Scientist of the Month
Dr. Virginie Buggia-Prévot is a research scientist at the Institute for Applied Cancer Science at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She serves as head of neuroscience target discovery and validation at the Neurodegeneration Consortium, a collaboration of MD Anderson, Baylor College of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her role is to act as a liaison between consortium members at MD Anderson and top scientists in the field at MIT and Baylor College of Medicine to find new targets for therapies to stop, slow or reverse Alzheimer’s disease. Her work involves interacting with many of the researchers and postdocs as well as keep up with the changing trends in literature. Virginie finds the experience both enriching and fun.
To arrive at her current position in Houston, Texas, Virginie faced many trials and tribulations. Through perseverance and a great support network, she gained many experiences, accumulated great wisdom and succeeded at finding a career about which she is passionate.
Virginie was born in Grenoble, France. In France, she discovered her love for the sciences and as an undergraduate, working in a lab that focused on Parkinson’s disease. Continuing her focus on neurodegenerative diseases, she completed her Ph.D. at Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Nice Sophia-Antipolis, France. There she studied amyloid-beta and found a novel pathway in which it associated with neuroinflammation in Alzheimer’s disease. It was at this point Virginie decided to take a chance, leave France and pursue Alzheimer’s disease as a postdoc at the University of Chicago. While transitioning from France to the United States was a challenge, she found that the transition from postdoc to her current position more demanding.
At this point of her life, Virginie knew she had a crucial decision to make.
“At the same time you have to try to find opportunities,” she says.
As a postdoc, Virginie published eight articles in peer-reviewed journals, including work on the transport of the Alzheimer’s disease-associated protein BACE1, obtained $180,000 in grant funding for her research and provided the critical data to help fund a project with collaborators at Northwestern University for $400,000. However, obtaining data and becoming published were not the only keys to her success. She had to learn how to effectively network.
Virginie has learned that postdocs are not always aware of how to network efficiently, with many experiencing “failures and bad experiences.” To combat this issue, Virginie openly sought out sources to network and communicate. She became the co-chair for the seminar and social media committees at the University of Chicago’s Biological Science Division Postdoctoral Association. There were plenty of opportunities to interact with people within the university. She also enjoyed communicating outside the university through social media channels such as Twitter. Aside from gaining access to a community of academics and biotech groups outside of the University of Chicago, she also received followers from peer-reviewed journals and foundations.
“It’s always nice to be able to do something and also to promote the foundations,” says Virginie.
Meeting some of those followers in person was a great way to connect with others personally and professionally. So many postdocs do great work but their exposure may be limited, she says.
“It’s essential to have a good LinkedIn page and to promote your work. Everybody Googles you now,” says Virginie.
She fully used these tools and, as a result of the contacts she gained, successfully transitioned from postdoc to her position at MD Anderson.
Life is not meant to be all work and no play. MD Anderson encourages its employees to maintain a work-life balance. For Virginie, that notion can be a little difficult at times.
“I have a very hard time turning off my brain at night,” she says. “I’m the type of person who will wake up in the middle of the night and draw schematics and write down experiments.”
She has a true passion for science and recognizes that when you love what you do, it can be hard to walk away. Luckily for Virginie, she has found that balance with her husband, a non-scientist. They both value the arts and enjoy visiting museums and traveling in their spare time. She attributes her love for all things culinary to her French roots and takes joy in cooking at home. Virginie has found that great balance between working in an environment that she loves and living her life to the fullest extent.
For people trying to find their way through STEM careers, she offers some wise advice.
“If you are passionate about something, it will be transparent and people will definitely give you opportunities,” says Virginie. “Find people who inspire you and surround yourself with people who believe in you. Share your passions with the world and your friends because you never know where you are going to find your next opportunity. By verbalizing the things you like, the more it would be clear in your head what you are looking for.”
Virginie’s perseverance through adversity and challenges is inspiring to women in STEM everywhere.
