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1997 WICB / Career Strategy Columns (Archive)

The Resource Bureau; Laura Williams

In the hope of increasing the number of women as speakers at meetings and on review panels and advisory committees, the Women in Cell Biology Committee has created a Resource Bureau. WICB Committee members Caroline Kane and Sandra Masur compiled a list of prominent cell biologists with various research interests to serve as consultants. These women, who are often invited to more meetings than they can possibly attend, will recommend other excellent women scientists in their field who might otherwise be overlooked.

The Resource Bureau list can be accessed through the ASCB web site; click on "Women in Cell Biology Committee.". Recently, it was sent directly to meeting organizations including the Gordon Conferences and Keystone Symposia, professional organizations that sponsor meetings including the FASEB societies, American Cancer Society, and the Federation of European Biochemical Societies, and universities and institutes that traditionally sponsor many meetings. So that it also may serve as a resource for review panels and advisory committees, it was also sent to granting agencies and foundations including the NIH, the NSF, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The WICB Committee has already received positive response. The Director of Operations of the Keystone Symposia, Linda Hrycaj, wrote, "We have been working on increasing the number of women in our programs, both as speakers and organizers, and the format you have created is very useful to us and our potential meeting organizers."

Hrycaj is also interested in whether other organizations have followed our lead to create such a resource within their scientific disciplines. We do not know of any that have, but we encourage them to do so. WICB also recognizes a need to expand the Resource Bureau to include other parts of the world where it is still common to attend a meeting which has no women as speakers, and bureau organizer Caroline Kane hopes to develop this expansion. In the meantime, we on the WICB Committee hope the Resource Bureau will, as bureau organizer Sandra Masur put it, "help move a new generation of women up the ladder to national prominence".

Recommended Reading
Members of the WICB Committee provide the following brief reviews and recommendations for books of particular interest to women scientists.

In Praise of Imperfection by Rita Levi-Montalcini, Basic Books Inc., 1988. A short autobiography by the winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Medicine for her work on nerve growth factor. A good history lesson, too. Well written.

Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin, Random House Inc., 1996. This book was recommended by a cell biologist who is the mother of an autistic child. She found this animal scientist's story to be inspiring and a clear demonstration of how the talents of an individual, once recognized, can be nurtured in the proper educational environment. As a scientist, she found the strides Dr. Grandin has made toward the humane treatment of animals remarkable, and they could not have been accomplished without the unique and complex view of life that her autistic qualities provide. The life and work of Dr. Temple Grandin is a contemporary story that provides insight into many current social issues such as equal opportunity, special education and animal welfare.

A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock by Evelyn Fox Keller, W.H. Freeman and Co., 1993. About the determined geneticist who was the first woman to win an unshared Nobel Prize in Medicine. Captures her spirit, her difficulties and her science quite well.

Marie Curie: a Life by Susan Quinn, Simon and Schuster, 1995. An excellent biography about the winner of two Nobel Prizes, one in Physics and one in Chemistry, for her work with radium.

Einstein's Wife: Work and Marriage in the Lives of Five Great Twentieth-Century Women by Andrea Gabor, Penguin, 1995. Brief biographies and psychological profiles of five accomplished women who were married to successful men. Two of these, Mileva Einstein and Maria Goeppert Mayer, were scientists. The author makes a compelling base that Mileva Einstein's contributions to her famous husband's work are not only under-appreciated, but that bitterness and abandonment led to her death. Nepotism laws kept Goeppert Mayer from even procuring a paying job until shortly before she won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963. All five profiles, including Sandra Day O'Connor's, are probing portraits of complex women in partnership with driven men and how they manage their professional, personal and emotional lives, with greatly varied success.

Women in Science: Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century by Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie, MIT Press, 1988. A collection of historical profiles.

No Universal Constants: Personal Stories of Women in Science and Engineering by S. Ambrose, K. Dunkle, B. Lazarus, I. Nair, D. Harkus, Temple University Press, 1997. Profiles of about 90 contemporary scientists including ASCB members Lydia Villa-Komaroff, Sandra Murray, and Susan Brawley.

The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett, Penguin, 1994. About newly emerging infectious diseases. The author, trained in immunology and biochemistry, is a science writer par excellence and has won a Pulitzer Prize for her work.

Books for Children
Women Life Scientists: Past, Present, and Future, Connecting Role Models to the Classroom Curriculum, edited by Marsha Lakes Matyas and Ann E. Haley-Oliphant, the American Physiological Society, Bethesda, MD. A textbook for middle or high school students with profiles of both historical scientists and contemporary scientists including ASCB member Marian Johnson-Thompson.

Great Books for Girls: More than 600 Books to Inspire Today's Girls and Tomorrow's Women by Kathleen Odean, Ballantine Books, 1997. The chapter entitled "Scientists and Inventors" includes reviews of 13 books including Barbara McClintock: Alone in Her Field by Deborah Heiligman, Scientific American Books for Young Readers, 1994, for ages 8 to 10.

They Led the Way: 14 American Women by Johanna Johnston, Scholastic Inc., 1973, for ages 7 to 9. Featured among its 14 women are Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree, and Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross.

Women and Numbers, by Teri Perl, Wide World Publishing/Tetra, 1993. Perl, an educational consultant and software designer, writes the biographies of thirteen women who became mathematicians. She writes for young women readers, including human interest details about their lives, and real world activities for the readers, based on the interests and work of the mathematicians.

--WICB Section Editor: Laura Williams

The WICB Committee is committed to career development of cell biologists, particularly women, by serving as an information resource for:

  • Career development issues such as grantsmanship and job seeking skills;
  • Access to mentorship;
  • Sponsoring an annual forum on issues such as setting up collaborations, alternative careers for cell biologists, getting a paper published, etc.;
  • Increasing the visibility of women cell biologists;
  • Providing a resource for nominations for membership on editorial boards, study sections, etc.;
  • Providing a resource bureau for names of speakers for seminars, lectureships and symposia;

Providing a resource for nominations for prizes and awards, and Sponsoring the WICB awards for Junior and Senior Cell Biologists.


"And our Next Speaker is..."; Elizabeth J. Taparowsky

You have just received your self-addressed response card from the ASCB Annual Meeting Program Committee and discover that your abstract has been selected for a symposium presentation. Your initial reaction is one of joy, followed rapidly by feelings of fear or even panic as you envision yourself standing in front of several hundred people and speaking. You have many weeks to prepare, but your mind is racing — hoping that you will be able to generate new data, wondering how large the audience will be, and speculating on who may be in attendance at the session. You lie awake at night going over in your head what may happen — good scenarios and bad. You feel inadequate since you are convinced that public speaking comes naturally only to really good scientists.

What you may not realize is that up to 80% of the general population (and probably the vast majority of speakers at the ASCB Annual Meeting) experience nervousness, trepidation, and anxiety at the prospect of speaking in front of an audience. Paradoxically, some experts believe that controlled nervousness and tension enhances public speaking performance. But, while you may find comfort in knowing that the fear you are experiencing is normal, it does not change the fact that you will be expected to speak at the Washington Convention Center in December! Is it possible to implement some strategies now that will help you control your nervousness and minimize the effect that this physical and emotional state will have on the quality of your presentation? The answer to that question is ‘yes’.

