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2000 WICB / Career Strategy Columns (Archive)

Undergraduate Research, Why Bother?; Kebai Emma Gamblin, Anntara Smith and Maureen Brandon

The benefit to faculty of training undergraduate students at primarily undergraduate institutions may be that undergraduates may be the only way they get any research done. Other independent researchers view undergraduate research training as part of their jobs as educators. Benefits to them may include obtaining a fresh, unbiased perspective of a problem, making them better teachers, keeping their research focused, and fostering an atmosphere of teamwork and mentoring among the students. Faculty can also predict benefits of research experiences for the students, such as hands-on experiences with methods described in lectures, practical applications of concepts, and development of problem solving skills. In fact, these predictions are often the basic tenets of undergraduate training grants. However, the expectations of faculty and the experience of students may be very different. In this article, undergraduate students involved in research projects share their perceptions of the benefits of their research experiences to their personal and educational goals.

Undergraduate students choose to get involved in research for various reasons. The perception that research experience enhances the chance of entrance into a professional program is often a factor. Students applying to professional programs, like medical or dental school, may be looking for ways to make their application stand out among the hundreds of other applicants. A research experience may be one of those ways because it is not available to every undergraduate student, and suggests the development of problem solving and other skills attractive to that program. However, those students doing research only to pad their resumes rarely sustain their commitment to research over the long term. The more serious students pursue a research project because they have been inspired by a professor who demonstrates exceptional teaching skill in the classroom. These students recognize the potential for further educational experiences with this professor on an individual basis in the research laboratory.

Prior to beginning their research project, students often expect that doing research will be identical to a laboratory connected to a course. They may believe that they will be handed a protocol for some repetitive task, and the instructor will hold their hand throughout the procedure. In addition, they are unprepared completely for the writing and planning involved in a research project.

Once students become immersed in a research project, they do begin to realize the benefits. For example, seemingly disparate concepts taught in several courses connect to produce a coherent picture of a research field. In order to advance their project, they are forced to become problem solvers and independent learners. However, students can also discover that the research experience far exceeds the faculty predictions and their own expectations. They become aware of new career paths, which tend to focus their career goals more clearly. They also begin to recognize that the practice of science requires teamwork among individuals in a single laboratory as well as within the community of scientists in a given field. While this recognition opens their eyes to connections between different scientific disciplines, it also provides them with a life-long skill that is applicable to any job situation. Some of the most dramatic effects of the research experience that students report are conflicting feelings of maturity, selfconfidence and humility. The feelings of humility stem from recognizing deficiencies in their educational background. While they probably did very well in classes and believed at the time that they were learning so much, they discover that research requires much more depth of understanding than the superficial treatment of a topic in the classroom. Accepting the responsibility to overcome these deficiencies in order to advance their project produces a sense of maturity and self-confidence.

It is often difficult for students interested in research to identify faculty who are willing to train them. Currently, many students discover research opportunities by wordof-mouth or summoning the courage to approach individual advisors. More effective and less threatening ways to link interested advisors with prospective students include advertising research opportunities in classes and on a department bulletin board and/or webpage. Additionally, activities to bring students and advisors together might include a mini-poster session where current research projects are described or an open forum where faculty could present short seminars about their research to interested students.

There are several components of the student/faculty relationship that make the research experience a positive one for all parties. More important than the research topic itself is the issue of compatibility between the student and advisor, and among other individuals working in the laboratory. This issue must be explored by both student and advisor prior to committing to work closely together. Although this is the first hurdle, there are other responsibilities of both students and advisors that are necessary to ensure a successful relationship. Advisors who are approachable, patient, treat students as colleagues, make them an integral part of the research program, and recognize their ability to contribute intellectually to the project tend to engender long term commitment and fierce loyalty in their undergraduate students. In return, advisors can expect students to be dependable, attentive, develop independence, behave responsibly and safely in the laboratory, and interact respectfully with everyone.

Training undergraduate students to do research requires time and dedication from both the student and the advisor, but the benefits for both are enormous. For the student, research is an experience that coalesces individual, focused classes into a coherent picture. In the standard undergraduate curriculum, there is no comparable course. A faculty member who makes a commitment to train undergraduates will find themselves in a satisfying, intellectually stimulating relationship with some of the brightest people on campus.

—Kebai Emma Gamblin, Anntara Smith and Maureen Brandon, Idaho State University, for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

The "Leaky Pipeline:" Has It Been Fixed?; Louise Luckenbill-Edds

Women students have invaded biology departments, creating the impression that more women enroll in biology than men. In 1995, women earned half of the bachelor degrees in biological/ agricultural sciences1, and were on a par with men for taking mid-level college courses in biochemistry, genetics and organic chemistry, and for studying algebra and statistics, courses that were formerly male territory. Does this mean that the “leaky pipeline” has been fixed for women in biology? The term, “leaky educational pipeline,” coined by Berryman3 (1983), denotes the traditionally lower enrollment and higher attrition of women and minorities in science. This article gives an idea of how women fare in the pipeline today, how they got there, and what forces have contributed to their status.

The participation of women in biology and the other sciences has increased dramatically during the past 30 years2, undoubtedly sparked by the women’s movement in the 1970s. Scientists, educators and administrators have worked to recruit and retain girls and women in the science pipeline and it has paid off. In 1997, women earned 52% of the bachelor degrees, 52% of the master’s degrees, and 40% of the doctorates in biological sciences1, in contrast to 1970 when they earned 30% of the bachelors, 32% of the master’s and 14% of the doctorates.4 However, a closer look at the patterns of enrollment over the 30-year period reveals some interesting trends. Fig. 1 shows that the number of all bachelor degrees in biology fluctuated, peaking in the mid-1970s and again in the mid-1990s (the most recent data available). Degrees of men and women increased in parallel during the earlier growth period, but after the mid1970s, the enrollment of men fell off, while that of women remained steady, resulting in an increasing proportion of women undergraduates in the1980s. In the 1990s, overall enrollments in biology began to increase again, but this time equal numbers of women and men contributed to the rapid rise in undergraduate degrees. These patterns mean that in the 1980s the increased proportion of women earning bachelor degrees simply reflected a decline in the number of men studying biology, but in the 1990s, equal proportions of women and men accounted for the surge in biology. Definitely, the undergraduate source for the biology pipeline no longer leaks for women.

Is the study of biology attractive to women? If more women chose biology majors, that would also help to fix leaks in the pipeline. Undergraduate biology comprised 3% to 5% of all women’s bachelor degrees between 1970 and 1995 and has been equally attractive to women and men as a field of study. Women’s choice of college biology climbed to a par with men’s choice in the 1980s, and has remained there. At the graduate level, 2% of all of the master’s degrees that women earn are in biology and they have been at parity with men since the mid-1980.5 At the doctoral level, biology comprises 10-12% of women’s doctoral degrees, a lower proportion now than in the early 1970s. In the decade from the mid-1970s to the mid1980s, women’s interest in the biology doctorate declined, but returned to equal that of men in the mid-1980s. Currently, women and men are equally interested in biology at all levels. However, biology has not attracted an increasingly larger proportion of women to graduate study over the years, because it is the increased enrollments of women in higher education that drives the increase in women graduate students. The decline of women’s interest in a biology doctorate during the decade from the mid1970s to the mid-1980s is interesting because it was a time of civil rights legislation, affirmative action, and attention to women’s issues. Understanding that decade in the flow of women in the biology pipeline is central to the argument developed here.

Given that biology is currently equally popular with women and men as a graduate field of study, how do they compare with respect to earning graduate degrees? Similar proportions of men and women have earned master’s degrees in biology since the late 1980s, but the pattern for doctorates, the entry point in the pipeline to the profession, is another matter. The number of women earning doctorates has slowly and steadily increased, as well as the proportion of women, but some of this increase has been because of fluctuations in men’s degrees, just as for bachelor degrees in the 1980s. In the 1990s, enrollments of both men and women increased, and the proportion of women increased, but only to 40% of all Ph.D. degrees. These trends for biology parallel the trends for the whole field of science and engineering, although absolute numbers vary from field to field.2 Something about science does not attract as many women as men to earn doctorates. It is not that women shun the doctoral degree per se, because in non-science and engineering fields, they have earned half or more of the doctorates since the mid1980s.

