RFS Briefings - October 7, 2019

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

On September 12, HHMI announced the selection of 15 exceptional early career scientists, including seven women, as 2019 Hanna Gray fellows to support diversity in biomedical research, each receiving an award of $1.4 million. The 2020 Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program competition is now open, with applications due on January 8, 2020. Read more.

On September 9, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Lyda Hill Philanthropies have selected 125 women innovators as AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors to share their stories and serve as “high-profile” role models for girls by connecting with them in person and through various media platforms. Read more.

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

MacArthur Foundation Announces 26 ‘Genius’ Grant Winners

The 2019 MacArthur Fellows, announced on September 25, include scientists as well as writers, artists, urban designers, community activists, and others who have demonstrated “’extraordinary originality’” – a total of 26 grants. The fellowship comes with a no-strings-attached grant of $625,00 to be distributed over five years. Overall, awardees comprised 16 women and also minorities. Four female scientists were among the winners: Andrea Dutton, geochemist and paleoclimatologist; Stacy Jupiter, marine scientist; Vanessa Ruta, neuroscientist; and Jenny Tung, evolutionary anthropologist and geneticist. Read more.

HHMI Awards $1.4 Million Each to 15 Hanna Gray Fellows to Support Diversity in Science

HHMI announced the selection of 15 exceptional early career scientists, including 7 women, as 2019 Hanna Gray Fellows to support diversity in biomedical research. The Institute will invest $25 million for its support over eight years. The Fellows represent individuals from groups underrepresented in the life sciences. Next year’s Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program competition is now open, with applications due on January 8, 2020. Read more.

Selection of Dr. Susan Gregurick as the Associate Director for Data Science, NIH

Dr. Susan Greguruck, PhD was named Associate Director of the NIH Office of Data Science Strategy effective September 6, 2019. Since November 2018, she had served as senior advisor to ODSS. In her new role, she will help lead NIH efforts to coordinate and collaborate with appropriate government agencies, international funders, private organizations, and stakeholders engaged in scientific data generation, management, and analysis. She has a PhD in computational chemistry from the University of Maryland, and substantial experience in computational biology, high performance computing, and bioinformatics. Read more.

100+ Women in STEM Selected as AAAS IF/THEN ® Ambassadors to Serve as Role Models & Inspire Middle School Girls

The American Association for the Advancement of Science and Lyda Hill Philanthropies have selected 125 women innovators as AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors to share their stories and serve as “high-profile” role models for girls by connecting with them in person and through various media platforms. IF/THEN®, a national initiative of Lyda Hill Philanthropies, seeks to advance women in STEM by “empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers.” Ambassadors are contemporary role models representing a range of STEM-related professions in the U.S. from entertainment, fashion, spots, business, and academia. Mission Unstoppable, produced in association with Lyda Hill Philanthropies, is a new half-hour series that features women on the cutting edge of science, including AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors. According to Lyda Hill, “We firmly believe that IF we support a woman in STEM, THEN she can change the world.” Read more.

Do Men and Women Have Somewhat Different Brains?

Gina Rippon’s new book, “Gender and Our Brains,” centers on the question of whether male and female brains are different, with evidence of “brain plasticity” key to her work. Rippin, a British professor of cognitive neuroimaging, reviews the history of studies of the gendered brain. As early as 1848, scientists have attempted to examine where various brain skills are kept, based on the premise that the brain was like a map, with little areas for walking or talking, for example. Among the most recent advances in research has been the availability of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), but even this technology has not lived up to its expectations in this regard. Yet, we have learned that the brain is more plastic or malleable than previously thought, and even less well organized. Rippon argues that while brains appear systematically different across genders, it is not clear whether this is due to underlying structural differences or the result of different treatment. Read more.

2020 Simons Early Career Investigator in Marine Microbial Ecology and Evolution Awards

The Simons Foundation is now accepting applications for its Simons Early Career Investigator in Marine Microbial Ecology and Evolution Awards. The deadline for the receipt of letters of intent is November 5, 2019. These awards are designed to help launch the careers of outstanding investigators in this field who will advance our understanding through experiments, modeling or theory. Read more.

IWISE Report Card Confirms Leaky Pipeline for Women in STEM

Susan Solomon, CEO of The New York STEM Cell Foundation announced the publication of its most recent study resulting from a collaborative effort by the Foundation’s Initiative on Women in Science and Engineering (IWISE).  Based on the Institutional Report Card for Gender Equality, developed by IWISE, data were collected from all applicants to its extramural grants program over the past 4 years. The nearly 1300 report cards spanned 541 institutions across 38 countries. IWISE teamed up with Reshma Jagsi’s group at the University of Michigan to analyze the data and establish a baseline assessment of gender representation throughout the academic pipeline. The findings underscore the persistence of a leaky pipeline, limiting the promotion, recruitment, and retention of women in leadership roles, as well as their representation on decision-making committees. See also, a First Opinion Piece on this research published in STAT News. Read more.

