June Meeting Minutes
June 15 2017 WISeR Board Meeting Minutes
Location: CRC 402
Minutes Compiled by: Sarah Stern
Minutes edited by: Kate Bredbenner
12:05: BBQ Discussion
Tri-I is covering what we need to be covered for the BBQ.
We need a flyer made, will email flyer to all Women in Science Tri-I Members.
All set for ordering food from FreshDirect for the Day before.
Alcohol set up from Faculty Club.
Cornell is bringing soft drinks.
Volunteers: there are some volunteers already. Yay! Second call next week as per Leonora
Advertisement: BBQ is June 27th
WISeR T-shirts: Margo will Order. Doing gray because they are less see-through. Will let Tri-I know that we’re going to wear shirts.
Grilling: grillware? 4th floor kitchen. Maybe in the box from Emily? Maybe Tim can still do it? Start the fire early.
ADD LEONORA TO THE GOOGLE GROUP
Google Drive: we should at the next meeting, organize it. Go over how BBQ went etc.
12:33: Concerns from members
Leonora — someone approached her asking if we have funds to help people publish. Should we separate some money out to do it on a regular basis?
That doesn’t seem like a good idea.
Maybe we can compile a list of resources to apply for funding for these diff things.
Maybe she can go to Women & Science, which is run through the development office. It would be good anyway to open up communication w/ them for collaboration
Maybe ask Jill Benz?
Need to moderate the comments on the website. Who checks RUMail?
Contact someone to shut down the Rockefeller affiliated website.
Comments: figure out if all of them need approval? Or just potential spam comments?
We should ask if Rockefeller can have a list of student groups somewhere. Then people will know that WISeR exists and we’ll have a link to our website. We should have that conversation w/ the Dean’s Office.
We should make sure they’re signing students up for the listserv.
WISeR at the orientation? Why didn’t that happen? We should make that happen as well …
We can discuss this at the July meeting …
Coordinating with PRISM → we should coordinate w/ them in July to figure out how we want to handle the breakfasts.
Facebook Banners for the Resistance
“Nevertheless, she persisted.”
On Tuesday on the Senate floor, Senator Elizabeth Warren tried to read a letter from Coretta Scott King in which she opposed now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s 1986 federal nomination. The Republican senators voted to formally silence her, saying: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
It’s been so encouraging and uplifting to see so many people use this as a rallying cry to continue to fight for their rights and the rights of those around them, to lift each other up, and to figure out new ways to work together to build a better future in our communities. Inspired by this, we made a set of #Resistance Facebook covers to help break up our Facebook feeds with some positivity and reminders that our struggles are part of a long history of people who constantly push the boundaries in the present so we can all have a better future.
We’ve made these Facebook covers all available for free to download here (just right-click and select “Save Image”) and on our WISeR Facebook page.
Science Stands in Solidarity at the Women’s March
The Women’s March turned out an estimated 2.5 million around the world. Many of the marchers were scientists standing for human rights and reason.
On January 21st, the Women’s March became the largest inaugural protest in history. 673 marches around the world brought together over 2.5 million women and allies in solidarity. The mission of the nonviolent movement was simple:
We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.
Nothing felt sacred during this last election cycle. A respect for science was no exception. Facts and evidence fell under attack — from the stubborn denial of anthropogenic climate change to the questioning of vaccination safety. Moreover, xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and misogyny became a part of mainstream political discourse, providing a public platform for hate and fear. And so scientists — often averse to political action — turned out to add their voices to celebrate the diversity that breeds creativity and demand respect for the scientific practice.
The March partnered with a number of science, health, and tech-focused organizations including: the National Resource Defense Council, Girls Who Code, Doctors for America, and Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network. Here, I wanted to share my favorite photos from the Women’s March with you all.
A gaggle of scientists from our very own Science and Education Policy Association (SEPA) at the Tri-I
From the 500 Women Scientists Tucson contingent.
Dr. Mandë Holford on Science Diplomacy, International Collaboration, and Venomous Snails
Kicking off the New Year is Dr. Mandë Holford, January’s Woman of the Month. A Rockefeller alumna, Mandë is a Professor in Chemistry at Hunter College, with a scientific appointment at the American Museum of Natural History. I met Mandë through the Science Diplomacy course she co-facilitates with Jesse Ausubel and Rod Nichols at Rockefeller. The course — which starts in February — was a real eye opener for me, broadening my view of what a scientist can do with her training. But more eye opening was Mandë herself.
I believe the most effective style of mentorship is creating opportunities. So when I think about how I want to mentor, I think of how Mandë has mentored me. Every time I spot her at a meeting or talk, she’ll introduce me to the movers and shakers of the science outreach and policy world. She has helped me build a professional network and given me the confidence to believe that I deserve to be moving and shaking with the best.
It’s been my great pleasure to get to know her over the last year — including learning fun facts like how she used to sky dive for “fun.” I’m thrilled to share her insights on the role of mentorship, the importance of science diplomacy and collaboration, and the power of venomous snails.
What first brought you to science and how did that bring you to Rockefeller?
Mentoring. I wouldn’t be a scientist or a RU alum without the mentoring of my undergrad college chemistry Professor, Dr. Larry Johnson. Working in his physical chemistry lab as an undergrad changed my worldview. I fell in love with science. It was so fantastical, working with YAG lasers, making liquid nitrogen ice cream, growing glowing purple bacteria cultures. Who could resist!
When it came time to graduate, he asked me what I wanted to do next. I had no idea. He recommended I try grad school and suggested Rockefeller. As a New Yorker I applied to grad schools outside of New York City; Rockefeller was the only New York school I applied to. I wanted to escape the concrete jungle for actual grass and greener pastures, but Dr. J and the Rockefeller recruitment weekend showed me I could have green pastures on the Upper East Side.
Dr. Johnson came to my RU PhD thesis defense. He’s proof in the pudding for what a great mentor could do.
Very briefly, what does your lab study?