Does the crucial leak in the pipeline arise when fewer women continue on from a bachelors degree to a Ph.D.? One way to compare the behavior of women and men is to calculate the Degree Parity Index (DPI): the ratio between the proportion of doctoral degrees earned by women in a field and the proportion of bachelor degrees earned by women in the same field.5 Due to the lag in time between bachelors and doctoral degrees, the population of earned bachelors in the denominator is from a prior year, and is determined as the mean total time to degree for specific fields and degrees.6 The DPI for women’s master’s and doctoral degrees in biology, and also for their first professional degrees in the fields of medicine, dentistry and law, earned immediately after the bachelor degree are illustrated in Figure 2.4 Women have been on a par with men for continuing on to a master’s degree in biology for the past thirty years. Evidently, gender makes no difference at this level of the biology pipeline.

However, the pipeline still leaks for women at the Ph.D. level, the degree of entry to the profession. In fact, it leaks more now than it did 15 years ago! The DPI rose rapidly in the1970s, nearly reached parity in the mid-1980s, and then slowly declined to 0.8 into the early 1990s. Current trends still are not completely clear, but could be interpreted as a holding pattern for women’s doctorates in biology at around 80% of parity with men. As Dudley Herschbach put it, “[we are] creeping toward inclusivity in science, despite persistent toads.”

Women will make gains in the DPI ratio if their proportion of graduate degrees (the numerator) is large compared to their proportion of bachelor degrees (the denominator) and conversely, they will suffer losses if the opposite is true. In addition, those women who were awarded doctorates in the decade between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s, when women’s DPI rose, had been in the undergraduate pipeline an average of seven years earlier.6 This time corresponds to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the number of women’s bachelor degrees (Fig. 1) made the DPI denominator small. This means that the rise toward parity for doctoral degrees in the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s can be explained by the small and steady proportion of women earning bachelor degrees roughly a decade earlier.

The undergraduate pipeline flowing into biology doctorates during the mid-1980s into the 1990s was in the prior decade, a time when women began to enter the non-traditional professions like medicine, dentistry and law in unprecedented numbers. This created an exponential rise toward degree parity for those fields (Fig. 2). These were bright, adventurous women who might also have chosen a life as a professional scientist, had it not been that other avenues leading to the professions were open to them. This idea is supported by the fact that the field of biology attracted a larger proportion of women’s doctorates than men’s doctorates before the logarithmic rise in first professional degrees. Thus, as women’s share of first professional degrees escalated, beginning in the mid1970s, undergraduate women were drawn away from science doctorates into the professions. Nearly a decade later, repercussions of these new choices were evident with the decline of the parity index for women’s doctorates in biology. It is also worth noting that the total time to degree for biology doctorates in that period was an average of nine years.

This data suggest several questions. Why would women want to become professional physicians, dentists or lawyers rather than professional biologists? Why are women at parity for master’s degrees in biology, but only at 0.8 of parity for Ph.D.s? Will women ever be more than 0.8 of parity with men at the entry degree to the biology profession?

Women and men are now equally interested in biology as a field of study, so that is not an explanation at any degree level. Reasons that have been cited recently8,9 involve the environment for graduate training and the lifestyle options during the career, which distinguish the sciences from the professions like medicine, dentistry and law. Many women want to see a clearly formulated path to a career, enabling them to organize their whole lives, including family and career. They like to see practical applications and benefits of their studies to a career. They thrive in an atmosphere of teamwork that fosters personal relationships, rather than competition. Already important for persistence in college, these factors have emerged in a case-study of the leaky pipeline for women undergraduate biology majors in three different three career tracks—straight biology, pre-medicine, and pre-physical therapy.10 Despite increasing enrollments of women, the profession of biology will continue to lose the talent and creativity of many of them if it does not heed their choices.

—Louise Luckenbill-Edds, Emerita Associate Professor of Neuroanatomy, for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

  1. The NSF database defines the life sciences (“biology”) as agricultural/food sciences, biological sciences, environmental science and postsecondary life science teachers, data cited in the text of this article. The database of the U.S. Dept of Education Chartbook of Degrees Conferred defines “biology” as biochemistry and biophysics, botany, cell and molecular biology, microbiology/bacteriology, miscellaneous specializations (e.g., anatomy, ecology, marine biology, neuroscience), and zoology, data used to develop the figures and the main conclusions about biology in this article.
  2. National Science Foundation. Women, Minorities, and Persons With Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 1998. Arlington, VA, 1999. (NSF 99-338).
  3. Berryman, S.E. Who Will Do Science? New York, Rockefeller Foundation, 1983.
  4. U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Chartbook of Degrees Conferred, 1969-70 to 1993-94, NCES 98-071, Thomas D. Snyder, Project Officer. Washington, DC: 1997.
  5. Chamberlain, M. K. Women in Academe. Progress and Prospects. Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 1988. Chap. 9. Nontraditional Fields for Women, pp. 198-207.
  6. Henderson, P.H., J.E. Clarke, and C. Woods. 1998. Summary Report 1996: doctorate Recipients from United States Universities. Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, p. 22. (See also Summary Reports for previous years.)
  7. Herschbach, D. 1999 Changes in the gardens of science, wrought by women. In: Women in Science and Engineering: Choices for Success, C. C. Selby, ed. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 869, 66-74.
  8. Etzkowitz, H., Kemelgor, C. Neuschatz, M. and Uzzi, B. 1994 Barriers to women in academic science and engineering. In: Who Will Do Science? Educating the Next Generation, W. Pearson, Jr, and I. Fechter,eds., Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994
  9. Sonnert, G. Women in science and engineering: Advances, challenges, and solutions. In: Women in Science and Engineering. Choices for Success, C.C. Selby, ed., Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 869, 34-57. 10 Luckenbill, L.M. (Unpublished results)

Dealing with Unstable Colleagues; Sara Tobin

Science requires intense dedication, and scientists generally tolerate the eccentricities of their equally intense colleagues. However, sometimes behavior by a colleague can interfere with the work environment. This column offers some general guidelines about how to recognize and deal with unstable colleagues. Symptoms of three levels of counterproductive behavior—those that transcend working styles or eccentricities— are summarized, and actions are suggested.

It is a challenge to distinguish between problems that can be resolved by firmness, support and information, and those that require specialized expertise and resources. Most scientists do not have the necessary mental health training to deal with a person who has significant mental health issues. It is always appropriate to provide positive mentoring, but not therapy.

Most potential problems can be avoided by taking care in hiring employees and in taking on students and postdoctoral fellows. Talk with previous supervisors and review performance records. Be clear about expectations for laboratory conduct, cooperation, professionalism and safety, and discuss possible consequences. Whenever possible, have the person do a trial or rotation in the lab, and give periodic feedback about whether standards are being achieved. However, even with these precautions, problem behavior may still appear.

Handling Manipulative Behavior
Sometimes behavior patterns can reflect a coping style designed, perhaps unconsciously, to keep others off balance, or to elicit special treatment. Such behavior can range from abusive outbursts to a pattern of excuses or passive inaction. For instance, a colleague may engage in “inspired incompetence” that results in shifting responsibilities to others. Occasionally a student may lose belief in his or her abilities and become overly dependent.

Such behavior patterns can test a supervisor’s authority and self-confidence. These behaviors are best dealt with by setting firm limits, providing encouragement, confirming mutual roles and responsibilities with cheerful chats and e-mails, and calmly holding ground in the face of mild to moderate escalation to test the supervisor’s resolve. Once it is clear that standards and consequences are firm and applied with fairness, the problem may be minimized. However, if the level of escalation progresses to an uncomfortable level, it may be appropriate to seek advice and support as discussed below.

Identifying Possible Mental Instability
Signs of mental instability can include inexplicable mood swings, irrational statements, extreme cycles of productivity, unexplained absences, depression, and violent or abusive behavior. These signs are an order of magnitude beyond normal acute disappointment expressed over an intractable experiment or a grant application that is not funded. The person may fail to follow laboratory standards for cooperation or safety. They may display an insensitive or overtly cruel attitude toward others or toward laboratory animals. They may initiate episodes of interpersonal friction in the laboratory and may alienate or frighten co-workers. Their statements may seem inconsistent, and they may react defensively when asked for clarification. Obsessive behavior toward other individuals, such as following someone home, can be another important symptom. In many cases, symptoms increase gradually over time until they reach an intolerable level. However, sometimes stressful workplace or personal events can trigger a crisis.

When encouragement, limits on behavior, and standards of performance do not bring improvements, it may be time to enlist someone with professional training and experience. Most educational institutions and companies have Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs, which are confidential and professional sources of help for employees and students. An EAP is equipped to deal with problems directly or to make appropriate referrals for mental health issues, family problems, or drug and alcohol abuse. If the obvious options have been exhausted and the best course of action is unclear, consider conferring with EAP personnel about your perceptions and about developing strategies for dealing with the situation.

