Inspirational and Practical Messages from the First ISSCR Women in Science Luncheon

August 8, 2019

The ISSCR hosted a panel of women at the leading edge of science to share their personal life experiences and discuss how they communicate in fields still largely dominated by men. The discussion, held at the 2019 annual meeting, was extremely inspiring; as a young woman in science, I learned a lot.

WiS PanelResized

Scientific leaders including Christine Mummery, PhD, Professor of Developmental Biology, Leiden University Medical Center, the Netherlands; Sally Temple, PhD, Neural Stem Cell Institute, USA; Rachel Haurwitz, PhD, President and CEO, Caribou Biosciences, USA; and Laura Mosqueda, MD, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, USA shared stories of their professional careers in academia and industry and their personal lives, childhoods, and families.

Each story uniquely relayed important take-aways, and threads of similarities could be found throughout: experiences of being the only woman in the room, being made to feel that they were too sensitive or were invisible, being talked over and not truly heard, experiencing gender bias and inappropriate behaviors, and being intimidated by men who controlled their careers.

In response to these common experiences, the panelists noted that women often lose self-confidence and decline opportunities. We say “no” to the opportunity to present at international conferences; we say “no” to the opportunity to speak up; we say “no” to the opportunity to take breaks in our careers to start families because we fear losing the high impact papers that define success in science. These observations were disturbing, but resonated with me. 

Other common themes focused on the importance of communication. Dr. Mosqueda underscored that leading is about listening carefully and trying to understand different points of view. Dr. Haurwitz stressed the importance of communicating clearly in all settings and taking every opportunity to practice communicating science to others. She also discussed the need to be brave and advocate for yourself and others. Dr. Mummery spoke about the need to lead by example and to remember that when you open a door you should reach back and extend a hand to make sure it is easier for others to follow.

I was also interested in the discussion about how women are often measured by male values of success. Dr. Temple said that “As women, we need to define our own ideas for success and rise up when we hit a barrier.” Dr. Mosqueda challenged the men in the audience to see what they could learn from women to help improve society. She mentioned the example of different negotiating styles between men and women, with men often asking for more than is needed and women asking only to meet the need; perhaps they could learn from one another. While men can be competitive, the panelists experienced women as more collaborative, working together to lift others up; they suggested that men could learn from women how to be less competitive and more collaborative, less judgmental and more compassionate. In the end, in science as in life, it’s all about good communication, listening carefully, and being understanding.

I agree with the panelists’ take-home message: women should remember that if you get asked to do something, just do it! Say “Yes” to opportunities! I am glad I said “Yes” to the opportunity to join the Women in Science Luncheon and to share my experience with you.

Blog by guest contributor Elisa Giacomelli, PhD candidate in the lab of Christine Mummery at the Leiden University Medical Center, the Netherlands.