My lab looks for new ways to manipulate cell signaling using peptides found in the venom of marine snails. Specifically, we’re doing drug discovery and development as it pertains to pain and cancer using a very unusual source. Similar to snakes, predatory sea snails, such as cone snails, terebrids and turrids, use venom to subdue their prey. The snail venom is fast acting, specific, and very potent — all the ingredients you need to make a successful drug. Our work is very interdisciplinary, combing evolutionary biology, peptide chemistry, bioinformatics, and nanotechnology. Grad students can be scuba diving in Papua New Guinea one week then characterizing the effects of novel peptides in tumor cell models the next.
Like bench to bedside, we go from Mollusks to Medicine.
You took some time away from research after graduate school to pursue science diplomacy. What brought you to that decision and what have you taken from that experience back to the (metaphorical) bench?
A Ph.D. is powerful and it can take you many places. After getting my Ph.D. from Rockefeller I did a few things to explore how I could contribute my newfound knowledge. Science was always going to be a mainstay of my career. The question was, would I apply my expertise through research as a scientist, or outreach as a science educator working at a museum, or in as a policymaker directing/advising how science happens on a national or international scale?
I was awarded a AAAS Science & Technology Fellowship soon after graduating RU and went to Washington, D.C. to work in the Office of International Science and Engineering as a “science diplomat.” In that year, I traveled to 7 different countries to set up collaborations and projects for American and foreign scientists. I learned how science is conducted outside the U.S. and established early partnerships with collaborators I still work with today.
My AAAS Fellowship literally firmed the idea of science as a global endeavor and how important it is to think broadly about the impacts of the work you’re doing. My lab has several very close collaborators in Paris, Italy, Russia, and Germany. I think it’s important for early career scientist to grasp the power and potential of conducting science on a global scale. That was my major back-to-the-bench experience.
Have your training experiences as a woman of color in science impacted or influenced the way you now lead your lab, if at all?
I know for several people, being from an underrepresented group (whether ethnicity or gender) has been problematic as they pursued their scientific career. This hasn’t been the case with me.
I recognize there is a substantial gap in the number of women and people of color in science, and I think there isn’t a clear answer or solution for how we improve those numbers. In my group, I try to do what my parents taught me: work hard and play hard to achieve your vision of success. I think that’s gender-neutral training. But as always the details are what need to be explored when we try to level the playing field.
As my career develops, I’m becoming more aware of the need to try to help where I can. Could be my career or my recently becoming a mother. You see things a bit differently when someone is that dependent on you.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t be afraid to fail. And don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. We’re all ignorant at some point. The really smart people know that and try to become less ignorant about things we want to be good at.
And now I’ll plug the Science Diplomacy seminar coming up. What are you most excited for in the series and why should Rockefeller students and post docs take the class?
Cool! This year we’re trying a new experiment, focusing on one specific Science Diplomacy theme to thread the six seminars and guest lectures together. The theme this year is migration of people, ideas, and technology.
When we think about the migration of ideas, Science Diplomacy can dictate how we address issues as wide ranging as the weaponization of genetic editing (CRISPR technology), security of cyber spaces, and equitable diffusion of personalized medicine. In 2016 we’ve seen a massive refugee migration from Syria, and the tensions it’s caused in Europe particularly. We’ve also had to deal with the Zika virus and its spread in North, South, and Latin Americas. And we’ve had the normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba. How can science deal with these threats/opportunities and what policy initiatives are being proposed?
This year, with our guest lectures we go from Russia versus U.S. nuclear buildup (William Perry) to human and animal migration in Cuba — complete with a recent tour of the Cuba! Exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (Ana Luz Porzecanksi) — to science at the poles (Melody Brown Burkins) to people and peace (Torsten Wiesel and Asi Burak). It’ll be a great course and will share some of the thrill I experienced while a AAAS Fellow in D.C. learning how science operates on a global scale.
Photo courtesy of Denis Finn at the American Museum of Natural History
Interested in interviewing an outstanding woman who is currently at or an alumna of Rockefeller? We’re currently accepting your nominations at wiser(at)rockefeller.edu or mzaringhal(at)rockefeller.edu.
To be a feminist ally, get comfortable with making mistakes. They’re inevitable.
Striving to be an ally has meant that I’ve had to get comfortable with being wrong. A lot. But that’s no excuse to stop trying. The key is to listen and learn from those inevitable mistakes.
Who considers himself a feminist ally, has two thumbs, and occasionally screws up royally? This guy. I’ve said the wrong things, taken the wrong actions, and hurt people I care about. Sometimes, I’ve had people correct me on the spot. On other occasions, I’ve understood the implications and extent of my error in a world-crashing moment a few days later.
The most uncomfortable part of being a white heterosexual male ally is recognizing the inevitability of making mistakes. Lots of them. These mistakes stem from not realizing the gravity of my actions. I am a product of society, supported and guided by the very norms that breed bias and inequality. Old habits die hard. So, even with the best intentions, I am always coming up against a steep learning curve. It is an uphill battle, and not in a ‘the valiant hero fights the enemy hoards to save the kingdom’ kind of way (PS: women don’t need men to save them anyway). It is more akin to a ‘mercenary sits on a hill, meditates and undergoes deep personal introspection’ kind of process.
Now, let me use concrete examples and avoid the nebulous platitudes that fail to hit home.
A few years back a friend, let’s call her Rosalind, told me how mad she was at having to correct someone else, let’s call him James, for referring to a group of women as ‘females.’ Pausing to think it over, I started to defend James, pointing out that indeed ‘females’ was technically correct. Rosalind patted my back and calmly pointed out that the phrasing is demeaning. Recognizing I was missing something, I let the topic slide to give myself a chance to think it over. Several days later, I realized I had never heard of a single man or group of men referred to as males. Reduction to sex alone is a not-so-subtle way to indicate their character and personality are negligible when considering their social value. It took an awkward conversation and someone speaking up to correct me — the way she’d time and again corrected others — to realize this.
Our mistakes can be as much about inaction as action. One of my weakest points in being an ally is failing to speak up when a colleague or friend makes a sexist comment. Discomforted by the notion of confrontation, I stay quiet while others throw gendered insults such as ‘don’t be such a girl,’ or ‘grow a pair’ (the relative sensitivity of our suspended gonads makes for some significant irony). One approach I’ve been working on is to state an opposing perspective (‘girls are actually really tough’) or frame my response in the form of a question (‘why should that matter?’). Again, a work in progress, but one in which I understand my silence is part of the problem.