Recognizing Violence
Violence includes pounding on walls, throwing items to the floor, and angry damage to equipment, as well as physical threats toward co-workers or supervisors. Threats of violence are especially serious if they appear to escalate or become more detailed. “I could just kill him,” can indicate simple annoyance; “I’m going to get my brother’s ’38 and just walk into his office some morning and blow him away,” includes plans of time, place, and means, and is cause for immediate action. Violence or threats of violence are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated, whether they are directed toward inanimate objects, toward others, or are self-destructive.

In the face of violent behavior, a supervisor might choose to give a single warning, e.g., for throwing a gel comb to the floor; otherwise, anyone who observes violence should involve others immediately. Depending on the episode, such notification might involve any or all or the following: the supervisor, the institution’s EAP, the department head, the Dean, and/or campus security. In extreme cases, confrontation can be dangerous, so let professionals handle the situation. If you find yourself in a volatile situation, stay cool, speak more slowly than the potentially violent person, and ask the person to suggest solutions that would have avoided activating his or her anger.

In all interactions, preserve the other person’s dignity. Maintain confidentiality and be humane. If others must be informed about the situation, do so in private. The bottom line is that it may be necessary to ask an unstable individual to leave your laboratory. This may become more difficult with time, so it is important to be equitable and allow opportunities for resolution, but to move decisively if these efforts are unsuccessful. Ask for advice to make sure that you comply with relevant personnel policies. However, be aware of the responsibility carried by every supervisor to ensure a safe working environment that enhances everyone’s ability to achieve their personal and scientific goals.

Of course, if the unstable person is an equal or a supervisor, then many of these options would be difficult to implement. However, regardless of the level of one’s position, it is wise to seek consultation about the best possible strategies, document episodes as they occur, solicit support among other colleagues, and set limits. If the situation becomes intolerable, consider other actions, such as filing a grievance or looking for a position that provides a positive working environment.

Some people feel an overwhelming level of guilt and uncertainty at finding themselves in a difficult interpersonal situation, even when their contribution has been minimal. However, it is more productive to engage in assessment and problem-solving than self-reproach. Every professional benefits from developing the skills to work productively with a wide variety of people, and this includes recognizing and taking appropriate action when behavior patterns disrupt the work environment. Sometimes professional help can be a key element in developing a resolution that benefits everyone involved.

—Sara (Sally) Tobin, Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics, for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

Changing the Face of Leadership at Academic Health Centers; Rosalyn C. Richman and Page S. Morahan

Despite the increase in women faculty to 30% of medical school faculty over the last 20 years, the proportion of women at the senior level has increased at a glacially slow pace. Today, as was true 20 years ago, only about 10% of women faculty are full professors, as compared with 30% of men. During this time, women department chairs have only increased from fewer than one, to one woman chair per medical school. The situation is even worse in dental schools, where the average is fewer than one woman chair per school. Currently, only four women hold deanships in the 125 U.S. medical schools and two in the 55 U.S. dental schools.

There is little to indicate that the present situation will improve without an explicit intervention to accelerate the rate at which women are prepared to move into leadership positions, and to enhance the likelihood of their success in those positions. The campus climate remains “chilly” for women medical students and faculty, as evidenced by the paucity of senior faculty and administrators who are women, lack of integrated women’s health curricula, underrepresentation of women and their medical needs in medical texts, and myriad micro-inequities that exclude women and undermine their self-confidence and productivity. These micro-inequities include significant salary inequities, and pervasive gender insensitivity that lead to cumulative disadvantages, such as the availability of fewer mentors, and unconscious, but institutionalized, sexism.

The Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Program for Women, a part of the Institute for Women’s Health at MCP Hahnemann University in Philadelphia was launched in 1995 as an explicit pro-active intervention to accelerate the promotion of women to senior roles in academic health centers. ELAM continues the legacy that began with the Medical College of Pennsylvania’s ancestry as the first women’s medical school.

The purpose of ELAM is direct and ambitious: 1) to advance women academics into increased leadership roles within medical and dental schools and health centers, and ultimately to propel some women into deanships of these institutions; 2) to contribute to more rapid curricular, climate and policy changes in academic health centers, and to critically needed improvements in health care for women, minorities and economically disenfranchised groups through increased visibility and leadership roles of women in academic medicine institutions.

ELAM targets mid-career women faculty at the Associate or full Professor rank who already have had some administrative experience, and who desire to explore or enhance their administrative leadership careers in the broad environment of academic medicine. ELAM is not designed to be a physician executive program focusing on clinical management skills; rather, the program deals with the complex and increasingly difficult interface among academic research, teaching and the business of health care delivery.

ELAM provides a year-long, part-time fellowship experience for approximately 40 senior women faculty of medical and dental schools who seek to fill the highest administrative positions at academic health centers. ELAM class size is small, to enable the close interactions necessary to create the lasting relationships that are one goal of ELAM. The program is conducted over an academic year, with three sessions during which the fellows come together: two week-long residential sessions (in September and April), and at the annual meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Numerous intersession assignments are carried out on the Fellow’s home campus. At the AAMC meeting and during the April session, networking and continuing education events, organized by the ELAM co-directors and the alumnae association (Society for Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine or SELAM), reinforce cohesion of the class to provide a safe environment for development of lasting relationships, as well as for practice and reflection of learning.

ELAM is the most intense tier of four national programs currently available for women faculty. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Professional Development Seminar for Junior Women in Medicine and the AAMC Professional Development Seminar for Senior Women in Medicine are each threeday programs, while the HERS-Bryn Mawr Program for women faculty and administrators in higher education is a 21day program.

ELAM involves a mix of interactive teaching methods to address a variety of learning styles, ranging from traditional lectures and panel discussions to in-depth case studies, computer simulations, role playing, small group work, and individual interviews and projects. A hallmark of the program is extensive individual assessment, using Myers-Briggs and Benchmarks 360-degree instruments, and counseling of Fellows on topics ranging from leadership evaluation and personal presentation to career counseling. ELAM faculty include a mix of academic faculty, academic health center leaders and consultants who previously have held operations leadership positions.

The program curriculum focuses primarily on three areas: mini-MBA, emerging issues, and personal assessment and interpersonal network building. Topics included in the mini-MBA are finance, organizational design, and change management. Emerging issues covers creating a culturally competent community, the impact of information technology, building successful alliances or mergers, and innovative tools for organizational planning and assessment. However, the centerpiece for emerging issues is the ELAM Forum, which includes topics on future search conference methodology, Peter Senge’s archetypes for systems analysis, future scenario planning, the use of the balanced score card in academic medicine, and an academic health center computer simulation designed for ELAM. In the personal assessment and interpersonal network building, topics include individual assessment tools, consultations with leaders, conflict management and negotiation, small group projects, and mentoring at the home institution.

Rigorous assessment of ELAM has been conducted from its inception. Sharon McDade, external evaluator and member of the original advisory group, persuasively argued that ELAM had a unique opportunity to build longitudinal evaluation into its fabric, and has overseen this activity. In addition to documenting program effectiveness and impact, the longitudinal evaluation tracks women and their leadership growth. ELAM has been successful in increasing women in leadership roles; 39% of the Fellows in the first three classes (1995-1997) held significant administrative positions (chair, vice chair, division chief, assistant or associate dean) when they entered the program, while 80% hold such positions today (2000).

The increasing number of applicants, support from a growing number of medical and dental schools, and the expanding number of alumnae also speak to the perceived value, visibility, and viability of ELAM in the world of academic health centers. It is clear that an increasing number of key academic medicine leaders are investing time, their most precious resource, in the program and its Fellows. To date, 94 medical and dental schools have had 200 women faculty participants in the ELAM Program. Approximately 10% have come from basic science departments, and 5% from social sciences and health policy. Milestone achievements of the Basic Science ELAM Fellows since their participation in the program include appointments as the first woman department chair, a Chief Academic Officer, Associate Vice President for Health Sciences, and three department chairs.

Major themes that have emerged as a result of ELAM’s program evaluation indicate that Fellows attribute to their participation in the ELAM Program significant professional developmental growth in the following areas:

  • understanding of new leadership and management strategies, which allows conceptualization, introduction and implementation of ideas with greater effectiveness and confidence;
  • confidence and knowledge in addressing and resolving conflict situations; n networks and increased awareness of educational and medical issues, and development of strategies to be informed, resolve problems, and advance projects;
  • knowledge of career possibilities, new insights into how to advance their own careers, and understanding of a greater range of options open for their pursuit; and
  • insight and confidence into “how the game is played” and increased confidence in their ability to “play” and succeed.

