(the new!) RFS Briefings - August 19 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

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

In particular, we want to highlight the launch of President Rita Colwell’s new book, “A Lab of One’s Own,” and the exclusive first interview with her upon its release earlier this month. 


RFS Briefings - August 4, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

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

We want to take this opportunity to again mark the centenary birthday of Rosalind Franklin (July 25, 1920-April 16, 1958), the chemist and X-ray crystallographer, whose contribution to the most significant biological discovery of the 20th century – the structure of DNA – was not recognized during her lifetime. We hope you had a chance to read our special issue commemorating the birthday of this remarkable scientist who inspired the Rosalind Franklin Society founded in 2008.

Of note, please see the compelling article about her that goes well beyond her work related to DNA. Read more.


Special RFS Briefing - Rosalind Franklin's Birthday, July 25th 2020

I am pleased to include this special issue of RFS Briefings commemorating Rosalind Franklin’s 100th Birthday!

The Rosalind Franklin Society was founded in 2008 to honor the achievements of Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), a British x-ray crystallographer whose extraordinary work, though largely overlooked and under-appreciated at the time, was crucial to the discovery of DNA’s structure by James Watson and Francis Crick.            

When the discovery was recognized by the Nobel Committee in 1962, the winners of the Nobel Prize – Watson and Crick – did not include Franklin, who had died in 1958 at the age of 37. Only recently has Franklin received some of the recognition that she deserves for her essential contribution to one of the biggest discoveries of the past century.           

The powerful symbolism of her remarkable story drives the Society’s agenda to recognize and celebrate the contributions of outstanding women in the life sciences and affiliated disciplines, promote broadened opportunities for women in the sciences, and through its many activities motivate new generations of women to this calling.


RFS Briefings - July 8, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

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

Of note, three events are highlighted here:

  • Rockefeller University is presenting a webinar series, hosted by President Richard P. Lifton, MD, PhD, in which the University’s ongoing COVID-19 research is explored and discussed by its pioneering scientists. On May 14, 2020, physician-scientist Marina Caskey focused on “Antibody Therapeutics and Pathways to Prevention,” drawing her studies of HIV and other infectious diseases. Watch here.
  • The Virtual Public Summit of The National Academies’ Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education will be presented on October 19-20, 2020, hosted by the University of Wisconsin. The deadline for submitting abstracts has been extended to July 21, 2020. Additional information about registration and the agenda will be made available in September 2020. Read more.
  • The 2020 Genome Writers Guild Conference “Genome Engineering Future – Now Therapies,” will be presented on July 23-25 as a free, live, virtual event. RFS will present the inaugural Rosalind Franklin Society Medal, which this year will mark Rosalind Franklin’s 100th birthday on July 25. Read more. 

In addition, we hope you saw our recent special issue, “Black Scientists Matter!”


RFS Briefings Black Scientists Matter! - June 25, 2020

Dear Colleagues,  

As you already know, “Black Scientists Matter!” In that context, I am pleased to include this special issue of RFS Briefings with that focus and some timely and inspiring information on these important but too often underrepresented and underestimated contributors to STEM. 

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.  And of course we will continue to highlight the research, leadership, and contributions of underrepresented scientists.

With regards in these trying times,

Karla Signature
Karla Shepard Rubinger
Executive Director
Rosalind Franklin Society

NASA Names Headquarters After ‘Hidden Figure’ Mary W. Jackson
NASA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., which appropriately sits on “Hidden Figures Way,” will be named for Mary Winston Jackson (1921-2005), the first African American female engineer at NASA. Jackson, a mathematician and aerospace engineer, successfully overcame the professional barriers of gender bias and segregation to become a leader in ensuring opportunities for future generations. Jackson started her NASA career in the segregated West Area Computing Unit of the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and went on to lead programs influencing the hiring and promotion of women in NASA's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. This story was the basis for the 2017 Academy Award-winning film "Hidden Figures." Read more.

COVID-19 and Black Communities: A Workshop
The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine presented a 1-day workshop on COVID-19 and Black Communities on June 23, 2020 with discussions by members of the Roundtable on Black Men and Black Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine and guest experts. They addressed ways to fully invest in the human capital available in Black communities by training doctors, engineers, and scientists to be positioned to provide rapid and effective responses to COVID-19, now and moving forward, and other medical crises. Read more.