First of all, it is important to establish if your fear of public speaking is a "trait" or a "state". As defined by Rudolf Verderber in The Challenge of Effective Speaking, a "trait" is a relatively ongoing characteristic of an individual, while a state is the "state" of mind a person experiences from time-to-time. If you suffer from trait nervousness, all communication tasks you perform — laboratory meetings, teaching, even friendly conversations — are impaired by this fear. It is estimated that up to 20% of the population may experience trait communication nervousness, which may require formal attention from public speaking professionals in order to be controlled. If, on the other hand, you handle routine communication tasks with ease, then it is likely that you suffer from a state of nervousness, the possible negative consequences of which may be avoided with the following preparation strategies:

  1. Select the Content of Your Presentation Carefully
    Make an outline of your talk. The first outline you prepare is likely to contain more information than can be accommodated comfortably in the time allowed. Prune your data to include the best evidence to support your conclusions. Unless absolutely necessary, do not present experiments or procedures with which you are not thoroughly familiar or data from new experiments that may be preliminary. Likewise, do not use slides that contain extraneous information. The technology to design computer-generated slides is available to most of us, so make slides customized for your talk. Presenting clear, informative slides will benefit your audience, and it will make preparing and giving your talk much easier. On your slides, label data with short, descriptive words. Numbering lanes on a gel may be suitable for a manuscript, but, when flashed on a slide, these numerals will convey nothing to your audience. More importantly, they will not function as a prompt for you during your talk. If your work involves a new or a modified technology, project a flow diagram of the technique as you are describing it verbally. Lastly, think about including a brief heading for each slide which will highlight the point you would like to make.
  2. Prepare a Scripted Beginning and Ending to Your Presentation
    Once the content of your presentation has been finalized, the next step is to write one or two opening sentences that summarize concisely the research question your data will address. These sentences should be scripted, memorized and typed legibly on a note card which will accompany you to the podium. Stage fright peaks at the moment immediately before you are introduced and it is not at all uncommon for you to "blank out" on the way to the stage. You can rebound quickly by having your introduction readily available. Once you begin to speak, you will calm down. The remainder of the talk should be organized around your slides and jotted down in outline form only. Do not attempt to write down and memorize the entire talk. However, prepare your conclusion in the same manner as your introduction, with one or two summary sentences written on a note card. This advance planning will insure that your ending will be strong and that you summarize to your audience exactly what you wanted to say.
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice
    Practice your presentation several times, alone and then in front of a group. Invite your labmates and friends to be your audience, but also invite colleagues outside your immediate field since they will be able to comment on whether you have successfully conveyed your points to a general scientific audience. Hold your practice in a relatively large room, and have your audience critique the visibility, as well as the information content, of your slides. Make a conscious effort to speak slowly when you practice, because you will surely speed up at your talk. The most effective speakers use a strong, expressive voice and speak slowly in order to allow their audience time to absorb the information they present. Another way to enable the audience to absorb the information is to insert pauses throughout your talk. Pausing will also provide you with the time necessary to recall your next slide or remember what you want to say next. Use your practice sessions with an audience to help you to prepare for questions, but do not spend too much time trying to predict questions and prepare answers. Your efforts need to be focused on the content of your talk.
  4. Familiarize Yourself with the Room and the Audiovisual Equipment Ahead of Time
    Sometime before your talk, visit the room in which you will be speaking and try out the laser pointer, microphone, and slide selector. Request a podium, if there is not one available. A podium provides an anchor for fidgety speakers and a physical barrier to lessen the feeling of being out there on the stage all alone. In selecting what you will wear on the day of your talk, make sure your clothes are neat and comfortable. You should not have to think of your clothes at all during your presentation. Far better to wear your old stand-by that you know will hold up to reaching and bending than to splurge on something new to make you look "great" only to learn on stage that it has a faulty zipper.
  5. Implement Self-Calming Strategies Directly Before You Talk
    There are a variety of techniques professional speakers use to calm those pre-presentation jitters and, as you gain experience in public speaking, you will find a routine that works best for you. Make your trip to the rest room well in advance of your scheduled talk. Available to you on the podium should be a glass of water (without ice because ice makes it harder to drink, the noise it makes may be picked up by the microphone and it can numb your mouth.) A brief walk in the minutes prior to your introduction is very helpful, but often is not possible. As an alternative, while you are seated in the audience, engage in deep, controlled breathing. Close your eyes and visualize yourself giving a great talk. Think about how wonderful you will feel once your presentation is over. It is important that you think positively in those preceding minutes so that your nervous tension will work to your advantage during the opening segment of your presentation.

    The ASCB Annual Meeting is rapidly approaching. Some attendees will be speaking for the first time in front of a large audience; others will have spoken so many times they will have lost count! Sharing your observations and discoveries with your colleagues at professional meetings is one of the most rewarding components of a scientific career. However, public speaking comes naturally to only a rare few of us. For most, it is a skill that is practiced and developed over time. Welcome any opportunity you have to speak publicly and use your experience to develop a preparation strategy and communication style that works best for you.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., WICB Committee member and Associate Professor, Purdue University
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., WICB Section Editor

The author would like to acknowledge Joel Deaton ( Human Resource Director, Talbert Medical Management Corp.) and Mary Ann Stepp (ASCB WICB Committee) for providing information helpful for the preparation of this article.

Verderber, R.F. 1994. The Challenge of Efective Speaking, Ninth Edition, International Thomson Publishing, Wadsworth Publishing Co., Belmont, CA.
Osborn and Osborn. 1994. Public Speaking, Third Edition, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA.
Bakshian Jr., A. 1997. The American Speaker, Your Guide to Successful Speaking, Georgetown Publishing House, Washington, DC.


The Impostor Phenomenon; Sue Wick

Have you ever felt that you did not deserve the professional status you have achieved or the recognition you have received for your career accomplishments? Do you wonder whether being admitted to graduate school, being awarded your Ph.D., being offered an exciting postdoc position, or getting a "real job" was just a mistake on the part of others who will eventually figure that out and expose your inadequacy? If so, you may be demonstrating a classic case of the Impostor Phenomenon--you and perhaps as many as half of your colleagues!

The term "Impostor Phenomenon" was coined by psychology professor Pauline Rose Clance and psychotherapist Suzanne Imes in 1978 to describe a sample of more than 150 high-achieving women. Impostor Phenomenon (also known as the "Impostor Syndrome") has been defined variously as the persistent belief in one's lack of competence, skill or intelligence in the face of consistent objective data to the contrary; an internal experience of intellectual fraudulence, particularly among high-achievers; the belief that one is not deserving of his/her career success and that others have been deceived into thinking otherwise; an intense subjective fear of the inability to repeat past success; a self-concept that one's record of accomplishments is not due to ability but rather only to luck, fate, charm, attractiveness, or having manipulated other people's impressions; the secret conviction that one is truly less intelligent and competent than he/she appears; and an unrealistic sense of one's competence in which one downplays strengths and exaggerates or does not tolerate any deficiencies or weaknesses.

Numerous doctoral theses and research papers have examined the type of person who tends to fall prey to the Impostor Phenomenon, and several psychological testing instruments have been devised to measure the degree of manifestation. While originally suspected as a problem primarily afflicting women, subsequent studies have made it clear that similar numbers of men also experience impostor feelings. In some professions, men experience more severe cases of Impostor Syndrome. For example, within a group of faculty members, men scored higher for the Impostor Phenomenon than women did, whereas groups of college students showed the opposite results. People in non-professional occupations likewise are susceptible to the impostor phenomenon.

Some characteristics and tendencies are generally correlated with people who feel like impostors. Such people may have feelings of depression, anxiety, fear of failure and of being discovered as a fraud; a propensity to feel shame, low self-esteem, and introversion as determined by the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator. (Introversion, as defined by Myers-Briggs testing, is a characteristic of many scientists.) Those who feel like impostors often believe that many decisions affecting them are made by other people (and they may be right—Ph.D. qualifying exam committees or tenure and promotion committees, perhaps?). Those who experience the Impostor Phenomenon are likely to see intelligence as a fixed entity and not a malleable quality. They are very achievement-oriented. They are motivated in academic settings by the need to look smart; when faced with learning difficulties, they become anxious, shameful, and concerned about looking bad compared to others.

According to the literature, certain family situations tend to spawn impostor feelings. These include not receiving encouragement to pursue educational or career aspirations because they conflict with, or at least are atypical of, the gender role, race, or age expectations of the family. Particularly for women, having goals that will put you outside your family's socioeconomic class may have the same result. Families that impose unrealistic standards, those in which there is only selective validation, or those in which there is much conflict and expressed anger also put children at risk for developing the impostor phenomenon. Growing up with an alcoholic or incestuous parent or in another kind of dysfunctional family can lead to high levels of impostorism. (Such serious factors can also lead to psychosis such as Multiple Personality Disorder)

Racial identity attitudes apparently have influences also. Research on African American graduate and professional students reveals that those who had attended historically black undergraduate institutions and/or who relied strongly on spiritual beliefs when making decisions about educational or career goals were much less likely to feel like impostors.

The good news is that the self-deprecating and debilitating feelings associated with the impostor phenomenon appear to decrease as a person remains in a particular position or attains a higher rank--that is, unless the person perceives job uncertainty, ambiguous job expectations, or a high degree of challenge in their position and does not have a high tolerance for these situations. Studies report that, at least for some people, having a mentor is helpful for overcoming the sense of fraudulence. (Presumably, having a mentor who understands the impostor phenomenon would be optimal.) Clance and her co-workers suggest that the most positive results are obtained through regular meetings with a group of people who can give honest feedback about their perceptions of your abilities. Such groups can be very good at pointing out when your self-perception about talents and achievements is distorted, i.e., out of line with what they observe. Thus, they can help you learn to acknowledge your competence. Making the effort to find an effective mentor and assemble a support group for yourself may be the key not only to survival but also to improving your self esteem during your grad school experience, job probationary period, or even the middle or advanced stages of your career.