These mistakes and failures of character don’t stop me from trying to be an ally. Making mistakes is inevitable, and being an ally means practicing something our society doesn’t really encourage: acknowledging and apologizing for one’s error, and trying to work on it. Men are taught to take action, never look back, and never be wrong. Admitting to a misstep is tantamount to weakness. I stand up, dust myself off and continue learning.
There is no card, trophy, or parade for being a feminist ally. Nor should there be. There are so many ways to trip and fall, that it seems overwhelming. But this discomfort is incomparable to the relative impact of our actions (or inactions) on women — and minorities. Learning to listen, engage, speak up, and admit error in tough conversations is essential. Suppressing the gut response of becoming defensive helps a lot.
So, my advice to aspiring allies? Embrace when you are wrong. I guarantee you will learn something from it.
Learning from 2016, to make 2017 WISeR’s best year yet
Many of us are relieved that 2016 has finally come to a close, but even with its struggles, 2016 was a great year for WISeR and Rockefeller.
In this new year, I want to thank you all for your investment into this group and participation in our activities. I’m excited to share with you both some highlights from 2016, as well as our plans for this new year (and how you can get more involved). We had a huge jump in volunteers and feedback from our members in 2016, and I’m looking forward to have even more folks come together in 2017 to make Rockefeller a better place for women and minorities.
WISeR ended 2015 with a survey of campus and started 2016 evaluating the survey results and sharing them with committees and campus leaders. We are happy to see at least two of the suggestions we made were already in the works or have emerged:
As we post this, construction has started on the faculty club bathrooms, which have long been bemoaned by women on campus. The men’s bathroom (3 urinals, 3 stalls) and women’s bathroom (1 stall) are being merged to create a spacious, modern, gender neutral bathroom with 8 fully private stalls.
We have also already seen the benefits of a serious investment in revamping the open search for junior faculty. Rockefeller recruited several great new faculty members, including two women and our first black faculty member, Dr. Erich Jarvis! We look forward to the other amazing talent we continue to recruit with this increased attention to and appreciation of diversity and inclusion. We will continue to push to make sure the tenure process to is or will be similarly evaluated for bias and improved.
These victories would not be possible without feedback from you, members, and we’ve enjoyed hearing from you as we’ve continued our yearly traditions, like our breakfast series (which we now share with PRISM), our annual end-of-year BBQ, and our members meetings. We’ve also launched several new programs and events, which you can learn more about by reading and clicking the links below:
New Programs in 2016
Elections. We had our first elections and elected a fantastic board to lead and administrate this great group this year. We hope this increases transparency and opportunities to get involved.
Woman of the month. We launched a blog series highlighting amazing alumnae from Rockefeller. So far, we’ve met with Monica Mugnier who just started her lab at Johns Hopkins, and Jeanne Garbarino, head of Outreach. (If you have an alumna you’d love to meet and write about, let us know. We’ll help you get in touch, pay for your coffee/lunch, and help you write about the experience!)
Tri-I Women in Science Mixer. We had our first Tri-I Women in Science Mixer, where we brought together all of the women’s groups and met, talked about science, and shared some of thoughts and experiences. We definitely plan to do this again next year!
Faculty Search Bootcamp. Along with the PDA and Andrea Morris, we helped start the now annual faculty search bootcamp which prepares a small group of currently-applying postdocs to face the academic job market through a few intensive days covering everything from cover letters to chalk talks and negotiating start ups.
Improv(e) Your Science. Dr. Aniek Ivens, a postdoc in the Kronauer lab, has been leading improv workshops to help scientists improve their presentation skills in a fun and accessible way. We’ve held a few of these workshops, and Aniek plans to hold a few more in the new year (as well as a level 2 workshop!).
Anti-Harassment Workshops. WISeR hired Dr. Sherry Martz to come talk about how individual women can learn to spot, stop, and prevent certain forms of harassment, and also techniques to safely remove yourself from some difficult situations.
Feminist Book Club. I am most proud of our new Feminist Book Club, which meets ~monthly to discuss feminist readings. The goal of this group is not only to get people together and talk about feminism, but also to increase the awareness of feminist thought and topics at Rockefeller and hopefully impact the discourse at our events and around campus. Also, it’s just great to have an excuse to read fantastic work! You can join in the next meeting by reading Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and joining the group on January 23, 8pm in the Faculty Club.
Things to Look Forward to in 2017
Survey. We will again survey the campus specifically about issues relevant to women and gender minorities on campus as well as issues that particularly affect women and gender minorities. To do this, we need to know what is important to our community, what levels of support already exist on campus, and where we can better educate people about our community’s needs.
Letters of Recommendation. We are working on a blog post to raise awareness about how letters of recommendation are often biased, and how our faculty can make sure our female trainees are getting the same leg up that our male trainees have from the ever-coveted recommendation letters from faculty.
Campus Lecture Series. Many of our members have noticed that not all campus seminars are created equal. We’ll be launching an awareness and improvement campaign directed at making our campus lecture series more diverse.
Outreach: Lab Out Loud. We’re partnering up with one of Rockefeller’s greatest assets, RockEdu, to co-host Lab Out Loud on February 28th. We’ll be looking for members to share their stories of failure as an important aspect of science that isn’t often highlighted for young folks interested in our career paths. We’ll also get to meet and talk to each other and high schoolers about what it’s like to be a scientist.
Wikipedia edit-a-thon. Wikipedia entries for female scientists are few and far between, and usually have very little information compared to their male peers. We’re aiming to change that by editing existing entries and adding new ones under the guidance of certified Wikipedians with fellow women in science from around the city.
And more… We’re always open to new ideas, and have some flexibility in our budget to make new things happen. Some of these new ideas include:
Leaning into academia bootcamp
We’ve also had a lot of folks talk to us about anxiety around policies to come under the new Presidential administration that target women, minorities, and immigrant communities. WISeR is addressing these concerns in a few ways:
Sharing your concerns anonymously. We will communicate your concerns to the Rockefeller administration and will pressure them to provide resources and a statement of how we will protect the amazing community we have on campus as many are concerned about their lives, bodies, and their immigration status. The more stories we have, the more powerful our case, so please share your story here.