In its five-year history, ELAM has earned national visibility and a reputation of excellence. In 1997, ELAM won the Women in Medicine Leadership Development Award of the AAMC. In 1999, the American Council on Education honored ELAM with its prestigious Network of Women Leadership Award. The partial endowment and renaming of the program as the Hedwig van Ameringen ELAM Program in 1997 brought additional visibility and prestige. In addition, ELAM is a crucial component in MCP Hahnemann University’s National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health and National Center of Leadership in Academic Medicine. In fact, it is the only university to hold both contracts, awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health. More information on ELAM.

—Rosalyn C. Richman and Page S. Morahan, Hahnemann University, for the Women in Cell Biology Committee Extensive references are listed in the September 2000 issue of ASCB Newsletter.

Teaching Science in High School, William Wallace

A cell biologist has the special opportunity to present science as a living discipline to a high school biology or chemistry class. The experiences of designing experiments, interpreting results, writing papers, and applying for grants are unique qualifications that will enrich the understanding and appreciation of science for a biology or chemistry student. Students will benefit from a teacher who can teach science as a process instead of a simple collection of facts.

1. Why would a scientist want to teach?
Abstractly, the intellectual challenge is to present biology as a unified view of the world, and as an ongoing process of inquiry. This view includes presenting “big pictures” of such diverse concepts as ecology, evolution, physiology and molecular biology. However, even more important is to guide the students toward an understanding of the connections between each of these disciplines. The students are more likely to remember these connections than the specific facts of any one topic. In addition, there is the challenge of teaching students to think skeptically, like a scientist, through the scientific method.

On a personal level, teaching can be tremendously satisfying for the academic and personal effects that a teacher can have on the development of a student. The simple fact that they have done science gives any scientist-teacher a number of unique advantages. First, being a participant of the discipline of biology, a scientist brings a certain enthusiasm for the subject that will infect the students, especially if it is a topic that he or she actively researched in the laboratory. Second, the scientist will have a greater credibility for any point of view. The speculation of a scientist-teacher has great weight even if it is a profession of ignorance. Third, a scientist-teacher can make a topic come alive with anecdotes from his or her own career experiences. Nothing impresses a student more than to discuss personal experiences with a scientist who is introduced in a textbook. Students love to hear of the foibles of scientists, especially famous ones. Great lessons can be taught about the process of biology through such anecdotes. Finally, a scientist-teacher has spent a career making a network of friends, colleagues and mentors that can be exploited for the benefit of students. These connections can be used as potential research hosts for motivated students or as expert speakers for the whole class.

2. What is it Like to Teach?
For the first few years, teaching requires a similar time commitment as does research. This time commitment includes actual contact time with students (both in and out of the classroom), preparation for classes and assessments of the students. However, the manner in which teachers organize their day differs from research because they are obligated to be prepared and present a lesson at set times during the day: they do not have the freedom to start an experiment or write a manuscript when they roll into the lab.

Generally, a high school science teacher has four or five classes (a total of 60 to 150 students, depending upon the school) in two or three different levels (called “preps”). Scientist-teachers need to fight the urge to present every lesson as a seminar. In fact, talks with slides should be avoided. Instead, introduce the topic and then have the students take over the discussion. It is amazing how relatively little time a teacher needs to talk. The teacher does need to become an “expert” in a wide range of various topics, such as ecological succession or punctate equilibrium, so that they can be sure that the students extract the important points from each of these concepts.

In addition to teaching classes, the obligations of teachers include contributions to the community of the school. This obligation can include coaching sports, drama or sponsoring a club. It is an important part of the teacher’s job to make this commitment, even if the school does not officially require it. So a typical day will start at 7:00 AM and finish around 5:00 PM, excluding any after-school activities such as sports or clubs.

Three other important reasons to teach are June, July and August. The summer is an amazing time for possibilities, academic or otherwise. It is surprising how enjoyable it is to work in a research lab during this time without having to produce any papers.

The starting salary for a teacher varies with experience and level of education. In the Fairfax, Virginia public schools, a starting teacher with a Ph.D. can earn about $40,000 annually (slightly less with a Master’s degree), while in private schools the salary will generally be slightly lower.

3. How to get a teaching position.
The application process in private schools is different than in public schools. Private schools have greater flexibility to judge the qualifications of each teaching candidate. Therefore, applying for a teaching position in private schools is much less complicated. A candidate can simply send a letter of interest and an accompanying resume.

Public schools require a more complicated application process because they require teaching certification. Each state has its own qualifications for determining certification. Myra Thayer of the Fairfax County Public Schools states that the certification process examines competence in both science content (for example, an understanding of all the concepts of biology) and pedagogy (teaching skills). While scientists will have less difficulty in proving competence in science content (although a cell biologist will need to know a more diverse view of biology, such as population ecology and evolution), usually they will need to take classes in educational techniques. Completing the necessary classes takes approximately four semesters, and includes topics such as child psychology and instructional methods.

Perhaps most important, classes will include a teaching internship with a master teacher in a local school. Many public school systems work closely with local colleges to offer an education program that is certifiable in that school district. For example, the Fairfax schools cooperate with George Mason University, which offers classes in the evening to interfere as little as possible with a candidate’s day job. Eventually, a competence test (called a Praxis Examination) must be passed for certification.

Public school systems are generally willing to give selected candidates who are not yet certified provisional contracts that last three to five years. These contracts allow the scientist to begin teaching immediately under the provision that the scientist will undertake the education program for certification in the first years of teaching.

4. How to get started.
As an applicant for a teaching position, any school system will be looking for experiences with teaching. An application from a scientist should emphasize a commitment to teach. The number of publications and grants will not impress a school system. Instead, a resume needs to show experience in teaching high school students, and an interest in educational issues.

There are numerous opportunities to gain experience teaching biology to high school students. For example, a scientist can talk at a local school — this obligation is very small. As long as the scientist makes an earnest effort to reach his audience (i.e. do not present your most recent research seminar), no matter what is presented, the students will be grateful. A slightly greater obligation is to mentor a student through a research project in the laboratory. This mentorship should be an active intellectual involvement of the student in the research, not simply having the student “shadow” in the lab. The project should include a beginning (framing a biological question and hypothesis), a middle (performing the experiments to test the hypothesis), and an end (writing a report that summarizes the entire project). The student does not need to win the Nobel Prize with the project, nor even produce a publication, but it is cheating the student if a project does not contain these elements. Other ways that a scientist can get experience teaching at the high school level include helping a local school system with the biology curriculum, or teaching a course in contemporary methods in cellular or molecular biology for high school teachers.

Local schools (public or private) are always interested in taking advantage of the experiences of scientists to teach. For private schools, it is easier to talk directly with principals or science department chairs, while in public schools, administrators (such as curricular specialists) will be the initial contacts. These officials can be used as sources of information and advice for an application. Take advantage of their knowledge and willingness to help.

Teaching high school is a wonderful way to use your research experiences to influence a child’s life. The satisfaction of having a former student return to tell you that he or she is becoming a biologist because of your teaching matches the thrills of an acceptance letter from Nature or a positive pink sheet for an NIH grant application.

—William Wallace for the Women in Cell Biology Committee. The author teaches biology at Georgetown Day High School in Washington, D.C. He received the ASCBGlenn Award in 1999 for outstanding research in aging.

Nine Tips on Successful Negotiation, Elizabeth Marincola

There is much pop-wisdom associated with negotiation. For example, seating your negotiating partner in a broken chair or an overheated room, because increasing the other’s discomfort is believed to reduce one’s own percieved advantage. In contrast to this frivolous pseudo-science, basic, time-proven negotiating skills are important and useful across industries and a variety of personal and professional situations. It is those more credible tactics that this article will seek to address.

  1. Recognize When to Negotiate
    Take control of framing the negotiation. For example, if an employee receives a competitive job offer, determine first if the threatened outcome would be advantageous or disadvantageous to the organization. If the change would be mutually beneficial, even if the threat is just a gambit to gain attention, do not rise to the bait. Tell the person that they will be missed. If, on the other hand, the threatened outcome is not beneficial to the organization, do not assume that there is no room for negotiation or reconsideration just because a statement is declarative.
  2. Determine What the Other Person Wants
    Often people assume that the “obvious” issue is the most important issue or even the only issue. For example, employment unhappiness is not always primarily about salary. It is often about title, reporting relationships, acknowledgement, independence, work environment, or hours, even though the stated issue may have been about salary.
  3. Add Value
    Think about what changes will improve both positions. For example, occasional telecommuting may earn the employer greater productivity and the employee more freedom.
  4. Learn as Much as You Can
    Draw the person out by asking probing questions. Gather as much information as possible before reaching conclusions or proposing solutions. Imagine what the other person is thinking.