Clance also recommends a three-point exercise for those who recognize that they have impostor traits, as published in New Woman magazine:

  • document both positive feedback and your doubts about its authenticity. This exercise "will demonstrate how you discount the opinions of other people," says Clance;
  • examine the messages that you may have received about yourself from your family and others. Understanding where your negative self-image comes from can empower you to break free, and
  • imagine telling your peers and superiors how you have fooled them. Realize how ridiculous you would sound.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Professor of Plant Biology, University of Minnesota,
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., WICB Section Editor

Brown, D. B. (1994). "Are you an impostor?" New Woman June: 46.

Byrnes, K. D. and D. Lester (1995). "The impostor phenomenon in teachers and accountants." Psychological Reports 77: 350.

Cherpas, C. C. (1989). The generalizability of the impostor phenomenon to adults employed in professional and nonprofessional occupations. Doctoral Dissertation, Kent State University. Dissertation Abstracts International.

Clance, P. R., D. Dingman, et al. (1995). "Impostor phenomenon in an interpersonal/social context: Origins and treatment." Women & Therapy 16: 79-95.

Cohen, E. S. (1990). The impostor phenomenon: An interactionist perspective. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Toronto, Doctoral Dissertations International.

Ewing, K. M. (1990). Effect of racial identity attitudes and world view on African- American graduate and professional students' experience of the impostor phenomenon style and locus of control. Doctoral Dissertation, California School of Professional Psychology. Dissertation Abstracts International.

Hayes, K. M. and S. F. Davis (1993). "Interpersonal flexibility, type A individuals, and the impostor phenomenon." Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 31: 323-325.

Jamail, S. R. (1992). Predicting the impostor phenomenon in successful career women. Doctoral Dissertation, Miami Inst. of Psychology of the Caribbean Ctr. for Advanced Studies. Dissertation Abstracts International.

King, J. E. and E. L. Cooley (1995). "Achievement orientation and the impostor phenomenon among college students." Contemporary Educational Psychology 200: 304-312.

Langford, J. (1991). The need to look smart' alt=' The impostor phenomenon and motivations for learning. Doctoral Dissertation, Georgia State University-College of Arts and Sciences. Dissertation Abstracts International.

Langford, J. and P. R. Clance (1993). "The impostor phenomenon: Recent research findings regarding dynamics, personality and family patterns and their implications for treatment." Psychotherapy 30: 495-501.

Milton, S. and R. J. Mattox (1988). "A study of the impostor phenomenon in high achieving college students." Journal of College Student Development 29: 380-381.

Reinert, L. M. (1991). Influences of family and work on women managers exhibiting the impostor phenomenon. Doctoral Dissertation, Temple University. Dissertation Abstracts International.

Reis, S. M. (1987). "We can't change what we don't recognize: Understanding the special needs of gifted females." Gifted Child Quarterly 31: 83-89.

Robinson, S. L. and S. K. Goodpaster (1991). "The effects of parental alcoholism on perception of control and impostor phenomenon." Current Psychology: Research & Reviews 10: 113-119.

Teece, J. K. (1990). Adult children of alcoholics and the experience of the impostor phenomenon: The development of the 'false self' in a dysfunctional family system. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Maryland College Park. Dissertation International.

Topping, M. E. H. (1983). The impostor phenomenon: A study of its construct and incidence in university faculty members. Doctoral Dissertation, University of South Florida. Dissertation Abstracts International.

Other relevant articles:
Author unknown (1986). The impostor syndrome. Management Solutions 31: 18-19.

Clance, P R.. and S.A. Imes (1978). "The impostor phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention." Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice 15: 241-247.

Clance, P R.. and M. A. O'Toole (1987). "The impostor phenomenon: An internal barrier to empowerment and achievement. Special Issue: Treating women's fear of failure." Women and Therapy 6: 51-64.

Ewing, K. M., T. Q. Richardson, et al. (1996). "The relationship between racial identity attitudes, world view, and African American graduate students' experience of the impostor phenomenon." Journal of Black Psychology 22: 53-66.

Harvey, J.C and C. Katz (1985). If I'm so successful, why do I feel like a fake?, St. Martin's Press; New York.

MacKay, B. (1988). "The Impostor Syndrome: Why some successful people feel like fakes." Chatelaine 61: 30.

Miller, D. G. and S. M. Kastburg (1995). "Of blue collars and ivory towers: Women from blue-collar backgrounds in higher education. Special Issue: Adult women's talent development." Roeper Review 18: 27-33.


WICB Meets, Announces Annual Meeting Changes/Kids and Careers; Kathryn G. Miller

The Women in Cell Biology Committee met in Bethesda on July 18. Attending were Committee members Sally Amero, Dianna Bourke, Beth Burnside, Pat Calarco, Yolanda Cruz, Caroline Kane, Elizabeth Marincola, Sandra Masur, Kathy Miller, Mary Ann Stepp, B. J. Taparowsky, Sally Tobin, Sue Wick and by telephone Laura Williams. This was the first opportunity for newly appointed Committee members to be introduced to the group. Sue Shafer chaired the meeting. A major discussion topic was improvement and coordination of the WICB-sponsored activities at the ASCB Annual Meeting.

The WICB Committee coordinates three activities at the Annual Meeting: the Careers Lunch, the WICB Junior and Senior Awards Presentations, and a Monday Evening Business Meeting and Program. After a thoughtful discussion of the goals for each function, general scheduling constraints, and the target audience for each activity, the Committee agreed to modify the schedule:

  • Kane will develop a discussion program that focuses on the problems and successes of dual career couples, at least one of whom is a scientist. Kane will seek a sponsor for the session so that refreshments can be made available.
  • The Committee agreed to combine the highly successful Career Lunch with the presentation of the WICB Junior and Senior Career Achievement Awards. The awards presentation will be brief but will provide time for the attendees to eat lunch and a focus for early table discussion.
  • Miller was asked by the Committee to explore venues at the Annual Meeting for a presentation on affirmative action. In order to encourage Society-wide participation, the Committee will seek the sponsorship of Council for an Affirmative Action Forum at the 1998 Annual Meeting. Participation by a affirmative action advocate, an anti-affirmative action advocate, and a lawyer were suggested.
Other ongoing WICB activities discussed include:
  • The WICB Speaker’s Referral Bureau is ready to be posted to the ASCB Website. Kane and Masur have developed a list of names, addresses, telephone and e-mail addresses of prominent women in a variety of scientific fields who are frequent invitees and attendees at professional meetings in their respective disciplines. These women have been recruited to the Bureau to assist meeting organizers who wish to increase the diversity of their programs by identifying other outstanding women scientists who are also excellent and compelling speakers. Committee members suggested that the list might also be a valuable resource for appointments to review panels and journal boards.
  • Marincola reported that so far 63% of participants have responded to the ASCB Education Committee Membership Survey even before all mailings have been effected. She also commented that it has prompted some heartfelt letters from ASCB members. Because respondents are asked to identify their gender, data will be of interest to the WICB Committee. Survey results will be discussed in a special forum at the 1997 ASCB Annual Meeting. Marincola also reported that the ASCB Website is being redesigned, and that the Joint Steering Committee is currently launching a new Website.
  • Laura Williams was praised for her editorship of the WICB columns in the ASCB Newsletter. The Committee agreed that an article about job interviewing from the perspective of the candidate and of the employer would be very useful but more appropriate to the new tri-Committee Careers Column being coordinated by Don Kimmel.
  • The Committee continues to explore new projects and activities including mentoring, lobbying and advocacy for women’s issues, and scientific questions from a woman’s perspective.

Kids and Careers
For years, many women scientists felt that they had to make a choice between having children and advancing in their careers. This was the belief of many of my peers who completed their graduate education only 10 to 15 years ago. But as the number of women in traditionally male-dominated professions has increased, the number of women who successfully combine having families and careers has increased.