Providing (low energy barrier) places for action. We will provide a few political action events, as well as places to use our skills and knowledge to improve the lives of women in science. Outreach like our Lab Out Loud event on February 28th provides opportunities to meet with and talk to students, and our Wikipedia edit-a-thon address problems in science that we can actively impact immediately.
Providing a place for positive change. WISeR can’t change the outcome of the election, but we can make our labs safer and better places, we can improve the lives of women at Rockefeller, and we can work toward a more equal scientific enterprise. We can also make sure your voices are heard through our blog, and build a community focused on helping each other and lifting each other up. Every bit matters, and we will provide as many places for you to improve the world we live in as we can.
What can you do to get more involved? You can always contact us and we can either find a place where you would like to get involved in one of our ongoing programs, or we can help you launch an idea or project of your own. To join some ongoing programs, you can:
Recommend a woman or minority speaker. We’ll do a big push for speakers later in 2017, but we’re constantly accepting ideas and will keep an ongoing list for the different groups on campus (and if the list is big enough, for the whole scientific community).
Host a breakfast with a FLS speaker by emailing our awesome breakfast coordinator, Sarah Stern.
Join the mentorship team for our January 28th launch!
Give input on the 2017 survey! Help us make sure it’s as useful and great as our last survey.
Volunteer for Lab Out Loud! Tell a short story about a time you failed, or come talk to high schoolers after the event, or both!
Write for our blog. We’ve sent people to see Ghostbusters and to talks around the city. Check in with us before you go and we can buy your ticket and/or help you write. Email Maryam Zaringhalam with ideas or questions!
Join our board. We’ll be looking for a few new board members in May as we have a few of our current board members leaving Rockefeller for new jobs. To become a board member you must demonstrate interest/commitment like being involved in one of our ongoing activities so definitely volunteer for one or more of the activities above and let us know if you want to be more involved.
I became President of this great group at the end of 2015. I am so proud of what we have accomplished over the last year, and I can not wait to see what we can accomplish together in 2017. If there’s anything I can do to help us serve you better, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
500(+1) Women Scientists: taking the pledge to stand for science and scientists
On November 17th, 500 Women Scientists pledged “to build a more inclusive society and scientific enterprise.” I’ve joined them, and you can too.
I’ve had a chronic headache since November 9th. As a woman, I lamented another glass ceiling left unbroken. As a scientist, I grew more concerned than ever about the realities of climate change and the treatment of basic research.
While science strives to be apolitical, when politics is thrust upon its practitioners, the scientific community must act in turn. So I have been heartened by the rapid mobilization of science advocates and academic institutions around the country. The scientific community has rapidly drafted open letters, organized rallies, and issued calls to action to stand up for the integrity of science. But what I have found even more compelling is the attention called to protecting the actual people who work in science.
After the election, a group of 20 women in science began brainstorming how we as a community can work together to stand up for our work and ourselves. The group — now known as 500 Women Scientists— quickly grew and coalesced into an Open Letter written by Kelly Ramirez, Jane Zelikova, Theresa Jedd, Teresa Bilinski and Jessica Metcalf. Posted on November 17th, the letter now has 11,650 signatories from around the world who have answered this call:
Our scientific work may be global, yet we will take action in our own communities and we will work towards an inclusive society, where science and knowledge can be embraced and everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential.
As we witness the dawn of a new administration, we must remember that we don’t live in an autocracy. We have the right to make demands of our institutions, academic and governmental. I have found this letter a reminder that as a woman in science, I can still feel empowered to expect equal pay regardless of gender, to feel protected when advocating for evidence, to call out bias when I experience it, and to protest the unethical use of science. So I too have taken the pledge to stand up and speak out.
Here at Rockefeller — and in academia more broadly — we boast a diverse population of immigrants, women, LGBTQIA, and minorities. And so WISeR would love to hear from you how this election has affected you and how you plan to take action.
To echo 500 Women Scientists: We are women. We are scientists. Our voices count.
Dr. Jeanne Garbarino on Outreach, Inclusion, and Engagement
November’s Woman of the Month is Dr. Jeanne Garbarino, Director of Science Outreach at Rockefeller University. Together with her team, Jeanne has crafted initiatives like the Learning at the Bench (LAB) After School Program and the Summer Science Research Program to provide K-12 students with authentic biomedical research opportunities. Her work has been essential to connecting Rockefeller with the broader New York City community. On a more personal level, Jeanne’s mentorship and encouragement have been crucial in my own development as a science communicator and advocate for women in STEM. I’m thrilled to share some of her thoughts on science outreach and the importance of fostering inclusion in STEM education.
What first brought you to science in general and biology in particular?
I grew up in the Bronx where we didn’t really have a lot of trees. But there are these green areas between the parkway where I would go and examine the grass, or dig around, or pick up rocks and try to identify them. My expeditions were inspired by my fascination with the Museum of Natural History. We used to go there every Saturday, and the Hall of Rocks and Minerals was my favorite place in the world. I started learning about the rocks and minerals and how to identify them.
Then I had this biology class and realized there’s all this crazy stuff that happens in a cell. I decided I wanted to do something related to human biology. I wound up with this failed idea that I wanted to be a doctor, and then I realized that’s not quite science. So I found my way to doing research in college. The first time I got a pipette in my hands, it really struck me that I love doing benchwork. You get in your head, you have your routine. It’s like meditation.
You originally came to Rockefeller as a postdoc, so what experiences in your training led you to where you are now, heading up outreach here?
When I first went into PhD training I was convinced the only way to make my degree work would be to open up my own lab at a research institution. But when I was in my third year as a postdoc, and I was nine months pregnant with my second kid. I started thinking: “Holy crap. I have to provide for two children. I have to think about college and daycare and healthcare. And I don’t have job security.”