By Rashika Rangaraj
Dr. Eileen Dolan, Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago, is dedicated to transforming patient care and health through her research by combining laboratory discoveries with patient needs. Her motto has always been to improve the patient’s quality of life, which she has successfully pursued using different approaches that range from pharmacological modifications of a single protein to identifying gene variants, with the ultimate goal of making chemotherapy more efficient and less toxic. In addition to training several scientists and inspiring many more, many of whom are independent scientists, she has also initiated two programs that introduce cancer research to enthusiastic high schoolers to help them gain a better understanding of current developments in research and inspire them to pursue a career in research.
Dr. Dolan, by training, is a chemist, having completed her bachelors at the University of Dayton and her doctoral degree in Medicinal Chemistry from Purdue University. With her strong background in analytical chemistry, she transitioned into drug development and obtained her training in biochemical pharmacology in Dr. Anthony Peggs’ lab at Pennsylvania State University. During her postdoctoral study she focused on developing compounds to inhibit a specific DNA repair protein that would later passage into clinical trials against cancer. Following this she obtained her first position at the University of Chicago as a translational oncologist. Through her newly founded lab in the department of Medicine, she applied her strong chemistry and pharmacology background to address clinically relevant questions to meet the needs of cancer patients.
Then came one of the biggest turning points of her career, where she made a dramatic switch to venture into what was then an exciting, emerging field, now continues to be one with lots of promise- Pharmacogenomics. This field combines the powers of genomics and pharmacology to identify genetic variations that affect drug response and drug toxicity. She strongly believes this would eventually lead to evaluating patients for genetic variants upon which their course of therapy could be decided such that effective outcomes with lowered toxicity could be achieved, also popularly termed as “personalized medicine”. It promises to greatly improve lives of several patients suffering from toxic side-effects of chemotherapy like hearing loss and neuropathy. She has pioneered in developing novel cell-based models to study why different patients respond differently to the same chemotherapy regiment. She notes that the answer lies in their genetic make-up. She placed emphasis on taking an unbiased approach to research by “stepping back and allowing the data to dictate”. She notes that the field of genomics has been revolutionized by unbiased analysis of genomic data, where intronic (non-coding) regions in the DNA could also play a vital role in complex diseases such as cancer.
Improving patient lives is not the only gratifying part of her work; she also enjoys being an educator and mentor. Besides mentoring many graduate students, medical students and post-docs, she has initiated two notable projects to inspire young minds to pursue science. The first is the Continuing Umbrella of Research Experience (CURE) program which is designed for the most promising high school and undergraduate students from underrepresented populations interested in pursuing careers in cancer research. This allows students to immerse themselves in hands-on research and complete small achievable projects under established mentors at the University of Chicago. The second program is called researcHStart, an 8-week cancer-focused research and career development experience for the most promising high school students from the Chicago and Champaign-Urbana areas.
Drawing from her own experiences, her one advice was, “ taking risks is a big part of succeeding in life”. She stressed that as a woman one needs to cultivate a courageous, willing to take risks type of personality at the same time remember that things will not always work out as planned and be open to failure.
Dr. Dolan is an avid runner, loves to perform yoga and enjoys cooking for her family. Additionally, she spends time over the weekends with elderly citizens. She notes that their unique perspective on life is enchanting.
by Katarina Kotnik Halavaty, PhD.
Guylaine Haché is a technical advisor at Rakoczy Molino Mazzochi Siwik LLP, a litigation and intellectual property law firm in Chicago, IL. She is pursuing her J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology. Prior to starting her law career, Guylaine obtained her Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.
“I love science. In fact, I consider myself a scientist first and a patent practitioner second.” For her doctoral thesis, Guylaine studied the molecular mechanism by which a family of proteins called APOBEC can mutate the HIV genome. Her work was recognized as an outstanding research by graduate students in the basic biomedical sciences, and she was awarded the Beatrice Z. Milne and Theodore Brandenburg Award. While in graduate school, she held doctoral studentships from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and Canadian Institutes of Health Research. After successfully completing her doctoral research Guylaine moved to Chicago to begin postdoctoral training at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. There, she studied the life cycle of HPV. In total, she authored six and co-authored three scientific articles in recognized peer reviewed journals during her short research career at the bench.
