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.


RFS Briefings - June 5, 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 are excited to announce the new Rosalind Franklin Medal. The Genome Writers Guild (GWG) and the Rosalind Franklin Society have joined forces to recognize amazing scientists by instituting the Rosalind Franklin Medal. The award will marry together GWG’s core objectives of facilitating genome writing conversation, collaboration, and exposure with RFS’s goals of enabling more women to achieve higher recognition, visibility, appointments and success in industry, academia, or government. The recipient will be an invited speaker at the Genome Writers Guild annual conference this summer and at the 100th Birthday celebration of the Rosalind Franklin Board Meeting and Colloquium in November, to be held at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. We invite the nominations of early-career women working in the fields of genome writing and engineering. To nominate (or self-nominate), send name, CV and/or Biosketch, and a brief statement of support/justification for review context by June 15th to either:   
                               Erin Nolan ([email protected]), or   
                               Shondra Pruitt-Miller ([email protected])  

In addition, we want to remind you of these other prestigious opportunities as well: 

  • The National Academies’ Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education is inviting abstract submissions for presentations on promising and innovative practices to address and prevent sexual harassment in higher education, with a deadline of July 1, 2020. Read more   
  • Applications are being accepted through June 15, 2020 for the annual Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology, an international award of $25,000 that honors young scientists for outstanding contributions to neurobiological research based on methods of molecular and cell biology. Read more.  
  • Applications are being accepted through July 15, 2020 for the Science and SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists, which is presented in four categories: Cell and Molecular Biology; Genomics, Proteomic and Systems Biology Approaches; Ecology and Environment; and Molecular Medicine. Read more
  • The 2021 application period for The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, supporting immigrants or children of immigrants who are pursuing graduate studies in the United States, is now openRead more 

RFS Briefings - May 12, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

I am pleased to include another issue of RFS Briefings with some timely and encouraging updates on women in science. There is some good reading here as you adjust to new routines and patterns in life at home.

Of note, several opportunities for prestigious 2020 awards are highlighted below:

  •  The Vilcek Foundation is accepting applications for its 2021 Prizes for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science, due by June 10, 2020. Three Prizes of $50,000 each will be awarded to young foreign-born biomedical scientists who have shown early achievement in basic, applied, and/or translational biomedical science. Read more.
  •  Applications are being accepted through June 15, 2020 for the annual Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology, an international award of $25,000 that honors young scientists for outstanding contributions to neurobiological research based on methods of molecular and cell biology. Read more.
  •  Applications are being accepted through July 15, 2020 for the Science and SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists, which is presented in four categories: Cell and Molecular Biology; Genomics, Proteomic and Systems Biology Approaches; Ecology and Environment; and Molecular Medicine. Read more.
  •  The 2021 application period for The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, supporting immigrants or children of immigrants who are pursuing graduate studies in the United States, is now open.  Read more. 

RFS Briefings - April 9, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly impacted “how the world does science”, according to an article in The New York Times. “Never before have so many of the world’s researchers focused so urgently on a single topic. Nearly all other research has ground to a halt.”  

In this issue, we highlight the work of women in medicine and science who are working at the forefront of a cure for this disease:

  • Among the scientists seeking to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 is Dr. Kizzmekia S. Cobert, a viral immunologist with NIAID. Cobert, a black scientist who is leading a team to find a vaccine, began her work in January when researchers first learned how easily the disease could be spread. Read more.
  • Some of the most exciting treatments for COVID-19 are emerging based on CRISPR technology, a tool for accurately editing genetic material, developed by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. Doudna has recently announced that she is converting her lab facilities for the purpose of viral testing. Read more.   

The fight against COVID-19 has also reminded us, perhaps more than ever, of the historic role of female scientists and physicians in the fight against disease.

  • For centuries, women have contributed to the fight against some of the most significant threats to human health, including AIDS, polio, malaria, tuberculosis, smallpox, and now, COVID-19. Read more.
  • Women’s History Month in March was a time to “salute our brave fighters on the front lines”. Ten ground-breaking women “who have forever changed the fields of science and medicine” are acknowledged in this article. Read more
  • Eight women who “pushed the frontiers of science” with research discoveries are featured by The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) in a story published by ONE, the global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030. Read more.

RFS Briefings - March 10, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

I am pleased to include another issue of RFS Briefings with some timely and encouraging updates on women in science. Reflecting on International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2020, celebrated on February 11, I would like to share the following statement by UN Secretary-General António Guterres:

To rise to the challenges of the 21st century, we need to harness our full potential. That requires dismantling gender stereotypes. On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let’s pledge to end the gender imbalance in science.

RFS, with your help, is committed to achieving this goal.

We hope you will consider, and share with colleagues, the following opportunities highlighted in this issue:

  • Applications are being accepted through March 15 for the Science & PINS Prize for Neuromodulation, awarded for “innovative research that modulates neural activity through physical stimulation of targeted sites in the nervous system with implications for translational medicine.” Read more.
  • The National Foundation for Cancer Research is inviting women entrepreneur-scientists in the cancer/oncology arena to enter the AIM HI Women’s Venture Competition, which offers the winner up to $300,000 of seed stage equity investment and the opportunity to participate in the Accelerator program which includes mentoring, advising, and networking. The application deadline is April 6, 2020. Read more
  • Goldman Sachs is accepting applications for its Launch with GS Black and Latinx Entrepreneur Initiative, which aims to increase access to capital and connections for Black or Latinx founders, CEOs, or presidents of fast-growing companies at the forefront of innovation and technology. Applications close on April 17, 2020. Read more.

On a sad note, Rosalind P. Walter, the first “Rosie the Riveter” died on March 4 at age 95. Raised in a wealthy New York family, she worked on an assembly line during World War II, joining millions of other women in support of the troops sent off to war. Read more.

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