So I started to think about what skills could potentially get me hired anywhere and decided to work on my writing. I was already a pretty good grant and paper writer, but I struggled when it came to writing for the general public. I had also read that the best grants are typically the ones written in the style of a Scientific American article. So if I pursued learning to write for general audiences, I could use that skill for grant writing, while opening up channels for science writing or journalism.
I started writing for Natural Selections and they eventually put my articles on the front page, which made me think maybe I’m a good writer. From there, I decided to start a blog and began using Twitter to engage. I started creating a network and found a really awesome community. I eventually met a woman, Lou Woodley, who had similar ideas and viewpoints to mine. We, along with Joe Bonner and John Timmer, decided to start a discussion series that took the things we were writing about to the next level with in-person events.
We started a series called SPOT On NYC, which stood for Scientific Policy, Outreach, and Tools Online. Each month, we would invite a panel of people to talk about either science policy, outreach, or tools that scientists might be able to use to better do their science. That started getting a really amazing following.
I had a lot of fun doing that, but I wanted to do something even more hands-on, so I started volunteering with the BioBus and at my daughter’s pre-school. That’s when it hit me that outreach was the thing I wanted to do. I knew we had an outreach department at Rockefeller, but I hadn’t interacted with it at all. I created a packet about why Rockefeller should lead research institutions in the areas of science outreach and communication, with in-depth citations and references to student performance. I asked Mark Tessier-Lavigne for a meeting and made a case for why we needed to start engaging and doing outreach outside traditional academic research. He told me Rockefeller had this position as head of outreach opening up and that I should apply for it.
I got the job and set to work creating this new program from the ground up.
You’ve made a real mission out of providing opportunities to students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to top-notch research facilities. How are you empowering the women and underrepresented minorities that come through the lab in your work?
The goal of our program is to make sure that everyone has access to scientific opportunities, should they want to pursue them. I don’t measure success by whether a student goes on to major in STEM. I also don’t care about diversity for the sake of diversity (this idea was first presented to me by my very good friend and colleague, Sabriya Stukes, and I have become a convert). I don’t care about the number of butts in seats and the color of those butt cheeks. What I do care about is fostering a feeling of inclusion and empowering people to make informed decisions. You can do both of those things through the scientific enterprise.
We recruit volunteer scientists from diverse backgrounds because it’s really important to show that anyone from any background can become a scientist. Science isn’t just for old white men. Exposing the kids to a spectrum of different backgrounds and trajectories and experiences really opens up ideas of who can and cannot be a scientist.
Another thing we do is involve students in active learning. We don’t tell them what’s right or wrong. We give them a tool and ask them what they can do with this tool. We encourage the students to design the experiment. Then they ask me “Is it right?” And I answer, “I don’t know. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just data!”
We also talk to all the students who come through about science careers. A lot of kids don’t understand that getting a Ph.D. in the life sciences is not something they have to pay for. In fact, if you go to graduate school, you get paid, you can defer loans, and you get health insurance. This really opens up science for them because a lot of these students come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. While I am not necessarily looking to create a new generation of scientists, it would be irresponsible of me not to at least inform kids that these are opportunities that exist.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received during your career?
Don’t ever apologize for something that you actually have to do. I used to be that woman in the seminars who would say “sorry” or “excuse me” before asking a question. But I realized, you know what, I’m not sorry. Here’s my question.
Another piece is just general life advice that my aunt told me: It’s better to be kind than to be right. That’s been really valuable for me in outreach, especially because I’m meeting up with populations that overwhelmingly have a distrust for science. I’m working with kids who ask, “Is it true that we have a cure for cancer, but scientists won’t let it come out because then they’ll lose their jobs or won’t make money.” On the inside I just have this knee-jerk reaction like, “What are you talking about?” But that’s so ineffective. It’s way better to say, “That’s interesting that you’d say that. I’d love to hear more. Why do you think that?” Be kind about how you engage and work from there.
Interested in interviewing an outstanding woman who is currently at or an alumna of Rockefeller? We’re currently accepting your nominations at wiser(at)rockefeller.edu or mzaringhal(at)rockefeller.edu.
Dr. Monica Mugnier on Mentorship, Independence, and the mysteries of African Sleeping Sickness
WISeR is pleased to roll out our new initiative: Rockefeller’s Woman of the Month series. Each month, we’ll highlight an outstanding woman at any level of training hailing from the university. To start us off, I’m excited to share my interview with molecular parasitologist and my former labmate, Dr. Monica Mugnier.
Monica did her graduate work in Nina Papavasiliou’s Laboratory of Lymphocyte Biology where I first got to know her and follow her groundbreaking work. Thanks to her own personal drive, and under the enthusiastic mentorship of Drs. Papavasiliou and George Cross, Monica is now starting up her own lab at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as a recipient of the esteemed NIH Early Independence Award. I sat down with Monica last month as she was getting ready to leave for her new post as assistant professor to talk not only about her work studying African trypanosomes (Trypanosoma brucei), but also to discuss what brought her to Rockefeller and what lessons she’ll bring with her while starting up her lab.
What first brought you to science?
I can’t remember a specific moment. But I was looking through some of my old things in my dad’s house and I found this book report from fourth grade. It was on a biography of Marie Curie. I wrote that I wanted to be a scientist like her.
My best friend and I also used to play pretend that we had an animal hospital together.
We would discover the cure to rabies. So I guess it was more like we had this animal hospital, but we were running biology experiments in it.
Flash forward some years, why did you choose Rockefeller for your graduate work?
The thing about graduate school that frightened me was that I would never be able to have an original idea. Rockefeller pitched itself as a program that would really force you to be independent. You drove the science, so you had to have the ideas. You also had to understand the science broadly because they didn’t have departments.
I wanted to get a well-rounded education in science and I wanted to be forced to learn how to come up with ideas. You never have to do that when you’re an undergraduate. And you don’t necessarily have to do that in graduate school. I thought that was what I really needed and wanted to learn.
And that’s been my experience.
How did you pick your mentor?