During her postdoctoral training, Guylaine began questioning whether laboratory research was the right career for her. She desired more scientific diversity rather than focusing on the narrow area of research in which she had specialized. It was a discussion with a postdoctoral colleague, Marta New, PhD, MBA, that led her to explore a career in patent law. At the time Marta was transitioning from her postdoctoral position to Entrepreneur in Residence at Northwestern University’s Innovation and New Ventures Office. “Marta brought technology transfer and patent law to my attention,” says Guylaine. After doing some research she realized that with her scientific background she would fit well in law firms specializing in patent law to protect clients’ inventions. “I was especially excited about the prospect of working at the cutting-edge of research and being exposed to a wide range of technologies,” she explains. After conducting a few informational interviews with patent attorneys, Guylaine decided to turn her research expertise and her desire to learn about a wide range of scientific issues into her new profession.
Guylaine left academia. “I was very motivated to make the switch to patent law, so I applied to numerous law firms across the country.” In the end, Guylaine landed a job as a technical advisor with Ropes & Gray LLP in Boston, MA. In her new position at Ropes & Gray, Guylaine assisted drafted and prosecuted patent applications for the firm’s clients in the United States and abroad. “Basically, this includes talking to clients about their potentially patentable inventions, conducting searches in various databases to identify what has already been invented and published, drafting and ﬁling patent applications, and taking patent applications through the patent examination process.” While at Ropes & Gray, Guylaine prosecuted patents in a wide range of technologies including molecular biology, immunology, photodynamic therapy, medical devices and diagnostics. She says that one of the most satisfying aspects of patent law is that, “It offers the opportunity to work on a wide variety of topics where one can learn about cutting-edge research before it’s published.”
Guylaine has since left Boston and is now back in Chicago. She now works as a technical advisor for Rakoczy Molino Mazzochi Siwik LLP, a mid-sized litigation and intellectual property law firm devoted exclusively to the pharmaceutical industry. In her current position, Guylaine provides technical litigation support to attorneys, works with experts to develop theories for use in patent litigation, as well as assists with patent counseling and due diligence analyses. She emphasizes that paying attention to details and having good analytical as well as communication skills are critical in her profession. A small mistake can have a serious consequence for a client. “I did not have to think about how a mistake might impact a client while performing bench research in academia,” she admits. Another situation that she encounters in her non-academic role at times is, “It’s a service industry, and clients always come first.” Now these challenges are part of her every day work.
Guylaine is attending Chicago-Kent College of Law in the evening. She is on track to graduate law school in December 2016 and looks forward to taking on more responsibilities as an attorney with Rakoczy Molino Mazzochi Siwik. She is excited to have “a more active role on cases, including taking and defending depositions, participating in negotiations and mediations, and attending court hearings.” While Guylaine enjoys applying her scientific background in a legal and business setting, she finds working and going to law school quite challenging at times. “It’s not for everyone,” she says. She recalls that at one point, she was working 8-5, attending law school by night, and getting home to study until midnight, only to get up in the morning to do it all over again. Speaking from her experiences in pursuing her goals, she believes that hard work and perseverance are the secrets to success. In the process of achieving goals she advises the following: “Just work hard and good things will happen!”
by Karen Chien, PhD.
Joan is a well established investigator who has published over 50 peer reviewed articles in journals including the Journal of Physiology-Lung and the Journal of Immunology. Her research interests range from leukocyte migration during inflammation and allergic disease to the signaling of vascular endothelial adhesion molecule (VCAM-1). One of her most important findings involves the regulation of lung function by vitamin E isoforms. She discovered that when humans consumed gamma-tocopherol, the form of vitamin E found in corn, soybean, and canola oils, there was an association with a higher incidence of asthma; the consumption of alpha tocopherol, the vitamin E isoform present in olive and sunflower oils, was associated with increased lung function. Her work uncovered mechanisms in which vitamin E can regulate the immune system. This work of paramount importance in understanding the health benefits of vitamin E has been featured internationally in media and magazines including MORE Magazine, Medical Daily, and the New York Times.