Racial Bias in Flexner Report Permeates Medical Education Today
According to historians and education specialists, the landmark Flexner Report (1910) that laid the framework for the modern North American medical school is also partially responsible for the disproportionately low number of Black physicians in the workforce today. Criteria to standardize and improve medical schools, revealed in the Report, forced many institutions to close for lack of resources to implement more rigorous instruction. By 1923, only 66 of the 155 medical schools visited by Flexner remained; five of the seven existing Black medical schools were closed. Flexner argued that African American physicians should be trained in “’hygiene’” rather than surgery and should serve primarily as “’sanitarians,’” whose purpose was “’protecting whites’” from common diseases like tuberculosis. In 2012,  Beyond Flexner Alliance was established to address some of the pervasive disparities attributed to the 1910 report. Earl H. Harley, MD, Georgetown University, who has written about the “forgotten history of defunct Black medical schools,” sees the COVID-19 pandemic as an “inflection point” – “a chance to look at the whole system of medical education and make changes and correct some of the things that were affected by Flexner.” Read more.

What Black Scientists Want from Colleagues and Their Institutions
Using social media hashtags such as #BlackInTheIvory, Black academics are bringing attention to racism in science, highlighting behaviors ranging from overt acts to micro-aggressions. Nature spoke with six Black academic researchers about the effects of racism on their careers, their advice to white colleagues, and their thoughts on meaningful institutional actions. Each respondent highlighted a particular solution: White colleagues have the power to change the system; Create opportunities for difficult conversations; Commit to bold hiring targets; Consider ‘cluster hiring;’ Create a welcoming environment; and Make hiring for leadership posts more transparent. Read more.

The RealReal and Partners Help Fund Black Girls CODE Expansion
The RealReal, the world’s largest online marketplace for authenticated, consigned luxury goods, and its partners, have jointly contributed $485,000 to Black Girls CODE to help bring virtual coding courses and camps to underserved communities nationwide. Black Girls CODE was founded in 2011 by Kimberly Bryant to increase the number of women of color in STEM fields by empowering girls ages seven to 17 to become innovators in STEM through exposure to computer science and technology. This initiative has reached over 20,000 students, with 15 chapters in the U.S. and South Africa. The goal is to teach 1 million girls by 2040. Bryant is an African American electrical engineer who worked in the biotechnology field at Genentech, Novartis Vaccines, Diagnostics, and Merck. Read more.

On June 10, 2020, 500 Women Scientists participated in the Strike4BlackLives, pledging to #ShutDownSTEM and #ShutDownAcademia – marked as “’a time for white and non-Black People of Color to not only educate themselves, but to define a plan of action to carry forward.’” The members of 500 Women Scientists want to ensure that science is “open, inclusive, and accessible” if it is to best serve society. Though the strike has passed, this article is also worth noting for its list of resources, for example: books and papers on the history of anti-Black racism in academia and STEM fields; and concrete action plans for universities, organizations, and scientific societies. Read more

Amazing Black Scientists
In honor of the #Strike4BlackLives, Live Science published an article featuring the achievements of 26 male and female black scientists across the world, spanning the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Read more.

Hashtag Medicine: #ShareTheMicNowMed Highlights Black Female Physicians
On June 22, prominent female physicians handed over their social media platforms, including Twitter and Instagram, to black female physicians as part of a campaign called #ShareTheMicNowMed. The event featured 10 teams of two, with one physician handing over her account to her black female counterpart for the day. In that way, the black physician was able to share her thoughts about the successes and challenges she faces as a woman of color in medicine. The goal was to “amplify the reach and voice of black women in medicine” and empower others to do the same, with a broader goal to contribute to advocacy for black lives in the face of the recent protests over racial injustice. It is noteworthy that only about 5% of active physicians in 2018 identified as black or African American, according to AAMC, with just over a third of these female. Read more.

I’m a Black Female Scientist
Raven Baxter, known on the internet as “Raven the Science Maven,” is the director of collegiate STEM initiatives at a charter school in Buffalo, NY, the founder of the science advocacy organization STEMbassy, and a rapper whose music she hopes will inspire other Black women in science. In this essay, she recounts her time as a corporate research scientist at a western New York drug company, which she left in 2017 in part because of its toxic culture. Then, on the first day at her new position as assistant professor of biology at a community college, also in western New York, a white co-worker threatened to call the police on her. “This is the Black experience,” Baxter writes. “Because being a professor in higher education is a privilege. And when people see that a Black person has that privilege, they are automatically suspicious.” Blaming the current state of STEM culture for this attitude, she acknowledges that “there’s progress to be made and there’s work to be done.” Read more.

Give Black Scientists a Place in This Fight
In this paper, Adrianne Gladden-Young, a black researcher at the Sabeti lab at the Broad Institute and Harvard University, argues that the health establishment must engage African Americans “as leaders and problem solvers” during the pandemic – not as victims. She is studying the virus that is disproportionately killing black Americans, those who are markedly vulnerable to COVID-19, with a death rate that is about twice that of any other group. If progress is to be made, she believes that leaders in the public health, research, and medical communities need to collaborate with historically black healthcare and scientific institutions “that serve us and know us.” Specifically, the following efforts must continue: reduce the research-funding gap, invite more black Americans into the STEM pipeline, and provide appropriate support for both black healthcare professions and back students in medicine and science. Read more.