    Do not interrupt the other person. Ask open-ended questions. The more a person talks, the more she reveals about herself, which will help clarify what concessions will be most valuable and/or what demands most reasonable.
  5. Re-state the Other Person's Position
    Once a position has been described, re-state it calmly and impartially to the other person. This strategy confirms that the negotiating partner has been listening carefully and offers the opportunity to correct misunderstandings. In addition, neutral construction reduces the other person's defensiveness.
  6. There Really is Such a Thing as a Win-Win Negotiation
    There are also Lose-Lose Negotiations. Very few real-life situations are zerosum games. The object is for everyone to come away feeling that they have gotten much of what they want. Negotiating partners frequently have an ongoing relationship. Therefore, if every last concession is extracted out of one partner, the other partner may get more in the short term, but at the expense of resentment by the first. The long term cost may be unreasonable.
  7. Take Advantage of your Leverage, but Stay Within a Reasonable Range
    The negotiating partner who has the upper hand can afford to be ambitious. But stay within a reasonable range.

    Everyone has their limit, and if a negotiating partner pushes beyond it, they may risk blowing a negotiation that had every chance of resolving to their advantage.
  8. Concede where Possible
    What may come at a small price to one person could have disproportional value to the other. If small issues are conceded, the compromiser will be better positioned to demand compromise on bigger issues.
  9. Do not Personalize or Generalize
    Avoid constructions such as “You always…”, “You never…” or “You’re so…”. Do not make comments about the other person’s style, habits or personality. Avoid all criticism if possible, personal criticism especially.

    Although the examples discussed are set at work, good negotiating skills are essential for many aspects of life. Basic negotiating tactics are likely to be useful in personal as well as professional relationships.

—Elizabeth Marincola for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

Standardized Tests: Predictions and Limitations; Caroline Kane

Admission to colleges and universities usually requires that applicants complete one or more standardized tests to provide a tool for admissions offices in evaluating a student’s readiness, aptitude and potential for success in higher education. Such tests were originally devised to promote equal access based on an objective assessment of intellectual readiness so admissions would not depend upon parental income or connections.

Standardized tests were supposed to level the playing field for all qualified applicants to college, and to graduate and professional schools. There are several standardized tests in use for undergraduate and graduate admissions, but this article focuses on the Scholastic Achievement Test (formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test), or SAT, that has generated a heated debate on the predictive value and the use (or misuse) of the test scores. The focus of the debate has been on “high stakes” admissions decisions into selective institutions of higher education. However, the use of these scores as an advising tool is less discussed. Both will be presented with references for further reading.

The SAT exams have been available for nearly 75 years, and many studies have been published on their strengths and weaknesses in evaluating a student’s achievement, subject mastery and potential for academic success. In response to concerns about biased questions, the College Board has carefully revised the test on numerous occasions. Still, questions about the validity of the predictions and concerns about the use of the scores have polarized parents, legislators, regents/trustees/directors and academics into strong supporters or critics.

Why the controversy, and why is this important for cell biologists? The controversy heated up as affirmative action in admission to colleges and universities came under attack. With affirmative action, students from groups underrepresented on our campuses and women students, especially in the sciences, were in some cases offered admission even when standardized test scores were on average lower than some students who were not offered admission. Public universities and colleges had a charge to educate the state’s citizenry, and a commitment to maintaining a diverse group of students on campuses; yet, there was a clamor for documenting numerical rankings of students as a means to decide who was “fairly” admitted to higher education. Did lower standardized test scores mean students were less qualified? The admissions’ criteria and processes on our college and university campuses determine who is able to come to the table in the first place, and that determines who will be the science practitioners in the next 10 to 20 years. How standardized tests are used in this process is worth our attention.

The SAT I scores gradually became an accepted predictor of a student’s readiness for success in higher education. With a maximum of 1600 points possible from these combined tests, a difference of less than 100 or 200 points was repeatedly used to decide who was more or less qualified for admission. The SAT tests had never been designed to make these types of distinctions. What does this type of test actually measure, and can any one instrument measure aptitude, readiness, motivation and commitment to education, all essential requisites for success in higher education? Richard Tapia, Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University, has expressed concern about this use of SAT scores for fine distinctions as follows: “we value what we measure, because measuring what we value is simply too hard to do.”1 Indeed, Rice University has set an SAT I scoring threshhold of 1050, and all applicants with scores above this “are deemed acceptable and other factors should be used to differentiate among the members of the acceptable group.”1 Bowen and Bok2 have estimated that only 20% to 30% of all fouryear colleges and universities have enough applicants to be truly selective, and these selective institutions make strong use of standardized test scores in the admissions process.

Gregg Thomson, Director of the Office of Student Research at the University of California, Berkeley, reviewed the statistics behind the use of the SAT scores as predictors of college graduation3. He concluded that the claims surrounding the value of these scores are “exaggerated and/or …statistically naïve, are formulated out of context and without consideration of competing values, and certainly are not well-understood by the public and policy-makers alike... We will continue to use, report and analyze SAT scores.

But… it is essential that their use be placed squarely (and fairly) within the appropriate competing values framework.” Thomson points out that “correlation across broad category averages” is not coincident with “correlations across individual observations.” When this is taken into account, SAT scores “account for almost none of the variation in graduation rates.” Bowen and Bok2 also warn about the use of averaged SAT data among ethnic groups as an indicator of “preference”; lower averaged scores do not represent a “degree of advantage” for ethnic groups applying to a selective institution because even with an SAT cutoff of 1100, “white students would have a higher average SAT score than the black students because relatively more of them score at the upper end of the SAT distribution.”

Predicting which 17-year-old college applicants will “succeed” is complicated and multivariable. Defining “success” is likewise complex. If success is defined as the grades received in the freshman year, then SAT scores can be predictive.4 But Pamela Zappardino indicates that “at best, the SAT only accounts for about 16% of the variance in first-year college grades. That isn’t a great predictor by anybody’s yardstick.”5 Indeed, the performance of women is consistently underpredicted, and often this result is attributed to work habits or course-taking patterns. When these are factored in, the underprediction is small. However, small underpredictions can have large practical effects. Leonard and Jiang note that “significant underprediction of women’s college grades remains after one has taken out the effects of choice of program of study and that it exists across the range of scores in which highly competitive colleges and universities actually make their cut-off decisions.”6 They further estimate that a 5% underprediction in this cut-off range could result in over 12,000 women being denied admission to “large, competitive, ‘flagship’ state universities.”

Yet, the SAT scores are also a message that can be used to the advantage of students admitted to our colleges and universities. Two studies have looked at whether there are predictive linkages between the SAT I Mathematics scores themselves and performance in introductory biology and chemistry. At Oberlin College, “…students with high mathematical scores tend to achieve high chemistry grades, but the broad distribution of grades corresponding to any particular SAT-M score precludes reliable prediction of a grade base on that score alone.”

While this may seem yet another indictment of using SAT scores to shave distinctions, this study instead emphasizes that while an individual score may not be the only predictor, a very low SAT-M score (which is relative and depends upon the student cohort at a particular institution) is very often correlated with a low grade. Thus, strong advising for students about the need for solid math skills and how to get them in order to succeed in these courses is an extremely responsible, and perhaps essential, use of SAT scores. Similarly, at both Oberlin College and Winthrop University, the SAT-M scores “indicate probabilities of student performance”8 in the first courses of chemistry and biology. The authors again emphasize that SAT-M scores should be placed in the arsenal of information used to advise students about their foundation in quantitative reasoning; ignoring these scores would be irresponsible. Note that neither study indicates that the SAT scores predict a student’s potential for overall success, and indeed earning a grade depends upon many factors. Rather, both studies emphasize that SAT-M scores allow realistic feedback to students about their tested math skills, and such feedback provides the student and the institution the awareness and opportunity to assure these skills are solidified.

Should the use of the SATs be completely eliminated or should their use be put into a more realistic context both prior to and once students have been admitted to colleges and universities? Certainly a gap remains in test scores among different ethnic groups and between men and women.9 Also, it is well documented that standardized test scores as well as success in college correlate most directly with family income and level of parental education10, yet we certainly would not rely on these factors as criteria for admission to higher education. In admissions’ criteria, the SAT provides one type of information that should be embedded in a broader context of academic achievement and personal development used in selecting students for admission to institutions of higher education.