Joan spent her childhood in the small town of Charlevoix in northern Michigan, where there were only two stoplights when she was growing up! She has always had an interest in science and medicine. Although she majored in pre-medicine during college, she found that she wanted to pursue research after talking to professionals in different areas. She became intrigued with immunology after a recruitment summer internship in an immunology focused lab within the biochemistry department at Michigan State University. After receiving her PhD, she completed postdoctoral research in the field of neuro-immunology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She then spent 13 years as faculty at the University of Cincinnati, where she enjoyed working with and being surrounded by immunologists, before coming to Northwestern.
Joan chose the academic track because of a good personality fit and interest level in science. But most importantly, she enjoys being able to dive deep into the interesting questions while exploring scientific literature. Ultimately, she hopes that her work can unravel biological mechanisms of the human body that can be used to help people live better and healthier lives. Her background allows her to be creative and to study the interface between immunology, vascular biology/cardiology, neurology, signaling, and nutrition.
The motivation and drive that Joan brings to the lab is inspiring to her students and mentees. Joan has mentored many students as part of the Summer Research Opportunities Program with a focus on minorities as well as trained many women of all ages. Her dedication to research is shown by her commitment to constantly working directly at the bench alongside her students. The reason why she remains active in the lab is that “doing the experiments helps to troubleshoot with students”. Her greatest satisfaction as a mentor and professor comes from seeing a student reach the “Eureka!” moment in understanding a scientific concept. She highly encourages women to seek resources and training through different programs. This exposure gives opportunities to talk to others to find out what one is good at and passionate about; both men and women mentors can have very complementing but unique perspectives which can be helpful. Also, she emphasizes that networking and maintaining a network is important for growth and success in science. Her main advice to young scientists is, “Do whatever you really like doing because you’re going to be doing it a lot”. Being passionate about your interests in your life is critical, and also “Never give up. Don’t ever be afraid. Just go for it!”
by Yomayra Guzman, PhD
Jelena Radulovic, M.D., Ph.D., is a Professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine with a dual appointment in the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and the Pharmacology departments. In 2013, Dr. Radulovic was installed as the Dunbar Professor of Bipolar Disorders. She is also an associate editor for The Journal of Neuroscience and a senior editor for the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.
Born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia, Jelena has been a scholar since her youth. Encouraged by her academic parents, Jelena learned from early on to nurture her intellect and curiosity about the world – she is fluent in Serbian, German, English, Italian, and French! During her formative years she personally witnessed the debilitating effects of neurological disease and decided to study medicine with a specialization in neuropsychiatry. Jelena received her medical degree from the University of Belgrade in 1988. Once at the “bedside,” she felt helpless because the treatments for neurological conditions at the time were mostly palliative. At that point, she understood the urgent need for basic research in neuroscience. Driven by her passion to understand neurological disease, Jelena completed a PhD in 1993. “At the beginning I hated research. It was messy!” Jelena admitted during the interview. “As a student, you learn about scientific discoveries in textbooks and they are written as facts. This was very different from science, where not one particular experiment is definitive and scientific models are constructed with time.” As time went by she became excited about her discoveries and felt fortunate that, as a researcher, she could be the first one to learn something new about the world.
Her passion for scientific research in neuroscience is palpable. Intellectually, she aspires to understand the intersection between the brain and the mind. By studying the molecular mechanisms that mediate acquisition, retrieval, and consolidation of fear memories, the Radulovic laboratory has identified key neurobiological pathways causing anxiety- and depression-like behaviors. Her academic success has been remarkable, and her research has been showcased several times in local and international news media.
An important piece of advice Jelena offers to young scientists is to not be afraid of debating, since open and honest discussions about their interests is the best way to overcome personal and professional barriers. “If there is one thing we can say about Tim Hunt, it is that his comments opened the door for honest discussions. Women and men all over the world were able to express themselves and make fun of the stereotypes,” Jelena mentioned. Jelena does not feel that her professional goals were negatively affected by her gender. In fact, her male graduate mentors, Professors Branislav Jankovic and Joachim Spiess, were quite progressive and always fostered equality in their laboratories. Influenced by these great mentors and by her own egalitarian ideals, Jelena strives to maintain a supportive atmosphere in her laboratory.