The way that I met Nina was through the Seminar in Immunology. She presented work about the immune response to trypanosomes and there were all these mysteries and she was really excited about them. Which was infectious. I went to talk to her and she said: “Oh you should come rotate and you can work on this. Whatever you want.” She let me design my rotation project by myself. So I was very independent. The other labs I rotated in were very good but I didn’t get that degree of independence. I decided that I would learn more if I had to do it on my own. It was the first time I saw how you could go to a lab with some seed of an idea or question.
What big question in biology are you working on?
How do African trypanosomes change their protein coat to evade recognition by the host immune system? So essentially: how do they outsmart us to stay alive and kill us?
African trypanosomes are the parasites that cause African Sleeping Sickness in humans and a disease called nagana in cattle. The human disease is fatal if you don’t treat it, and the drugs to treat it are really nasty. The animal disease is a big burden in Sub-Saharan Africa because it affects domestic livestock. So a lot of poor rural Africans will come to hardship if their cattle gets sick and dies. So that’s the big picture reason you might care about it in a health-related way.
But from a point of curiosity, what I’m interested in is the way that the parasite changes its surface coat. The parasite is covered in the super dense variant surface glycoprotein, or VSG, coat. There are 10 million copies of the protein on the surface of a single parasite. So typically if you’re covered in one protein, your immune system will recognize it and clear it. But these parasites have this trick where they have a set of thousands of different coat-encoding genes. So during an infection, the parasites will have this one coat on their surface and it’s the only thing the immune system recognizes. The immune system will then mount a response, but before it can clear all the parasites, some parasites will change their coat by turning on a different gene.
So that game of cat and mouse is the thing that I’m really interested in. It’s the main, most critical process required to sustain this infection. It’s also, I think, one of the most mysterious processes. We know extremely little about how it’s controlled. So I’m using high-throughput sequencing methods to try to characterize what happens in the bloodstream of an animal in order to understand, or get hints at, how it’s being controlled at the molecular level.
So you just graduated! What’s next for you?
I’ve received an NIH Early Independence Award which is going to fund me to start my own lab at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The big question my lab will study is similar the one I was asking during my graduate work. The techniques will be similar, but I will be asking more specific questions about how the parasite evades the host immune system. Specifically about the mechanisms by which the parasite extends its repertoire of VSGs.
What I didn’t say before is that the parasite can actually mutate these VSG genes and swap little bits of them to make new genes. Based on my previous research, it seems that that process is critical to sustaining a long-term infection because the intact repertoire is probably used up very early in the infection, and the creation of new types of coats is how the parasite maintains a long-term infection.
So I want to understand how specifically the parasite extends the coat repertoire in its genome.
What lessons or advice from your Ph.D. are going to help you as you move towards independence?
The training I got at Rockefeller was the training I had hoped to get. I learned how to ask a question, and I learned how to troubleshoot. But the thing I learned in graduate school that is the most valuable is how to ask people for help. When I started at Rockefeller I didn’t know how to program, and now 50-75% of what I do is programming. A lot of that was just asking people for help and learning from there. I think having the confidence that you can learn what you need to learn is really important. If you know the right people to ask, and you’re not afraid to ask, and you’re not afraid to try things, you can solve any problem.
As you start thinking about starting your own lab, and what kind of mentor you are going to be, how can you foster a diverse lab culture?
The culture of science can be very sink or swim in some ways, and not particularly encouraging. But positive reinforcement is something that I think works for almost everybody. It works for my dog Bailey. It works for me. It doesn’t matter how old you are. People need to build confidence. And you can only build confidence if someone is encouraging you.
The reason that I’ve done so well is that I was lucky enough to have a string of mentors who encouraged me a lot. So even if I doubted myself I would say: “Well, my mentor said that they think I can do it, so I’m just going to try.” I really want to foster an environment where people are encouraged, and you point out their successes and you celebrate them. You don’t get angry if they make a mistake or they don’t understand something. That’s how you bring out the best in people. That’s how you get people to not leave. This is especially important for underrepresented groups in science because a space where people are negative is an automatic turn off — because they’re already coming in feeling like they’re not supposed to be there. So my biggest goal is to be positive and encouraging. I think it’s good for everybody.
If you weren’t a scientist what would you be?
That’s easy. I would be a high school teacher for the same reasons that I like the idea of running a lab. You can make a real difference. And I enjoy communicating about science and thinking about it. I think high school is a critical time to get students interested in science. It was actually a really close call between the two!
Interested in interviewing an outstanding woman who is currently at or an alumna of Rockefeller? We’re currently accepting your nominations at wiser(at)rockefeller.edu or mzaringhal(at)rockefeller.edu.
Spotlight on Kadiatou Dao: Tackling Biological Nonproliferation in Mali
CRDF Global Robin Copeland Memorial Fellow Kadiatou Dao shares her journey to becoming a leader in biological nonproliferation in Mali and why women are so critical to the field.
“Women are the key to peace,” Kadiatou Dao declared to an eager audience at CRDF Global headquarters in April.
Founded in 1995, CRDF Global is a nonprofit organization that promotes international scientific and technical collaboration through a number of incredible programs including the Robin Copeland Memorial Fellowship. The award recognizes a woman leader working to promote nonproliferation in emerging countries. So as the 2015 fellow, Dao is uniquely qualified to make such a bold and inspiring statement. With funding through the U.S. Department of State, she has spent the last year gaining the expertise to tackle biological nonproliferation of infectious disease in her mother country of Mali.
I had the great fortune of meeting Dao when Rockefeller University’s Science Diplomacy class visited CRDF Global. There, she shared her experiences — which include working in the bacterial meningitis diagnostics at Mali’s National Institute of Research in Public Health and studying malaria’s resistance to drugs at the University Pierre et Marie CURIE in Paris — and her insights as a woman advancing the field of nonproliferation.
Before returning to Mali to put her training to use in Biosafety and Biosecurity, Dao was kind enough to share some of those remarkable insights with our community in the interview that follows. To learn more about funding for women in nonproliferation and support their work, be sure to visit here.
When you spoke to our group, you said: “Women are the key to peace.” This statement is all the more powerful coming from a woman who is a leader in biological nonproliferation. How do you view your gender as an asset working in this field?