Nevertheless, having children may still seriously impact a woman’s career. This is especially true for a woman scientist because prime childbearing years come at a time when it is important to be especially productive. There is no getting around the biology of childbearing, but, unfortunately, too often more of the burden of child care falls on the female partner as well. Even if care and responsibility for the child is equally divided between partners, the outside world generally perceives the woman as the primary caregiver. This is evidenced by the fact that for men, in general, having children is not viewed as a negative factor in career progression. This is not the case for women with children who may even be deemed by some as "not serious" about their careers. If women with children are not taken seriously, this will most likely impede their career advancement and recognition. It could mean fewer invitations to speak at meetings, to give seminars, to participate in grant review panels. It can also lead to (unconscious or conscious) bias in the review process for grants and fellowships or for tenure.

Clearly, many women scientists with children have become prominent leaders in their fields, so being relegated to the category of "not serious" is neither automatic nor universal. However, despite the success stories, many women report that colleagues and department chairs take this view, at least initially. For example, one colleague described an experience with a department head who clearly thought she was finished as a scientist when her baby was born. He was astonished when, soon after the birth of her baby, she got a paper accepted and her NIH grant renewed.

This article focuses on factors which may influence whether one is taken seriously after having children. It is based on the personal experiences of friends and acquaintances who are professional women with children. They shared their thoughts and advice about things that have made a difference for their successful combination of career and children.

First, before you have children, be honest about what you want and the consequences of the decision you are making. There are trade-offs inherent in having children. It is important to understand what you are giving up and what you are gaining. Be aware that time will become your most precious commodity. As one of my senior colleagues said, "the key to ‘having it all’ is in your definition of ‘it.’"

For many successful women, the key to success is a spouse who equally shares parenting responsibilities and who not only supports one’s career but rejoices in it. Equal weight should be given to each partner’s career demands. Conflicts between children’s needs and parents’ work schedules are less frequent when the burdens and joys of late nights, doctors’ appointments, and parent-teacher conferences, as well as visits to the zoo and playground, are shared.

Another important factor is good child care. You must feel comfortable with child care arrangements so that you do not have to worry about your children while you work, and, thus, can concentrate (more) fully. This may mean paying more for child care, but this is not the area on which to skimp. Since the time demands of scientific research are not always 9-to-5 (or even 8-to-6), having some flexibility built into a child care situation or good baby-sitting options makes "crunch times" possible to handle. It also allows one to have some flexible time to be used for the things that tend to slip when you are on a tight schedule. One of the things that people with kids (men and women alike) miss are those informal evening or late-night discussions in which scientific ideas get discussed and criticized. Finding a way to occasionally forget the clock can really be a boost to excitement and productivity.

Many women express the opinion that if businesses and universities are truly interested in having more women in senior level jobs, there must be more recognition of the need for affordable, on-site child care. In particular, having good employer-provided child care makes caring for very young babies much easier.

Especially if you do not have on-site day care, you may consider bringing your baby to work. However, some colleagues may believe this practice is inappropriate. Again, the issue may boil down to whether you are able to get the work done. If having a baby at work makes it difficult for you to do your job efficiently, then it certainly might influence the opinion of others. Whether it works is dependent on the personality of parent and baby and on career stage. As a new mom, I was able to get back to work almost full time a lot faster because I had my baby with me for part of the day. I found I could get a lot done with her around when she was tiny. However, there is nothing more grating and distracting than a crying baby, so there were days when the only solution was to give up and go home. There is no way that having her with me would have worked out if I had been doing lab work. But since I worked in my office, it worked out well in the early weeks and did not disrupt other people.

The importance of one’s attitude and approach to work must be stressed. If you spend all your time at work talking about your kids, rather than science, then that is what your colleagues will see is most important to you. This is not to say that the subject should be taboo, but when you are at work, focus on that. Just be sure that your interest and excitement about science is apparent to those around you. Also, learn to be efficient. Do not let the children become an excuse for not doing your share or shirking responsibilities. It goes almost without saying: work hard! Work extra hours when you can and then do not feel guilty when you have to leave to go to a school function or doctor’s appointment.

A successful balance of career and children is facilitated by a work environment that accepts children as a natural part of one’s life and recognizes that personal fulfillment has an impact on professional progress. My own case is an example. I feel fortunate to be part of a truly unusual department: of a total of about 30 tenured or tenure-track faculty, there are 7 women and all of them have children. In fact, seeing the senior women scientists in my department thrive in both family and professional life influenced my own decision to have a child. When I told my department chair that I was pregnant, she(!) let out of whoop of joy and excitement. I am sure that is not the typical reaction of department chairs to the pregnancy of a faculty member. Her immediate reaction was so positive that any fears I might have had about my colleagues’ negative perceptions were swept away. This is not to say that their are none – but having support, understanding, and encouragement of a large fraction of the department including the chair made it a lot easier to accept the challenges of having a child and a successful career.

I benefitted from having role models in my department, but training environments for most scientists provide few such role models since there are still relatively few women in faculty positions and other high level positions. Working to make sure women are hired and promoted can change this. This means providing support, encouragement, and advice to junior colleagues, post-docs, and students. While there are still a lot of attitudes to change on this issue, women in science need no longer feel they must make a choice between careers and children. It is possible to "have it all."

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Washington University
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., WICB Section Editor

The ASCB is grateful to the members below who have given gifts to support Society activities:

Douglas Hanahan
Maria E. Silva Fernandes


Why Women Leave Science; Caroline M. Kane

Consider the following statistics from 1993:1

  • Women were 51% of the U.S. population and 46% of its labor force, yet they comprised only 22% of the science and engineering labor force.
  • Women were 44% of the total number of graduate students in all the sciences, and 48% of the total number of graduate students in the biological sciences.
  • Women earned 40% of the Ph.D.s in the biological sciences (compared to 33% ten years before).
  • Women comprised only 24% of the faculty in science and engineering and only 27% in the biosciences (while they comprised 44% of the faculty in non-science and engineering disciplines).
  • Of all women who were science and engineering faculty, 36.5% were at public, 2-year institutions, while 17.5% were at research institutions.

These statistics about women in science and engineering are accumulated biannually by the NSF in a continuing study of women, minorities and persons with disabilities in science and engineering. What contributes to the contrast between the nearly 50% representation of women at the undergraduate and graduate levels to their 26% representation in the life sciences labor force? Why are women leaving science?

More women than men begin leaving science even as undergraduates. Many women (and men) enter university or college from a supportive high school background where teachers and advisors have encouraged the students' interests and developed the students' skills in science. Once at the college level, many women in the sciences feel "pressure, isolation, powerlessness and the constant need to prove themselves" in the face of an educational "system designed to induct young men into an adult male social structure"..2 That is, the socialization of white males is well served, but the different expectations and requirements of women are often not understood, ignored or belittled. These include issues of self-confidence; for example, admitting difficulty in a subject may be interpreted as a weakness rather than an interest in sharing information in the process of learning. In the Seymour and Hewitt study2, many undergraduate women did not think that they were doing as well or were as well qualified as others in the classes, even in cases where the grades received said just the opposite! Also, organized help for academic work may be viewed by some faculty as remedial rather than as an important means for students to more thoroughly integrate information. Many of the expectations and requirements may also be shared by men, although the culture of science and engineering has been more focused on a make-it or break-it, win-lose dichotomy. Learning as a competition instead of as an end in itself can often get in the way of success in the classroom, and having to fight against other students for a grade can be very discouraging when understanding is the overall goal.

Even given different perceptions among men and women, the top five reasons given by both men and women for switching out of science and engineering majors were the same.2 Thus, both men and women who switched majors felt that their original reason for choosing the major proved inappropriate, that there was poor teaching by the faculty, that there was inadequate advising or help with academic problems, that other majors offered a better education or more interest, and that they were "turned off science." Men and women defined "good teaching" and "good academic performance" differently, however. For women, good teaching included being able to establish a personal relationship with a faculty member; the faculty member needed to be interested in the student as well as the course material. For men, good teaching focused on presentation of material. For women, "good academic performance" based on tests and scores was not sufficient to doing well. They were doing well if they felt more integrated into the discipline by establishing the relationship with the professor(s). Networking and mentoring with the faculty are valuable routes to learning about a profession and about others who are successful in that profession.