Her commitment to scientific training is obvious; Jelena states that the greatest joy of her profession is seeing her students grow and mature, both professionally and personally, throughout their training. She has mentored a substantial number of people throughout her career, many of whom have succeeded in academic and non-academic professions. In addition, Jelena collaborates with international scientists and provides her professional expertise to promote the creation of research programs in Serbia sponsored by NIH Fogarty International Center funds.
by Linda Foit, PhD
Marta New is a Principal at Baxalta Ventures where she identifies, evaluates and executes new investment opportunities in healthcare and biotechnology. She holds a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
In her current role in corporate venture capital, Marta uses strategic and analytical approaches on a daily basis when assessing the commercialization potential of new technologies to invest in. However, she has also successfully applied this line of thinking to find a fulfilling career path that best matches her interests and abilities. For instance, when nearing the end of her PhD training, she conducted some major soul-searching to determine which career would best fit her personality and her lifestyle expectations. After an initial goal to pursue an R&D position in the private sector but ending up doing a postdoc instead, she devised a plan on how a postdoctoral fellowship could best help her develop the skills she needed to succeed in a career in industry after academia. “I looked at everything I did during my postdoc through the lens of how it would look on my resume and how attractive it would look to big pharma”, Marta explains. By volunteering to take over management of the laboratory budget for example, she quickly gained experience in accounting, negotiation tactics and project management, skills that are highly valued outside of academia.
The single most influential decision however that Marta made during her time research time at Northwestern was to enroll in Kellogg’s MBA program. “Thinking like a PhD means thinking about problems very deeply” says Marta when explaining how business school has opened her up to new ways of approaching problems. “As an MBA, I now believe that there is value to thinking more broadly, knowing a little bit about everything, and then solving a problem as part of a team”. It was in one of her classes that Marta met Alicia Loffler, who taught a class on biotech management and is currently the Executive Director at Northwestern’s Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO). “By asking lots of questions during and after class, I learned a tremendous amount from Alicia about the commercialization of technologies”, says Marta, underscoring the importance of identifying mentors one can learn from. The questions she asked after class were apparently good ones, as Alicia offered her a newly created position as Entrepreneur in Residence at INVO while pursuing her MBA. In this role, Marta provided strategic recommendations for patenting, licensing and commercialization of early stage therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices developed at Northwestern and also contributed to new venture formations at the Feinberg School of Medicine.
After successfully applying her business skills in an academic setting, Marta moved to the private sector to help manage the global portfolio of dialysis products for Baxter Healthcare. One of the challenges she faced during this transition was the difference in communication styles between scientists and business professionals. Marta explains that while in scientific discussions opinion discourse is highly encouraged, during business meetings open criticism is not necessarily appreciated. Instead of playing devil’s advocate, a constructive, solution-oriented feedback that leads to consensus is much more valued in a business setting. While Marta enjoyed applying her business knowledge to products on a global scale during her work in Baxter’s marketing division, she felt she did not utilize one of her biggest assets enough – her extensive scientific training. Again, to solve this problem Marta developed a strategic career plan so that she eventually would be able to better combine her savvy for business with her passion for science. After doing some research (like a true scientist), she identified a profession that would allow her to use both her PhD as well as her MBA training on a daily basis – venture capital. Through long-term networking and skills building, Marta was eventually able to secure a position in the highly competitive field of Venture Capital, a field that speaks both to her love for science and her interest in business. She also found a new mentor, her current supervisor Geeta Vemuri, Managing partner of Baxalta Ventures, who continues to coach Marta on relevant skills important in this industry.
To somebody who seeks to break into a new professional area (as Marta has done multiple times) she has the following advice: “First, identify where you want to go. Then identify two or three people in that field and offer your help for free.” Such project-based work is not only an excellent opportunity to receive feedback and get guidance on how to improve ones’ skills. In the end, offering rather than asking for help is also a great way of building lasting relationships.