Nowadays women have proved their qualifications in many areas. In my field, for example they are rising scientists who are also very involved on the political stage. To talk about peace — or means to reduce nuclear threats, chemical or biological weapons — is a priority for everyone, regardless of gender. Still, studies have shown that women and children are most vulnerable to natural disasters and disease. We must make it a priority to strengthen the representation of women who are not well represented in this area. The need for close cooperation is therefore necessary. Women have a unique experience in managing epidemics and times of conflict and post-conflict. Taking advantage of these acquired experiences is essential to strengthen the culture of peace. I invite all women in science and beyond to break their silence and to become more active in the decision making process. They must understand that their involvement is more than necessary to reduce the proliferation of all kinds of threats. They are the key to peace.
What area of nonproliferation are you currently working in and how did you find your way to the field?
As I’m microbiologist, my focus is on the nonproliferation of biological agents. I also serve as a Research Assistant at the National Institute of Public Health Research (INSRP) in Bamako in Mali where I have worked for the last seven years. INRSP is the reference laboratory for diagnosis and surveillance of endemic and potentially epidemic diseases in Mali. I am also the Deputy Secretary General of the Malian Association for Biosafety and Biosecurity (MABB), where I continue to dedicate most of my free time to these activities. This Association aims to reduce the biorisk in facilities where biological agents are handled, and to the surrounding community and environment, as much as possible.
When I heard about the one year CRDF-RCMF program to empower women to take part in the Biosecurity and Nonproliferation field, I jumped at the opportunity. The decision was easy. The expertise that I’m developing in this program will serve my daily work at the INRSP to strengthen Mali’s laboratories network, and is another way to support my activities at the MABB.
What are the current challenges facing Mali and how do you hope to work to solve them with the training and support you’ve received?
Mali is faced with the constant threat of disease outbreaks. In addition, Mali is challenged with the burdensome control of deaths from treatable diseases, such as tuberculosis, malaria, HIV, and the expansion of antibiotic resistance. The recent Ebola outbreak revealed weaknesses in the management of our health system. We urgently need to build our public heath capacity to improve the efficiency of outbreak response and biorisk management. Biorisk is an issue everywhere, both in facilities where pathogens are handled and in the environment. Effective border control is another priority.
My contribution to nonproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) will start with the implementation of my capstone project from my fellowship program on Biosafety and Biosecurity promotion in relevant institutions in Mali.
At the Center of Nonproliferation Studies at Monterey in California, I improved my knowledge on the political and technical aspect of implementing Nonproliferation throughout the entire world. Mali, as one of many developing countries, is under the burden of treaties, regulations and conventions implementation. Most of the time, the difficulty with implementation is the lack of resources and the wait time for external help from developed countries. Biological international regulation requires all participating countries’ involvement. From my point of view, to appropriately meet this challenge, the connection between scientists and diplomats — known as “science diplomacy” — must be introduced to addressing this real need. This strategy would be most beneficial for Mali’s effective involvement in the implementation process of international obligations in the biological field.
The Public Health Preparedness and Response Program at the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) is the best place that I could have found to learn about biosafety standards and practices in the US public health system. There I expanded my knowledge of US laboratory systems, public policy and biosecurity policies. The team assisted me in developing technical expertise in biosafety and biosecurity to strengthen Mali’s laboratories network. I further developed my capstone project to: (1) better inform workers at the facilities where biological agents are handled; (2) communicate to policymakers the need to improve biorisk management and collaboration at every level in Mali; (3) design a training program by taking into account gaps identified from baseline risk assessment.
And now, given all your experiences working in Mali, Algeria, Paris, and now the US, what is the best advice that you now have to give to women in science working their way up?
I really believe that culture could affect differently the process of women empowerment. Science has a powerful ability to build bridges between genders and also communities to solve challenges that certainly affect us all equally. There are not many women in science in developing countries, not only because of their gender, but also due to the socio-economic conditions. So, I whole-heartedly encourage those rare ones who find their way to keep going and be an example for others who find the path daunting. From my experience, there is no way of knowing if a path will be closed to you because of your gender unless you try. So, women should arm themselves with courage and deep commitment to be competitive at all levels.
STEMinism 2016: focusing on the future of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
On April 19th, students from across NYC gathered at The New School for STEMinism: a day-long summit at the intersection of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) empowerment and the spirit of feminism.
Deep in the trenches of academia, there are few chances to take the pulse of the next generation of STEM. Fortunately, STEMinism: Science and Entrepreneurship in 2016 was one such opportunity.
Hosted by the Feminist Press and the Gender Studies Program at The New School, STEMinism is a day-long conference that brings together middle and high school students across NYC to discuss the opportunities and challenges of being a minority in STEM. My high school days are far behind me, so I am grateful to STEMinism for providing a unique peek into how to engage with the future of STEM: How do we empower them, while priming them for challenges they’ll face?
Well, with STEMinism.
The snazzy portmanteau represents two core movements that are critical for society’s future: STEM and feminism. With challenges like climate change looming large, the importance of STEM is clear. But the importance of feminism often remains elusive.
So a quick, but necessary digression so we’re all on the same page. Feminism is a fundamental belief in equal rights and opportunities for all, regardless of gender. In the words of Feminist Press executive director Jennifer Baumgardner: “Feminism is an opportunity and invitation to bring all the parts of ourselves into the room.” (Also: see HeForShe.) Embedded in the tenets of feminism is an all-inclusive spirit. That appreciation for all perspectives is what is so critical to our future.
The very essence of STEMinism was highlighted by the conference’s keynote speaker, Dr. Mandë Holford. Holford is an associate professor of chemical biology at Hunter College, with a scientific appointment at the American Museum of Natural History. Her research on venomous snails is truly awesome. But here I want to highlight three non-scientific insights I took away from her talk that are crucial when we think of the future of STEM.