Further, scores on standardized tests can be used as part of the advising process in developing a student’s curriculum, especially in the important first year of classes. It would not be fair to students to say that SAT scores are worthless and not deserving of their attention. Likewise, it would not be fair to students to say that SAT scores, or scores on any standardized test, are accurate predictors of an individual’s overall performance in college or, more importantly, success in life.

Since standardized tests are used in decision-making for admission at many colleges and universities, and since these institutions are the source of our science professionals, it is incumbent upon those of us in professions related to cell biology to inquire about how these test scores are used to include or exclude applicants. An awareness that such scores are not a numerical ranking of the qualified but a small part of a larger evaluation equation is essential in order that we can develop the creative and energetic talents of excellent, motivated students. Proper use of the results of standardized tests in advising these students will assure that the educational opportunities we make available are exploited to their maximum benefit.

—Caroline Kane for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

  1. Tapia, R. (1998) NISE Forum: Assessment and the Promotion of Change, “Assessing and evaluating the evaluation tool The standardized test.”
  2. Bowen, W. G., and D. Bok (1998) The Shape of the River, Long Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  3. Thomson, G. (1998) California Association of Institutional Research, Annual Meeting, November 1998, “Is the SAT a ‘Good Predictor’ of Graduation Rates? The Failure of ‘Common Sense’ and Conventional Expertise and a New Approach to the Question.”
  4. Bridgeman, B., L. McCamley-Jenkins, and N. Ervin (2000) College Board Research Report No. 2000-1, “Predictions of freshman grade point average from the revised and recentered SAT I: Reasoning test.”
  5. Zappardino, P., American Physical Society Newsletter, July 1996, “Fighting the gender gap: Standardized tests are poor indicators of ability in physics.”
  6. Leonard, D. K, and J. Jiang (1999) Research in Higher Education 40, 3, “Gender bias and the college predictions of the SATs: A cry of despair.”
  7. Spencer, H. (1996) J. of Chemical Education 73, 1150-1153. “Mathematical SAT test scores and college chemistry grades.”
  8. Bollinger, M. S., H. E. Spencer, and Y. P. Cruz, submitted, “SAT-M scores and grades in introductory biology and chemistry courses.”
  9. Jencks, C., and M. Phillips (1998) The BlackWhite Test Score Gap, The Brookings Press, The Brookings Institute.
  10. Camara, W. J., and A. E. Schmidt (1999) College Board Report No. 99-5, “Groups differences in standardized testing and social stratification.”

Getting the Most from your Graduate Experience; Leana Topper

The foundation of a good scientist is built in graduate school. Although at the time progress can seem painfully slow, scientists often look back over their graduate years and consider how quickly the time passed. By taking advantage of the many opportunities during graduate training, students can become well-rounded scientists, and potentially avoid regret in later years. Following are suggestions to make the path through graduate school less rough and more rewarding.

The Technical Challenge
Unlike graduate students in the humanities, who are required to propose a thesis for admission, graduate students in the basic sciences usually have the opportunity to complete several laboratory rotations before choosing a thesis advisor and designing a project. These short periods of research in various labs allow students to gain knowledge of diverse techniques, to build a strong foundation for bench work, and also aid in understanding the literature. Even after choosing an advisor, it is wise to learn as much as possible about a wide range of techniques that will be useful in a post-doctoral or first independent position. In addition, students with knowledge of diverse techniques are valuable sources of information for their training lab.

Organization is critical to maintaining sanity. Although the advisor is a graduate student's guide, the student is accountable for doing the background research and pushing the project ahead. Critical examinations of the published literature are essential to forming the framework of a project and keeping up with advancements in the field. It is impossible to read or plan too much. Short and long term organization will help determine and retain a clear direction for a project. Keep a calendar of experiments and other preparations that need to be done a week in advance. Planning experiments on a daily basis will help to avoid frustration and indecision. Planning for the long term is more difficult and requires more flexibility, but can be as simple as listing which parts of a project should be accomplished in the next three months. Without clear planning, it is all too easy to lose direction and, as a result, a sense of self-worth.

Along with a plan to carry out the work, decide how to collect the data in an organized fashion. Proper documentation can pre-empt having to re-do work and serves as a potential reference for months, sometimes even years later, when a particular technique may again be needed. Planning for both the shortand longterm also teaches prioritizing skills—that will be useful later in juggling the many responsibilities of a career.

Get Involved
Most graduate programs have some type of student organization. For departments without this type of council, students can speak to faculty and the department chair about forming one and funding it. Students with access to this resource should use it. The academic gatherings provided through this type of organization offer a forum to give presentations and an opportunity to ask questions in an atmosphere that is more relaxed than a typical department seminar or meeting presentation. Also, discussions among peers help hone critical thinking and scientific thinking skills. These groups may also sponsor social events—a great way to build friendships. The best support during graduate school will most likely come from peers. Moreover, classmates can be valuable allies in the future.

Mentoring The thesis advisor is considered a graduate student’s principal mentor, so it is imperative to develop a good working relationship with the advisor. However, the members of a student's thesis committee can also be valuable guides. Do not wait for a committee meeting to discuss research directions or other concerns with committee members. In addition, faculty members both in and outside of the department may be excellent sources of insight and advice. Make appointments and visit them. Though it may be intimidating at first, overcome the fear of asking for help. Also, remember that graduate students are in a position to be mentors to other graduate students or to undergraduates who may be working in the department. Instructing others on techniques can expand the instructor's knowledge, while discussing thesis projects with others may rekindle excitement for one's own work.

Meetings and conferences are significant opportunities to broaden graduate students' knowledge within and beyond their field of interest. Attend a meeting or conference each year not just to look at posters and listen to presentations, but also to step forward and ask questions about the research presented. Don’t pass up the timely chance to meet new people, discuss projects, and find answers to common technical problems. It is also an occasion to meet future post-doctoral advisors and potential employers.

Individual Initiative
Completing graduate school is a long and, at times, difficult adventure. Ask yourself what you expect from your graduate training and then make a plan for reaching those goals. Your project is unique, which means you must learn to think and act independently, take control, and accept the responsibility for the direction of your work. Doing so may lessen some of the worry and pain along the way to obtaining a degree, and build a strong foundation for becoming an exceptional scientist.

—Leana Topper for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

Communicating Effectively in Departmental Meetings; Maureen Brandon and Virginia Allen

Why are some individuals effective at promoting their projects, while other equally meritorious ideas are never advanced? How do you get your own innovative plans accepted and initiated by your organization? At least part of the answer may come from under standing the group dynamics of meetings.

There are many reasons why col leagues do not voice supporting opin ions in a public forum. A few common ones are:

  • They may need time to think about the idea before forming an opinion.
  • They do not want to align them selves with the speaker.
  • They want the meeting to be over.
  • They are not paying attention.
  • They are part of the group only to pad their resume or because it seems un community-spirited to decline to serve but they never intended to partic ipate fully.
  • They are compet ing with the speaker for position or power, or have a competing proposal.

One successful strategy to counteract several of these problems is to solicit opinions or support from fellow group members before the meeting, either in person or by e-mail. This method allows others time to consider a propos al and formulate support — although it also carries an inherent risk of allowing time to formulate opposition. In any case, it is likely that when participants are aware of an idea prior to the meet ing, they will pay closer attention when it comes up for discussion in a group. Compromises with competing individuals can also be addressed ahead of time, further increasing the chances of success. In general, this is a skill that men have developed better than women.

Another strategy to combat the natu ral attention loss during lengthy meet ings is to volunteer to speak first at group meetings. Topics near the top of the agenda will get more attention because group members are more alert.

Women often hinder their ability to effectively communicate with a group by assigning them selves roles within the group. For example, some women view them selves in the traditional, passive role of the group facilitator, moving the meet ing toward closure even if it means withholding their opinion. A related posture is one of preventing conflict, either because it is uncomfortable to the individual or because she takes opposing comments personally. In order to participate fully at meetings, women need to release themselves from these self-imposed roles. One of the best qualities that women can bring to a group is the ability to admit mistakes and work to correct them. Women also tend to be better listeners. Without the full partic ipation of women, group decisions may suffer due to the loss of these perspec tives.

Another reason that individuals do not participate in group discussions is lack of self-confidence or intimidation by the group. These individuals may find it easier to assert themselves if they accept that their position within the group was earned through their abilities.

