skills. Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna, also at this meeting, is referred to as among the “star pioneers “of this field.” In 2012, she discovered how to combine two snippets of RNA with an enzyme to make a programmable scissor that could cut DNA at a precise location. Also present was Feng Zang of the Broad Institute who raced Doudna to show how the tool could edit genes in humans and is now in a battle with her for patents to the technology. Read more

For Biotech Industry, a Milestone: Vertex Names a Woman as President, CEO

Marking a milestone in gender diversity in the male-dominated biotech industry, Vertex Pharmaceuticals announced that its chief medical officer, Reshma Kewalramani, a physician and a scientist, will assume the role of chief executive in April 2020. Kewalramani, 46, will be the first CEO at a top-tier US biotech company in an industry which has struggled to diversify it ranks. Vertex, however, has made diversity a priority, with women accounting for about 1 in 5 executives at the vice president level and above. Dr. Kewalramani acknowledged that her success can pave the way for other women and people of color. Read more.

Australian Researchers Join Global Movement to Improve Visibility of Women in STEM

An estimated 40,000 prominent scientists, most of whom are women, have been overlooked for dedicated pages in Wikipedia, which is the fifth most visited website in the world. On July 25, dozens of women working in health and medical research at the University of Sydney collaborated to create or update the profiles of accomplished Australian female scientists. This first “’Wikipedia Edit-a Thon’” for the sector is part of a growing global movement to increase the visibility of women who now represent just 18 percent of all biographies on the platform. The volunteers were trained and supported by experienced Wikipedia experts. The event was held on the birthday of the late UK scientist Rosalind Franklin to highlight the achievements of women that have been overlooked in history. The event was organized by the founder of the women in STEM collective Franklin Women, who said that more needed to be done to elevate the work of women in science. Read more

Suzanne Eaton: In Memory of a Remarkable Colleague

Suzanne Eaton, an American scientist who was a group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, also served as a Reviewing Editor at eLife for several years. In tribute to her many contributions to science and to scientists, eLife shared her legacy in this article with tributes from scientists, friends, and family. Read more

Trailblazing Women in Medicine: Laurels at Last for Edinburgh Seven

The Edinburgh Seven, as they were called, were a group of women enrolled as medical students at the University of Edinburgh who were refused the right to graduate from the University in 1870. A 4-year campaign to prevent them from completing their medical degrees, including confrontations in their homes and in the streets, culminated in the “’Surgeons Hall Riot’” – acknowledged as the lowest point – in this siege. A mob of medical students and other youths tried to prevent them from taking their anatomy exams. Though a sympathetic student let them enter the Hall, they ultimately had to seek their medical credentials elsewhere. Now,150 years later, Edinburgh awarded these women posthumous degrees in its annual graduation ceremony this past July, with descendants of “the original pioneers” in the audience. The current principal and Vice-Chancellor of the university, who first learned of the story when he took office 18 months prior, felt this was ”’an historical wrong that should be rectified.’” Read more

Ginkgo Bioworks Co-Founder Honored with the Rosalind Franklin Award

RFS is pleased to announce that the winner of the Rosalind Franklin Award for Leadership in Industrial Biotechnology – sponsored by RFS and presented each year at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Agtech – was Reshma Shetty, PhD. Shetty is a co-founder of the synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks and a trailblazer in the field of synthetic biology. Her interest in science began in high school, leading to a PhD in biological engineering from MIT. The goal of Ginkgo Bioworks is “’to make biology easier to engineer’” with the intention of using it “’as productively as possible for humanity.’” The company is also committed to diversity and inclusion. Read more.