By Barbara Di Eugenio, PhD
Brooke Shipley is Professor and Head of the Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She has been at UIC since 2003, when she was hired as an Associate Professor. She had previously earned tenure at Purdue University in 2002. She was promoted to Full Professor in 2007, served as Director of Graduate Studies from 2010 to 2012 and Acting Head in Fall 2013. She was appointed as Head in Fall 2014. Her field of research is Algebraic Topology, which she informally defines as “the study of high dimensional spaces and structures using algebra”. She currently has three PhD students.
Brooke credits her interests in math and science to a special math program she took part in during junior high, that exposed her to enriched material, including simplified examples from university level abstract algebra and to her mother, who taught mathematics at community colleges and junior and senior high schools. However, her path to mathematics was not completely straight. When she was in high school she aspired to be a medical doctor first and an engineer later. When she went to Harvard she initially planned to major in physics, but then discovered that her true passion is pure math, precisely because it is not applied. After obtaining her PhD from MIT, she had two postdocs, one at the University of Notre Dame and one at the University of Chicago.
Brooke has long been interested in gender and science and has been involved with student and faculty programs for women in science since college. UIC received an NSF ADVANCE grant in 2006 to support the Women in Science and Engineering System Transformation (WISEST) program with the goal to increase the number, participation, and leadership status of women in science and engineering at UIC. From 2009 to 2012, Brooke was a co-PI on this grant, representing women faculty in science and supporting the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs in her role as PI. Brooke was the Director of WISEST during 2012-2013.
Brooke credits her success in math to rarely doubting herself, to her mother’s example and support, and to the early math programs she took part in. Her advice to young girls is to take part in school math programs such as math circles and competitions, just having fun, and not worrying about the results. Additionally, they should actively seek other girls with the same interests. Brooke has always been seeking the professional support of other women mathematicians and scientists, and creating women groups if there was none. This is something Brooke still enjoys. The latest instance occurred when she co-led a group of six women in a research project at a one-week long workshop for women in topology, during summer 2013. They conducted research together at the workshop and the collaboration still continues by email and teleconferencing.
Brooke describes being Head of a department as “juggling 20 balls”. And she juggles additional balls, since Brooke has a 12 year old daughter to whom she devotes much of her time. Additionally, Brooke has been a dancer all her life, from ballet in grade school to modern as a graduate student to contact improvisation as a postdoc, to salsa as a professor. She also enjoys being in nature and hiking in the mountains. She has a chance to do so every summer, since her parents live in Colorado.
By Irena Antic, PhD
Dr. Dimitra Georganopoulou is the Innovation and Commercialization Officer at the Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO), the President of Women in Bio (WIB) and a past board member of Association for Women in Science (AWIS)-Chicago. In her current role at INVO at Northwestern University she employs the extensive set of scientific and interpersonal skills she acquired during her training in the US and Europe to help Northwestern inventors commercialize their research. Her typical day involves meetings with inventors, strategic partners, entrepreneurs and lawyers. She strives toward “work-life integration” instead of work-life balance and achieves it by spending quality time with her family, reading for pleasure, and pursuing her outreach interests.
Dimitra’s interest in science began when she was a young girl in Greece, where her father, an electrical engineer, fostered her natural inclinations towards science. By the time she entered college, she became fascinated with Physical Chemistry, in particular the field of electrochemical sensors with archaeological applications. Her graduate work took her to the UK, where she continued to learn about electrochemical sensors technologies and their various applications in biotechnology instead. While working on her PhD, Dimitra had a chance to meet with Rudolph Marcus, a Nobel Prize winner, at a small scientific conference. She credits this experience with teaching her that approaching discussions fearlessly with intelligent technical and personal perspective can be professionally rewarding.