A Creative Force in Understanding Genes

As part of a new series on visionaries who are pushing the boundaries in their fields, The New York Times selected Professor Edith Heard for the inaugural article. Head of the European Molecular Laboratory – a scientific collaboration among 27 European countries – she studies epigenetics, changes in genetic activity that can be passed down to daughter cells without affecting the underlying genetic code. Among bees, for instance, a simple difference in food supply means that a larva becomes either a worker or a queen. In her work, she has transformed scientific thinking twice in her life. Her first major advance was to show that such epigenetic changes can be very dynamic, especially as an embryo forms and matures. Her second major advance was to reveal important information about how parts of the genome fold in space, allowing some genes to be activated and others silenced. Read more.

UW Psychologist Kristina Olsen Thought the MacArthur Foundation Had the Wrong ‘Genius’

Kristina Olsen, PhD, whose groundbreaking research on transgender children contributed to her being named a MacArthur Fellow last year, was in a state of disbelief when she received the announcement. Just a few months before winning the so-called “’genius grant’” worth $625,000, she also won the Alan T. Waterman Award which is NSF’s highest honor for early-career scientists. She was the first woman in 14 years to win this prize and the $1 million grant that it brings. Her pioneering work, which comes at a time when trans people in the U.S. are being barred from bathrooms, banned from the military, and rejected by churches, has raised some criticism. Her findings, based on a study of trans kids, so far counters the conventional perception that being transgender is associated with misery and marginalization. Despite the lack of data from longitudinal studies through adolescence and young adulthood, Olsen has already been praised for bringing scientific rigor to these issues. Launched in 2013, her TransYouth Project is the nation’s first large-scale, long-term study of transgender children. Read more.

Overlooked No More: Elizabeth Rona, Pioneering Scientist Amid Dangers of War

The New York Times published an obituary about Elizabeth Rona (March 20, 1890-July 27,1981 in its “Overlooked” series, honoring remarkable people whose deaths beginning in 1851 went unreported. As a chemist researching the curious new science of radioactivity, Rona led a peripatetic life where she “moved from lab to lab – and country to country” to grasp opportunities for research. She lived in an unsettled world as a woman who was Jewish and harassed by anti-Semitism in a male-dominated world. Though she wanted to follow her father’s path as a doctor, she was encouraged to study chemistry instead because her father feared medicine would be too difficult for a woman. With a PhD from the University of Budapest, Dr. Rona had a notable career, including her discovery of a set of radioactive clocks which have been used for more than 50 years to construct pictures of past tectonic events and measure changes in sea level. Read more.

NIH Announces Six Inaugural Genomic Innovator Awards

The inaugural Genomic Innovator Awards, expected to total about $500,000 per year over a five-year period, will provide funding to six institutions to support early career researchers studying genome biology, genomic medicine technology development, and societal implications of genomic advances. The awards, created in 2018 by the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of NIH, are unlike more traditional research grants. Only one woman, however, was selected for this award – Stacy Gray, MD, City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, Duarte, CA. Dr. Gray is developing an interactive web-based point-of-care tool for physicians and patients and their families to help them better understand genomic information. Read more.

Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, September 7, 2019 – Salk Institute for Biological Studies

The Salk Institute co-hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon on September 7 with SAID in STEM, 500 Women Scientists-San Diego, and San Diego Science Writers Association to create and improve Wikipedia pages for women scientists. Wikipedia edit-a-thons have contributed to an increase in the number of women role models. Currently, only 17.7 percent of English Wikipedia biographies feature women, reflecting a 2.7 percent increase in the past five years due to these events. Read more.

Ann Nelson, Expert on Particle Physics, Is Dead at 61

Dr. Ann Nelson, a theoretical physicist, died on August 4 in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington State as the result of a hiking accident. As an expert on particle physics, which focuses on the basic building blocks of everything in the universe, she was celebrated for addressing the flaws in the Standard Model, the basis for explaining how particles interact. Dr. Nelson stood out in the field “not only because she was a woman, but also because of her brilliance.” Read more.

Academic Science Rethinks All-Too-White “Dude Walls’ of Honor

Medical schools and universities have historically displayed walls of esteemed scientists and doctors, but now these portraits of mostly white men have come into question for “sending the wrong message.” A year ago, TV celebrity Rachel Maddow – at Rockefeller University to present an annual prize to a prominent female scientist – entered the auditorium and was overheard saying, “’What is up with the dude wall?’” Maddow was referring to a wall of portraits of University scientists who had won the Nobel Prize or Lasker Award. According to Leslie Vosshall, HHMI neurobiologist, Maddow’s remark sends the message that “science consists of old white men.” Science and medical institutions, including Yale, University of Michigan, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, are now beginning to address this issue in a variety of ways. Read more

Self-Folding “Rollbot” Paves the Way for Fully Untethered Soft Robots

Most soft robots rely on external power and control, keeping them tethered with hard components. Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Caltech have now developed soft robotic systems, inspired by origami, that can move and change shape in response to external stimuli. This can pave the way for untethered soft robots. The co-lead of the study, Jennifer A. Lewis, PhD, who is a Wyss Core Faculty member, explains that “The ability to integrate active materials within 3-D printed objects enables the design and fabrication of entirely new classes of soft robotic matter. Read more.