Curiosity is universal. Holford began her talk by defining a scientist as someone who systematically asks questions. Her definition, simple as it is, opens the field up to anyone who is willing to learn how to ask the right questions — no stereotype required. She noted: “I firmly believe a scientist is not born, she’s made. Our mind is born curious. All it takes to be a scientist is to train that curiosity.” Of course, not everyone will (or even should) become a scientist. But we are all born with that same raw impulse towards questioning that can help us at least think like one. So we must ensure we don’t exclude those who don’t fit the stereotype for a scientist. Because…
… diversity is essential. Attracting people from diverse backgrounds necessarily brings more ideas to the table (or lab bench), which is vital for a field that requires fresh ideas and perspectives for nourishment — for innovation. In response to a question on how Holford thinks about representing women of color in STEM, she said: “Science needs more people — different kinds of people — asking questions.” At Rockefeller, we tout the motto “science for the benefit of humanity.” So the people driving research should reflect the diverse makeup of that humanity and all its concerns. Beyond providing equal opportunity and representation, a whole body of research demonstrates that diversity boosts productivityand creativity, while increasing retention of women and underrepresented minorities by creating a supportive network. So it’s not enough to attract diversity into STEM, we must work hard to keep it. And that’s where we must remember that…
… administrations can drive change. From unconscious bias training to better parental leave policies, academic administrations have many opportunities to encourage more of their trainees to stay in STEM careers. And herein lies an opportunity for those of us who are the present tense of STEM to break institutional barriers and open doors for the future. We have the power to advocate for the importance of diversity within the sciences and push for policies that foster that diversity.
That opportunities like STEMinism exist for New York’s young minds fills me with hope. In addition to examples of ground-breaking research, the future of STEM needs exposure to these challenges set in an optimistic light. Now, it’s our job as the cream of academia’s current crop to do everything in our power to pave the way — through our research and our advocacy — for them.
New Years Message from the President
This week, Marc Tessier-Lavigne sent out a glowing report on Rockefeller’s accomplishments in 2015 and what we can look forward to in 2016. WISeR was excited to see a mention of the ongoing and growing efforts to make our campus even-better for women and minorities.
We can also look forward to what I hope will be another robust year for faculty recruitment, which is crucial to maintaining our excellence in bioscience. In the coming months, we will hold discussions with five finalists identified by our mid-career hiring committee, as well as a dozen candidates who have come through our open search process. We are particularly mindful of the gender imbalance among our tenured and tenure-track scientists, and we have formed a committee specifically charged with examining the issue of diversity on campus and generating ideas for improvement in this area. The Rockefeller University Diversity Initiative (RUDI) consists of faculty, administrative, student, and postdoc representatives and will work closely with me to consider current practices and develop new recommendations. You will learn more about RUDI’s activities in the upcoming year.
We at WISeR also look forward to this new year and can’t wait to see what RUDI accomplishes.
WISeR restructuring meeting
As many of you may know, over the last few months WISeR has been developing a constitution to clarify our purpose, provide a more formal structure, and to make our leadership board and activities more accessible and transparent for our members and the larger Rockefeller community that we serve.
On December 10th, the WISeR Board met and finalized our constitution and held elections. We also updated our mission statement.
Our new mission statement reads: To promote the institutional equality and success of women scientists at The Rockefeller University by serving as a platform for professional development and community advocacy.
A copy of the Constitution can be found here.
We also held elections and unanimously voted for
President: Emily Dennis
Vice-President: Mariko Kobayashi
Treasurer: Catherine Pei-Ju Lu
Secretary: Shruti Naik
through August 1, 2016, when we will hold our first elections as described in the Constitution.
Items tabled for future discussion:
Membership requirements: we decided to not include any requirements for membership at this time. It was suggested that members be required to attend one event and complete the WISeR survey each year. However, we wanted to be as inclusive as possible for now, especially since the membership program itself is so new, and we will determine if a tiered membership program would be useful in the future. We will revisit this in next year’s Constitution review meeting.
Board positions: We decided to include only a small set of descriptions in the constitution itself, but we also noted that each board member must lead or co-lead at least one major initiative of WISeR. Examples include: alumni outreach; social media and web presence; coordination of FLS breakfasts, WIS lunches, and Insight lecture teas; and member relations.
Other: We had a very productive meeting, but noted there were additional details that should be discussed early next year, like all roles for each existing board member and how to transition when we know board members are going to leave the group, especially if that occurs before the end of a persons’ term. We will discuss this at our next board members meeting.
First Members Meeting
On November 18th, we had our first members meeting.
The Board introduced ourselves, and then everyone enjoyed, wine, cheese, and each others company. We also discussed five major facets of WISeR, each had their own table:
Breakfasts and Scientific Meetings
Each of us received many great ideas from our members and recruited volunteers for our initiatives. We were overwhelmed with the amazing response from our awesome members.
Thanks to all who came and made it such a successful event! We look forward to following up on all of these great ideas and contributions in the new year.
RUDI (Rockefeller University Diversity Initiative) is a new initiative began by co-chairs Leslie Vosshall and Chief of Staff Timothy O’Connor.
WISeR has nominated Devon Collins as the student representative and Aakanksha Singhvi as the postdoc/research associate representative.
We thank everyone who expressed interest in this position and can’t want to see what RUDI accomplishes!
2015 fall survey: complete
On October 26, WISeR released a 5 minute, 29 question survey and asked all research assistants, students, postdocs, research associates, and clinical scholars to take it. Within the week, 259 people responded, which is about 30% of all people emailed, including 95 dudes and 127 people who have never been to a WISeR event.
This is an amazing response! Thanks so much to everyone who took time to take the survey, and welcome to the 27 new members who joined WISeR since the survey began.
We are analyzing all of these data now, and are working with a group of members to create a list of suggestions for the administration and WISeR. Summary data are available on request for now, and will be released soon. Thanks again to everyone for taking the survey and making sure their co-workers took the survey as well!
Words to the WISeR: a community blog
This space is for the WISeR leadership to communicate our activities to our members, and for our Rockefeller community to respond to and discuss events on campus and in science.
Interested in submitting a post or getting more involved? Email wiser(at)rockefeller.edu or Maryam Zaringhalam, our Senior Blog Editor! We are accepting posts from all members, including those who wish to post anonymously or under a pseudonym.
Check out these different categories of posts:
Official Announcements check out what WISeR has been up to
Campus Events read about anything specific to the Rockefeller campus here!
OpEds this category contains all of the opinion pieces written by you, our members!