In contrast, perpetuating the idea that science is "hard" and therefore only available to an "elite" with the inherent ability to deal with the material provides permission for faculty to continue to "weed out" rather than educate students with a genuine interest and aptitude for biology, and its predecessor courses, math, chemistry and physics. On this particular point, Seymour and Hewitt found that switchers and non-switchers were of similar aptitude and ability, whether men or women 2 Women are more likely to internalize criticism and negative feedback as indicators that they are less capable, less on top of the class work, and perhaps the only ones having difficulty with the material. The message to students is that the less effort needed for navigating the system, the more savvy you are. When women enter a system in the sciences that has been developed for and has worked well for white men for years, they often get the message that they are outsiders — not that they are overtly unwelcome, but that they don't know the rules. Having guides, advisors, older peers, and faculty who validate their concerns and work with them to find learning strategies that work for them are all essential. Note that this applies as well to men, and that many men also leave the sciences for reasons having little to do with changes in interest or a lack of ability. More women, proportionately, leave perhaps because the system is not designed to induct them into the adult world of women as much as it is, as suggested by Seymour and Hewitt2, an extension of the system that young men have been experiencing their entire lives. Perhaps the "underlying cause of women's difficulties lies in the structured incapacity of the traditional science, math, and engineering system to meet the educational needs of a diverse student population"2. Indeed, many similar issues impact minority students and scientists.

However, the college and university faculty, both men and women, are not the sole explanation for why women leave science. Indeed, many faculty men and women are encouraging young women to continue to pursue their interests in biology careers and to consider and pursue careers in secondary and higher education and research. Nearly 50% of the undergraduate degrees in the biological sciences are awarded to women; so, many women are not switching to other majors, despite the challenges of working within the biological sciences. Indeed, nearly 50% of the graduate student population in biology are women and 40% of the awarded Ph.D.'s in the biological sciences go to women. But if women are only 26% of the life sciences labor force, then where are these women going? Three recent articles in Science addressed what happens to women during the development of their professional careers.3,4,5

Many women choose careers considered "alternative" (read, "non-research" ) because they find them more compatible with having a family, more intellectually rewarding, even more financially remunerative and personally satisfying than independent research careers. Men now are catching on to these alternatives as well. When a larger number of men and women with advanced degrees in the biological sciences enter business, law, journalism and the media, environmental work, consulting, primary and secondary education, science education, government, and the myriad of other professions, perhaps the word "alternative" will be dropped.

Yet, independent research careers in academia, research institutions, or industry in which one develops approaches to decipher the workings of biological processes certainly are considered quite prestigious and desirable. Many women have this career as an aspiration upon entering graduate school. What happens to them once they have taken the first step to an independent research career?

Perhaps these research positions are less compatible with a variety of personal and family concerns. Very few women have a partner whose career revolves around coordinating house and home and family in order to allow her to pursue her professional career. With more two-career couples in research careers, there are many more examples of successful sharing of parenting and home responsibilities; yet, again and again, based on survey after survey, the larger share is assumed by the woman. This disproportion may be fully appropriate for individual relationships, but that question is not the issue here. Rather, the issue is one of balancing career and personal issues to ensure that the pleasure of "doing science" remains fully worth the effort to do it.

Another problem women often encounter is how their behavior is perceived and accepted. Successful women very often have wonderful aggressive and persistent behaviors, as do their male colleagues, that allow them to follow their curiosity into scientific questions. These behaviors on their part are sometimes viewed as negative by colleagues unaccustomed to women savoring fully the gusto of scientific discovery. On the other hand, a very feminine woman scientist (redundancy noted) might not be taken seriously regardless of the creativity and productivity of her research because her appearance and behavior is beyond the experience of the other "serious" scientists in her department. An increasing number of women faculty and researchers can contribute to eliminating the interpretation of these behaviors as unusual. Certainly there are many unusual behaviors observed among men scientists, but they are "diluted" by the numbers of men represented in biology departments. The presence of more women in the profession and their speaking at meetings can condition and teach men colleagues about inaccurate stereotypes and preconceived notions that interfere with what might be their legitimate efforts to welcome women into the academy.

Finally, a reason consistently mentioned by many women who choose not to pursue or continue a career in the biological sciences is the competitive environment. However, it is not competition per se that sours the professional experience, as many women enjoy competition and the rewards and personal satisfaction that come from "winning." The crux for the sciences is the disconnect between a reward system in an intellectual endeavor that relies on "beating one's competition to the finish line" rather than working with others to try to derive the answers to biological questions in a rapid, efficient, and collaborative fashion that highlights the joy of learning about life's mysteries. The notion of winners and losers in scientific research is limited since scientific discoveries are based on years of prior work by many others. Recognition of a new insight is important and extremely worthwhile, but an ethos based on having a loser rather than upon making a significant positive contribution requires setting up battlegrounds. These types of engagements have far too much impact on the definition of success in the sciences, and the logic, or lack thereof, of this behavior is often lost on successful professional women.

From experiences during education to experiences in the professions, women and men are confronted with positive and negative feedback regarding careers in the biological sciences. Earlier networking and mentoring advice to students and junior colleagues would serve to help women determine whether biological science is indeed the passion of their professional lives. The networking and mentoring that help in that decision making need to continue as the young professionals, and senior professionals, progress in their careers and encounter new issues unrelated to the passion for the discipline, but directly related to their ability to be successful in pursuing that discipline. From introductions at a national meeting to appointments onto powerful institutional committees, engaging women in the positive process of science as well as the pleasure of science may encourage more women to commit their energies to staying rather than leaving.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for the WICB Committee, Adjunct Associate Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley
—WICB Section Editor: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


  1. NSF Report NSF 96-311, "Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 1996."
  2. Seymour, E. and Hewitt, N. M., 1994 Talking about Leaving, Final report to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation on an ethnographic inquiry at seven institutions
  3. Science 255, 1365-1388 (1992) Women in Science, First Annual Survey.
  4. Etzkowitz et al., Science 266, 51-54 (1994). The Paradox of Critical Mass for Women in Science.
  5. Science 271, 1901-1921 (1996) Maintaining Diversity in Science.


Social Activism by Scientists; Sandra Masur

Elected leaders of various scientific organizations and other high-profile scientists are often called upon to testify before congress, serve on national policy panels, and contribute their ideas on an elevated plane. However, many more scientists are contributing to our society on a grass-roots level. This crossover from scientist to citizen is rarely in the spotlight.

A small number of ASCB members responded to a recent questionnaire on social activism [ASCBNewsletter, April, 1997, WICBSection]. Their motivation for putting time and effort into social activism is to utilize their understanding of science to contribute to society. They accomplish this by, for example, educating the public about the environment, encouraging disease prevention, protecting women's rights, and improving our future as scientists.

Each saw their public actions as being related to science. The most direct connection to science is in activities promoting funding for research and science education. Scientists find many ways to contribute to science education: judging science fairs, taking high school students into the lab to do projects, training high school teachers in current methods. The next most cited activities were involvement in outreach programs, lobbying, and public education. Several members have taken leadership positions in citizenship organizations like the League of Women Voters or organizations devoted to funding for elementary and secondary education. A commonly cited subject of concern was civil rights, especially affirmative action and women's rights (including abortion rights), perhaps because the questionnaire was under the WICB auspices.

The respondents all felt that there was an impact of their scientific training on these activities especially in their analytical examination of arguments. The ivory tower is seen as an isolated environment in a rarefied atmosphere. But that same ivory tower has provided the analytical training and the vantage point that many scientists apply to the world outside their academic pursuits.

My own social activism was most intense when my children were young, and I was working part-time as a scientist. In my free time, I worked to better the community in which we lived–a racially and economically integrated community which was in constant danger of being ghettoized. I spoke to the local Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs about maintaining integration. I believe I was effective because of my ability to put together a cogent short talk in which I presented a hypothesis about ways to maintain integration, how we had tested it, and suggestions for further work. I used the same approach to argue that public support of research on toad urinary bladders through the NIH might in the long run help Aunt Molly to survive dialysis for diabetic nephropathy. This is not intuitively obvious, even to a scientist. From that time it has been clear to me that the same energy and clear thinking that we use as scientists may be used to address societal concerns. I hope this article may inspire some of my colleagues to think about what they might do outside their work. Or maybe those trained minds could be applied to important societal issues when they are ready to retire from full-time jobs.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Depts. of Ophthalmology & Cell Biology/Anatomy, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
—WICB Section Editor: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Ph.D.

WICB Career Recognition Awards
REMINDER: August 1 is the deadline for submission of WICB Career Recognition Awards

The Junior Award will be given to a woman who has made significant scientific contributions to cell biology and exhibits the potential for continuing a high level of scientific endeavor while fostering the career development of young scientists. The Junior Award is reserved for a woman in an early state of her independent career (i.e., assistant professor or equivalent).