Why should anyone express their opinions at meetings? One very important reason is that silence is usually viewed as approval. The group decision-making process may be the only oppor tunity to express opposition to or reservations concerning a decision. Without these comments, the group may be stuck with a poor choice for a very long time. An equally important reason to fully participate in groups is visibility. An individual who never supports fellow group members' pro posals or never initiates their own pro grams is invisible in the group. This is especially detrimental for women and minorities seeking to gain acceptance in new fields. Even if you have planned ahead, polled your group like a politician, and managed to place your program at the top of the agenda, do not wait for or depend on others to voice their support. Decide which mountains to climb and be prepared to climb them alone. The penalty for silence is powerlessness.

—Maureen Brandon and Virginia Allen for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

Forgiving Yourself; Dianna L. Bourke

Individuals experience many different life events that require self-forgiveness. For many in science, career transitions sometimes coincide with personal disappointments. This can result in the death of professional and personal dreams when one has to accept that some life plans will not happen as hoped. Disturbingly, there seem to be too often recurring stories about suicide or attempted suicide in reaction to such disappointments, which in science can be particularly profound because of the depth of one’s investment in their career. For what sins can people be so unforgiving of themselves that they contemplate this irreversible solution?

Self-forgiveness is essential to deal with life’s ebbs and flows. Several aspects of self-forgiveness are discussed:

One of the easiest ways to absolve yourself of blame is to determine that a situation is out of your control. A heart-wrenching and maddening example of this type of scenario is watching a student who has great potential seemingly with intention under-perform in school. Teachers can spend a great deal of time tracking down these students, and trying to force their improvement. They may potentially save a few, but at great personal expense. Similarly, individuals may become frustrated each time their life partner is stressed over a project that should have been completed weeks earlier. But one cannot control how others work, and should not hold themselves responsible for the fallout.

People who have an “external locus of control” blame everyone but themselves. If they did not have control, then they have nothing for which to forgive themselves. The professor who believes that “there is nothing wrong with my teaching, the students are just too stupid to get it” may fall into this category. On the other extreme, those that have an exaggerated “internal locus of control,” the self-determinists, assume that they control everything, and perpetually beat themselves up over what they should have done to make things come out differently. These individuals need to determine the realistic probability of what could and could not have been done in a particular situation.

Another part of the assessment process that is easy to invoke, but hard to achieve, is gaining perspective. Loss of perspective is part of what happens to someone who attempts suicide. Alternatively, gaining perspective from surviving professional and life crises is one advantage of middle age. Many people learn coping mechanisms as teenagers from their parents, who have the difficult job of placing adolescent angst in perspective. Helping the teenager maintain a sense of humor can often reduce the problem to a solvable level.

Another coping mechanism is to talk to someone else, preferably someone completely removed from your problem. Some of the benefits of this approach include:

  • An “outsider” can often provide an objective opinion of what is realistic and who has responsibility or control of a situation, and can also provide new ideas, perspectives or solutions.
  • Explaining your situation to another person helps you to process the issue, and to clearly understand what is going on. Just as teaching forces you to break things down, describing your personal situation can make you look at things more carefully or in greater depth.
  • There is great emotional release in having someone else listen to your problems and empathize with how you feel.

Scientists in particular can live in an intensified environment which risks allowing problems to become magnified out of proportion, as in, “I didn’t get that second grant, now the lab only has a quarter of a million dollars!” Comprehensive exams can be taken a second time and terminal masters degrees are not terminal. There is always an alternative. Forgive yourself and move on.

Doing Your Best
The answer to the question, “did you try your best?” can determine how a situation is handled. If a best, although unsuccessful, effort was exerted, then almost anything can be forgiven. If a best effort was not achieved, then an analysis of what could have been changed for the better, and an attempt to rectify the problem the next time, is required before one can forgive oneself.

The definition of “best,” however, is of course relative. What one person may feel is a lifetime achievement, such as a paper being accepted in a highly selective journal, may only be the first rung on the ladder for another. For example, what one person considers good teaching effort may appall colleagues and students. A recent newspaper article entitled, “Blunderers Think They’re Doing Fine, Experts Say,” describes an academic study of test subjects’ assessments of their own abilities. The authors found that incompetent people lack sufficient skills of self analysis to know that they are incompetent, and blithely go through life thinking they know what they are doing. Though this is hardly an Einsteinian hypothesis, at least now there is statistical data proving that it really is a Dilbert world. Using someone else’s definition may push a person to new heights or over the edge.

A complicating issue is the fact that no one handles one task at a time. An individual’s definition of best performance may not be achievable when nine other tasks are being juggled simultaneously. This is particularly frustrating to a perfectionist who feels that anything less than perfect is failure. This is a fairly common characteristic of scientists, who frequently have a difficult time forgiving themselves when their careers inevitably plateau.

It is difficult sometimes to know whether a situation is really too much to handle, or whether weak performance is justified with excuses. For example, people often confront their parents’ declining health during their own middle age. This inevitability imposes personal distraction on one’s research at a time in life when research is likely to be its most demanding. However, rarely does one emerge from such a period regretful of having sacrificed valuable research time for their parents’ needs. All decisions come at a cost.

Credit Where Credit is Due
Sometimes people think, “I made this awful mistake, so I must be a bad person.” Avoid such a black-and-white opinion of yourself. Everyone has their successes and failures, and most things people do are neither dramatically one nor the other. Give yourself credit for your accomplishments, and endeavor to learn from your mistakes.

Resolution to Forgiveness
In assessing your own behavior in any given situation, it may help to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Did I have control of the situation or was it truly out of my hands?
  2. Am I seeing the situation clearly or out of proportion?
  3. Did I do my best considering everything else going on in my life?
  4. Did I learn from the situation? How would I want to handle a similar situation in the future?

Each individual must make the determination of what is forgivable, and which situations need more resolution. With this information, they can create their own way of forgiving and forging ahead.

—Dianna L. Bourke for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

Shaping the Future for Women in Science, Maxine Singer

Bright and early one morning in the mid-1960s, the telephone rang in my laboratory; it was the executive secretary (as Scientific Review Administrators were then known) of an NIH study section. Would I become a member of a biochemistry study section? I chuckled, and said, "no thank you, you haven't wanted me or thought me qualified before," and as far as I knew nothing much had changed since the previous afternoon except that President Lyndon Johnson had decreed that all Federal Government advisory committees would, henceforth, have a substantial number of female members. I'd been getting along quite well without all that additional work and might just as well stick to the laboratory. But in the end, my ego or the promise of influence or the argument that my service would be good for female scientists got to me. I succumbed and did agree to be the token on various committees, though not a study section. I accomplished some interesting and important work for science — but also wasted many hours.

Many female colleagues from my generation can tell similar stories. Often, we served on even more committees and boards than our male colleagues because, given our small numbers and the mandated requirements for representation by women, we were needed, or so it was said. Some of us served on too many such bodies, giving up a great deal of time that could have been spent in the laboratory, the clinic, with our families, or walking on a beach.

In 1990, 25 years after President Johnson's directive, I was completing a term on an influential interdisciplinary committee of the National Academy of Sciences. Members were discussing possible replacements for those about to rotate off the group. Physicists suggested physicists, biochemists suggested biochemists, and so forth. They turned to me and said that, with my departure, the committee would be without a female member and would I please offer some ideas for women who might be appointed? I pointed out that people carrying two X chromosomes did not constitute a particular branch of science, and I thought that they would know the women in their own fields better than I would, so why didn't they come up with the names. It was, I said, their responsibility, not mine, to be sure that women were part of the committee.

Since then, a great deal of progress has been made and the opportunities for women in research are substantially improved. When the New York Times Science Times featured a story about telomeres, all the major contributors credited were women, starting with Barbara McClintock's studies on chromosome stability right through to the work of Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider.

Yet, we have to face up to the fact that affirmative action, no matter how laudable it is, has worked at a snail's pace. Many superb, accomplished female scientists have been trained in the last 25 years, but so few have reached the professorial ranks, and so many are still being discouraged. A 1992 Science magazine issue on women in science described the situation as so dismal that even chemistry was characterized as a field that was middling on opportunities for women, somewhere between neurobiology, seen as pretty good, and mathematics, which was the pits. Yet, at how many chemistry departments do women abound and feel as though they belong?

We can wait around for a while longer in the hope that progress will slowly continue. In the meanwhile, a lot of money that could be used for good science will be spent on studies that try to determine why affirmative action has not worked more rapidly, and why young female scientists disappear somewhere between their Ph.D. or M.D. degrees and the assistant professor positions. Ultimately, all the "old school" men who still call us "honey" will age sufficiently to retire and maybe, just maybe, the younger men will be different.