Next, Dimitra moved to the United States to expose herself to state-of-the-art research and facilities and expand her field of expertise. She completed two postdocs, one at University of North Carolina with Prof. Royce Murray, and one at Northwestern University with Professor Chad Mirkin, though she always worked on sensors. While being very proactive, she ended up being at the right time and at the right place when Prof. Tom Meade recruited her for his burgeoning start-up Ohmx Corporation. During her years with Ohmx, Dimitra “wore many different hats” and learned about many aspects of product development, entrepreneurship and company operations. This experience taught her another important lesson: one can learn the most when you place yourself into the epicenter of a field or venture.
Over the years, Dimitra continued to develop and nurture relationships with her colleagues and became involved in AWIS, AACC (American Association of Clinical Chemists) and then WIB, which focuses on promoting careers and leadership opportunities for women in life sciences. Today she leads WIB, and gets much satisfaction from connecting professional women to each other, as well as enabling their career development. She firmly believes that “when you give, you indirectly get” and uses this guiding principle to foster mentorship and camaraderie within WIB. While with WIB, she has learned from various mentors that establishing meaningful relationships is a key to long-term success. Dimitra hopes to encourage female scientists to find a way to incorporate their passions into any work environment, cultivate their professional relationships, and believe in their place in the field of their choosing.
Authored By Kathleen M. Filetti-Shapiro (AWIS)
Edited by Diana Anderson, Argonne National Laboratory
Lisa Durham is a principal environmental engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary science and engineering research center run by the U.S. Department of Energy. She is also the interim director of the Leadership Institute at Argonne. The institute provides Argonne researchers and staff with tools and opportunities to develop their professional and leadership skills. “At Argonne, we believe that each individual has a distinct set of valuable skills and we teach people how to grow and capitalize on their abilities. Teaching people how to succeed is good for the individual and it’s good for science,” said Durham.
With more than 20 years of experience, Durham has successfully navigated the federal research sector. Her research focuses on soil, groundwater and environmental modeling for the characterization, remediation and closure of hazardous waste sites. Her work has been featured in a multitude of publications.
“It is essential that scientists and engineers build their leadership and communication skills in addition to their technical skill sets,” said Durham. “As a researcher, I know firsthand how fascinating and consuming life in the laboratory or out in the field can be. However, it is critical to be able to communicate your research, progress and goals effectively with collaborators, funders, stakeholders and with the public. We need to be able to communicate the value of science. If we don’t do that, who will?”
Throughout her career, Durham has also worked to communicate the value of women in science. From 2013 to 2015, she served as program initiator for Argonne’s Women in Science and Technology (WIST) program. The program was formed in 1990 to recruit, retain and promote women at Argonne in order to strengthen the laboratory’s scientific workforce.
“Women make up 27.5 percent of the nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce,” said Durham. “Obviously there’s room for improvement here. And I mean that both for society and for science. Scientific innovation happens when people look at a problem differently than anyone else has before. For this to happen, science needs a diverse set of perspectives and ideas. This means increasing the number of women and under-represented minorities in STEM fields.”
In 2012, Durham received the Argonne WIST Diversity Award for her contributions to diversity in science and engineering including her advocacy and encouragement of young women interested in STEM careers. Durham is a regular volunteer mentor at Argonne’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, an event where young female students have an opportunity to discover engineering careers alongside Argonne scientists and engineers. Durham also served on the Argonne Science Careers in Search of Women event planning committee for a decade. The event offers female high school students an opportunity to explore STEM professions and connect with Argonne’s world-class women scientists and engineers.
“Hands-on science and engineering activities at these events give students a taste of what it’s like to be a researcher,” said Durham. “I hope that lights a fire in their bellies and keeps them moving towards their goals. It’s particularly good for the girls to see how much they have in common with the scientist and engineer mentors they’re paired with. It gives them a real life role model and a quick glimpse of who they may end up being someday, career wise.”
Through the Women @ Energy series, the U.S. Department of Energy highlights some of the nation’s leading female scientists and engineers as role models for women in STEM fields. Durham and her work are featured there.
By Sarayu Ratnam
Dr. Ursula Storb, MD, is a Professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology. She is also a faculty member of the Committees on Immunology, Cancer Biology and Developmental Biology.