The Senior Award will be given to a woman or man whose outstanding scientific achievements are coupled with a long-standing record of supporting women in science and mentoring both men and women in scientific careers. The Senior Award is reserved for an established scientist (i.e., full professor or equivalent).

Nominations should include the curriculum vitae of the nominee, a minimum of one letter of recommendation, and relevant information about the nominee’s contributions to the scientific community through mentorship or other activities. Please send nominations to the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814; fax: (301) 530-7139.


Is There Gender Bias in Student Evaluation of Teaching?; Jean Wilson

As it is the end of the school year, many of us at academic institutions are examining student evaluations of our teaching efforts. Aside from the less than useful comments about our hair styles or squeaky shoes, student evaluations can be an important tool for honing our instructional skills. However, student evaluations of teaching also serve another purpose. One of the major criteria for promotion and tenure at academic institutions is the quality of the teaching effort by faculty members, and this assessment is often based on student evaluations of teaching effectiveness. This presents an important question. Does the gender of the faculty member affect the ratings that their students give them? Several studies have examined this issue. It should be noted, however, that the findings may not be applicable to all institutions and disciplines as many of these studies have been performed at undergraduate liberal arts colleges and not all include students and faculty in biological science departments. However, some trends are evident and may need to be considered when teaching evaluations are included in packets for promotion and tenure.

Some studies that have compared the overall ratings of female faculty to male faculty have indicated that there are no statistically significant differences between the ratings based on the gender of the instructor. However, the effects of gender on evaluations are subtle and are evident only in studies that match faculty by rank and teaching discipline, that include the gender of the student evaluator, that consider teaching style, or that evaluate additional variables such as contact with the students. Such studies show that the ratings of some female faculty are affected significantly, and that all female faculty may be affected somewhat.

When the gender of the student evaluator is considered as part of the evaluation process, studies have shown that male professors' ratings are unaffected by a student's gender, but female professors receive lower ratings from male students and higher ratings from female students. That is, male students rate female professors more negatively than female students in the same class. This difference is likely to explain why, on average, there are no significant differences when overall scores are compared directly. However, a female professor in a male-dominated field or with more male students may be at a disadvantage. Since biology is not male-dominated and since there does not seem to be any difference in overall rankings, should cell biologists be concerned about this issue at all?

In fact, the ratings of some female professors are significantly affected by gender bias. These female professors have a teaching style that does not conform to gender stereotypes. Both male and female professors are evaluated similarly as to competence, knowledge, organization, presentation, and enthusiasm. However, female professors must measure up to another standard—they are expected to be personable, approachable, warm, and nurturing. Interestingly, female faculty who do not fit these expectations are rated lower by both female and male students. So, a highly competent female professor who is perceived as cold or abrasive is likely to receive significantly lower ratings.

All female faculty may be affected by the finding that although female faculty in general tend to make themselves more available to students, the students do not perceive that the female faculty are more available. Consequently, a female professor must invest more time in her teaching to be rated as highly as her male colleagues. Of course, this leaves less time available for research, which is the other major criterion for promotion and tenure.

What changes might be made to minimize the effects of gender bias in evaluation of teaching? Rather than relying exclusively upon student evaluations for the purposes of promotion and tenure, perhaps peer review of teaching should be considered. Also, since it has been found that having been taught by a female faculty member reduces student bias, we might expect that stereotypical expectations of female professors will consequently decrease as more women faculty are hired.

-Jean Wilson, WICB Committee, Assistant Professor, Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, University of Arizona

–WICB Section Editor: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Basow, S.A. (1995). Student evaluations of college professors: When gender matters. J. Educational Psychology 87 (4), 656-665.
Basow, S.A., and Silberg, N.T. (1987). Student evaluation of college professors: Are female and male professors rated differently? J. Educational Psychology 79 (3), 308-314.
Bennett, S. (1982). Student perceptions of and expectations for male and female instructors. J. Educational Psychology 74, 170-179.
Fandt, P.M., and G.E. Stevens. (1991). Evaluation bias in the business classroom: Evidence relating to the effects of previous experiences. J. Psychology 125, 469-477.
Martin, E. (1984). Power and authority in the classroom: Sexist stereotypes in teaching evaluations. Signs9, 482-492.
Statham, A., Richardson, L., and Cook, J. (1991). Gender and University Teaching: A Negotiated Difference. SUNY Press.

Members in the News
Alfred Michael, University of Minnesota Regents' Professor and chair of the pediatrics department, has been named dean of the Medical School. Michael’s research is in kidney disease. he has been a member of the ASCB since 1988.

Both male and female professors are evaluated similarly as to competence, knowledge, organization, presentation, and enthusiasm. However, female professors ... are expected to be personable, approachable, warm, and nurturing. Interestingly, female faculty who do not fit these expectations are rated lower by both female and male students.

...although female faculty in general tend to make themselves more available to students, the students do not perceive that the female faculty are more available.

...male professors' ratings are unaffected by a student's gender, but female professors receive lower ratings from male students and higher ratings from female students.

WICB Committee Introduces New Committee Members
Each new member was asked to provide a brief statement about her scientific interests and her agenda as a member of the WICB Committee:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Assistant Professor of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University Hazleton Campus, Commonwealth College. Scientific interests: "I currently study the effects of beta-2 specific agonists on the growth, development, and regeneration of avian skeletal muscle." WICB agenda: "I am interested in increasing the representation and retention of girls and young women in science, especially with respect to rural and first generation college populations. I also want to represent the interests of scientists employed in smaller teaching colleges who may feel alienated from research and their colleagues in the Society.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Associate Professor of Biology, Oberlin College. Scientific interests: "Peri-implantation development in mammals, embryo-maternal interactions, cell lineage analysis of mammalian embryos." WICB agenda: "To provide information useful to persons seeking careers in cell biology.

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Associate Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology and of Ophthalmology, The George Washington University Medical Center, Curriculum Coordinator for the GW Institute for Biomedical Sciences. Scientific interests: "My lab studies the role of proteins which mediate cell adhesion in the migration of epithelial tissues in development and in response to injury."

WICB agenda: "I see that the majority of graduate students entering our Ph.D. programs here at GW and across the nation are women. The impact that this gender shift will have in the culture of biomedical science in the next couple of decades is an issue worth investing some time thinking about, as a scientist and as a mother of daughters. I would like to be able to contribute to helping ease us all into this new era and believe that working with the WICB Committee might help me do this.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Program for Genomics, Ethics, and Society, Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics. Scientific interests: "My current project involves production of multimedia CD-ROM courseware for the continuing education of physicians and other health professionals in the techniques, applications, and implications of molecular genetic diagnosis for patients and their families. "WICB agenda: "I have two major agenda items: the enhancement of public appreciation of science in general and as an exciting career choice for women, and fostering the ability of women to achieve their career goals as scientists."

Feedback On Future Directions Form The Women In Cell Biology Committee
The WICB Committee will be meeting in July to consider future activities. Please share your ideas regarding projects you believe we should consider, potential programs at the annual WICB meeting, and any other feedback regarding WICB activities.Please complete the form below and return it by mail or by fax to the ASCB National Office, 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814; Fax (301) 530-7139; or send an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



The Association for Women in Science; Laura Williams

Cell biologists may be aware of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) and may even be members, but may not know of its history of accomplishments and programs for women scientists. AWIS is a national organization "dedicated to achieving equity and full participation of women in all fields of science and technology."

Soon after its establishment in 1971, AWIS brought and eventually won a lawsuit against the Secretary of the (then) Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Director of NIH which demanded a remedy for the limited representation of women on NIH study sections and advisory committees. Then, in 1975, AWIS and the NAACP won a lawsuit against the Office of Civil Rights for discrimination in higher education. AWIS continues to promote the advancement of women in science by providing names of qualified women to those responsible for organizing scientific meetings, review panels, and search committees. Also, as a member of the Coalition for Women's Appointments, AWIS promotes the appointment of women to federal positions. And finally, to enhance the visibility of outstanding women scientists, AWIS nominates women for research prizes and awards such as the National Medal of Science and Presidential Mentoring Awards.