But it seems to me that waiting around is insufficient. Current strategies have an important flaw. No matter how hard we may work to have them succeed, they depend ultimately on other people, mainly men, changing their attitudes and expectations. At a Gordon Conference organized by Princeton biochemist Shirley Tilghman in 1988, fully 33% of speakers were women; two years later, at another conference on the same subject organized by men, there were two female speakers. The contrast is powerful. Yet, when we speak of recruitment, retention, and reentry, we mean getting the current research institution hierarchies to be responsible for the advancement of women; the workplace climate is set by the current faculties, overwhelmingly men.

We need a strategy that depends on women. One that assumes we will expend our energies on improving the opportunity for women to succeed in biomedical careers, not on complaining about the failure of others to do so. At their best, our networks help all of us cope with problems and disappointments. But how will effective connections be made between the best of networks and the places where decisions are being made? Networks can provide sympathetic ears, but they cannot easily provide a laboratory of one's own. And who really wants to be part of the "old boys' network"?

We have to stop expecting that our male colleagues will change. The fact is, many of them are, understandably and appropriately, much more concerned about their own research than about the status of women. We need to face the reality of our colleagues' ambitions, recognize our own, and acknowledge that ours will not change theirs. Indeed, ambition and competition are mostly constructive contributors to good science. As Wallace Stegner puts it in his novel Crossing to Safety, "unconsidered, merely indulged, ambition becomes a vice; it can turn a man into a machine that knows nothing but how to run. Considered, it can be something else — pathway to the stars, maybe." We cannot expect that our male colleagues will become more collegial, less ambitious, or less competitive to meet our needs, and it is probably not desirable from the point of view of science.

There is another flaw in our current strategies. They address the world as it is, not as it will be. Our energies should go into making sure that the future gets shaped to foster women's contributions to science. A new strategy, therefore, must have three essential elements. First, we must strive to do the best science that we can: the most original, the most rigorous, the most interesting. Second, we must depend on ourselves and not on others to enable us to contribute to science and, thus, to human welfare. Third, we must make certain that we have a substantial say in the shape of the future. To achieve this, we can gather some clues from our male colleagues who have, in the past 40 years, built an extraordinarily successful research enterprise in our country. They, like the scientists concerned with telomeres, have chosen avenues of inquiry that opened new fields and expanded our very sense of what the questions are. We should emulate that but with our own agenda. In so doing we will move from the periphery, from being supplicants for fair treatment, to being the shapers of the future.

Consider the phenomenon of menopause. What fundamental aspects of living things will be revealed when we understand this profound change? What will the implications be for understanding aging in general? Consider contraception. Adolescents in the United States become sexually active at about the same age and rate as teens in Canada and Sweden, but the U.S. leads the industrialized world in teen pregnancy. Clearly, more choices among effective contraceptives are desperately needed. Work in this area is likely to produce a substantial, fundamental understanding of the processes of ovulation, oocyte and sperm maturation, and fertilization. A successful effort might also yield innovative routes out of a political issue that is tearing our country apart: access to abortion. Our male colleagues have not insisted that contraception be on the active research agenda, but we should be strongly motivated to guarantee that it is.

This area of research is important for yet another reason: the increasing world-wide concern for the environment. We all decry the extinction of uncounted, even unknown species. We need to face the fact that the unchecked expansion of our own species is a root cause of the loss of biological diversity.

The agenda I am proposing will not be easy to achieve. In our country, there are powerful political forces that would prefer to forget that the ramifications of sex are central to all our lives. At least in part, such views reflect a deep denial of women and women's legitimate rights and interests. Menopause embarrasses people; contraception not only embarrasses but also gravely troubles many. Indeed, there are indications that if the antiabortion forces succeed in turning back the clock by overturning Roe v. Wade, they will then actively pursue an anticontraception agenda. But solid biomedical research in these areas will increasingly legitimize these fields and will make it more and more difficult to ignore the associated societal and cultural realities.

A sound scientific agenda, based on vital issues of concern to women, is one way to promote the role and status of female scientists. We must also ensure a healthy presence of women in Congress. Just as our male leaders have cultivated the interest of senators and representatives in biomedical research to extraordinarily good effect, female scientists, too, can cultivate the interest of women in Congress to assure the promotion of a women's health agenda. The availability of grants in research of interest to women and the excellent science they can support will not only contribute to the ability of women to capture faculty positions, but they also will strengthen bargaining positions during recruitment negotiations. Carl Djerassi suggested in a letter to Science that extra help for child care should be considered comparable to the mortgage support that is used as a recruitment device in academic institutions. In families where one spouse's benefits provide for a family's health insurance, the other spouse could be offered child-care support as an employment benefit. There are many possibilities to think about. The important thing is to seize the opportunities that are being offered and to use them to define new scientific agendas that have the potential for major contributions to knowledge and alleviate societal problems. From this can come a vitality that cannot be ignored and that will place women at the center of the research enterprise.

—Maxine Singer for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

Modified and Reproduced with Permission from the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health (Proceedings of the Workshop on Women in Biomedical Careers: Dynamics of Change, Vol.1, pp.49-53, 1992).

  1. New York Times. Science Times. 9 June 1992.
  2. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Science 1992:255(13): 1325-1480.
  3. Stegner W. Crossing to safety. New York: Random House,1987.
  4. C. Djerassi, "My Mom, the Professor," Science, Vol. 239, 10 (1988).

AXXS'99, Achieving Excellence in Science; W. Sue Shafer

Representatives from over 50 scientific societies participated in a unique meeting — AXXS ["Access"] '99 — December 9 & 10, 1999. A satellite to the Annual Meeting of the ASCB, the workshop brought together scientific society representatives with the power to effect change within their organizations. They developed draft plans to address the problems common to the career advancement of women.

Catalyzed by the ASCB Women in Cell Biology Committee, funding was provided by the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The meeting also received broad endorsement from virtually all the institutes and centers at the NIH.

Participants were divided into working groups, each of which addressed one of five general topics:

  • mentoring and networking to promote the contributions of women scientists;
  • career developent for women scientists at the mid and senior levels;
  • representation of women in scientific societies;
  • sharing model systems that work, and
  • outreach and collaboration within and between societies and other organizations to advance science by promoting women. Each working group described several visions of what the future would look like if the problems were solved. Obstacles to be overcome if the visions were to be realized and initiatives to address the problems were proposed. Each group selected two initiatives to develop into action plans, consisting of a clearly defined initiative, a method to implement the initiative, and a means to evaluate success. In addition, the first steps to implement the plans, and the person(s) to carry out these steps, were identified.

The seven working groups produced 14 draft initiatives. As expected, many initiatives overlapped or were complementary. Mentoring and networking activities and strategies headed the list as actions most needed both within and between societies and other organizations. Other initiatives included: increasing public awareness of scientists, what they do, and the possibilities for careers in science for young women and men; educating young scientists about the "unwritten rules" of career advancement; developing a best-practices clearing house aimed at increasing access, retention and advancement of women's careers in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology; developing a public "report card" of family/women friendly institutions and organizations and effective use of carrots and sticks with such institutions; developing an umbrella organization with membership from multiple societies to advance women scientists in all organizations, and developing a database of women scientists across societies to be used for speakers, committees, editorial boards, collaborations, and leadership positions. Such a database would be an extension of existing activities such as the ASCB Women in Cell Biology's Women Speaker’s Bureau & Referral Service. A recurring theme was the need to maximize the investment embodied in a woman who has earned a Ph.D. so that the scientific contributions of which she is capable are not lost to science and society.

After the presentation of each draft action plan, a distinguished group of commentators and participants from other groups discussed the plans. Commentators included many individuals with experience and concern for women scientists: the Deputy Director of the NIH, other NIH representatives from both the extramural and intramural programs, representatives of large and small scientific organizations, the Editor-in-Chief of a major scientific trade publication, the Director of the Gordon Research Conferences, and the executive directors of prominent research and women’s organizations.

One immediate outcome of AXXS'99 is a website to be hosted by the ASCB describing the initiatives underway and related information.

ASCB members who wish to get involved with implementing an initiative should contact one of the workshop organizers. A follow-up meeting to consolidate the draft plans will take place in Spring 2000.

Participants left the meeting with a feeling of momentum. Concrete means to address women scientists' career advancement are underway and in the hands of capable women.

—W. Sue Shafer, University of California, San Francisco, and Maureen Brandon, Idaho State University, for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

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