As a young girl Ursula wanted to study languages (she is proficient in German and English and familiar with French, Italian, Japanese, Swedish, Latin and Greek) but decided to pursue a medical degree instead, encouraged by her physician father who hoped she would meet a fellow student that she could marry and who in turn would take over his clinic! She went through an intense period of medical training at the Universitaet Tubingen, Germany, then Universities of Vienna, Austria and Freiburg, Germany to obtain her medical degree. A chance article in the journal Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift about how antibodies were made stoked her interest in immunology and she decided to pursue research at the Institut Pasteur, Paris on a NATO fellowship. This was followed by a year-long stint at the Institut d’Immuno-Biologie, Paris, France and the Institut fuer Haematologie, Freiburg, Germany on a EURATOM fellowship where she studied delayed hypersensitivity (now called T-cell immunity).
After her post graduate training in Europe Ursula turned down a job offer in pediatrics to experience the American system of research and continue her by now strong interest in immunology. She came to the USA on a fellowship from the German Government and joined the University of Washington, Department of Microbiology where she pioneered the “Rosette assay” to identify lymphocytes that carried antibodies on their cell membrane. Her lab, in collaboration with Ralph Brinster at the University of Pennsylvania, was also the first to show that mouse transgenes can function normally without the inclusion of viral enhancers. She progressed to being a Professor and Head of the division of Immunology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, a position she held till 1986. She then joined the University of Chicago as Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology where she still continues.
At the University of Chicago, Ursula’s research has focused on the regulation of immunoglobulin gene rearrangement and hypermutation, and development of B-lymphocytes. Her lab was one of the first to identify the importance of transcription initiation to somatic hypermutation of immunoglobulin genes. Her lab also studies the role of DNA methylation and chromatin in development and Ig gene expression and recently identified a novel murine gene that causes specific methylation of a transgene during early development. She has more than 160 publications from her lab in various top-tier journals including Science and Cell. In addition, Ursula has extensive teaching experience where she has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Immunology, Molecular Biology, Vertebrate Developmental Genetics, and Cell Biology
Ursula has won many professional honors including being elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992 and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2007. She has also been an active member of various professional organizations including the Association of Women in Science since 1971. In fact, Ursula was present at the annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) when AWIS was founded.
As a female scientist during the past 50-odd years Ursula has seen her share of female prejudice in the scientific community. While applying for a faculty position she was told by her advisor that “she didn’t really need an independent position since she had a successful husband”! Ursula stuck to her guns and convinced him that she indeed deserved the faculty position with respect to her achievements in the academic field. She was also advised by another successful female scientist that “as a woman she may have to be many times better than a man to succeed”.
Recognizing the need to support women in science Ursula, during her long tenure as a scientist and teacher, has always been a strong mentor to the women students and researchers in her lab, and outside, irrespective of which stage in their career they are at. In 1993, she founded a faculty committee to support graduate students from under-represented ethnic minorities in science. She has had many female undergraduate students work in her lab and has introduced them to various different scientific projects which enable these young women to experience scientific “bench work” before they actually have to decide on a career. In most cases, the experiences in her lab have led these women to pick science as a career choice. To the graduate students and post-docs in her lab she has always been supportive and accessible and exposed them to various different aspects of science including planning basic science experiments, science writing and scientific presentations and thus preparing them for an independent scientific career. In addition, research has shown that the main reason why women are so under-represented in the STEM fields is because women are still responsible for the majority of housework and childcare activities even when working full time outside the house. Ursula understood the demands placed on a young mother at home, especially during the early years and has helped her post-docs remain in science by encouraging flexible work hours in her lab.
A workaholic by nature, Ursula spends most of her day at the lab focusing on research and teaching. Outside of the lab she enjoys discussing and appreciating science, art and music with her partner Dr. Terence Martin with whom she has also had a long and productive research collaboration and who has been one of the most influential persons in her life. Given that her career encompassed her greatest interest in life, science, Ursula has been one of the few to truly follow her passion and become one of the most successful female scientists today.