The following are some of the many AWIS programs and projects:

  • Legislation. AWIS monitors legislation and has supported bills that improve the status of women such as the Equal Rights Amendment and the Women in Science and Technology Equal Opportunity Act.
  • Mentoring. AWIS has received grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and NSF to develop mentoring programs. One result of these programs is the publication A Hand Up: Women Mentoring Women in Science.
  • Education. The AWIS Educational Foundation has since 1975 distributed over $100,000 to more than 120 predoctoral women. AWIS is a member of the National Coalition for Women and Girls, a group of non-governmental organizations that works on educational issues affecting women and girls.
  • Affirmative Action. The Affirmative Action Committee has over the years supported court actions and offered advice and support to women.
  • Symposia. In recent years, AWIS has held symposia on the status of women in science, the history of women in science, and women Nobelists. In 1994, AWIS, NASA, and the Department of Energy sponsored "Taking the Initiative!" which was the first national conference on leadership for women scientists. In 1995, AWIS co-sponsored the first science and technology caucus for a United Nations Women's Conference.

AWIS was estabished by about 35 women in 1971 and now has over 5000 members. In 1976, AWIS became an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and AWIS has held an annual meeting in conjunction with the AAAS meeting since 1981.

Currently, there are 74 local AWIS chapters in 38 states and Washington, DC. Local chapters offer opportunities for professional and personal development, community outreach, networking, mentoring and being mentored. Those without a local chapter nearby can utilize the AWIS homepage.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

Note: The information in this article was gathered from the AWIS membership brochure, from articles by Lynne Friedmann and Erin Stephens in AWIS Magazine (May/June 1996, Vol. 25, No. 3), and from an interview with AWIS and ASCB member Dorothy Skinner.


Research and Teaching at a Liberal Arts College; Yolanda P. Cruz

There are alternative paths to an intellectually satisfying career in cell biology, other than the traditional route of research and teaching at a large university. One alternative is an academic position at a liberal arts college. Faculty positions at liberal arts colleges attract numerous, well-qualified candidates from no less than the best graduate schools in the country. Traditionally considered mostly "teaching" places, these small schools are loci of good, publishable research in nearly every area of biology. Not every area of biology is represented at any one school, and not all schools are research intensive, but the opportunities are there. But what are the realities of pursuing a career in biomedical research and teaching in a small institution? How does it compare to the traditional university-based career?

About the Students
Many liberal arts colleges have rigorous admission requirements and tend to attract academically well-trained and highly motivated undergraduates. For a profile of students in liberal arts colleges, one simply has to examine the annual rankings of academic institutions by such publications as US News and World Report.

A large number of today’s PhDs and MDs hold undergraduate degrees from liberal arts colleges. Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster, PA) issued a report in 1992 summarizing for the years 1920-1990 which liberal arts colleges contributed to this effort.

The Teaching Load
The teaching load is heavy not in numbers of courses taught, but in numbers of hours spent teaching laboratory sections and individually training research students. Many liberal arts colleges offer science courses in small-class settings with considerable emphasis on hands-on learning and laboratory experience. The professor who does the lecturing in a science course also does the laboratory teaching for the same course. Rarely are there lab instructors, teaching assistants, graders, or preparers to do much of the auxiliary work that goes into teaching a science course with lab. There is, in addition, considerable out-of-classroom contact in the form of study sessions or one-on-one meetings with students requiring assistance with class work. The student-teacher interaction thus becomes more like that between apprentice and mentor.

Research projects need careful planning as the bulk of the work needs to be arranged to accommodate large blocks of classroom time. Summer months and between-term breaks should be viewed as premium research seasons. Sabbaticals and various research leaves can be used to forge new collaborations or update technical expertise. Major grants at research-intensive universities or research hospitals typically have provisos for accommodating scientists from non-research-intensive institutions as on-site trainees or consultants.

The research projects to be undertaken at a small liberal arts college will not necessarily be whatever the "rage" is, as it is difficult to compete with large, fully-staffed, and substantially funded labs elsewhere. Any project that represents good science, the "rage" or not, is worth pursuing.

There will be little opportunity for collaboration with local colleagues; science faculty at liberal arts colleges tend to be small in number so rarely do specialties overlap. Collaboration may need to be established with colleagues elsewhere. It follows that the only viable projects are those which are amenable to fragmentation in both time and space or to collaborative effort.

There are limited support staff, technical assistants, and infrastructure at small, non-research-intensive institutions, but these difficulties are not insurmountable. Interested students, especially those in their sophomore or junior years, can provide (with some training) technical help in the lab. Locally available resources (professional photography studio, dry-ice wholesaler, hospital-supply vendors) are not difficult to locate. Nearby universities and hospitals may be contacted for use of major equipment (electron microscopes, X-ray machines, laser equipment, etc.). Limited animal facilities, greenhouse space, walk-in growth chambers, and similar amenities are usually available, although typically modest in scale.

In recognition of the importance of the undergraduate research experience, both the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation give out awards specifically intended for the research training of undergraduate science students: Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA grants) and Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI grants), respectively. These federal agencies also have other programs that are not limited to faculty members at large, research-intensive universities. For instance, there are programs to assist young investigators (FIRST awards from NIH), international exchange programs (Fogarty from NIH, and similar opportunities from NSF), NIH-funded grants for women scientists whose careers have been interrupted, and "starter" grants from NSF to provide seed money to assist in starting a research program.

Many private organizations and foundations fund student-faculty research projects by way of institutional or individual grants. To name a few, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Mellon Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Dana Foundation, and British Petroleum (America) Corporation have funded institutional grants to improve the research training of undergraduate science students. National organizations such as the American Cancer Society, Sigma Xi, and professional societies (including the ASCB) encourage student research by funding small projects or encouraging student attendance at annual meetings.

Many liberal arts colleges offer start-up funds for setting up a modest laboratory. In addition, many of these schools encourage faculty attendance at professional meetings by offering some subsidy for travel or special funds for publication expenses. A few schools have officers charged with assisting faculty and staff navigate the tribulations of grant writing, grant submission, and grant management. These benefits vary from institution to institution and, indeed, from position to position within one institution. One need only inquire from the chairman of the search committee for a given tenure-track faculty position to discover what amenities are available at a particular institution.

The major difference between a career at a liberal arts college and a career at a research-intensive university is that different emphases are placed on similar activities. The heavy teaching demand is suited to a person with a genuine passion for and enjoyment of teaching. The choice of research thrust requires greater care because of the necessarily modest (but not inferior) scale at which research effort will be undertaken. Work with students tends to be heavy on the one-on-one level, and external collaboration is almost always a necessity. It is not an altogether different enterprise from a university-based academic career. It is just as competitive and demanding, but in different ways. It certainly can be just as rewarding.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.*, Associate Professor of Biology, Oberlin College

nterview with the Author* about her Career at Oberlin College
Q: What courses do you teach in an average year?

A: 1) Introductory Biology to 200 freshmen and sophomores. I split responsibilities with a colleague; each of us present 17 or 18 lectures per semester. I teach two laboratory sections per week, 24 people per lab. I conduct 10 one-hour evening study sessions for interested students. I do little prep work for the lab, but grade all my exams.

2) Advanced Biology (Developmental Biology) to 20 students; 25 lectures per semester, 12 study sessions, six hours of lab per week. I am chief cook and bottle washer here. I do most of the difficult lab preparation (i.e. not ordinary reagents) and prep all the animals (frogs, sea urchins, flies, mice, chicks).

3) Private Reading to 1 to 3 students. Two hours per week per student of one-on-one discussion and readings on topics of relevance to my fields of expertise (developmental biology, cell biology, entomology, parasitology, evolution, physiology, embryology).

Q: Tell us a little about your research: what is your area of research? How much have you accomplished at Oberlin and how much elsewhere? How much are undergraduates involved in your research?

A: I work in cell lineage analysis in mammalian embryos and feto-maternal interactions. About 80% or better of my work is done in my own lab at Oberlin. I have and have had collaborative projects in various places. I supervise 1 to 3 students per year in my lab. Each student requires 5 to 10 hours of supervision and training per week. I hire research assistants and carve out honors and small research projects for students from my bigger project. My NIH grants have been AREA grants. I have had 30 or so small intramural research grants at Oberlin. I have cobbled together many small projects of mutual interest and relevance to many research students. These proposals are competitive and provide supplies and sometimes stipends for students. I have also sponsored Sigma Xi grants.

Q: How many of your students have gone on to advanced degrees?