Fisk University – A Leading Historically Black University
Fisk University, whose history goes back more than 150 years, has always maintained the success of its students as a top priority. As a result, its roster of notable alumni includes “the greatest men and women of their century,” according to historians. Fisk offers more than 20 undergraduate and graduate programs in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Clinical Psychology, with bridge Masters to Ph.D. programs through a partnership with Vanderbilt University. Read more.

New President and CEO of Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) 
Michelle McMurry-Health, MD, PhD, is the new President and CEO of BIO, effective June 1, 2020. As a medical doctor and molecular biologist, her focus across academia, government, and industry has been on broadening access to cutting-edge innovations for patients from diverse backgrounds. The “’distribution of scientific progress [is] the social justice of our age,’” according to McMurry-Heath. BIO, which represents 1,000 life sciences companies and organizations spanning 30 countries, supports companies that discover and implement scientific breakthroughs that improve human health, environmental stewardship, and sustainable agriculture. The Rosalind Franklin Society sponsors the Rosalind Franklin Award for Leadership in Industrial Biotechnology and Agriculture presented each year at the BIO World Congress. Read more.

New BIO CEO Aims to Bring Medicines, Hope to Patients
Michelle McMurry-Heath learned she was on the short list for the position of CEO at BIO just days after the death of her husband due to complications from cystic fibrosis. With this in mind, she believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has given the world a better understanding of what it’s like to live with a disease for which there is no cure. As such, she is eager for the opportunity to “’[get] new medicine and new hope to patients.’” In this essay adapted from Biotechnology In the Time of COVID-19: Commentaries from the Front Line (Rosetta Books, 2020), Dr. McMurry-Heath shares how her experiences dealing with the SARS epidemic, 9/11, anthrax attacks, her husband’s untimely death, and now the COVID-19 pandemic have shaped her both personally and professionally. With as many as 30 million Americans living with one of 7,000 diseases, for which only 5% have FDA-approved treatments, she is ready to apply her skills to becoming “an advocate for science and scientists, writ large.’” Read more.

Meet Africans in STEAM
This article by Lifeology, a platform that brings together scientists, artists, writers, and broader audiences in the creation of educational content, features three Africans in STEAM (an acronym that adds Arts to the STEM acronym). Each person is working to magnify the voices of young Africans in STEM. Amanda Obidike, Founder of STEMi Makers in Africa, is a data scientist who mentors and empowers girls through sustainable and implementable projects in underserved communities across 17 Sub-Saharan counties to prepare the next generation of Africans with STEM to enter Africa’s workforce by 2030. Ann Chisa, an agricultural scientist based in South Africa, seeks to promote Africans all over the world in STEM fields, using a podcast called the Root of Science. Nathasia Muwanigua, a neurobiologist at the University of Luxemberg, founded a co-platform called Visibility STEM in Africa to spotlight Africans in STEM and share opportunities in STEM. Her co-founder is Natasa Lazarevic, a PhD Fellow at the University of Sydney, where she teaches anatomy and Machine Learning.  Read more.

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett – The Novel Coronavirus Vaccine
Scientists at the NIH were among the early developers of a vaccine candidate against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This leading pre-clinical effort was driven in part by Kizzmekia Corbett, PhD, a viral immunologist and research fellow in the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In a podcast presented by the NIH Intramural Research Program on May 21, 2020, Dr. Corbett discussed the work of her team in directing the preclinical portfolio behind mRNA-1273, which is the product NIH is developing with Moderna, Inc. Moderna is an American biotech company focused on drug discovery and drug development based exclusively on messenger RNA. The development process, according to Corbett, is slated to break some world records. In mid-May, Moderna received approval from the FDA to move to a phase 2 clinical trial. Read more.

Katherine Johnson and 9 Other Black Female Pioneers in Science
This article features African American women who broke the racial barrier and climbed to the top of their fields despite pervasive racial and gender biases, especially in male-dominated STEM disciplines. Though many overcame significant barriers, their contributions were often not recognized at the time, particularly for women in the United States Space Program, including Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson. Other women featured in this article were pioneers in medicine, physics, and chemistry. Read more.

Famous Black Women in STEM, Great Female Scientists
Women of color face pervasive challenges in their pursuit of careers in science and medicine. Black women still account for only 2% of physicians in the U.S., and fewer than 7% of those who received doctorate degrees. Even when they achieve these goals, their accomplishments are less likely to be acknowledged. To celebrate the contributions of those who pioneered, Refinery29, the leading global media company focused on young women, published an article featuring 12 women of color who made significant strides in science and medicine since the 19th century. Read more.

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