A: All seven of my honors students have graduate or medical degrees or are pursuing them. My current honors student will be going to graduate school. About 75% of my other research students (35 of them in the past ten years) have gone on to MDs, PhDs, or MSs. In the department, about 50% of our graduates per year (50–55 students) go on to graduate, medical, or some professional school within a year of graduation. Of the remainder, half go within the next three years of graduation.

Q: What is, in your opinion, the best thing about being a professor at Oberlin?

A: The same thing as being a professor elsewhere: the satisfaction of watching knowledge transform minds.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge during your career at Oberlin?

A: Inventing a research career despite the problems of acquiring funding and getting recognition of the difficulty of a one-man show at a small liberal arts college.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., WICB Section Editor

Request for Members Information-Social Activism
As background for an upcoming WICB article on scientists and social activism, WICB Committee member Sandra Masur seeks thr following information from the ASCB membership.

  1. Have you been active publicly on political or social issues?
    • Were these issues directly related to your scientific interests?
    • Were they related to science in general?
  2. What were the issues?
    • Science education?
    • Funding for research?
    • At the interface of politics and science, e.g., abortion, cloning, or evolution vs. creationism?
  3. Have you been active in issues not directly related to science?
    • Civil rights?
    • Affirmative Action?
    • Immigration?
    • Other?
  4. Was your political activity at university, local, state or federal level?
  5. Do you feel there was an impact of your scientific training or reputation on these activities?
  6. What are the motivating factors for your involvement?
  7. Are you willing to be interviewed by a member of ASCB about these activities?

If so, please provide the following:





Please send your reply and comments or suggestions by May 16 to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Box 1183, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York NY 10029-6574. Responses may be facilitated by using question numbers only.


Letter Protesting the cigarette advertisements appearing in Working Woman magazine; Sally A. Amero

The objective of the Women in Cell Biology Committee is to provide opportunities and information useful to women in cell biology. However, on occasion WICB Committee members tackle other sensitive issues of more general interest. At the December meeting in San Francisco, WICB Committee members voted to protest the cigarette advertisements appearing in Working Woman magazine. The attached file was sent to the magazine on December 18. At press time, no response had been received.

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Coffee Break Forum Varied and Enlightening; Mary Lee S. Ledbetter and Christopher Watters

For the sixth consecutive year, the Educational Coffee Break Forum was sponsored by the ASCB Education Committee during the morning coffee hour each day of the Congress & Meeting in San Francisco. As always, engaging scientists in science education was a primary goal.

On one day, those in attendance found the room sprinkled with random toys on the chairs. They were asked to assemble in groups around one or another of the toys and to discuss among themselves how the toy was like a cell and how it was not. The "model cells" ranged from a plastic bag containing a clear liquid with small bits of plastic of assorted buoyancy, shape, and color, to a wind-up mouse whose tail wagged, to a traditional teaching model of a mitotic cell, vintage ca. 1955. After several minutes of conversation, each group reported the results of its discussion. Thus did Helen Doyle, Coordinator of Core Programs of the Science and Health Education Partnerships at the University of California, San Fran cisco, introduce her presentation on the outreach activities that the Partnerships coordinate between UCSF and the San Francisco public schools. The message: people learn when they are engaged, and they become engaged by doing.

The series opened with Nancy Lane of Cambridge University (England) describing British efforts to encourage increased science literacy, not only in the school-age population but in the general public, through such events as an annual week devoted to Public Awareness of Science, sponsored by a group of organizations including the Royal Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Jeffrey Mayne of Birmingham-Southern College described his experience job-sharing. He pointed out that although both the institution and the individuals involved must discuss possible difficulties thoroughly in advance, all possibilities are impossible to anticipate and all parties must remain flexible. Nevertheless, the advantages of a shared position can be ideal for some people or at some points in one's life. He has developed a list of institutions where he knows that shared positions have been arranged.

Malcolm Campbell of Davidson College suggested engaging undergraduate biology students by arranging classes around discussions of a few problems whose solutions must be developed by learning the appropriate aspects of the curriculum, which Campbell describes as "learning on a need-to-know basis." The study guide he developed to facilitate this innovative teaching style in multiple small-enrollment sections of large introductory classes is available on the Internet.

Throughout the week the forum attendees found themselves drawn into wide-ranging discussions about a diverse range of educational topics. The ASCB Education Committee hopes to continue the successful series this year in Washington, D.C. ASCB members are excouraged to provide suggestions for topics or ideas on interesting initiatives in education.

- This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for the ASCB Education Committee.


Highlights of WICB Activities at the Annual Meeting; Laura Williams

The Women in Cell Biology Committee held their Business Meeting and Program and also co-sponsored a career luncheon with the Education Committee. The luncheon, entitled "What to Do with Your Graduate Degree," was organized by Caroline Kane of the WICB Committee and Roger Sloboda of the Education Committee. Nearly 500 people participated in roundtable discussions about various career issues. The discussion at each table focused on one topic which was chosen by the registrants in advance. The topics were academic, industry, and nonresearch positions, scientific publishing, job application strategies, obtaining a good postdoc, preparing for tenure, developing collaborations, marketing yourself in a global economy, and dual career families. At each table there were eight people including a table leader with experience and knowledge in the chosen topic. The table leaders who generously volunteered their time were from various universities, companies, and organizations from all over the country. About a third of the table leaders were men, although only a small percentage of the registrants were men. We encourage all who are interested to attend next year when the WICB and Education Committees will again co-sponsor a career luncheon. Suggestions for additional topics are welcome.

At the WICB Business Meeting held Monday evening, the WICB Career Recognition Awards were presented. Each year WICB accepts nominations from the ASCB membership for both a Junior and Senior Award. From these nominations, WICB selects two outstanding cell biologists at different career stages whose scientific achievements, mentoring activities, and support for women in science are deserving of peer recognition by all members of the Society. This year WICB Chair Sue Shafer presented the Junior Award to Susan Forsburg of the Salk Institute and the Senior Award to Sarah Elgin of Washington University. Each recipient spoke for a few minutes after accepting her award. Susan Forsburg spoke about the importance of mentoring:

We labor under the myth of merit, which is to say, that the highest quality of science and scientist will always be recognized. This is a worthy ideal, but one we must admit that human nature works against. For it isn't simply the quality of work, but also the quality of support that matters. I have seen responsible advisors whose interest extends beyond the tenure of the student in their lab, to support the postdoc or the young faculty member for grants, awards, honors. I have also seen capable students who must fend for themselves, accruing an unfair disadvantage in the inevitable comparisons. Let us remember our responsibility to the men and women who work for us, and that our responsibility to our junior colleagues does not expire upon the granting of a degree or the conclusion of a fellowship.

Sarah Elgin credited her mentors, James Bonner and Leroy Hood, with teaching her that all members of a research group make important contributions, both at the bench and in discussion and analysis. The junior members have much to contribute, or, as Elgin said, "Ten brains are always better than one."

On the topic of presenting and publishing research results, Sarah Elgin pointed out that many women need encouragement to be more forceful and persistent. It is important that other scientists, one's university, and the public know about the excellent science being accomplished. However, Elgin also advised us to be "aware of research done by quieter people." Susan Forsburg conveyed a similar message in saying, "By our actions, we need to ensure that people who do science differently-perhaps those who do it quietly-are recognized for the quality of their work."

The award presentation was followed by a discussion entitled "Are There Really Any Obstacles Left for Women in Science?". The discussion was led by Virginia Walbot of Stanford University and Virginia Zakian of Princeton University and was moderated by Joe Gall of the Carnegie Institution.

Walbot presented her view of what it was like "then" compared to "now" for women in science in terms of fellowships, rank, salary, awards. While the situa-tion has improved generally, it is curiously uneven across departments and insti-tutions. For example, some departments have many women faculty, but others have no or few women. It was suggested that dissatisfied graduate students and postdocs in such departments could be agents for change if they would refuse to help recruit others to their departments until the environment for women is improved.

Zakian showed advertisements for various scientific meetings held in the 1990's. They varied from those with few or no women speakers to those where women were well represented. In many cases, women organizers or chairs seem to have made the difference. Zakian praised the NSF for its policy of requiring women speakers at meetings it funds. She believes it is important to be heard at meetings, maybe more important then being published, especially for attracting postdocs to one's lab.

The audience contributed comments and suggestions. Some women ex-pressed vigorous discontent at their situations, and they were given advice on how to improve them. WICB expects to continue to feature a presentation with opportunities for audience interaction during its annual meeting. Your suggestions for topics or speakers are welcome.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for the Women in Cell Biology Committee.

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